The martyr and the traitor: Violence and resistance in world literature and cinema
Salwatura Acharige, Prabha Madhuwanthi Manuratne
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This dissertation examines the way systemic capitalist violence and resistance to it can be articulated through the three figures of the martyr, the disappeared, and the traitor. Focusing on the literary tropes of the character and the figure, I examine how literary and cinematic texts produced in non-Western contexts understand and theorize violence, narrativizing the effects of such violence upon ethico-political choices that the characters in these texts make. The three figures discussed in this dissertation point to different ways subjects come to commit to the socio-symbolic Other within situations of extreme violence. Historically, these texts are situated in Palestine, Iran, and Lebanon during 1976-2002, a period that roughly corresponds to the emergence of neoliberal ideology and Structural Adjustment Programs across the world. During this period, the martyr, the disappeared, and the traitor emerged as emblematic political figures associated with systemic violence and the resistance to it. Drawing on the psychoanalytical idea that symbolic limits enable, rather than restrain the human capacity to act, I argue that in their own way, the texts I discuss in this dissertation advance these figures as those driven by a commitment to that socio-symbolic Other. I contend that neoliberal political ideologies target the very conditions that enable collective social existence, and that as such a commitment to them can become an important political value. I relate each of the figures to an ethical and political concept: the martyr to witnessing and perseverance, the disappeared to mourning and survival, and the traitor to betrayal and solidarity. Because each of these characters is marked by death (or their close proximity to death) they prevent the kind of ideological hardening that critics such as Jacqueline Rose have associated with resistance within neoliberalism. Rather, these figures mark ethical and political acts that stand in stark contrast to the mood of neoliberalism that is generally characterized as inaction and paralysis. I discuss Sahar Khalifeh’s novels Wild Thorns and End of Spring as two texts that draw on the autochthonous meanings of the martyr that politicize witnessing as a form of communal perseverance that is predicated on the commitment to the Other. In my discussion of Abbas Kiarostami’s film Life and Nothing More , I argue that the filmmaker and the peasants who participate in acting in the film, together, embody the two aspects of mourning and survival that are at the core of the figure of the disappeared. In my discussion of Ethel Adnan’s Sitt Marie Rose I argue that Marie Rose’s betrayal embodies the way the woman as sexual Other and political dissenter can challenge the closed, imaginary systems of identification that characterize mass bonding. In conclusion, this dissertation argues that such unpoetic resistance and survival become ethical principles that drive human subjects to forge new solidarities across the mind-numbing sameness to which neoliberalism condemns us.