Monday, March 19, 2018

A Reflection on Dispossession:The Performative in the Political by Judith Butler and Athena Athanasiou and Terrorist Assemblages by Jasbir K. Puar

As part of a larger discourse on how hospitality can engage biopolitics, this reflection will engage Judith Butler and Athena Athanasiou's Dispossession: The Performative in the Political  and Jasbir K. Puar's book, Terrorist Assemblages.

Dispossession is movement and a limitation of space of the other at the hands of a biopolitics which commodifies for the sake of profit and progress, writing here of western perspectives and concepts of empire. It is the beginning of terrorism as it struggles, as an appropriate response, to the sodomization of communities terrorized.  

From the beginning, Athena Athanasiou, in conversation with Judith Butler, says that dispossession is a troubling concept.[1] One must sit with this carefully with intention mindful that dispossession is a logical even rational performance within a discourse on materiality. Materiality, experienced as a moving force of progress becomes the embodiment of capitalism and empire. It is within this construct that one’s humanity, as a performative endeavor of the soul, becomes dispossessed. Dispossession, a causal of commodification, affects the humanity of those oppressed as well as the oppressor. So, dispossession is not only physical territory, it is also a dispossession of one’s humanity.

That said, it is as the one who’s humanity has been raped from their soul which becomes a reaction to the penetration which seeds certain and unavoidable contempt for many, not all western perspectives. I reflect on friends lost on 9/11 at the hands of people who became terrorist to react to American foreign policy.  In this context the terrorist was the precariat, they were the disposable, as they struggled against the forces of American empire.  To a large extent I suggest that the terrorist is the victim, a person seeking to hold on to whatever humanity they have in the face of so called progress and the primacy of economy necessary to maintain such as illusion. In the face of empire and an ignorance which dispossesses, they are a non-person, a non-entity.  The are a body dispossessed.

The question posed by a body dispossessed is, “How many times must it be raped and how long?”  In the face of American foreign policy, the terrorist says, in their queer performative way, our bodies matter. Perhaps I am off base with this thought, yet it is the sacrifice, in this instance, that draws attention to the plight of the black and brown body.  Yet, to be seen, as a black or brown body, opens those bodies to profiling and discriminatory practices for the sake of a narrative of white sensibilities and their fragility.  Metal detectors, TSA, ICE, DACA, and cameras, etc. are, to a large extent, reactions of this narrative with a sub-discourse of safety, roots of outrageous arguments, at least to this writer, on the second amendment. American foreign policy as an extension of whiteness and its ascendancy[2], a resurgence in the face of globalization, inclusive of its imagination dispossesses for the sake of its sensibilities and fragility.  Puar’s inclusion of Chow[3] begs the question, “Who or what is terrorizing?  

Dispossession is a radical dismembering of identity with implications toward fracturing. It is at times deadly, a reality of the body with implications to the psyche and the soul. I reflect here on the histories of genocide, enslavement, colonization, apartheid and Japanese Internment, capitalist alienation[4], to name just a few. Dispossession is movement and this movement, regardless of limitation, is a performance compelled by neoliberal ideology and its economy[5], performing as a narrative agent of white desire. Considering the compelling, the terrorist would seem to be performing a peculiar yet necessary type of protest, rooted in religious and social responsibility.  The terrorist is subversive, they are a precariat, representing a community of vulnerable dispossessed bodies foreign as well as domestic. They are a consequence of U.S. exceptionalism, a product of white desire.  Of course, there are different types of terrorists and terrorisms depending on the contextual injustice. There are those for example like the 9/11 terrorist and Palestinians living under Israeli apartheid supported by a U.S. foreign policy.  

I receive these terrorist, reminiscent of Che Guevara, the Black Panthers, and many other freedom fighters, as a vivid and profound reaction to the rape of bodies foreign and domestic. Taking terrorism to a more intimate space, those who deny control or detention of their humanity, as a space of performativity, this in a political sense, to the narrative of U.S. exceptionalism, would be considered terrorist as they terrorize a people produced by and through Foucault’s biopolitics, which emerges as a regulatory regime for the normalization of a society. There is a compelling notion in Puar to reflect on an imagination curtailed as a society under regimes of normalization, becomes an imagination only in terms of commodification and its regimenting narratives of surveillance.

