Representing, Reproducing and Repudiating Violence

Representing, Reproducing and Repudiating Violence

What concepts of violence do we have at our disposal today? How do we understand violence expressed as power or force, in relation to economy, law, constraint, repression and trauma? Violence, when considered as a general category evokes multiple concepts, procedures and processes: it is imprecise. Violence has been theorised in ways ranging from political revolutionary violence, to disciplinary techniques imposed as structural state violence. Consider Max Weber’s concept of the state’s ‘monopoly on violence’, where domination is distributed among the state, the economy and religious or spiritual authorities. This concept may also extend to notions of colonial and fascistic violences. From the collateral violence experienced under conditions of war, as well as violence targeted at gendered and racialized people, and sexual violence, we may also consider the residual violence of psychological power plays taking place in the home. In the current fraught and hyper-mediated media environment, questions concerning violence and representation are also urgent: what does it mean to depict images or descriptions of violence, and what does it mean to prohibit such depictions? With Gillian Rose, we ask: is it one’s own violence that one faces in an experience of art? In his essay ‘Critique of Violence’ from 1920, Walter Benjamin pits violence that is foundational to the law, or law preserving and ‘administrative’, mythical and conservative violence, against the destructiveness of a divine, purifying violence. In this seminar, we will first consider the multiple concepts of violence that Benjamin illuminates in his Critique, reading them in alongside his interlocutors. Secondly, we will consider how and why artists, poets, philosophers and theorists have depicted, reproduced, interrogated and represented, or, repudiated, denied and disavowed, violence found in the archive, the home, the prison, the workplace, and on the streets, during the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries.

Indicative Literature

- Benjamin, Walter, ‘Critique of Violence’, in Selected Writings Volume 1, 1913-1926, ed. by Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge, Mass; London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1996), pp. 236–52

- Fanon, Frantz, ‘On Violence’, in The Wretched of the Earth, trans. by Constance Farrington (London: Penguin Classics, 2001), pp. 1–51

- Hanssen, Beatrice, Critique of Violence: Between Post-Structuralism and Critical Theory (London; New York: Routledge, 2000)

- Hartman, Saidiya, ‘Venus in Two Acts’, Small Axe, 12.2 (2008), 1–14

- Hartman, Saidiya, Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010)

- Rose, Gillian, ‘Beginnings of the Day: Fascism and Representation’, in Mourning Becomes the Law: Philosophy and Representation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 41–62

- Sorel, Georges, Reflections on Violence, ed. by Jeremy Jennings (United Kingdom; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999)

- Weber, Max, ‘Politics as a Vocation’, in The Vocation Lectures, ed. by David Owen and Tracy B. Strong, trans. by Rodney Livingstone (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2004)