Three Values of Anger
Chapter Five from 'Sing the Rage' by Sonali Chakravarti
My fear of anger taught me nothing. Your fear of anger will teach you nothing, also.
—Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider
Anger, like other emotions, is closely related to a cluster of affective predispositions, including resentment, sadness, and frustration. Insisting on a narrow definition of anger misses the way these emotions often overlap; conversely a broad interpretation of the emotions, writ large, lacks analytical specificity. Cutting through these parameters, this chapter provides a schematic for interpreting anger in the context of testimony after mass violence. Each of the three dimensions of anger described here — cognitive-evaluative, confrontational, and kinetic — highlights a different way in which anger is important to the process of transitional justice but is often missed because of a focus on material evidence or a defensive reaction of censure. The term dimensions of anger indicates ways of interpretation and guidelines for themes and structure and is tied to the practice of listening rather than to the speaker’s explicit intent — the three dimensions of anger may exist concurrently in one testimony. Moreover, I am not suggesting that listening to anger can be broken down to a tripartite structure in all contexts or even that all dimensions are equally valuable. Identifying the different types of insight anger may hold through a variety of clues, patterns, and inferences is the focus, and it is a task to be practiced in future truth commissions. As such, this type of listening necessitates that the audience at a truth commission be aware of how anger can simultaneously reveal and obscure truths about the speaker and her perspectives on political life.
The Cognitive-Evaluative Account
The cognitive-evaluative approach to thinking about the emotions has been influential for several decades, with writings by Robert Solomon, Martha Nussbaum, and Anthony Damasio pervading much of the literature in political theory.[i] The central tenets of the cognitive-evaluative account include the following: emotions are intentional, they are directed toward an object (something or someone), and they are a form of judgment about what one values. The cognitive-evaluative account stands in contrast to theories of sensation that suggest that emotions are purely visceral sensations that are not intrinsically connected to a political or ethical worldview or, more moderately, that emotions cannot be interpreted as legitimate and accurate judgments. This dichotomy between cognitive and noncognitive, however, is no longer particularly helpful, and I agree with Remy Debes that it is better to think of emotions as holding a set of properties, both cognitive and otherwise, that are present to varying degrees.[ii] Thinking about anger in terms of its many properties is a way to keep from thinking about anger in an overly narrow (cognitive) framework that denies its complexity and volatility in order to make it politically palatable.
An analysis of the significance of the emotions will almost always have a “cognitive” element — that is, an interpretation that assesses an emotion’s meaning or function — but, ultimately, the question must be: To what end do we direct the cognitive-evaluative analysis? I suggest that from a cognitive-evaluative perspective, anger can reveal what citizens need and fear in political life in an unparalleled way.[iii] Citizens need to be seen as agents who will be treated as equals in the political process, and their fears include the idea that their needs will be ignored and that the risks of politics will not be equally shared. Listening to the cognitive-evaluative dimension of anger in testimony is also a way to grasp the challenges of expanding the demos, while at the same time nurturing this expansion through an extension of trust. An appreciation of this dimension of anger, along with the confrontational and kinetic dimensions, is a necessary step for the type of communication that builds a sense of shared risk, a topic discussed in the next chapter.[iv]
The cognitive-evaluative approach to the emotions is not new, and in addition to Aristotle, it has been strongly articulated by Stoic thinkers and later by Adam Smith. Proponents of the righteous anger model in the twentieth century built upon the significance the Stoics attributed to emotions as forms of judgment, but these proponents saw the value of anger as a catalyst for social justice movements in a way that went beyond the negative justice of Adam Smith.[v] The righteous anger model is open to anger as a response to structural injustices such as racism and does not assume that an “impartial spectator” will be the best judge of whether an injustice has occurred because one must take into account one’s own prejudice or inability to imagine an alternative social order. It was righteous anger that propelled the civil rights movement, feminism, and the anti-apartheid struggle into public consciousness through media coverage and eventually led to street demonstrations and civil unrest. In retrospect, the cognitive-evaluative interpretations of anger in those cases might have initially seemed disruptive to the political order, but they were necessary to bring injustices to light. The righteous anger account also highlights that even when connected to a legitimate cause, anger must be expressed in the right way in order to have the desired effect. Leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela are exemplars because they were able to express anger in precisely the right way at the right time, actualizing the ideals of both a righteous anger account and — accounting for differences in perceptions of citizenship and slavery — an Aristotelian one.[vi]
However, the type of listening that can happen at truth commissions should be seen as separate from the work of social movements or its catalysts (although they may be related in other contexts). Testimonies should be understood to reveal fears about status in political life and the promises of equality and dignity in the new regime. They also point to the motivations and injuries that continue to pulsate within political life, even when these are not formally recognized. The righteous anger approach often uses what I consider the “easy cases” when arguing for the significance of anger to justice — examples of anger that capture widely held perceptions of injustice. My task, with an analysis of the other dimensions of anger, is to look at the ambiguous cases that do not easily fall into the category of righteous anger and could therefore be summarily dismissed but which can still reveal much about victims’ needs and fears in the aftermath of mass violence.
The possibility of uptake, or remedy, has long been a critical component in cognitive-evaluative interpretations of anger. The best evidence for the claim that anger is informative, one could argue, is the fact that we can imagine responses that ameliorate its causes. Uptake in response to anger at discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, for example, is a willingness to take its impact seriously and implement anti-discrimination policies. For the Stoics and Adam Smith, the concept of uptake means an investigation of the injustice and an assessment of whether punishment is merited. For proponents of righteous anger, it might include a sustained investigation of how an injustice has been perpetuated and also how victims have been silenced. Feminist proponents of the role of anger in the process of consciousness raising have hoped for, among other things, the uptake of better legal policy with respect to sexism as well as the acceptance of the anger as legitimate.[vii] All of these responses should play a role in the response of the audience to anger at a truth commission, as the cognitive-evaluative account reveals.[viii] But another type of uptake should happen through the formal inclusion of the testimony in the recorded proceedings and in the final report of the commission and is important for connecting anger to future political life. The report at the conclusion of a truth commission is a critical part of the process and necessary to make a bridge between transitional justice and increased trust in ordinary political life. The patterns in the testimony that are described and analyzed in the report should inform what one sees as the next step in the process of restorative justice. In particular, it can answer the question: How can the disordered relationships that have been identified in the testimonies — between police, neighbors, and former enemies, for example — be specifically addressed in policy after the truth commission has ended?
