I've been wanting to write about the Israeli attacks on Gaza for weeks now, but each time I attempt it, I find myself at a loss for words. Partially, because so many (perhaps too many) people have said so much about it, some in incredibly smart and insightful ways, that I feel like I have nothing to add, nothing more to contribute. But also because, whenever I think about it I feel a little knot in my stomach - I feel it grow as it drags all my words into itself.
I generally have two reactions to violence, both somewhat mutually constituted. Either I have a very visceral reaction - my breaths I think get somewhat shorter and faster, more palpable, I feel my body tingle and tighten (and not in a good way). I know this sounds like an articulation of a personal poetics of violence; but I do feel violence in very real ways. Or, I just switch off, move on.
The irony of the this is that in my academic work this is what I study - violence. I love violence. It's what I look for, what I try to understand, what I try to speak and write about. I used to think that was weird until one of my professors suggested that my relation to violence, as 'witness' and as 'intellectual' actually made perfect sense - that since I actually respected violence, in that I understood it as a deeply and inescapably productive force, it made sense that I couldn't actually be witness to it. Perhaps she is right. Perhaps that is the key... loving and respecting violence.
The horror of violence lies, I think, not only in its materiality but more so in its banality. It is so widespread, and we are so implicated in it, that violence is in fact no longer (if it ever was) horrific. We find our sympathies being torn between places, and peoples, and times, and we have only so much to give. And how the hell do you give a shit about a person, a life, in a place that you can barely locate on a map, let alone imagine? And besides, what choice does one have but to switch off when you can probably trace a connection between the dead bodies that lies on your T.V. screen for you to consume, and the living-dead bodies that produced the very T.V. that you are right now consuming? How many degrees of separation would you say?
We have only so much to give... why? Because, I think, we are subjects of production - even more so than that of consumption. We produce, we have no choice but to produce - that is the only way we know how be. Produce goods, produce services, produce knowledge - we "produce" life. Life, it seems, can never just be, it is always becoming, being produced. Consumed by this violence of production, we are immune to its horrors.
I am not a hopeless cynic. I have hope, and faith, and all of those other wonderful things that you are told you must have, you must produce, without which all existence is impossible. And I have the luxury to think and talk about violence, because I do not have to overcome it in its most death-dealing manifestations. But there is just so much in this world that I do not understand. And ever so often, no matter how much I scream, and cry, and smash, and curse, and rip, I feel beat.