Ruth Sheldon
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Tragic action
Ambiguous passions and misrecognition
in Tragic encounters and ordinary ethics
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This chapter focuses on a campus meeting with a controversial Palestinian journalist at which escalating accusations of anti-Semitism and fascism culminated in physical violence. Drawing on the work of Simon Critchley, I frame this event as a ‘tragic’ conflict, in which the claims of entangled past and present sufferings came to be expressed as a passionate refusal of recognition. Attending closely to the linguistic, somatic and emotional dynamics of this meeting, I show how it culminated in the destabilisation of moral distinctions and the collapsing of spatial and temporal boundaries, including a blurring of distinctions between victims and perpetrators, a making-present of past traumas and of seemingly distant forms of violence. Drawing on interview material to deepen my psychosocial analysis, I explore how repressed feelings of shame and aggressive desires, associated with these entanglements, came to be acted out in the violent culmination of this meeting. The concluding section draws this analysis together with the preceding chapter to develop an explanation for the repetitive, circular quality of melodramatic and tragic campus conflicts over time, including the role of public media and the logics of spectatorship in this process.

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Tragic encounters and ordinary ethics

Palestine– Israel in British universities


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