Front Matter

Title Page


a journal for the intermingling of literary, cultural and theoretical scholarship


Jeffrey R. Di Leo University of Houston, Victoria

Associate Editor

Ian Buchanan

University of Wollongong (Australia)

Advisory Board

Charles Altieri

University of California, Berkeley

Michael Berube

Penn State University

Ronald Bogue

University of Georgia

Edward Casey

State University of New York, Stony Brook

Stanley Corngold

Princeton University

Lennard J. Davis

University of Illinois, Chicago

Robert Con Davis-Undiano

University of Oklahoma

Henry A. Giroux

McMaster University (Canada)

Karen Hanson

University of Minnesota

Phillip Brian Harper

New York University

Peter C. Herman

San Diego State University

Candace Lang*

Emory University

Vincent B. Leitch

University of Oklahoma

Paisley Livingston

Lingnan University (Hong Kong)

Donald Marshall

Pepperdine University

Christian Moraru

University of North Carolina, Greensboro

Jeffrey Nealon

Penn State University

Marjorie Perloff

Stanford University

Mark Poster*

University of California, Irvine

Gerald Prince

University of Pennsylvania

Robert Scholes

Brown University

Alan Schrift

Grinnell College

Tobin Siebers

University of Michigan

Hugh J. Silverman

State University of New York, Stony Brook

John H. Smith

University of California, Irvine

Paul H. Smith

George Mason University

James Sosnoski

University of Illinois, Chicago

Henry Sussman

Yale University

Mark C. Taylor

Columbia University

Steven Totosy de Zepetnek

University of Halle-Wittenberg

Joel Weinsheimer

University of Minnesota

Jeffrey J. Williams

Carnegie Mellon University

Produced and Distributed in Association with the University of Nebraska Press

First Page

symploke is a comparative theory and literature journal. Our aim is to provide an arena for critical exchange between established and emerging voices in the field. We support new and developing notions of comparative literature and theory, and are committed to interdisciplinary studies, intellectual pluralism, and open discussion. We are particularly interested in scholarship on the interrelations among philosophy, literature, culture criticism and intellectual history, though will consider for publication articles on any aspect of the intermingling of discourses and/or disciplines. Two issues are published per year: one in the summer and one in the winter.

website www.symploke.org

online versions of this journal are available through Project Muse, operated by the Johns Hopkins University Press (http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/sym, E-ISSN 1534-0627), and through JSTOR (http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublication?journalCode=symploke).

managing editor Katie L. Moody

assistant editor Keri L. Farnsworth

webmaster Keri L. Farnsworth

submission inquiries should be directed to symploke, Editor, Jeffrey R. Di Leo, School of Arts and Sciences, 3007 North Ben Wilson, University of Houston-Victoria, Victoria, TX 77901-5731 Office 361-570-4222 Fax 361-570-4207 Email <editor@symploke.org>All submissions must conform to the MLA Style Manual, and include a complete listing of works cited. See Notice to Contributors for further details.

forthcoming issues are Critical Climate (Vol. 21, No. 1 [2013]), Austerity (Vol. 21, No. 2 [2013]), and Digitopia (Vol 22, No. 1 [2014]).

indexing of this journal may be found in the MLA International Bibliography. It is also listed in the MLA Directory of Periodicals, The International Directory of Little Magazines and Small Presses, Current Abstracts, Humanities International Index, IBR, IBZ, InfoTrac, AcrticleFirst, Electronic Collections Online, Expanded Academic ASAP, Academic OneFile, ProQuest Central, ProQuest Research Library, TOC Premier, and Ulrichs International Periodicals Directory.

subscription rates per volume (2 issues) for institutions and libraries are $60, and for individuals are $31. Overseas add $21. One volume is published per year. All payments must be made through a U.S. bank or by International Money Order. Subscriptions available through vendors such as FAXON and EBSCO, or by sending check or money order to the University of Nebraska Press, 1111 Lincoln Mall, Lincoln, NE 68588-0630 Office 402-472-8536 Online www. nebraskapress.unl.edu

back issues of all volumes are available from the University of Nebraska Press, 1111 Lincoln Mall, Lincoln, NE 68588-0630.

