Memory and Repetition: Reenactment as an Affirmative Critical Practice

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In recent years, reenactment has emerged as a compelling and controversial form of coming to terms with the past (Vergangenheitsbewältigung). As reconstructions of past events inflected through contemporary contexts and concerns, reenactments prompt an affective, empathetic, and ethical engagement with the past. This makes them a particularly provocative means of engaging with the figure of the perpetrator and with questions of guilt, responsibility, and agency. This article reads reenactments by Romuald Karmakar and Milo Rau as challenges to a teleological conception of history and simplistic binaries of good versus evil. Their works stage perpetrator documents in their entirety, without commentary. In this way they participate in the turn away from the “hermeneutics of suspicion” toward an affirmative critical practice. 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 preconceived positions. Only then can the repetition engender difference.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)171-195
JournalNew German Critique
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019


  • Reenactment
  • Cultural Memory
  • Theater
  • Perpetrator Studies
  • Germany


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