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Music and Genocide


Wojciech Klimczyk and Agata Świerzowska

At first glance, no two experiences could be further apart than genocide and music. Yet real, live culture usually goes beyond rational divisions. It is now fairly commonly known that art is not absent from the sites of mass killings. Both victims and prosecutors engage in artistic activities in prisons and camps, as well as at other places where genocides take place. What is the music of genocide? Can the experience of ultimate terror be expressed in music? How does music reflect on genocide? How do we perceive music after genocide? What is music and what is silence in a world marked by mass killings? Is post-genocidal silence really possible or appropriate? The goal of the volume is to reveal and, maybe even to some extent, resolve the most profound dilemma that was expressed by Theodor W. Adorno when he asked «whether it is even permissible for someone who accidentally escaped and by all rights ought to have been murdered, to go on living after Auschwitz.» It is not for the sake of pure curiosity that the relation between music and genocide is examined. In a sense we are all survivors who accidentally escaped genocide. It might have happened to us. It may still happen.
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Impossible Music? On Genocide as Silence (Rwanda, Auschwitz and Beyond)


How can we start after all is over? How can we begin after the end? Genocide is an operation which seeks the ultimate end and finds it. Therefore genocide is irrevocable, irreversible, and definite. It brings a closure after which all the efforts to restore what has been before are futile. Therefore we cannot begin. A start is impossible so we are forced to adopt a different perspective. If something is to be said or written, it has to be taken from the closure. This is neither to give affirmation nor permission. Yet, one cannot simply begin after the end and so this text does not really begin. It is already over just like the experiences it tries to embrace. If we look from a political perspective, it wallows in certain powerlessness. The text is neither a call nor a program. It is not positive in any sense. It just tries to be and fails but in this motion it expresses a stubborn if impossible hope. This hope is trapped between two endings with no beginning to attach itself to. One can see it as having been already utterly destroyed by the irreversibility of genocide. But one can also stubbornly stick to it as precisely this – hope destroyed.

This is a lesson taught to us by Theodor W. Adorno with whom this text converses. Yet the text is not a reconstruction of Adorno’s pensée. Rather it can be viewed as an act of co-failure. Just...

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