Memory, Image: On Rosa Luxemburg’s Prison Letters and Gender Violence

These are sad days, and all of us have lost many of our loved ones. 
—Rosa Luxemburg, letter dated November 21, 19161

Among the things I inherited from grandmother when she died were her handwritten recipes and a hardcover edition of Roberts’ Birds of Southern Africa, an illustrated guidebook to the region’s winged bounty. It is not the 1940 first edition but a later edition, which bears the inscription of a former Rhodesian soldier who drifted into her suburban life after my grandfather’s death and showed her the lights of many casinos before he died alone in a rented room. I rarely open the book, mostly because it is too clunky to take into the field; and, anyway, there is now a bird-spotting app that allows users to play actual birdcalls. There is no need anymore to apply one’s imagination to reconciling the distance between audible reality and how an expert onomatopoeically renders, for example, the nightingale’s plaintive, monotonous cry as “Gligligligligliglick!”

I’ve borrowed that description of a nightingale’s call from a letter Rosa Luxemburg wrote from prison to Sophie Liebknecht in 1917. The influential Marxist thinker and peace activist was not a bird expert; she just wrote attentively about them during her two and a half years in German prisons. And Luxemburg corrects herself in the letter: the bird she remembers seeing with the Liebknechts, Sophie and her husband Karl, wasn’t a nightingale at all but a wryneck: “It gets its name because of the way in which, when danger threatens, it tries to intimidate its enemies by quaint gestures and writhings of the neck.”2 

My grandmother, by contrast, had no interest in social struggle. The only thing she shares with Luxemburg, who was born Rozalia Luksenburg in 1871, was a love of birds and the need to change her given name. I only discovered this while sorting through my grandmother’s things a few weeks after she died. Among the casino vouchers and recipes was her birth certificate. Unlike Luxemburg, who only westernized her name, my grandmother erased her four Afrikaans given names, adopting the more Anglophone-sounding Ramona. 

Nevertheless, it was a terse pencil note from her lover that fascinated; it was the only piece of correspondence evidencing their love affair. My grandfather did not write love letters. Shortly before he died, however, he beckoned my grandmother from his hospital bed in a raspy voice by her nickname: “Gog.” An endearing diminutive of the Afrikaans goga, its tricky uvular consonants are a reminder of the word’s origins in the Khoekhoe language. Little insect, he was saying. She stepped nearer. He died. I drove her home. We never spoke about my grandfather’s last words. His final statement was a term of endearment. He called out in desperation, in intimacy, and then he died. We left it there.

That small moment sticks with me. It is almost untranslatable as text—much like the sound of the bird Luxemburg had observed as it sang beside a “trickling streamlet” in Berlin. And yet, as a knock on Google’s door confirms, there is an impulse to know, as much as textually hoard, the final statements of the nearly dead, even if, sometimes, these aggregated accounts online are apocryphal, too fluent, too much at odds with the way breath and tongue collude in moments of agony and urgency. 

There is no accurate record of what Luxemburg said when she was marched out of Hotel Eden in Berlin on January 15, 1919, toward right-wing paramilitaries. No qualified information as to whether she pleaded with Otto Runge as he lifted his rifle to strike her, or moaned when she picked herself up, moments before her execution. In the absence of details, we defer not to the mouth but to the hand. A day before she was detained by patrician elites, Luxemburg, a member of the revolutionary Spartacus League, published an editorial celebrating the implicit gains of the failed Berlin revolt. By turns urgent, hectoring, and Socratic, Luxemburg’s essay remains a powerful meditation on failure. “The whole road of socialism—so far as revolutionary struggles are concerned—is paved with nothing but thunderous defeats. Yet, at the same time, history marches inexorably, step by step, toward final victory!”3 Defeat, she adds, is foundational, a form of experiential knowledge. Defeat fortifies. This makes sense in the abstract, but the next day Luxemburg was murdered. Her editorial ends: “I was, I am, I shall be!” It is a quote from an 1851 poem by engagée poet and translator Ferdinand Freiligrath.4 Quotes are more than acts of repetition: they are partisan feats, declarations of allegiances. They are also expeditionary, invitations to journey into lives and worlds beyond the borrowed phrase. 

“No, no, no, no.” Another final statement, reportedly Ana Mendieta’s, as recalled by a doorman working the night shift at 300 Mercer Street, shortly before the Cuban-American artist fell—whether by accident or malicious intent, to some still a contested subject—from the 34th floor of her shared apartment on September 8, 1985.5 Two nights earlier, Mendieta and her partner, sculptor Carl Andre, had been with artists Nancy Spero and Leon Golub. “Ana was the most relaxed and happiest we’d ever seen her,” Spero later told New York magazine.6 Andre was subsequently charged with her murder, but later acquitted of wrongdoing by Justice Alvin Schlesinger, in 1988. Some news reports detailing Mendieta’s fatal plunge say she only cried “no” three times, not four. Repetition is a bugbear of editors; repeated words are often struck. Would a single statement of refusal, a single yet definitive “no,” carry less weight than a repeated cry? Or more? This is not an obscurantist editorial quandary. The question involves far more.

The deaths of Mendieta and Luxemburg are substantially documented, as is that of law graduate and model Reeva Steenkamp in a suburb linked to my youth. In the early hours of February 13, 2013, a day before she was struck by three military-grade bullets shot through a bathroom door by South African athlete Oscar Pistorius at his home in Pretoria, Steenkamp tweeted: “What do you have up your sleeve for your love tomorrow??? #get-excited #ValentinesDay.” She also retweeted—quoted, to think more openly—a call by Lindiwe Suttle, a Berlin-based singer of American and South African ancestry, to wear black on Valentine’s Day as a show of support against rape and the abuse of women. Two weeks earlier, Anene Booysen, a seventeen-year-old woman from a rural town near Cape Town, was gang-raped and disemboweled, one of many such recurring atrocities. “RIP princess!” tweeted Steenkamp on February 9, the day of Booysen’s funeral. Steenkamp’s last words, such as we can know them, were private and contained in a text message sent to a family in Johannesburg where she roomed. “Hi guys, I’m too tired. It’s too far to drive. I’m sleeping at Oscar’s tonight. See you tomorrow.”7

There is no record of what twenty-three-year-old sex worker Nokuphila Kumalo said in the hours before she was kicked to death on a Cape Town sidewalk by artist Zwelethu Mthethwa, on April 14, 2013. In an age of surplus—of ephemeral data traffic and staggering image flows—evidence of Kumalo’s life remains elusive. There are no last words, not even photographs. Her biography, as reporters narrated it, is generic. Like my grandmother, she was an unwed rural migrant seeking a better life in the city. Cape Town, with its gutted textile industry, is a hard-luck destination for a young woman with few professional skills. Kumalo didn’t get ahead, which is not to say that she didn’t slot into the bustle of this ruthlessly mercantile city. There are many inflections to being poor, among them visibility: Kumalo left no photos. I once heard the expression “image oblivion” used to describe a condition faced by the world’s poorest people. (Maybe it was Allan Sekula, who I heard speak about this in Dublin, although Google remains mute.) In 2015, during the murder trial of Mthethwa, who would be found guilty of Kumalo’s murder in 2017, a newspaper reported that her mother, Eva, possessed no photographs of her daughter. “Only memories.” Those memories are now complicated by Eva’s witnessing of forensic photographs of her daughter during court proceedings. “I was sitting on a bench near the lawyers when they held up the pictures of her,” she told a reporter. “I saw my child lying there in her bloody white T-shirt. I had to get up and leave the room.”8

