Judith Bulter Precarious Life

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JuditPRECARIOUS LIFE
THE POWERS OF MOURNING AND VIOLENCE


JUDITH BUTLER

VERSO
London • New York

First published by Verso 1004 © judith Butler 1004 All rights reserved The moral rights of the author have been assened I

3 j 7 9 10 8 6 4 l

Verso UK: 6 Meard Street, London WIF oEG USA: 180 Varick S1reet, New York, NY 10014-4600 www. versobooks.com Verso is the imprint of New Left Books

British. Lihrary Cataloguing in Puhlication Data Butler, judith P. Precarious life: the powers of mourning and violence 1. War on Terrorism, 2.001 - Moral and ethical aspects 1. Violence - Political aspects- United States 3· Nationalism- United States 4· Mass media and public opinion- United States j. United States- Foreign relations- liSt century I. Title 303.6'15 ISBN 1844670058

Lihrary of Congress Cataloging-in-Puhlication Data Butler, judith. Precarious life: the powers of mourning and violence I Judith Butler. p.cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 1-84467-0j-8 (hardback: alk. paper) 1. War on Terrorism, 1001 - Moral and ethical aspects. 1. Violence - Political aspects- United States. 3· Nationalism- United States. 4· Mass media and public opinion- United States. j. United States- Foreign relations- liSt century. I. Title. HV6432..B88 zoo3 303.6--dcn 2.00J02.J744 Typeset in Fournier Printed in the US by R. R. Donnelley & Sons

For Isaac, who imagines otherwise

CONTENTS

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS PREFACE

IX

xi

1

EXPLANATION AND EXONERATION, OR WHAT WE CAN HEAR

2
3

VIOLENCE, MOURNING, POLITICS INDEFINITE DETENTION THE CHARGE OF ANTI-SEMITISM: JEWS, ISRAEL AND THE RISKS OF PUBLIC CRITIQUE

19 50 101
128

4 5

PRECARIOUS LIFE NOTES INDEX

15) 163

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I am grateful to the Guggenheim Foundation and the Princeton University Center for Human Values for funding the 2om-o2 academic year when work on these essays began. I also thank Amy J amgochian for her patient and thorough work on the manuscript and Benjamin Young and Stuart Murray for their helpful work. Wendy Brown and Joan Scott read many of these words, and their extraordinary persistence as vigorous interlocutors has been crucial to the completing of this work. "Explanation and Exoneration" appeared first in Theory and Event, ;:4, and was reprinted in Social Text, no. 72. "Violence, Mourning, Politics" appeared first in Studies in Gender and Sexuality, 4:r, and represents a reworked version of the Kessler Lecture delivered in December, 2oor at the Center of Lesbian and Gay Studies at CUNY. "Indefinite Detention" appeared first in a reduced form in Victor

X

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Goldberg, ed., It's a Free Country: Personal Liherties after 9/n, New York: RMD Press, 2002; an earlier version appeared in part as "Guantanamo Limbo," in the Nation, April I, 2002. "The Charge of Anti-Semitism" was published in reduced form by the London Review of Books, August 21, 2003.

PREFACE

The five essays collected here were all written after September u, 2.001, and in response to the conditions of heightened vulnerability and aggression that followed from those events. It was my sense in the fall of 2.001 that the United States was missing an opportunity to redefine itself as part of a global community when, instead, it heightened nationalist discourse, extended surveillance mechanisms, suspended constitutional rights, and developed forms of explicit and implicit censorship. These events led public intellectuals to waver in their public commitment to principles of justice and prompted journalists to take leave of the time-honored tradition of investigative journalism. That US boundaries were breached, that an unbearable vulnerability was exposed, that a terrible toll on human life was taken, were, and are, cause for fear and for mourning; they are also instigations for patient political reflection. These events

XII

PREFACE

posed the question, implicitly at least, as to what form political reflection...
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