Grievable and ungrievable

judith_butler2Which kind of life is valued and which is not? Which kinds of violence are sanctified and which are abhored? And how does war change how we are able to feel about other lives? How does war divide populations into ‘those who are openly grievable and those who are not’?

These are among the questions raised by Judith Butler in Berlin earlier this month and concisely expressed in her commencement address at Grinnell College (Iowa) in 2008.

She argues that

…war works to undermine a sensate democracy, restricting what we can feel, disposing us to feel shock and outrage in the face of one expression of violence and righteous coldness in the face of another.

While acknowledging that aggression is unavoidable, she suggests that it

… can and must be separated from violence. Violence is but one form that aggression assumes. There are ways of giving form to aggression that work in the service of democratic life including open antagonistic debate, discursive conflict, strikes, civil disobedience, speaking out, and even revolution.

And she calls on us to consider how we can shift the frame for interpreting events and deaths, for state and suicide bombings, for whose lives are rendered grievable, and – especially – how we can foreground the interdependency of the people and populations who cohabit on this globe.

this blog was primarily thought by the
discoursologist currently in
berlin; not the one in


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