I pray but I am lost. Am I just praying to silence?

After watching Martin Scorsese’s ‘Silence’, it gives me the same feeling I had when I watched Oppenheimer’s ‘The Act of Killing’, the feeling where it just destroy your mood for the rest of the day…

While ‘Silence’ might not be as appealing as it is compared to Scorsese’s previous movies such as ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, ‘Hugo’ or even ‘The Departed’, the amount of killing and torturing involved really reminds me of the incidents described and revealed by Anwar from ‘The Act of Killing’.

I guess you can say ‘Silence’ is a movie version of ‘The Act of Killing’. Instead of documenting the killing involved from the killer’s perspective, ‘Silence’ surrounds missionary Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) in his attempt to look for Father Ferreira (Liam Nelson) in Japan, who renounced his belief on Jesus after being tortured. During his journey in search for Father Ferreira, Father Rodrigues encountered a lot of local Christian populations hidden underground.

You have to understand that minority culture and belief such as Christianity cannot exist in Japan, as Japan operates under militarism. They see religion as a demonstration of authority.

Once they captured Father Rodrigues, they did not kill him. They see priest as the root to the problem of Christianity. Therefore, instead of killing him, what they did was to force him to renounce his faith. They did this by village massacre, drowning Christians, burning them alive, and having their head chop off…

All of these were done to question Father Rodrigues’ ethical dilemma, who struggles as he questions whether if he’s being too self-centered or too unmerciful to commit apostasy. The dilemma where he is not helping those who are suffering as a Christian priest because he is unwilling to give up his religious belief.

And of course, it didn’t take long until Father Rodrigues breaks down from this ethical dilemma and chose to accept this painful truth.

Throughout the movie, it illustrates the three key areas of ‘humanities’, the correlation between value, culture and the normative. You can see how Father Rodrigues firmly hold on to his belief and see it as a responsibility to have such an ethical guideline. It is this responsibility given by God that gives him such a burden not to commit apostasy.

Watch Martin Scorsese’s ‘Silence’ trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IqrgxZLd_gE


Art is ____________.

Not long ago I was asked to write down my statements on what art is and what it contributes to resistance in my PO936 ‘Resistance in Practice’ module.

Of course, as one of the few top students in this module (sarcasm), I demonstrated my resistance in practice and chose not to contribute any of my statements at all.

The truth is, I struggled to come up with a statement on art even after hours and hours of thinking.

Art is…an expression of self.

No, no, that’s too easy

As a child whose parents studied fine arts, whose dad is an art teacher, these statements are too simple; I need to come up with a better definition for art

And then art can be part of humanities as well…

Can I actually relate some of the themes from the law and humanities to contribute my definition of art?

And just when I was working on my law and humanities essay, I came across this lovely piece of reading from the Yale Journal of Law and Humanities.

Joushua Decter’s ‘Inside and Outside Sovereignty, Outside and Inside the Law’.

Not only does he quote my favorite idol Giorgio Agamben to begin with as his introduction, what he wrote was exactly what I wanted to say about art. His way of expressing sovereignty through a poem linking with law as well as art have been simply beautiful.

“Art is governed by the same laws it seeks to break.
And yet we might say that art is always endeavoring to be at once inside and outside ‘the law.’
If art breaks these laws, it breaks itself.
Which can result in powerful art…
We are the order we seek to disorder.
We are our incomplete sovereignty.
Decriminalize us.”

Decter, Joshua (2015) “Inside and Outside Sovereignty, Outside and Inside the Law,” Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities: Vol. 27: Iss. 2, Article 8.
Available at: h p://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/yjlh/vol27/iss2/8


A Universalist Conception of the ‘Human’?

What is the human? At first glance, this seems to be a fairly easy question. Already when we were children, we probably all had a rather clear idea about what a human being is and what is not. As adults, people normally still consider their conception of the human self-evident, no matter whether it is a biomedical or a more spiritual one. Therefore, it is usually not questioned or compared to other views. However, the line between ‘human’ and ‘not human’ gets blurry when you take a closer look at different cultures, religions or philosophical theories. An interesting example is the etymology of the word ‘orang-utan’ which means ‘person of the forest’ in Malay/Indonesian. In 2014, a court in Argentina even granted an orang-utan human-like rights.

Blurring the line between ‘human’ and ‘not human’ also works the other way around: Throughout history and until today, black people are compared to monkeys in order to demean them in a racist way – and people who have committed (or are suspected of) a serious crime are often regarded as beasts or monsters. This dehumanization establishes a kind of ‘subhuman’ category which can be used to justify measures that are discriminatory, violent and/or contrary to human rights. Thus, deeming someone ‘human’ or ‘not human’ is not only a description, but also a value judgement that entails many implications. This mechanism seems to be quite timeless, although the particular conceptions of the ‘human’ change over time. Thinking of a future shared with humanoid robots or extraterrestrial life forms, our current conception is certainly not the last word on the subject.