Publisher Details

symploke 2012. All materials published in this journal are copyrighted by symploke. Submission of an article to this journal entails the author’s agreement to assign copyright to symploke. Articles appearing in symploke may be reproduced for research purposes, for personal reference, and for classroom use without special permission and without payment of a fee. This permission does not extend to other kinds of reproducing such as copying for general distribution, for the creation of collected works or anthologies, for advertising or promotional purposes, or for resale. These and all other rights are reserved. If you would like to reprint material, please query for permission using the University of Nebraska Press’ online form, found under the Journals menu heading at www.nebraskpress.unl.edu.

business inquiries including matters concerning advertising, permissions and subscriptions should be directed to the University of Nebraska Press, 1111 Lincoln Mall, Lincoln, NE 685880630.

Member of ^CELJ) The Council of Editors of Learned Journals

This journal was presented with the

2000 CELJ Phoenix Award for Significant Editorial Achievement


Editor’s Note JEFFREY R. DI LEO


Revolutionary Violence PETER HITCHCOCK

Swords and Regulation LEEROM MEDOVOI

Revisiting Violence and Life RICK ELMORE

Betting on Ressentiment ZAHI ZALLOUA

Charismatic Violence WILLIAM O. SAAS

Arab Spring, 2011 WILLIAM V. SPANOS

The Rhetoric of Violence JEREMY ENGELS

Spectacles of Incarceration JOHN RIOFRIO

Geotrauma and the Eco-clinic TIM MATTS AND AIDAN TYNAN

Peitho and Bia MEGAN FOLEY

Creating Necessity DUSTIN ELLS HOWES

The Awkward Aesthetics of Violence GERALD DAVID NAUGHTON AND


Turning to Debris MIHAELA P. HARPER


General Articles

Breaking the Pax Magisteriorum HORACE L. FAIRLAMB

Kafka’s Tourists and the Techno Sublime ARNDT NIEBISCH

Enigma, Semblance, and Natural Beauty LORRAINE MARKOTIC


Wittgenstein’s Extraterritoriality DINDA L. GORLÉE I, Robot BRIAN O’KEEFFE

This Humanities Which Is Not One JEFFREY R. DI LEO


Critically Thinking the Transnational Critic GUY RISKO

Intersecting Lives ALAN D. SCHRIFT

To Discipline or Not to Discipline DONALD HEDRICK


Rewriting Literary History: JEFFREY J. WILLIAMS

An Interview with Elaine Showalter

Criticism and Connection: JEFFREY J. WILLIAMS

An Interview with Michael Walzer

Book Notes

Notice to Contributors

Notes on Contributors

Forthcoming Issues

Editor’s Note

Jeffrey R. Di Leo

In this issue, my co-editor, Sophia McClennen from Penn State University, and I sought contributions that engage the potentially paradoxical relations among violence, politics and ethics. We both thought that this topic would yield a rich set of theoretical inquiries, and aimed to include work that engaged the politics and philosophy of violence. The result is a wonderfully diverse set of interventions on violence that balance classical (Aristotle, Machiavelli), modern (Marx, Lenin) and contemporary (Derrida, Zizek) accounts of violence against current events ranging from the Tucson shootings and Arab Spring to prison brutality and ecological devastation. While many of the essays explore the different forms of violence brought about through neoliberal politics, this is not the only political dimension brought to bear in these essays, particularly when one considers violence through the lens of the writings of Saul Bellow, Marguerite Duras, Binjamin Wilkomirski, and Frederic Beigbeder.

Overall, the essays in this issue strike a balance among close-reading, philosophical examination, and cultural analysis—and in the process raise many important issues about the rhetorical, aesthetic, political, social, and philosophical aspects of violence. As we move into our twenty-first year of publication, it is interesting to note that the topical issues addressed by this journal have become only more urgent. While the divisive disciplinarity of the academy that this journal aimed to help break down still stands strong, and the humanities are much worse for the wear twenty years later, the need for “a journal for the intermingling of literary, cultural and theoretical scholarship” is even more urgent today than it was when symploke was founded in the early 1990s. Nevertheless, there is a prevailing concern that journals such as this one may be going the way of the dinosaur—or, the philology journal.

