- Binding Violence: Literary Visions of Political Origins
Can we compare the mass murders of the Holocaust, the Rwanda massacres, and Latin American “desaparecidos,” the missing bodies of the detained in the seventies? These genocidal practices might be difficult to compare, but considering how contemporary society erects multiple monuments, concrete and abstract, to histories of violence signals the need to have communal memory sites. Forgetting the dead is, for many, the equivalent of a double homicide, a crucial part of the agenda of dictatorial regimes that want to exterminate the political, racial or social other by erasing the traces not only of their bodies, but also of their names, their memories. What can Sophocles’, Sade’s and Mario Vargas Llosa’s literary visions tell us about how throughout history the elimination of the political enemy, and its “double killing,” unites a community of equals? Moira Fradinger’s Binding Violence, Literary Visions of Political Origins, brilliantly traces the origins of the Western democratic imagination and the violent politics of membership in three historical, political [End Page 1133] and literary periods - Ancient Greece, the French Revolutionary era and the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic during the middle of the twentieth century. Fradinger’s project stands out as deeply original, and its mastery resides in her ability to explore the complex intersections between history, literature and political theory, through methodical, didactic, clear, and impressively erudite readings of Antigone, One Hundred and Twenty Days of Sodom, and The Feast of the Goat.
It is a very challenging task to synthesize in a few pages Fradinger’s intricate net of questions and arguments, since her book is so well researched and eloquently constructed that each chapter could be a book in itself. Yet, Fradinger, anchored in a strong theoretical background, carefully weaves her argument of how violence is the determining binding force of modern political communities through her main chapters, and her “interludes,” short and crucial sections that serve as transitions. Binding Violence’s discussion of the politicization of death in these literary texts aims to confront readers with the rhetoric and the political demands of equality in an emerging, fragile democracy or a state in crisis, preoccupied with its borders and its notions of identity. Ultimately, a political space that is haunted by the question: who is one of us? Throughout these diverse historical moments, we continue to encounter the discourse of the us vs. them, so familiar to post-9/11 American readers, in an attempt to justify unjustifiable ab/uses of violence. But as Fradinger explains: “These figures of enmity are carved out of the same social category that attempts their elimination: they are enemies created within those who were, or aspired to be, equals. The Sophoclean Creon rekills a citizen of Thebes; Vargas Llosa’s dictator, who is of Haitian ancestry, targets the Haitians in his territory; the Sadean libertines kill their daughters” (16). The fragility of the frontier between slaves and citizens, humans and nonhumans, equals and nonequals, is what triggers the fear of becoming the political other, and the “problem of membership” (29).
The politics of burial in Sophocles’ Antigone are clearly linked to the effects of violence in the community of the modern state. Creon’s edict, like Sadianites’ social contract or alliance, and like many laws in current “democracies,” legalizes the state of exception and justifies its violence. Fradinger evades traditional ways of reading Antigone, and focuses her reading of Creon’s edict in opposition to Antigone’s defense of the ritual of burial. Polynices is thus killed twice. First, in a fratricidal war, and secondly by the exception of the burial customs inaugurated by the edict. Antigone defies Creon’s oral law since her brother was a citizen, not a slave, and equal, not a nonequal. Fradinger echoes Agamben’s homo sacer, when connecting Polynices’ “double” death to Sadianites’ victims and Trujillo’s Haitian massacre, because Creon “reasons” that internal enemies lose their rights and therefore, their equality. Fradinger’s sophisticated reading of Antigone delves into the particularities of the Greek political, historical and cultural context...