But I haven’t thanked you yet for Karl’s photograph. I was so delighted to get it. You could not possibly have thought of a more lovely birthday present. He is on the table in a fine frame and his eyes follow me about wherever I go.
—Rosa Luxemburg, letter dated April 19, 19179

An estimated 1.3 trillion photos will be taken this year, mostly with phone devices. In 2000 the number totaled roughly eighty billion. We are beyond speaking of photography and surplus; this is the era of image deluge. Eva Kumalo, though, possesses no photos of her murdered daughter, only private memories. Something about Eva’s unplanned encounter with the forensic photographs of her daughter—photographs that straddle private and public functions, that are at once intimate and institutional (court records)—reminds me of an essay by John Berger. In 1978, Berger, a refusenik who staged his protests in writing, published a response to his friend and interlocutor Susan Sontag’s new book, On Photography. Berger’s essay is, as was his manner as a writer, wandering, a digression around a favorite subject. Titled simply “Uses of Photography,” Berger’s text attempts to locate certain essentials about this light-sculpting medium and technology; memory emerges as key. 

“What served in place of the photograph; before the camera’s invention?” asks Berger. “The expected answer is the engraving, the drawing, the painting. The more revealing answer might be: memory. What photographs do out there in space was previously done within reflection.”10 One consequence of the ceding of memory to technology, thought Berger, is the atrophying of social and political memory. Berger was largely occupied with the photography of witnessing in this essay (and others), and how the project of committed seeing—by professional photographers—could and should decouple itself from the mechanics and necessities of capitalism. He was trying to rationalize a wounded present that was, in some ways, similar to our own, but which is also very far from what we call “now.” 

In the past decade the terms of the practice of photography have shifted. Technological developments have blurred the distinction between producer and viewer, and, I would argue, troubled some of Berger’s clear-cut distinctions between what constitutes public and private photographs. The mechanics of data capitalism—Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest—have especially complicated Berger’s assumptions around private photographs, which he describes as being “appreciated and read in a context which is continuous with that from which the camera removed it.” This is an archaic interpretation. Photographs, once uploaded, have an unstable and vagrant life. They travel. Their ability to stay private, to remain “continuous” with their place of origin, is, at best, contingent. 

However, it is not all loss. The diffusion of photography in the current age of digital surplus has privileged other ways of seeing, and of being seen. In 2013, Oxford Dictionaries voted “selfie” as its word of the year. The decision reflected a self-evident fact: autobiography has emerged as an increasingly dominant narrative mode in photography. Selfies have even become a way of telling the news. They have recorded the urgency of various social flash points, including Black Lives Matter in the U.S., the Fallist movement in South Africa, and the liminal existence of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in the northern territories of Syria and Iraq. The radical subjectivity of selfies hasn’t bested journalism so much as expanded the texture and tone of what we construe as a news image. I don’t want to lionize the new self-portrait; at best, it operates in a continuum of possibilities. “There is never a single approach to something remembered,” writes Berger.11 Self-authorship, in other words, has its limits.

Ana Mendieta, Untitled (Silueta Series, Mexico) (1976), from “Silueta Works in Mexico” (1973–77), one of twelve color photographs, 50.8 × 40.6 cm

Take what happened to Reeva Steenkamp. Memory here requires acknowledging the agency of disquieting photographs, ones in which she had no authorial hand. In June 2016, Judge Thokozile Masipa approved the release of photographs taken by police forensics of Steenkamp at the scene of her death. The decision, approved by the Steenkamp family, occurred during Pistorius’s sentencing hearing after his initial manslaughter conviction—for which he served one year of a five-year sentence—was upgraded to murder upon appeal. The portraits are tightly composed. Steenkamp’s eyes are closed and her mouth slightly agape. Her yellowing face is flecked with blood. The photographs are unambiguous documents of violence. To improvise on Berger, they offer a trace of what happened; they are “continuous with that from which the camera removed it.”12 

Could they be construed as aesthetic documents? No, at least not if we consider intention. And yet, these forensic photos of Steenkamp are coterminous with the well-known death portrait of Ulrike Meinhof, which has been reinscribed in paint by Gerhard Richter and Marlene Dumas. Both artists refer to the same news photo of the dead Red Army Faction member, which first appeared in the German news weekly Stern following Meinhof’s mysterious suicide (and/or alleged murder) in captivity, in May 1976.13 The titling of Dumas’s oil painting, Stern (2004), a square portrait rendered in mostly alabaster and charcoal tones, defers to the source of the photograph, not the subject. Without prior knowledge or a textual addendum, the subject of her work is anonymous. This estrangement is key. Berger made it a point of focus in his critique of the limits of public photographs, which the portrait of Meinhof once was.

May Stevens, Rosa Luxemburg (1982), silkscreen on paper, 55.9 × 75.6 cm, unknown edition with 15 A.P.

“If the public photograph contributes to a memory, it is to the memory of an unknowable and total stranger. The violence is expressed in that strangeness. It records an instant sight about which this stranger has shouted: Look!” Berger notes.14 I looked: at those photographs of Steenkamp, even though I didn’t want to, and I continue to look—increasingly with a sense of disquiet and horror at my proximity to a grim history of “intimate terrorism.” Deployed by researchers studying connections between domestic violence and ideological and state-sponsored terrorism, the phrase can be thought of as both a framework and conceptual provocation. Rebecca Solnit has described its increasing currency in mainstream reporting as “a victory for feminism’s long task of reframing the story, and the larger project of calling things by their true names.”15 For me, the term “intimate terrorism” offers a generative framework for thinking about the lives and deaths of Kumalo, Luxemburg, Meinhof, Mendieta, Steenkamp, and so many other unnamed women. What connects these women? The violence of their deaths is an insufficient answer. There are pronounced normative regimes—to do with gender, ideology, aesthetics, and even the environment—that connect their lives and continue to mark their deaths. 