In his October 16, 2011 article for The Chronicle Review, “The Brief, Wondrous Life of the Theory Journal,” Jeffrey J. Williams observes that “the theory journal is becoming a residual form, like the philological journals.” Williams, who has been a long-time advocate and supporter of this journal— and is a contributor to this issue—is confronting the realities faced by many journals weaned on opulent university support and topical intransigence. Fortunately, though, these were not the formative conditions of this journal.

Not only is our financial health better now than at any time in our history, so too is our reach because of our international online presence through Project Muse. In addition, we have dedicated ourselves to publishing material that keeps pace with—or better yet, set the pace for—discussions in the humanities. Philology journals disappeared when philology lost impact. And while theory is definitely not what it was when this journal was founded (which, personally, I think is a good thing—but that is another story), there has been no diminution of interest in the broader frame established by symploke, namely, the intermingling of literary, cultural and theoretical scholarship.

As such, looking back at twenty years of continuous publication—and looking forward to where this journal is going—does not give me a “residual” feeling, but rather an “emergent” one. The proviso though is that we continue to embrace the intermingling of critical theory, literary analysis and cultural studies not merely as ends in themselves—but rather first and foremost as a means of addressing the complex problems currently facing academe, society, and our planet. When this journal loses site of the critical present and its academic, social, and planetary obligations—its days will be numbered—and it truly will have no future.

It is with these thoughts in mind that the following three issues are in preparation. The first is entitled Critical Climate (Vol. 21, No. 1 [2013]). Welcome are contributions that critically explore the discursive shape and texture of what we call climate change. Specifically, we begin with the premise that climate change asks of cultural theorists nothing more or less than a re-evaluation of ourselves, even while it challenges us to put to use the critical tools we have at hand. We ask: How do critical concepts like power, ideology, mediation, capital, colonialism, gender, oppression, society, and construction help us to understand the challenges presented by climate change? Does the current crisis wrought by anthropogenic climate change defy or affirm the assumptions that underpin cultural critical theory—and to what extent? Can we respond—and, if so, how—through now established critical modes, such as those signaled by deconstruction, post-structuralism, genre theory, psychoanalysis, Marxism, and science studies, or those practiced under the rubrics of, among others, Agamben, Badiou, Butler, Deleuze, Derrida, Foucault, Habermas, Latour, and Zizek? Or does climate change demand a new kind of theory? Submission deadline: closed.

The second is entitled Austerity (Vol. 21, No. 2 [2013]). Welcome are contributions that theoretically engage the referential and figural use of austerity. What is austerity? What are the social, political, economic and intellectual dimensions of austerity? Who is the paradigmatic subject of austerity? Is its meaning transhistorical and transcultural? Or is it imbued in ideology and thus irremediably discursive and historically contingent? Whose austerity is acknowledged and whose is ignored? Is austerity an ontological concern? Does austerity have an aesthetics? Can an inquiry into austerity ever be disentangled from neoliberalism? How have austerity measures affected contemporary academic culture? Submission deadline: 15 August 2013.

The third issue is entitled Digitopia (Vol. 22, No. 1 [2014]). Welcome are contributions discussing the nature, promise and limits of digital technology in all aspects of academic culture. Will digital culture save the academy or bring it down? How about the humanities? How do digital technologies affect reading, writing, and teaching practices, as well as other aspects of academic performance, such as tenure and publication? What are the social, political, economic and intellectual dimensions of digital technology in contemporary academic culture? Submission deadline: 31 December 2013.

I would like to thank the contributors to this issue for sharing their reflections on violence with us, and Sophia McClennen for her editorial work on this issue. Special thanks also to Keri Farnsworth for her extraordinary assistance in the production of this issue and for the masterful work she is doing as our new assistant editor; to Katie Moody for production support; to Vicki Fitzpatrick for keeping the books straight; to Sandra Wood for administrative assistance; and to UHV, for providing financial support for our editorial office and staff. Also, as always, I would like to thank the advisory board for their help in the preparation of this issue.

Finally, I would like to dedicate this issue to Candace Lang of Emory University, and Mark Poster of University of California, Irvine, longtime advisory board members, both of whom recently passed away. Their steadfast support of this journal will be missed—but not forgotten.


