JSI Seminar Series: Dr Honni van Rijswijk

16 May 2013

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The Childhood of Jesus and the child's role in the juridical-political imaginary

In J.M. Coetzee's The Childhood of Jesus (2013), a five-year-old boy arrives by boat in a new country, without parents and without papers. After being processed in a desert camp, he travels with a middle-aged man to the city of Novilla, a city with no past, where new arrivals' histories are also "washed clean". The child reveals himself to be extraordinary, and as the Novilla republic becomes interested in him, his protectors try to keep him out of the state's reach. Coetzee's novel offers an allegory and critique of contemporary Australia, located in the particularity of the child's position, but drawing also on the role of the child figure in Western philosophical and literary canons. The novel suggests that the child figure is redemptive and might ground a special justice, a special truth.

Children arriving in boats without papers; children stolen; and children abused—the child has been the occasion and scene for a long list of commissions and inquiries, legislative responses and interventions. This paper examines the child as a figure central to the Australian juridical-political imaginary. It asks how the child figure might also function as the location and voice of critique. Dr van Rijswijk considers whether the figure provides a subject position from which to resist and re-create juridical and political spaces, and the ways in which the child figure offers a fraught challenge—as a site of biopolitical control, and instrumentalised vulnerability—to critical projects.

About the speaker:

Dr Honni van Rijswijk is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Law at the University of Technology Sydney, and Co-convenor of the Faculty's Law and Culture Group. Her current research focuses on representations of harm and responsibility in legal and literary texts.

Time: 6pm - 8pm

Location: Faculty Common Room, Level 4, Sydney Law School, Building F10, Eastern Avenue, University of Sydney

Cost: Free - Registration Essential

Contact: PLaCE Coordinator

Phone: 02 9351 0429

Email: 5c10064a0d5926563a37070740521f101e7c2607407d5620