[-empyre-] concerning violence

Reinhold Görling goerling at phil.hhu.de
Sat Nov 8 02:48:38 EST 2014

Dear All, thank you for being here with you and being able to take part in the discussion.

The violence we are talking about is not a spontaneous act, it is an act of intended traumatization (to use a concept I found in the books of French ethno-psychoanalyst Françoise Sironi). All examples that came up, historical as well as current ones, were realized not by singular persons but by groups. They were part of a political will or strategy, part of an attempt to empower the own group and to kill others and destroy their subjectivity, the integrity of their life, their body, their psyche, their social and material environment. Political violence, I think, always is as much a material as an theatrical act: in wars between nations as well as in civil wars, in the terror against groups of a society that a state organizes or tolerates as well as in violent acts by people who consider themselves as liberation fighters. 
The first chapter of Frantz Fanon’s „Les damnés de la terre“, which is not exactly translated by „The Wretched of the Earth“, is titled „De la violence“, the English translation is „Concerning Violence“. Fanon describes the colonial world as dominated by violence. Violence always means: to refuse the recognition of the other as human subject. There is an inherent double-bind or performative contradiction in it which seems to engender a necessity to be explicitly enacted: Lacking any legitimation for his attempt to occupy a world inhabited by others the colonizer tries to refuse and denial the subjectivity of the other, to dehumanize her. But before this attempt to dehumanize the other begins the already took place a certain recognition, a recognition that the other is human, that she is a living being that already has addressed me and even has touched me. In my view this notion by Emmanuel Lévinas that the other always already has touched me and that I’m therefore always already in the position of answering (of responsibility) is key for the understanding of violence. There is a threatening moment in all social relations, at least as long as we think ourselves as „one“. (And here certainly can be found a reason why violence is practically always gendered.)
Concerning violence is also about the question how to overcome this double-bind, how to deal with traumatization, how to deal with it without only repeating the violence. Fanon’s book is about the impact of violence on all human beings that get in touch with, on the perpetrators as well as on the victims, of the impact it has on their psyche and on their bodies, on their affects and emotions, on their thoughts, their dreams, their longing. And one important reason of this lasting impact of violence is exactly the denial of recognition and the lack of mediation that is in the core of the theatricality of violence. Violence aims to produce an image of negation that occupies the victim, that colonizes the space of its subjectivity. (Isn’t subjectivity first of all a free space to relate images, thoughts, emotions, memories of being affected in an always and continuously new way, to dramatize, as Gilles Deleuze calls it his „Difference and Repetition“). It is part of what Michel Foucault called the „Reason of Torture“ that violence is public but unspoken. That it is exposed, performed and hidden at the same time. Diana Taylor speaks of percepticide when she analyses the strategies of terror in Latin America during the 70ties and 80ties. 
The first resistance then against violence is: to speak about it. To find images and words to communicate and to bind it, to symbolize it. In our discussion Jon McKenzie already referred to Walter Benjamin’s statement that there is no document of civilization that is not a document of barbarism at the same time. It is a figure of thought, a truth that includes art: poetics, images, theatre. If there is a theatricality of violence: can we really be sure that theatre, art, film, literature does break with the repetition compulsion? 

Reinhold Görling

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