War after Death: On Violence and Its Limits

War after Death: On Violence and Its Limits

War after Death: On Violence and Its Limits

War after Death: On Violence and Its Limits

Synopsis

War after Death considers forms of violence that regularly occur in actual wars but do not often factor into the stories we tell about war, which revolve invariably around killing and death. Recent history demonstrates that body counts are more necessary than ever, but the fact remains that war and death is only part of the story - an essential but ultimately subordinate part. Beyond killing, there is no war without attacks upon the built environment, ecosystems, personal property, artworks, archives, and intangible traditions. Destructive as it may be, such violence is difficult to classify because it does not pose a grave threat to human lives. Nonetheless, the book argues that destruction of the nonhuman or nonliving is a constitutive dimension of all violence - especially forms of extreme violence against the living such as torture and rape; and it examines how the language and practice of war are transformed when this dimension is taken into account. Finally, Warafter Death offers a rethinking of psychoanalytic approaches to war and the theory of the death drive that underlies them.

Excerpt

War after Death: On Violence and Its Limits offers a philosophical reflection upon forms of violence that regularly occur in actual wars but do not often factor into the stories we tell ourselves about war. These stories—from Homer and Virgil to Kant, Clausewitz, Goya, Freud, Schmitt, and Derrida—revolve around killing and death. There is no way, it would seem, to capture the essence of war in word or image without linking it to death. Recent history demonstrates that body counts are more necessary than ever. I argue, however, that war-and-death is only part—a large part, certainly, but not necessarily the most important—of a much more bewildering story than is usually told. Despite tradition, this part of the story has little—if anything—to teach us about the psychic, ethical, and political meaning of war. Beyond the killing and death of human beings, everyone knows that war lays waste to the built environment, fragile ecosystems, personal property, works of art, archives, and intangible traditions. in addition, witnesses and researchers have amply documented that war provides a social framework that promotes the systematic perpetration of sexual violence. There is little question that the shortand long-term impact of such violence is more devastating than the loss of life on the battlefield (which is already horrible enough). There are ancient libidinal and cultural mechanisms designed to support the work of mourning the dead. But the aftermath of nonlethal violence against the living and nonliving remains more inchoate, improvised, and inarticulate. Sometimes this supposedly lesser violence is classified as “collateral damage.” Most often, it is not even called violence . . .

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