Yesterday I was reading about the reasons for the disappearance of song birds in Germany. The spread of scientific forestry, horticulture, and agriculture, have cut them off from their nesting places and their food supply. More and more, with modern methods, we are doing away with hollow trees, waste lands, brushwood, fallen leaves. I felt sore at heart.
—Rosa Luxemburg, letter dated May 2, 191716

May Stevens, Forming the Fifth International (1985), acrylic on canvas, 198.1 × 304.8 cm

The death portrait is not dissimilar to the para-literary genre of the final utterance. Its existence is irrefutable. As a category of image, though, it is at once benign, a kind of bourgeois kitsch, yet also deeply troubling. The trouble it proposes is animated by the bloody archive of Ana Mendieta. In 1978, the same year Berger authored his consideration of the uses of photography in reaction to Sontag’s book, Mendieta burned the title page of Romanian-born historian of religion Mircea Eliade’s Rites and Symbols of Initiation (1958) with a branding iron formed in the shape of her hand. Mendieta’s archive is full of works bearing out her need to impress, wound, and scar. 

One image from the archive of her artworks compels me: a black-and-white photograph made in 1978 near Iowa City, where Mendieta arrived at age twelve, a political orphan from Cuba, and later studied fine art in the 1970s. Untitled (Silueta Series, Iowa) is a piece of photographic documentation for one of Mendieta’s earth-body performances. It presents the outline of a human form pressed, cross-like, into a field of grass. Its power resides in its immanence. Something happened here—and yet, I’m too late to exactly know what. Mendieta produced roughly one hundred of these “embodied encounters,” to quote art historian Ara Osterweil, in open fields, near rivers, close to trees, in dug recesses, and sacred locations across the United States and in Mexico between 1973 and 1980.17 Initially a protagonist in the films and photographs recording these earth encounters, Mendieta eventually created a surrogate in the form of a sculptural template, made in collaboration with Hans Breder, her tutor at the University of Iowa, which she used to stamp out her form in nature. 

Mendieta explained her decision to absent herself from her performative encounters in simple terms. “I don’t particularly like performance art,” she told art historian Joan M. Marter in a 1985 interview. The immediacy rankled. “If you have a body right there—a woman, naked—it’s pretty much that and it’s really a confrontation. So I just decided that the next best thing would be to have just my silhouette. So that’s why there’s a mark because that’s the work. I wasn’t really there.”18 Not being there accounts for why Nancy Spero thought of these works as more than simply self-portraits. In their staging of absence and presence, they move beyond the particular to offer a “symbol of the female body.”19 Spero’s estimation of these works was neither aloof nor abstract. In the early 1990s, after a period of intense engagement with Mendieta’s practice, Spero acquired a photograph from the Silueta Series. It was still on display in Spero’s studio when art historian Joanna S. Walker visited the artist, shortly before her death in 2009. 

Untitled (Silueta Series, Yagul) recalls a 1973 visit Mendieta made to Oaxaca in Mexico. Her itinerary included a stopover at Yagul, a stony remnant of the Zapotec civilization. In one photograph produced at this archaeological site, Mendieta lays naked in an open Zapotec tomb, her body obscured by filigree shrubs with white blooms. (Luxemburg also recognized the potency of flowers, writing to Sophie Liebknecht in a 1917 letter from her prison in Wronke: “Here the buds have not opened yet, and yesterday we had sleet. … Last year at this time we were standing together at the garden gate and you were admiring the wealth of flowers.”20) Mendieta’s burial performance is a youthful work of eco-feminist conviction; a piece that speaks of becoming rather than settled achievement. Mendieta also photographed a white cloth with a bloody imprint of her body on it that she installed in a stone niche. This is the work that hung in Spero’s studio. 

Writing about this work in a 1992 issue of Artforum, Spero likened the residual figure in the photograph to “the recessive mark left by a victim of the bomb in Hiroshima or Nagasaki.”21 The bloody shroud presents a striking motif of absence, one that is central to my thinking about the afterlife of Luxemburg, whose grave at Friedrichsfelde Central Cemetery was desecrated by the Nazis, her bones secreted away as if they possessed some magical power. The shroud directly keyed into Mendieta’s evolving interest in ritual and sacral rites, the stuff Eliade’s text discusses and whose cover she chose to wound five years later. But Untitled (Silueta Series, Yagul) also infers a crime scene. 

In 1973, in response to the brutal rape and murder of a nursing student, Sarah Ann Ottens, by another student at the University of Iowa, Mendieta staged a rape performance in her apartment on Moffitt Street. Drawing on crime reports in the press, Mendieta posed herself, bound and bloodied, bent over a table. She invited friends to attend, leaving her apartment door slightly ajar. “I didn’t move,” Mendieta told a reporter from The Daily Iowan in 1977. “I stayed in position about an hour. It really jolted them.” The visceral nature of the performance was intentional. “I can’t see being theoretical about an issue like that,” said Mendieta.22 Despite her youth, her reasoning is rigorous. 

The history of art is awash with synthetic blood and sublimated depictions of violence. Mendieta’s blood works—which include her early film Moffitt Building Piece (1973) and Body Tracks (1982), a gestural performance at Franklin Furnace in New York—emerged around the time of Viennese Actionism and fashion photographer Guy Bourdin staging femicide as advertising chic for shoemaker Charles Jourdan. Affinities, yes, but the distinction rests in purpose. Berger is helpful here. In his 1978 essay on Sontag’s book, Berger writes: “If we want to put a photograph back into the context of experience, social experience, social memory, we have to respect the laws of memory.”23 Memory is key to thinking about Mendieta’s work, its function, its purpose, and its shaky agency in the present. 

Rosa Luxemburg, Herbarium VII (July 1913). Archiwum Akt Nowych, Warsaw

In February 2016, during an exhibition of Mendieta’s work in New York, Cuban-American artist Coco Fusco spoke about her difficulties with the “post-mortem canonization” of Mendieta’s work. “I have not continued to participate in the canonization of Ana because I don’t think that it is about her work,” Fusco told Artsy. “I think she’s become a symbol used by many people to address sexism in the art world through personal attacks directed at Carl Andre. Many younger artists exploit the memory of Ana for their own professional advancement.” Fusco likened the reception of Mendieta to Eva Hesse and Francesca Woodman. But, she conceded, “there is a tremendous sense of a great loss, that here was a talent that could have flourished had they lived longer. On the other hand, once an artist is dead, the market can go crazy over a fixed body of work.”24 

Mendieta has not been exempted from this process. “Much of what we look at now are works she never exhibited,” said Fusco. “A lot of the early work was just slides left in boxes.”25 Berger described such images as private photographs. One wonders how Mendieta might have described them? As private experiments perhaps, or notes towards something unrealized, an artwork in the making? I agree with much of what Fusco said, but also disagree. Images have an undisciplined afterlife: they will always find new audiences, however slowly, prompting new experiences. Yet I understand Fusco not agreeing with the prevailing consensus declared in affirmative social media posts and serial Pinterest uploads of Mendieta’s work. There is truth in her recent argument, just as there is truth in her earlier line of thought, from 1993, about the “unique and haunting poetics” of Mendieta’s work, which, Fusco added, speaks to “the experience of many in the Americas”—and Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, even Europe—“whose histories have been shaped by forced migration, enslavement, expropriation, and loss, and whose expressions have borne out the salutary power of myth, the persistence of belief, and the resilience of the spirit.”26 Can the posthumously discovered archive of an artist using photography to negotiate her many identities—woman, immigrant, artist, animal, sentient being—bear the load of this latter reading? I think so. 

