Violence and Nonviolence

The Carters: Black Effect

Black Effect starts off with a philosophical exploration of love by L’Antoinette Stines. As a first intro- duction to the effect of blackness (i.e. the black effect), it sheds a light on the thoughtful, articulate and romantic facets of this black effect. The song transitions to an upbeat rap, with Jay-Z announcing he’s “good on any MLK boulevard”, indicating an awareness of the historical injustice suffered by black people, while also contrasting this with the status quo, i.e. the time when MLK is commemorated with a boulevard.

In a stylistically identical manner, the song proceeds:

Get your hands up high like a false arrest

Let me see ’em up high, this is not a test

Yes, put ’em up, this is not a test

Now hands where I can see them, fuck a false arrest

Interestingly, this is all sung at approximately the same pitch and following the same melodic structure, which blurs the differences between the different parts of these lines, but in doing so, in removing any musical differentiation between them, isolates and highlights the semantic differences between them: “get your hands up high”, suggesting a scene in which the artist is encouraging the listener to engage with the music, abruptly followed by “like a false arrest”, confronting the listener with an unexpected, horrifying resemblance. This, in its turn, is followed by “Let me see ’em up high, this is not a test. Yes, put ’em up, this is not a test.”. The resemblance with a false arrest is reified, the false arrest starts to take shape. “Now hands where I can see them” sets a completely different scene: the false arrest has materialised, the artist has been replaced by the police officer.

The discontinuity within the meaning of the call to put one’s hand up throughout the text, in no way foreclosed by changes in rhythm, melody, or pitch, takes the listener by surprise, instils them with fear and confusion — by dramatising the parallels between a false arrest and a concert, by oscillating in an almost continuous manner between an event of entertainment and one of police arrest, the listener is put in a bind: The entertainer and the police officer have become one, the scenes of crime and enjoyment have melted together, and the neutrality of one’s normal posture or gestures (e.g. putting with their hands in their pockets, fumbling) and the time one usually takes to process a command (like “put your hands up”) and respond to it become charged, loaded with the threat of being misperceived as indicative of hostility during an arrest, is brought into question. We cannot refrain ourselves from seeing the analogy with the countless other deadly false arrests, much like the arrest of Rodney King (Dorlin 2019). What persists, however, is the bind: how are we to deal with this facet of the black effect?

This verse is later reiterated by Beyoncé in a manner in which the musical dimension is radically altered. Her pitch is higher and the tone of her voice encouraging as she takes on the perspective of the artist (“get your hands up high (…) let me see them up high”), while her pitch becomes lower and the tone of her voice ominous and almost threatening when she takes on the perspective of the police officer (“like a false arrest, (…) this is not a test”).

This explicit splitting of the scene of the concert and the artist, and the scene of the false arrest and police officer, can be read as a response to and a resolution of the bind imposed by Jay-Z’s take on this verse. The juxtaposition of these now clearly separated situations — putting one’s hand up in a concert or during an arrest — denies any meaning to the bodily acts of black people that is always already there, and rather, shows the situational inscription of meaning occurring. In doing so, the real perpetrator is identified: it is the police officer who feels threatened by blackness, who misreads it as danger or hostility. This view ties into the works of Butler and Dorlin: for them, the black body is not in and of itself hostile or dangerous, but rather, the perception of the black body is informed by a “racialised schema” (Dorlin 2019, p.5-6), an “interpretive casing”, a lens through which the black body is “enfolded” (Butler 2020, p.10). What is responded to is therefore not merely the body, but, in fact, a “racialised phantasm”(Butler 2020, p.13) of the black body, loaded with presuppositions regarding its nature (as aggressive or dangerous), and hence, the actions of the body are instilled with these presuppositions by the perceiver.

Stephan Loor

Violence and Nonviolence

clipping.: Nothing Is Safe

Nothing Is Safe, from “clipping.” is a song that deals with themes of life, death, and marginalized existence. The track comes from their fourth album, “There Existed an Addiction to Blood”, and, just like the rest of the tracks, delivers a horror-tinted exploration of life at the borders of society. The lyrics of the song, while not exactly clear – due to their cryptic nature – suggest a story about some people involved in criminal activities that get raided by the police.

The first lines of the song are:

Everyone safe and sound, this how family do
Only homies around, everyone here is crew

These words already establish a pretty clear framing for the story, one where the characters have taken their safety in their own hands. However, as Elsa Dorlin points out in Self-defense: A Philosophy of Violence, this kind of “active” protection might already be fatal for the characters. This becomes apparent in the following lines,

Somethin’ foul in the air, somethin’ feelin’ askew
Wind is in the pipes, is that whistle callin’ for you

Where a possible threat to the safety of the group starts to reveal itself, and then becomes manifest through the gunning down of one of the characters shortly thereafter.

