via <underfire> Retort's Opening Salvo"
Mon Nov 27 02:19:16 EST 2006 <underfire> Retort's Opening Salvo
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To: Under Fire
Week of November 26th
Retort's installation at the Seville Biennial (about which more in a later posting) had its origins in a broadsheet, Neither Their War Nor Their Peace, that we produced for the manifestations of Spring 2003 on the eve of the invasion of Iraq. We well recall how many felt our prologue to be hyperbolic, even hysterical: "We have no words for the horrors to come, for the screams and carnage of the first days of battle, the fear and brutality of the long night of occupation that will follow, the truck bombs and slit throats and unstoppable cycle of revenge, the puppets in the palaces chattering about 'democracy', the exultation of the anti-Crusaders, Baghdad descending into the shambles of a new, more dreadful Beirut, and the inevitable retreat (thousands of bodybags later) from the failed McJerusalem." Who would now call this hyperbole?
We produced the broadsheet because we were unwilling to go into the streets under either of the banners we knew would dominate the marches - "Peace" and "No Blood for Oil". To the opponents of the war, we wished to say that a deeply militarized US state, and indeed the reality of permanent war, rendered inadequate the notion of "peace" as a rallying cry and a strategy. We had in mind the indelible line of Tacitus, "They make a desert and call it peace", which speaks to us across the centuries. These were words he put in the mouth of a Gaelic chieftain on the eve of battle against a Roman legion in the Scottish highlands, at the far north-western edge of the empire. Tacitus reminds us what kind of peace is delivered by the masters of war – it is the peace of the "peace process", the peace of cemeteries. The anti-war movement, if it was not to evaporate again, had to recognize the full dynamics of US militarism – to understand that peace, under current arrangements, is war by other means.
Nor was it lost on us that the kind of planes which Atta and his crews refunctioned as missile-bombers to strike at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon actually originated as weapons of mass destruction. The Boeing Corporation took the old bombers used to create firestorms over European and Japanese cities during the Second World War and redesigned them for purposes of mass tourism and corporate air travel in the 1960s. Atta himself was an urban planner (in Cairo and Aleppo) disgusted with the disneyfication he saw coming in the wake of the failure of secular national development in Egypt and the Third World. He was right; Dubai is one face of neoliberal globalization, megaslums the other. At the same time it is necessary to acknowledge al-Qaida's love affair with image-politics. Even in its rejection of the West, the Islamic vanguard displays a mastery of the virtual and of the new technics of dissemination. This is one aspect of the current moment that those in opposition to both Empire and Jihad, two virulent mutations of the Right, must take very seriously.
We intended to expand the broadside into a pamphlet, but it bloated into the book Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War. Essentially we aimed to confront the strange doubleness of the new world situation – a seeming brute return to the 17th century Wars of Religion familiar to Milton, from whose Paradise Lost we took our title, twinned with an intensified deployment of the apparatus of the production of appearances. The U.S. in particular feels a dual threat, first, to the monopoly of the means of mass destruction, and second, to its management of the image-world [read on...]