Postscript on Violence

Violence is everywhere

It could be argued that we are in one of the most violent eras in human history. The scope of violence today is global and its magnitude immense. It is seen in the death counts from perpetual wars and the injury reports from fierce protests; it is found in the oil-soaked waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the radiation-contaminated earth of Japan; it is heard in the screams of women subject to sexual violence and the children who are the victims of predators. It is in the blood we are served by televised news and the brutal visions of an increasing violence-driven entertainment industry.

Though our various critical and cultural studies relate features of it, and our social and physical sciences capture aspects of it, the violence in our world is far too overwhelming to contain. No study can capture it in its entirety and no report can present us with a complete set of data on it. For many, the violence that surrounds and engulfs us is an abomination and a threat, something to be fought and eliminated; though for many more, violence serves a social and economic end—and is as American as apple pie. “Rooted in everyday institutional structures,” writes Henry Giroux, “violence has become the toxic glue that bonds Americans together while simultaneously preventing them from expanding and building a multiracial and multicultural democracy” (2002, 231).

The “toxic glue” of violence is a threat to individual and social well-being as well as to democracy itself. One of the imperatives of critical pedagogy must be to reveal its manifestations—another must be to work toward its elimination. And progressive intellectuals must continue to utilize the public sphere through print and social media to bring about a better understanding of the dangers of an increasingly violent world and to work toward eliminating the toxic glue of violence.

Violence is nowhere

While violence is everywhere more apparent, it is also everywhere ignored and hidden. The violence that is unseen and unknown must be engaged just as much as the violence that is seen and known. While violent video games and movies premised on the spectacle of violence are not difficult to discern, they often have the unintended consequence of closing off consideration and understanding of other forms of violence, in particular the myriad types of violence that cannot be staged.

Much of the violence that is unseen and unheard happens on a temporal scale that is beyond the capacities of our senses. Termed by Rob Nixon, “slow violence,” it has been described by him as “a violence that occurs gradually and out of sight, a violence of delayed destruction that is dispersed across time and space, an attritional violence that is typically not viewed as violence at all” (Nixon 2). The slow violence of “mass droughts in China, flooding in Australia, food crises, super twisters, earthquakes linked to geo-engineering, arctic melt-off and so on” (Cohen 2012, i); “[C]limate change, the thawing cryosphere, toxic drift, biomagnifications, deforestation, the radioactive aftermath of war, acidifying oceans, and a host of other slowly unfolding environmental catastrophes” (Nixon 2).

This was not the violence addressed by the theorists and critics of the twentieth-century. Much of this violence unfolds over spans of time better described as geological rather than human. Or, better yet, over spans of time from which “the human” is viewed as but a passing moment. The theoretical work here that is just beginning to take shape promises to reframe the very ways we think about history, time, and change.[1]

However, if the exanthropic violence of climate change is the future of theory, what of the anthropic violence that has been the focus of much attention, particularly since the rise of women’s studies, gender studies, and ethnic studies in the sixties and seventies? How are we doing here with forms of violence that are visible and seen and felt by women, children, and the disenfranchised across the globe? Unfortunately, not well.

In today’s media-saturated world, violence is always visible but rarely felt

The prevalence of media violence is especially high in U.S. culture. Our entertainment industry is adept at aestheticizing violence and transforming the most violent and morally extreme members of our society into culture products suitable for mass consumption and celebration. Take for example, the serial killer Aileen Wournos, who paradoxically became the object of revulsion and attraction when presented to us by the American entertainment industry. Many marveled at how the angelic Hollywood actor Charlize Theron had been transformed into the “monster” Wournos, and found themselves comparing the “real” Theron to the image of Wournos presented by her in the film, Monster (2003). “She is my favorite of the night,” said a fashion editor from Glamour magazine commenting on Theron’s appearance at the Golden Globes that year, “[e]specially because you have the contrast of her in that movie and the way she looks tonight.”[2] This entirely commonplace comment reveals a semiotic process wherein serial killing and its aesthetic image become hopelessly intertwined, and ultimately confused.

