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Book Reviews

VIOLENCE AND SUBJECTIVITY. Edited by Veena Das, Arthur Kleinman, Mamphela Ramphele, and Pamela Reynolds . Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000, 387 pp., $55.00.
Violence and Subjectivity is a compilation of essays by social scientists who have carried out their fieldwork in a broad range of sociocultural milieus. The focus varies considerably, from the portrayal of social violence in the media to the circumcision ritual within the Muslim community in India and its ties to collective violence. What brings these papers together is the authors vantage point. There is a shared view of the role of violence in the shaping of subjectivity in an era characterized by transnationalization. In the editors words, it becomes necessary to consider how subjectivity . . . is produced through the experience of violence and the manner in which global flows involving images, capital, and people become entangled with local logics in identity formation (p. 1). The study of the role of violence in the construction of subjectivity allows for analysis of the ways in which moral processes and emotional conditions intertwine. Since the books essays approach this problematic with very different objects of study, requiring the exploration of very different dimensions of social and cultural processesstate-citizen relations, family dynamics, global flowsthey encourage readers to develop new ways of conceptualizing the mode of articulation between public and private: the space of politics and the space of intimacy. The editors definition of subjectivity already places the latter in the interface between social and individual. They claim that subjectivity is the felt interior experience of the person that includes his or her positions in a field of relational power (p. 1). Three dimensions may be identified in these essays that create layers of interpretation, revealing the complexity of the matter at hand: (1) the articulation of global, local, and individual; (2) the effect of violence on individual and collective perceptions and representations; and (3) the inscription in bodies of the violence of domination. Global, local, individual. In this dimension, the authors analyze the ways in which global, national, and local institutions interact in the production of daily practices and representations. Global institutions comprise multilateral agencies (such as the humanitarian agencies studied by Woodward), the media (as in Kleinmans essay), and the biotechnological industry (explored by Lock); at the national level, the state is



explored (Feldman, Reynolds, Kleinman, Tarlo, and Warren), as are religious and cultural institutions (Lawrence and Mehta), and at the domestic level, the family (Das, Ramphele). Each article provides different ways of establishing connections among the different spheres. In the essay by Susan Woodward, for example, we can see how global processes affect local lives through the action of multilateral agencies. Woodward points out that the collapse of the Communist regimes led to the disappearance of clear boundaries between friend and foe at the international level. As a consequence, a new term was coinedviolence-prone areato signal a threat to global security. Woodward states that this representation of certain parts of the worldin this case, the Balkan region leads to a stereotype of the societies inhabiting such regions that has serious consequences for everyday life, since it defines the time and mode of outside intervention. Das shows how the political violence caused by the India-Pakistan partition and its aftermath has pervaded all spheres of life, thus transforming the relation between social forms and new forms of subjectivity (p. 210). Such changes will create the conditions for the emergence of new practices that will in turn reconfigure the social space in which subjectivities develop. State violence is the object of study in several of the books essays. These papers analyze not just examples of brutal violence and disruption of everyday life (Feldman, Lawrence, Daniel), but also indirect forms of domination, such as the bureaucratic procedure that resignifies trauma by normalizing . . . [it] in terms of business as usual (p. 6); the ways in which the state can foster the communitys participation in its own domination through fear or greed (Tarlo, p. 259); or the fragmentation of the African family brought about by state policies under apartheid in South Africa (Reynolds). In these essays we can learn about the effects of the states violent practices at the local, the familial, and the individual level. The authors offer complex interpretations in which practices, representations, spatial configurations, and the bodily inscription of violence interpenetrate. The analysis of such a broad range of sites for the production of power, resistance, and solidarity allows the authors to explore how violence brings about a crisis of representation that af fects not only the social but also the private world. As the editors put it, peoples access to established contexts and trusted categories disappears (p. 8).


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The authors have chosen a Freudian concept to describe the transformation in the way members of the societies under study experience their everyday livesthe notion of the uncanny, which provides the link between the three dimensions considered here.1 Lawrence offers an example of the uncanniness of the ordinary: security forces had asked to use a villagers well, had talked to him respectfully, taken his food, and said good-bye kindly, telling him not to worry. Right after they left, the villager saw eight burned, tied-up bodies in a building nearby. The effect of violence on individual and collective perceptions and representations. In their analysis of social institutions, the books contributors show the ways in which a complex system of mediation serves as a channel for the circulation of power at the capillary level,2 transforming the individuals experience of reality, as well as of his or her own self. Social transformations brought about by political violence, and its portrayal in dominant discourse, lead to the transformation of the unexpected into the ordinary, the banalization of terror and death, the imposition of silence about the past with the consequent dehistoricization of the community, and/or the fracturing of the latter (Feldman, Kleinman, Das, Ramphele). These phenomena will necessarily transform the intimate realm, affecting familial life and hence the individuals history of identifications (Aulagnier 1997). The perception of time is altered in such a way that the individual finds him- or herself unable to discriminate between past and present, and hence to project into the future (Daniel). This temporal fusion will affect the construction of an I with a recognizable history and a foreseeable future. The essays by Daniel, Ramphele, and Reynolds illustrate this process. Daniels essay discusses the consequences of the displacement and dispossession suffered by Estate Tamils living in exile in Sri Lanka with no right of citizenship, who are victims of the violence of governmental agencies even after repatriation to India, where they are called refugees. Constant disruptions of their daily lives caused by violence
1 It is worth recalling here that psychoanalysts in South America introduced this notion to analyze the consequences of state violence in everyday life under dictatorships in that continents Southern Cone. Unfortunately, none of the contributors to this book are familiar with this literature, which constitutes a significant step toward a successful articulation of psychoanalysis and the study of the social (see, e.g., Puget and Kas 1991). 2 A concept developed by Michel Foucault (1979) to explain the workings of power relations at the level of the body through what he calls political technologies of the body.


