Culpability in Atrocity and the Role of Complicit Observer

15 Pages Posted: 28 Feb 2023 Last revised: 2 Mar 2023

See all articles by Haley S. Anderson

Haley S. Anderson

University of California, Berkeley - Jurisprudence and Social Policy Program

Date Written: January 18, 2023

Abstract

Randle DeFalco's recent book, "Invisible Atrocities: The Aesthetic Biases of International Criminal Law," argues that atrocity crimes are commonly associated with an aesthetic of horrific spectacle, the "'criminal' nature" of which is "intuitively recognizable." Taking DeFalco's book as a useful and provocative starting point, this essay proposes a further dimension of the atrocity aesthetic—culpability as imagined by the observer. As Part I reviews, culpability is one of the essential elements of conventional theories of atrocity, alongside harm and scale. Yet, Part II argues, culpability is largely unobserved in DeFalco's account of the atrocity aesthetic; it is described as simply self-evident. Part III goes on to introduce an alternate account of culpability's role in the aesthetic: Our imaginations provide indicia of culpability by filling in the blank spaces in an image, for example, as we attempt to reckon with how the scene came to be. In doing so, we make ourselves in some sense complicit—as imagined perpetrators or perpetrators of the imagination. This feeling of complicity can evoke various reactions, however, and so Part IV goes on to argue that it is the sense of our complicity being intolerable that distinguishes the atrocity aesthetic—and indeed atrocities from mere tragedies—rather than the spectacular. Even the aesthetic turns on what we are willing to tolerate or accept.

Keywords: international law, atrocity crimes, aesthetics

JEL Classification: K33, K14, Y30

Suggested Citation

Anderson, Haley, Culpability in Atrocity and the Role of Complicit Observer (January 18, 2023). Temple International & Comparative Law Journal, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4368598

Haley Anderson (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - Jurisprudence and Social Policy Program ( email )

Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

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