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Judith Butler – Frames of War: The Politics of Ungrievable Life

Public lecture presented by the Humanities and Arts Research Centre of Royal Holloway, the School of Psychosocial Studies (Birkbeck) and the Birkbeck Institute for Social Research

Professor Judith Butler

‘Frames of War’

speaker_judithbutler1Professor Butler presents from her forthcoming book from Verso, Frames of War: The Politics of Ungrievable Life. Butler explores the way that recent US-led wars have enforced a distinction between those lives that are recognized as grievable, and those that are not. Extending the argument of Precarious Life (Verso, 2004), Butler argues that process of differential grieving is enacted through media forms that have become part of the very waging of war. This situation has led to the first-world destruction and abandonment of populations who do not conform to the prevailing norm of the human. Such ungrievable populations are framed as never having been “lives” at all, and so already lost from the living from the start. Cast as threats to human life as we know it, rather than as living populations, such populations become targeted for destruction in order to protect the lives of “the living”. This disparity, Butler argues, has profound implications for why and when we feel horror, outrage, guilt, loss and righteous indifference, both in the context of war and, increasingly, everyday life. In this lecture on media – in its broadest sense – and war, Butler focuses on the question: what are the conditions under which a life can be apprehended as a life, and loss openly mourned?

Judith Butler is Maxine Elliot Professor in the Departments of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley.

Introduction by Professor Ahuvia Kahane and Professor Mandy Merck (RHUL)

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