Ana Mendieta, Untitled (Silueta Series) (1978), digital video transferred from Super 8 mm film, color, silent, 3:14 min.

Mendieta’s photographs, in which she is only intermittently a visible protagonist, mostly a spectral and vestigial presence, exceed her biography. Looking past the formal attributes—the skilful negotiation of presence and absence, site and context, beatific stillness and immanent violence—there is also something deeply felt about her work. One encounters this same intensity in Luxemburg’s prison letters, which—like Mendieta’s photographs—pair an acute appreciation of the small with an awareness of larger flows and forces, some to do with brutality, violence, and cruelty. Cruelty aims to narrow the options, until there are none. Luxemburg’s letters to Sophie often dwell on this, the cruelty she observed in prison, and its far-reaching civilizational causes and impact. In a letter dated May 2, 1917, she writes about the correlation between the genocide of North America’s Indigenous people by white settlers and industrial farming, which had invaded and denatured the habitats of Luxemburg’s songbirds: “Just like the birds, they have been gradually driven from their hunting grounds by civilised men.”27 In a letter from December 1917, she describes the lot of a team of Romanian cart buffalo pulling a cart loaded with bloodied tunics from the war front: they were “unsparingly exploited,” and, “blow upon blow,” worked to death.28

That Luxemburg understood the buffalo were “war trophies” amplifies her analysis: violence, while always particular, nonetheless keys into larger social patterns and patriarchal norms. I don’t know if Mendieta read any of Luxemburg’s correspondence—which totals some 2,800 letters, postcards, and telegrams in a six-volume German edition, far less in English—but her photographs project the same radical consciousness, one that seeks connection with the world of mud and leaves and animals, but is also aware of our frailty and loss of refuge among these things.

Ana Mendieta, Untitled (Silueta Series) (1978), digital video transferred from Super 8 mm film, color, silent, 3:14 min.

I am now deep in the study of geology. Perhaps you will think that must be a dry subject, but if so, you are mistaken. I am reading it with intense interest and passionate enjoyment; it opens up such wide intellectual vistas and supplies a more perfectly unified and more comprehensive conception of nature than any other science.
—Rosa Luxemburg, letter dated November 191729

Memory loss, or rather something approaching a dense lack of recall, was a central pillar of Zwelethu Mthethwa’s legal defense in his murder trial. “Memory is a complex situation, sometimes memory is blocked, we try not to remember the unpleasant,” stated psychiatrist Tuviah Zabow, an expert witness called by Mthethwa’s defense team. Zabow’s statement was meant to lend credence to the artist’s claim that he drank too much and could not remember events around the period of Kumalo’s death. “There has been no change in his recall between when the allegations surfaced and when I saw him. This was a dense lack of recall.”30 The psychiatrist was speaking specifically and instrumentally. Is it possible, though, to intervene and apply his reasoning more broadly? How elastic is this idea of a dense lack of recall? Can it speak to the many, not just the one?

The history of violence against women is not abstract. One day, shortly after reading what Mthethwa’s expert witness had proposed in court, I made a tally. In 1933, Beatrice Vera Aanhuizen, a nineteen-year-old Cape Town sex worker and resident of Woodstock, was found dead on a beach near the Grand Parade. Murdered. Three years later, a serial killer murdered three more Cape Town sex workers. This dark alley of South African criminal history includes many diverting doors with nameplates reading “Salie Lingevelt,” “Elias Xitavhudzi,” and “Gert van Rooyen,” all mass killers who targeted women. In her 2012 book, State of Peril: Race and Rape in South African Literature, literary scholar Lucy Valerie Graham remarks on the “continuity between past and present” gender violence in South Africa, noting that “a history of entangling rape, race, and representation has thus far inflected and hampered an effective state response to the high levels of gender violence that continue to plague the country.”31 She is not being hyperbolic in her choice of verb: plague. 

Between 1992 and 1996, an unknown serial killer in South Africa murdered eighteen women, including Elmarie Engelbrecht (22), Christene Fieltyn (22), Bridgette Lindt (28), Nolundi Mbukwana (23), Susan Opperman (34), Margaret Phillips (23), and Marilyn Persent (30). The endurance of this violence, which is unabated in 2017, recently prompted the emergence of an antipatriarchal meme: #MenAreTrash. Its popular currency, like that of the pink pussy hat in the United States, speaks back to a system of patriarchal power that enables disassociation and dismembering. It is a dismembering voiced, at base level, by the many protagonists in the murders of South African women. A few months before the death of Nokuphila Kumalo, sixteen-year-old Charmaine Mare was murdered, also in Cape Town. Police later found Mare’s cell phone, which included recordings of her conversations with Johannes de Jager, her killer. “No, uncle, no. I can’t,” Mare repeatedly told him in Afrikaans. It was not De Jager’s first murder. In 2008 he killed eighteen-year-old sex worker Hiltina Alexander. He was drunk at the time. “As a result, my memories about what happened further were very weak,” De Jager told the court in 2013. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.32

To be fair, it is hard to argue that there is a dense lack of recall about these criminal cases among South Africans. The press actively reports on these crimes, as have artists in their work, from J. M. Coetzee in his 1999 novel Disgrace (“The question is, does he have it in him to be the woman?”) to photographer Zanele Muholi.33 Indeed, as Graham notes in her book, “a factor that has characterised post-apartheid South Africa is a proliferation of media and cultural texts on sexual violence.”34 But such optimism, concedes Graham, is built on shaky foundations. She quotes the activist and feminist scholar Lisa Vetten, who in 2007 wrote of “the contingent, conditional and contested nature of gender equality in South Africa.”35 But sexual violence and gender precarity (at home, at work, in places of leisure, wherever there are men) are not simply manifestations of postcolonial societies; they inflect human relations in supposedly mature democracies too. Look at the rape statistics. Look at income inequality. Look at the excuses tendered by men. Look especially at their lack of recall—at the void where memory should be.

There are echoes and overlaps between the forgetting voiced by De Jager and Mthethwa (through his surrogate), and things said by Carl Andre, who admitted that he drank too much (as did Mendieta). In a 2011 New Yorker profile, Andre spoke generically of his memory problems: “I’ve lost my mind,” he told Calvin Tomkins. “It’s a combination of alcohol and something else—my Swedish grandmother had loss of memory, and my father did, too.”36 It is, I accept, possible to forget. But what does this dense lack of recall—of violence against women by the men who perpetrate it—mean when it begins to encompass an entire nation, or suggests itself as the preeminent condition of contemporary masculinity? 

