Inter-Asia Cultural Studies: Movements

17.1 visual essay
17.1 visual essay



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  »  Issues Contents  2010-04-07 In the ruins of truth

In the ruins of truth: the work of melancholia and acts of memory



ABSTRACT This paper seeks to problematize and render inadequate the ‘truth’ of Truth Commissions, which have proliferated globally. It does so by questioning the relationship of ‘truth’ to ‘testimony’ by offering a critical account of their relationship to ‘trauma’, on the one hand and by questioning the location of ‘testimony’ in relation to ‘resistance,’ on the other hand. Moving away from this “psycologistic register” the paper then, rehearses a re-reading of Freud, which attempts to question the sharp distinction between mourning and melancholia, in his 1917 essay. Given this, a complex, psychoanalytic subject is constructed, whose psychic and social  ‘work of melancholia,’ and ‘acts of memory,’ can not be straightforwardly rendered in testimony or recollection, and is unavailable for nationalist appropriation. Empirical material is drawn from field work in Eastern Sri Lanka, on the after life multiple massacres that took place in the early 1990s, and is juxtaposed with Commissions of Inquiry into these events in the late 1990s.


KEYWORDS: mourning, melancholia, memory, Freud, war, violence, massacres, Truth Commissions, trauma, Sri Lanka, Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim


Author’s biography

Pradeep Jeganathan ( is a Senior Consultant Social Anthropologist at the Consortium for Humanitarian Agencies in Colombo. He is co-editor of Unmaking the Nation (1995/2009), Subaltern Studies X1 (2000), and author of At the Water’s Edge (2004) & Living with Death (2007).


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