26 August 2010

Genocide in the Neighborhood, Part III

Cross: One term that seems to escape the conceptual rigor afforded concepts such as "consensus" and "community" is "justice," a term frequently used by both HIJOS and Colectivo Situaciones in relation to the escraches and its political praxis. Both collectives use the phrase "making justice" as if we should already understand what they mean by it, and yet there's a sense that justice is somehow the product or telos of the action—a becoming-justice. Opening the book at random, here are some phrases I've underlined:

"The escrache creates a different idea and practice of justice, one opposed and antagonistic to formal justice. And with this new justice, it founds a new practice and concept of democracy. "

"Justice doesn't depend on an institution that embodies it, but on an action that produces it."

"HIJOS is a social movement that is organized around a demand for justice. It was in response to this concrete demand that the escrache, a practice that founds a new way of understanding justice, was invented."

"But what we do is construct another justice, which we understand in a very different way, another idea, another practice, something that's constructed in the neighborhoods. A justice that is social condemnation."

I understand that HIJOS wants to exist outside "a politics that delegates to the institution the job of producing justice" (114), but I worry about their relation to the concept. On the one hand, I get the sense that the underformulation of the term is perfectly intended: "justice" is a variable going into the escrache, a concept that evolves with the movement of the event and somehow becomes a metonymy for the process in toto; as such, we could say that we "make justice" aesthetically, and that what we call "justice" is different for each performance. On the other hand, I want to take them at their word that justice equates social condemnation, which totally terrifies me! This is scarily reminiscent of the Westboro Baptist Church creating "justice" by socially condemning homosexuality at public funerals! As a one-time Catholic-schooler, the notion of justice as social condemnation gives me the willies! I wonder if you and your co-translators ever discussed this aspect of the book before adopting the project, and how you yourself react to the problem (if it is a problem!) as a reader of the work.
Whitener: I think you've touched on a very important aspect of the book, and I think this is the part of the book that people most frequently comment on. I think it's really important to talk about, and so I'd like to open this up a little towards more of a conversation. As well, as the most frequently commented on part of the book, it makes me feel like this is the part that we failed to do a good job of introducing. I think Jena (Osman) (who did an amazing job of editing the introduction as well as the rest of the book, along with Juliana (Spahr)) was pushing me towards addressing this more in the introduction and I either resisted or was worn out by the editing process and didn't do a good job. However, I wanted to ask you a little more about your reaction. You wrote: "This is scarily reminiscent of the Westboro Baptist Church creating "justice" by socially condemning homosexuality at public funerals!" I think it would be really useful to just take this example and think about how it compares with the escrache. As well that I want to step out of the role of (which I think I slipped into in the last answer and which I didn't like) of "representing" the book and switch into a discussion between us as friends. because I think it is really important to think the limits of the escrache and that's something I really haven't been successful in doing, so maybe your question can serve to get us to a place of doing that. What do you think? So I'd be interested to hear more of what you think about "to what extent are the escrache (based on your reading the book) and the church scenario similar"?

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