Global Forms of Atrocity

Leave Nothing to the Imagination: Global Forms of Atrocity After 1945

My current book project, “Leave Nothing to the Imagination: Global Forms of Atrocity After 1945,” argues that in the wake of the Nuremberg trials of 1945-1946, concern about how to establish evidence for atrocity becomes the major preoccupation for legal representations of human rights violations. I trace how legal discourse becomes dependent on literary modes of representation in order to substantiate the reality of large-scale violence and human suffering in the context of post-1945 human rights legislation. I argue that at key moments, legal arguments turn to fictions and figurations in their attempts to establish the facts of atrocity. Since fiction can create narrative cohesion that the facts themselves cannot support, legal attempts at redress borrow from the imaginative possibilities of fictional techniques for making atrocity legible. Figuration, moreover, fortifies unstable evidence by enlisting facts from other contexts through a logic of resemblance. The prominent cases of atrocity belonging to this study—the 1961 Eichmann trial, the Bhopal industrial disaster of 1984, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Amnesty Hearings of 1996- 1998—come to rely on narrative fictions and modes of figuration—analogy, similitude, and metaphor—to provide coherence that is missing in factual evidence. The final chapter, on the 1781 Zong massacre, shows how this representational maneuver takes on a multidirectional nature; therein I examine how contemporary literature about a pre-1945 atrocity embeds this antecedent event within the discourse of post-1945 human rights law.

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