Jihad: a War Journal by Ari Sitas: Page 3 of 9
The mowing down and exploding of Arabs has been one of Hollywood's recent habits. History, global politics and advances in technology (in the movie industry and the fields of battle) have combined well a visualisation of what a modern Bufallo Bill may do. Gone are the days when AIndians" had to be done over with single pistol and rifle shots. Also, the cold war did not allow for Soviet hordes being done-in over graphic steppes or ice-flows. Ululating Arab hordes though, scaling sand-dunes to their death, armed by commies, would ride (a landrover or camel) to their deaths in America's and by implication, the world's imagination. The lack of a parallel movie industry in the Islamic world spared us one pole of this terminal dialectic of hate.
There can only be a further shudder when the latest interactive cd-rom action games are scanned. The elite games that kids love because perverted minds turn them into objects of desire, gain their status from the new ways they explode the enemy-warriors. Arabs feature alongside aliens in many of them. The designers take pride in the quality of their Agiblets"- the word that denotes the pieces of body that fly allover the screen when enemies get exploded. At the press of a joy-stick or button you feel the vibration of your weapon and you see the pieces of flesh, of limb, of torso splatter your screen. Although Hollywood's and Technowood's charring and mowing and exploding is simulated, we are beginning to get a sense of what Aretaliation" or Aretribution" might mean to the popular imagination. What bombing them into the Astone age" might mean, what Asmoking them out of holes" might mean; who the Athem" might be (the people with Adiapers" on their heads, according to a US congressman and how the world's hegemon made up of athletes and stars may do, to mean those things. A new Crusade, then.
On the other side of this emotive map, the Afghani Grand Shura hated the way the word Acrusade" was bandied about: not only did the reference Ahurt the feelings of Muslims around the world" but its insinuation that the US might not show some restraint then Aa jihad would become incumbent according to the principles of the Shariat." (12)
What would the spectacle of the jihad look like had it been made by a film-producer sympathetic to Al-Qaida? How free would it be from the visual language of Hollywood or Technowood? Would it be homologous in the vision of the Aothers" it explodes? Would its landscapes rain giblets? Would the new evil empire be grounded?
Empire! The word has gained a new meaning since the publication of AEmpire" by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. Through the pages of this most celebrated text, we read that classical imperialism is over and Athat a new imperial form of sovereignity has emerged...The United States does not, and indeed no nation-state can today, form the centre of an imperialist project." The harking back to power structures that preceded this form of power Asuch as trying to resurrect the nation-state to protect against global capital" as many on the left insisted or to imagine a new world order rooted in imperialism is preposterously flawed. Their task in the four hundred and plus pages of this post-Seattle blockbuster is Ato do away with (such) nostalgia.." Such a doing away would be Aa step forward in order to do away with any nostalgia for the power structures that preceded it and refuse any political strategy that involves returning to that old arrangement." (13).
If the authors are correct, the Republican constituency that made a president out of Bush Jr are this nostalgia turned politics. The Bush Jr administration seems to represent a telling reversal of the so many theories of Aglobalisation" that have animated the sociological literature of the last decade. Of course, Arepresents" is too strong a term: out of a poor electoral vote, his Republican power-blocs received less than half of the Acrosses". Yet if the Clinton administration represented an attempt by the US to become the world's peace-time hegemon, focusing on market freedoms, hightech and human rights, Bush's is a nostalgia for a different United States that places conservative limits to the frightening flows of global and cultural exchanges: defense, protection, tough justice and home-grown values- to put breaks on Acowboy policy" from turning from a Clint Eastwood scenario into a version of Calamity Jane. The carnage in New York and Washington turned what was a mild disquiet into a consolidated movement. To have done so, and to have had other states follow its rhythms, warns that the nation state and a hierarchy of nation-states is not over.
If we follow the Hardt and Negri narrative such a politics would be implausible, as the imperial Aglobal rainbow" was supposed to have replaced the national colours of the imperialist map of the world. AAlong with the global market and global circuits of production has emerged" the authors insist Aa global order, a new logic and structure of rule." This new order is in their prose, Aempire": Ait establishes no territorial centers of power and does not rely on fixed borders and boundaries...it is a decentred and deterritorialising apparatus of rule that incorporates the entire global realm within its open, expanding frontiers." It possesses Amodulating networks of command" that manage Ahybrid identities, flexible hierarchies and plural exchanges". And, as they also insist, Athe spatial divisions of the three Worlds (First, Second, Third) have been scrambled so we continually find the First world in the Third, the Third in the First and the Second almost nowhere at all." (14)
They might have turned to Salman Rushdie and added in their exhuberant confidence, that Athe frontiers have ended; the membrane, gone. The need you so powerfully expressed >to flow together' is nigh." The Aroar of anger" as America awakes to demand its own version of reality, is a mere illusion.
