Through a series of penetrating conversations originally published in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Review of Books, Brad Evans and Natasha Lennard talk with a wide range of cutting edge thinkers--including Oliver Stone, Simon Critchley, and Elaine Scarry--to explore the problem of violence in everyday life, politics, culture, media, language, memory, and the environment. "To bring out the best of us," writes Evans, "we have to confront the worst of what humans are capable of doing to one another. In short, there is a need to confront the intolerable realities of violence in this world."
These lively, in-depth exchanges among historians, theorists, and artists offer a timely and bracing look at how the increasing expression and acceptance of violence--in all strata of society--has become a defining feature of our times.
"Many of us live today with a pervasive sense of unease, worried that our own safety is at risk, or that of our loved ones, or that of people whose bad circumstances appear to us through networked media. Violence feels ever-present. Natasha Lennard and Brad Evans help us to analyze those feelings, talking with a wide range of thinkers in order to gain insight into the worst of what humans do, and challenging us to imagine a world in which violence is no longer a given. Their book is full of surprising insights and intelligent compassion."--Sarah Leonard, co-editor of The Future We Want: Radical Ideas for the New Century
"In Violence, Brad Evans and Natasha Lennard have created, alongside their interview subjects, a kaleidoscopic exploration of the concept of violence, in terrains expected and not, in prose taut and unexpectedly gorgeous. Their philosophical rigor provides the reader with an intellectual arsenal against the violence of the current moment."--Molly Crabapple, author of Drawing Blood
"We would be wise to read this collection with a similar eye toward service, and in so doing, open ourselves up to the rare mercy of no longer having to stand on our own."--Alana Massey, author of All The Lives I Want
"The range of interviews with leading academics, to filmmakers and artists, is impressive, at once immediate and relevant, but also profoundly philosophical. More essentially, though, the conversations underline the need and suggest ways to resist and organize in a visionary way, in the extraordinary times we live in."--Razia Iqbal, BBC News
"Notable contemporary thinkers and creators give their individual perspectives in this compelling look at violence. . . . A provocative volume that challenges humanity to correct its runaway course toward an increasingly violent future by learning from its violent past."--Kirkus Reviews
"The purpose of the work is to challenge humanity to create more meaningful solutions when it comes to these kinds of violence--or at least to name violence without inadvertently inciting even more anger. . . . passion roars through every chapter . . . This book delivers on what it promises, which is an achievement. "--Alison Gately, The Los Angeles Review of Books
"If you wish to read the intellectualization of violence, Violence is a phenomenal anthology. . . . Brad Evans and Natasha Lennard, the interviewers and the 'authors' of the anthology, have done a remarkable job in bringing together perceptive and intelligent contributors from various fields to scout the reaches of violence. Their piercing questions brought out brilliant responses from the interviewees."--L. Ali Khan, New York Journal of Books
"Violence: Humans in Dark Times is an intriguing beginning to a much-needed sustained intellectual and aesthetic response to the horrors of modern times."—Zoe Vorsino
Violence: Humans in Dark Times
Humans in Dark Times: An Introduction by Brad Evans & Natasha Lennard
- This is an introduction to the many forms of violence to be discussed in this anthology. Brad Evans and Natasha Lennard assert that it is of utmost importance to develop an engaged critique of violence. Violence is more than something abstract or theoretical, they say; it is a concrete violation of what it means to be human, “an attack upon a person's dignity, their sense of selfhood, and their future. It is nothing less than the desecration of one's position in the world….” Evans’ and Lennard’s goal with this anthology is to set in motion conversations between various actors and agencies of the intellectual and creative world in order to think about and develop an adequate critique of violence.
Thinking Against Violence: Natasha Lennard & Brad Evans
Natasha Lennard and Brad discuss the ubiquity of violence. Violence, says Evans, is the defining organizational principle for contemporary societies; they are structured around it. It matters less whether we are actual victims of violence, since we live in fear of it, and this rules the way we function. Evans goes on to discuss two types of violence — the subtle, in which “disposable” populations experience continued and widespread suffering and are, for the most part, forgotten; and the spectacle, in which real events and cultural productions alike receive massive amounts of attention. Spectacular violence can end up prioritizing certain forms of suffering, which Evans believes is highly unethical. Violence is not merely the physical or even the psychological; it can take multiple forms, and it extends to extreme neglect and preventable suffering. Thus, it is important for us to dig deeper than
- individual events and understand the systemic and human dimensions of violence.