In the translation of serial killing to its performance and promotion, a complex semiotic process creates multiple layers of signification concerning the event and its perpetrator. The result is both a greater understanding (albeit a superficial one) of the killers and the horrific events in which they participated, and a growing sense of confusion between the “real” and the image. Carefully packaged, promoted and sanitized by the culture industry, American psychos such as Jeffrey Dahmer, Aileen Wournos and John Wayne Gacy increasingly become less despicable objects of moral revulsion, and more objects of fascination and entertainment. Their final entry into the sign system of celebrity entertainment is signaled by becoming household names as readily recognizable as our sports, movie and television icons. For the average culturally literate American, naming three contemporary serial killers is about as challenging as naming three talk show hosts. However, the realness of these killers and their violent crimes gets buried under multiple layers of signification. A “hyperreal”—and “hypermoral”—image soon displaces any remaining fragments of the reality of the horrific events perpetrated by them.

The cultural celebration of violence though does not end with the remediation of increasingly macabre, sadistic, and cruel behavior. Rather, it creates a culture where violence has become a—if not “the”—standard form of entertainment, and where our children are targeted as major consumers of this violence. From the hyper-real violence of many of the video games played by children to the scenes of fighting, killing, and torture found in many of the movies our children watch, there is no escaping the toxic glue of violence. Even the “G” rated Pixar family movie, Cars 2 (2011), featured two deaths and one torture scene (a crime syndicate tortures a car until it blows up). How else can this be explained except as a primer on violence for children?

It is not going to be a surprise to anyone familiar with the American film industry that violence is one of its main commodities—and one that is internationally consumed. However, there is some reason to believe that more people are beginning to understand the negative impact of repeated cultural consumption of violence. If nothing else, the tragic events surrounding the shooting of moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado this past summer facilitated this discussion. However, the solution is not to be found in say banning The Dark Knight Rises (2012) from theaters because of its alleged connection to an act of violence. This would be about as effective as taking Sweet Tarts away from children in an effort to stop tooth decay. Rather, the solution is to be found in understanding how making violence into a commodity connects with a broader and more pernicious neoliberal social and economic agenda. Once this is understood, then just as with eating candy, you can consume violence at your own risk.

Neoliberal economic practices have increased biopolitical violence

The devastating effects of neoliberalism have been well documented. “Under neoliberalism,” writes Henry Giroux, “everything either is for sale or is plundered for profit” (2004, xii). He continues:

Public lands are looted by logging companies and corporate ranchers; politicians willingly hand the public’s airwaves over to broadcasters and large corporate interests without a dime going into the public trust; Halliburton gives war profiteering a new meaning as it is granted corporate contracts without any competitive bidding and then bilks the U.S. government for millions; the environment is polluted and despoiled in the name of profit-making just as the government passes legislation to make it easier for corporations to do so; public services are gutted in order to lower the taxes of major corporations; schools increasingly resemble malls or jails, and teachers, forced to raise revenue for classroom materials, increasingly function as circus barkers hawking everything from hamburgers to pizza parties—that is, when they are not reduced to prepping students to get higher test scores. (2004, xii-xiv)

When extreme free-market capitalism becomes the source of values, violence is given a reprieve from moral indignation. Democratic values as well as basic notions of human rights and economic justice are overlooked when the market reveals profits to be had—or losses to be avoided. As neoliberalism widens the gulf between the rich and the poor, and the enfranchised and the disenfranchised, it also places at risk of violence the poor and the disenfranchised. Therefore, it should be no surprise that the devastation of the environment and the violation of human rights is often more extreme in less affluent parts of the world.

Moreover, the celebration of violence in the American entertainment industry must be seen as an extension of the neoliberal militaristic transformation of the country. Arguably, the state of permanent war of the United States has benefited an entertainment industry which views increased militarization as a marketing dream. Toys, games, videos, movies and clothing associated with the military and its values increase in times of war. The permanent state of war in the United States thus provides increasing opportunities for corporations endlessly to exploit nationalistic jingoism and the glorification of violence. In light of neoliberalism and its economic Darwinism, the recent resurrection of Captain America—the defender of American “ideals”—is less a nostalgic nod to comic history’s past, than a market-driven embrace of our increasingly militarized, violent, and jingoistic culture.

Contemporary biopolitics have exacerbated violence against specific categories of life

Violence against women alone has reached epidemic proportions. A recent multi-country study by the World Health Organization finds that 15% of women in Japan and 70% of Ethiopia and Peru have been subject to physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner, and that 24% of women in rural Peru, 28% in Tanzania, 30% in rural Bangladesh, and 40% in South Africa report that their first sexual experience was forced. The impact of this violence is enormous.