Drop the lights, so drop low, something shot from the trees
Went straight through the front door, homie drop to his knees
Blood seepin’ from his neck, as he struggle to breathe

The narrator, witnessing the death of one of his friends, has to come to terms with the reality of death (this takes place in the chorus of the song). The line <<Nothing is safe>> can be interpreted as both a commentary on the life of marginalized individuals, who are condemned to a life of persecution from the same institutions which should protect them, and a broader statement on the human condition, as no one is safe from death.

But it creepin’ on a come up, now it’s right up in your face
Face it, let it resonate up in your bone a minute when
You shiver, make a sliver big enough for it to have a space
Ripped life slipping away
Maybe you can make it out with just a little bit of grace
But it truly doesn’t give a fuck about the fear you
Feelin’, it is here to make you understand that nothing is safe

The story then progresses with the characters barricading themselves inside a building, waiting for the next move from the police. The agents proceed to open fire on the building, and we the listeners get a very cinematic description of the action, where the narrator realizes that his time might have come.

The air rushes in, it’s cold as fuck
Bullets slappin’ like hail, more homies struck down
The mission has failed, the wood is split
Splintered chandelier falls and smashes hard
Glass and steel everywhere in every throat, screams in protest
You all are dyin’ and really will anyone care?
Truth, like death, comes for everyone

This realization from the narrator echoes what Judith Butler says about grievability in The Force of Nonviolence, especially the idea that “lives that do not count as potentially grievable stand very little chance of being safeguarded”. The characters in the song lived at the outer bounds of society, forced to protect and provide for themselves through illegal means, and were thus punished by the law enforcement. They became, just like Rodney King and Millet de la Girardière, defenseless and indefensible.

Edoardo Chen


Butler, Judith. 2020. The Force of Nonviolence. Brooklyn: Verso books.
Dorlin, Elsa. 2022. Self-defense: A Philosophy of Violence. London: Verso books.

Violence and Nonviolence

Damian Marley, NAS: Road to Zion

The song “Road to Zion” by Damian Marley and NAS illustrates arguments from both Judith Butler’s text “The Ethics and Politics of Nonviolence” and of Elsa Dorlin’s text “What a body can do”, and it transcends both texts by providing a glimpse into a feeling of alienation towards the world that can be evoked in an individual when a group they identify with is ‘phantasmised’.

In their song “Road to Zion” Damian Marley and NAS sing and rap about how “We should keep on walking; On the road to Zion”, and how we “need some charity, […] love and prosperity”. These are the phrases that are repeated most throughout the song and can therefore be regarded as an important to the message of the song. “Zion”, here, can be taken to mean as a utopia.[7] Marley thus seems to sing about how we should keep moving in the direction of a nonviolent and equal world if we put the song in the context of Butler’s argument, which holds that nonviolence is not a question of not killing each other, but of how we should preserve life.[8]

However, Marley also sings about how the “Road to Zion” towards charity, love and prosperity should be walked and approached “By any plan and any means and strategy”.[9] Here, his message is different from that of Butler, who is an advocate of nonviolent resistance against inequality and discrimination.[10] Marley’s message here resonates more with Dorlin’s argument, especially since he expresses that he sometimes “can’t help but feel helpless”.[11] Dorlin writes about how people can enter a paradox of self-defence: the more one defends themselves, the more violence they will experience. We can assume that this would evoke a feeling of defencelessness and helplessness in most people. Also, Dorlin argues in favour of a “martial ethics of the self”, which means that violent self-defence is the only way for oppressed people to survive and create sustainable living conditions.[12] This view on resistance seems closer to Marley’s “By any plan and means and strategy” than Butler’s nonviolent approach of resistance, because it does leave room for committing violence.

Marley also addresses how reality with all its inequality sometimes feels like a bad dream when he sings “I’m havin’ daymares in daytime; Wide awake try to relate; This can’t be happenin’ like I’m in a dream while I’m walkin’”.[13] This resonates with the racial phantasms that Butler addresses, which are not only violent in the wat that they bolster the ‘ungrievability’ of black people and generate inequality that has violence against black people as a consequence.[14] These phantasms are also violent in the way that many black people are forced to relate to these phantasms in their daily experience of life. Black people are racially ‘phantasmised’, which means that part of their identity is ‘phantasmised’. Even though racism is an everyday reality for black people, the ‘phantasmisation’ of part of their identity can have an alienating effect on how they experience the world, because the illusions that are put on them do have many violent real-life consequences. The “daymares in daytime” that Marley sings about can be interpreted as referring to such feeling of alienation regarding the world around him.  

