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Butler - Precarious Life (2004) - Synopsis

Butler - Precarious Life (2004) - Synopsis

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Published by Mark K. Jensen
Synopsis of Judith Butler, Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence (London & New York: Verso Books, 2004). Discussed at Digging Deeper (www.ufppc.org) on October 29, 2007.
Synopsis of Judith Butler, Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence (London & New York: Verso Books, 2004). Discussed at Digging Deeper (www.ufppc.org) on October 29, 2007.

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Published by: Mark K. Jensen on May 28, 2009
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UFPPC (www.ufppc.org) Digging Deeper XXXVIII: October 29, 2007, 7:00 p.m.
 Judith Butler,
Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence
(London &New York: Verso Books, 2004).Acknowledgments.
GuggenheimFoundation; Princeton University Centerfor Human Values; readers.
Preface [July 2003].
Post-9/11 essays(xi-xii). Their goal is to “begin theprocess” of “imagining”“interdependency” (xii-xiii). Commentson the five essays (xiii-xviii). Reflectionson censorship and the “public sphere”(xviii-xxi).
Ch. 1: Explanation and Exoneration,or What We Can Hear.
Argues that“[o]ur collective responsibility not merelyas a nation, but as part of aninternational community based on acommitment to equality and non-violentcooperation, requires that we ask howthese conditions [that produced acts of terror] came about, and endeavor to re-create social and political conditions onmore sustaining ground” (17-18).
Ch. 2: Violence, Mourning, Politics.
A philosophical meditation on how ourunderstanding of our relation to the otheris involved in what we consider a“grievable life”; because the self isconstituted through its vulnerability tothe other, the attempt to establishmastery everywhere destroys that whichit hoped to preserve (19-49).
Ch. 3: Indefinite Detention.
[Longestpiece in the book.] Guantanamo andindefinite detention (50-51). Foucault on“governmentality,” i.e. the way powermanages populations and goods, as theway the state “vitalizes” itself (51-56).Conceptualizing U.S. government actionsin Guantanamo (56-58). Sovereignty’srelation to governmentality (58-66).“‘Indefinite detention’ is an illegitimateexercise of power” and signifies “themeans by which the exceptionalbecomes established as a naturalizednorm” (67). The justification of indefinitedetention is “not grounded in law, but inanother form of judgment” (67; 67-71).Comparison to institutionalization of thementally ill based on dangerousness (72-77). Degradation and the speech act of asserting “humane” treatment (78-82).Law seen to be an instrument of thestate, not that to which the state issubject (83-86). Limits of the GenevaConvention and the delegitimation of certain forms of violence by the label“terrorist” lead to the question of whether we will be true to our conceptionof humanity at moments of outrage andincomprehension (87-91). Butlerdenounces “civilization” as a term “thathas no place in an internationalism thattakes the universality of rights seriously”(91). The present “singularity” consistsin the indefinite extension of the “extra-legal operation of power” (92). Foucaulton governmentality again (93-97).Argues that “the present circumstance”shows that governmentality has notseparated itself from sovereignty, asFoucault claimed (97-98). Calls for “anew internationalism” that “strives forthe rights of the stateless, and for formsof self-determination that do not resolveinto capricious and cynical forms of statesovereignty” (99; 99-100).
Ch. 4: The Charge of Anti-Semitism: Jews, Israel, and the Risks of PublicCritique.
An essay refuting LarrySummers’s Sept. 2002 claim that anti-Israel positions are “anti-Semitic in theireffect if not in their intent,” insistinginstead that “Israel” and “Jews” are to bedistinguished as objects of criticism (101-27).
Ch. 5: Precarious Life.
Butler meansto defend the humanities from charges of 

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