Antonius C. G. M. Robben
E p i l o g u e
The Imagination of Genocide
Men may dyen of ymaginacion So depe may impression be take.
—Geoffrey Chaucer, Miller’s Tale
The imagination of genocide begins with a body count. Num-
bers are crucial in determining whether or not a group was
killed “in whole or in part” to justify the term genocide (Hin-
ton 2002:43). The numbers of genocide overwhelm us by their
magnitude. Yet this visceral reaction is only the beginning, so
Kevin O’Neill and Alex Hinton remark in their introduction
to this volume, because genocide staggers us also with images
and questions. The editors imply not only that these numbers,
images, and questions are shocking and emotionally unsettling
but also that they make us lose our existential bearings because
they are so hard to imagine and comprehend. This sense of in-
comprehensibility affects all human beings, whether they are
survivors, perpetrators, bystanders, witnesses, collaborators,
journalists, scholars, artists, or any other person in whatever
time and age who stands speechless before a genocide past or
present. This incomprehensibility is layered and many sided.
Just as there is never one cause of genocide, so there is not one
all-encompassing representation that can dispel this uncanny
sensation. The understanding of genocide requires many forms
and ways of imagining because the imagination is much broader
than representation and involves conceptualization, mental vi-
sualization, sublimation, contextualization, and anticipation; it
Previous Page Next Page