In the service of uptake, an ethics of listening to anger requires an ability to deduce from anger a connection to political life even when it is not immediately apparent. This is a process of uncovering causes and desires, but it cannot be made so rational that the complex and sometimes contradictory values contained within anger are lost. Robert Solomon, a proponent of a cognitivist view of the emotions, offers a particularly rigid understanding of the cognitive component, one that has fallen out of favor even with those who were previously advocates. It is useful, however, to examine this perspective as a foil to the multivalent approach to anger described below. Solomon argues that emotions are commensurate with rational judgments: “Emotions can be rational in the same sense in which judgments can be rational. Judgments are actions… But if emotions are judgments, and judgments are actions, though covert, emotions too are actions, aimed at changing the world (whether or not their expression actually does succeed in changing the world). In other words, emotions are purposive, serve the ends of the subject, and consequently can be explained by reasons or ‘in-order-to’ explanations.”[ix] For Solomon, the cognitive component of emotions means that there is always the possibility of persuasion, argument, and revision. If emotions “serve the ends of the subject” through purposive and intentional orientation, then both the ends and the emotions are fallible.
The validity of the emotion in relation to these ends should be the subject of discussion. Solomon takes the example of anger and asserts, “Anger can be explained, not in terms of what it is ‘about’ or what causes it, but in terms of its purpose.”[x] The intensity of the emotion may be disproportionate to its purpose, but Solomon still wants to focus on the causes and intentions of emotions as the great benefit of the cognitive approach. Emotions may indeed reveal information that one cannot get through other means, but for Solomon, one must determine precisely what is being evaluated. He acknowledges that it may be difficult for the person experiencing the emotion to be able to articulate its purpose, but this is not a reason to stop attempting to understand it. Solomon wants to decipher the underlying code that would connect emotions to beliefs and concludes that this is the responsibility of the agent and of those who are in a position to respond.[xi] Emotions, for him, are thus subject to contestation and revision, all in the service of revealing the most accurate normative judgments and insuring that the judgments and the emotions are proportionate. Solomon’s argument about the ability to revise emotions through discussion can be seen as the upper limit of what may be argued from a cognitive-evaluative standpoint, but it is a limit that I find implausible, especially within the context of victim testimony after violence. By focusing on narrowly determining the purpose and cause of an emotion, Solomon is foreclosing the possibility of understanding the cognitive potential of emotions that are rooted in many causes and are simultaneously pursuing variable ends.
I suggest that this is a common scenario when trying to understand anger that arises after violence. For example, the anger that a victim of torture expresses on the witness stand is not solely directed at the perpetrators; it is also directed at the state, the community, and even peers for their complicity or disinterestedness. It would be impossible to reduce the causes to any one overriding factor, nor should this be the task of the commission. One can ask a witness to reflect upon the causes of an emotion, although this may be difficult depending on the intensity of the emotion, but trying to “solve” the puzzle of the causes and purposes of an emotion is not the best way to uncover the insights that anger provides for societies in the aftermath of violence. During the process of victim testimony, it is unlikely that there will be a single cause or purpose for any given emotion, and even if this is the case the witness may not be willing to concede this or to reconsider the intensity of the emotion. The role of a truth commission is not to question the legitimacy of anger expressed during victim testimony but rather to see that within the complexity of causes and intentions exists information about what is necessary to trust that fellow citizens are concerned with collective well-being. Solomon’s analysis reveals the danger of an extreme commitment to cognitivism with respect to the emotions; such a position ends up attributing so much rationality to the emotions that they become indistinguishable from reason as traditionally understood.
Jon Elster provides an important distinction within the concept of intentionality when he separates emotions that are “triggered by a belief about an action by oneself or another” from those that are “triggered by a belief about one’s own or another’s character.”[xii] While both types of emotions have intentional objects, the latter’s focus on character, either one’s own or another’s, is a very different type of object and is closer to my interest in the character of citizens and citizens’ relations with each other. Anger directed at a specific injustice is one part of the cognitive evaluation; it may also be directed toward the character of the perpetrators and bystanders, as well as the speaker’s own complicity, guilt, or lack of resilience. Elster’s assessment, along with Tarnopolsky’s response to him in her analysis of shame, serves to highlight an inherent bidirectionality (outward and inward) in the expression of an emotion such that the information conveyed is always about the self-perception of the speaker as much as it is about an event or perceptions of other people.[xiii] In the case of anger the inward- and outward-directed targets may reinforce each other with ever-greater intensity in the cognitive-evaluative interpretation or else become intertwined in a way that is difficult to decipher (making them a candidate for interpretation via the second dimension of confrontational anger described below). The case of anger is a particularly complex one for thinking about bidirectionality because of the fears of the escalation of violence and the chance that the inward grappling with one’s perceived failings of character will be seen as tethered to increasing hostility toward another.
It is Aristotle who builds on the intentionality of the emotions and provides the most compelling link between anger and status within the cognitive-evaluative account, a link particularly relevant to victim testimony. In the Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle refers to the development of proper emotion in the individual, while in the Rhetoric he is concerned with offering guidance to the orator, legal or otherwise, who is trying to persuade an audience.[xiv] Anger in testimony does not comfortably into either of these categories; it is not strategically significant as oratory or directly relevant to the cultivation of virtue as in the Nicomachean Ethics. Nevertheless Aristotle’s understanding of the significance of anger for political life is relevant to thinking about how commissioners and the audience can conceive of and respond to testimony in the context of a truth commission: here, as in Aristotle’s formulation, anger is fundamentally political, and it is part of the emotional education that is necessary for citizenship.
In the Nicomachean Ethics the virtuous man understands anger, just as he understands a range of other cognitive emotions, at the nexus between theory and practice. With emotional life as with virtue, it is not enough to have an abstract appreciation of what is good; one must know how to live it with others. Through practice, habituation, and reflection, the virtuous man will be able to decipher how to exercise anger at the right time, in the right way, and for the right reason.[xv] In contrast to the Stoic preoccupation with controlling anger once its judgment has been assessed, for Aristotle, to fail to get angry when the conditions call for it is an act of cowardice, not restraint. It is cowardice because it shows a lack of respect for oneself as an equal member of the polis. Additionally it shows a failure to appreciate the communicative importance of the emotions as constitutive of virtue. The emphasis on defending one’s self-respect and sense of worth is apparent in his frequently quoted definition of anger, “Let anger be [defined as] desire, accompanied by [mental and physical] distress, for apparent retaliation because of an apparent slight that was directed, without justification, against oneself or those near to one.”[xvi] Thus, anger (orge) is defined as the legitimate response to a slight, an offensive action that is an affront to the respect one deserves as a member of the polis. From the beginning, legitimate anger is connected to specificities of status and its influence on all communication in the political space. Konstan emphasizes how specific the definition of slight is when used in relation to anger: it is explicitly focused on the act of making the other feel worthless.[xvii] Thus the catalyst for anger is to feel belittled, even more than it is to have suffered a violation of the body or one’s property.[xviii] In this way, Aristotle’s definition acts as a political counterpoint to the Smithian reading of resentment; while Smith aims for objective assessments of anger caused by material violations, Aristotle asserts that the disturbance of respect and dignity, including in its most subtle forms, can be the catalyst for anger (but only for those who already have standing in the community, a caveat discussed below).
