Shadows of the Absent Body


Thursday, March 2, 2017, 6:00pm to 7:30pm


Menschel Hall, Lower Level, Harvard Art Museums, 32 Quincy St.

Presented by: Harvard Art Museums 
Admission: Free and open to the public. Following the lecture, the special exhibition Doris Salcedo: The Materiality of Mourning will remain open until 8pm.
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The task of public grieving for the countless lives lost to violence requires maintaining the absent body rather than its conversion into presence. The object world houses that absence and allows for its encounter.

We may think that “visibility” is the ethical and political answer to those histories of atrocious loss that leave the dead nameless. But namelessness, too, has to be presented and is part of the contemporary horizon of obliteration and persistence. Every act of “making visible” is haunted by what can no longer appear. It invests a redemptive potential in the field of vision, but the field of vision is itself constrained by the loss; it is governed, we might say, by the persistent distinction between the grievable and the ungrievable.

In this lecture, Judith Butler, the Maxine Elliot Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley, will consider how in the context of Salcedo’s work the field of grievability is a sensate field riddled with loss. Grievability is a potential that is only partially realized through a transformation of the object world—the tactical, the relations of proximity, and the shadows of the absent body in the field of objects. The remainders of a life assemble in new form, never giving back that life, but establishing counter-monumental forms of memorialization. To establish a life as grievable, as worthy of grief—and worthy of preservation—is an injunction that pertains to both the living and the dead. But under conditions when the body is no longer recognizable, how do the objects that remain come together to speak to the loss?

The lecture will take place in Menschel Hall, Lower Level. Please enter the museums via the entrance on Broadway.

Space is limited, and tickets are required. Free tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis, beginning at noon on Thursday, February 16, at the Harvard Box Office, located in Farkas Hall, 12 Holyoke St, Cambridge. Tickets must be picked up in person and are not available online or by phone. Limit of two tickets per person.

Complimentary parking available in the Broadway Garage, 7 Felton Street, Cambridge.

This program is part of Topography of Loss: A Symposium on Doris Salcedo(March 2–3, 2017) at the Harvard Art Museums, which is open to the public.

Support for the lecture is provided by the M. Victor Leventritt Fund, which was established through the generosity of the wife, children, and friends of the late M. Victor Leventritt, Harvard Class of 1935. The purpose of the fund is to present outstanding scholars of the history and theory of art to the Harvard and Greater Boston communities. Modern and contemporary art programs at the Harvard Art Museums are made possible in part by generous support from the Emily Rauh Pulitzer and Joseph Pulitzer, Jr., Fund for Modern and Contemporary Art.