Theater of Violence: Brad Evans & Simon Critchley
- This conversation focuses on the “direct” or physical form of violence. Critchley asserts that violence is never an isolated act that breaks a continuum of nonviolence; it is instead part of a historical cycle of violence and counter-violence. Belief in a right and a wrong legitimizes violence, turns justice into revenge. This is where theater, namely tragedy, helps. Ancient tragedy allowed Greeks to see their roles in the context of a history of violence. Shakespeare’s work showed the complexity of vengeance and the sequence of events that can lead to it. Evans and Critchley refer to sport as a type of theatrical violence, violence “refined and elevated,” and an example of how violence can be both "made spectacular and harnessed for nonviolent ends," that is, spectators experience the excitement of violence without its repercussions. This potential for nonviolence can also be found, Critchley says, in art, as it offers an account of violence alongside the possibility of its suspension.
The Perils of Being a Black Philosopher: Brad Evans & George Yancy
George Yancy’s race-centered argument is that discursive violence is just as powerful as physical violence, that insults and slurs are just as effective in causing injury. The violence against black people, perpetuated under white supremacy, is historical and systemic. Black people live with the understanding that they are finite; even within the everyday, their lives are threatened (example: police brutality). The black body and other bodies of color are disposable. Yancy says that a movement beyond the civil rights movement, one that will shake the country to the core, is needed. The interview ends with Yancy addressing the issue of complicity —in order to
- truly overcome violence, we must also expose the types of violence that are not necessarily visible, the violence that quietly surrounds us every day.
The Refugee Crisis is Humanity’s Crisis: Brad Evans & Zygmunt Bauman
- Zygmunt Bauman’s interview focuses on refugee crises.He says that in the middle of the 20th century, the logic of migration changed; it has since become dissociated from the concept of conquest of new lands. While the act of migration used to consist of Europe’s redundant populations being unloaded onto less developed land, contemporary refugees, who are fleeing both physical and economic forms of violence, risk their lives only to arrive to countries that prioritize “internal security” over their safety. These refugees are stateless in a world that prioritizes citizenship, thus afforded no rights. According to Bauman, the figure of the refugee reveals the globalized nature of power and violence. Our nation-states, he says, are not suited for global interdependence, as they are too exclusive and competitive.
Our Crime Against the Planet, and Ourselves: Natasha Lennard & Adrian Parr
Climate degradation is a form of violence. In Adrian Parr’s words, it is injustice being perpetrated against multiple communities: ecosystems, other species, future generations, and, other human beings. Those who benefit most from environmental damage, such as fossil fuel corporations, would like us to think that we are all equally guilty of the harm being inflicted on our planet, but the truth of the matter is that our individual environmental footprints are nowhere near as large as theirs. If this arrangement continues, there will be a gratuitous loss of life both in the present and in the future. According to Parr, this problem cannot be properly challenged within our neoliberal
- capitalist system, since capitalism what has caused it. Parr says there are currently two dominant approaches to solutions: (1) to mediate capitalism or (2) to work outside of the system to resist it — both of these approaches end up reinforcing capitalism. Parr believes the correct approach is to connect these conflicting models to create a new solidarity of continuous change.
The Violence of Forgetting: Brad Evans & Henry A. Giroux
- This conversation with Henry A. Giroux concerns intellectual forms of violence. According to Giroux, ignorance is a defining feature of American political and cultural life today. There exists a refusal to acknowledge the violence of the past, which has disastrous political implications: weaponized ignorance leads to tragic inevitabilities. We need education beyond formal education, a better use of our society’s popular culture and media, which are just as relevant in shaping public thought. There is no genuine democracy without an informed public. Giroux addresses two problems with academia: (1) The notion of safe spaces lies in direct opposition to the notion that learning must be unsettling, that students should challenge common-sense assumptions despite discomfort; (2) "Gated intellectuals" sit in ivory towers and fail to involve themselves with social issues. Higher education has succumbed to official power and is losing its democratic roots. The rights of students should be the priority of any educational system.
