On Violence is an annual publication which explores the problem of violence by providing a dedicated intellectual and creative space for cutting-edge mediations & critical reflections. It is not aiming to be a conventional academic journal in any stylistic sense; instead it prefers trans-disciplinary interventions that openly challenge orthodox modes of thinking, presentation and form. While each contribution is considered by our editorial team based on its originality and critical engagement, the journal also aims to rethink the very terms in which violence is framed and perpetuated – not least, the forced hierarchy and regimented disciplines imposed upon publication regimes that wage their own particular forms of intellectual violence against those who refuse to “play the game”. As such, the journal particularly welcomes and invites academic papers/reflections, testimonies, photo-essays, artistic reviews/commentaries, short stories & plays, documented performances & poetry, along with interviews/discussions which offer a rigorous critique of violence in its multiple forms.
Edition no. 1 contents to include: “The Dignity of Non-Violence” by Todd May; “The Remains of the Day” by Brian Massumi; “Violence Against Violence” by Saul Newman; “No Magic Bullets” by Nancy Scheper-Hughes; “Theater of Mayhem” by John Steppling; “Unjust Justice” by Lewis Gordon; “Addicted to Violence” by Henry A. Giroux; “Violence, Truth & Courage” by Michael Dillon”; “Combat & Combat” by Cynthia Enloe; & “An Open Letter to Immanuel Kant” by Julian Reid.
Cover image: Gottfried Helnwein, Disasters of War No. 24
Violence is a complex phenomenon that defies neat description. It cannot be reduced to simple explanations, for as many of its victims tell, there is no totalizing truth about violence. Nor can the experience of violence be universalized or merely thought of in terms of some institutional breakdown or failure of State. Not only do the most abhorrent acts of violence seemingly happen when the state system works all too well; to speak of violence in such terms denies the personal account or at least renders insignificant what we may term the subjective stakes to the horrifying encounter. The “subject of violence” is always about violent and violated subjects. Violence then is not some objective condition or natural state of affairs. It is a process that all too often appears to be reasoned and brutally calculated. To begin theorizing and critiquing violence as such is to accept that the very form of the enquiry we have chosen to engage enters us into the most dangerous and politically fraught terrain. Violence never is a problem to be studied in some objective or neutral fashion. It brings to the fore most clearly the realization that education and critical pedagogy are by definition forms of political intervention. In light of this, we can argue that a critique of violence is not a challenge that should be avoided; on the contrary, it is the ethical problem that compels us to challenge all its multiple forms.
The concept of violence is not taken lightly here. Violence remains poorly understood if it is accounted for simply in terms of how and what it violates, the scale of its destructiveness, or any other element of its annihilative power. Intellectual violence is no exception as its qualities point to a deadly and destructive conceptual terrain. Like all violence there are two sides to this relation. There is the annihilative power of nihilistic thought that seeks, through strategies of domination and practices of terminal exclusion, to close down the political as a site for differences. Such violence often appeals to the authority of a peaceful settlement, though it does so in a way that imposes a distinct moral image of thought which already maps out what is reasonable to think, speak, and act. Since the means and ends are already set out in advance, the discursive frame is never brought into critical question. And there is an affirmative counter that directly challenges authoritarian violence. Such affirmation refuses to accept the parameters of the rehearsed orthodoxy. It brings into question that which is not ordinarily questioned in any given state of political affairs. Foregrounding the life of the subject as key to understanding political deliberation, it eschews intellectual dogmatism with a commitment to the open possibilities in thought.
Hannah Arendt then was only partly correct when she famously contrasted violence with power. We may quite rightly accept her claim that people often resort to violence when power fails them. This is just as true for leaders of tyrannical States which are frequently shown to be powerless and impotent all the while they violently crush popular protest, as it is for those on the margins of existence who feel that all forms of empowerment have been denied and willfully suppressed. And yet as Michel Foucault would have argued, power without conflict is a misnomer for without the capacity to resist there is no potential to create the world anew. Not only are conflict and violence strategically different as it is possible to have the former in a way that challenges the latter. What is violence if it is not the attempt to destroy something that refuses to conform to the oppressive model/standard?
So rather than countering violence with a “purer violence” (discursive or otherwise) there is a need, especially in the contemporary moment, for us to maintain the language of critical pedagogy. That is a language that is necessarily conflictual and yet collaborative by definition. By criticality we may insist upon forms of thought which do not have war or violence as its object. If there is destruction, this is only apparent when the affirmative is denied. And by criticality we may also insist upon forms of thought that do not offer their intellectual soul to the seductions of militarized power and the poverty of its political visions. Too often we find that while the critical gestures towards profane illumination; it is really the beginning of a violence that amounts to a death sentence for critical thought.
Perhaps the most difficult task faced today is to avoid the false promises of violence and demand a politics that is dignified and open to the possibility of non-violent ways of living. This demands new ways of thinking about and interrogating violence such that the value of critical thought becomes central to any mediation on global citizenry. As we all increasingly find ourselves in a position where the radical and the fundamental have been merged to denial of anything that may challenge the violent effects of contemporary regimes of control, the inevitable assault upon the university and all intellectual spheres continues with unrelenting force. This is not incidental to the violence of our times. It is one of its more pernicious manifestations. Our response, as the authors in this inaugural edition make clear, must be to counter this violence with a commitment to the value of criticality and public education. Hopefully “On Violence” will provide a modest counter to those who insist that violence may be reasoned for the greater good. Without this hope that the world may be transformed non-violently for the better, the fight for dignity is already lost.
Brad Evans (2013)
Guide for Contributors
Please note that we do not accept unsolicited submissions. If you would like to discuss an idea for consideration please contact us with brief overview. Submit with the header “On Violence” to: firstname.lastname@example.org