Berlin, 2009

Berlin, 2009
We want more voices, thoughts and languages!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

New review by JB of Derrida's "The Death Penalty", Vol. I

Judith Butler: "On Cruelty" from LRB

This review essay, close to the lecture Butler gave in Vienna in May, 2014--simultaneously broadcast into 4 overfilled university halls--makes a contribution to discussions among activists and intellectuals on the death penalty. One must be careful, for the argument is tortuous: a strong critique of theories and activism on the issue is first historically situated, before the author's own intervention unfolds. (This somewhat "classical" philosophical move which requires close reading is, however, not the preferred method of writing taught in mainstream academe. On the contrary, complexity is more often than not disparaged precisely by academic guardians of privilege.) 
Thus, while the first part of the essay insightfully articulates Derrida's criticism of death penalty abolitionists and activists more generally, Butler's own position is offered in the second half as a "rejoinder" to Derrida's "dialectical inversion." Surprisingly coupling Derrida with Angela Davis, a fascinating argument for abolitionism passes through the death drive, deflecting the age-old yet still repeated objection against justice on the basis of the inevitability of human aggression. 

                                                   Sample quotations/juicy bits: 

 "Presaging Lacan’s ‘Kant avec Sade’, Nietzsche seeks to expose the joyous cruelty of Kant’s morality."

"Just as Nietzsche found Kant’s categorical imperative to be soaked in blood, so Freud thought that the Christian dictum ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’ was pretty much impossible to realise."

"The death drive leads us towards death, in a circuitous return to the inorganic that militates against a progressive sense of time, repeatedly taking apart the social relations we build and returning us to a state of quiescence."

"In the context of preserved social bonds, aggression can become agonism, or it can be strictly contained within the rules of a game: a sadomasochistic sexual scene, for example, or some other rule-bound activity."
--Be careful dears, this one is rich and tricky! Note that sadomasochism is an admirable example of preserving social bonds, and rules are used to play out aggression into dissolution!

"Ambivalence isn’t quite the same as hypocrisy."

"Rather, it is a matter of recognising that dependency fundamentally defines us: it is something I never quite outgrow, no matter how old and how individuated I may seem. And it isn’t that you and I are the same; rather, it is that we invariably lean towards and on each other, and it is impossible to think about either of us without the other. If I seek to preserve your life, it is not only because it is in my self-interest to do so, or because I have wagered that it will bring about better consequences for me. It is because I am already tied to you in a social bond without which this ‘I’ cannot be thought."

1 comment:

  1. What to say...? It seems that Butler caught the snake while he was biting his own tail (and ours as well). It seems that deconstruction needs so often to reduce things to two, in order to deconstruct them and say: "oh, look! they are not two separeted things! surprise surprise!" Right. And what about all the rest? Cruelty is non-cruelty and bla-bla-bla. And non-cruelty of course is cruelty... and bla-bla-bla. Right. And what about all the rest? What about people sitting in prison now - for example? Let's leave cruelty to cruelty or non-cruelty... - and by the way I'm not sure cruelty plays any role in the prison institution (where are prisons? do people normally see prisons? We are in no heaven enjoying the view over the hell...). I'm sorry, it might sound silly, superficial... but with our thinking and thinking-projects do we not often have a sense of what we need, what we want to show, what is fair? I read Derrida saying sth in these terms about drugs just yesterday. He had an answer but had still to envision the way through to justify that answer (conservative again, of course). Well, I also have an answer in this case: no prisons, please. And this way Butler suggests seems wonderful enough to give breath and hope and courage to fight. I'm just afraid that this Derridean attachment to melancholy might give us too many people to mourn meanwhile...