When Law is Not Justice: Brad Evans & Gayatri Chakravorti Spivak
Chakravorti Spivak asserts that law is not equivalent to justice, and it is not enough to assure resistance to oppression. We cannot categorically deny people the right to resist violence, as resistance is sometimes the only response left. When human beings are devalued and their oppression is enforced by a higher authority, they are left with one identity — one of
- Ironically, the violence of the oppressed is widely seen as “unreasonable,” while state violence is accepted and justified.
What Protest Looks Like: Natasha Lennard & Nicholas Mirzoeff
- According to Nicholas Mirzoeff, defining violence as a personal choice hides systemic, structural violence, such as poverty and racism. It legitimates the state in its use of violence and casts all other perpetrators as traitors to the state. The term "violence" itself signifies moral and political failings by the people. The conversation then moves to the power of images in inciting protest. Images have a fleeting nature, and thus it is the resultant collective action, carried out in the name of creating new politics of appearance, that can affect change.
Who is “Evil” & Who is the Victim: Brad Evans & Simona Forti
- This interview addresses the absolutism behind the good-evil dichotomy. In casting one party as “evil” and another as the “victim,” we gain a moral high ground but not much else. It is a superficial designation that lacks nuance. Over the years, the identity of victim has gained respect, and has even become subject to competition, i.e., Who is the most victimized? This lacks nuance, and can be a form of absolving oneself from the possibility of being a perpetrator of violence and oppression. It is important to think beyond the labels of good and evil, as everyone is responsible for their actions, whether they are victims of violence or not.
Art in a Time of Atrocity: Brad Evans & Bracha L. Ettinger
Bracha L. Ettinger discusses the critical role of art in addressing violence, asserting that art “adds an ethical quality to the act of witnessing.” For Ettinger, art is more than aesthetics and technique; it is a chance for viewers to face violence, to feel emotion around violence. As those who bore witness to violent
- events first-hand disappear, art can convey a piece of their stories for them; it “invents a memory for the future,” making that which is not usually seen intimately visible. The subject matter is more than just a representation. It is a passageway to the viewer and hopefully, it incites action against and resistance to violence.
Is Humanism Really Humane? Natasha Lennard & Cary Wolfe
- Cary Wolfe discuses “posthumanism” in this interview, a concept that decenters the human in relation to the world. It dissolves the human-animal dichotomy and allows for a more complex understanding of organisms and nature in relation to one another. Wolfe’s work purports that humanism is inherently violent towards non-humans, as it privileges a certain type and amount of knowledge and intelligence over others. Wolfe believes that all life should be valued simply on the basis that it exists. The posthumanist argument can be extended to human rights as well, since it also provides no basis for identity or ability-based discrimination. There is no ideological room to classify anyone or thing as a “lower” or more “primitive” life form.
The Intellectual Life of Violence: Brad Evans & Richard Bernstein
- This conversation affirms the legitimacy of non-physical violence, such as forms of violence that involve humiliation and suffering. Historical understanding and political action, successful or not, are crucial in exposing this kind of violence. While Bernstein does not believe that violence will ever disappear, this does not negate the importance and value of resistance to it.
The Violence of Love: Natasha Lennard & Moira Weigel
Moira Weigel addresses the violence embedded in the traditional understanding of love. While love is popularly
- regarded as a spontaneous and self-evident occurrence, such an understanding ignores all of the intention and labor behind love and robs us of our agency. Women are especially exploited by this understanding, as they are seen as inherently nurturing and loving. This passive designation is dehumanizing. Women’s labor is largely taken for granted and ignored, both in romantic and maternal arrangements. Breaking with traditional notions of love frees the individual and the family unit, allowing space for new possibilities.