On Crary’s 24/7

While revisiting the Crary fragment (pp18-19) last night, I was briefly struck by the impression that despite the pessimism in the author’s judgment of the probable incurability of insomnia in the global capitalist conjuncture, his suggestion of the body’s resilient awareness of its complicity in the ongoing globalist processes of expropriation bears a certain optimism. That what is foreclosed to the self-serving psyche of the consumer-citizen could nonetheless be registered by the body through its refusal of the balm of sleep – a refusal so strong that it survives the opiates and subsists in the day’s lethargy – supposes a community-bound ontology that operates to limit violence. Further implied in this diagnosis is the true antidote to the affliction: the conscious recognition of this corporeal guilt and the likewise conscious withdrawal of one’s consent to the global capitalist machinery through action.

There might linger, nonetheless, a doubt as to whether the body is indeed as attached to community as the critique suggests. If the narcissism of the consumer-citizen allows him/her to avert his/her gaze from the contemporaneous sufferings of the impoverished other and to saturate himself/herself with the pleasures afforded by more immediate communities (family; friends), would the body be so agonised by the pain of the distant other as to alter its habitual patterns? Or is Crary interested not so much in furnishing a biological explanation grounded in what the natural sciences consider to be facts as in crafting another narrative that appropriates the figure of the body as a means of reclaiming our responsibility for the other? Does the critique then occur in a space of ‘pure’ fiction that only mobilises ‘fact’ as a rhetorical device for its appeal to its intended addressees? What is its ‘truth’?

LLM Modules, LW927

Restrictions – a good servant or a bad master?

While visiting my home country, the Czech Republic, for a few weeks, I have noticed a very interesting issue because of what I have been forced to attend a very sharp debate for a several times.

There is a new law being passed in these days, the act which prohibits smoking in all restaurants, bars and clubs. The bill was already approved by the Chamber of Deputies, now it is waiting for its consideration it the Senate and then for the President’s sign. Many discussions have been raised and strong arguments being given from both sides. The smokers and the catering services owners feel to be discriminated, the non-smokers are usually pleased by the fact that their health is finally taken seriously.

But I do not want to consider the appropriateness of this particular bill. The fact that really surprised me is how many people, smokers or non-smokers, generally perceive it negatively as they feel it as a too strong restriction of their freedom.

As a law student, I definitely believe in the benefit influence of the law to our lives. The idea of society without any rules where human beings naturally act honestly to each other, is nice but at least very naïve. I am also convinced that every law has its negative and positive side. Someone is restricted in behalf of the other one and we have to consider well whose interest prevails.

Why even in the case of the law whose essential purpose is positive inherently – the people’s health – is it still so difficult to achieve the affirmative perception by the people?

Is the main problem the lack of confidence in the governments as we do not believe that the average people’s welfare is really the major interest? I necessarily have to take into account the historical aspects as well: people of the Czech Republic had been restricted for the dozens of years by The Communist regime. Is it rooted in our thoughts that every law regulating our life is evil? Or is it just our human nature that makes us uncomfortable with any rules which tries to bound us?


Law or Justice?

When you make a comment like ‘I believe in justice’, you wouldn’t generally expect the answer: ‘Then why do you study law?’

At least I didn’t. Nonetheless, it initiated a wave of laughter throughout the room, not the least of which did come from myself. Nowadays, law is often regarded as a tool to achieve a personal goal. Cases before a court are not always about ‘what’s right’ or ‘who acted fairly’, it’s a question of who can use the law to their advantage in a way that swings the outcome of a case in their favour. It can be perceived as a game of which the rules are constantly changing and whoever can use (or work around) the rules best, wins the game.

TV shows and movies about law and justice reinforce this use of the law. Any of my fellow fans of the TV series Suits would, in my opinion, be inclined to agree. We see Harvey Specter constantly throwing around motions and affidavits to use the law to his client’s or firm’s advantage. We identify with these characters, we grow to ‘love’ them and therefore we have the tendency to root for them to achieve the outcome they’re aiming for. Even if it is not necessarily what the law intended. We hope they get out of whatever illegal thing it is they did by watching the lawyers cleverly bend or break the rules.

Programs like Law and Order or Crime Scene Investigation show the other end of this spectrum. They depict enforcers of the law that push the boundaries and sometimes cross them in order to ensure justice is served. However, if we look at this critically, they are using the law to create the justice they think should be served, as opposed to adhering to how and why the law was actually set up.