Looking at the Lawrence Case[6], which was about sodomy, from a perspective of regulation, and a means to surveillance, the matter of the performative and commodification would seem to regularize, and in this sense normalize, which necessarily affirms a notion of coming out of the closet. The Lawrence case challenged long held believe systems and imaginations thus intensifying those culture wars which so beset American society today. Dispossession was and still is at the core of distinct, coherent and competing American narratives. Each narrative, to some extent, seeking to deny or alleviate certain sexual and political dispossession and particular imaginations, terrorizes the other, creating a provocative space or environment of a precarious relationality.  The question becomes, “How do the political and sexual regimes, as agents of a biopolitics, address the dispossession of the other? Can the opposing narrative and their disciples see and encounter the injury of the other, whether political or bodily, in relationship?

In closing Dispossession: The Performative in the Politcal and Terrorist Assemblages, engage a difficult and challenging tension which characterizes the coming out of the U.S. as a primary participant in rape culture, terrorizing communities of the dispossessed.  This rape culture, as exhibited in Abu Gharib and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba exist as parts of a biopolitics which denies the humanity of its victims who seek to have their voice heard.  In this sense terrorism should be considered a performative tool of the dispossessed for recognition and survival. It must considered as a relevant a response to a rape culture which dispossesses because of biopolitical interests.

Finally, if hospitality, as a means to address Foucault’s biopolitical concerns, is going to make a difference in the aforementioned human affairs, it will have to begin by addressing the ascendency and resurgence of whiteness, in the context of Foucault’s Order of Things, while at the same time listening to the voices of the victims of that whiteness whether black and brown bodies or the very people who would be considered beneficiaries of that whiteness.  This form of hospitality is risky yet what is real hospitality without risk.

[1] Judith Butler and Athena Athanasiou, Dispossession: The Performative in the Political (Polity, Malden) p.1
[2] Puar, Jasbir K., Terrorist Assemblages (Duke University Press, Durham) 24, 26
[3] Ibid., 26
[4] Judith Butler and Athena Athanasiou, Dispossession, p.10
[5] Puar, Jasbir K., Terrorist Assemblages (Duke University Press, Durham), 26
[6] Ibid., 116

Saturday, January 13, 2018


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable God my strength and redeemer.

A couple of a days ago at the radio station I was having a discussion with a colleague about Jesus Christ, the Bible and most importantly which interpretation and exactly which Jesus Christ do we believe in, accept and embrace.  The conversation reminded me that our hermeneutic or interpretation of the biblical text is key to our personal, and communal liberation and the issues and concerns of social justice we engage on a daily basis.  As we engage today’s message we should be mindful of the text even as we give glory and honor to Jesus Christ, our savior, who, through no fault of his own, was born an enemy of the state and was crucified, dead and buried an enemy of the State and Jewish authority, but was resurrected and lives today.  It is his Good News that we share.

The text for today is Matthew 5:16. It reads
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. 

Before we look at Matthew 5:16 I want to look for a moment at verses 13 and 14, to gain some context for today’s text. In Matthew 5:13 Jesus speaks of the Salt of the Earth.  He says “You are the salt of the earth: but if the salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for nothing except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men.  In 14-15 Jesus says, You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel but on a stand and it gives light to all the house. Verse 16, the text for today says, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”  When we look at verses 5:13 through 5:16 there is the question of The Relation of the Disciples to the World.    This is the underlying question as Jesus introduces the one who would have ears to hear to an inner divine light imparted by God to all creation which illumines a profound and intimate sacredness. While Matthew 5:16b does focus on good works, as the active and powerful witness of a life in Christ, I would suggest that the first part of the verse, 5:16A is the origin of the whole matter.  The words of Jesus intimate that there inner divine light is God’s illumination in us.  It shines everlasting, exemplifying a magnificent awe inspiring grace which calls forth the good works in 5:16b, which are hopeful, joyful, peaceful and loving. These are tenacious and relentless pushing away the darkness.  The 16th chapter of John verses 13-16 tell us

13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

This is the root and the ground of an overwhelming gratitude which awakens and sustains soul, mind and body to live and mature a life of liberation, freedom and justice.  We are compelled, like generations before, by the inner divine light to fight for a world just and sustainable.

