Concept : Suzana Milevska, Endowed Professor for Central and South-Eastern European Art Histories

The symposium “On Productive Shame, Reconciliation and Agency” will address artistic and humanist research projects that deal with the issues of “unrepresentable” guilt and shame, and will question the ontological notion of guilt and post-trauma suppression of memory.

While trying to make a distinction between “inherited guilt” and “productive shame” Paul Gilroy, in Postcolonial Melancholia, writes about “the painful obligations to work through the grim details of imperial and colonial history,” and about the need “to transform paralyzing guilt into a more productive shame that would be conducive to the building of a multicultural nationality that is no longer phobic about the prospect of exposure to either strangers or otherness.” Jean Améry’s efforts to preserve the memory of the Holocaust, for example, focused on the terror and horror of the events in a phenomenological and philosophical way, with what he characterized as “a scant inclination to be conciliatory.” As he wrote in his 1976 preface to Beyond Guilt and Atonement: “For nothing is resolved, nothing is settled, no remembering has become mere memory.”

It is exactly the construing of the inherited guilt in ontological terms (and not on affective terms) that makes reconciliation so difficult. Hierarchies and hegemonic overwriting of reconciliation by power and diverging interests make urgent the issue of who decides when and how to reconcile. Particularly after the inconceivable atrocities of the conflicts in otherwise “brotherhood and unity” oriented ex-Yugoslavia, and after the recent outbursts of xenophobia, racism and ethnic conflicts all around Europe, we need new strategies to confront the fear of sublime political authority and its power to incite negativity and fragmentation. Trust in the potentials of empowerment, subjectivity, recuperation and agency of friendship and solidarity are needed more than ever. Therefore this symposium will focus on various models exercised in theory, art and culture that could also serve as a basis to conceptualize the socially transformative processes of rapprochement, reconciliation, change and resolution.

The symposium will address how ethnic difference, race, class, gender and sexuality affect, intersect and shape the (im)possibility for thinking about reconciliation in the context of ethical research methodologies, and strategies of communication with non-professional participants and collaborators. To better understand the complexity of negotiating reconciliation in different societies and cultures, as well as to understand the ethical and methodological issues related to art-based research projects, the invited speakers will propose various theoretical frameworks (postcolonial and decolonialisation studies, feminist and queer theories of transversiality and intersectionality, theories of agency, etc.).