In part to reflect on a “practical turn” in recent comparative literary criticism, this essay asks what role(s) writing and reading literature can play in the provision of remedy for historical injustice. Specifically, it looks at the case of South Africa's democratic transition through the lens of Chilean-Argentine author Ariel Dorfman's play Death and the Maiden, its staging and reception in Johannesburg and its inscription into the 1998 Final Report of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). By juxtaposing a case of literary remediation (TRC Chairperson Desmond Tutu's curious insertion of a character from Dorfman's play into his Foreword to the Final Report) with contemporary manifestations of an older understanding of remediation as a process of medical healing or legal redress (ongoing campaigns by apartheid victims regarding their right to remedy), the essay draws attention to some of the limits of the literary as a site of praxis. At the same time, it suggests that attention to — or close reading of — moments where literary and other aesthetic characters and forms are drawn into the medical, psychological, legal, political, and economic realms can have practical value. Such inscriptions can create new constellations between the present and the past, and they can make visible continuities (or, conversely, discontinuities or misrecognitions) between desired and actual worlds. It is in this sense that remediation may aid in the work of remedy.
Kerry Bystrom; Literature, Remediation, Remedy (The Case of Transitional Justice). Comparative Literature 1 March 2014; 66 (1): 25–34. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00104124-2414905
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