Volume 61, Issue 4, Fall 2017
Reading Violence, Lamenting Language
On Benjamin and Hamacher
This article examines the violence inherent to fundamental operations of critical and theoretical thought: to read in order to gain insight into something, and to draw distinctions in spite of experiences contradicting clear dividing lines, notably between what is human and the rest of all beings as “nature,” and between terminological language and other forms of speech, such as lamenting and complaining. Walter Benjamin’s texts both present and reenact this violence. Reading Benjamin, Werner Hamacher expounds these moments of violence as structural necessities. The article focuses on the question of distance as the objective of reading, and of drawing terminological distinctions—an objective, it is argued, that is driven by counteracting dynamics in reading, which follows the dictate of a text, and in excessive modes of speech such as plaintive language, which keeps claiming attention while refusing symbolic substitution in order to insist that it cannot be answered, satisfied, or appeased.