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To Be Announced: Radical Praxis or Knowing (at) the Limits of Justice


DOI: 10.1215/01642472-1958890

da Silva, D F. “To Be Announced: Radical Praxis or Knowing (at) the Limits of Justice.” Social Text 31.1 114 (2013): 43–62. Print.

p.43: Everyone knows what has happened: A young black man was killed by a police officer. Fires broke out in north, east, and south London as well as other cities of England, from Leicester to Birmingham. Fires have broken out in Watts in 1965 and in Los Angeles in 1992, to recall two other occasions. Every time fires followed justice, its realization as/in its failure. Always a response to a resolution, these urban revolts are about justice. Yet they can’t be comprehended in ethical-political programs informed by historical materialist, sociological, and postmodern descriptions of social subjugation. -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.44: Knowing the limits of justice then requires critique and something else. It demands an engagement with what is taken for granted in the explanations, or rather in the confusion that ensues when explanations of urban revolts rely on our dear social categories: Was it black London? Racism explains the revolts. No, no, it was class: Class struggle without class consciousness! It was both! Neither! Thinking the limits of justice does, however, require a plan of sorts, a certain procedure, but one not committed to resolving the conditions it exposes into a more effective measure, grid, or account that can inform preemptive actions or preventive mechanisms. Knowing at the limits of justice is at once a kind of knowing and doing; it is a praxis, one that unsettles what has become but offers no guidance for what has yet to become. -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.45: What distinguishes the kind of intervention I hope for, the point from which I address justice, is the fact that I consider justice as a referent of force (as in Derrida’s reading of the law) but also of social scientific and historic signification. Either in regard to legality or rights, as in Weber and Foucault, respectively, teach us, justice unites law and morality as a referent to the transcendental meaning, presumed in all versions of the modern subject. Let me take a short, very short cut with Hegel’s formulation of the civil society to resituate, in the discussion of the social, my thesis that raciality, precisely because it signifies an im/possible relationship, collapses justice (in the name of law and rights) into violence. -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.46: Fully circumscribed in the domain mediated by Necessity (not Freedom), between the (natural/moral ties of the) family and the (“transcendental” formal/ethical bound of the) state, in Hegel’s account, justice, though thoroughly universal, remains in the contingent sphere of relationships between persons, the stage of difference, namely, in exteriority. When Hegel writes law and morality, administration of justice and law enforcement in the realm of Necessity, in the juridic, economic, and symbolic domains that constitute the social, he allows the question of the limits of Justice. Limits, not in the sense that justice cannot go beyond them but because it is/becomes in them: justice, when addressed in the registers of the economic and the juridic (in civil society), is immanent (it remains within), and as such it is inherently limited and limiting of the relationships between persons it comprehends. -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.48: In his “Critique of Violence,” Walter Benjamin disrupts the body’s dialectical slumber when, in the move to denaturalize violence, he contains law in two moments, namely, “law preserving” and “law-making violence.” He offers no resolution. Law preserving and law making are modalities of violence that do no more, and yet go further, than describing figurations of lawmorality in classical philosophical writings of the juridicopolitical modality of power. For if “law-preserving” violence in Benjamin’s rendering refers to law enforcement, to the state’s obligation to protect life, limb, and property, and if “lawmaking” violence refers to the very founding the juridico-political moment of power, at the end of the essay both are disarmed by divine violence, which for Benjamin is the sovereign signifier of an Other — a just perhaps — mode of collective existence, which is both at the origins and beyond the comprehension of existing writings of law and morality. -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.48: More particularly, I ask, what might one find if the sexual female body is deployed to guide a reading of the tripod, namely, Colonialism, Capitalism, and Patriarchy, upon which global ethico-juridical structures, such as the human rights framework, do their work? Note that I am not approaching the sexual as a social category, which is a consistent referent in writings of the black and the female bodies, because this is just one partial engagement with a rather complex matrix, the apparatus of power in which the sexual body is consistently articulated to be disavowed as a possible site for consideration in the analysis of political existence. -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.49: My thesis: the black body exhibits the equation racial other = value + excess, but only in the absence, in representation, of that other figuring of the sexual hosted by the female body. For her body only enters accounts of racial violence as always already in the juridical, economic, and ethical register of coloniality-patriarchy-slavery, that is, in accounts of domination, in bondage, marriage, and rape. -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.50: It is always already defined in a given — economic and symbolic — productive regime: as object, other, or commodity. -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.52: For even in works that refuse the liberal version of racial domination (the logic of exclusion) and describe the scene of violence, the black body is given to representation, already the body of violence, the body of the slave, the body of the