CMSI Lecture: Susanne Knittel

CMSI Lecture: Susanne Knittel

Event date: Thursday 29 November 2018, 5.30 – 7 p.m.
Location: Faculty of Arts and Philosophy, Blandijnberg 2, Auditorium 4 Jaap Kruithof

“Regarding Perpetrators: Repetition, Reenactment, Representation”; given by Dr. Susanne Knittel (Utrecht University)


In recent years, reenactment has emerged as one of the most compelling and controversial forms of theatrical and filmic Vergangenheitsbewältigung. Re-enactments are never mere repetitions, but reconstructions of past events inflected through contemporary contexts and concerns. As re-presentations of historical events, reenactments involve an affective, empathic, and ethical engagement with the past. This makes reenactments particularly productive and provocative means of engaging with the figure of the perpetrator and with questions of guilt, responsibility, and individual agency.

In my talk I will discuss film and theater reenactments by directors Romuald Karmakar and Milo Rau. The repetition that these pieces enact sets in motion a dynamic of similarity and difference which may on the one hand be read as uncanny and the expression of a traumatic repetition compulsion, i.e. the attempt to see for the first time an event that was never truly experienced when it occurred. On the other hand, and more affirmatively, reenactment as theatrical form can be seen (with Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze) as a critical intervention that challenges a teleological conception of history and that troubles simplistic binaries of good versus evil. I will show how they participate in the turn away from the “hermeneutics of suspicion” towards an affirmative critical practice. Karmakar and Rau stage perpetrator documents in their entirety, without commentary. Without an interpretive “safety-net,” the audience must engage with the reenacted event on its own terms, affirmatively, and thus risk the security of their pre-conceived positions. Only then can the repetition engender difference.


Susanne C. Knittel is an Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at Utrecht University. In her research she explores questions of memory, commemoration, and cultural amnesia; the figure of the perpetrator and the politics of memory; and the relationship between memory studies, disability studies, and posthumanism. Her monograph The Historical Uncanny: Disability, Ethnicity, and the Politics of Holocaust Memory (Fordham UP, 2015) is a comparative study of German and Italian postwar memory culture. The German edition, Unheimliche Geschichte, was published in 2018. Her current research focuses on the figure of the perpetrator in contemporary memory culture. She is the co-organizer of the Utrecht Forum for Memory Studies and the founder of The Perpetrator Studies Network. She is also editor-in-chief of the Journal of Perpetrator Research. Most recently, she has published Memory after Humanism, a special issue of Parallax (2017), co-edited with Kári Driscoll.

All are welcome. Admission is free, and registration is not required. For more information, please contact Stef Craps.