The feminist scholar and anthropologist Ann Laura Stoler has proposed a useful term: “colonial aphasia.”37 Drawing on Michel Foucault’s use of aphasia as a descriptive metaphor and her own research into French racial violence directed at Algerian youth during the period of decolonization, Stoler in 2011 proposed the term to address a profound disassociation. She favors its use over “amnesia” or “forgetting,” in large part because aphasia points to an active and intentional form of loss of recall. In South Africa, Graham’s 2012 book forms part of a modest library aimed at addressing what could be described as an epistemological aporia. Indeed, Graham’s State of Peril is marked by a resolute optic and includes an account of South African president Jacob Zuma’s 2006 rape trial.

Ana Mendieta, Untitled (Silueta Series) (1978), digital video transferred from Super 8 mm film, color, silent, 3:14 min.

In late 2005, Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo laid a rape charge against Zuma, a family friend, who had recently been dismissed as deputy president due to allegations of corruption. The ensuing case plainly highlighted how patriarchal privilege intersects with other forms of power in South Africa. Zuma’s supporters vilified Kuzwayo, who was known to the public only as “Khwezi” until her death in 2016. A white male judge dismissed the case, choosing to foreground Kuzwayo’s sexual history over that of polygamous Zuma. Kuzwayo, an Aids activist who was HIV-positive, received death threats; she and her mother were later offered asylum in the Netherlands when their home was burnt down. The case still haunts Zuma. Despite his acquittal, one prominent political cartoonist has routinely depicted him with a showerhead affixed to his head, a reference to Zuma’s court testimony that he showered after his sexual act to reduce the chance of HIV infection. And in 2016, just as Zuma was announcing election results on a live television broadcast, four women stood up in front of him bearing placards calling on South Africans to remember Kuzwayo, who had recently died after an illness. Asked why they did it, Simamkele Dlakavu, an African literature postgrad and one of the four protestors, said: “Khwezi is all of us. She is a representative of all of us.”38

Don’t you find that the “colour” of these books recalls Rembrandt? There is the same sombreness of the general picture, but mingled with the glint of old gold; there is the same startling realism in details, and yet a general impression of imaginative mystery is conveyed.
—Rosa Luxemburg, letter dated January 14, 191839

Every education has its geography. Mine happened on the eastern suburban outskirts of Pretoria, a sedate garden city with a large civil service and diplomatic population. I am a child of the white middle-class residential sprawl that decentered Pretoria during the apartheid years of plenty, when former edge suburbs like Brooklyn and Menlo Park became boxed in by newer suburbs with names like Lynnwood Glen, Constantia Park, and Faerie Glen, where I grew up. When news broke of Steenkamp’s violent death, I did two things. The first was vocational and involved writing about it: “Fucked up. That about summarises the degradation … Like Goya’s Colossus, something huge and naked and murderous roams South Africa. It is a man with a perpetually balled fist,” I stated in a blog post for Frieze.40 In tandem with this public display of outrage, I hunkered down and thought about home. It involved a series of geographic calculations in my head. 

I mapped the distance between my father’s current home—which, it later emerged, was formerly owned by a young woman murdered by her estranged husband, albeit at his apartment—to Pistorius’s house in Silver Woods Estate, part of a new wave of post-apartheid residential developments that have further extended Pretoria’s eastern boundary. The thirteen-kilometer route between these two pins on a virtual map skirts Leander Road, in the suburb of Olympus, where Carla Schoeman, a former classmate of mine, was murdered. In my high school yearbook there are two black-and-white photographs of Carla. Neither of them says much about the brief life of this white teenager, whose premature death speaks about the strange, inexplicable, almost subterranean violence that flitted in and out of focus during my youth. Like me, Carla spent twelve years in state-run schools. We practiced “riot drill” in our school uniforms, hiding beneath laagered desks in fear of things inelegantly explained. We acted together in school theater productions. We watched Duran Duran videos. I grew up, it seems, in banal John Hughes films, albeit filtered through a dark South African lens. 

Unusually for someone in 5F, the “art class,” Carla was made a student leader, or “prefect” as they were called. One of the two photographs in our yearbook shows her posing with the 1986 prefect body. Photographed outdoors, against the school gym’s rough-textured brick wall, Carla stands in the back row. Lanky and dark-skinned, she was, I suppose, beautiful. The other photograph is a heavily vignetted portrait. Carla has an open face, dark shoulder-length hair, and wears a prefect’s tie. The photograph is captioned with a personal statement. “Aim: An Oscar ’88, a grammy, an Emmy …” She was not being ironic. Carla was an aspirant beauty queen. She entered a number of low-rent beauty pageants, finishing runner-up in the Philips Ladyshave and Jacaranda Queen competitions. 

I watched Carla’s life from an unfocused distance, less out of conscious interest than unavoidable nearness, her career as a model taking shape on makeshift stages erected in local nightclubs and malls. There was talk of reaching the Miss South Africa finals. Her love affair with Paul Bernstein, an estate agent and divorcee nine years her senior, scuppered that. On November 1, 1987, a day after he violently assaulted her, Bernstein drove to Leander Road. There was no rapprochement. He shot Carla four times with a borrowed gun: twice in the chest, once in the stomach, the fatal shot entering through her head. He then shot himself. A news report stated that Carla’s increasing success and visibility had been the source of his jealous rages.

Despite the nearness—in space, time, and relationship—of Carla’s murder, it remains an elusive cipher in my Pretoria upbringing. I am also wary of freighting the event with significance. Still, when a pattern of behavior recurs, especially in an area tightly bounded by privileges of race and class, possibilities emerge. Maybe growing up white and entitled in a segregated urban sprawl, where people and objects are routinely confused, where women and wealth continue to form part of an undifferentiated patrimony (“If It’s got Wheels or a Skirt it’s Gonna Cost You Money,” reads the Twitter profile of one of Steenkamp’s male friends), the idea of losing, of voluntarily giving up intimacies—as much as ideologies—terrifies. You can see it in the work of painter Trevor Makhoba, a South African fabulist who didn’t flinch from portraying rape, incest, and wife-beatings in his work. The country he describes is a place of “excess,” to quote art historian Juliette Leeb-du Toit, where displays of male pride, authority, and dignity are inextricably bound to a “disintegrating patriarchy.”41 Yet this is not a regional phenomenon. Reporting on the pronounced ties between domestic violence and mass killings in the United States, Amanda Taub, writing in a 2016 edition of The New York Times, noted that intimate terrorism “rests on a broader spectrum of violence meant to preserve the traditional dominance of heterosexual men, and coerce those who are perceived as threatening that order.”42 As is known, a threatened patriarchy will defend itself through violence—much like a threatened whiteness, with all the privileges it confers, recently sought refuge, in the U.S. at least, in a man who grabs his desires “by the pussy.”43

For me the song of the birds is inseparable from their life as a whole; it is the whole that interests me, rather than any detached detail.
—Rosa Luxemburg, letter dated August 2, 191744

In January 2003, I traveled to Malawi, a landlocked country in southeastern Africa, to report on tuberculosis and violence. On the outskirts of the country’s capital, Lilongwe, I met forty-seven-year-old Lonely Kabvala. It was at a wooded spot by the roadside where she sold firewood, very close to the Namanthanga River and Area 18 Health Centre, a district facility integral to the treatment of malaria and tuberculosis. A widow, Kabvala had been diagnosed with HIV in 2001. She depended on the sales of firewood to support her three children and two orphans. Roughly nine in ten Malawians use firewood as their primary source of energy. Forest reserves, while nominally protected, are being plundered. Kabvala is a participant in this survivalist extinction. I say this without judgment. 

