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Loss: The Politics of Mourning

David L. Eng
David Kazanjian
with an Afterword by Judith Butler
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: 1
Pages: 498
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Taking stock of a century of pervasive loss-of warfare, disease, and political strife-this eloquent book opens a new view on both the past and the future by considering "what is lost" in terms of "what remains." Such a perspective, these essays suggest, engages and reanimates history. Plumbing the cultural and political implications of loss, the authors--political theorists, film and literary critics, museum curators, feminists, psychoanalysts, and AIDS activists--expose the humane and productive possibilities in the workings of witness, memory, and melancholy. Among the sites of loss the authors revisit are slavery, apartheid, genocide, war, diaspora, migration, suicide, and disease. Their subjects range from the Irish Famine and the Ottoman slaughter of Armenians to the aftermath of the Vietnam War and apartheid in South Africa, problems of partial immigration and assimilation, AIDS, and the re-envisioning of leftist movements. In particular,Lossreveals how melancholia can lend meaning and force to notions of activism, ethics, and identity.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93627-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    David L. Eng and David Kazanjian
  5. Introduction: Mourning Remains
    (pp. 1-26)
    David L. Eng and David Kazanjian

    Walter Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History” (1940) might be described as a treatise on the political and ethical stakes of mourning remains—mourning what remains of lost histories as well as histories of loss. According to Benjamin, to mourn the remains of the past hopefully is to establish an active and open relationship with history. This practice—what Benjamin calls “historical materialism”—is a creative process, animating history for future significations as well as alternate empathies. For the historical materialist, to relive an era is not to “blot out everything” one knows “about the later course of history”—...


    • Returning the Body without Haunting: Mourning “Nai Phi” and the End of Revolution in Thailand
      (pp. 29-58)
      Rosalind C. Morris

      It is the custom of police agencies and newspapers to report events in precise units of time and thereby to shore up for the rest of us the impossible sense of time’s and especially the past’s actuality. This is especially true of events that are assigned a prominent place in recollection, which are, indeed, the orienting points of recollection. Such was the case with Atsani Phonlacan, the writer and Marxist-communist revolutionary,¹ whose corpse was returned to Thailand, the press reported, on November 29, 1997, at precisely 10:25 a.m. In his return the national media found evidence of an epochal transformation,...

    • Black Mo’nin’
      (pp. 59-76)
      Fred Moten

      In her essay, “ ‘Can You Be black and Look at This?’ Reading the Rodney King Video(s),” Elizabeth Alexander recites a narrative:

      In August 1955, in Money, Mississippi, a fourteen-year-old Chicago black boy named Emmett Till, nicknamed “Bobo,” was visiting relatives and was shot in the head and thrown in the river with a mammoth cotton gin fan tied around his neck, for allegedly whistling at a white woman. In some versions of the story, he was found with his cut-off penis stuffed in his mouth. His body was shipped to Chicago, and his mother [Mamie Till Bradley] decided he...

    • Ambiguities of Mourning: Law, Custom, and Testimony of Women before South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission
      (pp. 77-98)
      Mark Sanders

      Currently winding down its work of hearing testimony to human rights abuses of the apartheid era, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is an ambitious undertaking. A counterpart to the Reconstruction and Development Programme, a long-term scheme for the creation of housing, infrastructure, and jobs, the Truth Commission is part of a vast effort at nation-building in postapartheid South Africa. By asking South Africans to remember, the Truth Commission seeks to come to terms not only with the crimes of the apartheid era but also with a 350-year history of white domination. In the words of Justice Richard Goldstone, former United...

    • Catastrophic Mourning
      (pp. 99-124)
      Marc Nichanian

      In 1895 a long series of pogroms was unleashed from one end of the Armenian high plateau to the other. Of course it was a question of local pogroms, but their geographical and chronological succession strongly suggests that the authorization and the incitement to massacre came from the very center of Ottoman power, from the palace of the sultan. Many American observers (missionaries, doctors, travelers, Catholic nuns) became the chroniclers of these atrocious events, which were only the prelude to the extermination of the Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire. Among the Armenians, this series of pogroms did not provoke...

    • Between Genocide and Catastrophe
      (pp. 125-147)
      David Kazanjian and Marc Nichanian

      Dear Marc,

      I would like to start this exchange by asking you about the word—of course it is not just a word—aghed, which you translate asla Catastrophe, the Catastrophe (I notice you capitalize it in French and English, though Zabel Essayan does not capitalize it in Armenian). It is a word Zabel Essayan begins to write with, as you point out, in September 1909, after her return to Constantinople from three months in Cilicia, three months in which she witnessed—namingwhatshe witnessed is so precarious and urgent, as your essay carefully traces—the remains, the...