The World Health Organization lists some of the consequences of violence against women as headaches, back pain, abdominal pain, fibromyalgia, gastrointestinal disorders, limited mobility, unintended pregnancies, gynecological problems, induced abortions, sexually transmitted infections, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, sleep difficulties, eating disorders, emotional distress, and suicide.

But the global violence against women does not end with intimate partner violence. Rather, it is just the beginning of the nightmare. There is also non-intimate partner sexual violence, forced prostitution and sex trafficking, labor exploitation and debt bondage, sexual violence against prostitutes, acid throwing, genital mutilation, female infanticide, and rape in war.[3]

But in spite of its global scope, even violence against women is difficult to track and study. Not only do the variety of definitions of violence prohibit the standardization of research, but there is a general as well as context-specific unwillingness to disclose experiences of violence to researchers. As one set of researchers notes, this makes “cross-country and cross-study comparison difficult” (Watts and Zimmerman 1237).

The violence against women must be considered alongside racial, religious, and ethnic violence. It is now time to recognize that identity politics, multiculturalism, and the politics of difference, when offered without a clear anti-violence platform, can inadvertently lead to violent practices. While the recognition of human diversity is at a high point, so too is ethnic violence. In many ways we have reached a height of the biopolitical partitioning of human life.

Categories of life are defined as inherently violent and inherently threatening, which then leads to the logic of incarceration and sequestration. For instance, the global growth in both prison and refugee populations has been unprecedented since the mid 1990s. “Nearly two million people (one out of every 142 Americans) welcomed the millennium in the confines of an American correctional institution, ending the most punishing decade in American history. With about 5% of the world’s population, America has the distinction of housing about one-quarter of the world’s prisoners in what may well be the world’s largest prison system.”[4] The rates of incarceration are not only high, and they are not only linked to the profits derived from privatizing prisons, they are also a biopolitical mechanism that serves to further racism: “On New Year’s Eve 2001, 10% of all black non-Hispanic males between the ages of 25 and 29 were in prison.”[5]

As Giroux has explained, neoliberalism carries with it a profound restructuring of the public sphere and of the ideas about which humans can legitimately form a part of civic life. The key, though, is that this biopolitcal ordering of life is viciously violent, since it determines which lives are disposable and which are to be protected: “to more fully understand this calamity it is important to grasp how the confluence of race and poverty has become part of a new and more insidious set of forces based on a revised set of biopolitical commitments, which have largely given up on the sanctity of human life for those populations rendered ‘at risk’ by global neoliberal economies and, instead, have embraced an emergent security state founded on cultural homogeneity” (Giroux 2006, 11).

Zygmunt Bauman has followed this trend in the case of refugee populations that have also been produced by the same neoliberal practices and which also find themselves forced into ghettos and camps where they are cordoned off and contained. The number of refugees recorded by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has grown disproportionately from 2 million in 1975 to more than 27 million in 1995. Bauman describes the lives of Palestinians who are born and die in camps, who never know anything other than camp life (143). He calls attention to the way that this social fragmentation dismantles the social commitment to togetherness, to seeing ourselves as linked to others. Instead, these camps become the basis for the construction of “wasted” lives that offer nothing more than a security threat (143).

This presents researchers and others who are concerned about violence with a quandary: how do we attend to all of the various ways that specific groups suffer violence? And how can such violence be measured? Do we keep working to get better data on the scope of the violence or do we forego this and focus on solutions? Do we need better theories of violence? Or do we need more information about it? In many ways, these are the dividing lines between a humanistic, a social sciences approach, and an activist approach. And while these approaches are not mutually exclusive, it seems unlikely that we can confront the myriad forms of violence in present day society without the tools available from each of these approaches.

Violence defies theory and demands critique

The study of violence calls for a reevaluation of previous critical methods. One of the through lines to the pieces in this collection is the idea that the study of violence requires a complex array of critical tools. While some scholars would have us take a cross-temporal view, others draw from a range of critical fields. In each case, the pieces here sought to combine perspectives as a means through which to better understand how violence works. These approaches mirror violence itself, since violence is at once a statistic, an idea, a practice, a reality, and a fantasy. Its perceived threat governs a whole host of behaviors, both institutional and personal. There is no study of violence that can understand it without attention to the ways that it is both material and abstract.

