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The Need to Fictionalize

April 27, 2011

The capacity of humans to comprehend political violence in its most extreme form is limited, suggests Naida Zukic, an assistant professor in BMCC’s Department of Speech, Communications and Theater Arts.

“So, instead of dealing with violence, we fictionalize it,” she says. “Here in the west, we’re able to deal with violence as it is depicted by Hollywood. But what we cannot deal with is the reality of torture, war, mass executions and human rights abuses.”

Reflections on the “the ethics of responsibility”

An award-winning digital performance artist and media scholar, Zukic spoke on the fictionalization of violence and related themes on March 14 when she delivered the 2011 Anne Morrison Chapman lecture at Converse College, in Spartanburg, SC.

The subject of her lecture was “The Ethics of Responsibility and the Violence of the Self.” The event was sponsored by the Anne Morrison Chapman Endowment and Converse’s Departments of Foreign Languages and Literature; and History and Politics.

“In his film, The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, the Slovenian philosopher and psychoanalyst Slavoj Zizek observes that if something becomes too traumatic, it shatters the coordinates of our reality and we have to fictionalize it,” Zukic says.

In her lecture at Converse, she examined this phenomenon and offered her theories on the relationship of the moral self to state-sponsored violence, torture and censorship—in Libya, Kosovo, Congo, Afghanistan, her native Bosnia and other “zones of the lost and destroyed.”

Her presentation combined video images and film footage “and asked that we contemplate our own ethics of responsibility and our complicity with that violence, as journalists, scholars, artists, and filmmakers.”

But complicity doesn’t necessarily imply direct responsibility in violence and human rights abuses, Zukic says.  Rather, “it points to our own blindness to the accumulation of these atrocities—or what Slavoj Zizek calls ‘the fetishistic disavowal of reality’.”  For many people, the response to violence is, “I know but don’t know want to know, so I don’t know; I know it but refuse to fully assume the consequences of this knowledge so I can continue to act as if I don’t know it.”

That response is problematic, she says, “and ethical gestures like this need to be studied and questioned—in our own thinking and in our art."

Raising awareness

Zukic is quick to note that there are no easy answers. “I’m not in a position to ask people to take action or offer solutions,” she says. “Rather, I can teach about these problems to my students and ask questions in the hope of raising awareness—about war and its effect on what the philosopher Judith Butler calls ‘ungrievable populations’. We all need to pause and think about what is going on structurally, politically and culturally.”


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  • Delivers yearly lecture at the invitation of South Carolina’s Converse College
  • Her topic: The Ethics of Responsibility and the Violence of the Self
  • Multi-media presentation explores mankind’s response in the face of state-sponsored violence

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