Judith Butler – Courtesy of Google Images
In the first landscape surgery session of ‘Author Meets Critics (Without the Author)’, we discuss a chapter from Judith Butler’s book Precarious Life (2004). The chapter in question, ‘Violence, Mourning and Politics’ (pp.19-50), was selected as many surgeons felt it had continuing relevance in both their own academic work and with recent political events concerning global conflicts and disasters such as the Grenfell Tower fire.
The session is led by Oli Mould (Lecturer in Human Geography, RHUL Geography) and Miriam Burke (ESRC PhD, RHUL Geography) who begins with a summary, drawing out many of the key themes from the chapter. Starting with notions of ‘grief’, Oli discusses how Butler questions what it means to grieve. In particular, the idea that we define who we are as humans through what makes a ‘grievable’ life. This questions who ‘we’ are in the collective sense as through the act of grieving we come to realise that we are inherently connected to others, both human and non-human. There is a realisation that there is a ‘you’ in the collective notion of ‘we’ and that part of us is lost when we grieve for others. This notion is aptly summarised by Butler, as she highlights how ‘we are undone by each other’ (pp.23).