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Judith Butler in conversation with Gayle Salamon
November 14, 2022 @ 6:00 pm
by Judith Butler
published by Columbia University Press
The pandemic compels us to ask fundamental questions about our place in the world: the many ways humans rely on one another, how we vitally and sometimes fatally breathe the same air, share the surfaces of the earth, and exist in proximity to other porous creatures in order to live in a social world. What we require to live can also imperil our lives. How do we think from, and about, this common bind?
Judith Butler shows how COVID-19 and all its consequences—political, social, ecological, economic—have challenged us to reconsider the sense of the world that such disasters bring about. Drawing on the work of Max Scheler, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and critical feminist phenomenology, Butler illuminates the conditions in which we seek to make sense of our disorientation, precarity, and social bonds. What World Is This? offers a new account of interdependency in which touching and breathing, capacities that amid a viral outbreak can threaten life itself, challenge the boundaries of the body and selfhood. Criticizing notions of unlimited personal liberty and the killing forces of racism, sexism, and classism, this book suggests that the pandemic illuminates the potential of shared vulnerabilities as well as the injustice of pervasive inequalities.
Exposing and opposing forms of injustice that deny the essential interrelationship of living creatures, Butler argues for a radical social equality and advocates modes of resistance that seek to establish new conditions of livability and a new sense of a shared world.
Judith Butler is Distinguished Professor in the Graduate School at the University of California, Berkeley. They are the author of several books, most recently The Force of Nonviolence: An Ethico-Political Bind (2020). Butler’s previous Columbia University Press books include Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism (2012), Antigone’s Claim: Kinship Between Life and Death (2000), and Subjects of Desire: Hegelian Reflections in Twentieth-Century France (1987).
Gayle Salamon is Professor of English and the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies at Princeton University. Her research interests include phenomenology, feminist philosophy, queer and transgender theory, contemporary Continental philosophy, and disability studies. She is the author of Assuming a Body: Transgender and Rhetorics of Materiality (Columbia University Press, 2010) winner of the Lambda Literary Award in LGBT Studies. Her most recent book The Life and Death of Latisha King: A Critical Phenomenology of Transphobia (NYU Press, 2018) uses phenomenology to explore the case of Latisha King, a trans girl who was shot and killed in her Oxnard, California junior high school by a classmate in 2008.
What has been said about What World Is This? A Pandemic Phenomenology
‘Death and illness have been quite literally in the air,’ writes Judith Butler in this stunningly poignant study. Phenomenology, they argue, speaks to moments when, every now and then, many, if not all of us, are reminded of the eventual end of the world, and, even more, worlds. That harbinger knocks at the door in ‘this’ world in which ‘all’ now at least attempt, despite and even because of tragedy, to live. Addressing the pan-demos, the people everywhere and our interconnectedness, permeability, and irreplaceability, Butler challenges the hubris of imagined protection from the ‘external’ and articulates the ebb, flow, fragility, and precarity of life beyond idols—beyond, in their word, ‘pretense’—of self-sustained and hoarded power. In the spirit of repair, they ask us to embrace responsibility for conditions of radical equality and nonviolence on which livable lives depend, a common world of the symbiosis of breath and touch in the sociality of life. A beautiful and profound offering for our times and beyond. – Lewis R. Gordon, author of Fear of Black Consciousness
A thoughtful meditation on what it means to share a world with others in a time of global pandemic and climate change, from a philosopher who has already taught us so much about livable and grievable lives. This book offers a deeply human perspective on life at the edge of disaster. -Lisa Guenther, author of Solitary Confinement: Social Death and its Afterlives
In this remarkable meditation, Judith Butler draws together the key strands of their thought—from bodies that matter to melancholia to grievability to nonviolence—and offers a manifesto for our time. Turning to phenomenology, they make the urgent case for a new form of global responsibility based on the deepest entwinement of everyone to each other, to the earth we live on, and to the air we breathe. Nobody else could have made it. What World Is This? offers hope in a cruel and endangered world. -Jacqueline Rose, author of On Violence and On Violence Against Women
In this timely and important book, Butler pays careful attention to the specifics of our contemporary situation with startling clarity, bringing their inimitable voice and philosophical resources to the questions of what it means for life to be livable, what it means for the earth to be inhabitable, what it means for an entity to be grievable, and the ways the COVID-19 pandemic has cast these questions into relief, at the same time marking how intimately entwined with each other they are. -Amy Hollywood, author of Acute Melancholia and Other Essays: Mysticism, History, and the Study of Religion
This event is made possible by support from the City Light Foundation.