If we apply Aristotle’s understanding of the slight to the case of testimonies at the TRC, we are drawn to the many ways in which individuals express a desire to be recognized as equals in light of previous slights. Victims talk about this desire with reference not only to government policies during apartheid but also to the way they were treated by teachers, police officers, and neighbors. They also refer to how the ANC-led government seemed to ignore those who were good soldiers for the cause, causing a different type of slight for those who sacrificed much for the anti-apartheid movement.[xix]
Anger also appears in Aristotle’s writings as thumos, a term that connotes passion and spiritedness in addition to anger itself.[xx] In Barbara Koziak’s interpretation, where thumos is understood as an emotional orientation that is broader than anger, it refers to a spectrum of necessary affective relationships between citizens, including friendship. To know when anger is appropriate in the Aristotelian framework is to know the variations of its expression and the response it may provoke in others. The cultivation of this affective spectrum is part of what is required for one to be a fully participatory citizen because it is not enough to rationally assess one’s role in the collective; one must have the proper disposition to others, and it must be developed through interactions over time. One of the challenges of developing an affective disposition to others is knowing how to respond to the pain of others in a way that connotes recognition of their worth. The cultivation of thumos is not only relevant when there has been a slight; it implies a level of attention to the emotional disposition of others and oneself even when there is no slight as such. In the case of thumos, the cognitive-evaluative interpretation takes the form of discerning how emotions can be harnessed to create functioning social relationships. Thinking about anger in terms of the Platonic discussion of thumos is a helpful way to move beyond the dichotomy of good emotions versus bad emotions. Instead the spiritedness of thumos is inevitable within political life and contains some elements that seem directly beneficial to political life and others that seem to hurt it, prompting Plato’s defense of censorship of certain types of speech and art.[xxi] Yet, an attempt to control the expression of thumos only highlights its buoyant nature. Without a thumos-driven motivation for participation and the work of politics, all political endeavors will eventually stall.
The attention to the emotions of others captured by the concept of thumos is necessary for the kind of relationships and cooperation that Aristotle envisions in his understanding of political friendship. While not as all-encompassing as true friendships, political friendships (as a type of “utility” friendship) still require a willingness to respond to the pain of others in a way that is oriented to eudaimonia (flourishing), and this requires skillfully navigating one’s own emotions and those of others, even in the most challenging circumstances. By including anger under the category of thumos, Aristotle gives it a normalized role in political life and suggests that developing the skills to respond to its expression in other citizens is part of the task of political friendship.
Responding to thumos (anger) with thumos (spiritedness) is thus a way to understand the demands of citizenship, especially during periods of transitional justice. The transitional justice period is distinctive in that the social contract is in the process of being redrawn (and political obligation reconsidered); as part of this process the community must respond to the most serious crimes on a large scale, a task more overwhelming than the work of everyday politics. Yet the role of thumos as an orientation toward other citizens and the emotional attention required for functioning relationships is the same. It must be, as Koziak said, “worked out over time piece by piece,” and a truth commission can be a significant part of the process.[xxii] Koziak’s account of thumos demonstrates on the individual level the larger significance of anger in the context of truth commissions. It demands an attention to the emotional lives of fellow citizens, and this is a task that cannot be accomplished by proxy. Listening to victim testimony is the manifestation of a new type of citizenship and the trenches of its practice.
The Anger of the Powerless
Despite the importance of anger and the cultivation of thumos in his account, Aristotle cannot extend this thinking to subordinates — women and slaves in ancient Athens — because of his understanding of the relationship between public and private. Those who are politically disenfranchised in the Athenian context do not have the right to express anger, even though from a contemporary vantage point they have some of the best reasons to do so. In ancient Greece, when those who were weak expressed anger, they were seen to be giving in to the baser and animalistic aspects of emotion rather than achieving the legitimacy afforded to the anger of the high-status male. The prohibition against women expressing anger in the political sphere was both a question of standing (their role was in the household) and of differentiated virtues; anger for the Greeks is about competition and sexual power, neither of which is desirable in women. In William Harris’s estimation, the mythological figures of Clytemnestra and Medea capture the anxiety that characterizes Hellenic thinkers on the subject of women and anger.[xxiii] The rage of these women as they took revenge on powerful men was seen as an example of the excessive emotionality of women and its disruptive power. While a few poets and tragedians saw this as an overgeneralization and investigated the degrees of justification for women’s anger (as in Electra), Harris concludes that, “Anger… is — together with sexual desire — the emotion which most clearly requires, in the view of the Greeks, different rules for women and men.”[xxiv] These rules included its confinement to the private sphere and to issues of comparative unimportance.
Similarly, slaves were seen to lack the capacity for deliberation required for participation in the political sphere and were not eligible for citizenship. Their anger, while perhaps of concern in the private sphere, was not judged to be politically significant. The fact that their anger could be a precursor to a breakdown in the established division of labor was also a concern. The anger of slaves (and the opportunity of response) was not an opportunity to cultivate thumos or cooperative relationships in the Aristotelian polis because they were not equal members of society whose participation was valued. As with ressentiment described by Nietzsche, anger expressed by those who lacked political and social power was tainted by desperation and envy. This double standard of the legitimate anger of elites and the illegitimate anger of others parallels the tension of the emotion itself—at times it is perceived to be inferior to reason and a dystopic ideal for political discourse, yet it always enters political life and is integral to the spectrum of affective communication that exists between citizens.
