Posts Tagged ‘The Least of All Possible Evils’

The image of the dead, the voice of the living

November 17, 2012 Comments off

We did what many others were doing. We made images and we turned the volume up too high. With any image: Vietnam. Always the same sound, always too loud, Prague, Montevideo, May ’68 in France, Italy, Chinese Cultural Revolution, strikes in Poland, torture in Spain, Ireland, Portugal, Chile, Palestine, the sound so loud that it ended up drowning out the voice that it wanted to get out of the image. Here and Elsewhere, 1976, Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville

Eyal Weizman differentiates between pedagogical violence and total or absolute violence. While the former functions linguistically where in addition to eliminating the intended targets it communicates with the  survivors, the latter is exercised to wipe out the subject completely, and/or to produce a new subject—and as such introduce a new language. Yet, the pedagogical violence functions as long as a gap between the actual and possible violence is maintained and thus it is a discursive form that manages this space that it first defines and then opens it for negotiations. The form of violence exercised by the Israeli military in Gaza belongs to the first order of violence but it is to achieve the results of the second order (one can of course imagine any form of pedagogical violence an absolute form if it is exercised systematically in a large-scale to produce new subjects. As for instance penal violence is expected to transform the subject).

The total elimination of the subject, in this case the Palestinians, is not solely a military job, but rather it is a media operation that manages and supports the military to achieve its goals. It functions on two separate layers: the image and the voice. The media simultaneously presents and distributes the mute images of Palestinian dead and wounded and the voice of Israeli officials and pundits who frame the invasion as retaliation, a response to a rocket strike by Hamas militants. The Palestinians, the victims of the mortars are revictimized in the image—the mute dead, traumatized or severely injured subject. We see dead Palestinians and hear living Israelis. The words belong to the living and the images to the dead, and as we know the dead cannot talk unless summoned from the underworld.

Violence as message

September 24, 2012 Comments off

The opposition in Syria is documenting the war from all angles and sides, creating an immense online repository of images of destruction, updated by the hour on the internet. A survey of the images from the start of the uprising in March 2011 to date show the changes in the landscape of violence and its intensification. Thomas Keenan and Eyal Weizman (see Weizman, The Least of All Possible Evils)note about the communicative, or pedagogical dimension of violence, sustained by the gap between the actual destruction inflicted by an army and the possible destruction that an army is able to apply. “It is through the constant demonstration of the existence and size of this gap that the military communicates with the people it fights and occupies,” writes Weizman, “restraint is what allows for the possibility of further escalation.” Now with this in mind, the question is how much the documentary apparatus that is capturing the violence in Syria can define and act as a measure of the aforementioned gap, and whether the production and consumption of the visual material can also develop a capacity for resistance and a threshold for intensification of violence. That is, in each phase of this conflict, the visual material have surpassed what was considered or believed as tolerable, and yet the receivers of the violence have managed to document and distribute the atrocities. It is important to note that unlike many previous contemporary conflicts, it is the receivers of the violence who are also acting as documentarians instead of the professional journalist. Thus an analysis of the visual material can help the military to adjust the forces of destruction according to the degree of tolerance exercised in the act of documentation. But yet, there is another dimension to the war and that is total destruction, and here the gap between possible and actual violence is closed, and war becomes a “total war… stripped from semiotics.” At this level, war is not about conviction of the subjects of violence, but rather about the reconstruction of the desired subject or the total annihilation of the surplus.

The visualization of violence, on the one hand creates a public arena that acts as a vessel that communicates the representation of the actual inflicted violence and thus also opens the possibility of further violence by defining a degree of tolerance in production and viewership. The image constantly reconstitutes the subject that the violence attempts to erase. But yet through this dialectical relationship between violence and the image, a different subject is created. This subject is different from one of representational politics where the constitution or existence of the subject is contingent upon its representation. This visualized [undefined] subject is no longer completely the subject that it used to be (before reception of violence), and neither is the new subject that the inflictors of violence intend to construct. This subject is an a-historical one, existing as an image that defines the limits of representation.