Issue 129, August 2015

Hiroshima and Nagasaki: 70th anniversary of the bombings


This special issue of Thesis Eleven has been published to mark the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The concern is to think about what the bombings mean today and how their challenge can be confronted across social and cultural thought and action. The question running through this special issue is: What do the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki mean for us today?

from the Introduction by Guest Editors Brad Evans and Keith Tester



Forgetting Hiroshima, remembering Auschwitz: Tales of two exhibits

Susan Neiman

Abstract: This paper uses two museum exhibitions to raise questions about how Hiroshima and Auschwitz are coped with in the present. The stake of the paper is to examine how it has been possible for different polities to come to terms with criminal pasts that should cause shame and guilt. The criminality of Auschwitz is established, but not that of Hiroshima. In the first instance, then, the paper establishes the extent to which the justifications for the bombing of Hiroshima were and remain controversial. The second part of the paper compares debates around two exhibitions: the Hiroshima exhibition at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC and the exhibition ‘Extermination War: Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941–44’ which travelled through Germany and Austria in the late 1990s.

Hiroshima: Remembering and forgetting, everything and nothing

Keith Tester

Abstract: Is it possible to remember Hiroshima and, if it is, what exactly is being remembered? This paper uses Resnais’s film Hiroshima Mon Amour as a way of asking this question. The problem of remembering is identified as being due to how nuclear explosions are beyond the human capacity to understand. The paper draws on the work of Günther Anders to explore the implications of Hiroshima for the human understanding of human possibilities.

Hiroshima temporalities

Michael J Shapiro

Abstract: As is made evident in Rosalyn Deutsche’s recent book, Hiroshima After Iraq, Hiroshima keeps returning through the way diverse artistic genres evoke parallels between the bombing of Hiroshima and subsequent atrocities. After contrasting US and Japanese perspectives on the event of the bombing and drawing on Walter Benjamin’s concept of temporal plasticity (while at the same time heeding the relationship between presence and grammar), this essay ponders the future anterior of Hiroshima, its continuous will-have-beens, as new films and re-analyses of older ones (especially Hiroshima Mon Amour and The Cats of Mirikitani) continue to restage its significance.

(Nuclear) war and the memory of Nagasaki: Thinking at the (impossible) limit

Maja Zehfuss

Abstract: On the 70th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki the world remains marked by violent conflict and the possibility of nuclear war. This seems an apt moment to ask whether the bombings have left a trace in our thinking. This article thus explores how particular articulations of their memory or, alternatively, failures to articulate such a memory, conjure up our world: how they represent and account for violence and how, if at all, they assign specific significance to nuclear weapons. Reading two very different texts, Jacques Derrida’s ‘No Apocalypse, Not Now’ and Kamila Shamsie’s Burnt Shadows, alongside each other, the article shows how remembering finds itself at the impossible limit between the conceptual and the particular, in the space of politics. It argues that the violence that continues to form an everyday part of our world can only be challenged or even understood by thinking at this (impossible) limit where no answer can be generated in the abstract and decisions are necessary.

The A-bomb victims’ plea for cosmopolitan commemoration: Toward reconciliation and world peace

Hiro Saito

Abstract: This paper critically revisits the A-bomb victims’ plea for cosmopolitan commemoration that takes humanity, rather than nationality, as a primary frame of reference. To this end, I first elaborate the nature of cosmopolitan commemoration espoused by A-bomb victims in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in comparison with another form of cosmopolitan commemoration pertaining to the Holocaust victims. I then analyze limitations in these cosmopolitan commemorations and explore how they can be transcended. In light of my critical analysis, I argue that genuinely cosmopolitan commemoration, a prerequisite for reconciliation and world peace, will appear on the horizon if the commemorations of the two events are synthesized with the help of ‘historians’ debate’ that continuously subjects the logic of nationalism to critical reflections. This synthesis has the potential to help people envision cosmopolitan politics – cosmopolitics – where they can engage in peaceful but agonistic struggles, not as enemies but as fellow humans, in collectively governing their lives in today’s war-torn world.Post-Hiroshima reflections on extinction.

Post-Hiroshima reflections on extinction

Arne Johan Vetlesen

Abstract: Hiroshima was the first sign of the possibility of the human-inflicted devastation of the natural as well as the human world. But the potential for destruction is greater than it was in August 1945. It is now incumbent upon philosophy and critical though to consider the contemporary destruction of the non-human species and ecology upon which continued human life depends. This paper uses Hiroshima as a point of entry into consideration of the need now to think beyond anthropocentrism and instead to think more ecologically.

Hiroshima and the responsibility of intellectuals: Crisis, catastrophe, and the neoliberal disimagination machine

Henry A Giroux

Abstract: This article addresses the relative silence of American intellectuals in the face of what can be termed the greatest act of terrorism ever committed by a nation-state, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I analyze this indifference by American intellectuals as partly due to their taming by a cultural apparatus that functions largely as a disimagination machine in conjunction with the neoliberal forces of commodification, privatization, and militarism. I argue that terror and violence are now addressed within a public pedagogy driven by a spectacle of violence that defines itself as entertainment but is actually a form of public pedagogy that thrives on an excess of representation and an attempt to produce a collective surrender to political cynicism and apocalyptic despair. In this instance, despair and cynicism, if not a retreat from any sense of moral responsibility, are deeply embedded in a mode of politics in which education is central to a flight from social responsibility and an embrace of modes of depoliticization. The article concludes by calling upon educators, intellectuals, artists and others to create the institutions, public spheres, and other sites necessary to develop a critical formative culture capable of reclaiming public memory while simultaneously producing critically engaged intellectuals and a vibrant democratic polity.

Review essay

Secular studies come of age

James S Bielo

Abstract: In this essay I review three important volumes for the field of secular studies: Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age, Rethinking Secularism, and The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere. All three volumes explore the nature of the secular and the status, role, and possible futures of religion in our late modern, globalized world. The volumes present 34 essays by 30 authors representing seven disciplines, and at least six end games. For some, questions of religion-secular entanglement are a historical matter and the task is to map intellectual and ideological trajectories. A second purpose is to empirically document the complexities of particular religion-secular entanglements in particular socio-cultural locations. For others, the remit is theoretical, to discern a conceptual agenda for the ongoing study of religion-secular entanglements. Others are more philosophical, chasing the existential consequences of secularity. A fifth end game is applied in nature: reflections on how political actors might best engage the religious and the secular in acts of governance and international relations. Finally, there are normative voices, those seeking to name what a good, productive religion-secular entanglement ought to look like. Taken together, the volumes mark a thriving, mature field of scholarly inquiry: secular studies has come of age.

Book reviews

Bruce C Wearne reviews The social thought of Talcott Parsons: Methodology and American Ethos
John Fitzgerald reviews The varieties of ecstasy experience: An exploration of person, mind and body in Sydney’s club culture

Tim Corballis reviews Ethics of liberation in the age of globalization and exclusion

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