These perspectives on the anger of women and subordinate groups are still with us. While men in politics may use anger to great effect, women who voice it may be seen as disruptive, unaware of their social roles, and potentially worthy of scorn.[xxv] Feminist scholars writing in the 1970s and 1980s focused on the ways in which anger played a critical role in consciousness raising about sexism because it was a departure from gender expectations. Allowing oneself to get angry at everyday forms of patriarchal dominance was an early step in identifying as a feminist and mobilizing for social change. Anger was also a shorthand way of expressing solidarity with the movement. The concept of “outlaw emotions” emerged from this context, and anger was redefined as a critical feminist act. That is, the emotions that had been seen as excessive or inappropriate for women could become the best tools for critiques of structural injustice.[xxvi]
Elizabeth Spelman argues that the cognitive-evaluative approach to the emotions is even more telling when applied to the expression of anger by subordinates. She writes that the expression of anger “would mean both that the subordinates would have standards of conduct applicable to the dominants, and express and apply those standards; and that dominants would thereby be subject to the judgments of those they’ve deemed to be beneath them.”[xxvii] Here she emphasizes that the judgment that emerges from the cognitive-evaluative reading in this situation goes beyond particular injustices to standards of accountability that may have been overlooked because of the social hierarchy. The anger of subordinates is threatening on many levels because it represents not just a demand — potentially with an implied threat of violence — for greater equality but also an excoriation of the actions or perceptions of the listener.
The confrontation between those who were previously considered subordinates and are still identified as “victims” and other citizens is one of the most remarkable aspects of a truth commission.[xxviii] During periods of transition, truth commissions are at the forefront of the expanding demos, and the state can acknowledge those who previously had not had the privilege or dignity of citizenship. New constitutions and voting rights have formal import, but the image of individuals testifying in public in the context of a state-sponsored commission is even more powerful. The respect they are accorded could be an early instance of democracy’s promise. Truth commissions have the opportunity, more than other political institutions, to present a picture of what it means to have expanded the demos and fostered citizen relationships that make participation in this new demos a reality.
One might argue that all types of political inquiries, including surveys and polls, attempt to assess what citizens need and fear, and they do it without anger. Why, then, should testimony be different? My claim is that testimony that includes anger contains insights otherwise hard to access. For example, the anger surrounding sexual violence against men was an unexpected development during the TRC. Before the hearings, there was a sense that such violence was too personal to be expressed publicly and a potential cause of shame for witnesses. It also appeared to be more of a medical issue than one with a bearing on political participation. While it was not common, the fact that some men talked about their inability to father children due to the torture they experienced is important for restorative justice. Even though they did not explicitly connect this anger to how they felt about citizenship, identifying this connection between a diminished sense of self and participation in political life is part of the task of listening to anger in the context of victim testimony.
Examples of the Cognitive-Evaluative Dimension of Anger
Lendiso Richard Ndumo Galela was an anti-apartheid activist with the Pan-African Congress. He was tortured while in detention at Robben Island and also while in exile in Zimbabwe.[xxix] In this excerpt, the commissioners have just told Galela that he should keep his comments brief because the session is coming to a close. He speaks of the impact of past violence on his life:
There is no amount of money that can pay for a person’s dignity. That is a fact. I am the equivalent of a corpse, I do not have any dignity left, I have been stripped of my dignity and that is what I wanted to say and I would just like to say that even though my physical appearance seems like that of a man I have been stripped of my manhood and a specialist told me that it would give, it would take three months for me to be treated and if nothing happens, I should know that I would be condemned sexually… What I am saying is that I do not see what the Commission can do for me, because so many of them were unsuccessful.
Galela’s anger seems to come from many sources: his indignation at feeling rushed in his testimony, his belief that he has been “stripped of his dignity,” his impotence and sexual dysfunction, and his skepticism that the TRC hearings will be able to restore what was lost through violence. He is not persuaded that the commission values his individuality, nor does he trust its ability to shape collective concerns. When he says that “no amount of money… can pay for a person’s dignity,” he questions whether through participating in the TRC and receiving financial reparations the victims were becoming complicit with the state, the perpetrator of violence in this situation.[xxx] His willingness to question the relationship between the TRC and the witnesses who took the stand, along with the candid nature of his remarks, reflects the type of testimony that should have been the catalyst for a discussion about what was necessary for justice in South Africa. Moreover, the statement “I am the equivalent of a corpse” is an articulation of an unsettling reality in his self-perception: he could no longer see the humanity in himself and thought the commissioners were rejecting him in a similar way. Most importantly, Galela’s testimony reveals a connection between the individual psychological foundation of hopelessness and its implications for politics. His pain and frustration have led to such feelings of despair that there seems to be no reason for him to be involved in political life. Galela’s self-perception as a man who has been hollowed out to the point of becoming a “corpse” precludes his existence as a citizen. His despair is so thorough that it is unclear what could be done to incorporate him into the emerging society of the new South Africa.
One could argue that there will always be members of society who turn away from politics after a traumatic event, but it is important to note the specific identity of the individual in this case. Galela, a member of the Pan-African Congress, spent much of his young adult life fighting for a revolutionary cause. Such a commitment suggests that he was inspired by the possibilities of political change and was willing to put himself at risk for the sake of political ideals. The transition to an ANC-led government and the end of apartheid could have been a triumphant moment when his work and that of others like him were vindicated. Instead, he felt diminished and unable to function as a complete human being. He had sacrificed too much — in his words, his “manhood” — and could no longer imagine what it would mean to participate fully in the community.
Two further examples show how a cognitive-evaluative approach elucidates the expression of anger in victim testimony and should be seen as relevant to the challenge of expanding the demos during the transitional period after the end of apartheid. First is the testimony of Ellen Kuzwayo, an anti-apartheid activist, teacher, and author in Soweto during the student uprising in 1976.[xxxi] Kuzwayo expresses the belief that the Afrikaner regime made black children feel like animals and that they were not allowed to develop the skills necessary for maturity. The commissioners were unwilling or unable to engage with this insight and instead asked her if the teachers in her community communicated what was happening at the time of the uprising to the government. Kuzwayo’s testimony reveals that she is highly educated, well traveled, and able to put the South African experience in a global context. At the end of her testimony, she focuses on how the South African state trained black children to play certain limited roles — roles that remain the same even when government structures change.
MS KUZWAYO: I still believe to this day, I am still angry because I feel the Nationalist Party government did never see our children as children. Because the colour of their skin was not the colour of the skin of their children, they were not children, they were not human beings, they were children who were not given an opportunity to grow, to mature, to become adults like everybody… They turned our children into animals.
MS MKHIZE: Thank you very much Mamma Kuzwayo. Actually even if you see us interrupting you, it’s not because it’s irrelevant, but it’s because we want to pick on some of the other things… Because you have made emphasis on the drama of the day, how devastating it is, surely the question is what did the community do? Did they only talk among themselves? Did they make efforts to make sure that the government hears the impact of what they had orchestrated?
