Ungrievable Lives

"What makes for a grievable life? Who counts as human? Whose lives count as lives?" - Judith Butler, “Precarious Life,” 2004.

This work seeks to examine the differential values placed on human life as it has emerged in the post-9/11 political discourse. The victims of 9/11 no doubt suffered a horrible death, and the national and international mourning that followed in the wake of 9/11 was understandable. As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, indeed we will re-perform our acts of mourning and remembrance.

We lost 2,983* American lives on 9/11/2001, and in the past decade, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have claimed 911,931** Iraqi and Afghani lives. Judith Butler calls these as “ungrievable” lives, for to grieve them is to declare oneself unpatriotic to the US nation, and sympathetic to the “enemy.”

It seems to me that the 9/11 victims are the gold standard of a grievable life. This work seeks to apprehend the value of one American life in terms of non-American lives. How does the scale tilt in terms of grievable and ungrievable lives?

With this work, I seek to perform the unpatriotic act of mourning and remembering the humanity of the ungrievable 911,931 Iraqi and Afghani civilians and troops that have lost their lives in the last decade.