Magazine article European English Messenger

"Postcolonial Justice"

Magazine article European English Messenger

"Postcolonial Justice"

Article excerpt

"Postcolonial Justice", ASNEL and GASt joint conference (Potsdam and Berlin, May 29-June 1, 2014)

This year's joined ASNEL and GASt conference, which marked the 25th anniversary of both associations, focused on the topic of "Postcolonial Justice". Papers were invited that addressed topics such as postcolonial justice and the politics of reconciliation, postcolonial justice and globalisation/aesthetics/language/media, postcolonial justice in the marketplace, postcolonial justice and academic practice, to name but a few. The core questions that permeated the four-day conference centred on the agency and power implicit in the act of executing justice; in how far systematic justice still upholds the binary of the self as perpetrator and the other as hapless victim; and on the responsibilities that the witnesses of injustice have in a globalised media world. It is a very timely topic and the conference organisers excelled at putting together a conference programme that had it all: thought-provoking keynotes and panels, a poster session for early-career scholars and a teacher's workshop, author readings and film screenings, and a social programme that offered plenty opportunity for socialising.

To offer a more detailed topical insight, in the following few paragraphs I decided to focus on Saturday's events. Benita Parry, in her keynote lecture on the impossibilities of postcolonial justice, stressed the legal and philosophical discourses in order to provide a platform from which to critically enquire the conference programme as such. Parry questioned from the outset whether a shared concept of justice, which we often assume in our discussion of postcolonial justice, does indeed exist. When we are talking about postcolonial justice, does the self ever really know what justice means to the other? Can we ever eradicate social, political, and aesthetic differences in order to arrive at norms that are valid across nations and cultures, across time and space? The answer, for Parry, is and must be a resounding no, because there is no "transcendent reason or divine law" that teaches us how to be just. Moral universalism does not exist, because morality as such is a social construct. According to Parry, there is nothing invariable about morality. It is, and always must be, "their morals and ours", because morality builds on ethical stands that are incompatible. Morality cannot bridge conflicting interests in the world. And not to take these conflicting interests into account is not to do justice to the multiplicity of interests. Any assertion of universal principles dispenses with any notion of multiplicity and individuality that postcolonialism as a discipline is built upon. It also dispenses with any notion of justice, seeing that justice "is respecting the singularity of the other", as Parry paraphrases Jacques Derrida.

I found Parry's keynote lecture truly engaging and also fitting, seeing that one of the conference's main objectives was to critically engage with the idea of postcolonial justice itself. Is it possible? Can it ever be just? And does the conflation of two so highly contested terms, justice and the postcolonial, ever yield definite answers? In deconstructing both terms, Parry very convincingly showed that a lack of answers does not necessarily diminish the search for these answers and the discussion of the issues at stake. Parry raised questions that pervaded much of Saturday's discussions, both in and out of sessions. What position are we speaking from when we talk about postcolonial justice, and do we sufficiently take the privilege of that position of speech into account?

This question was echoed in Kirsten Sandrock's talk on "The Poetics of Justice in Salman Rushdie's Joseph Anton" in a pre-lunch panel on "Justice in the Literary Field". Sandrock mainly focused on the narratological aspects of the book and on how the role of the author and the role of the narrator and focaliser relate to questions of justice. …

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