Figuring out Cain. Darwin, Spangenberg and Cormon


Hannah Arendt


This essay responds to a question  Prof. I.J.J. (Sakkie) Spangenberg asked the author at the 2015 meeting of the OTSSA with regard to the use of the Old Testament in current South African discourse, that is, why is the figure of Cain used to illustrate perpetrator discourse? The author argues that the figure of Cain draws attention to the responsibility of South African whiteness towards apartheid and its after effects and explores the respons(e)-ability of ordinary (white) bible readers in this regard. There are good reasons or warrants for focusing on Cain as perpetrator by accepting or adhering to the advice fostered firstly by post-Holocaust hermeneutics in Germany and secondly by archetypal criticism of myths in the cultural archive. In framing this responsibility and respons(e)-ability, firstly a leaf is taken from the German socio-political and religious discourse after the Holocaust. Secondly, the value of Cain as archetype in the cultural archive will be discussed. Thirdly, Fernan Cormon’s painting, Cain (1880) as part of the cultural archive will be analyzed as a heuristic key to interrogate evil.


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