Accueil > Conférence de lecture de Vincent MILLOU

BHUM 15A00 - Conférence de lecture

Type d'enseignement : Seminar

Semester : Autumn 2017-2018

Number of hours : 24

Language of tuition : English

Voir les plans de cours et bibliographies



Course Description

This course is intended primarily as an introduction to the humanities. Its main goal is to encourage students to develop reading habits as well as reading techniques. The required texts come from varied traditions within philosophy and literature. Most of them were originally written in English. Some of the sessions will focus on visual forms of expressions. All of the course material deals with the main theme of the seminar, violence. The seminar will cover two phenomena: systemic violence on the one hand, and forms of resistance to systemic violence on the other. (1) The foremost agent of systemic violence is the state. The course will not focus on the justifications of state violence, but will investigate important concepts behind it: obedience, war, and the state of exception. (2) The course will explore various responses to systemic violence and their justifications. Systemic violence can produce affects of shame and rage, but also of pity and compassion. In turn the responses are numerous. Taking vulnerability into account for instance, leads some to nonviolent resistance (Butler). But we will also examine an interesting explanation of political assassination based on compassion (Goldman). We will also examine the theory and practice of direct action and the relationship between riots and revolution. This seminar is linked to Frédéric Gros' lectures, but is indepentently evaluated. Class will take place every two weeks during both the fall and spring semesters. Students will be expected to read the assigned texts for each session. There are two books that students are expected to read entirely: Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee, and The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin.


MILLOU, Vincent (Doctorant)

Course validation

Students will have three grades. The overall grade will be calculated according to the following percentages. - Written exam on the final lecture (20%) - Essay on one of the readings (40%) - A third grade will be explained during the first session (40%)

Plans de cours et bibliographies

Séance 1. Introduction. Broad historical perspective: Elias on the law of monopolies, on the process of civilization and pacification, state violence.

Séance 2. Are men inherently violent?

  • Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, chap. XIII
  • Hobbes’s life and times. Can there be an anthropology of violence? The equal vulnerability of humans. Hobbes’s “state of nature” as a fictive, but efficient justification of the state.
  • Additional material: Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (extract: the Alpha colony); David Graeber, “Are You An Anarchist? The Answer May Surprise You!”

Séance 3. Obedience as the passive source of violence

  • Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem (selection)
  • Obedience as the necessary condition for the exercize of organized violence. The case of Eichmann seems to provide evidence that obedience is problematic only, or mostly, in totalitarian or authoritarian states. I will argue that Arendt’s idea of the banality of evil is intended to be more disquieting: unquestioning obedience is just as likely to be the passive source of violence in authoritarian states as in democracies, as evidenced by Milgram.
  • Additional material: La Boétie, Discours de la servitude volontaire; Stanley Milgram, Obedience to Authority; Henri Verneuil, I… comme Icare; Vercors, “Le Silence de la Mer”; Thoreau, “Resistance to Civil Government”

Séance 4. War and imperialism

  • Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political
  • Is the distinction between friend and enemy the specific criterium of the political? War as the possible horizon of all politics. The state and war, the state and the political.
  • Additional material: Francis Ford Coppola, Apocalypse Now; Eleanor Coppola, Hearts of Darkness. A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse; Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness; Tayeb Salih, Season of Migration to the North; Pierre Clastres, “Archéologie de la violence”

Séance 5. Pity, vulnerability and nonviolence

  • Judith Butler, Precarious Life. The powers of Mourning and Violence
  • Terror attacks as a privileged site from which to observe the precarity of life, the economy of grief and mourning, and the unequal distribution of perceived vulnerability. Ungrievable bodies and state terror abroad. The claim of nonviolence.
  • Additional material: Rousseau, Discours sur l’origine de l’inégalité parmi les hommes; Gandhi, All Men Are Brothers; Extract from the internet news outlet, Democracy Now.

Séance 6. State of exception

  • JM Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians
  • Literature as tool of awareness. The state of exception and the state of law: a problematic articulation. What is the police? State of exception and violence: the “bare life” in Coetzee’s novel.
  • Additional material: Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life and State of Exception; Walter Benjamin, Zur Kritik der Gewalt; Judith Butler, “Indefinite Detention”; Cavafy, “Waiting for the Barbarians”; Andre Brink, A White Dry Season; Didier Fassin, La force de l’ordre.

Séance 7. Compassion and “slave morality”

  • Friedrich Nietzsche, Antichrist ; The Genealogy of Morals (selections)
  • Is compassion the perverted form of a weak desire of domination? Is compassion the expression of a “slave morality”? Is the present preeminence of nonviolence a symptom of civilizational weakness? Nonviolence and its violent origins.
  • Additional material: Invisible Committee, To Our Friends.

Séance 8. Racism, compassion and love

  • James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time
  • Racism as the systematic denial of agency and humanity. The concept of oppression: not accidental, but structural constraints. Race as a fundamental part of US history. Love, compassion and radicalism. The whitewashing of Martin Luther King.
  • Additional Material: Raoul Peck, I Am Not Your Negro; Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks and  The Wretched of the Earth; Aimé Césaire, Discours sur le colonialisme and Cahier d’un retour au pays natal; Sandra Lee Bartky, “On Psychological Oppression”; Edward Said, Orientalism; Howard Zinn, A Popular History of the United States;  Billie Holliday, “Strange Fruit”; Kerry James, “Lettre à la République”; Rocé, “Problèmes de Mémoire”; Kendrick Lamar, “The Blacker the Berry”, “Alright”

Séance 9. Political assassinations and compassion

  • Emma Goldman, Anarchism and Other Essays
  • Anarchism and “propaganda by the deed”. Is Goldman’s explanation of lethal violence as extreme compassion tenable? Should political assassinations be explained or justified in a different way, or are they never justified?
  • Émile Henry, Lettre de la conciergerie; Emma Goldman, Living My Life

éance 10. Direct Action

  • Sam Green and Bill Siegel, The Weather Underground
  • History of the US radical left in the 1960’s and 1970’s: the war in Vietnam, the SDN, the Weather Underground, the Black Panthers. Distinguishing many forms of strategic violence: armed struggle, sabotage, non-lethal bombings.
  • Additional material: Dan Berger, Outlaws of America: The Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity; Jeremy Varon, Bringing the War Home: The Weather Underground, the Red Army Faction and Revolutionary violence in the Sixties and Seventies; Paul Auster, Leviathan and 4 3 2 1 (excerpts); David Graeber, Direct Action; Alessandro Stella, Années de rêve et de plomb. Des grèves à la lutte armée en Italie (1968-1980)

Séance 11. Riots and revolution

  • Do revolutions always imply riots? Sorting out riots according to their public and level of violence.
  • Session material: Marx, Civil War in France; Sorel, Réflexions sur la violence; Shon Meckfessel, Nonviolence ain’t what it used to be. Unarmed insurrection and the rhetorics of resistance; Francis Bacon, “Of Seditions and Troubles”; The contentious “riot porn” videos on internet; Depictions of riots in mainstream media such as Jason Bourne (2016), Kany West’s “No Chuch in the Wild”

Séance 12. Written exam, no lecture