MS KUZWAYO: …And today it’s very difficult, we talk about violence in this country and violence that is carried out by young people in this country. They get you out of your car, or they see your car standing somewhere they come and take it away. And these kids have been changed into murderers. And I want to believe that if Native Education had not been changed the situation would be different in South Africa today. Now it gives an impression that Black children are thieves, murderers, they are everything else that is not good.[xxxii]
Kuzwayo connects the pattern of crimes committed by young black males to the legacy of apartheid, but the commission is unable to respond.[xxxiii] An approach based on listening to the cognitive-evaluative significance of anger would instead have focused on how she identified the challenge of expanding the demos to include those whom the education and legal system had deemed to be destined for criminality. This challenge fell within the scope of the TRC investigation and was precisely what a transitional institution like the truth commission was poised to take on. It could have identified which relationships needed greater attention and resources within a framework of restorative justice. When Kuzwayo says, “They turned our children into animals,” she invokes the hierarchies of political life that previously excluded blacks altogether and still excluded those who are uneducated and poor. Their anger is transmitted through her testimony. Testimonies such as this one could have changed the parameters of what was previously considered to be the scope of the investigation by pointing to obstacles to expanding the demos.
Another example shows the value of the cognitive-evaluative approach even for cases that many would rather dismiss as reactionary and makes for a complex case of righteous anger. Johannes Frederik Van Eck is an Afrikaner who was on vacation at a game reserve when he lost four members of his family to a land mine planted by the ANC. The year was 1985.
MR VAN ECK: I’m expecting from the ANC, through this Commission, to answer the following questions… Is this your way of doing things to citizens and families and friends, to give them this pain by killing their loved ones? Is this your way of doing things that you justify all your murderous acts by linking it to a struggle against a regime? Is this actually habit or your policy to differentiate between just and unjust, murder? Is this your way of doing things or policy to call a killer of innocent women and children a freedom fighter? … Chairman, I think it was very clear in my submission, all I’m asking, my only request is that it should be consequent, I said, leave those people as they are, leave them where they are, but then we should look at who we are hunting for in vain. In other words, the Commission stands for equality and justice. That’s all I’m asking for, for justice and nothing more.[xxxiv]
Van Eck suffered a tragedy and wanted those who planted the land mine to be punished, but he extended blame to the larger strategy of violence employed by factions of the ANC. In addition to punishment of the perpetrators, he wanted a public investigation of the actions of the ANC and he was bitter that these actions were not scrutinized at the TRC in the same way as those of the apartheid state. This is an unusual case that fits with a righteous anger response to a violent crime but could also be seen as a reactionary move to shore up the crumbling racist order. Yet the framework for engaging with anger that I am proposing should be applied to examples such as this. The cultivation of thumos requires that citizens try to understand the anger expressed here and what it connoted about Van Eck’s fears about his value in future political life. Van Eck’s fear can be interpreted as a concern that his family and those like him will not be part of the emerging South African political life in the post-apartheid era. They will be seen as aggressors and losers of the struggle, and the fierce protection of their material assets may be the only way to retain power. For Van Eck, and whites like him, the TRC inspired a fear of victors’ justice. But attention to the demands of Aristotelian political friendship and trust (discussed in chap. 6) would also require that the commissioners and the audience accept that the anger expressed here might not quickly dissipate in the new South Africa and that cooperative relationships would take time to build. Van Eck’s anger reveals his complex position in relation to the creation of trust in the new political landscape: the ANC and those in the anti-apartheid movement have acquired political power and amnesty for past crimes, while he feels that his suffering has gone unacknowledged.
In these examples the commissioners did not directly engage with the anger expressed by those who testified, and their avoidance represents a conventional way of thinking about anger in politics. In the case of Ellen Kuzwayo, they did not explore the connections between the violence and ideology of the past and the challenge of reconstructing the political realm. Focusing on the material evidence and facts about the past was the more obvious way to respond, but an ethics of listening means that the audience (including the commissioners themselves) should be more attuned to the cognitive-evaluative significance of anger as expressed in the testimonies through their assumption and understanding of its value. What is revealed through anger in the testimonies is part of the risk that is then shared by the victim and the audience. The needs and fears expressed in testimony should be considered as the content for the future work of restorative justice. This content takes into account the questions from the commissioners, the official report, and the actions that are begun after the truth commission has concluded its work. The cognitive-evaluative approach relies on active listening in order to determine the complex causes of anger, along with the desires for status and power that are embedded within it. The potential for uptake also provides an opportunity for a tangible response to anger, which may be the best indicator of shared risk necessary for the development of trust. With uptake to the cognitive dimensions of anger, its causes and implications become part of the reality of the audience and not solely that of the victim.
The Confrontational Dimension of Anger
Listening to testimonies of anger includes considering the type of anger that does not fit the righteous anger model because it is disproportionate, extreme, or erroneous. One reason why proponents of righteous anger suggest these demarcations is because they allow for the distinction between unhelpful rage and helpful anger where only the latter is considered as legitimate. In the aftermath of mass violence, this is not an easy distinction to make, and it necessitates other frameworks for understanding anger, namely, a second important dimension of anger I have termed the confrontational dimension. The confrontation contained in the term refers to anger that goes beyond the contained adversarial quality of righteous anger by eschewing obvious solutions or reparations. The confrontational dimension of anger is difficult to respond to and even to coherently follow because of the various antecedents and objects found within its expression.[xxxv] Still, the confrontational dimension of anger often exists alongside the cognitive-evaluative dimension such that a single testimony necessitates both interpretations in order to make sense of its significance.
The confrontational dimension is likely to encompass other negative emotions such as despair as an excessive form of sadness, or hopelessness, and they can be interpreted along the confrontational dimension even though they may not initially be read as anger. The listener should identify the confrontational dimension when she hears parts of the testimony that do not seem to be connected to specific events or to relate to the events in a way that challenges expectations of response or proportionality. They may also appear to be extradiegetic; that is, beyond the purview of the expected narrative of egregious rights violations. The anger that necessitates a confrontational interpretation is often not stated explicitly with a self-identification of anger by the speaker (e.g., “I am angry”). Rather, anger fulfilling the confrontational dimension is distinguished by the cadence of speech, repetition, and turns of phrase that together indicate that the witness is grappling with intense sentiments that are connected to her own faults, her need for acceptance by an audience that may not understand, and the paradoxes of participating as a citizen when one cannot stop thinking about the past.
