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9 January 2019
Learning & Literature: Lauren Van Der Rede On The Ghosts Of Genocides Past

(Published - 9 January 2019)

With a new year beginning at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), there’s one thing students will need to prepare for: there’s going to be a lot of reading involved. A love of literature can lead to a better understanding of the world - including the darker side of humanity.

That’s something UWC PhD graduate Lauren van der Rede understands all too well - her thesis, The Post-Genocidal Condition: Ghosts of Genocide, Genocidal Violence and Representation, is an attempt to explore how literature stages and investigates the problem of genocide: “the post-genocidal condition”.

“Genocide should not be reduced to a marked beginning and end, etched out by the limits of its bloodiness,” she says. “Hence: the post-genocidal con.”

Through reading into the expression of violence in genocides in Rwanda, Ethiopia and the Darfur region of Sudan, Lauren came to re-think the question of genocide through these examples.

“In taking its cue from the literary, my intervention reads the question of genocide in a manner that resists the inclination to understand genocide as only physical violence, and its iteration as discrete ‘case studies’,” Lauren explains. “It’s an invitation to think genocide beyond the limit of international law and genocide studies’ framing it as phenomenon.”

Born and raised in Cape Town (though her family’s lineage can be traced to the small mission town of Elim in the Overberg of the Western Cape), Lauren attended Silverlea Primary School and Pinelands High School, and has since spent her academic career at UWC.

“I decided to study at UWC for a number of reasons - it being my father’s alma mater, its boasting of stellar Psychology and English departments...but I stayed because of its ethos - and the intellectual community to which I now belong.”

She had just begun teaching at UWC in a programme based in the Department of English Literature when a student asked to address the class.

He explained that he had himself survived genocide - and had come to UWC to further his education to become a lawyer so that he could go back to the place he still felt was home, and help.

“He did, however, also make one request of those of us present there then - that we study genocide, understand it, and try and help to prevent it from happening again. I decided to honour that request.”

Doing so required learning, reading and researching across the intersection of genocide studies, psychoanalysis and literature to enable a critical engagement with genocide as a question and attempts to think beyond its formulation as phenomenon.

This year, Lauren will be taking up a Next Generation Scholar position in the Centre for Humanities Research, and will continue her research and teaching at UWC.

“What was and continues to be my obligation as a scholar is to think responsibly about how the concept of genocide, the very word, functions in our understanding, and how our explanations of such extreme violence come to texture the lived experience thereof, and to offer critique that is productive.”