Violence is a pervasive dimension of our individual and social existence. No one can deny such an evidence, precisely during these troubled times of social unrest. The unanimous feeling that we are living in an increasingly violent world, full of rage and anger, is more and more tormenting. Not only our past is full of violence as well as our present, but also we cannot have high expectations regarding a peaceful future. There is no need to mention the countless instances of violence worldwide—each one having its own grounds and simultaneously generating new violences, with their always-particular contexts and their multi-stratified implications—in order to enhance our “catastrophic sensitivity”. Even for those who are somewhat sheltered from actual aggression, just seeing it on TV or Internet from a quasi-safe distance, violence is still an indisputable and a deeply disturbing menace. Indeed, any such circumstantially “sheltered” situation is by definition unstable and it can switch over, at any time, into its opposite. For even if, in the particular context we live in, violence is not an actual one (it happens “somewhere else,” “out there,” or to “someone else”), and even if it is not imminent (as in a perceptible and definite threat), violence is always latent and, as such, it can at any time re-emerge and suddenly explode in our face. In fact, existential and social peace seems to be only a very fragile crust, and it can at any moment be shattered by appalling crimes terrifying the public space, by street clashes of all kinds, by terrorist attacks, or by the horrors of war.
This latency of violence—a diffuse presence of a non-actuality—seems to constitute the special atmosphere in which our concerned thinking of violence takes place. More precisely, violence does not primarily challenge our thought when it is given as an actual event that we are currently confronting and dramatically experiencing in our lives, but rather when we understand it as a latent phenomenon, which, from its more or less diffuse presence, constantly menaces the erratic balance of our daily existence. For, in a “real” situation of violence, our main preoccupation would be rather to escape and survive (“how to evade violence,” “how to get rid of the one who attacks me”), and less to question the violence “in itself,” in “what it is,” “how it is,” or “why it is what it is”. It is in this sense that the pressing latency of violence (its eventuality and not its actuality) nourishes and sharpens our increasing reflective awareness of this phenomenon. This latency (experienced as a diffuse atmosphere, or as a climate of violence) is constituted by remembering past traumatic experiences, by diffuse anticipations or apprehensions of future violences, as well as by the multifarious imagistic givenness of violence. Thus, the first phenomenological difference to draw would not be that between violence and non-violence (or between violence and counter-violence, or between legitimate and illegitimate violence), but that between “latent violence” and “actual violence”. And it is precisely the volatile dynamic of violence from latency to imminence and to actuality that accentuates, more and more, our pressing meditative concern regarding the phenomenology of violence. Accordingly, only when violence is not simply absent, but latent (a kind of “present absence” or an “absent presence”), can emerge the philosophical preoccupation to understand it, to decipher its code and, eventually, to explore its phenomenological structures, such as the genesis of the adversative intersubjectivity, the vulnerability of our embodiment, the inflammation of affectivity, its peculiar temporality, or its specific spatiality. [Fulltext Open Access]