Jean Améry’s writing in what Brudholm refers to as the “Zustand” passage captures the confrontational dimension of anger in a powerful way. Améry describes the feelings found in resentment, what he calls “ressentiment,” as so conflicted that they give rise to a warped conception of time. He writes, “It did not escape me that ressentiment is not only an unnatural but also logically inconsistent condition [Zustand]. It nails every one of us onto the cross of his ruined past… Ressentiment blocks the exit to the genuine human dimension, the future. I know that the time-sense of the person trapped in ressentiment is twisted around, dis-ordered, if you wish, for it desires two impossible things: regression into the past and nullification of what happened.”[xxxvi] Améry’s perspective is powerful for showing exactly how interdependent the backward- and forward-looking aspects of resentment can be. He can identify the promise of the future while demanding a nullification of the past. It is not just that the past and the future happen to co-exist in the worldview of a survivor; they are two powerful forces in battle. While indebted to him, Améry cannot follow Nietzsche in his understanding of amor fati as the solution to ressentiment; embracing the past through a love of fate is an impossible proposition even for someone who understands how ressentiment must be “logically inconsistent.” Instead, Améry hopes that the listener will also eventually have an unreconciled vision of the past and a sense of the perpetual uneasiness based on what he hears in the anger of victims.
Even without the self-awareness evinced by Améry, the confrontational dimension of anger is valuable (beyond the cognitive-evaluative dimension) for what it reveals about the complexity of the process of citizenship of the period after mass violence, including (1) the speaker’s perceived costs of the triumph of restorative justice over retributive justice, (2) the speaker’s understanding of the pervasive yet intangible effects of past violence, and (3) the synchronous struggle of the speaker to configure her own life narrative while also communicating a desire for a change in the sphere of the political. On the first point, the confrontational aspect of anger may be an expression of frustration with the process of restorative justice, rather than directed to an instance of violation. If retribution through punishment is one of the goals of anger, then the fact that punishment is, at best, a deferred possibility at the South African TRC gives rise to the need for alternate paths. One is the path of righteous anger discussed above; another is a more diffuse anger that serves as a type of protest against the assumption that the witness will communicate in a conciliatory manner. The “confrontation” embedded in the category is also reflective of the possibility of confrontation with fellow citizens with this type of expression. The excess and variable nature of this dimension of anger seems to be an escalation of emotion, yet it should also be seen as a way to get a more dynamic picture of the lived experiences of the victim and citizen.
The second value of the confrontational approach is to draw attention to the way anger can reveal the invisible and intangible consequences of years of violence. They may be the secondary effects of violence, including the loss of optimism in the future, rather than the primary effects (torture, death, etc.) of human-rights violations. Lastly, attention to the confrontational dimension may include a witness’s frustration with herself in her response to the violence, at the time or on the stand. The speaker may be frustrated that her intensity is undermining other things she hopes the listener will get from her testimony, including details about the violence or desired punishment or a greater incentive to trust her in the future. The witness’s anger may also include the conflict of wanting to let the anger of the past go but resisting because the event had such a profound impact on one’s life. In this way, the confrontational dimension of anger may occupy a space between demanding recognition as a victim and wanting to be seen as a citizen, even when one is unsure of what that means. Attentiveness to the confrontational dimension of anger means that the audience may pick all these things up and will be attuned to the ways that expressing anger is a challenge for the speaker, including a challenge to the speaker’s self-perception of character.
Maria Lugones coins the term “second-order anger” to refer to a type of anger that is decidedly not seeking uptake. More emphatically, uptake may be impossible given the context and content of “second-order” anger. I see strong affinities between her conception and the confrontational dimension of anger in victim testimony as she is critical of how a view of anger as “righteous” is dependent on the largesse of a dominant class for the recognition of its worth. Those who express second-order anger in Lugones’s account refuse to accept the righteous anger approach as the only legitimate grounds for anger, which is anger that is legible to the dominant class. Anger, in her mind, must be understood much more broadly than the case of subordinate groups petitioning those who are more powerful. Second-order anger is about the irreconcilability and ultimate incommunicability of the subjective experience of the angry self and other realities. She writes, “This anger echoes or reverberates across worlds. It is a second-level anger… It recognizes this world’s walls. It pushes against them rather than making claims with them.”[xxxvii] Second-order anger, consistent with what I am calling the confrontational approach, is a type of existential angst that does not merely want the recognition of membership in the demos or the chance to be on equal footing with elites; it is communicating a more complex reality. Not relying on the assumption of a coherent self, Lugones characterizes this type of anger as evocative of the divided self that desires contradictory ends and is frustrated by the difficulty of communicating them to others. The very attempt at communication may feel like a betrayal of the intensity of experience.
Confrontational anger also finds affinities with Sianne Ngai’s description of “ugly feelings,” such as envy and paranoia, that she describes as noncathartic and therefore often overlooked as central to action. Ngai contrasts these feelings that are “associated with situations in which action is blocked or suspended” with conventional understandings of righteous anger in political life. The noncathartic feelings she describes are notable because of their long duration; over long periods of time they render visible the nature of obstacles to action and the relationship between different types of obstacles. Ngai’s insight can be applied to anger that does not feel like anger, conventionally understood, including the type of anger that appears as irritation or paranoia on the stand. These expressions, following Ngai, should not be read as a weakened instantiation of righteous anger or as the confused communication of a witness who is unsure of the merit of her case. Instead, I take her to be supporting the need for an alternate approach to a cognitive-evaluative account of the emotions that demands that they be connected to action in a direct way in order to be seen as politically significant. An analysis of the confrontational dimension is one such alternative that would be applicable to emotions of lesser intensity, as well as to heightened ones like rage, because it focuses on what the emotion can communicate in terms of broader political life and about the relationship between the speaker and the audience.
The monograph There Was This Goat, by Antjie Krog, Nosisi Mpolweni, and Kopano Ratele, provides an example of the type of narrative that lends itself to the confrontational interpretation of anger.[xxxviii] The authors focus on the testimony of Notrose Nobomvu Konile, one of the mothers of an activist killed as part of the Guguletu Seven.[xxxix]When Konile testified about her son’s murder at the hands of the police, the commissioners found it difficult to make sense of her fragmentary ideas and uneven recall of the relevant events. In particular, it was hard to determine whether Konile was presenting the events in chronological order, given that she included a discussion of a dream and parts of conversations with her son from different time periods. As a radio reporter covering the trial, Krog attested to the seeming incoherence of the testimony; yet in retrospect, Krog and the other authors find themselves moved by Konile’s language and intrigued by the ways her testimony refuses to submit to easy practices of interpretation. Unsatisfied with the way Konile’s testimony was translated and understood at the TRC, the authors explore it further in two critical ways, first through retranslation and then through a visit to Konile’s home.
