Through a psychoanalytic reading of Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary The Act of Killing, this essay considers the role of fantasy in genocidal Cold War violence. Considering both Oppenheimer’s film and also Frantz Fanon’s clinical case studies as investigations into impunity, the essay analyzes fantasy’s place in global violence and in the psychology of impunity. How does The Act of Killing signal a crisis in the global distribution of affect and accountability? How do bodily symptoms crystallize the negativity that underwrites social relations? The essay deploys psychoanalysis as a form of social critique.
This Time with Feeling: Impunity and the Play of Fantasy in The Act of Killing
Zahid R. Chaudhary is associate professor of English at Princeton University. He is the author of Afterimage of Empire: Photography in Nineteenth-Century India (2012) and is currently at work on a book entitled “Impunity: Notes on a Global Tendency.” The essay here is drawn from this project.