Frames of War: When is Life Grievable?
In Frames of War, Judith Butler explores the media's portrayal of state violence, a process integral to the way in which the West wages modern war. 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. In the twisted logic that rationalizes their deaths, the loss of such populations is deemed necessary to protect the lives of 'the living.' This disparity, Butler argues, has profound implications for why and when we feel horror, outrage, guilt, loss and righteous indifference, both in the context of war and, increasingly, everyday life.
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.
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From my review in Quarterly Journal of Speech vol 96, issue 2:
"This book will prove useful to rhetoricians wishing to think through the complicated
relation between political rhetoric, power, and individuals (although in part by rethinking the
meaning of ‘‘individual’’). Indeed, this book successfully survives its own analysis of rigorously
attending to the logical implications of argumentation itself. Frames of War, I suspect, will
become as widely circulated in varied fields as Excitable Speech. And I believe it is her most
important and coherent work since. It lays groundwork for many new critical analyses to
proceed. While Butler’s focus in this book is on the exclusion of Muslims, interesting projects
would stem from engaging her theory with current immigration debates regarding Mexicans
in the US or with discourse framing people of African nations. In the end, rhetoric as a
discipline has an important stake in a robust theory of frames, and Butler’s book should foster
renewed interest and new insights into its deep implications for our critical and theoretical
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