Literature, Justice, Transition

“literary works of art can give voice to the victims to tell their story, function as tools of memorialisation and documentation, and offer interpretations of reconciliation processes and of legality itself”

The arts present both a catalyst mechanism and an important information and reparation tool to support societies in transition. Artworks speak of the challenges of transition, foster, and, on occasion, hinder transitional processes. The artistic expressions can provide informal counterparts for the most significant mechanisms of transitional justice: truth and reconciliation process, public lustration, public apology, psychological reparation, demand for public access to governmental records, and others. They can also stimulate awareness of the need to implement transitional justice mechanisms in societies that do not otherwise perceive themselves as being “transitional”. In any of these cases, such unofficial probing of transition exposes the commensurabilities and disparities between the general reading of the rule of law and its local perception, and the external and the internal practices in place to promote legality in a given community.

The role of literature, as an art of prolonged impact, is particularly significant in this context: literary works of art can give voice to the victims to tell their story, function as tools of memorialisation and documentation, and offer interpretations of reconciliation processes and of legality itself. In turn, this function reorients the role of libraries; the latter may operate dynamically as continually reshaped repositories of alternative knowledge on what constitutes a just society. Adopting a global perspective on literary and artistic production, Professor Bahun’s Keynote Lecture will address the part played by the arts, and literary art in particular, in transitional societies, and the potential of artworks to articulate the notion of justice in a way that is workable for each community.

Professor Sanja Bahun was a Keynote Speaker at The European Conference on Literature & Librarianship 2016 (LibEuro2016) in Brighton, England.

Professor Sanja Bahun

Sanja Bahun is Professor of Literature and Film in the Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies, University of Essex, UK. Her research expertise spans international modernism, world literature and cinema, transitional justice, psychoanalysis, and women’s and gender studies. She is the author of Modernism and Melancholia: Writing as Countermourning (2013), and the co-editor of The Avant-garde and the Margin: New Territories of Modernism (2006), Violence and Gender in the Globalized World: The Intimate and the Extimate (2008; second, revised and enlarged edition 2015), From Word to Canvas: Appropriations of Myth in Women’s Aesthetic Production (2009), Myth and Violence in the Contemporary Female Text: New Cassandras (2011), Language, Ideology, and the Human: New Interventions (2012), Myth, Literature, and the Unconscious (2013), and Cinema, State Socialism and Society in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, 1917-1989: Re-Visions (2014).

Bahun serves on the Executive Committee of the British Comparative Literature Association (BCLA). Her research has been supported and funded by the EU, AHRC, HEFCE, and other funders, and her books and articles have been part of the higher education curricula at the universities in the USA, India, the Republic of Korea, South Africa, Russia, Netherlands, Sweden, Cyprus, Serbia, and the UK. She has an international profile as a speaker and evaluator. Currently, Bahun is engaged in two major research projects: an investigation of the concept of home in modernist art, film, and literature, and a study of the interactions between the arts and transitional justice.

Bahun has a long-standing commitment to bridging the gap between academic theory and practice, and is active in public fora around the issues of homelessness, gender violence, prison system improvement, and freedom of expression. She coordinates research and public engagement activities in the Arts and Transitional Justice section of Transitional Justice Network at the University of Essex, and in the Human Rights and the Arts cluster of the Human Rights Centre, University of Essex.

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