So, the song “Road to Zion” moves beyond both Butler’s and Dorlin’s texts in the way that it contains arguments of both of them, and in the way that it provides the listener with a glimpse into, or the recognition of, a feeling of alienation towards the world that can be evoked in an individual when a group they identify with is ‘phantasmised’.

Doortje Kok

[7] Damian Marley and NAS, “Road to Zion”, album: Welcome to Jamrock (2005).
[8] Judith Butler “Ethics and Politics of Nonviolence”, The Force of Nonviolence: An Ethico-Political Bind (Verso, 2020), pp. 103-150, p. 104.
[9] Marley and NAS, “Road to Zion”.
[10] Butler, “Ethics and Politics of Nonviolence”, p. 128.
[11] Marley and NAS, “Road to Zion”.
[12] Elsa Dorlin, “What a body can do”, translated by Kieran Aarons, Radical Philosophy 2.05 (Autumn, 2019), pp. 3-9, p. 7-8.
[13] Marley and NAS, “Road to Zion”.
[14] Butler, “Ethics and Politics of Nonviolence”, pp. 131-132.

Violence and Nonviolence

Robin Thicke: Blurred Lines

What causes racist violence? Judith Butler (2020) and Elsa Dorlin (2019) offer an interesting perspective on this, namely that it is linked to perception. Both authors give poignant examples of racist violence from the recent past to clarify this. Consider, for example, the famous Rodney King incident in 1991. It seems evident from the video footage that an unarmed black man is the victim of an outburst of excessive violence by a gang of white cops.[1] Nevertheless, the officers pleaded that they had acted correctly, as King would have posed a great danger. The (largely white) jury went along with this: the officers were acquitted. Did the police and the jury knowingly distort the facts so clearly revealed in the footage? No, argues Dorlin. Indeed, she thinks King really was perceived as an aggressor, wherefore this amount of force was actually felt to be legitimate and necessary (Dorlin 2019, 5-6). This is an excellent illustration of what Butler would call a ‘phantasmagoric inversion’ (Butler 2020, 114). These phantasmagoria are capable of imaginatively inverting fleeing black persons, depicting them as a threat instead. Thus, this twisted perception causes and provides the justification for one’s own aggression, or, seen from this fantastical perspective, self-defence (Butler 2020, 112).

Butler and Dorlin are mindful that this twisted perception is not a homogeneous phenomenon. For instance, black men and black women are twisted differently (Butler 2020, 112-113). This diverse manifestation raises the question whether twisted perceptions also play a role in other forms of systematic violence against oppressed groups. The top hit ‘Blurred Lines’ provides an indication that this may indeed be the case with sexual violence towards women (Thicke 2013).

In their catchy song from 2013, artists Robin Thicke, T.I. and Pharrell take the first-person perspective of a man with sexual interest in a woman, presumably at the club. In the lyrics, the man articulates the discrepancy between what the woman expresses what she wants and what she actually wants. For example, the chorus consists of the repeated phrase ‘I know you want it’. In other words, the woman doesn’t show it directly, but the man knows what she desires, namely, him. She is urged to stop hiding these sexual intentions: Thicke calls for ‘no more pretending’ and sings that he hates her ambiguous ‘blurred lines’. The capability of the male gaze to see through the facade of unwillingness to uncover the craving essence of the woman is reaffirmed with the following line: ‘But you’re an animal. Baby, it’s in your nature.’

It’s insightful to consider the accompanying video as well.[2] Whereas in the real world, the singer finds himself in a club with a woman who doesn’t respond to his advances, the video shows what the situation actually is like, according to the man. In the uncensored version, the three performers are paired with three models. The performers wear suits and sunglasses, the women just panties. These almost naked women dance sensually around the centrally positioned men, who move in a more modest way. Thus, in this twisted perspective, the roles are completely reversed: the cool man is now seduced into sex by desirous female “animals”.

The racist and the sexist perceptions seem to be similar to the extent that they both twist reality to the disadvantage of the considered group. Nevertheless, these twists manifest themselves in different ways. For instance, the racist perception as proposed by Dorlin and Butler seems to have a more fundamental character. Whereas the fleeing black man is turned around by the fantasy to become an approaching attacker, the sexist perception of Thicke and his colleagues does show an unwilling woman, but places an underlying reality behind this. Hopefully, this makes progression relatively more feasible, as men “only” need to be convinced not to fill in sexual intentions for women. In other words, to dismiss the underlying layer they perceive.

