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What World Is This?

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Everybody say thank you judith butler for being the smartest person writing about what it's like to live in our world, even when that concerns a dreadful pandemic.

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I think this is well crafted and don’t disagree with any of the content however I can’t say that I enjoyed it. It’s been some time since I read about phenomenology and how it interests with other things, and it looks like my interest is not what it used to be.

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In What World Is This?, Judith Butler poses a structural, philosophical human question and attempts to answer it through this renewed lens of the pandemic. calculating the impact of this global trauma on our individual and collective vision of the world. It leads the reader to ask themselves questions about their own interpretation and worldview, and renders accessible some bigger picture notions of sociology.

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i have been thinking about how to summarise this book, and i guess simply put it is about how the pandemic has only exacerbated and made stark all the problems that have been plaguing (pun intended) capitalist society.

throughout the text the author consistently highlights how systemic racism and inequality is causing a disproportionate amount of deaths in marginalised communities, and she points out how entitled behaviour during the pandemic is directly linked to white supremacy. it is not a new sentiment but definitely a bold one to put out there, knowing the kind of backlash to expect. at the same time the text is a call to action. she asks for liveable wages that make healthcare affordable, and for govt bodies to stop reducing actual lives into numbers. a life is a life and a death is still a death; why are we celebrating when less people die? why do we need to choose the economy? why are some lives worth less? she’s right and i cannot help but think of the lorry situation in sg and how it is so ridiculous that this is still an issue.

i am also struck by the recency of the text. very soon a whole new academic branch of pandemic studies will probably spring up in universities and humanities departments, so of course people are going to want to quickly get published (in cantonese we call it 霸位) and say what they want to say before someone else says it. no shade!! i fully respect the hustle, and she did a great job saying very sensible things that already echo the general sentiments bouncing around the twitter and tumblrspheres (if u follow the right accounts). it is helpful to have an official academic citation for the discourse and this is a very citable book.

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Note: I received this book as an ARC from Columbia University Press.

In this book, Judith Butler examines the role of the COVID-19 pandemic on illuminating systemic issues in modern capitalist society. Butler turns to phenomenology (popularized by Max Scheler) to describe how the pandemic “upends our usual sense of the bounded self, casting us as relational, interactive, and refuting the egological and self-interested bases of ethics itself.” The pandemic has made us reconsider the world, and Butler has taken up the task of laying out their findings thusly.

Butler’s main question is:
What kind of a world is this in which such a thing like this can happen?

This book is broken up into distinct sections:
1. Senses of the world
2. Powers of the Pandemic
3. Intertwining Ethics and Politics
4. Grievability for the Living
5. Transformations

Butler also looks at movements such as Black Lives Matter and Menos and their impact during the pandemic on creating a sense of community building and radical social change during a time when marginalized communities have been targeted as disposable.

“We live, that is, in relation to a world that sustains us, an earth and its habitants, including human ones, that depend on a politics that is committed to a world in which we can all breathe without fear of contagion, fear of pollution, or fear of the police chokehold, where our breath is intermingled with the world’s breath, where that exchange of breath, syncopated and free, becomes what is shared- our commons, as it were.”

Audience: This book would appeal to philosophers and people interested in pandemic studies, community advocates, or social justice.

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This is not just a book about what happened during the pandemic. This is a philosophical, phenomenological, psychological, and social exploration of how we were able to discover our world, and how it changed, as of 2020.

It is a great opportunity to introduce debates about inequality, the importance of human lives outside statistics, racism, feminism, and how dehumanization has occurred when facing death on a global scale in our times. More than a great book, it is an extremely important one.

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<i>Thank you to Columbia University Press and Netgalley for this arc!</i>

In this short book, Judith Butler tries and uses Philosophy - especially Phenomenology - to analyze what the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed about the world we live in. In her task, she divides her main question - What world is this in which something like this can happen? - into segments: is it possible to define the world from any point of view other than the subjective? What makes a world inhabitable? What is the value of a life - and why are some seen as 'expendable', just numbers on a graph, easily sacrificed if it means the return of economic activities? Is it possible to reflect on a global world, or have we failed by seeing it as a victory to turn a pandemic into an epidemic, contained to parts of the world that had no early access to vaccines, in a planet that is shared by all?
Butler uses all these questions, helping herself from multiple other authors, to look not only into the pandemic or its revelations about the world per se, but also to touch on multiple topics, such as racism, incarceration, feminism and the environmental collapse. She makes her thoughts clear and accessible even for readers who don't have a background in Philosophy, giving examples and recapping her previous points, making this not only a relevant work, but also a spark to start debate and reflection once the reading is done.

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