Reflections on Understanding Violence

Biosemiotics 5 (3):439-444 (2012)
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Lorenzo Magnani’s Understanding Violence: The Intertwining of Morality, Religion and Violence is a big 23 book. Not big in the sense of page count or prepublication advertisement, but big in the sense of pregnant 24 with potential application. Professor Magnani is explicit in his intentions, “to show how violence is de facto 25 intertwined with morality, and how much violence is hidden, and invisibly or unintentionally performed" 26 (page 273) while confessing a personal motivation, “warning myself (and every reader) that violence is 27 traceable back to my (our) own door.” (page 66) This is not an easy task, given the slippery expanse of his 28 subject, to drag violence out of the shadows, bringing it home to each personal purveyor. But Magnani 29 succeeds, and fruitfully. Understanding Violence deftly exposes violence in its myriad forms from individual 30 aggression to colliding global-historical narratives. It does this by detailing the processes whereby people act 31 from moralities of their own creation, adopting various moral frameworks including those specific to 32 religions, social and political groups, as well as personal constructs, and in terms of which "they engage and 33 disengage both intentionally and unintentionally, in a strict interplay between morality and violence." (page 34 184) Resolving these complex dynamics through simple models and illustrations, Understanding Violence 35 elevates the reader from the forest-for-the-trees perpetual-crisis-blindness symptomatic of the present era, to 36 a position from which personal moral commitments as practical, as necessary, and as the source of hidden 37 violence are clearly visible. Moreover, due to the practicality of Magnani’s demonstrations, it continues in 38 this work long after the text itself is laid back on the shelf.
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