My encounter with Kabvala, fleeting as it was, lingers. She is in my memory. I still have unpublished transcripts of our conversation. “What is your favorite color?” I asked her after fulfilling my quota of assignment questions. “Green,” she replied. “Spring is such a smart season. Everything looks beautiful.” (Luxemburg, who wrote of the “splendid days of wooing in the spring, when the birds could sing and make love the livelong day,” would have concurred.45) Kabvala then disappeared into a thicket of trees. For a moment, she resembled Mendieta, who between 1976 and 1978 produced a series of performances at Old Man’s Creek, near Iowa City. Sometimes referred to as her “Tree of Life” series, these works explored what Mendieta, in 1982, described as “the relationship between myself, the earth and art.”46 This is stating the obvious. In more determined language, she spoke of the risk of “dissolution” portrayed in these works, of “a yielding or trend to lose oneself in the environment instead of playing an active role in it; the tendency to let oneself go and sink back into nature.”47 This was Luxemburg’s plight too.

When she was in prison, Luxemburg read: “Natural science for the most part; I am studying the distribution of plants and animals,” she wrote Sophie on May 2, 1917.48 Her subsequent letters show a keenness of insight that verges on what Mendieta characterized as “dissolution.” She recalls the “sulphur-yellow flowers with an intoxicating perfume” produced by mimosa trees in a letter dated May 12, 1918.49 The intensity of Luxemburg’s description was partly based on her encounters of mimosas in Corsica. But Luxemburg is recalling all this from prison in Breslau, in present-day Poland. Her letter continues: “Here, unfortunately, I can only watch the crests of the trees that show over the top of the wall a long way off. I see them turning green, and try to guess their species from the tint and general shape.” Naming trees beyond their generic noun held importance for Luxemburg. “Here people live for years and decades in a street planted with elms without ever ‘noticing,’ what an elm tree looks like when it is in flower. They are just as unobservant as regards animals. Most townfolk are really barbarians.”

Luxemburg characterized her interest in “organic nature” as “almost morbid in its intensity.”50 I could be accused of similar morbidity in choosing to mine a handful of letters—literary ephemera—for touch points and correspondences in a narrative about violence and cruelty that deserves less obliquity. I accept that. But there is merit in approaching great thinkers tangentially, in accessing their life and work through a service door. Take, for instance, Luxemburg’s intellectual mentor, Karl Marx. He emerges as a lively polemicist and engaged editorialist in his many reports for the New-York Daily Tribune. “A startling emigration movement has sprung up among the smaller English farmers, especially those holding heavy clay soils, who, with bad prospects for the coming harvest, and in want of sufficient capital to make the great improvements on their farms which would enable them to pay their old rents, have no other alternative but to cross the sea in search of a new country and of new lands,” reported Marx on March 4, 1853. “I am not speaking now of the emigration caused by the gold mania, but only of the compulsory emigration produced by landlordism, concentration of farms, application of machinery to the soil, and introduction of the modern system of agriculture on a great scale.”51 The death of the songbirds mourned by Luxemburg while mired in the “black wrappings of darkness, tedium, unfreedom,” as she wrote in mid-December 1917, is tied up in this epochal change, which started in England and continues today, elsewhere.52

My interest in Luxemburg owes to a particular encounter. In 2006, Therese, my wife, who wasn’t my wife at the time, took me to look at a memorial to Luxemburg on Landwehr Canal. It was here that Luxemburg’s body was dumped following her summary execution. It was, in retrospect, a strange initiation to Berlin. Therese’s interest in Luxemburg is written into her biography. “My father often quoted that other Rosa,” explains Rosa Burger, the protagonist of Nadine Gordimer’s 1979 novel Burger’s Daughter.53 Therese, who grew up in East Berlin, is from a progressive left-wing family. She knows Gordimer’s fiction as fact. In taking me to Luxemburg’s memorial, she was taking me to a place that exceeded words, that is not easily accessed through mere description: her childhood. 

Rosa Luxemburg, Herbarium XIV, Breslau (July–September 1918). Archiwum Akt Nowych, Warsaw

Located next to Lichtenstein Bridge on a former towpath now used by urban ramblers and joggers, Ursulina Schüler-Witte and Ralf Schüler’s cast-iron memorial spells out Luxemburg’s name. It is “deliberately unmonumental,” which is Ara Osterweil thinking about Mendieta’s work, but perfectly describes the Luxemburg memorial as well. I have visited the memorial twice. On both occasions it has failed to impress. But then these sorts of places always fail. In a travelogue about his visit to Portbou, where Walter Benjamin committed suicide in 1940, Michael Taussig has written of the strange perplexity such trips occasion. “I am not making a pilgrimage,” Taussig admonished himself.54 Following the line of Fusco’s more recent writing about Mendieta, Taussig, writing in 2006, expressed his suspicion at the “incipient cult” around Benjamin, in particular his grave. “In any event, one does not worship at the grave of great thinkers,” writes Taussig. “But what then is the appropriate gesture?”55 One option is to read, willfully as much as determinedly. I tend to favor the former. 

I knew nothing of the work of this artist. What a frenzy of colour, what delicacy of line, what a mysterious charm of expression!
—Rosa Luxemburg, letter dated March 24, 191856

In her final letter to Sophie dated October 18, 1918, Luxemburg is full of complaints. Conversations with visitors were being supervised. “Things can’t go on like this much longer,” she fumes, but acknowledges “the door will soon be open for myself, and for Karl too.”57 Three months later she was dead. Luxemburg’s body—that carrier of memory and voice and action, until it wasn’t—was only retrieved from the Berlin canal a few months later, in June. She was buried next to Karl Liebknecht, also murdered in 1919, at Friedrichsfelde Central Cemetery, where Nazis later desecrated her tomb. It is here that Mendieta’s photographic archive, pillaged as it is according to Fusco, offers ways of thinking about fascist and patriarchal violence, about art as memorial, about art as augury. 

In a miscarriage of law enforcement, the police never photographed Mendieta’s corpse. Osterweil writes: “For an artist so committed to indexing the tracks of recumbent bodies, this strikes me as particularly uncanny.”58 Indeed, but such photography, had it occurred, would have been procedural at best; it would not have clarified anything, except the instance of a death. I can’t establish if Luxemburg’s decomposed body was photographed, but it was recovered, and then buried, and later stolen; or, in an alternative narrative, never buried at all. In 2007, Michael Tsokos, head of the Institute of Legal Medicine in Berlin, announced that an unidentified mummified torso at Charité Hospital was the actual remains of Luxemburg. The body fished out of the canal belonged to someone else, he argued in the press, a convenient proxy. He produced compelling scientific evidence for his conclusion, but, ultimately, his case came to nothing. The body he posed with for a news photograph was let go of and, as was reported in 2011, turned over to the police and buried anonymously. Raqs Media Collective examine this history in their film installation The Capital of Accumulation (2010), its title an inversion of Luxemburg’s defining intellectual work, The Accumulation of Capital (1913). 

