It might be interesting to note that the Proto-Italic root of the word, violence, is vis or ‘force’. Before a weakened sense of the term began to designate ‘improper treatment’ from the 16thcentury onwards, the term for a long time pointed to a material force that alters things.
I suppose that such exercises might be deemed too scandalous in an age infatuated with origins and originating sources, perpetrators, and their victims, but it seems at least possible to reexamine violence as a matter of forcefields, instead of steady lines with stable sources, linear trajectories, and fully legible destinations, aggrieved ones.
Forcefields eschew our classical accounts of distance. The geometric sheath of neurotypicality that overlays and backgrounds a nonlinear sense of things composes the world in terms of prime objects and the empty spaces between them. Cause spills into effect. Acts have consequences. Along with every action, a reaction breathes. It is supposedly the law of physics – the physics of things that appear and the things that don’t.
However, within forcefields, it is not that easy to pinpoint things or the spaces between them. There are flows, patterns, attractors, repellers, convergences, tensions, feedback loops, crystallizations, and even cracks within entrainments. But distance would imply a different kind of logistics. Space isn’t empty. Distance is not self-evident. To some degree, everything affects everything else. Indeed, as Barad reminds us, it goes deeper than things affecting other things within relationships. Instead, relationships precede things. ‘Things’ only come to gain their characteristics through these intra-acting flows, and not prior to them.
When we think of violence as a matter of forcefields, it compels us to think in ricochet. In place of a fixed source, we think in terms of the emergent materials in the assemblage that condition the event. We notice glancing rebounds, zigzagging complexities, surface tensions, the dynamics of multiplicities and crisscrossing effects. We think in terms of what the room is doing, instead of focusing mainly on the occupants. The word itself - ricochet - seems to be doing some heavy lifting. Borrowed from the French, the term is of uncertain origins. No one seems to know its source or roots beyond its being French. It is almost as if the word ricochet ricocheted itself across our cultures of usage, resisting a stable point of origin.
...within forcefields, it is not that easy to pinpoint things or the spaces between them. There are flows, patterns, attractors, repellers, convergences, tensions, feedback loops, crystallizations, and even cracks within entrainments... distance would imply a different kind of logistics.
Perhaps most critical about thinking of violence in this way, as force, as entrainment, is that at the point of impact, when something deemed violent has occurred, whether we acknowledge it or not, we are often faced with two questions: one, what has happened? And two, what is already implied or ignited in our frameworks of embodiment by the event that has happened? By this, I mean to suggest that if we take seriously the idea that violence is a forcefield, a ricocheting maze of intra-actions that shape bodies instead of merely impacting them, then we must acknowledge that violence is a political matter that gives rise to questions about what it means to be embodied in particular ways.
We often respond to these two questions differently. We focus on the first and background the second. Our presumptions kick into gear: we already think we know what it means to be a body. We already know where the lines are drawn and what it means to cross them. We already participate within a provisional politics that depends on some arrangement of lines or another. And so, we focus solely on what happened and build on from there. We tell the story of the perpetrator, traditionally designated as the originating source, the one to blame, and then we tell the story of the victim, the one to be appeased, also a political appearing of an individual or collective of individuals to be compensated in some way.
Because we operate within economies of relations, within ontologies, we feel compelled to assign responsibility in one way or another. We would need to keep settlement functional. We would need to keep things running. It is highly impractical for a court of law to consider the ways bacterial and microbial secretions in the gut may have influenced the defendant. It’s the reason why we boil it down to ‘choice’, to the inalienable right to choose – a political move that structures violence within the linearities of a humanist ontology.
Why do we need to think in ricochet? Perhaps it is because the paradigm of the individual-as-stable-actor is exhausted and thinning out, reinforcing what it has striven to dissipate, keeping the tensions locked in.
But perhaps I belabour the point: violence is manufactured within cosmologies. Within relations. Within complex fields of emergent encounters. Whether we treat impinging forces as unfair, harmful, and improper treatment or as something else is already a matter of the onto-epistemologies at work. As forcefield, violence stretches our accounts of responsibility beyond stable authors and their recipients. As linear causality, violence becomes the creative site of discourses and practices that stabilize proper conduct, allocate agency, and name the actor/perpetrator as the source of concern.
Why do we need to think in ricochet? Perhaps it is because the paradigm of the individual-as-stable-actor is exhausted and thinning out, reinforcing what it has striven to dissipate, keeping the tensions locked in. There are risks with thinking of violence as a forcefield, of course. Nothing actual emerges without tensions and risks. The risk is of flattening and obscuring responsibility so much that goals like justice no longer feel tenable. Imagine if we had to think about the posthumanist roles that sugar and gut bacteria, Lactobacillus, played in exacerbating the transatlantic slave trade by influencing diet cravings! Where do we draw the line if the ricocheting thing continues along its noisome trajectories endlessly – becoming more than a thing that travels? Becoming amaze, a field of tensions? What becomes of the satisfying conclusions that justice offers? It’s hard to tell but interesting to consider that within a field, even justice becomes a form of violence, a cutting off of some kind.
Perhaps these considerations and risk assessment of a concept presents us with reasons why a posthumanist, force-field-ian reframe presents too much of a stumbling block for persons who simultaneously feel the exhaustion of their humanist analyses but are habituated to thinking about the world in terms of linear actors and their comeuppances. It is important to note that even this risk of flattening accountability I speak of must be properly situated within a framing ontology. One must consider that one first needs a politics that assigns agency to stable individuals before one is at risk of glossing over individual responsibility. Of course, specific economies of relations will affix responsibility in one way or the other, but risk analysis must take ontological frameworks into consideration.
In the end, if violence is considered a forcefield, we are afforded new moves, new disseminating lines of errancy seeking new kinds of convergences, which will in turn engrave new risks to consider. We might consider the ways our politics of recuperation and justice actually perpetuate the very thing they are summoned to resolve. We might notice how violence is already political. Even our affixations of harm - far from being self-evident laws of nature - are political productions that simultaneously call into question not just the impacting blow but conditions that make the blow potent.