Violence and Affectivity


The aim of this article is to explore the emotional dimensions involved in the phenomenon of interpersonal violence, identifying various modalizations of affectivity occurring in the architectonics of this phenomenon. I will first concentrate on symmetrical violence, namely, on the emergence of irritation, annoyance, anger, and fury leading to fierce confrontation. Next I will explore asymmetrical violence, where the passive pole experiences the imminence of the other’s violence in fear and in being terrified. I will then focus on the experience of the third in the face of violence, showing that here the affectivity is differently constituted each time, depending on the various situations of symmetrical and asymmetrical violence that the third witnesses. Finally, I will contrast the experience of real violence with the experience of violence-as-image, and I will pose several questions regarding the modifications of the affective experience of the third in the face of depicted violence.

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  1. 1.

    For the most recent phenomenological contributions on this topic, see Staudigl (2007, 2011, 2013, 2015), Dodd (2009, 2017), Waldenfels (2011a), Mensch (2008, 2013) and Breyer (2017).

  2. 2.

    The literature on the phenomenological question of affectivity and emotions is enormous, following the multifarious positions assumed in the phenomenological tradition, ranging from Husserl and Heidegger to Sartre, Henry, Levinas, and beyond. See, for example, the various contributions in Alter (1999); on Husserl, see Behnke (2008); on Heidegger, see Ciocan (2010), Elpidorou and Freeman (2015), Freeman and Elpidorou (2015); on Sartre, see Cabestan (1999).

  3. 3.

    Trauma, for instance, is one possible consequence; see Gusich (2012).

  4. 4.

    See Behnke (2012: 83) for larger understanding of “enduring”: “enduring something means undergoing it in such a way that one is somehow able to bear what one is suffering (German aushalten, ertragen), while at the same time, this experience of withstanding what one is enduring is lasting rather than momentary (German andauern, fortdauern), demanding persistence and perseverance (German anhalten, ausdauern)”.

  5. 5.

    See also Heidegger (1977: 136): “In […] [indisposition], Dasein becomes blind to itself, the environment with which it is concerned veils itself, the circumspection of concern gets led astray”.

  6. 6.

    Perhaps it is no accident that the first word of the founding poem of Europe, the Iliad, is precisely anger, μῆνις Ἀχιλλέως—see Muellner (2004). For a phenomenological analysis of anger, see Gendlin (1974).

  7. 7.

    Extra-territoriality can be understood as a place where I feel no one sees me, where I feel I have no responsibility for my actions. See Ciocan (2018: 70–75).

  8. 8.

    For “being seen” as “a core phenomenon of human existence,” see Müller (2017).

  9. 9.

    Beyond “simple” revenge, the phenomenology of violence can also analyze historically constituted phenomena such as the vendetta, i.e., intergenerationally transmitted or inherited hate.

  10. 10.

    The time and the seasons of battles and fights is a distinct topic for the historical approach. On the spatial perspective, see, for example, the rich contributions in Riess and Fagan (2016).

  11. 11.

    It is true that somewhat earlier, Heidegger (1977: 121) recalls, among deficient modes of solicitude (Fürsorge), a way of “being against one another” (Widereinandersein), without, however, insisting on the possible existential-ontological significance of antagonism. See also the reference to the concept of “distancing” (Abständigkeit) in relation to the others, indicating the “constant care as to the way one differs from them [die Sorge um einen Unterschied gegen die Anderen],” which is also reflected in “one’s concern with what one has taken hold of, whether with, for, or against the Others [mit, für und gegen die Anderen]” (Heidegger 1977: 126, my emphasis).

  12. 12.

    Heidegger (1977: 141): “Fear discloses Dasein predominantly in a privative way [in privativer Weise]. It bewilders us [verwirrt] and makes us ‘lose our heads’ [macht ‘kopflos’]”.

  13. 13.

    For an argument regarding a non-instrumental view of violence based on Sartre’s texts, see Jeler (unpublished).

  14. 14.

    The current translations of Being and Time render Erschrecken by “alarm,” but this term seems somewhat too soft, given the experience indicated here by Heidegger, where we can distinguish between “the proximal proximity” (die nächste Näherung) and the way the approaching itself is encountered (its sudden character, Plötzlichkeit).

  15. 15.

    On the phenomenology of surprise, see Depraz (2018).

  16. 16.

    It is true that we speak of pleasant and unpleasant surprises. But as unpleasant as some surprises may be, they are not threatening—they do not have the potential to actually damage us.

  17. 17.

    “Dans la mort, je suis exposé à la violence absolue, au meurtre dans la nuit. […] Autrui, inséparable de l’événement même de la transcendance, se situe dans la région d’où vient la mort, possiblement meurtre” (Levinas 1961: 210). “La peur pour mon être, qui est ma relation avec la mort, n’est donc pas la peur du néant, mais la peur de la violence (et ainsi se prolonge-t-elle en peur d’Autrui, de l’absolument imprévisible)” (Levinas 1961: 212).

  18. 18.

    We can also question whether “fear in the face of violence” is primarily a “fear of death” or a “fear of pain,” since in actual violence we always have the concrete presence of vulnerability that is affected by the imminence of harm. Are we afraid of the unbearable pain that violence engages in the most tangible way, while the ontological possibility of death “itself” remains somewhat abstract, irrepresentable as it is? Indeed, “fear of death” does not necessary imply a “fear of pain,” since it can arise, for example, before a difficult surgical operation under anesthesia (not to mention that one can die absolutely painlessly in sleep). Similarly, it is possible that the “fear of pain” does not inevitably imply a “fear of death”; for example, when you are afraid of the dentist, you know very well that you will not die because of this pain, but you are nonetheless terribly afraid of the pain.

  19. 19.

    On the neutrality of images, see Ferencz-Flatz (2009).

  20. 20.

    It is not here the place to question whether there is a “need for violence” as a compensation consumed in the phantasmatic regime of the image, and if this happens merely because our everyday life usually unfolds in full security. However, we can ask: if our current lives were to evolve in horrendous circumstances of war, for example, with overwhelming violence all around, most concrete and extremely real, would it still be necessary (or possible) for us to compensate through the experience of violence-as-image?

  21. 21.

    For a complex discussion of this topic.


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Funding was provided by UEFISCDI (Grant No. PN-III-P4-ID-PCE-2016-0273).

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Correspondence to Cristian Ciocan.

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Ciocan, C. Violence and Affectivity. Hum Stud 43, 195–218 (2020).

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  • Violence
  • Affectivity
  • Intersubjectivity
  • Embodiment
  • Image