Contention One-Endless War



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McClintock 9 (Anne, is a Professor of English and Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Wisconsin, “Paranoid Empire: Specters from Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib,” Project Muse)

By now it is fair to say that the United States has come to be dominated by two grand and dangerous hallucinations: the promise of benign US globalization and the permanent threat of the “war on terror.” I have come to feel that we cannot understand the extravagance of the violence to which the US government has committed itself after 9/11—two countries invaded, thousands of innocent people imprisoned, killed, and tortured—unless we grasp a defining feature of our moment, that is, a deep and disturbing doubleness with respect to power. Taking shape, as it now does, around fantasies of global omnipotence (Operation Infinite Justice, the War to End All Evil) coinciding with nightmares of impending attack, the United States has entered the domain of paranoia: dream world and catastrophe. For it is only in paranoia that one finds simultaneously and in such condensed form both deliriums of absolute power and forebodings of perpetual threat. Hence the spectral and nightmarish quality of the “war on terror,” a limitless war against a limitless threat, a war vaunted by the US administration to encompass all of space and persisting without end. But the war on terror is not a real war, for “terror” is not an identifiable enemy nor a strategic, real-world target. The war on terror is what William Gibson calls elsewhere “a consensual hallucination,” 4 and the US government can fling its military might against ghostly apparitions and hallucinate a victory over all evil only at the cost of catastrophic self-delusion and the infliction of great calamities elsewhere. I have come to feel that we urgently need to make visible (the better politically to challenge) those established but concealed circuits of imperial violence that now animate the war on terror. We need, as urgently, to illuminate the continuities that connect those circuits of imperial violence abroad with the vast, internal shadowlands of prisons and supermaxes—the modern “slave-ships on the middle passage to nowhere”—that have come to characterize the United States as a super-carceral state. 5 Can we, the uneasy heirs of empire, now speak only of national things? If a long-established but primarily covert US imperialism has, since 9/11, manifested itself more aggressively as an overt empire, does the terrain and object of intellectual inquiry, as well as the claims of political responsibility, not also extend beyond that useful fiction of the “exceptional nation” to embrace the shadowlands of empire? If so, how can we theorize the phantasmagoric, imperial violence that has come so dreadfully to constitute our kinship with the ordinary, but which also at the same moment renders extraordinary the ordinary bodies of ordinary people, an imperial violence which in collusion with a complicit corporate media would render itself invisible, casting states of emergency into fitful shadow and fleshly bodies into specters? For imperialism is not something that happens elsewhere, an offshore fact to be deplored but as easily ignored. Rather, the force of empire comes to reconfigure, from within, the nature and violence of the nation-state itself, giving rise to perplexing questions: Who under an empire are “we,” the people? And who are the ghosted, ordinary people beyond the nation-state who, in turn, constitute “us”? We now inhabit a crisis of violence and the visible. How do we insist on seeing the violence that the imperial state attempts to render invisible, while also seeing the ordinary people afflicted by that violence? For to allow the spectral, disfigured people (especially those under torture) obliged to inhabit the haunted no-places and penumbra of empire to be made visible as ordinary people is to forfeit the long-held US claim of moral and cultural exceptionalism, the traditional self-identity of the United States as the uniquely superior, universal standard-bearer of moral authority, a tenacious, national mythology of originary innocence now in tatters. The deeper question, however, is not only how to see but also how to theorize and oppose the violence without becoming beguiled by the seductions of spectacle alone. 6 Perhaps in the labyrinths of torture we must also find a way to speak with ghosts, for specters disturb the authority of vision and the hauntings of popular memory disrupt the great forgettings of official history. Paranoia Even the paranoid have enemies. —Donald Rumsfeld Why paranoia? Can we fully understand the proliferating circuits of imperial violence—the very eclipsing of which gives to our moment its uncanny, phantasmagoric cast—without understanding the pervasive presence of the paranoia that has come, quite violently, to manifest itself across the political and cultural spectrum as a defining feature of our time? By paranoia, I mean not simply Hofstadter’s famous identification of the US state’s tendency toward conspiracy theories. 