The Impossible Machine: A Genealogy of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. By Adam Sitze. Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 2013. 392 pp. $70 hardcover.

Published date01 September 2016
Date01 September 2016
Book Reviews
Jinee Lokaneeta, Editor
The Impossible Machine: A Genealogy of South Africa’s Truth and
Reconciliation Commission. By Adam Sitze. Michigan: University
of Michigan Press, 2013. 392 pp. $70 hardcover.
Reviewed by Suren Pillay, Centre for Humanities Research,
University of the Western Cape, South Africa
ative exercise at multiple levels particularly in the ways it has given rise
to what Adam Sitze notes with some consternation, a “truth industry.”
By that he refers not only to the political settlement or institutional lives
it has cultivated, but we might also add the voluminous output it has
encouraged in scholarly reflection. Sitze is of course adding here to
this literature, but has managed to do so by offering a distinctive work
of meticulously argued criticism that is both deeply and sharply chal-
lenging as well as nuanced and fundamentally thoughtful.
Self-consciously, the Impossible Machine sets aside much of the exist-
ing terms of evaluating the legacy of the TRC from within Transitional
Justice. Sitze seeks neither to laud the miracle that has been celebrated
and transformed into a modular form of post-Cold War conflict resolu-
tion nor trounce its ineffectiveness in dealing with larger social and eco-
nomic structural challenges as some Left critiques have tended to do
(see Meister, 2011). Instead, drawing on what he refers repeatedly to as
a genealogical method—distinctive from history (“history consoles”ashe
tells us, while “genealogy disturbs”), Sitze locates the TRC in a longer polit-
ical and conceptual history of jurisprudence, and one that is decidedly
less marvelous than the story of law as the highest form of civilization.
For Sitze, the central feature that distinguished the TRC from Nurem-
burg, its formulation of amnesty in exchange for “truth,” or more accu-
rately, truth defined as political motive, looks much less savory when
considered from within the genealogy of a prior jurisprudence on
“indemnity.” A substantive part the book is devoted to a rich and expan-
sive parsing out of indemnity through a consideration of its colonial
career in the last nineteenth century. While indemnity was invoked in
England to resolve the Civil War in the late 1600s, Sitze reminds us that
by the late nineteenth century it was really only deployed in its Diceyan
formulation in the colonies and hardly ever in Europe by then. The
Law & Society Review, Volume 50, Number 3 (2016)
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