“The Climax of Reconciliation”: Transgression, Apology, Forgiveness and the Body in Conflict Resolution

Abstract

According to Charles Hauss, “[i]n the last few years, reconciliation has become one of the ‘hottest’ topics in the increasingly ‘hot’ field of conflict resolution” (2003, ¶1). However, despite the apparent interest in this “hot” academic topic (which is becoming increasingly warm in Canada as our own Truth and Reconciliation Commission commences), reconciliation studies have been dominated by Truth-based approaches. The restrictions of these approaches, which emphasize objectivity and rationality, often elide the body and the primacy of emotions in the reparative process. This essay begins a conversation on the role of the body and emotion in the study of reconciliation by engaging the work being done in the social sciences with contemporary trends in critical theory and literature. I argue that by looking at the fundamental role the body plays on the “road to reconciliation” we can devise a more vital approach to conflict resolution and the various processes that make it up.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    In Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History, Dori Laub illustrates how truth, as it pertains to traumatic events such as the Holocaust, is a perpetually unfolding subject that emerges between two people, i.e., the analyst and the analysand: “it is the encounter and the coming together between the survivor and the listener, which makes possible something like a repossession of the act of witnessing. This joint responsibility is the source of the reemerging truth” (1992, 85). Insofar as it is never a stable entity, truth, in this sense, cannot be held up to strict scientific, or even historic, scrutiny.

  2. 2.

    The most oft-cited example of this comes from Walter Benjamin, who famously declared that “there is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism” (1969, 256). However, Elizabeth Cook-Lynn states the case in perhaps a more direct, discerning way: “new societies and new nations are born from the spilling of blood of other nations” (1996, 39).

  3. 3.

    Frank Wright provides a compelling argument for this silence in Northern Ireland: A Comparative Analysis (1987). According to Wright, who follows from Rene Girard, the metropolis couches its violence toward the “ethnic frontier” in the guise of a judicial system, which the former establishes as the “winner” of historical conflict. As such, the frontier is deprived of the rational language it might use to levy its position (i.e., that the metropolis is enacting vengeance on an enemy). In my mind, the best example of this is The Circle Game (1997) by Roland Chrisjohn and Sherri Young, which, with reference to the United Nations’ Genocide Convention, explicitly names Canada’s residential school system as genocide. This report was commissioned by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and submitted to that commission in 1994. However, “[i]t was rejected because of its challenging content” (Shunpiking.com 2005, 3). The Circle Game was then published by Theytus books in 1997. Of course, Wright’s theories have very different applications for communities in which there is no clear “victor.” The ideas I present on silence here need to be reconsidered in light of reconciliation in places such as Northern Ireland, for example.

  4. 4.

    Unlike any other commission before it, the South African TRC offered pardons for political offences against human rights. These pardons were granted in exchange for testimony about specific events and were reviewed by an Amnesty Committee that was responsible to, but not dictated by, Tutu and the TRC.

  5. 5.

    Indeed, according to Brooks, “by studying the experiences of Japanese Americans [and Japanese Canadians], we can glean important lessons about the redress of human injustices within the complex web of … political system[s]” (1999a, 157).

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Gaertner, D. “The Climax of Reconciliation”: Transgression, Apology, Forgiveness and the Body in Conflict Resolution. Bioethical Inquiry 8, 245 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11673-011-9317-z

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Keywords

  • Reconciliation
  • Apology
  • Forgiveness
  • Conflict resolution
  • Critical theory