College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations

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violence, life, animals, critical theory, dialectics


My dissertation offers the first sustained engagement with the question of violence in the works of Jacques Derrida and Theodor Adorno. I argue that the conjunction of questions of violence and with those of “life” indicates a profound sympathy in their thinking and suggests the need to develop a critical dialogue between discourses of life (ecology, environmental science, etc) and philosophy. In early works such as Of Grammatology and “The Actuality of Philosophy,” Derrida and Adorno contend that the structures of thought, meaning, and signification are necessarily incomplete and, as such, are always marked by violent exclusions. “Archē-violence” and “dialectics” are names for this originary violence. Both Derrida and Adorno argue that this violence fundamentally shapes thought’s relationship to the world. The notions of “reparatory violence” and “interpretation” in the works cited above give way in later texts to notions of “sovereignty,” “autoimmunity,” “identity thinking,” and “exchange” as ways to understand the passage from structural to empirical violence. Of particular interest is the relationship between violence and “life.” In their later works (Rogues, The Beast and the Sovereign Lectures, Minima Moralia, and Negative Dialectics, etc), this relation emerges both in terms of the violent denial and annihilation of life implied in the reductive logics of “logocentrism” and “identitarian thinking,” and in the question of “animal life,” the question of who counts as “human,” and who or what can be included in the “human” community. Hence, my dissertation situates the historical and philosophical concern for violence in relationship to the questions of “life” and, in so doing, enters into the growing conversation surrounding violence and environmentalism that can be heard across the humanities.