The Performativity of Nonviolence in Translation

By Zoya Sardashti, Carolina Truzzi, Farnoush Nik, Fatemeh Takhtkeshian, Margherita Landi, Megan Lederman, and Jacob Lefton. 

Project Description

Witnessing violence on social media creates a heightened sense of urgency that can evoke a feeling of disjuncture in physical reality. In June 2020, Zoya Sardashti formed a reading group that evolved into a research collective as a response to ongoing police brutality in the U.S. because forms of activism, such as the framing of Black Lives Matter protests, were labeled as violent by opposition groups. The debate over the legitimacy of how public protests are enacted by certain media groups threatens freedom of expression and other modes of solidarity.

So the research collective, composed of eight people in five different time zones, took up the task of creating new approaches to enacting nonviolent assembly by translating theories in The Force of Nonviolence: An Ethico-Political Bind by Judith Butler within multilingual and nonverbal contexts. We created a format of inclusive practice as a mode of artistic research that resignifies Butler’s theory through the lens of performance-making processes and conflict resolution.

We approach nonviolence as a technique of using both singular and collective methodologies to make links across multiple subjective experiences through assembly formation


Below is an excerpt from a practice-as-research session. Collaborators reflect on ways autoethnographic methodology in a multilingistic context connects to nonviolence.

Here is an excerpt of the dialogue in the audio file above. 

In chapter three of The Force of Nonviolence: An Ethico Political Bind, Butler offers Walter Benjamin’s writing in Critique of Violence for us to consider thinking around ways translation, exchange, and communicability are in relation to the practice of nonviolence. Butler suggests, “For Benjamin, translation consists of a reciprocal activity of one language upon another, transforming the target language in the course of the exchange. This reciprocal activity of translation alters, intensifies, and augments each language brought into contact with another, expanding the domain of communicability itself by partially realizing that non-sensible “intention” that runs through all languages.” If a non-sensible “intention” can be a force that runs through all languages, we use performativity in Butler’s theory as a guide to activate nonviolence. By engaging people through performative practices, we augment conventional techniques often used in conflict resolution and activate this as a technique in daily life. This technique is an extension of conflict resolution because it opens the constitutive possibility of translatability, not only between languages but also between conflicting positions within a language. Since each language has within it an opening to a foreign language, an openness to being contacted and transformed by the foreign, forming theory collectively across multiple multilingual and nonverbal contexts, situates activating nonviolence as an ongoing, ever forming practice of being in translation within a group.  (Butler, 2020)

Butler, J. (2020). The Force of Nonviolence: An Ethico-Political Bind. Verso. London & New York.

In partnership with Liebig12, The Performativity of Nonviolence in Translation was promoted by Vorspiel / Transmediale & CTM Festival Jan. 21-Feb. 6

Programming included a public talk and practice-as-sessions with people local to Berlin. Documentation of the practice-as research was used for the virtual collective narration via Zoom. 

During the virtual collective narration video cameras were turned off. Names were changed to the first letter of a chosen name. A profile picture was replaced with a color.

A group of voices assembled online. Similar to a Greek chorus, people used the porosity of words to cascade into virtual space. The audience was invited to feel a force with force that generates an imagined ethical relation that has yet to be rendered visible.

Afterward documentation of the practice-as-research and virtual collective narration was exhibited at Liebig12 and shared with the public. Guests were invited to discuss and write reflections on the relationship between nonviolence and social equality.