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The question of how grievability undergoes framing is politically pertinent. She begins by briefly acknowledging that the election of Barack Obama, which occurred after the book's completion, poses future possibilities we hope ameliorating for which she cannot account. This, coupled with the diminishment, though by no means termination, of America's occupation of Iraq may seem to subdue the importance of Butler's inquiry: through what frames are lives registered as recognizable, warranting solidarity or protection, and whose loss spurs mourning?

Not only does the salience of Butler's analysis [End Page ] outlast Iraq's occupation, the intensification of America's intervention in Afghanistan demands such critical reflection more than ever. News media frame the conflict as a question of whether to escalate troop commitments and what regional authorities to endorse. The logics of military security, national interest, and territorial sovereignty, shroud how Western audiences recognize Afghani lives. It is the project of Butler's work to demonstrate how these frames differentiate what lives appear more and less valuable; they secure not only the interpretive schemes through which some lives appear more like human lives than others but also determine what makes the lives at stake distinctly human lives.

At stake, for Butler, is the 'precariousness' of lives. Certain lives do not appear in danger, their precariousness does not warrant recognition, because they are not recognized as lives at all. Such lives share their mutual precarity, and Butler seeks out the possibilities for recognizing them as precarious.

Butler crafts the notion of the frame by reflecting on the practices through which American audiences comprehend the human costs of war. The first chapter posits the frame outside Marxist models of ideology and against epistemologically loaded schemes of interpretation.

Media representations and political discourse of life put frames into operation by differentiating "the cries we can hear from those we cannot, the sights we can see from those we cannot, and likewise at the level of touch and even smell" Butler's account of the frame here focuses on its affective dimension; its sensation impacts viewers of America's conflicts viscerally and immediately.

The second chapter builds on this treatment of sensation's framed reception by considering its transmission via eyewitness accounts, particularly war photographs. Butler contends that photographs' affect, traversing the ensemble of content, perspective, and context of reception, frames Iraqi life.

Photographs themselves advance the argument that the lives they depict are precarious, and deserve to be recognized as such, prior to or independent of an overtly discursive form of argument. Following what is arguably the most incisive, and poignantly delivered chapter, the third turns to the cultural framing of the inter-relation of the rights of different minority groups: specifically, how antagonism informs the relation between religious and sexual minorities.

Butler pursues a strategy by which a leftist politics can confront homophobia and anti-Islamic dogma alongside each other. Considering a case in Holland as a primary example, she examines the ways in which the Dutch government mobilizes homosexuality as an emblem of modernity to exclude presumptively pre-modern Muslim communities. The frame is thus shown to be a site of political negotiation: it both orients war's representation and is subject to critical reorientations.

The fourth chapter, an earlier version of which was published in The British Journal of Sociology , pursues this question of political [End Page ] strategy further by revisiting the Hegelian dimensions of her earlier work. Taking the framing of cultural antagonism as her point of inquiry, Butler explores the place of judgment in cultural criticism. How might judgment be wielded against truly insidious cultural practices? The question brings the terms of moral engagement in line with her previously developed account of affect.

Affect saturates representations of subject categories in wartime, such that, for example, horror dominates the responses among Western audiences to suicide bombings. The normative dimension of judgment begins with reflection on how such responses are framed. The Nietzschean vein of her analysis in the chapter is patent: judgment must proceed from cultural critique, for "We judge a world we refuse to know, and our judgment becomes one means of refusing to know that world" The final chapter presents the most theoretically dense discussion on the psychoanalytic import of her work, considering the impulse of non-violence in the claim it has over war's opponents.

By figuring non-violence as a call, rather than a political ideology to be wielded in opposition to violence, Butler critiques its grounding in the quotidian violence in which we are already enmeshed. Engaging intensively with the object-relations psychology of Melanie Klein, the final chapter employs a rich psychoanalytic lexicon in order to argue that violence is never encountered purely from without.

Any ethical stance taken toward violence proceeds from the precariousness to which we are already given over. Across these five chapters, Butler arranges her reflections on modern war's representations according to the logic of the frames they import and the framings they put in operation.

Across these reflections, Frames of War actively intervenes in a cluster of politically relevant discussions, the context of which helps illuminate the critical function of the frame. The first context is Butler's own work, which has extensively inquired into how power works to construct the terms through which we recognize each other as subjects.

The irreducibility of social normativity to the category of individual subjects is foundational to her stringent critique of liberal moral thought, which at the same time insists that the ontology of subjecthood is thicker than a mere after-effect or mouthpiece of power relations. Hence, the primacy of the frame, which enforces such power relations beyond the reach of one's own agency, yet always remains within the eyesight of critique—the means by which one reflexively takes hold of her agency.

Within a social horizon, "the other only appears to me," she writes in Giving an Account of Oneself , "if there is a frame within which I can see and apprehend the other in her separateness and exteriority" New York: Fordham UP, ; The frame thereby makes possible the window of agency, through which a subject negotiates the demands others make on her ethical responsibilities.