Ana Mendieta, Untitled (Silueta Series) (ca. 1978), black-and-white photograph, 40.6 × 50.8 cm

Luxemburg is the subject of numerous artworks. The most recent is a series of “counter-memorials” by Sanja Iveković, including Lady Rosa of Luxembourg (2001) and Monument to Revolution (2017), for documenta 14, which reworks Mies van der Rohe’s Monument to Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht as a contemporary stage for women’s and worker’s rights in Avdi Square, in Athens. The earliest is by Max Beckmann. Unlike John Heartfield and George Grosz, who personally received their German Communist Party (KPD) membership cards from Luxemburg in late 1918, Beckmann knew her only as a headline. Shortly after visiting Berlin in March 1919, he published Die Hölle (Hell), ten lithographs that include the work Das Martyrium (Martyrdom), a jittery expressionist retelling of the moment Luxemburg was delivered to Runge and her death. The portfolio failed to find buyers when it was first exhibited in 1919. In addition to Iveković, contemporary artists including Hans Haacke, Thomas Hirschhorn, R. B. Kitaj, and May Stevens have also produced works about Luxemburg. Each is its own universe of biography and purpose. Stevens, whose series of collages, paintings, and prints Ordinary/Extraordinary (1977–84) juxtaposes Luxemburg against Stevens’s biological mother, started investigating Luxemburg because of her friends, critic Lucy Lippard and art historian Alan Wallach, “who were talking about her all the time.”59

Writers too have recognized in Luxemburg’s prison letters a luxuriance. Benjamin, a Berliner who grew up near Tiergarten and her watery grave, was, in his own words, “deeply moved by [the] unbelievable beauty and significance” of her letters from prison.60 So too was one of Benjamin’s most accomplished disciples, Berger. In a 2015 essay that takes as its subject Luxemburg’s love for birds, Berger offered her a belated gift of a thin cardboard box: it was, wrote Berger, “the size of a quarto sheet of paper” and engraved with a collared flycatcher; inside were eighteen matchboxes engraved with different songbirds, their names rendered in Russian. “The satisfaction of identifying a live bird as it flies over, or disappears into a hedgerow, is a strange one, isn’t it? It involves a weird, momentary intimacy, as if at that moment of recognition one addresses the bird—despite the din and confusions of countless other events—one addresses it by its very own particular nickname.”61

I experienced this the other day. I was procrastinating about what to write here. Walking through my apartment, a small bird flitted, mothlike, past me. It had flown in through an open door. The tiny bird, no longer than a teaspoon, took fright when it saw me and flew into a window. Much like the peacock-butterfly Luxemburg found in her cell sometime in May 1917, it wore itself out by fluttering against a windowpane. Eventually the bird gave up and hid behind a cheap vase on the sill, breast heaving. I watched it silently for a time. It was a dusky sunbird, its grey-brown plumage yielding to off-white on its underside. This local songbird’s warbling call is usually rendered as “chrrrr-chrrrr,” but as I moved closer to look, it squeaked in terror. I retreated to the kitchen, and I picked out a dishcloth. 

I have long feared touching birds, a hangover perhaps of watching Alfred Hithcock’s The Birds (1963) at an impressionable age. But I put aside my fear, covered the bird without much fuss, and gently clasped it with my fingers. “It had now ceased to move, and I thought it must be dead,” elaborated Luxemburg on her encounter with the butterfly, pretty much describing my own with the bird. “I took it to my own room and put it on the outside window sill, to see if it would revive. There was again a gentle fluttering for a little, but after that the insect did not move.”62 I was luckier. The tiny bird took wing and headed for a nearby tree. 

It was a female, the book on regional birds that I had inherited from my grandmother later told me. I studied the accompanying illustration identifying the tiny songbird, a fragile emissary from the secret world that thrives on the mountain behind my home in Cape Town. I drifted from the book to the open mouth of Google’s search bar. The photographs I found online disinterested me. I was looking for something else, a sensibility I had found in Luxemburg’s prison letters. The great power of her letters is not just that they are confident, searing, and enraptured affirmations of thought and observation amidst cruelty and unknowing, it is also their specificity. They not only modulate Luxemburg’s more strident revolutionary writing, but also suggested, to me, a tone and method for writing about gender violence: roam, jump, impressionistically make connections—not to obfuscate the blunt statistics of gender violence, but as a way of addressing a continuum of violence that encompasses disconnected geographies and requires other ways of telling. 

Max Beckmann, The Martyrdom, plate 4 from the portfolio “Hell” (1919), one of eleven lithographs, 54.7 × 75.2 cm (irregular). Museum of Modern Art, New York, Larry Aldrich Fund

If I have tended to offer Luxemburg’s letters as parables, ones in which her birds and buffalo are proxies or metonyms for something else, let me be clear: they are not. Luxemburg’s letters were private statements on nature, sensual pleasure, memory, friendship, reading, literature, painting, fortitude, and struggle shared with a friend. Like the contested private archives of Mendieta, their potency flows from their acute sensitivity to patriarchal systems of power and dominance: over nature, women, other cultures, and animals. In a letter to Sophie describing the arrival of an overladen cart, Luxemburg details how the soldier-driver—“a brute of a fellow”—beats the buffalo when they struggle at the prison’s gate. In her reproach, the wardress asks the soldier if he has no compassion. “No more than anyone has compassion for us men,” the soldier answers, resuming his blows.63 

In an editorial published in late 1918, Luxemburg blamed international capitalism and an “imperialist orgy” for World War I.64 She argued for disarmament of the ruling classes, while also advocating for an armed proletarian Red Guard (composed of adult males). But this is the declamatory Rosa. The pain, weakness, and longing she describes when confronting the “mute agony” of the buffalo in Breslau is palpable. “Meanwhile,” continues Luxemburg, “the women prisoners were jostling one another as they busily unloaded the dray and carried the heavy sacks into the building. The driver, hands in pockets, was striding up and down the courtyard, smiling to himself as he whistled a popular air. I had a vision of all the splendour of war!”65 She probably means the war of men against men, but I read Luxemburg here to mean the war against women too, a gender terrorism that endures, that kills, that would be actively forgotten. 