maid, the body of the lynched black child, female, and male. Always already the black and violated/violent person by the also already valued/protected white other —that is, a body that can only signify the juridico-economic architectures of Slavery, Patriarchy, and Capitalism. My point is this: The excess that is the never-exposed violence, the violence resolved in law, the state, contained in Hegel’s civil society, enters into the very constitution of the political categories themselves, in blackness and whiteness, the maid and the housewife, as in the native and the settler, the master and the slave. In regard to the laboring black body, for instance, racial violence permits the excess that is expropriation (beyond exploitation of surplus value), or excess = value (form and violence) + violence. -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.52: What if, then, moving otherwise, dismissing value, entertaining excess —that which in a thing has no value — one stays with violence? If then excess = value (form and violence) + violence — value here in all its figuration, namely, judgment (ethical), measurement (scientific), calculation (economic), and appreciation (aesthetic) — what account of racial subjugation and of black response would emerge from it? Recall that my contemplations already presuppose Fanon’s description of the colonial space as a product of a particular kind of juridicoeconomic violence. There the distinction between the native’s and the settler’s position refers to a valuation, which is always already excess, which Fanon captures when he recalls that this distinction is named through the articulation of extreme moral signifiers, namely, good and evil, which allows for just one way to reconfigure the colonial space, that is, a kind of violence akin to Benjamin’s divine violence — which might be taken as the proper figuring of sovereignty? -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.53: Not surprisingly, the black subject of violence — as expressed in official accounts of the latest revolts in Britain — bothers radical black thinking because the tools of racial knowledge, the analytics of raciality, already resolve the unauthorized black male violence as pathology, an expression of Kant’s affect, the actualization of the non-self-regulated desire of the black Other. Black radical thinking, I gather, will only be able to dissolve this very consistent effect of raciality if, inhabiting the limits of justice, it begins and stays with excess — and embraces violence as a referent of other desires, other figurations of existence, or any other and all possible modes of being human in the world. -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.56: My point here is that the sexual female body, the descriptor for a cosmic (because unmeasurable) excess (to juridical, economic, and symbolic production), is an opening to a radical critique of the global present that avoids the pitfalls of cultural difference. For one thing, as the unresolvable trace of an Other desire, it unsettles easy appropriations of the figure of the Woman, which contain her within the patriarchal bounds of motherhood. Further, as in the case of the threetimes productive — (a) as the dead (slave) labor of primitive accumulation; (b) as the domestic worker, the service worker, the factory worker, the day laborer; and (c) as the reproducer of laborers — black female body retains the possibility of an Other desire. A desire that can never fuel the machineries of global capitalism and the existing critiques of it because the political text both draw from does not contemplate her. -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.58: Radical praxis, as a frame of intervention (a descriptive device), allows a reading of the latest riots in Britain as urban revolts that neither fear nor desire reciprocity, that signify precisely what they mean, that is, the very oblivion to that yet-another killing, which is already resolved in racial violence, when the state immediately (its law enforcement agents) judges/ executes an unarmed black person without moral/legal justification. -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.59: Again, I cannot pretend to anticipate the many implications of such a modality of intervention. What I can do, however, is to suggest two possible starting points. -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.59: First, such radical praxis could begin, as I have already begun, by assuming that our frames of intervention, any apparatus deployed in the knowledge of human affairs, produce the very results they acquire. That is, when the tools of racial knowledge are deployed to explain events such as London’s latest revolts, they both produce and reproduce the writing of those living in these urban territories as subjects of violence. What is my point then? This is a crucial point: what knowledge produces, the value it attributes, when it comprehends The Thing and transforms it into an object, an other, or a commodity (as signifier of social relations) is already less and more than everything, than any and every possibility these figurings — as themselves effects of The Thing — host because there is always already excess, a threatening abyss (the end of meaning or order or law). -- Highlighted may 7, 2014

p.59: Second, going for The Thing, and staying with violence, a radical praxis would also have to pay attention. Navigating the excessive disturbance of the field of forces, it cannot be oblivious to anything, not to what is already known (in knowledge) or not what can never be (the virtual particles that are the possibility of that which becomes). Intending, affecting/ed, attentive, and attending to both the effects of knowledge and the possibilities it postpones, the ethical promise charging this knowing as a radical praxis refers to that point after apprehension but before abstraction where Kant locates confused and unclear impressions; that abstraction will finally resolve in concepts (or categories), and reflection will return to the subject of knowledge and the world itself. Let me end here, at this threshold, before this possible beginning of knowing at the limits of justice. -- Highlighted may 7, 2014