Thursday, February 16, 2012

Resentment, ressentiment, and justice after mass crimes: Brudholm and Fassin

I’ve had the Somatosphere in my feeds for a little while since they were covering the Risperdal trial. I wasn’t sure if it fit with my interests more broadly, and almost dropped it. I was pleased that I hadn’t the other day when they linked to Didier Fassin speaking at Harvard Medical School about moral anthropology and the difference between resentment and ressentiment. Here’s the “video” (really just audio with a picture of Fassin):

There’s been a lot of discussion in recent months about anger, forgiveness, and punishment, and just after seeing the video I’d excitedly begun writing up a short post about it: “Drawing on the work on Jean Améry and others and on his own fieldwork in South Africa and France, Fassin sketches out a challenge the general fetishization of forgiveness, amnesty, and reconciliation which holds sway at present and, in my view, fails to appreciate perpetrators of state or corporate violence as moral agents or the broader sociological context….”

The work of Améry sounded so important to me that before I even posted I did an Amazon search, and one of the first related books listed was Thomas Brudholm’s 2008 Resentment’s Virtue: Jean Améry and the Refusal to Forgive, which I’ve now read.

Brudholm writes:
This book offers a counterpoint to the near-hegemonic status afforded to the logic of forgiveness in the literatures on transitional justice and reconciliation…. It is meant to complement the scores of writings in which outrage, resentment, and refusals to forgive or reconcile are hastily rejected as the negative to be overcome: the irrational, immoral, and unhealthy or understandable but unfortunate attitudes of victims who are not-at least not yet- "ready" or "capable" of forgiving and healing.

…I argue that, in some circumstances, the preservation of outrage or resentment and the refusal to forgive and reconcile can be the reflex expression of a moral protest and ambition that might be as permissible and admirable as the posture of forgiveness. When this possibility is neglected and when advocates or scholars arguing the case for forgiveness and healing lose sight of the contestability of the values they promote, they also lose sight of the possible moral legitimacy of some victims' preservation of resentment. This neglect is not fair-and in fact it can be deeply offensive. (pp. 3-4)
It’s significant, readable, and fair. The odd thing is how similar Fassin’s presentation is to Brudholm’s work. It recapitulates some aspects – down to the focus on the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission - but doesn’t go much beyond Brudholm’s far more comprehensive treatment. (Fassin does talk about ressentiment in relation to the response to AIDS drugs by the Mbeke government, which could be, and really would have to be, fleshed out to contribute something original to the discussion from the perspective of medical anthropology.) It’s quite strange.

So I’d been planning to recommend the Fassin talk, but after reading the Brudholm book I’m of course suggesting that instead. It’s divided into two parts – the first about the South African TRC, and in particular the views of Desmond Tutu and other leaders concerning victims who are unwilling to forgive and reconcile, and the second a detailed examination of Améry’s essays. The two halves don’t blend seamlessly, but they certainly make sense together and are independently strong. I was somewhat surprised at the lack of attention to South America, but one aspect I found intriguing was the evident religious aspects of the “logic of forgiveness.” I was hoping that Brudholm would elaborate on this when I happily discovered that his previous book was The Religious in Responses to Mass Atrocity: Interdisciplinary Perspectives

(…and then unhappily discovered that it’s the most expensive Kindle book I’ve ever seen).

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