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