Grievable lives

“What makes for a grievable life?” Butler begins with this in “Violence, Mourning, Politics” as a question situated in Western cultural discourse, quoting Freud and his ideas of mourning and how it can be productive—but then builds on it through a discussion of the body, gender, and politics, to also unveil how sometimes the way that we grieve erases an other. When Butler asks, “Is there something to be learned about the geopolitical distribution of corporeal vulnerability from our own brief and devastating exposure to this condition?” (29) Butler is not saying that this kind of tragedy should be placed into a hierarchy, but this reminder that all of our bodies are vulnerable to loss and violence could also shed light on how this violence is unfairly distributed across the globe.

That is something that I think could be productive, if it constitutes mourning or if it doesn’t: how will this particular attack shape the way that corporeal vulnerability will be restricted to certain persons in the near future? We’ve already heard from Hollande that France is at war, which we can assume will be even more involvement in attacks against ISIS (i.e., in not France). But another source said that he’s proposed an additional 5,000 positions to the national paramilitary force in the next few years as well, maybe to patrol the migrants and refugees who might be in France. Are stateless lives grievable too?

Second: Chantal brought up a really interesting point about how the French flag is the only filter on Facebook. I think it goes along with what Butler said about how grieving in public discourse is selective: that FB is acting much like how the San Francisco Chronicle acted in not posting memorials for Palestinian victims in its newspaper (because the SF Chronicle didn’t want to offend “anybody”). This subtle, under-the-table decision on who is grievable and who is not happens all the time, and I think it contributes to the major problem of the media presenting the “Western” world as invulnerable. But I mean, it also nationalizes and politicizes our grief by making the flag (of all things) the symbol for a so-called international community of support. As Butler says in “Mourning Becomes the Law”: “Mourning seems fully restricted within the national frame.” This would be an even further literalization of that, because it means that even our digital lives can only be grievable along national lines. What if we had the opportunity to have flags for other countries? That’s such a provoking question. I’m not sure if any of my immediate social circles would change. My guess is that if we did have that opportunity, we’d see that our type of mourning is too often too selective, to the point of being dangerous. As Butler says, “at what cost do I establish the familiar as the criterion by which a human life is grievable?” (38) Not sure I can answer that rhetorical question, but perhaps the erasure of certain groups of people, to start.

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