However, until that point is reached, it seems reasonable to assume that both kinds of twisted perceptions at least share their most problematic element, namely, their capability to lead to violence. Instead of shootings and beatings, this sexist perception is likely to stimulate sexual violence. This presumption is made more plausible by the (not so) remarkable fact that Thicke himself was accused of sexual assault by one of the models in the clip (Mulligan 2021).[3]

Mees Wolffs


Butler, Judith. 2020. The Force of Nonviolence. London-New York: Verso Books.
Dorlin, Elsa. 2019. “What a body can do,” translated by Kieran Aarons. Radical Philosophy 205: 3–9.
Mulligan, Euan O’Byrne. 2021, October 4. “Emily Ratajkowski accuses Robin Thicke of groping her during filming of Blurred Lines.” The Guardian.
Thicke, Robin, featuring Pharrell Williams and T.I. 2013. “Blurred Lines.” Star Trak-Interscope.

Violence and Nonviolence

MIKE: October Baby

Elsa Dorlin’s What a body can do begins with a depiction of the torture of Millet de la Girardière. Confined to an iron cage and straddling a blade, he must maintain his strength to keep his legs straight and resist injury. Per the design of this apparatus, his strength will inevitably fail and lead him to wounds that he will succumb to; unique to this mode of violence is the fact that his impulse to survive will directly contribute towards his annihilation. Importantly, Dorlin contrasts this scene with the execution of Robert-François Damiens to highlight a framework of punishment that cruelly regards the power of its subjects: unlike Damiens, we can conceive of Girardière as “capable of doing something,” even though he is still defeated in the end.[7] Dorlin reflects on the “unhappy mechanics” of physical action leading to Girardière’s demise to posit a fundamental anxiety on the relationship between self-defense and defeat, hence her poignant question: “if every effort to save myself leads to my ruin, what can I do?” [8]

Holding Dorlin’s observations close to mind, how does the relationship between self-preservation and self-destruction change if their struggle manifests as part of everyday life, outside of the determined space of the torture chamber? On October Baby, Brooklyn rapper MIKE hazily reflects on daily forms of malaise, and living in proximity to various hazards:

praying this ain’t death in my sleep
shit, I been stressing for weeks
in this world without a lesson to teach
they try to prosper while they negative, mean
and well I ain’t a doctor but they nearly deceased
I only think about revenge when I barely can eat

For MIKE, destruction isn’t crystallized so clearly in the form of a blade. Instead of facing death from a single event he is afflicted by more pervasive factors, nightmares, stress, the negativity of others in his environment, and hunger.

at the end lies the scariest beast
there’s police in this area
be careful where you carry your feet
I be scared to lose my life but be caring to leave

In these lyrics, a more looming threat comes into focus, that of the police. As opposed to the psychological and emotional threats to survival that wear MIKE down in previous lines, police here directly signify a loss of life. Unlike the event-based examples Dorlin describes, where action immediately impacts one’s defenses, MIKE’s contemplation and action take place hoping to preclude any event of violence. “Caring to leave,” he emphasizes his own freedom of movement while acting on his capacity to do something—taking care to avoid an encounter with police in the first place. Though not taking to self-defense in a typical sense, MIKE’s decision to leave embodies Dorlin’s injunction “to begin from muscle rather than law” in his priority of the physical impulse over a reasonable fear of death.[9] MIKE’s movement is not a passivity, but a fugitive act of self-preservation to avoid conflict under conditions of policing.

with the lead I really could embarrass your team
my poppa wanted peace and I inherit his dream

MIKE vocalizes a commitment to peace in spite of his awareness of the power of a weapon. Still, his outlook is not fully non-violent—in the song’s sampled outro, a computerized voice reads a list of symptoms then states, “war is not always physical, sometimes internal—” he wages an internal war with the everyway.  

Pat LeGates

[7] Elsa Dorlin, ‘What a body can do’, trans. Kieran Aarons, Radical Philosophy 205, Autumn 2019, 3.
[8] Dorlin, 4.
[9] Dorlin, 8.

Violence and Nonviolence

Burna Boy: 20 10 20

“The more you defend yourself, the more you’ll suffer, the more certain you are to die.” (Dorlin 2019, 4).