Retranslation entails listening to the testimony in Xhosa, Konile’s native language, and then comparing the new English translation with the less accurate one recorded simultaneously during the TRC. Krog and her coauthors are sympathetic to the challenges of simultaneous translation, but they are happy to find that in the retranslation the testimony becomes less fragmented through details about the village where Konile lived and the specific content of her dream. For example, it becomes clear that the dream of the goat represented a bad omen for Konile and the first sign that her life was about to change in a dramatic way. Krog and her coauthors write, “The sequence of forebodings every time Konile saw Pheza, plus the story of the goat dream, indicated that culturally these incidents were connected for her. Konile was communicating a message to the Truth Commission audience that effectively said, ‘Long before I heard of my child’s death, I was already in pain through the premonitions and the bad dream.’”[xl] Greater attention to the language and imagery of the testimony revealed an internal logic to her testimony that made it more politically relevant.
Ten years after her appearance at the TRC the authors visited Konile in her hometown, a rural village in the Eastern Cape known for its agriculture and coal production. The unusual landscape of the village further clarified the symbolism present in Konile’s testimony, including the salient imagery of the goat and coal. The authors observed improvements in Konile’s situation since the TRC, particularly in her increasing ability to use the resources available to her (including money from the TRC Reparations Committee) in order to secure a home and take a leadership role in a textile collective.[xli]
The attention Krog, Mpolweni, and Ratele direct toward Konile’s testimony and her life afterward is exceptional in its detail. They pay close attention to her choice of linguistic and cultural references, her psychological state, and the perspectives of those around her in order to better understand her experiences of violence and life in the present. Their efforts have lasted far beyond the scope of the truth commission and would have been impossible to replicate for every witness, but their findings are still helpful in considering normative possibilities for interpreting testimonies. First, as mentioned above, their engagement affirms the value of examining the language and emotions of testimonies that seem incoherent or excessive. Konile’s recollection of the dream with the goat and its ominous presence in her life reflected the way that the violence of apartheid became integrated with her conscious and subconscious reality. Other references, too, initially point more to Konile’s psychological life than to shared concerns but can later be seen as part of a longer story of claiming a civic identity after being identified primarily as a victim.
The confrontational dimension of anger is also relevant in testimonies that contain an elliptical structure and compounded emotions. A cognitive-evaluative approach would miss the impact of the serial concerns expressed, such as in the following testimony. Nomakula Evelyn Zweni was a black anti-apartheid activist who was detained multiple times in the 1960s and 1970s. Testifying about her detention in response to her anti-apartheid activism in those decades, Nomakula Evelyn Zweni said,
We burned these places up, there was a bar where I used to live, we burnt it — I am telling you we burnt it. Because they use to call us kaffirs how can you call a person kaffir, what is that — what is kaffir, what is that, what is that? I don’t want apartheid at all. You will be beaten up — you would be beaten up in your land by the boers [sic].[xlii]
This short excerpt touches on many concerns: concerns about the apartheid land use policies, arson, the slur “kaffir,” and violence committed by white South Africans against Zweni and members of her community. All these concerns become elided, and Zweni’s anger is decoupled from any particular incident. Her anger should be seen as tied not only to the violence she experienced but also to the structural implications of apartheid, including the lack of economic opportunities coupled with easy access to alcohol in establishments owned by white South Africans. Similarly, her anger at the term “kaffir,” a derogatory term that is now considered hate speech under South African law, is powerful because it refuses uptake or rectificatory response. The multiple objects of her anger reveal part of the interplay between the structural, linguistic, and economic legacies of apartheid and how they cannot be separated in an accounting of the political climate. A cognitive-evaluative approach to her anger could point to the specific experiences that caused Zweni pain, but a more expansive way to engage with her anger is through its confrontational dimension. Note how it provides commentary on the transitional moments that would be difficult to get otherwise.
The confrontational dimension of anger, as seen in the examples of the dream with the goat and the psycho-linguistic response to the term “kaffir,” is important because of the way it references the intangible structures of apartheid. The fact that language itself has been shaped by the terms used to implement and enforce the violence of apartheid and the relationship between violence and liberatory goals cannot be easily recast in the utopic space of the truth commission. It is interesting to note that although Zweni’s anger and frustration are notable, there is a change in the middle of her testimony. When asked to reflect on the process of testifying at the TRC, she says, “On this date, on the 22nd I do accept reconciliation with both hands.”[xliii] She implies this is reconciliation with God, rather than with those who were the perpetrators of crimes in the previous regime. The juxtaposition of these two affective states, anger and reconciliation, within a single testimony further speaks to the importance of having multiple approaches to understanding the relationship between anger and political life. Expecting a contradiction in expressions of anger may be the most productive place for the listening audience to start. The response from the commission under ideal conditions is, as described by Améry, to allow the paradox and incommunicability of the testimony to be heard and allowed to exist without coercion or extensive mediation. The confrontational dimension of anger does not necessitate immediate uptake but demands a type of attention that shows acknowledgment of the risk taken in its expression.[xliv]
The Kinetic Dimension of Anger
The kinetic dimension of anger refers to anger’s significance as a source of energy for political life. It is not connected to the conceptual issues of redress or contradiction as found in the cognitive-evaluative and the confrontational dimensions. Instead, the kinetic dimension operates on the level of visceral experience and the recognition of shared humanity.
Appreciating the kinetic dimension of anger means understanding it as the potential for social change. This is akin to appreciating the inspiring quality of a mass protest or an impassioned musical performance, even if one does not agree with or relate to the content. Those tasked with maintaining institutions may try to deny this type of energy by insisting on impartiality and evenhandedness, or they can appreciate it as the enlivening force of thumos. The most urgent and compelling political questions carry with them a high level of intensity, and this intensity should be better appreciated on the questions’ own terms, distinct from the cognitive-evaluative and confrontational dimensions.
