What is the dominant public image of the political hero and why should we challenge this public image? Mihaela Mihai’s paper “The ‘Banal’ Resister’s Silence: Impurity, Complicity, Ambivalence” addresses these questions. In several literatures including history, cultural studies, social psychology and literary studies a political hero is commonly characterized as a solitary figure who voluntarily decides, despite the personal risks involved, to devote his life to helping those in need (p. 4). But this characterization is far from reality. Heroes are not constantly in ‘hero mode’, they are as everyone else embedded in a web of social relations and predisposed by their position within society (p. 5; 8). Revealing their much more complex and ambivalent identity does, however, not serve the purpose of denying that there are political heroes nor of devaluing the work of the Gandhis, Kings, and Mandelas who are commonly remembered as such. Mihai instead wants to re-signify the political hero in the hope that this will not only increase solidarity but also encourage more people to join resistance movements (p. 3). To do so, she draws on Judith Butler’s ‘new bodily ontology’. One essential concept of this ontology is the relationality of bodies: Butler reminds us that what a body is and can do is not only intersubjectively constituted but also that there is no fully autonomous, self-sufficient body that does not depend on the assistance of others (p. 8f.). In the final part of the paper, Mihai engages with Herta Müller’s essays and auto-fiction, focusing on her remarks about complicit silence, to illustrate such an alternative ontology of the political hero. Mihai’s paper stimulated many ideas among the participants of the research group. Some were wondering if it was worth developing the thoughts into two separate papers: one on the re-signification of the political hero and another on a typology of complicit silence. Other participants were concerned on whether a re-signification of the political hero that moves away from the idealized public image might be counterproductive because it seems to quash inspiration.
By Benedikt Buechel