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Wednesday
Oct132010

Affirmative media theory and the post-9/11 world (part 2)

(The following is a slightly revised version of a text first published on 21 September, 2010, by the Creative Research Centre at Montclair State University. Part 1 of 'Affirmative Media Theory and the Post-9/11 World', again first published by the Creative Research Centre, is available below.)

 

To be sure, there’s something seductive about the thought of producing the kind of big idea or constructive theoretical discourse that is able to capture and explain how the world has changed and become a different place after 9/11. Let’s take just the most frequently rehearsed of those examples with which we are regularly confronted: that the awful events at the World Trade Center and Pentagon on that day in 2001 are connected to the ‘war on terror’, the ‘axis of evil’, the ‘clash of civilizations’, the introduction of the PATRIOT Act, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the abuses in Abu Ghraib, indefinite detention at Guantanamo Bay, the so-called ‘global economic crisis’ that began in 2008, the election of Barak Hussein Obama in 2009, the continuing debate over the place of Muslims in US society - even the ‘return to the Real’ after the apparent triumph of (postmodern theories of) the society of the spectacle, the simulacrum and the hyper-real.

Yet when it comes to deciding how to respond to events and narratives of this sort – which we must, no matter how much and how often they are framed as being ‘self-evident’ – do we not also need to ask: why do big ideas and constructive theoretical discourses appear so compelling and refreshing at the moment, in these circumstances in particular? What exactly is the nature of this sense of frustration and fatigue with thinkers and theories – let’s not call them deconstructive – whose serious understanding of, and strenuous engagement with, antagonism, ambiguity, difference, hospitality, responsibility, singularity and openness, renders them wary of too easily dividing history into moments, movements, trends or turns, and cautious of creating strong, reconstructive, thirst-quenching philosophies of their own? From where does the desire spring for what are positioned, by way of contrast, as enabling and empowering systems of thought? Why here? Why now? And, yes, what is the effectivity of such ideas and discourses? What do they do? How can we be sure, for instance, that they don’t function primarily to replicate the forces of neoliberal capitalist globalisation?

To repeat: none of this is to claim big ideas and ‘constructive, explanatory’ discourses aren’t capable of being extremely interesting and important. Of course they are (especially in the hands of philosophers as consistently creative, challenging and sophisticated as Badiou, Hardt and Negri, Stiegler and Žižek). Yet how are we to decide if the idea of the post-9/11 world, persuasive though it may be, is viable, ‘capable of functioning successfully’, of being ‘able to live’ with the ‘enigma that is our life’, if this overarching-concept is so easily incorporated – in these ‘particular circumstances’ especially – into inhospitable, violent, controlling discourses or totalizing theoretical explanations (or posturing displays of male power and intellect)?

Let me raise just a few of the most obvious issues that would need to be rigorously and patiently worked through:

How is the use of the ‘post’ in this prepositional phrase to be understood? Is it referring to that which comes afterwards in a linear process of historical progression? Is the post meant to indicate some sort of fundamental fracture, boundary or dividing line designed to separate the pre-9/11 world from what came afterwards? Or is the post being used here to draw attention to that which, in an odd, paradoxical way comes not just after but before, too, just as ‘post’ is positioned before ‘9/11 world’ in the phrase ‘post-9/11 world’? In other words, does post-9/11 mean a certain world has come to an end, or is it more accurate to think of 9/11 and what has happened since as a part of that world, as that world in the nascent state?  Is the concept of the post-9/11 world referring to the coming of a new world, or the process of rewriting some of the features of the old? 

What is meant by ‘9/11’? Whose 9/11? Which 9/11? Arundhati Roy, writing in September 2002, is able to locate a number of places around the world for the 11th of September has long held significance:

Twenty-nine years ago, in Chile, on the 11th of September, General Pinochet overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in a CIA-backed coup...

On the 11th September 1922, ignoring Arab outrage, the British government proclaimed a mandate in Palestine, a follow up to the 1917 Balfour Declaration [which]... promised European Zionists a national home for Jewish people...

It was on the 11th September 1990 that George W. Bush Sr., then President of the US, made a speech to a joint session of Congress announcing his Government’s decision to go to war against Iraq.

(Arundhati Roy, ‘Come September’, The Algebra of Infinite Justice (London: Flamingo, 2002) p.280, 283, 288-289.)

Of course your website indicates that by 9/11 you mean the terrible attacks on the World Trade Center in New York in 2001. I have no wish to detract from the pain and suffering associated with those events. The question arises nonetheless: on what basis can we take the decision to single out and privilege those tragic events over and above the others Roy identifies that also took place on 9/11? How can we do so, and how can we speak of what you refer to as a ‘post-9/11 generation’, without being complicit in those processes by which the attacks in New York have already been appropriated by a range of social, political, economic, ideological, cultural and aesthetic discourses for reasons to do with security, surveillance, biopolitics, justifying the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and so on (discourses which can make the experience of writing about 9/11 fraught, to say the least)?

This is not to imply a decision to privilege 9/11/01 can’t be made. It’s merely to point out that such questions need to be addressed if this decision is to be taken responsibly and the implications of doing so for the ways in which we teach and write and act assumed and endured.

As for the last part of this phrase (you’ll have gathered there’s nothing ‘inherently’ viable about this concept for me), is it possible to begin to creatively think and imagine using the idea of a post-9/11 ‘world’ without universalizing a singularly US set of events? After all, even the formulation 9/11, with its echo of 911, seems very North American: in the UK we often tend to refer to September 11.

Yes, the Twin Towers were a symbol of World Finance Capital. Yes, the attacks on them were mediated around the world in ‘real time’. Yes, an article in Le Monde published the next day declared ‘We are all Americans! We are all New Yorkers’. (Has the phrase ‘post-9/11 world’ been chosen deliberately to draw attention to American-led neoliberal globalisation? It’s certainly difficult to propose alternatives to either with regard to the world’s social imaginary without risking being made to appear fanatical or extremist.)  Nevertheless, on what basis can we justify totalizing or globalizing these specific events in this manner? And how can we do so without inscribing 9/11 in the logic of evaluation inherent to neoliberalism’s audit culture (‘in the sense that the Holocaust’s singularity and horror would “equal” that of 9/11’ perhaps, but that of Hurricane Katrina or the Deepwater Horizon oilrig explosion would not);  or participating in the way 9/11 has often been made to overshadow other world historical events in the mythic imaginary: the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on 6 August, 1954; Nixon’s decoupling of the US dollar from the gold standard in 1971 (which can be seen as one of the roots of the current economic crisis); the gas disaster at the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal on December 2-3, 1984; the 1999 alter-globalisation protests in Seattle; the 2003 invasion of Iraq, recently described by the ex-head of MI5 in the UK as having ‘radicalised a whole generation of young people... who saw our involvement in Iraq... as being an attack on Islam’ – and that’s to name only those events that come most readily to mind? 

Even if we confine ourselves to acts of non-state terrorism, there’s the Oklahoma City bombing of 19/4, 1995; the Madrid bombing of 3/11, 2004; London 7/7; and the attacks in Mumbai of November 2008.  Why would we not try to creatively think and imagine using the concept of a post-2-3/12 world? A post-19/4 world? A post-7/7 world?

Whose post-9/11 world is this exactly? Who wants this post-9/11 world?


Reader Comments (1)

Interesting article.. Keep posting.. Thanks. :)

October 28, 2010 | Unregistered Commentertorrent download

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