The problem with Hardt's and Negri's enticing narrative is not only its misrecognition of the reconfigurations of power in the new global economy and their haste to identify a new form of sovereignity that is dispersed enough to be everywhere and nowhere, but its corollary too: it is that the Anew" simultaneously offers Anew possibilities" in their words, Ato the force of liberation" Gone too are the Ahorizontal solidarities" that defined the old politics of working class internationalism; in their stead we are faced with multiform resistances that are neither univocal nor easily Atranslatable" from one locale to another: "in our much celebrated age of communication, struggles have become all but incommunicable" (15).
So instead of the international proletariat or nationalists striving for self-determination, we are left with an attractive concept of the Amultitude" which. Ain its will to be against and its desire for liberation, must push through Empire to come out the other side" (16). The scrambled world, is defined by mercurial, uncontrollable, molecular energies demanding new forms of assemblage outside and despite the power-machine. And, in a passage towards the end of the book the only alternative is "posing against the misery of power the joy of being" (17).
Note: that the Amembrane" diffracts meaning. And then, what is assumed to be common-sense turns into uncommon sentiment. And then, utterances are discordant with deeds and that frameworks work at their frames, differentially. In that process of crossing the Amembrane", a metamorphosis occurs. Universal meanings cannot be assumed, and that enunciative Acommon-ness" is always hard work. And, it is not only the work of Atranslation" that is active here: that alone, is hard enough.
Even if the defining membrane that casts the Rest as the West's Aother" was to disappear through some historic miracle, the Rest's constitutive definitions would create severe limits for crossings over the boundaries that should have been there. Perhaps it is easier to explicate such dispositions through the most defining of the enunciative arts: poetry.
We have to somehow come to terms with the awareness that the AEuropean" or that the AWestern" tradition have been a fascinating and self-serving invention. West-ness was the result of a sustained effort by thousands of people spanning at least two centuries. The words existed before, but their meaning was altered and crafted by real people who, despite their countries' incessant wars and national hostilities, managed to define and distinguish a civilisational project. The project itself chose its exemplary heritage and re-focused its contemporary priorities. It did so by inclusion and exclusion, elevation and down-grading, by evaluation and discrimination. Its AEuropean-ness" and later AWest-ness" was created through contrasts to an envisioned non-West, to Eastern despotism, to the colonised world. The Aout-there" as every primer of Apost-colonial" studies insists was always part of its self-constitution. Its Athis-ness" as against the Athat-ness" marked each of its moments and the selective appropriation and definition of what was to be Aexotic", Aother", Anot-quite-itself" was a persistent preoccupation. Not only was it demeaning to those thus defined, but it also set the standards for their own self-definitions. Despite the tradition's seeming longevity, its history is indeed recent.
With it emerges a subliminal heritage of masculinity and femininity, a normalising discourse of blackness and whiteness with its moral, sexual and cultural dioramas rooted in slavery and that infernal curse of the fate of the children of Ham, and of course, a distinction between progress and backwardness. And through a process of retrospective selection, a mutilated Hellenism, purged from its dionysian excesses already at work in the Renaissance, becomes the West's creative infancy. Had it only been the work of definitions, those whom it bracketed-out would have shrugged their shoulders in disbelief. It was the symbiosis of this definitional project with the sources of power and world hegemony that made out of it not only an aesthetic theory, but an encompassing dominant.
However much one dredges out the constitutive assumptions of the Amembrane", its power and ability to define the exemplary cannot be understated. Its work finds its most acute expression in the Parisian avant-gardes from the mid-19th century onwards. The cosmopolitan city, a home for thousands of emigres, refugees and literary visitors from Europe and the USA- at ease with the Aclassics" from Homer to Dante, incubated a process for the self-selection of texts and of artistic traditions that defined the spiritual home of Aeuropean-ness" above and despite the sabre rattling of their respective warlords. Nothing less than a fabulous act of the imagination abstracts, let us say a Virginia Wolfe, ridding her off any parochial London-ness and her scraps with her neighbours like John Galsworthy about the uses of art, abstracting her at the same time from the role of woman at odds with a society of gender oppression, to posit her as one of its exemplars
If the work of Amultitudes" stitched together the Amembrane", its imagination in Europe created at the same time antinomical currents which, in a moment of self-realisation that their own historicity was demeaned through differentiation and exclusion, through declarations of Abackwardness" and the Aprimitive" responded by taking stock of their supposed deficits and rebounded through poetic tracts and narratives, imagining in their sway repressed histories, secret prides, poor passions and imagining for sure the entities of the Aother side": Africa, Latin America, Asia, Hellenism or the Third World. These antinomical currents sought to bring into language their own spaces on earth, their territories and their intransigent pasts.
