Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Judith Butler, Day 1

Judith Butler taught a class entitled ETHICS AND POLITICS AFTER THE SUBJECT. The first half of the classes were focused on Hannah Arendt: performativity, politics, political theory (sovereignty, zionism), "Questions of Judgement." The last two classes were shared with Avital Ronell, Larry Rickels, and Giorgio Agamben.

The rudiments of thinking, then. Arendt's biography and the biography of her thought:

  • First publications were in the 1930s and focused on being a Jew in Germany; she fled to Paris and then New York City in response to the Nazis
  • She was concerned with assimilation ("One does not escape Jewishness," she wrote), as well as modes of thinking, she wrote about jewish politics
  • Always concerned with cultural zionism, believed in binationalism and saw it as a mistake that Israel would base its citizenship on religion
  • Sought to separate the nation from the State and was against a homogeneous State
German Jewishness
  • She was an intimate student of Heidegger - to understand her social theory we have to recognize that mitsein is insufficient, but the idea does continue in Arendt, who supplements his thinking and sees his thinking as a relationship between the subject and the world.
  • She moves away from Dasein and expands mitsein
Hermann Cohen's essays (1890s) argue in favor of German-Jewish alliance and quarreled with Zionism because he did not see a need for a Jewish State because Jews belong to Germany
  • He was mostly thinking in terms of Kant and was a key neo-Kantian thinker
  • Benjamin and Arendt both read Cohen, what Arendt drew from Cohen was that the concept of nation had come to a fundamental crisis
  • She advocated the development of a Jewish Army in Europe that would work in concert with other European armies; so in this sense there might be a Jewish nation, but it would be a European one - this might be similar to how the Romani have been talking - didn't want a polity but an army.
  • There is, however, an intense geopolitical precondition in order for one to think in Arendt's terms, and it means accepting European sociality
  • She was post-Liberal but not Marxist
What does it mean to be mitsein?
What is it to live?
What is it to judge?

Like Cohen, she accepts that the Jews should stay in Germany and sees the Jews as a nation, but it is a German nation.
  • Her antipolitical Zionism is based on her belief that Europe is the proper place of Jewry.
  • Jews from Arab traditions (Mizrahim), the Spanish Sephardim, both are clearly inferior to European Jews in her mind (we read this in the introduction to Eichmann in Jerusalem); she's clearly brutal about this
  • By 1947 she's thinking that Israel should be a binational federation and was adamantly against the dislocation of the Palestinians
As you can imagine, this has made Arendt a problematic thinker for Israel, in fact, Eichmann in Jerusalem was only recently translated (2000) and The Origins Totalitarianism is still not translated into Hebrew (2009).

How essential is her social ontology? Can thinking occur alone or is it always in the company of others?
  • Arendt distinguishes between the vita contemplativa (includes philosophy) and the vita activa
  • Lacan, "the soliloquy is always already with another in mind"
  • Derrida (at Levinas' funeral), "every gesture is always to the Other"
Am I an "I" if I am not already with an Other?
  • is epistemology first a social ontology;
  • my social condition is a necessary precondition for me to exist
  • Plurality may have something tragic in her thinking as she presumes heterogeneity but she lives to preserve a certain geopolitical inscription
Eichmann's fatal mistake (what he must hang for at the end of EIJ) was to think that he would no longer live with Jews, homosexuals, communists, etc. and so no one should have to live with him

One of Arendt's strong contributions to political science is to insist that without sociality, thinking and political thinking are not possible

Plurality is not the same thing as pluralism:
  • plurality is a constant fissuring of what seems identical
  • a constant difference in these monolithic categories
She concerns herself with refugees and the stateless because there will always be people that are unwanted within the State

Hers is a differentiated social ontology

She sees political action as horizontal and is vehemently opposed to sovereign authority.
  • there is an obligation to dismantle the idea of sovereignty
  • Perhaps there are ways of collaborative authority?
  • She's more a communaire than a communist
The action of judgement is crucial, the affective dimension -this is what Eichmann lacks, his lack of thinking is his central failure:
(EIJ, 25) The indictment implied not only that he had acted on purpose, which he did not deny, but out of base motives and in full knowledge of the criminal nature of his deeds. As for the base motives, he was perfectly sure that he was not what he called an innerer Schweinehund, a dirty bastard in the depths of his heart; and as for his conscience, he remembered perfectly well that he would have had a bad conscience only if he had not done what he had been ordered to do....This, admittedly, was hard to take. Half a dozen psychiatrists had certified him as "normal".... (emphasis added)
(EIJ, 26) [T]he judges did not believe him, because they were too good, and perhaps also too conscious of the very foundations of their profession, to admit that an average, "normal" person... could be perfectly incapable of telling right from wrong. [...] Their case rested on the assumption that the defendant, like all "normal persons," must have been aware of the criminal nature of his acts, and Eichmann was indeed normal insofar as he was "no exception within the Nazi regime." However, under the conditions of the Third Reich only "exceptions" could be expected to react "normally." This simple truth of the matter created a dilemma for the judges which they could neither resolve nor escape.
In the above (EIJ, 26) we see that Arendt is not only reporting on the trial but also she is calling into question the very capacity for how we understand law. We are compelled to know question how Justice is possible, if it is possible, when the Laws which govern our laws are not Just.
  • To object to these social conditions would mean that Eichmann would have to become the exception to the rule
  • Arendt sees this as illustrative of an unprecedented character: someone that has never been to trial before, in the history of Law. We have entered into a new era.
  • (EIJ, 47-48) "But bragging is a common vice, and a more specific, and also more decisive, flaw in Eichmann's character was his almost total inability ever to look at anything from the other fellow's point of view."
(EIJ, 49) ...Eichmann, despite his rather bad memory, repeated word for word the same stock phrases and self-invented cliches (when he did succeed in constructing a sentence of his own, he repeated it until it became a cliche) each time he referred to an incident or event of importance to him. [...] The longer one listened to him, the more obvious it became that his inability to speak was closely connected with an inability to think, namely, to think from the standpoint of somebody else. No communication was possible with him, not because he lied but because he was surrounded by the most reliable of all safeguards against the words and the presence of others, and hence against reality as such.
Eichmann is speaking, but he's not communicating in the manner that Arendt would insist upon:
  • the ability to think is dependent upon thinking
  • to think is to think in terms of the Other
  • there is no thinking without the Other
What we see in Eichmann is not subjectivity but a person that is evacuated of subjectivity
  • We cannot understand this form of evil without recognizing that evil had become normalized in Nazi Germany
Then we open for discussion

How can we understand Heidegger's Nazism without situating Heidegger in terms of his relationships to Jaspers and Arendt?
  • Those relationships are marked by asymmetry and nonreciprocity
  • Fanon points to Jaspers when trying to develop an ethics of decolonialization
  • Heidegger never gave Arendt the proper recognition for being a thinker
What is the relationship between duality and plurality?
  • It seems she suggests the need for duality (you-me) in order to think, but we need a plurality (us-them) in order to act
  • Deleuze would say that we need an ethics that is not at the center because judgement has been overdetermined
  • It's that this bureaucratic regimentation has overcome our sense of ethical thinking, this is what has become problematic

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