And then there’s the cases in which we compromise justice, because, as Nick Rice said in Law Abiding Citizen, ‘Some justice is better than no justice at all’. In the movie, two perpetrators are being prosecuted and the one that is seen as the main actor of the crime agrees to testify against the other in order to gain immunity for the crime for himself. The argument is that it is better to ensure that only one of the perpetrators faces the consequences of his actions, than to risk both of them being exonerated. In other words, it’s better to win part of the game, than to risk losing all together.

We tend to accept these forms of playing with the law because when we watch these shows or movies, we believe in the outcome that is being depicted as favourable. But does that affect the way we see the law in real life as well? Is this the way we want the law to work? Or is it just a reality we’ve come to accept, because we simply don’t know any better?


Shattering the perceived hegemony of the imaginary

(Note: This post discusses sensitive issues such as lack of consent and sexual assault)

Often it can seem as though the shared imaginary is one homogenous mass – The sense that most of the public share the same views and perspectives is systematically perpetuated though media narrative. However, what can be observed, is that speaking out and challenging certain public discourses actually serves to fracture that illusion of hegemony.
In recent weeks, from the US, there has been a surge of anger towards Judges for imposing a lenient sentence on perpetrator Brock Turner. This has manifested in a lot of interest on social media, criticising the way in which court proceedings further victimised the female, who had already suffered at the hands of Turner. In court, she was subjected to complete interrogation of her demeanour leading up to the attack – feeding into the sense of the imaginary that is suggestive of the view that if there was alcohol involved, that somehow the woman holds some culpability. The culture of alcohol and campus party culture was pointed to as a instigative factor in the attack. She was not only forced to answer irrelevant questions such as “What were you wearing?” “How much did you have to drink” – thus conferring the responsibility to her to maintain moral codes surround female behaviour – but it was also inferred that because she was unconscious, there was no way to prove that she hadn’t consented and it was left to Turner to “fill in the gaps”
Both of Turner’s parents wrote pleading letters to the judge that have been published within the public arena.

The father’s attempt to make sense of his son’s crimes describing “20 mins of action” – harking to imaginary notions of the simplicity of a promising young man sowing his wild oats. The impact on Brock Turner’s sports career is given great prominence. There is no secret made about their fears for their son. A white, male college kid who would struggle in prison.
But missing from both letters is any reference to the girl their son raped. Her invisibility is utterly striking. At no point is the impact that this has had on her life ever mentioned.
This recent example goes some way to show how the imaginary feeds into shaping perceptions around the sensitive issue of rape and sexual assault. Furthermore what this could suggest however, is that cultural understandings of rape and rape culture require examination.
Within the popular imagination, rapists are often represented as a ‘savage other’ – not a middle class, white, college jock. Moreover, when the issue of rape is framed within tensions of power rather than sex, as well as the discourse of “no- is – no” there is a tendency to ignore some of the more subtly pernicious ways in which forms of power condition the imaginary. Playing into ‘rape myths’ such as the role of alcohol being an excusable causative factor, or the emphasis on the impact that the trial had on Turner and his life chances(!) all play into cultural myths configured through the imaginary.
The role of social media in this is to shift the discourse from one geographical location in America –, to a global platform whereby the situation can be understood for it’s wider implications. The intention isn’t to minimise or exploit the impact of rape, rather to highlight what this tells us about the role of the imaginary in this instance.
A focus on the more subtle forms of power can lead us to a better understanding of how ‘rape culture’ manifests in society. Instead of focussing on rape as a physically coercive event, (such as the image of a stranger in the bushes, who ignores the pleas to stop) – it is perhaps more useful to understand how for conditions for “rape culture” are structured and facilitated.
One possible avenue for understanding is to examine the side effects of the proliferation of pornography – ever pertinent in the digital age of quick and easy internet porn. Internet porn has a tendency toward a world of false image, a symbolic melt down of the barest iconics of sexuality. And the darker side – an arena in which submission and brutality are glorified and normalised and the culture of entitlement to women’s bodies becomes manifested in the imaginary. For it is the generation that are becoming adults that are the ones whose first sexual contact was offered through the screen, long before the real event, by which time a set of false norms and schemas have already embedded themselves.
It is this imaginary that needs to be challenged, as it is the threat posed by this culture of entitlement that needs breaking down. By drawing attention to “rape myths” we can act to disrupt the illusion that these ideas are naturalised within everyone’s consciousness.


Schemas and the Imaginary

British psychologist Bartlett understood the notion of a “schema” as being that which creates a cognitive structure for us to make sense of what is around us – Taylor also discusses this and conceptualizes the idea of “prototypes” – or as Bartlett or Baudrillard (and perhaps many others) would understand as a ‘paradigm’ – that is, the shared expectation of how a something should present itself. So, the prototype of a kitchen would have to include a source of heat for cooking on, or else it would not be a kitchen and would instead fit into another structure.

