Accepted Paper:

Emergency art, memory museums and the banality of evil  
Robin Rodd (Duke Kunshan University)

Paper short abstract:

The thoughtlessness and conformity constitutive of the banality of evil are systemic, dispersed, and defy easy representation. This paper considers memory museum exhibits and works of 'emergency art' as possibilities for representing or arresting the banalisation of rights, death and suffering.

Paper long abstract:

Arendt coined the term 'banality of evil' to explain how the horrors of Nazi Germany were made possible by people going about their everyday business while thoughtlessly obeying the law. In a thoroughgoing elaboration on Arendt's insights, Forti traces a genealogy of 'mediocre demons' to the 'absolutization of life' and the 'desire for servitude' (Forti 2015:314). Forti argues that a Christian duality of good and evil prevents appreciation of the ways that participation in the reproduction of suffering is dispersed through social relations and norms. Normalised evil results from a web of constraints that are either culturally valued or tolerated because they are considered obvious, unchangeable, or not worthy of thinking about. Banality lends itself to dispersed pleasures, generality over specificity, the everyday over the momentous, but not to villains and victims, monuments or memorialisation. The systemic and dispersed nature of normalised evil makes it elusive and difficult to represent. In a world marked by the fading of old democracies and the emergence of new authoritarianisms, however, it is urgent to understand how conformity, suffering and thoughtlessness are normalised. What processes of (de-)subjectification prepare people to be complicit in authoritarian rule, genocide and other forms of violence? How can the systemic and everyday nature of normalised evil be represented so that it can be drawn into public debate? I consider memory museum exhibits and works of art that disclose what Zabala (2017) refers to as 'the essential emergency', that emergency has become normalised, as possibilities for representing and arresting the banalization of rights, suffering and life.

Panel P20
Gradated citizenship, degraded humanity and the cultural specificity of rights practice