“This lecture theorizes oscillating relations between disciplinary, pre-emptive, and increasingly prehensive forms of power that shape human and non-human materialities in Palestine. Calculation, computing, informational technologies, surveillance, and militarization are all facets of prehensive control.”
It may not sound sexy, but it was part of the announcement for a lecture given earlier this month at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY. And the event was, in fact, well attended by an enthused throng.
The lecturer was Jasbir Puar, professor of women’s and gender studies at Rutgers University, specialist in queer theory, and anti-Israeli activist. Before she began her talk, a Vassar professor asked the crowd to “silence your devices you brought with you….”
But as reported by William Jacobson, professor of law at Cornell and blogger at the conservative Legal Insurrection site, Puar’s talk was recorded anyway by a group at Vassar called Fairness to Israel. The group has a lot of work to do there because, as Jacobson notes, Vassar is a hotbed of anti-Israeli activity, up to and including “gross displays of anti-Jewish hostility.”
Jacobson himself, when he gave a talk to a student group at Vassar, couldn’t get a single academic apartment there to cosponsor the lecture. Puar, for her part, had no trouble getting academic backing. Her lecture was sponsored by the Vassar American Studies Department and cosponsored by a phalanx of other departments including Africana Studies, English, International Studies, Jewish Studies (no less), Political Science, Religion, and Women’s Studies.
And “according to reports I received,” Jacobson notes, “a dozen or so Vassar professors attended the event.”
This gathering had the privilege of hearing Puar praise BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel) activity at Vassar, and go on to say that:
[BDS is] a platform that emerges from civil society. It is such a minor piece of how Palestine is going to be liberated, it’s a liberal platform and it’s the very least that we can do to sign on to BDS. But we need BDS as part of organized resistance and armed resistance in Palestine as well. There is no other way the situation is going to change.
“Armed resistance in Palestine” means, of course, terrorism. Having lived in Israel for over 30 years, I do not know what’s on the U.S. law books but I assume that incitement to terrorism is illegal. It occurred at Vassar, though, earlier this month; no wonder they didn’t want the event to be taped.
Puar, in the mode of the BDS movement and its friends, went on to paint a picture of Israel as a country so purely, irredeemably evil and monstrous that an uninformed or susceptible person would indeed come away thinking it has no right to exist and needs to be gotten rid of.
“Since October of 2015,” Puar pontificated,
new uprisings in the West Bank have ignited what many are now calling the third intifada. Protests, stabbings, flagrant refusals of IDF control, clashes and revived commitment to a peoples’ rumble have resulted in more than 120 deaths by field assassinations of young Palestinian men, largely between the ages of 12 to 16, by IDF soldiers. On January 1st, 2016, the Israeli government returns 17 bodies of these youth that purportedly lay in a morgue in West Jerusalem for two months. No explanation has ever been given for their detention. Some speculate that the bodies were mined for organs for scientific research….
Responding to stabbings by shooting the stabbers now constitutes, in the latest jargonspeak, “field assassinations.” (By the way, a 12 year old can stab you equally dead as a 16 or 26 year old). As for bodies of stabbers and other attackers being held by Israel, the aim—as is completely out in the open and well known to both sides—is to get the families to promise not to turn the funerals into further festivals of (Vassar-style) murderous incitement.
Puar goes one further, though, with her organ-harvesting libel (coyly couched with “some speculate”), which has become part of a litany of anti-Israeli libels that sound a lot like classical anti-Semitism.
Her talk was full of such garbage, often delivered in a distorted English that is itself a barbarous assault on language and thought.
This, for instance, is supposed to mean that Israel—sensitive to being accused of genocide—has a policy of gradually neutralizing the Palestinian population through crafty, diabolical measures short of outright killing:
Targeting youth, not for death but for stunting, which is an official medical diagnosis, for physical and psychological and cognitive injuries, is another aspect of [Israel’s] biopolitical tactic that seeks to render impotent any future resistance. Future capacity to sustain Palestinian life on its own terms, thereby debilitating generational time. This is the epigenetics, the weaponized epigenetics….
And yet stunting can be understood as another form of gendering or perhaps ungendering that may discharge or perhaps even preempt male-female binaries for a biopolitics that is not only driven through human reproduction but through the durational capitalist instrumentalizations of inhuman entities.
Get that? I think she’s saying that the Jews, knowing people would object if they just killed off the Palestinians, are using sinister medical procedures of “stunting” and “ungendering” in a sort of cunning, infernal war of demographic attrition.
Puar wrapped up her talk with this ringing summation:
Technologies of measure, algorithmic computing, architecture and infrastructure—prehensive gendering operates at the sub, para and intimate levels as body parts and the kinds of changes that come with epigenetic deterioration take hold. In the context, then, of Palestine, hacking is not a computational metaphor, rather a distinct practice of reshaping the forms of human bodies and parts informed by computational platforms.
You may not know what it means, but at that point the transcript says: “(thunderous applause)”
Americans may be preoccupied, for good reason, with an election campaign featuring various colorful and/or problematic characters. But the degeneration of universities into dens of demented libel and incitement deserves, too, to be on the agenda.