In the first 10 seconds of Burna Boy’s 20 10 20 you hear a melodious beat; it gives you a bouncy, almost exciting feeling. However, this positive excitement slowly fades into the background once Burna Boy starts rapping. His lyrics raise awareness and emphasize that we need to listen to his song to become aware of the suffering of his fellow Nigerian people. The suffering addressed in this song first emerged when the Nigerian government created a Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in 1992 with the task of fighting violent crimes (Amnesty 2020b). However, instead of reducing violence within Nigeria, SARS itself turned into a violent institution; reinforcing exactly what they were supposed to reduce. There are various reports on the abuse of Nigerian people by the SARS, including cases of harassment, beating, illegitimate arrests, and torture (Amnesty 2020b). These brutalities provoked a massive campaign against the SARS, which reached its peak in October 2020 when many young Nigerians gathered in the streets to raise awareness for the brutalities of the SARS and to demand both an abolishment of the institution and a prosecution for the crimes they committed. These protests refrained from any form of violence as can be seen in videos depicting groups of people harmoniously dancing and singing together (BBC Africa 2021). This peacefulness is emphasized in the bouncy beginning of Burna Boy’s song.

However, the passion and anger in Burna Boy’s voice increase throughout the song. Similarly, the violence by the Nigerian Government increased on the 20th of October 2020. The government announced a 24-hour long curfew in the morning, which was ignored by the peaceful protesters. The government’s reaction to this was brutal: without a warning, the Nigerian military and police opened fire on the crowd of protesters at Alausa and the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos, killing at least 12 protesters (Amnesty 2020a). At the End of Burna Boy’s song, you hear live recordings of the shooting that are mixed over the bouncy beat. Gunshots, screams of fear, and a voice urging all the protesters to keep down again emphasizing that the protestors themselves did not engage in any violence. The combination of the audio recordings and the bouncy beat makes you feel the incredible unfairness and contractionary nature of innocent singing protesters being violently killed. In the very last seconds, Burna Boy sings with a hurt voice once again 20th of October; a phrase in which you hear his disappointment and pain. How can a peaceful fight against violence end in so much more violence?

I believe that the Nigerian government used both law-positing and law-preserving violence in Walter Benjamin’s (2021) terms. On the one hand, the government wants to preserve the law by setting up the SARS in the first place and by violently attacking the protestors who criticize these governmental decisions. On the other hand, the introduction of a ridiculous 24-hours curfew is a form of law-positing violence. However, for the protestors themselves, there is no room to defend themselves from this violence. The protestors are what Dorlin (2019) calls the undefendable. Despite protestors merely practising their right of free assembly and refraining from violence completely, their presence is a priori understood as violent and treated as such by the authorities (Dorlin 2019). This defencelessness is increased by the fact that the government removed cameras and cut off electricity the hours before their intervention ensuring almost no coverage of the massacre (Amnesty 2020a). The protestors are completely powerless and every attempt to resist the violence merely leads to a destruction of the self.

Vera de Wit

Reference List

Amnesty International. 2020a. “What is the #endsars movement? November 10, 2022.
Amnesty International. 2020b. Nigeria: Time to end impunity: Torture and other human rights violations by special anti-robbery squad (SARS). Abuja-FCT, Nigeria: Amnesty International.
BBC Africa. 2021. “Lekki toll gate shootings: What really happened?” Video. January 20, 2021. 07:36.
Benjamin, Walter. 2021. Toward the Critique of Violence: Critical Edition. Edited by Julia Ng and Peter Fenves. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Burna Boy. 20 10 20. 2020. Atlantic Records.
Dorlin, Elsa. 2019. ‘What a body can do.’ Translated by Kieran Aarons, Radical Philosophy 205 (Autumn): 3–9.

Violence and Nonviolence

Motionless in White: Slaughterhouse

From the outset of his famous essay Towards the Critique of Violence, Walter Benjamin ([1921] 2021) asks the question “whether violence in general, as a principle, is moral, even as a means to just ends” (39). In The Force of Nonviolence, Judith Butler (2020) attempts to answer this question. They argue that what state violence really expresses is an unequal distribution of the grievable (Ibid., 77). This distribution is discursively constituted through legal systems and reproduced through state violence. In order to escape this, they argue that a nonviolent approach is necessary. Similarly, in their song Slaughterhouse, Motionless in White delineate unequal degrees of grievability. However, they see violence as a necessary means to overturn this distribution. In this short paper, I aim to reflect on both approaches, as well as their benefits and shortcomings.

