Monday, September 21, 2009

Judith Butler Day 6

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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."

NOTE: As with all my notes from the EGS, there will likely be mistakes because I did not record the lectures, I made notes as they spoke, so I am perhaps interpreting what they are saying as I am writing.

Precarious Life (2005)
I wrote Frames of War (2009) because I felt that I had left hanging the question of life. I want a different idea of ontology and sociality; something less idealistic than Arendt's plurality.
  • How could a person exercise judgement in thorough constraint? If you think critique is based on locality, then living under totalizing conditions would seem to suggest no way of critique - Arendt sought to find a way out of this
  • Is plurality compatible with these notions of judgement? Something more than normativity is at work here - modes of cohabitation seems to be a lens through which to see more.
  • Plurality is an unchosen way of life; nonetheless, there are obligations to the social, cohabitation is a given.
What is this givenness, this physis, naturalness? Perhaps aligned left Heidegger's thrownness
  • "Men must actualize their sheer passive givenness of life..." "in order to make it articulate in the face of suffering, this givenness - calling forward our being." The Human Condition
I'm overwriting this to fill it out and to bring it closer to my thought.
  • It seems to me we are up against others we never chose, vice versa; this produces a range of emotion
  • Arendt says we must work in concert, but how does this free acting in concert depend on the unfreedom of cohabitation, with those we never chose nor choose?
One way out would be in active mediation; but I'm not prepared to do that.
  • There is a constitutive unfreedom that defines us. The earth belongs to us all.
  • If you agree you can't choose with whom to share the earth, you can choose more localized cohabitations, we might employ Heidegger's distinction between earth and world.
Read Arendt's first thirty pages of her book On Revolution
  • It's peculiar: she distinguishes between power and violence
  • Arendt's singular thatness, perhaps in Responsibility and Judgement
  • the Copenhagen lecture - she talks about "persona"
Under situations where there is no open media, where war dead are not able to be knowable the task is to find the "thisness" of these lives. The "sounding" in the Copenhagen lecture is maybe not the same as speaking.

There are agnostic tensions in relationality, we would have to think about other living organisms.
  • Plurality would have to be also thought as a material interdependence such that exposure and hunger are problematic
  • These are not pursued by Arendt
  • She makes a distinction between public and private that seems to facilitate this noninclusion, thus it's difficult to think politically and materially interdependent
Enter Precarious Life, though it might not be robust.
  • It's one thing to apprehend the precariousness of the other, but then we must apply this to material conditions
  • A bodily ontology would rethink exposure, social belonging, work, interdependence, etc.
  • We must resist giving over to Liberal notions of identity and assume interbeing
  • To be a body is to be exposed to being crafted, it emerges in a set of relations and exposed to the configurations of these relations
Arendt does offer some account of unchosen sociality but she lacks a more adequate social ontology.
  • The inhibition of freedom as the condition of freedom
  • The body's barrier to the Other and the world is at the skin, we are always exposed to the world
  • In order to exist as desiring beings we must address the conditions of bodily interdependency - Arendt rules this out as being in the private sphere
Precariousness is a word used to describe the vex of this interdependency. It's used by those in the antiglobalization movement, it organizes around conditions of life that are primarily concerned with livability and not calling to identity. It gives us a different notion of dominance and violent conflict.

When a shared position of precariousness is not reciprocated, those populations can become losable, this is what happens in war.
  • Durability is fought for in this unequal distribution of precarity and
  • the precarity of life among "the enemy" is a call used to shore-up and insist upon the impermeability of the group
Can one choose against precarity? It would seem this actually heightens the precarity of the whole

The dispossession of being, as we are unable to choose with whom we cohabitate is the condition necessary for us to act in precarity

My own position doesn't tell us how to punish the war criminal or how to respond to Israel-Palestine; this does, however, give us ways of thinking about war and conflict that inform us of who loses in these conflicts - we both do.


We adjourn briefly and then reconvene with Giorgio Agamben and Judith Butler in conversation

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