Denouncing historical ‘misfortunes': From passive injustice to reflective spectatorship

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Abstract

This essay’s starting point is Judith Shklar’ diagnosis of a pathology marring democratic societies: complex injustices passing as “misfortunes” that nobody feels responsible for. I propose that denunciations can reveal the political nature of the suffering that everyone conveniently ignores, thus advancing democratic accountability. While denunciations can target various invisible injustices and take many forms, this essay deals with the case of societies with an unmastered past of violence. In order to avoid taking responsibility for the plight of victims, the past is often redescribed in the language of “catastrophe” or “necessity.” Building on Hannah Arendt’s views on spectatorship and storytelling, this essay analyses theatrical denunciations addressing the wider community. Theatre—professional or amateur—can repoliticise neutralised areas of social interaction and transform passive onlookers into reflective spectators. The Argentinean performance of escraches and Thomas Bernhard’s play Heldenplatz are discussed as examples of successful political denunciations communicated in dramaturgical form.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)443-467
Number of pages25
JournalPolitical Theory
Volume42
Issue number4
Early online date19 Aug 2014
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Keywords

  • denunciation
  • injustice
  • political judgment
  • spectator
  • political art

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