In seeking to establish a politics of nonviolence, Butler argues that violence and inequality are mutually constitutive and thus always presuppose one another. Therefore, any movement towards a politics of nonviolence, must be a project towards radical egalitarianism (Butler 2020, 25-26). For this, they invoke the concept of ‘grievability.’ Not all lives, Butler proclaims, are attributed an equal sense of grievability. Those lives that will be grieved when lost are signified as grievable, while those that are not compose the ‘ungrievable’ (Ibid., 77-78). Butler poses that the legal codification of this biopolitical distribution of the (un)grievable is violence. Using the example of police killing innocent black citizens, Butler claims that this violence precedes the act of the murder itself. It is ingrained in the socio-political and legal apparatus of our sociality (Ibid., 84-85). The project towards a situation in which all lives are equally grievable must, therefore, always be a project of suspending legal violence.

The question remains how this suspension can be effectuated. Slaughterhouse by the metalcore band Motionless in White and Bryan Garris (2022) offers one potential answer to this question. Slaughterhouse is a call for an anti-capitalist revolution from the perspective of the subjugated. “Break down the wall again”, screams Garris as Slaughterhouse commences (Ibid.). A similar sentiment to Butler’s distribution of the grievable underlies the song: the lives of the lower classes are degraded and deemed ungrievable, equated to pigs in a slaughterhouse, and “packaged up and sold for scraps”, while the rich “auction off our backs to buy your crown” (Ibid.). The ungrievable populations live their lives in a Hobbesian state of nature, in which the capitalists “sit back as we collapse, left to fight over scraps” (Ibid.). Similar to Butler, Motionless argue that to transform this distribution of the ungrievable, an overturn is necessary. However, the approach here is strictly violent. Exemplified by the song’s warlike drums, belligerent vocals, macabre vocabulary, and ominous background melody, Motionless and Garris pose that the only way to escape the condition of ungrievability is to “Flip the script and oppress the oppressors”, to “Kill ’em all, kill ’em all, no successors” (Ibid.). Phrased differently, a rupturing of the legal order requires, for Motionless and Garris, an ultimate ‘divine’ form of de-posing violence (Benjamin [1921] 2021, 60).

Additionally, Slaughterhouse expresses a sentiment close to that of Frantz Fanon. Violent oppression, Fanon notes, “will only yield when confronted with greater violence” (Fanon 2001, 48). However, besides instrumental in altering material conditions, violence serves a second function. Because of the total self-alienation and psychological inferiority complex violent domination established in the oppressed subject, counter-violence not only changes material conditions, but liberates the subject from this inferiority complex. From the ashes of violent revolt, the individual is formed, the subject created. Violence serves not only as a means to material liberation, but also to psychological emancipation (Blackey 1974, 193). Slaughterhouse expresses this cathartic element of violence by its very existence. Motionless and Garris’ violent assertion of individuality is in itself a means to escape this inferiority complex. It is thus not only a plea for transforming material conditions, but an expression of subjectivity just as much.

For Butler, however, a violent revolution is ineffective. Instead, Benjamin’s notion of divine violence should be interpreted as an essentially nonviolent suspension of legal violence (Butler 2020, 89-90). Invoking Étienne Balibar’s analysis of Hobbes, Butler poses that any form of anti-violence must be nonviolent. Otherwise, the suspension of state violence will only be an oscillation – a double violence (Ibid. 95-96). Additionally, my contention is that a redistribution of the grievable, as Slaughterhouse forcefully proposes, does not lead to radical egalitarianism. Rather, it simply transfigures the hierarchy and categorisation of the grievable and ungrievable. Consequently, what we end up with is a different distribution of the grievable, which ultimately yields the same result.

In this short paper I have offered a brief reflection of two positions regarding the overturn of legal violence. Using Judith Butler’s concept of grievability, I have illustrated how state violence and social inequality are mutually constitutive. Any project to end state violence must therefore presuppose radical egalitarianism. With the example of Slaughterhouse by Motionless in White and Bryan Garris, I have showcased one possible – violent – means through with the legal order can be overturned. However, such a violent project entirely waives any hope of radical egalitarianism. It only leads to a double violence, and a different distribution of grievability, not its eradication. As such, it must be concluded that a violent overturn of the legal system cannot be the path to end state violence.

Giovanni Prins


Benjamin, Walter. [1921] 2021. Toward the Critique of Violence: A Critical Edition. Edited by Peter Fenves and Julia Ng. Stanford University Press.
Blackey, Robert. 1974. “Fanon and Cabral: a Contrast in Theories of Revolution for Africa.” The Journal of Modern African Studies 12, no. 2: 191-209.
Butler, Judith. 2020. The Force of Nonviolence: An Ethico-Political Bind. London: Verso.
Fanon, Frantz. 2001. The Wretched of the Earth. Translated by Constance Farrington. London: Penguin Books.