But it would be fair to say that this constellation of essays would not have appeared in the 1990s when many of the scholars that draw from the disciplines central to this journal were likely stuck in theory wars, rather than offering sustained critiques of violence. The disputes between poststructuralism and critical theory, between Derrideans and Habermasians, seemed to focus on the opposition between antihumanism and normativity. But today, some fifteen years after the height of those debates, we can now see that there are other options for the study of violence that are neither purely theoretical nor wholly bogged down in naive notions of the real world.

We can also see that the impasse constructed a false opposition, one that led to stark divisions such as those detailed by Beatrice Hanssen in Critique of Violence: Between Poststructuralism and Critical Theory (2000). Drawing on Foucault and Benjamin, she suggests that the key to a critique of violence is to avoid monolithic analyses. She claims, following Foucault, that “power ought not to be a regulatory principle and that violence, too, in its many intractable manifestations, ought to be analyzed locally” (29). While we take Hanssen’s point, the trouble with a wholly local critique of violence is that it can lead to a fragmented critique. Such fragmentation runs the risk of making it difficult to see the connections between various interconnected social forces, such as racism, sexism, neoliberalism, and imperialism.

Thus, a critique of violence must avoid the tendency towards the monolithic, while also taking seriously the idea that violence is never a local problem and that even the study of the most concrete instance requires attention to the broader framework from which the violence emerged as an idea, an act, an excuse, and a problem. For these reasons, violence is best studied dialectically.

A critique of violence requires active projects of non-violence

It is not enough to search for more accurate data on the global scale of violence or to look for conceptual frameworks to account for it; we also need to focus more attention on peace-building and violence prevention. The argument here is that at no time in history has violence been better understood in terms of its patterns and dynamics. However, better understanding of violence does not necessarily lead to its elimination or to its prevention. “Students,” writes Giroux, “Must be made aware of the ideological and structural forces that promote needless human suffering while also recognizing that it takes more than awareness to resolve them.” And, in the very next sentence, implores us to heed one of Bauman’s favorite phrases: take “responsibility for our responsibility”—a responsibility that Giroux describes as being “attentive to the suffering and needs of others.”[6]

We must not allow either the ubiquity of violence or the understanding of it to render it banal. We need to encourage people around the world to not just be passive units in data sets regarding violence, but rather active agents in recounting their story to others. Social media such as Twitter and Facebook can become sites of anti-violence activism; the ability to post images of violence from locations where its image may be censored is important as well. While we should encourage a multitude of voices and a plethora of stories, we need to work vigorously against the aestheticized use of violence. This means that it is one thing to facilitate the sharing of stories that expose violence, but we need equally to pay careful attention to the ethics and aesthetics of these stories. Violent images are too often mainstreamed as they appear in ads for NGOs or on album covers for the latest socially conscious band. If these images are to stand for peace and not publicity, if they are to provoke solidarity and not cruelty, then they need to be read in a context attentive to the challenges of receiving stories of violence. As Elaine Scarry reminds us, the human mind prefers to avoid the pain of violence, seeking a simplified, sentimental response over one inclined to advocacy and action.[7] If the story of violence is to reach us, it needs to be complex and layered, it needs to defy easy assimilation, and it needs to demand recognition.

For the violence that cannot be seen, but is still felt, whether it is the soft violence of climate change or the invisible violence of neoliberalism, intellectuals need to demonstrate this violence through publically accessible discourse and media. Tell and retell the story of climate change and its devastating effects; repeat and repeat again accounts of economic Darwinism and the cruelties of this invisible monster. Reigning narratives in the public sphere discount the real effects of these forces of violence. Any real challenge to them also requires intellectuals to reclaim the public sphere as a space of critical reflection, dialogue, and dissent.

