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Taiwan Research Programme
London School of Economics and Political Science
Houghton Street
London, WC2A 2AE


Professor Stephan Feuchtwang

Dr Fang-Long Shih

Justice and Violence: reading Walter Benjamin's 'Critique of Violence' from an artist's point of view

With Dr Atsuhide Ito (University of the Arts, London)

Series: Seminar on Taiwan in Comparative Perspective, special series on Justice in Comparative Perspective   

Date: Thursday 19 November 2009, 6pm-8pm

Venue: Seligman Library (Room A607), Old Building, London School of Economics (LSE)

Chair: Professor Stephan Feuchtwang (Taiwan Research Programme)


Walter Benjamin's Critique of Violence (1921) set a framework for discourses on the theme of violence in art.  His article was reviewed by Jacques Derrida in his article 'Force of Law: mystical foundation of authority' (1992) and more recently in Slavoj Žižek's Violence (2008). Benjamin, following Georges Sorel, argues that Law is founded on the basis of violence and justice inevitably requires violence to legitimize it.  Horrendous, mystical and apocalyptic the essay seem to appear, Benjamin dialectically reveals violence as the foundation of Law.  Both Derrida in his article and Martin Jay in his Refractions of Violence (2008) divert from Sorel's and Benjamin's insistence in the inevitability of revolutionary or greater violence, which, in Benjamin's text, is termed Divine Violence. The paper examines the triangular relationship between justice, violence and vision.

While Kia Lindroos (2008) demonstrates that contemporary artists deploy terror as a replacement for the sacred aura which art objects used to possess, the series of paintings I have produced since 2001 engage with the project of visualizing fear as, to borrow Derrida's term, 'mediatheatricalization' of violence in the media. Regarding this point, Frank Möller (2008), along with Horst Bredekamp (2004), argues that the complicity of audiences is inevitable in representations of violence, whether in painting or on television. Does this mean that violence is committed because there are audiences?

About the Speaker

Dr Atsuhide Ito is a painter and Associate Lecturer at Byam Shaw School of Art, Central St Martin's College of Art and Design, University of the Arts London. He completed his PhD at University of Brighton, following a programme of study at University for the Creative Arts. His PhD dissertation Separate Landscape: non-place, aesthetics and landscape on the Tokaido Route, Japan discusses violence which is concealed in the production and consumption of non-places, while the practice part of his research re-serialised Utagawa Hiroshige's series of fifty-five prints The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido (1833) in the medium of painting. His recent paintings engage with the theme of violence via witnessing deaths in politically controversial circumstances.