    • Passing Shadows: Melancholic Nationality and Black Critical Publicity in Pauline E. Hopkins’s Of One Blood
      (pp. 148-187)
      Dana Luciano

      The turn-of-the-century fiction writer and cultural critic Pauline E. Hopkins began her publishing career with a call for realism in the artistic depiction of African Americans. Justifying realist fiction as simultaneously a defense against erasure and a means of productive intervention in history, Hopkins opened her first novel,Contending Forces: A Romance of Life North and South, with the following claim:

      Fiction is of great value to any people as a preserver of manners and customs—religious, political and social. It is a record of growth and development from generation to generation.No one will do this for us; we...

    • Melancholia and Moralism
      (pp. 188-202)
      Douglas Crimp

      In the national gay-bashing media frenzy over so-called gay serial killer Andrew Cunanan, the man who shot Gianni Versace in the summer of 1997, the compelling question was, Why did he do it? What happened to this “excessively charming” guy that set him on a murder spree? There was a lot of wild speculation—about the fear of aging (at twenty-seven!), the inevitable result of dabbling in S&M,¹ or just running out of luck—but what finally made sense as an explanation was the conjecture that Cunanan had tested HIV-positive back in San Diego and so sought his revenge on...


    • The Memory of Hunger
      (pp. 205-228)
      David Lloyd

      Sinead O’Connor’s controversial rap mix “Famine” opens with the uncanny sound of a dog howling. The sound is uncanny for several reasons: it is impossible to tell in this context if the howl is of hunger, grief, or some condensation of the two; it is difficult to determine whether the sound we hear is actually a dog’s howl or a human imitation of the sound, a difficulty that in itself opens the uncanny domain where the human and the natural converge and mimic one another. This animal lament accentuates the absence or the silence of what properly should be the...

    • Remains to Be Seen: Reading the Works of Dean Sameshima and Khanh Vo
      (pp. 229-250)
      Susette Min

      On the eve of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, the front page of theNew York Timesfeatured photographs taken by a corps of Communist (Vietcong) photographers.¹ Amid the pictures “from the other side,” one particular photograph caught the attention of artist Khanh Vo.² The photograph was taken by Duong Thanh Phong on the day he left his refuge (the Cu Chi tunnels) to celebrate the last day of the war. Hitching a ride to Saigon, Phong rode along a road littered with hundreds of military boots, socks, and other apparel discarded by South Vietnamese...

    • Mourning Becomes Kitsch: The Aesthetics of Loss in Severo Sarduy’s Cobra
      (pp. 251-277)
      Vilashini Cooppan

      Severo Sarduy’s 1972 novelCobrais an expatriate fiction, notable less for the controversial status of its author’s claim to Cuban identity (all expatriates wear their nationalism uncomfortably) than for the irreverence, even unrecognizability, of its national nostalgia.Cobrais a novel of national longing that abjures the backward gaze of sentiment altogether, from a mocking introductory footnote that warns readers not to expect a sweeping historical saga in the tradition of the Latin American novels of the “boom” to an overall style whose nouveau Romanesque resistant opacity is rivaled only by the near unreadability of the novel’s thematics. A...

    • Theorizing the Loss of Land: Griqua Land Claims in Southern Africa, 1874–1998
      (pp. 278-299)
      David Johnson

      This essay considers how Western philosophical reflections on the loss of land connect with political attempts in contemporary South Africa to legislate and manage such loss suffered under apartheid. To be specific:

      (1) Do the writings of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud resonate in or articulate with the submissions before the Land Commission of South Africa addressing the loss of land suffered by black South Africans?

      (2) Do the histories of the loss of African land and the hearings before the South African Land Commission to recover land destabilize or suggest limits to Western discourses theorizing the loss of land?...

    • Left Melancholy
      (pp. 300-320)
      Charity Scribner

      “What I never had, is being torn from me. What I did not live, I will miss forever.” With these lines from his dramaProperty(Das Eigentum, 1990), playwright Volker Braun renders his melancholic reaction to the disintegration of the German Democratic Republic. The GDR once prided itself as the tenth strongest world economy, but following the postcommunist turn, orWende, most of its industries have been brought to a halt, and hundreds of thousands have found themselves jobless. The euphoria at the opening of the Berlin Wall dimmed within a few months, and a pall seemed to set in...


