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I The Cruelty of the Other

Conceived and conducted by: Liesbeth Minnaard (Faculteit der Geesteswetenschappen, Centre for the Arts in Society, Film and Literary Studies, Leiden University), Kea Wienand (Dept. for Art and Visual Culture, Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg)

Two leading Europe-based intellectuals state that we live in a “World at Risk” (Ulrich Beck †) and are ruled by a “Politics of Fear” (Sara Ahmed). Suchlike rather sceptical diagnoses of the current state of Western societies in this age of globalisation are both fed and supported by an outright abundance of fearful representations of the worldwide clash of cultures, the war of religions, and the omnipresent threat of terrorism. While new and popular media are flooded with stories testifying of multicultural failure, religious intolerance and interethnic violence, many works of art and literature, by artists and writers both from the Global South and the Global North, also seem fascinated by the, often negatively calibrated, confrontation with the other. Just think of, for example, the large range of novels that try to make sense (or prove the irrationality) of the mind of the terrorist (e.g. John Updike’s Terrorist, Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Haruki Murakami’s Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche). And what about the attempts to stage counterdiscursive voices at large-scale exhibitions like the documenta and the different biennales in North and South: what kind of interventions and signifying practices do they provide for? How are these perceived in different cultural contexts? And, moreover and more in general, what functions do these artistic and literary negotiations of violent confrontations with the other fulfil?

What seems striking in the popular and artistic representations and reflections on instances of cultural, religious, or ethnic confrontation, is the strong focus on the other’s cruelty that is often represented as unfathomable, inscrutable, impalpable. Present-day representations of the violence of Islamist groups such as IS, Al Quaida, or Boko Haram, of the revived imperialist expansionism of Russia in the former East, of China’s settlement politics within and beyond its own borders, and of suicide bombers in a broad variety of contexts testify of this tendency. But can this mode of representation, in which violence and cruelty take central stage, really be seen as a contemporary worldwide tendency, or are they rather new, globalized instances of age-old (and culturally specific) traditions of self-other representation?

In this workshop we want to discuss a range of historical and contemporary representations of the cruelty of the other (culture/religion/group) and reflect on the critical or affirmative functions that these have in the globalized world of today. By analysing and questioning the politics of representation that underlies the production of cultural narratives and images of this kind, we will examine how representations of the cruelty of the other in art, literature and popular culture on the one hand tie in with and reinvigorate a long (European?) tradition of fearful discourses on the other’s barbarism, cannibalism, ruthless consumerism, misogyny etcetera, and on the other hand challenge, disturb, play with and subvert these same narratives and images.




The selected participants are:

Anna Brus

Manuvelraj Ponnudurai

Aleksandr Balashau Rossman

Alberto Saviello