7 Rather, I conceive of paranoia as an inherent contradiction with respect to power: a double-sided phantasm that oscillates precariously between deliriums of grandeur and nightmares of perpetual threat, a deep and dangerous doubleness with respect to power that is held in unstable tension, but which, if suddenly destabilized (as after 9/11), can produce pyrotechnic displays of violence. The pertinence of understanding paranoia, I argue, lies in its peculiarly intimate and peculiarly dangerous relation to violence. 8 Let me be clear: I do not see paranoia as a primary, structural cause of US imperialism nor as its structuring identity. Nor do I see the US war on terror as animated by some collective, psychic agency, submerged mind, or Hegelian “cunning of reason,” nor by what Susan Faludi calls a national “terror dream.” 9 Nor am I interested in evoking paranoia as a kind of psychological diagnosis of the imperial nation-state. Nations do not have “psyches” or an “unconscious”; only people do. Rather, a social entity such as an organization, state, or empire can be spoken of as “paranoid” if the dominant powers governing that entity cohere as a collective community around contradictory cultural narratives, self-mythologies, practices, and identities that oscillate between delusions of inherent superiority and omnipotence, and phantasms of threat and engulfment. The term paranoia is analytically useful here, then, not as a description of a collective national psyche, nor as a description of a universal pathology, but rather as an analytically strategic concept, a way of seeing and being attentive to contradictions within power, a way of making visible (the better politically to oppose) the contradictory flashpoints of violence that the state tries to conceal. Paranoia is in this sense what I call a hinge phenomenon, articulated between the ordinary person and society, between psychodynamics and socio-political history. Paranoia is in that sense dialectical rather than binary, for its violence erupts from the force of its multiple, cascading contradictions: the intimate memories of wounds, defeats, and humiliations condensing with cultural fantasies of aggrandizement and revenge, in such a way as to be productive at times of unspeakable violence. For how else can we understand such debauches of cruelty? A critical question still remains: does not something terrible have to happen to ordinary people (military police, soldiers, interrogators) to instill in them, as ordinary people, in the most intimate, fleshly ways, a paranoid cast that enables them to act compliantly with, and in obedience to, the paranoid visions of a paranoid state? Perhaps we need to take a long, hard look at the simultaneously humiliating and aggrandizing rituals of militarized institutions, whereby individuals are first broken down, then reintegrated (incorporated) into the larger corps as a unified, obedient fighting body, the methods by which schools, the military, training camps— not to mention the paranoid image-worlds of the corporate media—instill paranoia in ordinary people and fatally conjure up collective but unstable fantasies of omnipotence. 10 In what follows, I want to trace the flashpoints of imperial paranoia into the labyrinths of torture in order to illuminate three crises that animate our moment: the crisis of violence and the visible, the crisis of imperial legitimacy, and what I call “the enemy deficit.” I explore these flashpoints of imperial paranoia as they emerge in the torture at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib. I argue that Guantánamo is the territorializing of paranoia and that torture itself is paranoia incarnate, in order to make visible, in keeping with Hazel Carby’s brilliant work, those contradictory sites where imperial racism, sexuality, and gender catastrophically collide. 11 The Enemy Deficit: Making the “Barbarians” Visible Because night is here but the barbarians have not come. Some people arrived from the frontiers, And they said that there are no longer any barbarians. And now what shall become of us without any barbarians? Those people were a kind of solution. —C. P. Cavafy, “Waiting for the Barbarians” The barbarians have declared war. —President George W. Bush C. P. Cavafy wrote “Waiting for the Barbarians” in 1927, but the poem haunts the aftermath of 9/11 with the force of an uncanny and prescient déjà vu. To what dilemma are the “barbarians” a kind of solution? Every modern empire faces an abiding crisis of legitimacy in that it flings its power over territories and peoples who have not consented to that power. Cavafy’s insight is that an imperial state claims legitimacy only by evoking the threat of the barbarians. It is only the threat of the barbarians that constitutes the silhouette of the empire’s borders in the first place. On the other hand, the hallucination of the barbarians disturbs the empire with perpetual nightmares of impending attack. The enemy is the abject of empire: the rejected from which we cannot part. And without the barbarians the legitimacy of empire vanishes like a disappearing phantom. Those people were a kind of solution.

The vocabulary of just war has become a permission slip in public debates to sanction international conflicts---exposing its inherent moral contradictions in public debates---it must be examined





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