Schemas are useful for helping us understand the world around us, but what happens when this imaginary gets a bit ‘too real’?  Discourse, social practise and the imaginary can be seen to compose our understandings of the world, Taylor saw it as people  ‘imagining their social surroundings’ in their day to day life, as articulated through expressions of the self, such as the narratives we create and the stories we tell  – as well the images and symbols that hold meaning for us. (This is separate from theory as theorists are immersed within their own specialist knowledge systems.)

As Strauss points out, “paradigmatic examples repeated in popular culture may carry more weight.”  So the repetition of particular media tropes, messages and ideas can very well form a schematic understanding, or if you like, an “imaginary”. This is a concern because even though we may not fully internalize everything, indeed we may well reject much of what we are fed – we still may hold some contradictory and incohesive values as a result. So in this instance we could draw attention to Strauss’ example of a feminist woman, fully aware of the implications of the ‘glass ceiling’ who has still managed to internalize negative discourses around the idea of  the “welfare mother” and is able to view these as completely separate from each other.

I’ve been thinking about to what extent do these shared practises, that become ‘common sense’ understandings of the world, constrain and limit our own agency in how we are able to think about certain things? What actually lies underneath discursive practise? And how possible is it to reach what Saussure believed as a fixed ‘objective’ reality buried beneath layers of signification?


Dignity qua human being or Dignity qua persona?

Dignity is the condition but also the consequence of human rights (article 22 UDHR).
But what exactly is dignity? The intuitive definition of dignity would be “worthy of respect”… but why is one “worthy of respect”? Then again, the natural answer would be “because he or she is a human being”.
However, Alain Supiot’s ”The Human being as Imago Dei” seems to offer a different perspective. Indeed, in this chapter, we understand that the notion of personality finds its origins in Ancient Rome and initially meant “the death masks of the ancestors”, the imago. It is only later, with the Humanist/Enlightenment surge that the concept of “personality” was progressively bestowed upon every human being as a result of the King ceasing to be the only incarnation of God on Earth. From then on, all human beings were to be equals – because all made in the image of God- and unique- because God is one. Therefore, all human beings were to have “dignity”.
What it means is that human beings have dignity because they wear the mask of their ancestor, the mask of God. They do not hold dignity qua human being but qua persona, qua Imago Dei; because they represent God on Earth. More importantly perhaps, human beings have dignity because they represent the Christian God. Following the Modern era, law, Supiot argues, has become “the authority that vouches for human identity and symbolizes that they are not to be treated like a thing”. However, despite the apparent objectivity the Law claims to have, scholars, such as Anthony Angie, have also made evident the links between Christianity, natural law and positive law and revealed the embedded eurocentrism of modern international law.
This account of the Christian origins of the concept of dignity is at odds with its traditional understanding and raises issues with regard to the universal project of human rights. I am by no means implying that not all human beings must have their dignity respected. My interrogation rather lies in the consequences that such a conceptualization of dignity can have when applied universally: the refugees’ crisis, treatment of indigenous populations in land eviction cases…. How, if at all, does a Christian-western concept of dignity impact on how the Law understands the dignity of others?


The Irony of the Victim after Evil: A Standpoint between Forgiveness and Vengeance

Robert Meister, in his book After Evil, sheds light on a politics of human rights, especially the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator/beneficiary in the twentieth century at the beginning of the book.

Meister states that the concept of forgiveness and vengeance remains as moral imperative to the victim after evil has stopped and before justice comes. According to Meister, forgiveness is only way that releases the people from the fetters of consequences, in other words, it can only bring a new beginning. Vengeance, however, has a possibility to lead a cycle of future vengeance, therefore, justice cannot be achieved. He even argues that forgiveness might sometimes be the best revenge.

He, however, points out that “the apparent need to choose between forgiveness and vengeance arises from the standpoint of former victims who are still unsure about whether they have won” (p.9). This argument in particular reminds me of the issue of comfort women, girls and women who were forced into sex slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. The existence of the victim of comfort women has been denied by Japanese government for a long time. Recently, South Korean government and Japanese government agreed on a negotiation for indemnification for the victim, but the victim strongly complained that it was unfair and injustice agreement between two governments without the participation of the victim.

The victim of forced sex slavery by the Japanese Army may be seen as they have won because the Japanese government admitted their past crimes by agreeing on the negotiation. It, however, cannot be understood as a complete victory because the Japanese government still hesitates to announce it publicly and internationally, rather they admitted the victim only in South Korea. Meister argues that the past victims never really win. We now know that historical injustice exists behind this issue, but the victim cannot do anything – forgiveness or vengeance – at all. The tragedy from the twentieth century still continues in nowadays; there is no a new beginning and no justice. How can the victim of comfort women issues be free from its chain? The discourse of human rights is still in question.