English 9168A

Reconciliation and its Discontents: Theory, Art, Critique

Professor Pauline Wakeham.
Fall Half Course.

In recent decades, the global forum has witnessed the proliferation of events of confession and contrition in the form of Truth and Reconciliation Commissions and official apologies from nation-states and imperial monarchies atoning for injustices. According to philosopher Jacques Derrida, the accumulation of such “scenes of repentance” have resulted in a phenomenon he terms the “‘globalisation’ of forgiveness”—a phenomenon that, according to Michel-Rolph Trouillot, is historically unprecedented, emerging on the “global stage” as “the ultimate horizon of a new historicity.” In 1998, the Government of Canada domesticated this global trend when it issued a “Statement of Reconciliation” to Indigenous peoples for the harms of colonialism. One decade later, Canada became the first G8 nation to implement a Truth and Reconciliation, summoning the idioms and mechanisms of the field of “transitional justice” and, in so doing, articulating a self-proclaimed liberal democracy to the scene of apartheid in South Africa, civil war in El Salvador, and military dictatorship in Chile.

As “reconciliation” has emerged as a key term in Canadian public discourse—mobilized now by the federal government, corporate media, school boards, and universities alike—it seems more crucial than ever to study the complex theoretical and political genealogies of this concept. This course provides such an opportunity for critical study, engaging with an international and interdisciplinary body of scholarship that grapples with questions of violence, wounding, remembering, forgetting, reparations, and justice. The course will also put theory in dialogue with literature and the arts to ask what kinds of theorizing, contextualizing, and re-imagining does art offer for grappling with injustice and imagining new futures. In so doing, we will put the concept of reconciliation under critical pressure, interrogating its Euro-Western theological underpinnings and teleological thrust towards closure and cure, and in turn open space for alternative conceptualizations of reckoning with violence, both historical and ongoing.