In considering the effects of anger’s intensity, Robert Thurman makes a useful distinction between anger as energy and anger that is bound up with hate.[xlv] Thurman structures his essay Anger around forging a path between these two different ways of experiencing anger. He uses the term “resigning to” anger to refer to a wide range of perspectives that see the power and volatility of anger as integral to human life and as necessary for defending religious ideals or fighting against oppression (this is similar to the righteous anger account discussed above). In truth, much of my argument here could be seen to t Thurman’s category of “resigning to anger.” He might point out that while giving anger a more central place in discussions of transitional justice may seem new, the feeling that anger should be justified and excused is long-standing and misguided. On the other side of the debate, he writes that there exists a tradition of “resigning from anger” that is equally misguided. This perspective is found in Seneca’s discussion of the futile attempt to control, harness, and understand anger as well as is in the Buddhist tradition that situates anger in an understanding of nonattachment (to objects or concepts) and nondualism. In the Buddhist tradition, anger is another type of delusional attachment that gives the individual self-illusory importance and meaning.[xlvi] An ontology of nondualism further reveals how anger relies on a dualism between victim and perpetrator, a vision which betrays the reality of the interconnectedness of all things. Anger directed at an oppressor does not make sense in Buddhist thought because it must be directed at oneself as well since the self is the conduit of experiencing anger. This makes the possibility of resolution difficult to fathom. Thurman suggests that while these concerns must be kept in mind, a middle path is also available, one of appreciating the particular energy of anger. As he describes it,
Anger’s explosive energy becomes the bright blue-black sapphire radiant laser light of absolute purity wisdom, the completely inexorable, relatively absolute energy that absorbs all differences and oppositions, that destroys all obstructions, dissects all complexities and knots of resistance to freedom, that consumes death and life and all between in the infinitely free. It is so powerful in its destruction of all egotism and confusion it cannot be opposed. It is freedom itself, it is freedom that is free of freedom even, free of being free, and so is infinitely present in every level of sensitive and creative relationships.[xlvii]
While not completely rejecting the ideal of resigning from anger that comes from nonattachment and nondualism, Thurman recognizes that anger remains a fundamentally creative force and the most powerful energy to which human beings have access. By calling it a “freedom that is free of freedom even, free of being free,” Thurman suggests that anger is not trapped or defined by established concepts of freedom and restraint because it is the force that creates such a tension in the first place. Anger is not dependent on being released, expressed, or accepted; this is an erroneous way to think of its power. Rather, it is a force that destroys “differences and oppositions,” but to allow it such power necessitates a paradoxical resignation from it. Thurman suggests holding on to the raw energy of anger while detaching from the specificity of its cause, a perspective that could be fruitfully carried over into the political sphere.
Engaging with the raw energy of anger in witness testimony is perhaps best accomplished in person, or in the video or audio recordings of a truth commission. Written transcripts, which may be useful for understanding the cognitive-evaluative and confrontational dimensions, cannot capture this aspect. Catherine Cole’s writing on the TRC argues that this is precisely the aspect many people have overlooked in their commentary about the TRC. She references the testimony of Nomonde Calata, who broke into a mournful scream, and says, “The importance of this sound — a wail that transcended language and, in doing so, captured something elemental about the experience of gross violations of human rights — indicates the degree to which the physical expression was central to the TRC.”[xlviii] Here Cole is talking about the energy of that cry as paradigmatic of the TRC, but at the same time, she intuits an interpretation of it that is similar to righteous anger. Thurman’s analysis pushes for a way to separate these two interpretations: Calata’s scream can provide energy for political life apart from being connected to the desire for revenge and the punishment of her husband’s killer.
The kinetic dimension of anger should not just be seen as the irrational backdrop for the rationality of the logos as embedded in anger. I follow Cavarero in suggesting that the voice, the visceral and sonorous expression of the human body, is important for politics in ways that go beyond reasoned speech because of what the voice reveals about the uniqueness and relationality of a person (the ability to share experiences with strangers).[xlix] The particular tone, modulation, and cadence of an individual’s voice are highly idiosyncratic and can betray the speaker’s fears and skepticism even when the words she uses suggest otherwise. The voice is the instrument that connects the witness who begins as a victim to her subsequent identity as citizen, and attention to voice via the kinetic dimension of anger draws attention back to the process of listening. Cavarero desires a shift from the metaphor of sight, which she claims has dominated Western metaphysical thinking, such that truth becomes unconcealment against a perceived stable landscape, to that of hearing, an activity marked by attending to the succession of sound amidst a dynamic field.[l]
Like the scream of Nomonde Calata, Antigone’s mournful cries have been interpreted as a type of primitive reaction to grief and a universally recognizable female gesture of putting commitment to one’s family against the needs of the state. Honig finds this reading to be a disservice to understanding Antigone’s political significance and to the concept of natality, which I would also consider a kinetic force. Part of Honig’s analysis on Antigone involves rethinking the meaning of sound. She writes, “Parody, mimicry, and citation postulate not just worded repetition but also intonation and inflection” and says further that sounds can be listened to not just as a complement to the “logos” of language but also as forces that disrupt and inspire it in explicitly political ways.[li] The sounds of anger, the very things that make it difficult to interpret using a cognitive-evaluative lens, can provide greater meaning and significance to the other parts of the testimony because of the relationship between sound and word, often through homonyms and wordplay. Just as Antigone’s cries and screams put forth resistance and hopes for an alternate political order, so do the sounds of testimony heard at a truth commission.
Sartre’s understanding of the emotions provides another perspective on the kinetic dimension. For him, expressions of emotion are magical transformations of the world; starting in the body but finding a home in the world, they are responses to events and obstacles that disrupt automatic causal linkages.[lii] He considers emotions to be magical because of their unexpected force and location within the physiology of the body, as well as the connection that is forged between the body and the object that initiated the response. Moreover, they defy patterns of logic in their ability to foment intensity and attachment. The strong intentionality of the emotions present in Aristotle and Solomon is found again in a different capacity in Sartre’s reading because of the connection he wants to draw between the object of emotion and the subject. Yet, it is his description of the quickening sensation of the emotions that warrants attention here; as audience members listen to testimony, the expression of anger, even when they do not agree with or understand its antecedents, is in Sartrean terms a powerful impulse to transform the world, and the kinetic energy of anger allows individuals to forge connections with others through its communication, even when retribution and repair are not possible. To witness anger is to experience how the energy of anger circulates, permeates, and electrifies all who encounter it. Anger is not death; it is the opposite of death and has an impact on those who listen to it that is not dependent on being able to respond but rather comes from its expression of the visceral human desire to survive and be heard.
The three dimensions of danger described here — the cognitive-evaluative, the confrontational, and the kinetic — speak to the understanding of anger as a complex life-giving force. Expecting anger’s contradictions and the movement between different dimensions in the process of listening can open up a transformed type of communication between victim and audience. Each of the dimensions of anger reveals insights about the speaker’s experiences and the challenges to establishing a new political culture with an expanded demos. Thus, the goal is not the disclosure of anger for its own sake or for the purpose of catharsis, but for civic interactions that are generative of trust, the focus of the next chapter.
For footnotes, please click the .pdf version.