Katherine Burn

ISSN 2516-8045

Download: Book Reviews.

A. Hinton, The Justice Façade: Trials of Transition in Cambodia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018). Cloth, 304 pages, £80, ISBN 978-0198820949. Paperback, 304 pages, £24.99, ISBN 978-0198820956.

The Justice Façade by Alexander Laban Hinton published by Oxford University Press in 2018 is an ethnographic work incorporating phenomenology to explore the notion of transitional justice as utilised in the ECCC trials in Cambodia. Hinton’s longstanding work as the president of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, combined with his scholarship on the Cambodian genocide (see previously published, Man or Monster? The Trial of a Khmer Rouge Torturer, 2016) provide an enriched lens in which to disrupt traditional representations of trauma. Hinton’s aim is to reorient the accepted understanding of ‘transitional justice’ towards a more nuanced account through the methodology of phenomenology. Transitional justice asserts a binary in which the reparations of global atrocities inform a veneer of supposed democratic freedom and justice as everyday struggles are ignored in favour of this progressive façade. Previous academic scholarship, Hinton asserts, also propagates this reductive tendency towards linear development as the ‘progressivism of the transitional justice imaginary can also be seen in academic accounts, including the genealogies that assume rough early beginnings that come together in a swelling flow of global justice’ (Hinton, 2018, p.13). The transitional justice imaginary is thus an extension of Kathryn Sikkink’s notion of the ‘justice cascade’ (Sikkink’s term charts the increase in reparative action on behalf of individual suffering present during events of human rights violations), reoriented through phenomenological analysis. The façade of transitional justice, Hinton convincingly argues, obscures the work at grassroots level, thus requiring a phenomenological lens which ‘shifts the focus from totalizing universals to lived experience embedded in historical, social, and political contexts’ (Hinton, 2018, p.25).

The explication of the ‘justice façade’ invokes a distinctly Heideggerian analysis as Hinton focuses on the limitations of everyday conventionalism, critiquing the parameters of transitional justice and its effect on the people at the margins of its supposed concern. The published booklet by the KID (Khmer Institute of Democracy) featuring ‘Uncle San, Aunty Yan, and the KRT (Khmer Rouge Tribunal)’ (Hinton, 2018, p.65) illustrates Hinton’s argument that justice is a linear movement from fascism to progressivism; a linearity that is reconstructed through the imaginings of the afflicted. The characterisation of Uncle San and Aunty Yan highlights the veneer of transitional justice as the booklet seeks to educate the Cambodian people in a largely Westernised format, ignoring Buddhist influence and the ‘framing of Khmer ethnopsychology’ (Hinton, 2018, p.170).  Phenomenology enables Hinton to reorient the focus of the text towards a methodology aware of its own liminality as the ECCC (Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia) discounts the progression within Cambodia since the collapse of the Khmer Rouge and before the global intervention of the trial. The aim of the book situates temporality and the representation of trauma at the forefront of its investigation as Hinton criticises the grand narratives of hybridised global transitional justice, and instead seeks to explore the ramifications of the trial within the lives of the civil parties involved. Hinton notes that, ‘while there are many strands of phenomenology, much of it follows philosophers like Heidegger and Husserl, who explored the way in which being is temporally mediated by a past, including the broader “lifeworld” (lebenswelt)’ (Hinton, 2018, p.25). The methodology is informed by Heidegger’s fundamental ontology, rather than continuing the Husserlian line of phenomenology, as notions of the everyday (‘everydayness’) are delineated through an analysis that simultaneously explores the past, present and future impact of trauma on the Khmer Rouge survivors. The text is less an exegetical account of Heideggerian analysis within trauma scholarship, than it is a robust practical application of phenomenological thought to contemporary anthropology, reinforcing the importance of the discipline as a radical lens in which to dislocate preconceptions of justice.

Hinton divides the book into three sections: Vortices, Turbulence and Eddies. The introduction exploring KRT outreach (as aforementioned), aesthetics and dramatic responses to the trial, ‘Breaking the Silence’ (Hinton, 2018, p.187) provide an original analysis of representations of justice that link phenomenological implications of everydayness with both the legal sphere of the trial and the groundwork conducted by NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations). The subsection, ‘Self-portrait with a mirror’, within the chapter on aesthetics interrogates local artist and survivor Vann Nath’s response to the human rights violations occurring in S-21 (Tuol Sleng prison). Nath’s self portrait provokes an engaging discussion of the Lacanian mirror stage which also represents the gap between ‘visual culture and what has been imagined, and never fully attained’ (Hinton, 2018, p.132). Phenomenological analysis here presents itself as a fundamental tool in decoding ‘visual culture’ (Ibid) as Hinton extends the Heideggerian lens to discuss the impact of art as testimony. Nath’s portrait informs his testimony in court which Hinton skilfully argues is the aesthetic work of the justice façade: a reductive, though persuasive, linear transformation between suffering and catharsis. Similarly, the ontological analysis of the Breaking the Silence play curated by the DC-Cam ECCC Outreach programme reveals the ‘setting-into-work of truth’ (Heidegger and Krell, 1993, p.211) nature of art in which a particular representation of culture is articulated, disclosing a space and manner of being. Both the portrait and the play are thus material components of the justice façade and Hinton’s original analysis reinforces the dissemination of such articulation on grassroots levels.

In conclusion, The Justice Façade is an engaging and original contribution to trauma studies. The analysis (which I have here explicitly analysed as Heideggerian) is only implicitly stated as the text applies phenomenology rather than describing its origins e.g. Husserl and Heidegger are briefly mentioned in the introduction however they do not reappear throughout the text. Hinton’s heterogeneous work parallels the hybridity of global justice and the result is a persuasive and exciting new addition to the field.