Violence and Nonviolence

Gorillaz, Fatoumata Diawara: Désolé

For the theme of nonviolence, I think with Judith Butler’s idea of “the oscillation of frameworks within which naming practices take place.” (Butler 2020, 139) This is an idea drawn from their interpretation of Walter Benjamin’s idea of non-violence, violence, and the importance of language translation. According to Butler’s interpretation, acts of translation between different frameworks can lead to forms of non-violence such as conflict resolution (Butler 2020, 127). Butler specifically focuses on racialized practices of naming certain acts violent and others non-violent. The oscillating frameworks help us in identifying these naming practices by showing how violence is circumscribed (Butler 2020, 136).

I wish to see which questions the idea of oscillating frameworks might pose to the song ‘Désolé’ by Gorillaz and Fatoumata Diawara (2020), and, in turn, which questions the song might pose Butler’s text. Hence, this contribution to the mixtape itself constitutes a form of oscillation of frameworks of sound and text. This line of reasoning is not one of resolving its oscillations. Instead, I aim to set the stage for an ongoing reciprocal problematization between the frameworks of Butler and ‘Désolé’.

‘Désolé’ is trilingual and is sung in Bambara, English, and French. Thus, three linguistic-cultural frameworks are brought together through the song’s oscillations. In researching this song, I was trying to find a good translation of the non-English parts, and I stumbled across a post on Reddit titled ”MYSTERY: What is Fatoumata is saying in Désolé??? (Can help with Bambara translation?)” (anon4913 2021). The post’s author expressed many of my frustrations in finding a proper translation for the parts sung in Bambara. It is significantly harder to find translations of Bambara than French and English. This is despite it being spoken by an estimated 15,9 million people worldwide (“Bambara – Worldwide Distribution” n.d.). Though not the official language, it is the most widespread language of Mali. French is the official language which is only spoken by 6,4 percent of Mali’s population (“Mali: Country Data and Statistics” n.d.).

While this is only a brief demographic sketch, it speaks to Butler’s etymological considerations of ’demographics’ as the graphic means of rendering populations grievable or not (Butler 2020, 104). The Bambara-speaking population might be rendered ungrievable relative to the French-speaking population of Mali. In this regard, the song poses the question and the problem of what a ’sorry’, a ’désolé’, means in the context of the (un)grievable. How do sorries traverse across multiple frameworks and how is this traversal impacted by a lack of grievability? How do sorries traverse the boundary between the grievable and the ungrievable and help destabilize that barrier? Low practically, it is harder for me to find the translations for the phrases in Bambara than those in French. Hence, the context implied by the song’s trilinguality announces an oscillation that is not just a problem of conveying an understanding from one language to another. It is also an oscillation that may very well be densely layered with colonialism.

However, I also believe the song hints at a way of approaching the conflicts generated and revealed by oscillating frameworks. As the Reddit post shows, the very act of listening and trying to navigate the oscillations of the song’s frameworks can create a drive to go beyond your framework and actively engage in processes of translation. The song simultaneously places you in and pushes you into these oscillations. One might speculate that the song’s multilinguality carries with it a tension that helps enable this drive in the listener. That tension is both an asset to the song and an integral part of what makes the song work. Perhaps the fact that it is experiencable as a piece of music gives the song an added potential for containing the oscillations without resolving them. If the frameworks were to be completely translated into Bambara, English or French, the song stops being the same. Just like how the synthesizer that is no longer oscillating produces no sound.

Consequently, another question posed by ”Désolé” is whether oscillations of frameworks are inherently valuable by virtue of the oscillations’ potential to open one up to other frameworks. That is, whether the oscillations have an inherent value besides Butler’s analytic and ethical motivation to use them in figuring out how violence is circumscribed. In Butler’s interpretation of Walter Benjamin, they are making arguments that might fit such a line of reasoning. And, understood as translations, then the oscillations always run the risk of appropriating each other’s frameworks (Butler 2000, 36). How is this avoidable? Perhaps through the act of translation’s “counter-colonialist possibility” as Butler phrases it in their dialogue with Ernesto Laclau and Slavoj Zizek (Butler 2000, 37). While these reflections indicate future oscillations between Butler and the song ‘Désolé’, the scope of this mixtape contribution prevents and dampens, for now, the oscillations of any such further dialogue from continuing.

Lukas Hjulmann Seidler

Violence and Nonviolence

Missy Higgins: Oh Canada

‘But the body of Alan being laid upon the sand / Tell me how do you live with that?’
– Missy Higgins (2016)

The heart wrenching photograph of the death of the two-year-old Syrian boy Alan Kurdi shifted the attention of the contemporary refugee crisis. Seeing the lifeless body washed ashore moved the public opinion on a fulcrum of grief.

