EIRINI AVRAMOPOULOU interviews Judith Butler and Athena Athanasiou apropos the
publication of their book
Dispossession: The Performative in the Political (Polity Press, 2013)
Introduction to the Interview
By intertwining significant philosophical questions on subjectivity, precarity, biopolitics and performativity with contemporary dilemmas on acts of dissidence, collective protests, activism and art, this book interrogates dispossession as a complex notion. Having already been attached to processes of systematic and severe economic deprivation, as in the case of forced migration, unemployment and homelessness, dispossession, also becomes here a significant key word in order to push ideas of relatedness and (co-)existence further into the domain of both critical thinking and political engagement.
What does it mean to have or own possessions (i.e. land, property, titles or entitlements, like a name or rights, obligations, responsibilities, as well as relations) if that would connote both a valorisation of individualism in the context of neoliberal governmentality and a legitimisation of forms of sociality reified in the context of capitalism, liberalism and humanism? On the other hand, what would it mean asking to be dispossessed if that would also signify a state of vulnerability tightly connected to precarity, deprivation and exploitation, especially when people and populations live under such conditions and struggle to make a living or have a liveable life? Overall, how can one claim differently forms of possessions and make a political claim over dispossession? Could dispossession resonate with a form of resistance against the conditions that reiterate (neo)liberal and normative claims over being in, or having, a life? Could it serve as a political promise? There are no simple answers to these questions, as both Athanasiou and Butler seem to agree on, in their obvious intention to offer us intriguing meditations on how to approach such dilemmas in this thought-provoking book.
By relating dispossession to performativity, this book compels us to understand dispossession against its possible translation as a speech act that celebrates agency, but as an act that also exposes the impossibilities attached to subversion. In other words, claiming to be in a state of dispossession does not necessarily let someone free of possessions, especially when possessions are forms of passionate attachments, which at times run the risk of reinscribing normative relations. At the same time, claiming to be dispossessed might connote letting go of passionate attachments, which have already been forced into the domain of disposability, displacement, and erasure. Put differently, being dispossessed might mean that one would need to let go of those attachments that constitute one’s being in the world and one’s relation to others – attachments that might be hard to let go especially when someone has been deprived of the possibility to lay claims over them.
To read the rest of the introduction and the interview, please click on the link below:
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