Friday, 22 November 2013

Apologists for genocide

Primo Levi, a Holocaust survivor and testimonial writer, found it urgent to raise awareness of the horrors he had witnessed. It pained him to hear of holocaust revisionists and deniers. If we forget about the lessons of history, the unthinkable can happen again. If we forget about tyrants such as Hitler and Stalin, if we start with a tabula rasa, their crimes will be repeated.

Our times are particularly perilous in that we are undergoing socio-economic circumstances similar to the 1920s. Whilst Western Europe will not have a repeat of these horrors - the lessons of the Holocaust are deeply entrenched - Eastern Europe is taking a scary turn in that direction. With high unemployment, extreme ideologies seem to people to be the ideal solvent to their ills. The third biggest political party in Hungary stated that all the Jews in Hungary must be counted. The Golden Dawn in Greece is also terrorising racial minorities and capturing the imagination of younger voters.

In a recent documentary about the Indonesian genocide of 1965, The Act of Killing, we see the perpetrators several years hence. 500,000 people were killed within three days. The Western media portrayed the killings as a decisive victory over communism during the cold war. The gang members who carried out the crimes now live with equanimity. When asked about their crimes, they seem vindictive. In one startling scene, when asked if the communists might want revenge, one member replies along the lines of 'Well, we will just crush their skulls and they will be quiet.' The whole room lights up, the chat show host smirks and everyone claps with fervor.

The Act of Killing

What is interesting about this scene - and representative of these apologists - is that communists are not vilified for their political beliefs. They are vilified for being 'the other,' 'the parasite,' 'the enemy.' The annihilation of this tribe or ethnic group guarantees the realisation of a political agenda. In the case of Nazi Germany, the annihilation of the Jews would create an 'Aryan' society and a Superman. In the case of Indonesia and Chile, the annihilation of the 'communists' would segue way into a free market capitalist society.

In the case of Chile, thousands of people were detained, tortured and killed. Of course, the right have ceaselessly tried to justify their actions. They even fabricated a story, which was believed for decades, called 'Plan Z.' The right claimed that Allende planned self-coup to impose a marxist government. Such a plan never existed. This was a psychological game forged by the military to justify their crimes against humanity.

Chile, September 11 1973

What often happens is that the oppressors continue to prosper and the oppressed continue to suffer. In Chile, to be a 'Pinochetista' is completely uncontroversial. I know several people who have no qualms with being so. But, of course, if you support a cause, you support all the killings, tortures and crimes that cause entails. In effect, you are an apologist for genocide. These people are completely unrepentant and lead comfortable lives.

The trial of Pinochet was interesting in that it was the first time a war criminal had been brought to trial by an international jury. Why should it solely be an internal affair? If international law were curtailed, it would set a precedent and many more criminals would be trialed.

I have seen many comments stating 'Both Allende and Pinochet are a disgrace - let's forget about it and move on.' First of all, that is deeply disrepectful to the victims. Secondly - I'll drill in this point for the umpteenth time - history rarely repeats itself. This is because genocides are remembered. Germany is now a pluralist society, deeply mindful about its attitude. However grotesque the past may be, it must be remembered. The apologists who skew it must be brought to account.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

What is 'Cosmopolitan Literature'?

'Cosmopolitan Literature' is, I hope, my own coinage. I will explain what I mean by it later on. First of all, I will make a couple of distinctions.

'World Literature' is a marketing term used to denote foreign writers. These are rigid categories and foreign writers are mutually exclusive from local ones. It is largely a promotional term for writers overseas. Coined by Goethe in the 18th century, it is pretty much an out-dated term used at a time when countries were beginning to unify and when nationalism was rife. The term 'world' is problematic since it casts foreign writers as somehow 'other.' Anglophone writers are beyond categorisation, which seems absurd. A very Euro-centric category which has overtones of imperialism.

'Comparative Literature' is an academic discipline used to analyse linguistic differences between writers from different countries, in addition to the usual critical perspectives from an English course. A useful discipline which not only broadens out from national barries but also draws from several other disciplines not commonly associated with literature. 

So what is 'Cosmopolitan Literature' and how does it differ from the aforementioned categories. Cosmopolitan Literature holds that national borders are superflous and that there is a universal consciousness we all experience. This consciousness should be portrayed in literature, instead of relying on a parochial attitude of just representing the cultural mores of one's local society. It holds that literary styles developed from certain cultures can be freely adapted from others. A truly successful 'cosmopolitan' writer is one whom you cannot tie to a specific national canon. 

Who eludes this category? Since when is Jorge Luis Borges Argentinean, for instance? The pampas appear in several stories, but his writing is more European than anything else. Although Conrad is called English because he wrote in the language, he wrote a novel set in Russia and novels like Nostromo are set abroad and populated by people from different nationalities. Is Roberto Bolano Chilean or Mexican or Spanish? The stamp of a true cosmopolitan writer is that he defies being placed in a cultural pigeonhole. This is because he avoids the style characterised by his local school and because he engages with different cultures.