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  • Re-flexion: Genocide in Ruins
  • David Kazanjian (bio)

Since the early 1990s, the term “genocide” has been used more and more persistently as a powerful instrument in popular discourse and in geopolitics. Indeed, the term seems to have passed into the troublesome field of common sense.1 This is not to say that the meaning of “genocide” has become more clear, so much as to say that it has taken on an uncritical air of self-evidence. As a result, we are confronted with something akin to what Louis Althusser, writing in 1946, called “the International of Decent Feelings,” a consensus among certain postwar intellectuals that one “can avert the fatality of war by conducting an international moral campaign.”2 According to Althusser, those intellectuals claimed that Europeans could put the catastrophe of World War II to rest and prevent similar catastrophes in the future simply by acknowledging everyone’s mutual humanity. Foreshadowing what would later become his influential critique of humanism, Althusser examined the peculiar form of this putative human alliance:

We must ask ourselves what this alliance really signifies. For we are confronted with a phenomenon that is international in scope, and with a diffuse ideology which, though it has not yet been precisely defined, is capable of assuming a certain organizational form: it is said that Camus envisages creating protest groups bent on denouncing crimes against humanity before the conscience of the world, while the “Human Front” is contemplating the use of cinema or radio to induce humanity to [End Page 367] abandon war. One senses, in these attempts, a mentality in search of itself, an intention eager to embody itself in concrete form, an ideology seeking to define itself, entrench itself, and also furnish itself with means of action. If this mentality is international, and in the process of taking institutional form, then a new “International” is in the making. There is perhaps something to be gained from trying to discover what it conceals.3

For Althusser, this “new ‘International’” conceals the sociohistorical complexity of catastrophic events beneath a politics of moral outrage proclaimed in the name of an abstract humanity held together by a fear about a generalized threat to humanity.4 By the end of “The International of Decent Feelings,” this critique itself gives way to the twenty-eight-year-old Althusser’s own, Marxist– Christian notion of humanity.5 However, we need not follow the young Althusser into such comforts. Let us rather consider what and how a particular iteration of “genocide”—sustained by its own International of Decent Feelings—conceals.

Starting in the 1970s, Armenian diasporic politics began to settle into an entrenched, institutionalized form of Althusser’s “new International.” As such, it offers a foundational instance of the current, much more widespread politics of genocide, which global powers—especially the United States—regularly and cynically instrumentalize. All too often, critiques of such politics are prohibited by nationalist and/or humanist investments, themselves animated by the fear that any critique will aid and abet the revisionists, deniers, and—in the case of ongoing campaigns of mass violence—the executioners, who themselves still operate vigorously within the framework of what Marc Nichanian has called the “genocidal will.”6 However, a number of us working on the fringes of the Armenian diaspora have rejected this prohibition on critique in the hope of generating a certain active, radical, deinstitutionalized internationalism: a politics of mourning that rejects both the genocidal will and genocide’s international of decent feelings, and whose relationship to the past opens intimately to self-estrangement and the future.7 In the spirit of this ongoing work, in this essay I want to show how “genocide,” from the moment of its coinage in the 1940s, entombs both critiques and alternative visions of the human in the name of “civilized man.” I then suggest that Armenian-Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan’s Calendar (1993) offers us a reflection on the ruination of this tomb. Finally, I argue that Armenian-American filmmaker Tina Bastajian’s experimental short Pinched Cheeks and Slurs in a Language That Avoids Her [End Page 368] (1995) thrives amongst these ruins, offering us a glimpse of an other life, unconcealed.




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pp. 367-389
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