The song Oh Canada of Missy Higgins tries to express this grief through the story of Alan Kurdi. Kurdi’s family fled from the war in Syria and dreamed of making new life in Canada, but due to misfortune most of the family drowned in the Mediterranean sea. The chorus of the song alludes to the dreams of the Kurdi family to reach Canada, sung from the perspective of the father:

Oh Canada, if you can hear me now
Won’t you open up your arms towards the sea?
Oh Canada, if you can help me out
All I ever wanted was a safe place for my family

Higgins states that the song isn’t only about Canada, but any country where refugees seek asylum. Australia for example, has strict refugee laws, going as far to send boats of refugees back (King 2016). Higgins didn’t want to criticize or preach; she just wanted to make sense of her emotions and spread awareness about the way in which other countries deal with refugees, which is explored in the outro:
There’s a million ways to justify your fear
There’s a million ways to measure out your worth
But the body of Alan being laid upon the sand
Tell me how do you live with that?

Notably, there is no strong rhyme between the words ‘sand’ and ‘that’. Higgins is willing to make the last lines less concise to ask the question how countries can live with their xenophobic policies.

This xenophobia towards the migrant is explored in Butler’s chapter ‘The Ethics and Politics of Nonviolence’, were they state that this fear comes from the desire to keep Europe ‘white’ and ‘pure’ (Butler 2020). Violence against migrants is justified on the basis of fear for refugees: ‘the violence is state violence, fueled by racism and paranoia, and directed against the migrant population’ (Butler 2020). More importantly, every individual has a certain ‘grievability’, a reasonable basis for how much someone is grieved or mourned. As they state: ‘The thousands of migrants who have lost their lives in the Mediterranean’, just as the life of Alan Kurdi, ‘are precisely lives that are not deemed worthy of safeguarding.’ (Butler 2020). Thus, Alan Kurdi’s life was ungrievable from the start.

But how does Butler’s view coincide with Higgins song? Thousands of listeners grieved Alan and his family. When listening to this harrowing song, even I broke down in tears, especially with the lyric:

I’m not losing everything I love tonight

Of course Alan is grieved by certain people and communities, but only thinking in terms of grieving individuals would make the concept of grievability loss its critical edge. According to Butler, ‘all lives are equally grievable’ (2020, 148). To use the term grievability is to criticize the language of ‘inequality’ deeply rooted in hegemonic discourse. We need a displacement of language to get rid of the cold and rationalist language of inequality. This displacement is useful to criticize the corrupted system that determine which lives are not worthy of grieving. The song Oh Canada can help to spread awareness about refugee policies of countries, and to make lives like that of Alan Kurdi grievable in the future, so that this sort of violence may never happen again.

Brenno Mulder


Butler, Judith. 2020. ‘The Ethics and Politics of Nonviolence.’ In The Force of Nonviolence, 103-150. London/New York: Verso.
King, Robin Levinson. 2016. ‘Australian singer Missy Higgins pens song “Oh Canada” in memory of Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi.’ Toronto Star, February 19, 2016.

Violence and Nonviolence

Bad Religion: Hello Cruel World

For this week’s entry into the playlist, I present Hello Cruel World by Bad religion. The song involves the point of view character pleading that the world recognizes his suffering. The nature and content of the suffering is never expounded, allowing us to interject our own understandings. I believe we can thus read the lyrics though Judith Butler’s framing of redressing inequality in terms of grievability.

The first chorus begins:

Hello cruel world
Do you know that you’re killing me?
I don’t mind, but I could use a little sympathy
I’ve been blind as a fool can be
My dear cruel world
Do you ever think about me?

The lyrics are rather straightforward, the perspective character is pleading with the world to recognize and sympathize with his suffering. He’s so resigned to his suffering, that he doesn’t even plead for a change to his condition, rather that it merely be seen. I think we can interpret this outside of a simple call for empathy, which as Butler articulates, can center a more self-serving interpretation of recognition. Moving away from this, to see a population as grievable is to value them outside of their relation to oneself but as entities that have value in of themself.

“If and when a population is grievable, they can be acknowledged as a living population whose death would be grieved if that life were lost, meaning that such loss would be unacceptable, and even wrong—an occasion of shock and outrage.”

This concept can even be extended to include land and non-human animals, whose moral value is so often obscured by the limitations concepts of empathy naturally provide. The loss of say, an species of primate, can be framed in the grievable loss of a unique member of earths community.

Daniel Lazcano