A part of being a writer is remembering lines, ideas, and images that may not be used ever but are interesting enough to hold on to. That has been the case many times in my life. Recently, I remembered the last line in the film spoken by Monica Vitti as Giuliana in the Michelangelo Antonioni film Red Desert, “I have to remember whatever happens to me is my life.” The existential implications of the line are potent particularly because it is spoken by a woman in a film where men are climbing over erections in Italy post WWII. Women had little influence in public life that engulfed them. Their existential reality was one of being attacked by their surroundings. However, today, if not then, most people find themselves victims of their surroundings, so the experience is universal.
When thinking about Giuliana’s line, it reminded me of Walter Benjamin’s interpretation of Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus. It too calls our attention to objective violence. In his understanding he refers to history and a storm blowing “from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.” Benjamin’s interpretation is a good one. We can see that his angel is bird and beast concerned about the past while moving forward. Benjamin goes further, “His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe that keeps piling ruin upon ruin and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed.”
The idea of objective violence lends itself to thinking of it as have natural causes and human causes. As I have written in an earlier post Slavoj Zizek calls objective violence the background that often causes subjective violence and “sustains our very efforts to fight violence” (Zizek 2006:1). He goes on to say, it is “often catastrophic consequences of the smooth functioning of our economic and political systems” (Zizek 2006:1). Even the subtle or indirect acts of violence we as people in a system take part in daily contribute to objective violence, for example: Obeying racist laws as did even the African Americans in Ferguson Indiana; or allowing .1 percent of Americans to own more money than 90% of the rest. Not holding representatives responsible for attending to objective violence is a major contribution to objective violence.
We behave violently to bring nature under our influence. (We have no idea what “controlling nature” means.) We do so as members of an economic and political system. We as part of the system view and take part in so much violence that results from our attempt at progress that at most we think of it as collateral damage. Mining, for instance, is an example of objective violence. Because of the demand for coal (and other materials) products, we are perpetrators as members of the system. It is violence by digging at the earth, by the digger and upon the digger, and by the users and upon the user of the eventual technology for which the raw material is used. The pursuit and use of coal and fossil fuels are good examples; rare metals and gold also require cause violence.
Beyond the relative innocence of the digger there are the warriors who rape and kill for the land, the armed thieves who usually have “bosses” who are linked to the security personnel of Western corporations. The violence leaves farmers and villagers homeless if not dead. This all goes on so that iPhones and laptops work in the suburbs of America. Just as sweat shops, child labor, and slavery happens (mostly) over there somewhere.
What Milocz calls the “co-creators of the unintended” the culprits of objective violence. The objective violence has reached a level where responsibility needs to be assigned and justice needs to take place. The concept of social justice (and I suppose objective violence falls under that category) hasn’t been on tongues in at least three decades in the USA. It would be a remarkable thing to engage in a project that had as its goal a major reduction or a managed approach to objective violence instead to diverting attention to tip of the its result: Subjective violence.