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Performances of Violence

Performances of Violence

Austin Sarat
Carleen R. Basler
Thomas L. Dumm
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 184
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  • Book Info
    Performances of Violence
    Book Description:

    From acts of terrorism to war, from arson to capital punishment, from sadism to torture, performances of violence are all around us. Sometimes they grab headlines and rivet our attention, sometimes they are barely noticed, constituting part of our takenforgranted world. Yet whether dramatic or barely noticed, violence seems everywhere to be on the rise. The essays in this volume explore the relationship between selfhood, agency, and violence, focusing on the psychic life of violence and its expression in the performances of particular individuals. At the same time, they look more closely at the way political contexts and ideologies shape both particular performances of violence and the way they are understood. By drawing on the expertise of scholars in a variety of fields—anthropology, history, political theory, law, and social thought—this book seeks to expose some of the subterranean cross currents of the cultural lives of violence and, in so doing, to reveal their connections. In addition to the editors, contributors include criminal justice scholar Mary Welek Atwell, anthropologist Veena Das, historian Ruth Miller, political scientist Anne Norton, political scientist Corey Robin, and historian Paul Steege.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-040-6
    Subjects: Law, Political Science, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: How Does Violence Perform?
    (pp. 1-17)
    Carleen Basler, Thomas L. Dumm and Austin Sarat

    “Homo homini lupis est,”wrote Plautus in the second century BC, “Man is a wolf to man.” History, alas, seems to have borne him out. Violence is ubiquitous; its performances surround us. In every age, bodies are broken, blood is spilled for good causes and bad and, all too often, for no discernible cause whatsoever.

    To provide just a few examples of our embeddedness in a history of violence: Aeschylus writes of the violence of the house of Atreus, thehubrisof Agamemnon, his wife Clytaemnestra’s terrible revenge for his sacrifice of their daughter, the demands of the Furies for...

  5. 1 Easy to Be Hard: Conservatism and Violence
    (pp. 18-42)
    Corey Robin

    Despite the support among self-identified conservative voters and politicians for the death penalty, torture, and war, intellectuals on the right often deny any affinity between conservatism and violence. “Conservatives,” writes Andrew Sullivan, “hate war.”

    Their domestic politics is rooted in a loathing of civil wars and violence, and they know that freedom is always the first casualty of international warfare. When countries go to war, their governments invariably get bigger and stronger, individual liberties are whittled away, and societies which once enjoyed the pluralist cacophony of freedom have to be marshaled into a single, collective note to face down an...

  6. 2 Violence without Agency
    (pp. 43-68)
    Ruth A. Miller

    This is not an essay about violence. I want to make that clear from the outset because when the word “violence” appears in academic writing, there is frequently a rush to diagnose and to condemn it, to expose it and those who are complicit in it, to feel, in short, that something must be done. When the word “violence” appears, it is rarely just a word; it is an incitement. If there is a diagnosis happening in this essay, therefore, it is not another diagnosis of violence. Rather, it is a diagnosis of discussions of violence. The questions driving this...

  7. 3 Performing Monstrous Violence: Aileen Wuornos, Murder, Abuse, and Exploitation
    (pp. 69-97)
    Mary Welek Atwell

    Aileen Wuornos, labeled a “monster” and “the first female serial killer” provides an outstanding case study of the process whereby the doer is constituted through the deed.¹ Wuornos performed acts of violence—she admitted to killing seven men. Those acts of violence came to constitute her public identity as a serial killer and a “monster.” Meanwhile, others performed acts of violence on the body and the psyche of Aileen Wuornos. She was abused by family members and others during her childhood. As a prostitute, she was assaulted by clients, and as a convicted murderer, she was killed by the state...

  8. 4 On the Uses of Dogs: Abu Ghraib and the American Soul
    (pp. 98-117)
    Anne Norton

    This essay examines acts of violence performed by American soldiers against prisoners at Abu Ghraib. The violence is performative in two senses. First, it is theatrical and spectacular. Much of the violence at Abu Ghraib was staged for the camera. Many of the forms, roles, and poses derived from other forms of theatricality, most notably tourism and pornography. The drive to see, to be seen, to see oneself seen, informed the staging of violence and the photographic records of the violence and impelled the circulatory vortex into which the photographs were cast.

    As the photographs from Abu Ghraib and accounts...

  9. 5 Passionate Performance: 26/11, Mumbai
    (pp. 118-139)
    Veena Das

    In his acute observations on Austin’s theory of performative utterances, Stanley Cavell notes with some regret that Austin gave up too soon on the drama of perlocutionary effect of statements and instead came to take illocutionary force as the privileged example of performative utterances.¹ Cavell feels that Austin’s “skimpishness” whenever he mentions emotions is another symptom of philosophy’s refusal to engage with passion as essential to the human form of life. A crucial paragraph in Cavell reads as follows:

    The explicit reason he (Austin) gives for ruling out the perlocutionary as relevant to performativity (and thence to a certain picture...

  10. 6 Ordinary Violence on an Extraordinary Stage: Incidents on the Sector Border in Postwar Berlin
    (pp. 140-164)
    Paul Steege

    On June 19, 1962, theNew York Timesdescribed how nine East Berliners attempted to tunnel under the Berlin wall and escape to West Berlin. Four people succeeded. East Berlin police caught five more and inadvertently killed one of their colleagues as they fired on the escapees. The article concluded, “The shooting, the escape, the five who did not get away, the dead policeman—all were discussed for a moment [by a crowd on the western side of the wall]. Then the talk turned to other matters, matters that are supposed to help make people forget that nothing is really...

  11. Contributors
    (pp. 165-166)
  12. Index
    (pp. 167-172)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 173-173)