ABSTRACT

If in its English-language denotation to ‘perpetrate’ relays the sense of committing an illegal or criminal act, the word itself derives from the Latin verb, ‘perpatrare’: ‘per’ (to complete) and ‘patrare’ (‘to bring about’). Keeping this etymological shift in mind, in which the commission of an act comes to be understood as the execution of a necessarily illicit or immoral act, we might ask how we are ourselves perpetrated in the offing. In this article I would have us ask how an ethics of responsibility to others challenges us to ‘perpetrate ourselves’, thus rethinking clear-cut demarcations of perpetrator and victim, quotidian and spectacular violences, innocence and guilt.2 How does our being ‘committed’ to the names and identities we inhabit necessarily involve us in relations of responsibility to those others whom we deem the victims of violence perpetrated by other others and, indeed, what are our relations of responsibility to the perpetrators as well? How, in other words, are we the beneficiaries, unwitting or otherwise, of precisely those very acts of violence that we disavow and from which we seek to distance ourselves?