Per Forza di Levare

On Sculpture and Violence

WALTER BENJAMIN: Critique of Violence (1921)



A cause becomes violent only when it enters moral relations.







The most elementary relationship is that of ends to means. Violence can be sought only in the realm of means, not in the reals of ends.







The question would remain open whether violence […], could be a moral means even to just ends.






Violence is a product of nature, as it were a raw material, the use of which is in no way problematic unless force is misused for unjust ends.













Natural law = ends.

Positive law = means.

If justice is the criterion of the ends, legality is that of means.



Natural attempts to “justify” the means, positive law to “guarantee” the justness of the ends.




The system strives to limit by legal ends even those areas in which natural ends are admitted in principle. According to present-day European legislation, all natural ends of individuals must collide with legal ends if pursued with a greater or lesser degree of violence. It follows that law sees violence in the hands of individuals as a danger undermining the legal system.











The interest in a monopoly of violence vis-à-vi individuals is explained not by the intention of preserving legal ends but, rather, by the intention of preserving the law itself; that violence, when not in the hands of the law, threatens it not by the ends that it pursues but by its mere existence outside the law.


That is why the figure of the “great” criminal has aroused the secret admiration of the public.







By what function violence can with reason seem so threatening to the law, and be so feared by it, must be especially evident where its application […] is still permissible.







The right to strike constitutes the right to use force in attaining certain ends.


Conduct involving the exercise of a right can nevertheless, under certain circumstances, be described as violent. It is violent if it exercises a right in order to overthrow the legal system that has conferred it.



Military force is used quite directly towards its end.


Yet, a peace ceremony is entirely necessary. The sanctioning of victory consists in recognizing the new conditions as a new “law”. (as a new “ism”).


There is a law-making character inherent in all such violence.


The great criminal violently confronts the law with the threat of declaring a new law.


The state fears this violence for its law-making character.


Militarism is the compulsory use of violence as a means toward legal ends.


The subordination of citizens to laws is a legal end.








Law-preserving violence and law-establishing violence.


Law-preserving violence is a threatening violence.


If violence is the origin of the law (law-establishing), then where the highest violence, that over life and death, occurs in the legal system, the origins of law jut manifestly and fearsomely into existence.


Its purpose is not to punish the infringement of law but to establish new law. For in the exercise of violence over life and death the law reaffirms itself.


Police violence.


An authority wherein the separation between law-establishing and law-preserving is suspended.


Often against thinkers, from whom the state is not protected by law.




The “law” of the police marks the point at which the state can no longer guarantee through the legal system the empirical ends that it desires to attain.


The police intervene “for security reasons” where no clear legal situation exists, accompanying the citizen as a brutal encumbrance through a life regulated by ordinances.




The workings of police in democracies bears witness to the greatest conceivable degeneration of violence.


All violence as a means is either law-making or law-preserving. It follows that all violence as a means is implicated in the problematic nature of law itself.














Are there other than violent means for regulating conflicting human interests?


A totally non-violent solution of conflicts can never lead to a legal contract. This would finally lead to possible violence. It confers to each party the right to resort to violence. The origin of every contract also points toward violence.










Without doubt a non-violent resolution of conflict is possible.

E.g. in the relationships among private persons.



Since unalloyed means (courtesy, sympathy, pleasurableness, trust, etc) belong to indirect solutions, they apply only to direct matters concerning objects. The sphere of nonviolent means opens in the realm of human conflicts relating to goods.


Various techniques of civil agreements: e.g. the conference. There, there is no sanction for lying.






The state grants the right to strike because it forestalls violent actions which the state is afraid to oppose.




To induce men to reconcile their interests peacefully without involving the legal system there is one effective motive: the fear of mutual disadvantages that threaten to arise from violent confrontation.


Pure means.


Two types of strikes:

1.       Political strike.

Wherein the state loses none of its strength.

Generally Violent and law-making.


2.       General strike.

Focused on destroying state power. Indifferent toward material gain with the intention to abolish the state.

Because of its pure means, it’s non-violent and anarchistic.




The violence of an action can be assessed only from the law of its means.


Diplomats and referees must resolve conflicts peacefully and without contracts.




Every conceivable solution to human problems remains impossible if violence is totally excluded in principle.




The non-mediate function of violence is illustrated by man’s angry outbursts of a violence that is not related to a preconceived end. It is not a means but a manifestation.


Mythic violence is a mere manifestation of the gods, of their existence.


Elaboration of the legend of Niobe. A boundary stone on the frontier between men and gods.



Law-making is power-making, assumption of power, and an immediate manifestation of violence. Justice is the principle of all divine end-making, power the principle of all mythic law-making.


Where frontiers are decided, it is the same line that my not be crossed by both parties of the peace treaty.


Reference to demonically ambiguous and unjust “equal” rights: “Poor and rich are equally forbidden to spend the night under the bridge”. Anatole France.


From the point of view of violence, which alone can guarantee law, there is no equality, but at the most equally great violence. The act of establishing frontiers is also significant for an understanding of law.


