detail from Labels for Hair Ribbons by Manuel Ocampo a delectable selection of oriental appetizers
Friday, November 15, 2002

: . Responsibility:

From Explanation and Exoneration, or What We Can Hear by Judith Butler:
    When President Arroyo of the Philippines on October 29th, 2001 remarked that "the best breeding ground [for terrorism] is poverty" or Arundhati Roy claims that bin Laden has been "sculpted from the spare rib of a world laid waste by America's foreign policy," something less than a strictly causal explanation is being offered. A "breeding ground" does not necessarily breed, but it can. And the "spare rib" that is said to emerge from a world laid waste by U.S. foreign policy has, by definition, emerged in a strange and alchemical fashion. It is from waste that this rib is formed, as if the bone belongs to the dead, or is itself the animation of a skeletal remain. This is not God creating Eve from the rib of Adam, life generating life, but death generating death, and through a means that is figural, not precisely causal. Indeed, both of them make use of figures -- grounds and bones -- to bespeak a kind of generation that precedes and exceeds a strictly causal frame. Both of them are pointing to conditions, not causes. A condition of terrorism can be necessary or sufficient. If it is necessary, it is a state of affairs without which terrorism cannot take hold, one which terrorism absolutely requires. If it is sufficient, its presence is enough for terrorism to take place. Conditions do not "act" in the way that individual agents do, but no agent acts without them. They are presupposed in what we do, but it would be a mistake to personify them as if they acted in the place of us. Thus, we can say, and ought to, that U.S. imperialism is a necessary condition for the attacks on the U.S., that these attacks would be impossible without the horizon of imperialism within which they occur. But to understand how U.S. imperialism figures here, we have to understand not only how it is experienced by those who understand themselves as its victims, but how it enters into their own formation as acting and deliberating subjects. This is the beginning of another kind of account...
    Our collective responsibility not merely as a nation, but as part of an international community based on a commitment to equality and non-violent cooperation, requires that we ask how these conditions came about, and to endeavor to recreate social and political conditions on more sustaining grounds. This means, in part, hearing beyond what we are able to hear. And it means as well being open to narration that decenters us from our supremacy, in both its right and left wing forms. Can we hear at once that there were precedents for these events, and to know that it is urgent that we know them, learn from them, alter them, and that the events are not justified by virtue of this history and that the events are not understandable without this history? Only then do we reach the disposition to get to the "root" of violence, and begin to offer another vision of the future than that which perpetuates violence in the name of denying it, offering instead names for things that restrain us from thinking and acting radically and well about global options.
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