Violence - The Director’s Eye: Brad Evans & Oliver Stone
- Oliver Stone looks at the role that films play in portraying violence and injustice. He discusses the tendency of film makers to glamorize war, highlighting the valor and respectability of soldiers while hiding the ugly realities of death and suffering. In the United States, an unhealthy culture of excitement surrounds the act of war, and the result is a society that is severely undereducated about war’s realities -- the destruction it causes, and the lives lost. Stone argues that violence, when portrayed in film, must not force the viewer to look away from the screen but must instead bring them into engagement with it.
Confronting the Intolerable: Brad Evans & Gottfried Helnwein
- Gottfriend Helnwein underscores the importance of history, and art’s role in portraying it. In his own art, Helnwein attempts an intimate communication of socially relevant events that society does not normally acknowledge. His work centers on the wounded child, an oppression that has universal resonance. For him, art has a meaning beyond aesthetic; if it elicits an emotional response from his viewers, regardless of cultural, ethnic, or educational background, he has accomplished his goal. He sees artists, thinkers, and writers as the social agents most capable of resisting tyranny and oppression
Violence is the Present Condition: Brad Evans & Alfredo Jaar
- Alfredo Jaar is an architect-artist whose focus is on representing various forms of violence. While violence is not his specialty, he believes it is our society’s present condition, thus, as an artist he has an obligation to portray it. He is especially sensitive to those who are dying invisibly by America’s hand; these deaths go unacknowledged by the American public, and so when the States face an attack, people are indignant and outraged. Jaar struggles with the balance between information and spectacle. His goal is to convey atrocity in a manner that will educate viewers, above all..
Songs in the Key of Revolution: Brad Evans & Neo Muyanga
- Neo Muyanga is interested in the power of revolutionary song. Revolutionary songs and chants are not particularly complicated or dependent on the skill of the person reciting them; instead, it is the power of unity, of chanting as one, that makes them effective. Muyanga believes that the power of a revolutionary song can be determined by its ability to stand the test of time. Those that are most effective are not written against a specific set of oppressors; rather, they are written to challenge a system at large.
Literary Violence: Brad Evans & Tom McCarthy
- Tom McCarthy discuss the role of violence in the literary tradition. He talks about the false dichotomy of “fiction” vs “reality,” in which fiction is understood as something that untrue He argues against this, saying that fiction is instead a delay or shift. He also talks about the idea of literature existing as a “shared or consensual hallucination,” in which the act of witnessing becomes possible.
Landscapes of Violence: Brad Evans & John Akomfrah
- John Akomfrah is an artist and filmmaker who focuses on the relationship between the aesthetic and the political. He sees art as a dialogue or conversation with the outside world about its violence and other shortcomings. Much of his work includes the recycling of archival footage and other artifacts, which plays into his recurring theme of blurring the lines between past and present, of producing work that is “against amnesia.” He places great value on memory, on keeping the past alive, and sees it as a necessary component in challenging violence.
Violence to Thought: Brad Evans & David Theo Goldberg
- In this interview, David Theo Goldberg explains how critique and intellectualism can perpetuate violence. While it may not be malicious in intent, critique is still a dismissive act that can move people to abandon worthwhile ideas. Intellectualism, too, can further violent motives by giving them credibility.
Critique of Violence: Brad Evans & Michael J. Shapiro
- Michael J. Shapiro discusses the benefits of art as a medium. Unlike television, art is not constantly changing, nor does it turn events into commodities to be consumed by mass audiences for profit. Instead, it allows for long and analytical periods of engagement. Cinema, too, has its merits. It allows for a multiplicity of landscapes, narratives, and perspectives. which can elicit a collective understanding of the human condition rather than an individual one.
Neuro-Diversity & the Policing of the Norm: Brad Evans & Erin Manning
Erin Manning challenges the criteria that determine what it means “to be human, to be intelligent, to be of value to society.” Such criteria tend to exclude people who are not “neurotypical,” such as those who are autistic, from things like education and even everyday social and economic life. People
- with autism think differently from people without it; they organize their experiences differently, but that does not mean that they are any less human or capable. Society caters to individuals of a certain neurological ability when it should be catering to a spectrum of individuals of diverse neurological abilities.
