ENGL 695 X1 On Violence

K. Ball

This course will provide an opportunity to compare philosophical, sociocultural, and literary conceptions of violence that gauge the interrelations between subject formation, witnessing, complicity, and resistance. The general aim of the course is to familiarize ourselves with methods of critical discourse analysis as we study the intellectual histories that inform recent topics in literary and cultural studies.

We will begin our conversation with the intellectual backgrounds of the politics of recognition: the master-slave dialectic from G.W.F. Hegel's The Phenomenology of Spirit, the introduction to Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex, and Frantz Fanon's reflections on Hegel and Adler in Black Skins, White Masks. Carl Schmitt's Political Theology and Georges Sorel's syndicalist analysis of the state and revolution will prepare us for a close reading of Walter Benjamin's "The Critique of Violence," which might be read as a Jewish-Messianic rejoinder to the concept of political theology that draws upon Sorel's apocalyptic anarchism. A close friend of Benjamin, Hannah Arendt adapted elements of his Jewish Messianism, but not his penchant for apocalyptic figures as evinced in her On Violence, which studiously circumvents the 1921 "Critique." Having reviewed Arendt's consideration of various concepts of violence, we will subsequently turn to Michel Foucault's Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the College de France 1977-1978 in anticipation of our reading of Giorgio Agamben's connected treatments of Schmitt, Arendt, and Foucault in Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Judith Butler's Precarious Life offers a post-9-11 reconsideration of Agamben's Homo Sacer as she examines the covert and explicit forms of sovereign power that states have mobilized in the course of pursuing the so-called "war on terror." Glen Coultard's Red Skin, White Masks furthers our thinking about sovereignty by illustrating the limits of the politics of recognition in a Canadian context while Veena Das's Life and Words: Violence and the Descent into the Ordinary will permit us to review the dynamics of postcolonial violence through an anthropological lens. Concluding the course with Louise Erdrich's The Round House and J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace will prompt us to compare the contexts and implications of literary depictions of rape. Ultimately, then, the novels will also allow us to reassess the explanatory value of the theories we have read up until this point as we explore examples of literature's capacity to bear witness to cataclysmic histories and events.


Agamben, Giorgio. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Trans. Daniel

Heller-Roazen. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998.

Arendt, Hannah. On Violence. Orlando, FL: Harcourt, Inc., 1970.

Benjamin, Walter. "Critique of Violence." Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms,

Autobiographical Writings. Ed. Peter Demetz. Trans. Jephcott. New York:

Schocken Books, 1978. 277-300. (eClass)

Butler, Judith. "Critique, Coercion, and Sacred Life in Benjamin's 'Critique of Violence'" in

Political Theologies: Public Religions in a Post-Secular World. Eds. Hent de Vries and Lawrence E. Sullivan. New York: Fordham University Press, 2006. 201-219. (eClass).

--. Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Life. London and New York:

Verso, 2004 (paperback 2006).

Coetzee, J. M. Disgrace. London: Vintage, 2000.

Coulthard, Glen, Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition.

Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014.

Erdrich, Louise. Round House. A Novel. New York: HarperCollins, 2013.

Das, Veena. Life and Words: Violence and the Descent into the Ordinary. Los Angeles

and Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.

De Beauvoir, Simone. "Introduction." The Second Sex. Ed. and Trans. H. M. Parshley.

London: Jonathan Cape, 1956. 13-18. (eClass)

Fanon, Franz. "The Negro and Recognition." Black Skins, White Masks. Trans. Charles

Lam Markmann. London: Pluto Press, 1986. 163-173. (eClass)

Hegel, G.W.F. Excerpt from "Self-Consciousness: The Truth of Self-Certainty." The

Phenomenology of Spirit. Trans. A.V. Miller. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977. 104-119. (eClass)

Foucault, Michel. Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the Collège de France 1977-

1978. Edited by Michel Senellart. Translated by Graham Burchell. New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2007.

Hegel, G.W.F., The Phenomenology of Spirit. Trans. A.V. Miller. Toronto: Oxford

University Press, 1977. 104-119. (eClass)

Schmitt, Carl. Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty. Translated

and Introduced by George Schwab. Foreword by Tracy B. Strong. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1985.

Sorel, Georges. Reflections on Violence. Trans. T. E. Hulme and J. Roth. Mineola, NY:

Dover Publications, Inc., 2004.