Region/Concept: East Asia, Time
Sub-Concepts: Condemnation, Waiting, Vicariousness, Desperate Replication
Description: North Korean prison camps invoke “three-generational punishment”: i.e. life sentences handed down to three generations of the same family (only the offspring of the fourth generation to come is granted freedom).

Cumulative agony; genealogical retribution; the corpsed multitude. What does it mean to transmit damnation across several generational channels? There is common knowledge of authoritarian regimes that have constructed special cemeteries for traitors to the state, with executed bodies thrown in impersonal rows beneath unmarked graves, and that even the bare soil on the surface is ordered to be overturned from time to time so as to allow no solace, no rest, for the treasonous dead. But this other phenomenon—three-generational punishment—is a technique like none before. A man/woman is accused and sentenced (condemned for life), and that accusation sends a convulsion down the spine of their child’s forthcoming nights (condemned for life), and the grandchild (condemned for life), at least one never having even seen the outside, until a fourth successor breaks open a door beyond the camp (if they ever get that far). A triumvirate of starvation, torture, enslavement, and waiting…until the lapse. What happens here, across three axes of tormented descendants? What kind of burden does the original violator (the guilty ancestor) carry in the face of an entire lineage now entrapped, incriminated, and starved of horizon for his actions? Does he see the imprint of his own awful insignia on their foreheads at every turn? And how does he envision the still-unborn face of the redeemer child who will someday be let go, in some distant time most likely beyond his own death? Does he contemplate this ethereal figure as a kind of vicarious deliverance? How do the middle generations, without even the luxury of self-willed wrongdoing to account for their condition, perceive their existential function in the world? Are they mere transitional or instrumental beings, intermediaries who must survive (not for themselves) but for the one who will come to end the cycle? And what of the one who is the warehouse of half a century’s anticipation (the unchained), and yet immediately orphaned upon arrival?

Jason Mohaghegh