Joseph Sverker's Reviews > Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable?

Frames of War by Judith Butler
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's review
Jul 27, 2011

bookshelves: phd-related, philosophy
Read from September 03 to 11, 2014

2014: Judith Butler picks up some threads from Precarious Life when writing this book and views it almost as a sequel to it. This is a development of the thought of life as being precarious and vulnerable and the political and ethical consequences of that thought in relation to war and violence. Butler points out that it is the frames of war that decides how the war is being viewed in terms of justified or not justified. It is how the war is framed that then is of interest to Butler. So she tries to analyse what the different frames of war might say about for example America's war on terror. And there is much of interest here and possible some things that might be provocative. However, mostly in an American context I would think.

I like the way Butler uses Sontag in terms of understanding pictures of violence. Butler is largely appreciative to Sontag's writing on photography and violence. However, Butler critique's Sontag in the idea that pictures would need text or some sort of context in order to have meaning. Butler argues instead that photos can carry a meaning without words. On the other hand, this seems to be contradicted by Butler's own careful contextual framing of the photos of torture from the Abu Ghraib. It seems to me that maybe photos can carry som meaning in and of themselves, but that meaning is very quickly overridden whenever some information or "facts" are revealed about the photo. If, for example, the photos on the torture in the Abu Ghraib prison turns out to be completely staged, an artist for example wanting to portray American cultural imperialism, then of course, that would turn the way we understand these photos completely on its head. I think that is more what Sontag means when she says that photos need texts in order to be understood.

Butler has, at times, been critique for not writing about race and norms for example. However, in this book Butler actually takes up the issue of racism in chapter 3. Butler does point out, however, that she is hesitant to list and arrange different factors of identity such as gender, race, sexuality since they so easily becomes pulled out and separated from each other. Butler argues instead that it is not possible to understand a person from simply one perspective such as religion for example. Butler analyses the statement that Islam would be homophobic as a religion, but what does that say about the individual Muslim? Is that Muslim supposed to be understood simply for h/her alleged homophobia (which that person might not even "have"). This also means, for Butler, that an idea of modernity and progression that is turned against the non-Modern, non-progressive Islam easily turns into racism. Butler is interested in maintaining the diversity that makes up the "I" and not see it as different categories that are fighting to become that "I". Rather the "I" for Butler is those relations in a continuous now, I think.

There is more to be said about this book and much food for thought. It might not be the most essential Butler book, or the one to start with necessarily, but it is worthwhile reading, particularly for the thoughts on photography, torture, modernism and non-violence.

2010: This is an interesting and thought provoking book. I particularly like the idea that she develops from Precarious Life about being connected with people you don't necessarily want to be connected to. I disagree with her on the idea of non-violence not being a principle, but a call. I think it can be a principle and can work as such. Having said this, I think some of her other books are more insightful and probes deeper. This is a worthwhile read though!

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09/03/2014 marked as: currently-reading
09/11/2014 marked as: read

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