[-empyre-] creative powerlessness, expressive violence, performance

Monika Weiss gniewna at monika-weiss.com
Wed Nov 19 01:12:09 EST 2014

Dear Reinhold and all, 

'To bear witness, it is therefore not enough to bring language to its own non-sense, to the pure undesirability of letters… It is necessary that this senseless sound be, in turn, the voice of something or someone that, for entirely other reasons, cannot bear witness. It is thus necessary that the impossibility of bearing witness, the ‘lacuna’ that constitutes human language, collapses, giving way to a different impossibility of bearing witness—that which does not have language […] The particular structure of law has its foundation in this presuppositional structure of human language. It expresses the bond of inclusive exclusion to which a thing is subject because of the fact of being in language, of being named. To speak [dire] is, in this sense, always to ‘speak the law,’ ius dicere.’( Agamben)

In the third edition of Modernity and Holocaust, Zygmunt Bauman added an afterward titled 'The Duty to Remember—But What?’ in which he discusses Agamben’s homo sacer and ancient Roman law’s concept of homo sacer defined as a human being who could be killed without punishment, but at the same time—‘being absolutely Other, alien, indeed inhuman’—could not be used in a religious ritual or to be sacrificed. The homo sacer was thus an unprotected being that could be a target for every murderer, but also a recommended target 'for everyone seeking to conform and exercise their civic duty.’ It’s worth remembering that the origin of the Nazi Lager is in Schutzhaft (protective custody) was a Prussian juridical institution invented in 1851 as a state of emergency, which Nazi jurors later used and classified as an example of a preventive measure. Of course the first camps were not of the Nazis’ design but rather those of the Social Democratic governments, which interned thousands of communist militants as well as Eastern European refugees. Article 48 of the Weimar constitution guaranteed the president of the Reich the power to suspend constitutional rights in case of emergency, including the suspension of personal liberty, the freedom of expression and assembly, the inviolability of the home and of postal/telephone privacy. These were indeed suspended under several Weimar governments and later were implemented indefinitely by the Nazis. Their 'decree for the protection of the people and State,’ issued in February 1933, included one important novelty—the word Ausnahmezustand (state of exception) was no longer used. The state of exception became simply the rule itself, ‘opening the space of the camp’ . In Hannah Arendt’s observation the camp is a place where 'everything is possible’ simply because there is no more distinction between law and fact. Pure life within the camp, stripped of any rights or political status, denationalized (Nuremberg laws) becomes an absolute biopolitical space, its ‘ areness' confronted with nonmediated, absolute power. Hence, the right question is not how these atrocities were possible against human beings or against humanity, but rather, what juridical procedures and operations of power were in place by which human beings could be so completely deprived of their rights and by which the acts against them could appear not as crimes. If nation states act as designers or gardeners (to use Bauman’s metaphor), we live in a “garden” situation that is dangerously unchanged. Our current status is being in a place that has been forever altered and is now still inhabited by the camp. 

In many languages the word ‘people’ contains an inherent contradiction and fracture within itself, between the ‘sovereign People’ and the le peuple, les malheureux (Robespierre). Modern ‘ people’ (modern as understood by us means Western or Western-like) claim to have constructed an environment that forbids and prevents violence and assumes the sanctity of the human body. Violence is thus displaced and hidden, especially institutional violence and especially in the most developed countries. Violence is in general most cost-effective when the means are instrumental and rational, organized institutionally, dissociated from any moral evaluation of the results. Violence and archive interact and merge, as power exercises itself at the level of everyday life.Language/causality as the governing law. Law as language. Law that perpetuates violence. Benjamin wanted to break the dialectic of the two forms of violence, the one that makes law and the one that preserves it in time but ISIS enacts violence as the ultimate language and as the ultimate law. We are all homo sacer. Terror functions as an ultimate suspension of individual rights and as a perpetuated/perpetual exception from any rules except its own, those of terror. Heads falling during French Revolution. The idea that there are ‘higher reasons’ for the sovereign power to act upon and thus we need to surrender human rights. In the case of camps there are no more ‘ other’ reasons anymore, the answer is - there is no ‘why' here. In most if not all instances of dictatorship the word safety or protection is used and abused (as in the case of US policies such as camps created outside of the US borders, including in Warsaw) to justify violence perpetrated in organized in ‘legal ways’. Pre-designed, legalized genocides or torture are part of the workings of language. Pope Innocentius wrote a legal treaty Malleus Malleficarum on the subject of female inferiority and evilness, pointing at the absence of what we refer to as ‘soul’ but more importantly, defining and proving the absence of intellectual independence leading to the obvious conclusion of no legal rights (at the time religion [or rather selected religious texts] and the law were one and the same in Europe). He was in fact legalizing various practices of inquisition, such as public burnings at stake, auto dafe. It’s important to not to forget that Nazi camps were a legal construct but also a visual construct, the visibility as form of law and language. They were visually represented and documented with pride, for future generations to take pride in. What happens when ‘terrorists’ (this term is antiquated by now and feels inappropriate in case of ISIS) take this Western/modernity’s prescription to yet another level? 