Odysseus Elytis's AAxion Esti", Aime Cesaire's AReturn to my Native Land" and Pablo Neruda's ACanto General" are such antinomical works, defined both by the canon of modernism and within that, of surrealism but also by an Aincendence in backwardness." (18) They are poetic cycles conscious of the Ashame" of their homeland's worldly condition at the time of their composition, and, shaped by a desire to reclaim their difference, their own cosmogenesis, their history and in the process invent their own symbolic vocabulary. For Greek poets like Elytis the creative passage was easier given the adoption of the Hellenistic as Europe's infancy and as its symbolic referent. His redrafting of origins, of mythology and religion and the creation of a Auniqueness" was embedded in a struggle to find a discordant voice. By contrast, Aime Cesaire, given the colonial and racist derogation of Africa's past, casting Africans as Europe's perennial infants had to struggle harder with the weapons of surrealist techniques and violent imagery so that his lines could return and redeem his African and Carribean roots. In all of them, a reconfiguration of Aus-ness" was the challenge and the duty.
Similarly, a poet like Neruda, by drafting his continent's history, its morphology, its genesis and creation, its people and animals, its cruel and unjust powers, its colonisation and its hopes for emancipation, was responding to a sense of indigenous (and endogenous) outrage against imperial notions of the Aother." Through his craft, nature gains a new and diffracted meaning. His poetry's obligation was to spin a thread of solidarity so strong as to allow for a new emotional terrain to animate a continent's creative destiny.
Scholars of the imagination cannot straight-jacket Neruda, Elytis and Cesaire into a variant of the Western canon- I write this advisedly after a reading of Harold Bloom's thesis about exemplary works that define the West's sensibility. (19) (Of course he has no obvious space for the latter two but Neruda is reserved as a main voice in the Spanish language's contribution to such a canon). For anyone who has understood Neruda at all, the notion that he was a great poet despite his context or politics is peculiar: they are ignoring his profound sorrow for another September 11th in 1973 when the Pinochet-coup broke his dreams and hopes.
Neruda, very much like Elytis and Cesaire did, operated within a different sense of nature and naturalism, indeed a different ontology and a different sense of history from the sensibility that defined the classics of European literature. His naturalism was neither based on the Ainstrumental" rationality that marked the Enlightenment's (and modernism's) relationship to nature, nor its romantic counter-point. From the earliest stanzas of Aemergence and genesis" in the Canto General to the exaltations of the Heights of Macchu-Piccu, from his poems on stones, animals and birds to his enchantment with ordinary things in Odas Elementales and finally, to his cruel medidations of loneliness in the oceans cusp and lip, the frailty of the human project within a primordial process, has no parallel in the romantic or darwinian world of the 19th century. (20) His notion of the Apeople" furthermore, was neither a notion of the Amasses" or the Aoi polloi" nor was it the abstract Aproletariat" of socialist realism and his sensitivity to the varied historical pasts of the American continent, ran against the grain of the US's historicity of the Afrontier"; his skyline had traces of blood, Native AAmerican" blood, crafted in complex ways into a web of belongings, rooted in the vegetative, the lunar and mineral pressures of a historical awakening.
The universalism of a Neruda is hard work: it is only decipherable in the light of communist internationalism, the Stalin-inspired discourses on the national question and also his very own drafting of a collective pueblo, emerging from its magical and mineral obligations to reclaim a ravaged continent. With the fragmentaion of such universalising movements in the late twentieth century we are left with a defining symbolic landscape and an inheritance: an inheritance, very much of our parents' generation, an inheritance which traps us in the membrane. Our generation had to negotiate a space through its own nomothetic and emotional taboos.
It defines with relative ease an Aother" out there- a seductive, sometimes desirable, sometimes repulsive, but an Aother" neverthelss. Simplistic? Perhaps. Powerful? Most, certainly. To arrive these days at a sense of transnational solidarity and a notion of a polycentric world of equal voice in search of justice that makes life possible is the damnest, motherfather of a hard task- a task without which nothing reconciles, and, everything implodes with each bomb.