A. Hinton, Man or Monster? The Trial of a Khmer Rouge Torturer (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016). Cloth, 360 pages, $104.95, ISBN: 978-0-8223-6258-6. Paper, 360 pages, $28.95, ISBN: 978-0-8223-6273-9.

Man or Monster? The Trial of a Khmer Rouge Torturer also by Alexander Hinton published by Duke University Press in 2016 adds to anthropological scholarship investigating the Cambodian genocide. Hinton’s text investigates the trial of Duch (original name Kaing Guek Eav aka Kiev), the Khmer Rouge cadre who ran S-21 between 1976-1979.  The text presents an intriguing argument, once again utilising the lens of phenomenology, to explore the space between the role of man and monster. Hinton cites Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil as the genesis of the provocation: how do we account for the atrocities of humanity? The answer, as argued throughout the text, lurks in the banality of everyday violations as acts of thoughtlessness – Duch presents himself as a maths teacher seduced by the regime; a communist wanting to improve the life of the Cambodian people. The text successfully explores the liminality between the representation of a (self-aware Judeo-Christian) impression of evil and the man on trial seeking forgiveness.

The original methodology reinforces the turn towards more diversifying narratives within trauma studies. Hinton’s excellent abecedarian, ‘Apology. Blank ink. Confession. Conversion. Christianity…’ reveals a stylistic approach that combines the aesthetics of phenomenology with piercing analysis, whilst successfully evading rhetoric. Duch’s life is starkly represented through a series of provocative images, ‘Smash. To crush or reduce to nothing. A Scream. Silence’ (Hinton, 2016, p.43) whilst never appearing gratuitous, ‘Zero. Empty. No enemies. Unmarked’ (Ibid). The segment prefaces the chapter on Confession and provides an alternative reading as the mundane is contrasted and thus connected to acts of atrocity. Hinton’s phenomenology works as an applied tool and the abecedarian highlights the necessity for representations of lived experience.

Hinton seeks to recalibrate the framing prevalent in trauma narratives, ‘these frames have both a public and private life’ (Hinton, 2016, p.11). Such frames reiterate the binaries existing within representations of human rights violations, i.e. good and evil, suffering and catharsis, the barbaric and progress. Hinton’s focus on the banal thus inhabits the context within such framing – he uses the portrait of Duch from the museum at Tuol Sleng which is continuously defaced – to illustrate his argument, adding yet another dimension of the uncanny. This hybrid approach provides a new image of Duch as someone haunting and haunted, yet the explication of the trial contests the inclination to overly sympathise (a critique that Hinton is aware of and thus addresses). Focusing on the redactic as the accumulation of the ‘uncanny’s suggestion of excess, overflow and eruption’ (Hinton, 2016, p.32), Hinton’s work examines the ‘excess’ (Ibid) prevalent within the banal – Duch’s portrait, for example, appears evil due to the eyes being crossed out which he initially analyses as a Judeo-Christian depiction of wickedness rather than the Buddhist concept of ignorant blindness. Representations of trauma, therefore, have a tendency to operate within didactic frames presupposing a specific socio-economic context however the overspill of meaning has largely been ignored. The portrait conceptualises the work of the redactic as Hinton reconsiders his original reading after exploring the lives and everyday motivations of the survivors.

The text considers alternate portrayals of Duch from ‘Cog’ to ‘Master’ and ‘Zealot’ before concluding with the ‘Redactic: Final Decision’ (Hinton, 2016, p.243). Duch’s trial consists of graphic testimonies which Hinton handles with care as he continually seeks to explore the unspoken, ‘cracks were beginning to emerge in the Trial Chamber’s carefully crafted judgement, as what had been redacted by its articulation suddenly appeared in a torrent of emotion and criticism’ (Hinton, 2016, p.242). Man or Monster? concludes with a final reflection on framing as Hinton notes that during his research, he watches himself on a recording of Duch’s final sentencing, ‘I see an image of the image of someone looking at an image. I look at it again and again. I’m almost positive. But the picture is slightly blurred’ (Hinton, 2016, p.255). The uncanniness of his own reflection links Hinton’s original analysis of Duch’s portrait at Tuol Sleng with his deferred presence at the trial, conceptualising the work of the redactic as diachronic. Hinton’s analysis invokes a highly original voice, one which resonates throughout his work as a destabilising presence, making the reader doubt their own ethical preconceptions. The temporality of the trial is, therefore, reconstituted as Duch’s immediate gesticulations/admissions are cross-referenced with lingering Khmer ethnopsychology revealing the problematic global (Westernised) framing that is transposed onto the work of the ECCC.

In conclusion, the 2016 text thoroughly interrogates the trial of Duch without reductively formalising a conclusion – he exists somewhere within the binary of his representation. Hinton’s phenomenological method creates an engaging read as the narrative oscillates between synchronic analyses of the accused, ‘Duch remained on his feet, hands clasped just below his belt, fingers fidgeting…’ (Hinton, 2016, p.69) and more diachronic observations from the trial, ‘the process rendered a social order, through a “disposition” that set things properly in favour of abstract truth’ (Hinton, 2016, p.241). The result is a powerful reading of the trial that clearly inspires the following (and aforementioned) text published in 2018. Combined, both monographs present a new orientation within trauma studies, resurrecting the phenomenological lens as a radical methodology in its ability to interrogate the unspeakable.