Academic journal article New Formations

Being in the Care of Philosophy: Thinking about Rachel Corrie

Academic journal article New Formations

Being in the Care of Philosophy: Thinking about Rachel Corrie

Article excerpt

Abstract This essay examines the letters of Rachel Corrie, the American activist who was struck and killed by a Caterpillar D9R armoured bulldozer, steered by an Israeli Defence Force vehicle operator in March 2003, as she attempted to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home in the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. The article firstly considers how Corrie articulates in her writing a responsible conception of 'care' that recognises the contingency of human beings, and secondly, measures Carrie's account against the Heideggerian conception of care that arises from existential ontology. Although these versions of 'care' are incommensurate, the article proposes that the unequal and sometimes dangerous political conditions of human being poses a challenge to any existentially universal account of 'being', and that Heideggerian philosophy after Heidegger concerns itself with this difficulty. The intimacy of Carrie's writing presents the full force of this challenge and exposes the limits of philosophy. The article proposes that the idea of existential security is tethered to the conditions of political security in a way that continues to test Heideggerian philosophy.

Keywords Heidegger; Derrida; Corrie; Care; Security; Finitude; IDF; Beingwith-others; Gaza

CORRIE AND THE IDEA OF CARE

If any of us had our lives and welfare completely strangled, lived with children in a shrinking place where we knew (because of previous experience) that soldiers and tanks and bulldozers could come for us at any moment . . . if they came and destroyed all the greenhouses that we'd been cultivating for the last however long, and did this while some of us were beaten and held captive with 149 other people for several hours, do you think we might try to use somewhat violent means to protect the edge of the greenhouses, to protect whatever fragments remained? A bomb buried in the ground, after all, cannot be detonated unless a large piece of machinery rolls over the top of it. I think about this especially when I see orchards and greenhouses and fruit trees destroyed -just years of care and cultivation. I think about you and how long it takes to make things grow and what a labour oflove it is.

Rachel Corrie, email to her mother, February 27, 2003[1]

When Rachel Corrie, writing to her mother in the spring of 2003, reflects upon the acts of retaliatory violence taken by Palestinian inhabitants of the Gaza strip, she draws together a vision of Edenic fall, desecrated 'orchards and greenhouses and fruit trees', with an implicit acknowledgement of her own vulnerability: 'I think about you and how long it takes to make things grow and what a labour of love it is'. That turn of phrase, 'a labour of love', inadvertently figures to Corrie's mother the act of her own child-bearing and so, almost accidentally, poses the possibility of a loss that might be felt by the mother as closely as the felled fruit trees to her daughter. In the email above, Corrie passionately asseverates a belief that acts of violence spring from experiences of subjection and degradation; she notes in particular, with a peculiarly lyrical expression, the injustice of those who are compelled to live 'with their children in a shrinking place'. Her phrasing here is ruthlessly efficient and acute; how are children to grow in a place that shrinks, a place that is both militarily encroached upon and which must metaphorically recoil from the force to which it is subject? Nonetheless, there are children everywhere in Corrie's letters; the schoolboys in the street that clamour to joke with her, the babies she plays with, the children next to whom she sleeps in the homes of the Arab families that extend to her their hospitality. When an elderly Arab neighbour reprimands her for smoking, Corrie is bemused, recounting the story to her mother as if to reassure her that even where she cannot be, there are still other maternal figures ready to parent her. …

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