Butler's prior work, Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence , explores the framing practices of America's military responses to the events of September 11, It is against this backdrop that Frames of War not only deepens the theoretical texture of the frame but also widens its political applicability. The second field into which Butler's account of the frame intervenes is contemporary debates over the place of affect in politics.

The renewed interest in this aspect of bodily sensation as an autonomous medium that transmits meaning has initiated a shift away from linguistic or discursive accounts of the place of subjects within social relations, as well as passive renderings of the body that interpret it as the site of power's inscription see, for example, Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual [Durham: Duke UP, ].

Affect is understood as autonomous insofar as it traverses this metaphysical divide. Opposed to a separation between emotion and knowledge, impulse and interpretations, there is coded within the affective relay between social circulation and subjective reception non-epistemic yet significant meaning.

Butler's most thorough treatment of this issue is delivered by way of her engagement with Susan Sontag's analysis of war photographs in On Photography. Butler considers how the photographs of torture at Abu Ghraib elicit a politically informed response. The argument does not stop at metaphysical speculation; it posits a critical plank of her thesis: that warfare relies on affect's framing for its successful orchestration.

The photograph partakes in America's torture campaign. It "not only depicts, but also builds on and augments the event" The Abu Ghraib photographs transmit political meaning because, in a sense, they carry the torture with them. This affective dimension translates torture's reality across different contexts, expanding not only the bounds of war, but the realms in which critical reflection on its framing may be broached.

Finally, Butler's inquiry into religion's role in democratic politics dovetails contemporary critical accounts of secular ideology. Their works question how politics might open spaces for religious discourse. This challenges the intensifying edict to shun religious positions under the claim that they either breach the liberal norms of "tolerance" or operate according to an ant-"rational" secular mode of political deliberation. Butler does not reference these authors, though in one of her most insightful interventions she argues that secular discourse incorporates frames that differently distribute the temporalities of democracy and religion.

Beneath the antagonisms of democratic politics, Islam becomes framed as a form of pre-modern immaturity yet to evolve into contemporary secular maturity. The success of her reflections on the place of such trajectories [End Page ] in politics can be measured by the delicacy with which she reframes religion as a multi-layered mode of political discussion to be negotiated alongside competing political discourses.

These contexts deserve consideration less because they have been well-trodden sites of critical theorizing than because their consideration amplifies the ways in which Butler's efforts to theorize the place of the frame in politics probe them with incisive contributions.

But readers will find that Frames of War imports its own frames. Not all of its chapters are equally worthy of recognition: the second chapter, "Torture and the Ethics of Photography," is far superior to the underdeveloped final chapter, "The Claim of Non-Violence. Despite the sometimes-obtuse lexicon Butler employs, her work manages to remind readers of her own affective disposition, for which non-violence, for example, constitutes "a social and political struggle to make rage articulate and effective—the carefully crafted 'fuck you'" Project MUSE promotes the creation and dissemination of essential humanities and social science resources through collaboration with libraries, publishers, and scholars worldwide.

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Without cookies your experience may not be seamless. Institutional Login. LOG IN. Reviewed by:. Larry S. Judith Butler. Frames of War: When is Life Grievable? New York: Verso, Previous Article. Next Article. Additional Information. Project MUSE Mission Project MUSE promotes the creation and dissemination of essential humanities and social science resources through collaboration with libraries, publishers, and scholars worldwide.

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Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable?

This portrayal has saturated our understanding of human life, and has led to the exploitation and abandonment of whole peoples, who are cast as existential threats rather than as living populations in need of protection. These people are framed as already lost, to imprisonment, unemployment and starvation, and can easily be dismissed. This book discerns the resistance to the frames of war in the context of the images from Abu Ghraib, the poetry from Guantanamo, recent European policy on immigration and Islam, and debates on normativity and non-violence. In this urgent response to ever more dominant methods of coercion, violence and racism, Butler calls for a re-conceptualization of the Left, one that brokers cultural difference and cultivates resistance to the illegitimate and arbitrary effects of state violence and its vicissitudes. Frames of War is an intellectual masterpiece that weds a new understanding of being, immersed in history, to a novel Left politics that focuses on State violence, war and resistance. When Is Life Grievable?


Frames of War

Last year, the BBC found itself attacked for its coverage of the Israeli offensive on Gaza by lobbies sympathetic to both sides. Did its coverage become propaganda if it showed too many corpses, or was it propaganda if it failed to show corpses? This year the death of British reality television star Jade Goody elicited the kind of media-instigated hysteria that has become customary for a certain kind of celebrity ever since the death of Princess Diana. The questions she addresses however — about which lives are deemed worthy of grief and which are not, and what counts as a life in the first place — have a clear bearing on the cultural politics of grief beyond the USA. As Butler rightly insists, these themes have by no means been made obsolete by the ending of the Bush regime. Yet these essays are far more stimulating than they are exhausting. Photographs, Butler argues, do not await verbal interpretation; they are themselves already interpretations.

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