I remember when I was in the Navy, I had a conversation with a good friend, colleague and fellow chief petty Officer about  our teenagers.  They had begun going through their changes, transformation, you might say a metamorphosis.  During our conversation I shared with him that I considered the teenage years, to be a matter of rites of passage, where the former child is leaving childhood and preparing to become an adult.  It can be a dynamic, complex, complicated, at times confusing, yet in the long run hopeful as the human being, one created by God, is ever more revealing the work God is doing amidst family, friends, church and community. You could say it’s God’s coming out party. It is a time when the shape, contour, depth and boundaries, as a means to reveal or uncover an inner divine light are being defined more often than not on God’s terms. Yes, this can be a most challenging time for parents and for the teenager transitioning into adulthood and hopefully maturity.  This didn’t sit well with him.  Mindful of the advent season, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, each of us is called to welcome, nurture and empower the inner divine light so that it might shine with a bold and searing brightness for the world to see.

The welcoming, nurturing and empowerment of the inner divine light, through all the stages of life, is central to the processes of acceptance, strengthening, embracing and loving of ourselves and all of God’s creation, and a heart which enables the good works of Matthew 5:16. It is the underlying facility of an authentic life. It is important to the fruits of the Spirit which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, in Christ Jesus written by the Apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Galatians in chapter 5:22 and 23. These are particularly important living in a society where movements such as the Black Lives Matter movement, the Metoo movement, the poor people’s campaign, the sanctuary movement, and many more are unfortunately necessary. 

Seeking the divine inner light within (1) empowers a particular mitigation of oppression and injustice from within (2) strengthens and enlivens the soul to engage and overcome a spiritual warfare evidenced by cultural, social, economic and political concerns (3) One’s  apprehension of their divine inner light becomes a means, I suggest somewhat organically, towards solidarity as they more and more embrace the divine inner light in all people. They realize that all people are connected to God, and this understanding allows them to interact with people from a thoughtful loving point of view. (4) Matters of meaning and sectarianism gradually loose scope and intensity enabling the divine inner light to overcome those spaces where knowledge, truth, and things ethical are    become  of Transformation, at least for this writer, is about seeking the divine light within and thus it is finding that authentic sacred space of the heart and in this sense peace beyond all understanding. Philippian 4:7 (NRSV)

The daily injustice, oppression and abuse in American society, the embrace, by some, of extreme ideological concerns for nostalgia, alternative facts, violence reminiscent of Nazi Germany, and a longing for times now past, and, according to a Washington Post article on racist Voter ID laws dated August 3, 2016, a federal appeals court concluded that North Carolina’s voting strictures “target African-Americans with almost surgical precision.” I suspect this extreme ideology was meant to make America great again. From my perspective this ideology presents me with what God called the Israelites in Exodus chapter 32 verse 9, a stiff necked people. In focus group after focus group what is seen is a people who don’t want to change.  There are some who don’t want life to change or move, even for what might be considered a better more sustainable life, even if it means voting for a man accused of being a pedophile. I ponder what else to call this time we are living through but a tragedy.  

In light of the tragic, there is an unfolding divine grace which uncovers a heart and soul broken and contorted and in need of a religious and spiritual renewal. This need for a religious and spiritual renewal is evidenced in the overhaul of the tax code in favor of the 1%, their corporations and the president’s cronies based on the discredited trickle down economics theory.  It’s evident in a persistent attack on the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare and the removal of the mandate putting the healthcare of millions at risk. It is evident in a democracy, and its institutions, as complicated, complex and at times wanting in the face of corporate desires, shifting and waning amidst the cold winds of injustice.

The tragedy of our times, those cold winds of injustice, call for those with an inner divine light nurtured empowered and bright to bring the Good News to those held captive and enslaved to norms established by their foreparents. To be God’s instrument of a love unfettered by the oppressive regimes and norms which, more often than not, codify the collective sins of a society seemingly unable, as a whole, to accept the fullness of its history. Mindful of Rev. Theodore Parker’s words, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice”, the Good News of Jesus Christ is generational and strategic with the ongoing challenging, risky and at times deadly mission to break the curse brought on by the actions of the foreparents of this nation while setting the captives free.
I presume no secret or grand scheme here but a simple sacred truth as received in Matthew 5:16, that letting our light shine is about breaking down those historical barriers which seek to deny the liberation and freedom of God’s people.  Each of us here today should seek to nurture, nourish and empower our inner divine light, imparted to us by God, so that a just and sustainable society might flourish in Christ.  It is about serving God’s people, sharing in their joys, sorrows, to give the most generous gift of attention.