Living with Disappearance: Brad Evans & Allen Feldman
- This interview with Allen Feldman involves the violence of disappearing and forgetting. It brings into question the gaze of those who commit violence. In many cases, people in positions of power and authority will create visual fictions for themselves in order to justify whatever violence they have inflicted on their victims. This exists on both a smaller, interpersonal scale as well as a larger, structural one. In the case of forced disappearances, in which not only are persons abducted, but the abduction itself is also erased, Feldman addresses the problematic nature of memorializing disappeared persons, as he feels it perpetuates the violence it is trying to correct.
Against Violence, Queer Failure: Natasha Lennard & J. Jack Halberstram
- The conversation with J. Jack Halberstram begins with a discussion of safe spaces. Halberstram believes that these spaces are desired by students simply because the spaces they currently have access to are toxic and not conducive to learning. The conversation then moves onto LGBT issues -- the commodification of queer folks by politicians, the politics of bathroom policing, as well as a larger discussion about transgender identity, and the substantial role that class and race play in the violence that trans people experience.
Operatic Violence: Brad Evans & Christopher Alden
- Christopher Alden discusses the role that opera plays in a theoretical and conceptual understanding of violence. Opera is a form of deeply meaningful storytelling, and, according to Alden, it has a subversive side. The vocal aspect of opera, he says, affects us in a “uniquely visceral” way, “tap[ping] into the raw energy of human emotion.” While opera has traditionally beautified violence, Alden stresses its ugliness and brutality, which he feels adds a dark layer to its musical component. Alden feels that opera’s poetic nature creates an atmosphere that allows for introspection and rumination, not only on the beauty of the human condition, but also the violence of it.
Affect, Power, Violence—The Political is Not Personal: Brad Evans & Brian Massumi
- Brian Massumi talks about the power to affect and be affected. It is a relational understanding of existence, which can only be expressed in the presence of other bodies and elements of an environment. The power of affect grounds the political in reality, allows for it be to felt. One can think about violence within this framework in two ways: (1) To define violence as a power-over, not a power-to. This means understanding that violence can exist within itself; it needs no outside force to enact it; (2) To think of violence as something that is particular and intentional, never general.
Violence in Porn—It’s Not What You Think: Natasha Lennard & Mickey Mod
In this interview, adult performer Mickey Mod talks about the ways in which porn is understood by society. He refutes the fixed association between pornography and violence, asserting that pornography, like any other medium, has both the space to be ethical and productive and the space to be violent. When pornography is so heavily stigmatized, it makes it difficult for workers to speak up about any potentially violent or unsafe
- Mod also ties this in with the eroticization of labor, where one is expected to love their job. In sex work, this results in a double standard, where sex workers are either expected to be traumatized by their work or to love it. There is also the issue of ethical consumption of porn. Most viewers are not exposed to the external aspects its creation, such as consent and safety discussions,and this lack of context can further dehumanize sex work.
The Violence of Art: Brad Evans & Jake Chapman
- Jake Chapman states that the creation of art can be inherently violent because it is a form of human domination of an already-existing narrative. Chapman draws a lot of inspiration from Spanish artist Francisco Goya, and especially appreciates his depiction of the body against the backdrop of violence.
The Intimate Life of Violence: Brad Evans & Elaine Scarry
Elaine Scarry talks about torture in the United States. Interrogators have extreme power over their victims. Not only do they use tools to inflict pain; the entire room is part of the torture experience, an effort to minimize the humanity of the victim and cast the torture space as their only reality. Scarry also addresses the problematic nature of the United States’ rhetoric about nuclear weapons: while it is the United States (and Russia) who possess the largest quantity of weapons of mass destruction, other countries are vilified. In closing Scarry talks about the value of work being done in the humanities and education, and its role in creating a better world
"In their introduction to this serious and highly ethical resource, editors Brad Evans and Natasha Lennard see themselves charting the legacies of war and suffering, challenging abuses of power in all their oppressive forms, and mustering sustained intellectual engagement to counter violence."—Spirituality & Practice Book Review
"A timely, eloquent series of interviews that interrogate the correlation of violence with gender discrimination, white intolerance, unilateral state power, politics, art and climate change."—Shelley Walia, Frontline