Unwritten laws, retribution. 


Divine violence.


If mythic violence is law making, divine violence is law-destroying; if the former sets boundaries, the latter boundlessly destroys them.




Mythic violence brings retribution. It threatens. It’s bloody. Demands sacrifice.


Divine power expiates. It strikes. It’s lethal without blood spillage. Accepts sacrifice.


“Thou shall not kill” is not a criterion for judgement. It’s a guideline for the actions of persons or communities who must wrestle with it in solitude and, in exceptional cases, to take on themselves the responsibility of ignoring it.


The law governing their oscillation rests on the circumstance that all law-preserving violence indirectly weakens the law-making violence it represents, by suppressing hostile counterviolence. This lasts until either new forces or those earlier suppressed triumph over the hitherto law-making violence and thus found a new law, destined in its turn to decay.






















This rises the question whether the use of specific tools to create a sculpture are morally sound or not. For example, carving a sculpture with firearms and bullets instead of the traditional hammer and chisel. 


Again, referring to the means applied to the creating process. Under specific circumstances these can be regarded as violent, thus immoral, but further analysis will demonstrate this false perception as the end of sculpting a marble block require violent means. 


Transposed to the artistic realm, can the use of tools generally perceived as immoral and violent, be applied to the creative process, and how would this influence the interpretation of an artwork.


Within a societal context this would imply a physical or psychological harm done to individuals or groups of people that would influences someone else’s life. In short, a destructive act.

Within artistic context, given the nature of the discipline, this would always imply a creative act, even if destructive behaviour is present. I.e. is it just to apply violence within the creative act and what moral implications would this have? 


General message/concept of an artwork vs. the method applied to achieve it. 





Equally, art philosophy justifies the means needed to create an artwork whereas art morality questions the justness of the artwork. 


Is the realm of art still relatively independent of the legal system and Is the creative act and art in general limited by legal boundaries if its actions and product don’t (physically) harm in any way whatsoever individuals? I.e. am I legally allowed to use means and tools generally perceived as violent and declared illegal when used on people for the creation of a sculpture? E.g. firearms, acids, torture tools etc. How would the resulting sculpture be perceived? Criminality vs. creativity. Artistic realm vs real world. 


The artistic realm exists outside the law.





In art this admiration goes to artists that work on the limits between legal and illegal, between the art world and the real world. (interesting link to the following discussion on borders and stones). See Banksy, Pussy Riot, Petr Pavlensky etc. 


The realm of art is a grey zone where thigs are often permitted that would be otherwise forbidden in the real world. This raises again the question on what art is. Can a car be perceived an artwork? If so, can one then import/export that “artwork” in a country where car import/export is forbidden? 




Because it endangers the status quo. This reminds the endless revolution of art movements, where each “ism” is a reaction to its preceding “ism”. 
















Is sculptural violence a means towards moral/questioning ends? The imposition of violence-themed art on the viewer has ends directed towards questioning the moral/ethical of specific artistic practice and by consequence general human behaviour. Moral ends. 


















Is the state protected from art? Are there legislations against the practice of art by violent means? 





Art becomes a parallel world where freedom from legal ordinances becomes possible. A private ground where actions can freely take place without being subjected to law. As long as it doesn’t physically affect the real world. 




What about artistic (sculptural) creation? There are aesthetic laws even in art (e.g. in the classical figurative art: anatomy, proportion, aesthetics). Every artistic creation either abides to these laws (law-preserving), thus creating conservative art or defies these laws (law-making), thus becoming revolutionary art. Every new development is either welcomed or received with disdain – depending on the receiving party – because in any case it is either maintaining or destroying the status quo. 




Like the borders between two countries, they always imply violent action if trespassed.

Or like the ritual, intended to unite and to pacify a community. It is always caused by a preceding violence and it is carried out by violent means.

The sacrificial act is like a legal contract: the sacrifice/ritual as an attempt to avoid a violence that would otherwise harm both parties. 


Is a non-violent sculpting (stone carving) method possible? 







(Visual)Art, as a constant (conceptual)debate of concepts elaborated by visual means can thus also function as a discussion technique wherein non-violent confrontation is possible. 


The strike as a sacrificial ritual necessary to avoid a greater violence and which, after completion, establishes a new harmony within a community. 


Behavioural constraints are secured by the threat of violence.

Peace is secured by fear. 












Because it refuses to compromise. Generating a new artistic process instead of conforming to the old one. 




On the significance of using specific outfits during performances: diplomats, bureaucrats, military, referees etc…


I would claim that every conceivable action within the sculptural repertoire (stone carving) is committed to violence. This of course depends on a personal definition of violence. 







Inspiration for a sculpture related to the boundary stones project. 





















Conservative vs. Revolutionary. In art this would means the defiance of previously set (aesthetic) laws without the will to establish new ones. An endless fluidity of constant, law defying developments. 











On the endless cycle of violence characterized by an entropic process.