curated by Viviana Gravano
Violence is a taboo. In the face of violence we all show indignation, we judge it reprehensible and sanction it as a negative action. A kind of tacit convention causes violence to be countered because it is an object / action to be punished and repressed.
Giorgio Agamben in his essay Karman. Breve trattato sull’azione, la colpa e il gesto (Karman. A brief treatise on action, guilt and gesture) , speaks of the so-called “talion law”, the law according to which one can react to an abuse, an injustice, a form of violence, with a sanction of the same nature as the crime committed. In other words, it is allowed to react to violence through the same form of violence. But the difference is that the sanction – being understood as a reaction to an infraction – becomes law, it is institutionalized and therefore it becomes, not only acceptable, but fair. To put it practically, a serial killer is sentenced to death. Violence is reacted to through violence, but while the first is a break of the rule, the second is the assertion of it. That is, however, two identical actions have two different statutes: one is punishable, the other is the punishment.
We therefore ask ourselves: what kind of violence is acceptable and what is not? What level of visibility must violence attain in order to be punishable? How can the forms of “counter-violence”, be sanctioned, if violent? Who establishes which form of violence is punishable and which is legitimate? Those who resists state violence by using violence are enacting some sort of “fair violence” or can they be sanctioned? When violence is governmental, and is therefore produced by those who should have the power to sanction violence, does it become legal, acceptable and not sanctionable?
Perhaps we need to define what we mean by state violence and try to decide on its limits and physiognomy. First, state violence is often invisible or made invisible. That is, it appears as necessary, or even as a founding norm for the common good, or necessary in order to maintain a state of peace for everybody. This is a characteristic of all the dictatorships that, for example, adopt torture as an instrument of domination over opponents, being able to publicly sanction the violence of the opponents as a crime against the state. So, apparently, the state sanctions those who try to subvert its rules, using an invisible violence that is the cause of the evident, clearly visible violence of the opponnets.
During the colonial invasion wars, a terrible violence was perpetrated against civilians, but obviously no official chronicle of the time gave an account of it, and what instead emerged was the innate, savage and “natural” violence of those populations, incapable of dominating their instincts. The image of the colonized in the West has for decades been close to that of the ferocious beast incapable of dominating its own violent nature. This iconography was designed by the invading state, which imposed its presence on another people with an unheardof violence, a violence made invisible by the civilizing mission it claimed to carry out. We are used to considering some areas of our metropolis as off-limits because they are violent. We have a negative perception, dominated by fear. We consider them inaccessible spaces because we fear for our safety.
The state has built ghettos, isolated areas without basic services for survival, where it has often literally deported people of very low income, people who have already committed crimes and often with a very low level of education. Within the perimeter of this choice a form of blind violence is perpetuated every day, one defined by deprivation, by the lack of any right and, first and foremost, by the stigma of being violent neighbourhoods. The invisible semantic violence that has drawn those areas of annulment therefore sanctions and describes as violent people those who inhabit them and live them.
Every day millions of children in the world – or at least in the western or westernized world – go to school, where they are forced to sit down and to listen to their teachers, within a violently vertical way of transmitting knowledge. They are not allowed any other possibility: this violent imposition both from a physical and mental point of view is considered as favorable, necessary and positive for their growth. Among these children some are hyperactive, others do not adapt to the imposed writing and reading systems, others are violent. Their behavior is sanctioned, and more and more often also certified according to complex forms of cataloging. They are often isolated, forced to follow an alternative path that separates them from their companions, medicalized, and a person who has the sole responsibility of returning to the rule is imposed on them. A subdued but terribly invasive form of violence is considered the best way to help our children, and if they rebel with “violence” they get sanctioned.
We can list many examples, but the question for this issue is only one: who decides which form of violence is punishable and which is salvific?
 G.Agamben, Karman. Breve trattato sull’azione, la colpa e il gesto, Bollati Boringhieri, 2017