Irma Erlingsdóttir: Staging a Trial. Forgiveness as a Form of Justice in Hélène Cixous’s La Ville parjure ou le Réveil des Érinyes
The article deals with Hélène Cixous’s play La Ville parjure ou le Réveil des Érinyes, which is an epic tragedy, combining history, memory, and myth. The play addresses the failings of modern society and the collapse of core values in a deeply flawed democratic order. The French Blood Affair (L’affaire du sang contaminé) in the 1990s is the play’s main term of reference, but it was written when “ethnic cleansing” was taking place in Bosnia and it deals with a topic outside of time and space. As a meta-narrative, the article approaches the play from the perspective of transitional justice and memory studies to illuminate societal and individual efforts to grapple with a “troubled past.” An emphasis is placed on Cixous’s alternative way of addressing justice: through forgiveness instead of criminal prosecution or other forms of retribution or reconciliation. Here it is argued that the play provides a forum for public catharsis and that Cixous is reproducing a trial by theatre to allow the victims to gain what Shoshana Felman termed “semantic authority.” The purpose is not simply to repeat the victim’s story, but to create it, historically. The article discusses the question of how the telling of a story of genocide may be therapeutic to both the victim and to society. It also analyzes the meaning in the play, of the concepts of “forgiveness” and “apology,” with a special focus on the question of whether forgiveness should be unconditional or conditional. The context is Derrida’s proposition of a negotiation between these two variants based on the notion of forgiveness as a double structure, both irreducible to one another and indissociable.
Keywords: Hélène Cixous, political theatre, The French Blood Affair, troubled pasts, transitional justice