at Columbia University, New York, Center for Palestine Studies, April 21, 2016
by Rudhramoorthy Cheran, University of Windsor; Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminology
Title: No Closure for Tamils: Bearing Witness and Writing Apocalypse
Abstract: In his work, “I was not there”, Raul Hilberg (1988), writes about the dilemma facing Holocaust historians: “I have had to reconstruct the process of destruction in my mind combining the documents into paragraphs, the paragraphs into chapters, the chapters into book… I had no anxieties about artistic failure. Now, I have been told that I have indeed succeeded. And that is a cause of some worry…” This paper is an attempt to deal with that “worry”- the inability of social sciences to fully grasp genocide, post genocide trauma and the possibility of art in opening up new avenues for bearing witness, and working through trauma in the context of Tamils in Sri Lanka. In many cases of genocide and mass atrocities killers try to eliminate any trace that the victims ever existed, burning belongings, burying the remains of their victims in anonymous mass graves, burning libraries and schools and obliterating any memorials. In several cases genocides go either un-noticed by the international community or covered up and forgotten. Writers and poets as chroniclers of human suffering and often times, victims of genocide not only bear witness to it, but powerfully write after apocalypse. How do they write about such violence and about the difficulties of living in its aftermath? What words do they find to express what happened to them, their community and their family members? How may outsiders accurately represent survivors’ experiences? How do works of art respond to genocide and trauma? How do we evaluate their contributions? These are the questions I will be examining.