Transformative work on violence depends on hope and vision

The study of violence seems to lend itself all too easily to hopelessness and darkness, to an endless Matrix-like production of greyness. But this cannot be our goal. What would the study of violence look like if it were framed by a vision of peace and nonviolence? What would happen if we thought like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., or John Lennon while we worked on violence? The key idea here is to suggest that we study violence with an eye to its end. Clearly, many of the most well-known scholars of violence have not, in fact, done that, or their visions of hope have been clouded, shrouded, or subsumed to what at times appears like nihilism and despair. We might think of Walter Benjamin and Slavoj Zizek in this category, even if these scholars have themselves been very much committed to the hope of quelling violence. Then there are scholars like Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, and Henry Giroux who have been openly committed public intellectuals —hopeful that critical engagement can lead to a better world.

We have a long enough history of the critique of violence to know that critique without vision and without what Giroux calls “educated hope” will not eliminate the toxic glue of violence. Critique, however insightful, without hope will not ultimately challenge the webs of violence that threaten us. Find your vision, take responsibility for your responsibility, share your story, spread the word of others, attend to violence in the small ways and the big, in the abstract and the concrete, and then do it all over again.



Bauman, Zygmunt. Liquid Love: On the Frailty of Human Bonds. Cambridge, UK: Polity P, 2003.

Bunting, Madeleine. “Passion and Pessimism.” The Guardian (4 April 2003): n.p. http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2003/apr/05/society

Cohen, Tom, Ed. Telemorphosis: Theory in the Era of Climate Change, Vol. 1. Open Humanities P, 2012.

Giroux, Henry. “Racism and the Aesthetic of Hyperreal Violence: Pulp Fiction and Other Visual Tragedies.” Breaking in to the Movies: Film and the Culture of Politics. Henry Giroux. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2002. 195-235

___. Stormy Weather: Katrina and the Politics of Disposability. Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2006.

___. The Terror of Neoliberalism: Authoritarianism and the Eclipse of Democracy. Boulder and London: Paradigm Publishers, 2004.

___. “The Disappearance of Public Intellectuals.” Counterpunch (8 October 2012): n.p. http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/10/08/the-disappearance-of-public- intellectuals

Hanafy, Erin. “Golden Globe fashions.” Azcentral.com (2004): n.p. http://www.az- central.com/style/articles/0126goldenglobe.html

Hanssen, Beatrice. Critique of Violence: Between Poststructuralism and Critical Theory. London: Routledge, 2000.

Nixon, Rob. Slow Violence And The Environmentalism Of The Poor. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2011

Scarry, Elaine. “The Difficulty of Imagining Other Persons.” The Handbook of Interethnic Coexistence. Ed. Eugene Weiner. New York: Continuum Publishing, 1998. 40-62.

Sussman, Henry, Ed. Impasses of the Post-Global: Essays in Critical Climate Change. Open Humanities P, 2012.

Watts, Charlotte and Cathy Zimmerman. “Violence Against Women: Global Scope and Magnitude.” The Lancet 359 (April 6, 2002): 1232-1237. www.thelancet.com.

World Health Organization. “Violence Against Women: Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Against Women.” Fact sheet number 239. Updated September 2011. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs239/en/

[1] The locus of the critical climate change initiative is the Institute of Critical Climate Change (IC3). In a series of colloquia and workshops beginning in 2005, the IC3 has embarked on discussions that have the potential to change the way engaged intellectuals regard climate change. Two collections of their work are now available through Open Humanities Press. See, Cohen (2012) and Sussman (2012). It should be noted as well that the forthcoming issue of this journal will be dedicated to climate change.

[2] Kevin Lennox, associate fashion editor of Glamour magazine, quoted in Hanafy (2004).

[3] See Watts and Zimmerman (2002) for a good overview of global violence against women.

[4] See “Prisons: Who’s in Prison?” at the Social Issues Reference online at: http://social.jrank.org/pages/1352/Prisons.html

[5] Read more from “Prisons—Prisoner Demographics: Men” at the Social Issues Reference online: http://social.jrank.org/pages/1341/Prisons-Prisoner-Demographics-Menhtml#ixzz0SM53qUAa.

[6] The Giroux quotes are from “The Disappearance of Public Intellectuals” (2012). The Bauman quote comes from a fine article on him in The Guardian, which also includes a fine gloss on the quote: “Bauman points out that Freud’s thesis that human beings had traded freedom for security has been inverted; now we have traded security for freedom and with that freedom has come unprecedented responsibilities for the conduct of our own emotional lives and for our political participation” (Bunting 2003).

[7] See, Scarry (1998).