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

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