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

Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos andreaspm at westminster.ac.uk
Wed Nov 19 04:29:11 EST 2014

[cid:80BC28D6-6BA7-4CBC-9269-D889CD96EB0A at Home]

"Stay behind the glass. Open your mouth and dribble over the spectacle. Masturbate in front of the camera. And then let yourself be killed. You are another other, not I, not different. You are what I would be, had I been on the other side of the glass. I am hovering.” (picpoet at instagram)

I have just returned after a week in Palestine/Israel. This was a hard week, internationally well-documented but also badly documented, as usual. At the same time, I have been following, on and off, the discussion here. I was particularly taken, perhaps on account of where I was, with the descriptions of Israel/Palestine from someone who lived there and saw it from an internal/external perspective. My academic project involved two lectures, one on israeli and one on palestinian ground, on spatial justice. The lectures were different in order to reflect which side of the wall I was speaking on. They were both based on my recent book with the same name (http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9781138017382/). My project is this: to understand the movement of bodies across space, and the ensuing impossibility of having two bodies in exactly the same space at exactly the same time. This is the beginning of violence, and its perpetuation. This is the spectacle of violence too, all taking seats in the dualistic theatre of suffering and claiming. I was interested in what Ana wrote about the performance of non-violence and its inherent violence. Amidst all this, I was invited for dinner at a Muslim Palestinian family in East Jerusalem, and indeed the one that holds the keys to the christian church of the holy sepulchre. The family was, what you could describe as solidly bourgeois Palestinians, badly hit by displacements and other Israeli-government policies but still reasonably well off. The mother was one of the most beautiful persons I have ever encountered, a Tennessee Williams heroine who caressed her glass world ever so gently. We talked about astrology, fiction, TV, and cooking. We then went to the garden and she left me with her sons, while she went to the kitchen to prepare some cardamom coffee. Her sons told me that all her family is in Gaza and has not managed to see them for the last 6 years. They have survived the bombing. She came out and we sat in the night warmth, sipping coffee. The garden was taken over by a giant jasmine plant, in full bloom, making me dizzy with a violent happiness, an ecstatic sadness. On my way out, she cut me a few branches so that my ‘hotel room smells nice’.

I am hovering.

Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos
Professor of Law & Theory, LLB, LLM, PhD

Co-Director The Westminster Law & Theory Centre<http://tinyurl.com/WestminsterResearchCentre>
Winner / Current Judge OUP Law Teacher of the Year<http://www.oup.co.uk/academic/highereducation/law/prizes/lawteacher/judging/>
Editor Space, Materiality and the Normative Routledge Series<http://www.routledge.com/books/series/SMNORM/>
Editorial Committee Law & Critique<http://www.springer.com/philosophy/value+theory/journal/10978>

download my Research texts here<http://ssrn.com/author=959502>
visit my Westminster page here<http://www.westminster.ac.uk/about-us/our-people/directory/philippopoulos-mihalopoulo-dr-andreas>
visit my Academia page here<http://westminster.academia.edu/AndreasPhilippopoulosMihalopoulos>

On 17 Nov 2014, at 22:59, Reinhold Görling <goerling at phil.hhu.de<mailto:goerling at phil.hhu.de>> wrote:

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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.


Am 17.11.2014 um 19:19 schrieb PierMartonGmail <piermarton at gmail.com<mailto:piermarton at gmail.com>>:

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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,

From: Reinhold Görling <goerling at phil.hhu.de<mailto: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<mailto: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<mailto:empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>>

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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.)


Am 16.11.2014 um 20:37 schrieb simon <swht at clear.net.nz<mailto:swht at clear.net.nz>>:

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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.


On Nov 16, 2014, at 5:51 PM, Jonathan Marshall <Jonathan.Marshall at uts.edu.au<mailto:Jonathan.Marshall at uts.edu.au>> wrote:

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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.


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<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

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