lead to an experience of life as sheer momentousness. Such pervasive violence impairs the ability to narrate, since narration requires the discrimination between past, present, and future. As Lawrence shows in her essay on oracles in Sri Lanka, people live with many kind of silences: protective silences, some silences that may be understood as empoweringand the muteness of intimidation, trauma, erasure, and loss (p. 178). She narrates the experience of a woman whose husband was imprisoned by the government under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for more than three years without being charged . . . (p. 178). By the time he was released and could be reunited with his family, he had lost the ability to speak. The one exception to these silences occurred at the local Amman temples. There the oracles created a space for shared suffering. In her embodiment of the others pain, an oracle allowed it to surface not as a symptom, but as . . . an experience shared, thus constituting a safe witness (p. 197). The inscription of violence in the body. Several essays approach this issue from different perspectives (Feldman, Kleinman, Mehta, Tarlo, Lock, Das, Lawrence). All of them, however, discuss the ways in which the corporeal and the symbolic intertwine. The human body fulfills an array of functions. It can be a locus for violence and domination through penetration and stigmatization (Feldman, Mehta, Tarlo), a site for the expression of social suf fering through identif ication (Lawrence), a vehicle for the manifestation of the effects of domination (Feldman, Kleinman), or the bearer of the marks that define a community (Mehta). The body also constitutes a repository of both sensory and emotional memory, both of which, say the editors, call for authorization in culturally recognized forms but paradoxically also exceed these forms. In this sense the various lines of connection and exclusion established between these forms complicate the relation between cultural memory, public memory, and the sensory memory of individuals ( p. 13). Herein lies one of the key questions these essays address, one I believe is important for analysts as well, namely, how to explore the complex relation between social, cultural, sensory, and emotional factors. Allen Feldmans essay on the experience of political violence in Northern Ireland (what he calls sectarian violence) greatly furthers our understanding of this problem. I will not be able to address the article in all its intricate complexity, but I would like to highlight here Feldmans analysis of the effects of the experience of persistent


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political violence on the construction of otherness, and on the senses. The total penetration of private space and of the body through an array of surveillance techniques and, ultimately, through assassination leads to the production of a whole spatial system of segregation and penetration whereby borders . . . can be equally planted on the body or on a social-scape (p. 63). Feldman incorporates Jacques Lacans concept of the gaze to explain the mechanics of a system of domination based on surveillance. There is no identifiable eye behind the surveillance devices, so that the origin of power remains anonymous. Confronted with a faceless power, those who suffer its domination in their bodies will experience it in an equally vague, indefinable way, as gut feelings or as nerves: Nerves, like rumor, becomes a micro-language of terror that is conveyed by gesture and expression from body to body. . . . nerves are . . . recognized as a condition of war that can cut across adversary lines, linking others in a unified field of fear (p. 66). Final reflections: The place of the witness. Writing on the experience of violence and its presence in the constitution of subjectivity brings to the fore the question of narration. Several essays in this book address from different angles the problem of witnessing and narrating. As I mentioned before, Lawrence emphasizes the victims need for a safe space and a safe witness. In the view of these authors, such need stems from a forced silence resulting from repression, torture, and resistance, as well as from the loss of networks, a loss produced by the states fragmentation of communities. The act of witnessing in situations of collective violence becomes crucial. Along with Daniel and Lawrence, Das and Kleinman discuss the f igure of the witness and his or her role in the everyday work of repair (p. 208). According to Das, the act of witnessing is what enables the subject to occupy the very signs of injury and give them a meaning . . . through the work of repairing relations and giving recognition to those whom the official norms had condemned (p. 223). Women who suffered physically in the riots during the partition, and later on symbolically from the radical transformation of their place within family and community, will re-create their subjectivity through a particular way of narrating that involves really knowing not just by intellect but through the passions (p. 222). Last, though, points out at the need to acknowledge acts of ethnic violence collectively in order to achieve any form of reparation.


The concepts of narration and witnessing open up a whole series of questions that I believe constitute a bridge across the fields of social science and psychoanalysis and may create a fruitful dialogue between the two. How is the experience of violence voiced? How does it translate into an individual narrative that will not only be a central factor in the construction of each subjects history but also affect the configuration of family and society through familial and collective memory? What is the role of the listener in this process, be it the social scientist or the psychoanalyst? How is this role affected when the political nature of violence makes the experience of such violence a juridical matter? South American psychoanalysts such as Diana Kordon (1987), Janine Puget (1991), and Marcelo and Maren Viar (1994) have greatly contributed to the understanding of these questions, but there is still a long way to go.

AULAGNIER , P . (1997). El aprendiz de historiador y el maestro-brujo: Del discurso identificante al discurso delirante. Buenos Aires: Amorrortu. FOUCAULT, M. (1979). Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, transl. A. Sheridan. New York: Random House. KORDON, D., & EDELMAN, L., EDS. (1988). Efectos psicolgicos de la represin poltica. Buenos Aires: Planeta. PUGET, J., & KAS, R. EDS. (1991). Violencia de estado y psicoanlisis. Buenos Aires: Centro Editor de Amrica Latina. VIAR, M., & VIAR ULRIKSEN, M. (1994). Fracturas de memoria. Montevideo: Trilce.
Judith Filc 71 Sixth Street, 2nd Floor Pelham, NY 10803 E-mail: judy@erichsound.com