Dr Paul Muldoon - Monash University

The turn to reconciliation in former colonial states is commonly understood as a progressive political development. Where it is not simply equated with “restorative justice”, it is represented as either its enabling condition or its ultimate measure. The aim of this paper is produce what, following Brecht, could be called an “estrangement effect” in relation to this view of reconciliation. Drawing insights from psychoanalytic accounts of narcissism, it explores the possibility that the turn to reconciliation in former colonial states like Australia has more to do with recovering the national “ego ideal” than it does with fulfilling the requirements of justice (or perhaps it would be better to say that it fulfills the requirements of justice only as far as is necessary to recover the national “ego ideal”). The paper is not, however, an unequivocal denunciation of the narcissistic impulse in reconciliation, which will be shown to have progressive as well as regressive forms. Instead it wrestles with its ambiguous quality as something that simultaneously drives the restorative project and compromises its capacity to deliver on its promise. Reconciliation, I will argue, is not simply a means by which Indigenous subjectivities are re-conquered by the colonial state (this time in the mode of intimacy). However, to the extent that its primary objective is to alleviate a sense of shame, reconciliation always betrays itself. Ultimately what it seeks to heal is not the physical and psychic wounds inflicted upon Aboriginal people by the process of colonization, but the “narcissistic wound” opened up by revelations of colonial violence and assertions of Aboriginal separateness.

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