The Performativity of Nonviolence in Translation

By Zoya Sardashti, Carolina Truzzi, Farnoush Nik, Fatemeh Takhtkeshian, Megan Lederman, Susan Pfeffer, Melanie Stanek, & Margherita Landi. 

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 limitations of public protests coupled with the debate over the legitimacy of how social movements are enacted, left us with the task of creating new approaches to forming nonviolent assembly. As a result, we sought to translate theories in The Force of Nonviolence: An Ethico-Political Bind by Judith Butler within multi-lingual and nonverbal contexts. This format of inclusive practice is a mode of artistic research that resignifies Butler’s theory through the lens of performance-making processes and conflict resolution facilitation. Identifying the force that performativity can create through facilitating translation (verbal and nonverbal), we developed an approach to activating nonviolence as an embodied research practice.

Here is an excerpt from a research session. Collaborators reflect on ways the practice connects to nonviolent action.

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 (trans)lation within a group.  (Butler, 2020)

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

At the end of January 2022, outcomes of the practice, such as documentation of participants’ experiences, will be organized into strategies of nonviolent action that can be activated in daily life. Documentation will be made public through a sound installation and podcast, so a broader audience may listen to the examples of the practice and participate in the nonviolent action in the comfort of their own home.

For an example please see the Force with Force Chorus, Actions to Create a New Mourning Ritual below.