We Are All Implicated in Violence and Oppression, Both Historical and Present-Day: A Conversation with Michael Rothberg

Listen in for an important conversation with Michael Rothberg about how we understand violence—both in history and in our own present day—and our place within it. This is obviously an important set of timely issues, both intellectually and politically, which relate closely to Michael’s recent book The Implicated Subject, which is a major focus of our conversation. But the book is just a starting point for the bigger question of how we can understand ourselves as implicated in the legacy of historical violence, as well as present-day oppression.

Michael Rothberg is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at UCLA, and he holds the 1939 Society Samuel Goetz Chair in Holocaust Studies there. The Implicated Subject: Beyond Victims and Perpetrators is his most recent book, and he’s also the author of Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization (2009), and Traumatic Realism: The Demands of Holocaust Representation (2000).

The Implicated Subject is a really important book because it raises the fundamental challenge that no one is really innocent when it comes to historical injustices – even those of us who were born long after the events took place. As he writes, when we think about injustice there are not just perpetrators and victims, but many people are also implicated—as people who enable systemic violence and oppression, or benefit in some fashion even without thinking about it, or who bear responsibility for the legacies of historical injustice. It’s an important term to add to our vocabulary, to think about the history of the implicated subject – of those people who have agency over their lives, as subjects, and are implicated in the history of violence and injustice, as well as systems of oppression in our own day, and its a call for reflection and for action to fight oppression, injustice, and inequality when we think about our own place within it. I’m so glad to be able to discuss this with Michael, because I think that he offers an important conceptual framework and a challenge to all of us as we think about history, about memory, and about our own lives.

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