    • All Things Shining
      (pp. 323-342)
      Kaja Silverman

      In the publicity statement with which it releasedThe Thin Red Line(1998), Fox 2000 Pictures presents Terrence Malick’s third film as the story of the victory of the American Army Rifle Company, C-for-Charlie, over the Japanese during the Battle of Guadalcanal.¹The Thin Red Line, we are told, “follows the journey [of the men], from the surprise of an unopposed landing, through the bloody and exhausting battles that follow, to the ultimate departure of those who survived.”² As if in anticipation of the popular reviews that would later excoriate Malick for his lack of interest in this war story,³...

    • A Dialogue on Racial Melancholia
      (pp. 343-371)
      David L. Eng and Shinhee Han

      Configuring whiteness as contagion, Birdie Lee, the narrator of Danzy Senna’sCaucasia, connects assimilation to illness and disease. Separated from her African American activist father, Birdie Lee and her blue-blooded mother flee from the law in a racialized and radicalized 1970s Boston. Eventually, the two take up residence in New Hampshire, where Birdie passes as “Jesse” and for white.¹ This assimilation into the whiteness of New Hampshire plagues Birdie, who wonders if she “had actually become Jesse, and it was this girl, this Birdie Lee who haunted these streets, searching for ghosts, who was the lie.” This vexing “condition” of...

    • Passing Away: The Unspeakable (Losses) of Postapartheid South Africa
      (pp. 372-395)
      Yvette Christiansë

      On November 18, 1993, in the Republic of South Africa, the past came into being. It was a moment in which a temporal and material threshold emerged, for, at nine o’clock on that morning, the apartheid constitution ceased to be. In fact, the time of the nation was itself suspended, and a space was opened into which narratives of the past and fantasies of the future all poured. This interstitial space fell under the jurisdiction of an interim constitution whose purpose was the establishment of a newly lawful nonracial society. Where the forging of South Africa had been accomplished in...

    • Ways of Not Seeing: (En)gendered Optics in Benjamin, Baudelaire, and Freud
      (pp. 396-426)
      Alys Eve Weinbaum

      InThe City (Die Stadt), a book of black-and-white woodcuts, Flemish artist Frans Masereel assembles a loose pictorial narrative about a man watching the life of a modern metropolis first from the distance, sitting on a hill from which he looks down on the labyrinth below, and then from the vantage point of a person wandering the city streets and entering the more intimate spaces (indoors and out) of the objects of his gaze.¹ With this narrator the reader peruses railway stations, hospitals, museums, operas, amusement parks, brothels, steel mills, cafés, bars, and bedrooms and partakes in the excitement, chaos,...

    • Legacies of Trauma, Legacies of Activism: ACT UP’s Lesbians
      (pp. 427-457)
      Ann Cvetkovich

      The AIDS crisis, like other traumatic encounters with death, has challenged our strategies for remembering the dead, forcing the invention of new forms of mourning and commemoration. The same is true, I would argue, for AIDS activism. What is the current meaning of the slogan “The AIDS crisis is not over” in the context of treatment with protease inhibitors and an ever-widening gap, of transnational proportions, between medical possibility and political and economic reality, a gap that has significantly shifted the early associations of AIDS with gay men? Like activism itself, the slogan’s meaning is constantly shifting. In March 1997,...

    • Resisting Left Melancholia
      (pp. 458-466)
      Wendy Brown

      For the last two decades, cultural theorist Stuart Hall has insisted that the “crisis of the Left” is due neither to internal divisions in the activist or academic Left nor to the clever rhetoric or funding schemes of the Right. Rather, he has charged, this ascendancy is consequent to the Left’s own failure to apprehend the character of the age and to develop a political critique and a moral-political vision appropriate to this character. For Hall, the rise of the Thatcher-Reagan Right was a symptom rather than a cause of this failure, just as the Left’s dismissive or suspicious attitude...

  9. Afterword: After Loss, What Then?
    (pp. 467-474)
    Judith Butler

    The essays in this volume offer a way to think about loss as constituting social, political, and aesthetic relations, thereby overcoming the conventional understanding that “loss” belongs to a purely psychological or psychoanalytic discourse. But they do something more, since they exemplify, I believe, a new kind of scholarship that seeks to bring theory to bear on the analysis of social and political life, in particular, to the temporality of social and political life. The presumptions that the future follows the past, that mourning might follow melancholia, that mourning might be completed are all poignantly called into question in these...

    (pp. 475-478)
    (pp. 479-488)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 489-489)