One and a half months ago, at the Nobel Museum in Stockholm, Sweden, Judith Butler delivered delivered the 2011 Neale Wheeler Watson lecture (with a slightly amended title), "Precarious Life and the Obligations of Cohabitation". For those of us not fortunate enough to be in Stockholm for the event, Butler's presentation has been archived online both as a live recording and as a pdf document.
Extrapolating upon the work on precarity that has occupied the bulk of her most recent work, Butler considers the nature - and, indeed, the necessity - of distance and difference in the operation of moral obligation. Analysing and critiquing some key ethical strategies of Emmanuel Levinas and Hannah Arendt, Butler ambitiously attempts to read the two theorists together within the scope of a mutual precariousness which accompanies co-habitation of the world.
"...we are, however distinct, also bound to one another. And this is not always a happy or felicitous experience. To find that one's life is also the life of others, even as this life is distinct, means that one's boundary is at once a limit and a site of adjacency, a mode of spatial and temporal nearness and even boundedness. Moreover, the bounded and living appearance of the body is the condition of being exposed to the other, exposed to solicitation, seduction, passion, injury, exposed in ways that sustain us but also in ways that can destroy us. In this sense the exposure of the body points to its precariousness."
In framing her notion of precarity within the context of the Israeli Palestinian conflict, Butler's project to read Levinas and Arendt both together and in contradistinction, as well as sympathetic with Palestinian cohabitation, itself demonstrates the delicate yet pressing precarity of a politico-textual cohabitation.