To answer the impossible question, what is ‘artist’ to do now, I return to the beginning, the archive (in its true etymological meaning) and the act of witnessing as not passive but engaged / engaging. The archive is the unsaid or sayable inscribed in everything said because it was enunciated … 'But the relation between language and its existence, between langue and the archive, demands subjectivity as that which, its very possibility of speech, bears witness to an impossibility of speech. This is why subjectivity appears as witness; this is why it can speak for those who cannot speak’ (Agamben). 

In 2012 in my project  Shrouds-Caluny I filmed from an airplane, local women performing silent gestures of lamentation on the abandoned and ruined site of the former concentration camp, Gruenberg in Zielona Gora. During WWII about 1,000 Jewish women worked there as seamstresses and were sent on one of the forced death marches.  Viewed from that great distance, the symbolic presence evokes the prisoners’ absence, morphing into a drawing/mourning landscape, where empathy and collective mourning, becomes a political tool, in opposition to heroic fantasies of conquest and power. Shot from the airplane the film shows the performance from a great distance, with identities of the participants weaved into a story about the city and its fluid surface. Today, the conversation continues with various city officials and organizations, with the square remaining bare, ruined, looking like a damp, an urban wound, still unresolved and forgotten, possibly secretly sold by now to a developer by the city officials. Located in the center of this highly renovated with European money city, it is surrounded by buildings full of inhabitants who gaze upon the former camp every day of their lives, not seeing it, engaged in the practice of forgetting. 

Meanwhile, now, in this current state of urgency or emergency,  we have ’The Duty to Remember—But What?’
We have the duty to act, but how? The way Alaa Basatneh does it? Neda? Malada? Like Krzysztof Baczynski (a Polish Celan to me) who died in the age of 22 as part of Warsaw Uprising?


On Nov 17, 2014, at 4:59 PM, Reinhold Görling <goerling at phil.hhu.de> wrote:

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Dear Pier:
> The violence of communication/language: The subject is constituted by language and other forms of communication. This is why speech acts and other forms of communication are not only performative in the sense of Austin, they do not only create social facts, they have a direct impact on the subject. Therefore language is powerful, but it can also be violent, it can hurt. It can deprive the subject from its place, it can rob it the possibility to express its life. Judith Butler’s book on hate speech gives a good first idea about this. 
> Primo Levi remembers as one of the first experiences after his deportation to the Concentration and Extermination Camp Auschwitz that he opened the window of the barack to break an icicle. He was thirsty. Immediately a watchman appeared and snatched the icicle out of his hand. „‚Warum - Why“, did I ask in my simple German. ‚Hier ist kein Warum - Here is no why/reason‘‚ he answered and pushed me away.“ Language can be violent by depriving the other from what is his cultural ground: f.e. that there is always a reason.
> The language of antisemitism in Germany was violent. But there was something perhaps even worse than the hate speech of insult and abuse: the language that organized the attempt of extermination. This language actually killed. It killed by denying and organizing the crime at the same time. Look and listen to Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah, the documents the historian Raul Hilberg is analyzing in this film, or, especially, the long conversation that Lanzmann has with Franz Suchomel, SS-officer in Treblinka.  
> The communication of violence: To understand the dynamics of (political) violence it is crucial to see that (political) violence is always staged, an act of communication not necessarily with the direct victim but with the third part. The message can be different, depending on the relation the witness has to the victim and the perpetrator. Killing someone in front of a videocamera is a performative act. All sorts of terrorism are speech acts addressed to the witnesses.
> Catharsis: I really would like to know how you understand the mechanism of catharsis and if you think performance art can be part of catharsis. As long as I have no idea how catharsis works I would prefer to speak of re-enactment or other forms of confrontation with violence that happened in the past. 
> Reinhold
>> Am 17.11.2014 um 19:19 schrieb PierMartonGmail <piermarton at gmail.com>:
>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>> In my eyes, Peter Kassig’s beheading yesterday makes the topic of powerlessness more salient and urgent. The expressions “my heart goes out to… or RIP", as heartfelt as they are, represent easy ways to say something (the phatic function? cf. below)  Speaking of “inhumanity” does the same.
>> Speaking of the opposite of passivity - which is not powerlessness (was it Jon who brought up “creative powerlessness?) - I would recommend a film I saw yesterday about, Alaa Basatneh, a 19 year old US/Syrian woman who is coordinating the resistance from Chicago: —> http://www.chicagogirlfilm.com/
>> _____________________________________________
>> In response to an earlier post:
>> Thank you to Reinhold Görling for:
>> -  stating how slowly the “I” emerges - a vital element to our being able to approach otherness (animals, trees, you name it - those that are not part of our UNIverse)
>> - bringing up re-enactment (in TRCs, Act of Killing) - pure catharsis.
>> - quoting Rosselini (“université du vol et de l’assassinat”) - I often speak myself of the “eduCUSHIONal” system
>> - and that fiery text by Godard that shows how messy it is to try to extirpate ourselves from where we reside.
>> It will be my time to be “quite direct” - while among the left it is generally accepted that national liberation struggles often take the path of violence to be heard, or as my brother recently wrote: "The only time I´ve found it good to wave a flag is when someone else is stepping on it.”  **
>> As I consider my grandmother’s death in a gas chamber, it is impossible for me to approach "the language of violence" . Violence and annihilation as languages? My father was involved in the WWII resistance but it happened to be one without standard weapons: he hid a German deserter, made flyers, false papers…
>> "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel” - Samuel Johnson - what about weaponry? Are we only working with weapons of the spirit, we the “cultural workers”? By asking these questions, I am only asking for a certain complexity.
>> And to respond to jon (below), and, as the expression goes, opening a can of worms, while aware of Shannon’s communication model (and having enjoyed teaching Jakobson’s overlapping structure - phatic….), I wonder whether, outside of the sciences, any solid communication ever takes place.
>> When we say “blue" we mean different things but for the sake of “efficiency” we prefer not to dwell on that. "Nous ne faisons que nous entregloser/We are only cross-referencing ourselves.” Montaigne
>> **while realizing that I open another can of worms, I wonder about the need for "flags and identity.” 
>> Thank you,
>> Pier
>> =============
>>> From: Reinhold Görling <goerling at phil.hhu.de>
>>> Date: November 16, 2014 at 3:02:21 PM CST
>>> To: soft_skinned_space <empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>
>>> Subject: Re: [-empyre-] creative powerlessness, expressive violence, performance
>>> Reply-To: soft_skinned_space <empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>
>>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>>> Sorry for being quite direct: but if you refuse to understand violence as communication it will be very difficult to come to a critique of violence. (And you shut your eyes before the possibility that communication can be violence.)
>>> Reinhold
>>>> Am 16.11.2014 um 20:37 schrieb simon <swht at clear.net.nz>:
>>>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>>>> On 17/11/14 02:52, PierMartonGmail wrote:
>>>>> the principle “violence as communication” is no help to me.
>>>>> I can easily interpret everything around me as communication (and I DO listen to trees, mountains, animals, no kidding).
>>>>> It is good that art takes place in prisons, mental institutions, etc…but empowerment may start with any kind of listening - of paying attention to…
>>>> yes, equally on this list... however, the 'defeat of impotence' as a remedy for violence is a formula which struck me, and this may simply be the powerlessness to act at all, or to be heard in all the noise.
>>>> I agree - and so there is communication - 'violence as communication' is no help; albeit that violence has been dressed up as performance in the discussion: however, violence as a form of expression is a different proposition. From the point of expression, expressing an intention, whether natural or anti-, it can acquire qualities of ritual or convention, conferring status or recognition, communicating, representing, and becoming performance or art.
>>>> Best,
>>>> Simon
>>> On Nov 16, 2014, at 5:51 PM, Jonathan Marshall <Jonathan.Marshall at uts.edu.au> wrote:
>>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>>> For what its worth, I would agree that violence is an attempt at communication - at getting a response from others
>>> One of the problems of communication theory is that people often seem to assume that 'good' or 'succesful' communication is the norm when in fact good communication is a special case of communication, and a relatively rare one at that...
>>> It might be useful to recognise that communication always involves power, in that it aims at getting a response from others, whether this is agreement, disagreement, getting people to do something, or see the world in a particular way and so on. This is inevitable, and of course a quick way of getting that response would often involve a move into threat or violence. Consequently, there can be an easy spill between attempts to communcate and violence, whether this is because those with relatively high power can't be bothered to persuade, or think their chances of persuasion are small, or because those with relatively lower power are annoyed with being ignored...  or because both are convinced that the other would not listen anyway....
>>> This does not mean that violence and good communication are the same, or should be rendered equivalent, just that violence and communincation are sometimes likely to blend in particualr contexts.
>>> jon
>> ===============================
>> In addition to my regular e-mail signature below, this month of November (during my direct involvement with -empyre) I have added a growing list of works that I found to be powerful - even if I question what “power” means.
>> ”The Theater and its Double” by Artaud
>> "Chechen Lullaby" - Directed by Nino Kirtadze —> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEmqHZAn8lQ (also on my website)
>> "The Man by the Shore/L’Homme sur les Quais" & "Haïti, le Silence des Chiens” —> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qbu2HPvFn_E - Directed by Raoul Peck
>> Los Olvidados Directed by Luis Buñuel
>> “Is Anyone Taking Any Notice?” by Don McCullin —> http://piermarton.info/don-mccullin/
>> "Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution" by Peter Kropotkin
>> "War Against War/Krieg dem Kriege/Guerre à la Guerre! War against War! Oorlog aan den Oorlog" by Ernst Friedrich (recent intro by Doug Kellner) - Various editions. Last one published in Sept. 2014 (available online).
>> "At the Mind’s Limit" by Jean Améry
>> “Shoah” -  Directed by Claude Lanzmann
>> "In the King of Prussia" - Directed by Emile de Antonio
>> And these quotes: 
>> “Human stupidity is the only thing that gives an idea of the infinite/La bêtise humaine est la seule chose qui donne une idée de l'infini." Ernest Renan, Dialogues et fragments philosophiques (1876) (others & the Hungarian proverb: “Human stupidity is endless/Az emberi butaság végtelen")
>> “Shitr… Watch, watch the machine's turnin'. Watch, watch them brains blow up… vanish from my presence/Merdre... Voyez, voyez la machin’ tourner, Voyez, voyez la cervell’ sauter,...disparais de ma présence." Alfred Jarry, Ubu roi (1888)
>> “. . . only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation be safely built.” - Bertrand Russell, 1923
>> “If there is still one hellish, truly accursed thing in our time, it is our artistic dallying with forms, instead of being like victims burnt at the stake, signaling through the flames.” Artaud, The Theater and its Double, 1938
>> ===============================
>> PM_uoʇɹɐɯ_ɹǝıd —> http://piermarton.info
>> School Of No  Media —> http://schoolofnomedia.com/
>> About —> http://about.me/piermarton 
>> BrainBleed—> http://brainbleed.wordpress.com/
>> _____________________________
>> Before you know what kindness really is – You must lose things... Naomi Shehab Nye 
>> True reality is always unrealistic. Franz Kafka
>> If you have come here to help me, then don't waste your time. But if you have come here, because your liberation is bound up with mine, then come, let us join in the struggle together. Australian Aborigine Activists
>> Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Martin Luther King.
>> When you know nothing, you say a lot. When you know something, there is nothing to say./Tell them that there is nothing to understand. U.G. Krishnamurti
>> I used to think the mind was the most wonderful organ in the body. Then, I realized who was telling me that. Bertrand Russell
>> What the eye can perceive isn't worth seeing. St. Exupéry
>> and "to finish": 
>> The passionate desire to conclude is one of humanity's most pernicious and sterile manias - Flaubert
>> A witty saying proves nothing. Voltaire
>> _______________________________________________
>> empyre forum
>> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au/pipermail/empyre/attachments/20141118/dc2e3c74/attachment.htm>

More information about the empyre mailing list