"To the Intellectuals of the West" : Rithy Panh's The Elimination and Genealogies of the Cambodian Genocide

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155-171
Journal / PublicationTOPIA-Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies
Publication statusPublished - 2016



Cambodian filmmaker and writer Rithy Panh arrived in Grenoble, France as a refugee in 1979, returning to Cambodia in 1990 to begin making documentary films. Panh's 2013 book The Elimination (written with Christopher Bataille and translated by John Cullen) is one of the first memoirs to bear witness to the Khmer Rouge atrocities committed during the Cambodian genocide of 1975-1979 while also engaging more directly with the question of how the West, ideologically, militarily and juridically, has been complicit in this collective trauma and its aftermath.

A work of memoir, essay and reportage, The Elimination chronicles Panh's face-to-face conversations with Kaing Guek Eav (also known as Duch), the first Khmer Rouge official to be tried and convicted for crimes against humanity, torture and murder. We analyze Panh's memoir as a counternarrative to the ECCC (Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, also known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal) in which Panh stages an alternative historical investigation of Cambodia's past, beyond the limits of the tribunal's state-sanctioned boundaries. How was the ideology of the Khmer Rouge shaped through Western Marxist intellectual influence? To what extent to did some Western intellectuals politicize the Cambodian genocide as a function of Cold War Realpolitik? We trace these questions through analysis of The Elimination's sustained meditation on the idea of the intellectual and its problematic place in Cambodia's modern history.

Research Area(s)

  • Rithy Panh, refugee, memoir, intellectual, Cambodian genocide, Khmer Rouge, tribunal

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