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Metaphors are indispensable tools for making sense of reality, including the ongoing reality of systemic colonial relations—or to obfuscate it (to deflect the need to enact substantive decolonisation agendas, for example). In times of crisis they perform a crucial role in translating and interpreting a rapidly changing world.

Viral phenomena have multiplied recently, literally and metaphorically. But all crises generate metaphorical languages. Terrorism was not a virus, it was a bacterial formation; the GFC was a fierce and incontrollable storm… The ‘Canberra bubble’ – a bad thing – has become the ‘family bubble’ – a good thing. To understand what is at stake in the metaphors we use and the ways they are deployed, we need a critical engagement with their underlying assumptions, their rhetorical operation, their ideological effects, and their real-world implications.

session 1

Can we remake the world through metaphor?

Edwin Bikundo (Griffith University), ‘Reading Faust into International Criminal Law’.

References to the devil in international criminal justice are various, varied and tap into a rich vein of allusion, association and meaning. These range from the simple where the term is used metaphorically to the more complex referencing Faustian pacts of one form or the other, to the downright esoteric encompassing the arcane origins of the immunity afforded to official acts. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s statement ‘That devil shall be defeated’ as well as Canadian General Romeo Dallaire’s ‘Shake Hands with the Devil’ are two examples respectively resisting and promoting international individual criminal liability. That Carl Schmitt was asked by his interrogator at Nuremberg ‘when did you renounce the devil?’ and that defence counsel at the International Criminal court in the Kenyan Situation analogised the Kenyan government as being accused of entering into ‘a deal with the devil’, to the judge at Rudolf Kastner’s case in Israel related to Naziera crimes described him as having ‘sold his soul to the devil’; cut across perpetrators and victims and speak of knowing and willing compacts with evil in order to, allegedly, produce good. Which is to say that are all political theodicies explaining away evil by linking it in some causal way to good.

Dorota Gozdecka (Helsinki Law), ‘All animals are equal, but some more than others – equality as an illusion in contemporary rights discourses’.

Equality as a legal mantra pervades our legal consciousness. Equality is entrenched in our constitutions and/or our human rights obligations. Yet, in recent years we have observed the gradual narrowing of the access to rights of some groups. This access is continuously curtailed by the use of metaphors that attempt to present some subjects as undeserving of equality and thus rights.

While it appears to be shocking that exclusion could increase in the era of rights, this presentation shows how equality as a legal mantra is illusory and how it embeds hierarchies of those who are ‘deserving’ or ‘fit’ for rights in contrast to those ‘undeserving’. It illustrates that ‘undeservingness’ has been used for centuries as an acceptable legal method of exclusion and that ‘equality’ albeit seemingly absolute, is in fact a constantly negotiable legal illusion.

Dimitris Vardoulakis (Philosophy, WSU), ‘What is agonistic democracy?’

“Agonistic democracy,” like telephone, thermometer, or helicopter, is one of those words populating the English language that is a compound of actual Greek words but does not come directly from the Greek language itself. The words are Greek but their combination is not. Such words tend to belong to the field of science and its technological advances. They are invariably about instrumental functions. But if the compounds of Greek words in English are used for their literal meaning—telephone means, for instance, literally a voice from afar—agonistic democracy has no such literal meaning. It is a metaphorical term. I will argue that the metaphor of agonistic democracy in political theory designates a field of concerns or problems shared by all those, like Nietzsche and Arendt, who express their fascination about ancient Greek culture through the notion of agonism. From this perspective, it may emerge that even though agonistic democracy is a neologism, it in fact describes a political way of being with others that has characterizes humans for a very long time. As such, understanding what is agonistic democracy emerges as an urgent task of our current political predicament.

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Date: 4 September 2020
Time: 12:30 pm - 2:00 pm Location: IPCS Online
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A series hosted by the Institute for Postcolonial Studies and the ANU Centre for Law Arts and Humanities.

Convened by Desmond Manderson (Australian National University) and Lorenzo Veracini (Swinburne University).