Ana Mendieta, Hojas Rojas Silueta (Quemada alrededor) (1977), color photograph, 20.3 × 25.4 cm

1 Rosa Luxemburg, Letter to Sophie Liebknecht, Wronke, November 21, 1916. Online:

2 Rosa Luxemburg, Letter to Sophie Liebknecht, Wronke, May 2, 1917. Online:

3 Rosa Luxemburg, “Order Prevails in Berlin,” Die Rote Fahne, January 14, 1919. Online:

4 See Elizabeth Knowles, ed., Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 204.

5 Joyce Wadler, “A Death in Art,” New York (December 16, 1985), p. 46: “What she said, pleading, was ‘No!’ I heard it four times before the impact,” Edward Mojzis, a doorman at Andre and Mendieta’s apartment, is quoted. 

6 Nancy Spero quoted in ibid., p. 46.

7 Steenkamp quoted in Theresa Taylor, “Last day so full of excitement,” The Star (late edition), February 14, 2014, p. 10.

8 Kumalo quoted in Biénne Huisman, “I just want to know why my daughter was killed in such a violent manner,” City Press, June 14, 2015.

9 Rosa Luxemburg, Letter to Sophie Liebknecht, Wronke, April 19, 1917. Online:

10 John Berger, “Uses of Photography,” in About Looking (New York: Vintage, 1991), p. 54.

11 Ibid., p. 66.

12 Ibid., p. 55.

13 “Selbstmord: Das alles schreit nach Lösung,” Stern (June 16, 1976), pp. 150–52. 

14 Berger, “Uses of Photography,” p. 56.

15 Rebecca Solnit, Facebook post, June 15, 2017.

16 Rosa Luxemburg, Letter to Sophie Liebknecht, Wronke, May 2, 1917.

17 Ara Osterweil, “Bodily Rites: The Films of Ana Mendieta,” Artforum (November 2015), p. 258.

18 Joan Marter quoted in ibid., p. 260.

19 Nancy Spero, “Tracing Ana Mendieta,” Artforum (April 1992), pp. 75–77. 

20 Rosa Luxemburg, Letter to Sophie Liebknecht, Wronke, April 19, 1917. 

21 Spero, “Tracing Ana Mendieta,” p. 76.

22 Ana Mendieta in Cherry Kittredge, “Mendieta Incorporates Herself, Earth and Art,” The Daily Iowan, December 1977.

23 Berger, “Uses of Photography,” p. 65.

24 Jared Quinton, “Coco Fusco on the Enduring Legacy of Groundbreaking Cuban Artist Ana Mendieta,” Artsy, February 3, 2016. Online:

25 Ibid.

26 Coco Fusco, “Traces of Ana Mendieta, 1988–1993,” in English Is Broken Here: Notes on Cultural Fusion in the Americas (New York: The New Press, 1995), p. 124.

27 Rosa Luxemburg, Letter to Sophie Liebknecht, Wronke, May 2, 1917.

28 Rosa Luxemburg, Letter to Sophie Liebknecht, Breslau, mid-December 1917. Online:

29 Rosa Luxemburg, Letter to Sophie Liebknecht, Breslau, mid-November 1917. Online:

30 Tuviah Zabow quoted in Catherine Rice, “Murder accused artist insists he can’t remember fateful night,” Independent Online (IOL), December 5, 2016. Online:

31 Lucy Valerie Graham, State of Peril: Race and Rape in South African Literature (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), p. 133.

32 Johannes de Jager quoted in “Man denies raping, killing prostitute,” News24, November 13, 2013. Online:

33 J. M. Coetzee, Disgrace (London: Vintage, 2000), p. 160.

34 Graham, State of Peril, p. 133.

35 Lisa Vetten quoted in Graham, State of Peril, pp. 132–33.

36 Carl Andre quoted in Calvin Tomkins, “The Materialist,” The New Yorker (December 5, 2011). Online:

37 Ann Laura Stoler, “Colonial Aphasia: Race and Disabled Histories in France,” Public Culture 23, no. 1 (Winter 2011), pp. 121–56.

38 Simamkele Dlakavu quoted in Greg Nicolson, “#RememberKhwezi: ‘It worked like a beautiful theatre piece,’” Daily Maverick, August 8, 2016. Online:

39 Rosa Luxemburg, Letter to Sophie Liebknecht, Breslau, January 14, 1918. Online:

40 Sean O’Toole, “Figuring Brutality,”, February 19, 2013.

41 Juliette Leeb–du Toit, “Phila Trevor Makhoba’s Narratives and Mores: A Dialectics of Artistic and Intellectual Leadership,” in Trevor Makhoba Memorial Exhibition, ed. Jillian Addleson, exh. cat. (Durban: Durban Art Gallery, 2005), p. 40.

42 Amanda Taub, “Control and Fear: What Mass Killings and Domestic Violence Have in Common,” New York Times, June 15, 2016.

43 Donald Trump from a 2005 conversation with Billy Bush of Access Hollywood, quoted in “Transcript: Donald Trump’s Taped Comments About Women,” New York Times, October 8, 2016. Online:

44 Rosa Luxemburg, Letter to Sophie Liebknecht, Breslau, August 2, 1917. Online:

45 Rosa Luxemburg, Letter to Sophie Liebknecht, Wronke, May 23, 1917. Online:

46 Ana Mendieta, proposal for the New York State Council on the Arts, March 17, 1982.

47 Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer quoted in Charles Merewether, “The Unspeakable Condition of Figuration,” in Body: Marina Abramovic … [et al.], exh. cat., Art Gallery of NSW (Sydney: Bookman Schwartz, 1997), pp. 155–56.

48 Rosa Luxemburg, Letter to Sophie Liebknecht, Wronke, May 2, 1917.

49 Rosa Luxemburg, Letter to Sophie Liebknecht, Breslau, May 12, 1918. Online:

50 Ibid.

51 Karl Marx, “Forced Emigration,” New-York Daily Tribune, March 22, 1853. Online:

52 Rosa Luxemburg, Letter to Sophie Liebknecht, Breslau, mid-December, 1917. 

53 Nadine Gordimer, Burger’s Daughter (1979; repr., London: Bloomsbury, 2000), p. 68.

54 Michael Taussig, Walter Benjamin’s Grave (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), p. 6.

55 Ibid., p. 7.

56 Rosa Luxemburg, Letter to Sophie Liebknecht, Breslau, March 24, 1918. Online:

57 Rosa Luxemburg, Letter to Sophie Liebknecht, Breslau, October 18, 1918. Online:

58 Osterweil, “Bodily Rites,” p. 263.

59 Patricia Hills, May Stevens (San Francisco: Pomegranate, 2005), p. 42.

60 Walter Benjamin quoted in Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings, Walter Benjamin: A Critical Life (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014), p. 127.

61 John Berger, “A Gift for Rosa,” in Confabulations (London: Penguin, 2016).

62 Rosa Luxemburg, Letter to Sophie Liebknecht, Wronke, end of May 1917. Online:

63 Rosa Luxemburg, Letter to Sophie Liebknecht, Breslau, mid-December 1917.

64 Rosa Luxemburg, “What Does the Spartacus League Want?,” Die Rote Fahne, December 14 1918. Online:

65 Rosa Luxemburg, Letter to Sophie Liebknecht, Breslau, mid-December 1917.