Helene Cixous's The Perjured City: Nonprosecution Alternatives to Collective Violence

9 N.Y. City L. Review 1 (2005)

34 Pages Posted: 27 Aug 2014

See all articles by Susan Ayres

Susan Ayres

Texas A&M University School of Law

Date Written: 2005


In instances of collective violence — apartheid in South Africa, mass killings in Rwanda, and other crimes against humanity such as slavery — what response provides justice? How can justice be achieved under such a system? Legal justice through prosecution would be unjust. This opens the possibility of nonprosecution alternatives involving forgiveness. Hélène Cixous’s play about forgiveness as an alternative to criminal prosecution, The Perjured City: Or, the Awakening of the Furies, was written in response to an actual case of failed justice in France, known as the Bad Blood Scandal. The play provides a model of forgiveness and a forum for public catharsis. Her play addresses the legal system’s failure to hold accountable several French physicians who exposed hemophiliacs to Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

The background of the Bad Blood Scandal is discussed in Part One of this Article. Cixous viewed the scandal as a genocide and responded by writing The Perjured City, a play that exposes the unjustness of the legal system. Part Two analyzes this play, in which the mother of dead hemophiliac children wants to avenge their deaths. The responsible doctors are hounded by the Greek Furies, who have been silently observing the legal system’s injustice since they went underground to be benevolent goddesses after the trial of Orestes in Aeschylus’ play The Eumenides. Cixous’s play calls for the Furies’ return, but her play does not depict simple revenge. Rather, her play depicts a ceremony of confession and forgiveness.

Parts Three and Four of this Article summarize the goals and the theoretical debate surrounding nonprosecution alternatives such as the ceremony found in The Perjured City. Typically, nonprosecution alternatives attempt to provide therapeutic goals or restorative justice. Many theoretical questions arise when forgiveness is also sought as part of restorative justice. Should forgiveness be unconditional? Should forgiveness be sought in the public forum? Does forgiveness lead to forgiving? After considering these questions, Part Five of this Article considers an example of nonprosecution alternatives in the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which was a likely model for Cixous, who had written a book on Nelson Mandela. This Article concludes by arguing that while there is no simple answer to the question of what is just justice, society must remain open to nonprosecution alternatives and restorative justice, especially in the context of extraordinary crimes.

Keywords: Restorative Justice, Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Derrida, Cixous

Suggested Citation

Ayres, Susan, Helene Cixous's The Perjured City: Nonprosecution Alternatives to Collective Violence (2005). 9 N.Y. City L. Review 1 (2005), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2098027

Susan Ayres (Contact Author)

Texas A&M University School of Law ( email )

1515 Commerce St.
Fort Worth, TX 76102
United States

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