This essay argues that the media-generated spectacle of the dead African body serves as a historically and rhetorically continuous signifier through which the West mounts a revisionary practice of cultural introspection and self-reinvention. Analyzing different representations of the 1994 Rwandan genocide in the West, this essay examines the cultural and narrative logic of the rise of “humanitarianist capital.” Not unlike earlier imperial civilization projects, the cultural production of humanitarianist capital relies on discursive and structural forms of violence that generate patterns of affect and empathy and legitimize the perceived need for economic and institutional aid while reifying the inhabitants of the global South in general and Africa in particular as dependent nonsubjects. Juxtaposing Gil Courtemanche's novel Un dimanche à la piscine à Kigali/A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali (2000/2003) with Marcel Odenbach's video installation In stillen Teichen lauern Krokodile/In Still Ponds Crocodiles May Be Lurking (2002/2004), the essay scrutinizes the ways in which the “necropoeic” narrative strategies of dominant representations of violence in sub-Saharan Africa tend to constitute and perpetuate the social and political death of the African citizen to build Western communities of humanitarianist sentiment. In contrast, Odenbach's installation presents a rare exception to this tendency in that it refuses an immediate access to and consumption of the displayed African body, dismantles the depoliticized economy of humanitarian affect, and stresses the need for and possibility of a politics of proximity and complicity.
Global Humanitarianism, Race, and the Spectacle of the African Corpse in Current Western Representations of the Rwandan Genocide
Heike Härting; Global Humanitarianism, Race, and the Spectacle of the African Corpse in Current Western Representations of the Rwandan Genocide. Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 1 May 2008; 28 (1): 61–77. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/1089201x-2007-056
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