Survivorism and the Child Victim in the U.S., Argentina, and the Netherlands
This project explores how the child victim has played and continues to play a constitutive role in the (re)making of the nation during and after moments of crisis in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries throughout the Americas and Western Europe. I propose that the child is the crucial figure in what I call “survivorism,” or the drive to refuse the passivity and dependency understood to define the “victim” in order to claim the identity of “survivor” in the wake of existentially shattering reminders of unbearable vulnerability. The representative figure of the child victim, a metonym for the wounded nation, is used to signal both the unforgivable and incontrovertible atrocity of what has occurred and the assurance of recovery and renewal. For the adult nation, the child provides a vehicle through which anxieties over both culpability/complicity and vulnerability can be safely processed. I identify the Jewish child as the “chosen” child victim in post-occupation memory discourse in the Netherlands, the child of disappeared parents in post-dictatorship Argentina, and the middle-class White child in the United States post-9/11, referring to a careful analysis of political, media, and popular discourse, as well as early literary and filmic representations, to defend these conclusions. I analyze how the vulnerability of these respective poster children has been used to consolidate the moral righteousness of particular political projects as the nation attempts to construct a canonical narrative of the (very recent) traumatic past that will provide the closure considered necessary for proceeding into the future. I then look to literature written by or containing (former) “real-life” child victims who challenge, complicate, or reject the symbolic position to which they have been consigned. These works collectively suggest alternative modes of survival that reject (the illusion of) independence, invulnerability, and closure in favor of an (often joyful) openness to a multiplicity of narratives of grief and suffering, to stubbornly illegible histories, and to the acknowledgment of vulnerability, victimhood, and (inter)dependence without shame.