[-empyre-] Introductory post (Alan Sondheim)

James Barrett jim.barrett at umu.se
Tue Nov 4 02:01:04 EST 2014

Hello Alan, 

I am looking foward to your month of curation at empyre.

I chime in early as an uninvited contributor.

The reaction to ISIS, with such speculation, as you put it, on "How does one live within the knowledge of annihilation?" seems to me to say more about the magnifying powers of modern mass networked media that the strategic capabilities of the barbaric Islamic State. 

The possibility of us in the Western World being annihalated by the despotic and brutal IS is questionable at best. However, the actions of this group should provoke far more legitimate and pressing questions over the 10+ years of Western investment in the state of Iraq, along with the geo-political future of the region and the fate of the millions of people in the region who have already suffered under this horrible war and occupation.

My point is, your statement that "the anguish of political situations that seem out of control" should be interogated for why these situaitons seem this way, not for the nature of control and how it can be restored to a prefered status quo. I believe it is the representation of the political situations that is out of control, to the point where the most bloody act now gains the most attention, as if rhetoric was now violence and words the flash of a sharpened blade. All maginfied in the echo chanber of an increasingly hierarchical World Wide Web (as in clusters of information centered on powerful producers and organizers)

The IS has been described repeatedly as a "Death cult" by the current Australian Prime Minister, who unwitingly identifies the source of the image for this terror group as online media:

“This mob, by contrast, as soon as they’ve done something gruesome and ghastly and unspeakable, they’re advertising it on the internet for all to see which makes them, in my mind, nothing but a death cult and that’s why I think it’s quite proper to respond with extreme force against people like this.”

The horrific executions of nationals on film has become the calling card for the cruel and merciless group known as IS. But actual technologies of annihalation that can kill very large numbers of people have taken vast steps since Walter Heerdt and Bruno Tesch developed and delivered vacum sealed cannisters of Zyklon B to their fascist customers in Nazi Germany. Presently, no such technologies or infrastructures seem to be in the hands of the ISIS thugs and murderers (Thankfully). Instead, today for the majority of us in the world we have a lot of terror by virtue of a social media campaign that is extremely effective.

So how does one fight this vast image of terror? That is a question I would like to see dealt with, among others, in the month ahead on empyre. How does one comprehend such pitiless acts of barbarism as public decapitation when they are combined with the amatuer YouTube asethetic and a resounding chorus of theocratic manipulation as audio and editing and are available online 24/7 from pole to pole?

Finally, as an after-thought; citizens and non-citizens alike are regularly beheaded and even crucified (crucifixion in this context means the body and head would then be put on public display) in Saudi Arabia. It has been going on for decades- 


where has been the global outcry over this barbarity?


James Barrett
PhD Candidate/Adjunct
Department of Language Studies/HUMlab
Umeå University
From: empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au [empyre-bounces at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au] On Behalf Of Alan Sondheim [sondheim at panix.com]
Sent: 03 November 2014 06:19
To: soft_skinned_space
Subject: [-empyre-] Introductory post (Alan Sondheim)

----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------

(The beginning guests will be announced shortly)

The topic for this month:

ISIS, Absolute Terror, Performance

Our initial precis:

The world seems to be descending into chaos of a qualitatively
different dis/order, one characterized by terror, massacre,
absolutism. Things are increasingly out of control, and this
chaos is a kind of ground-work itself - nothing beyond a
scorched earth policy, but more of the same. What might be a
cultural or artistic response to this? How does one deal with
this psychologically, when every day brings new horrors? Even
traditional analyses seem to dissolve in the absolute terror
that seems to be daily increasing.

We are moderating a month-long investigation on Empyre into the
dilemma this dis/order poses. We will ask a variety of people to
be discussants in what, hopefully, will be a very open
conversation. The debate will invite the empyre community to a
deep and uncomfortable analysis of abject violence, pain,
performance, and ideology [taking further the October 2012
debate on Pain, Suffering, and Death in the Virtual], looking at
the ambivalences of terror, incomprehensible emotions, and our
own complicity in the production of 'common sense' around

The format this month will be slightly different; participants
will be announced on an organic basis, and we hope that many of
the subscribers will chime in. We are all facing the anguish of
political situations that seem out of control. We are interested
in topics such as, How does one deal with anguish personally?
How can anguish be expressed culturally? Can such expressions
make a difference at all? We have all read political analyses of
the causes of this descent; here, we're interested in the
cultural and personal responses to it.

ISIS, Absolute Terror, Performance

Lyric poetry begins, not end, with Auschwitz; the very violence
and terror produced by slaughter places the statement under
erasure. But lyric, poetics, poesis, are among other things
subversions of language, the recognition of a linguistic weight
that bypasses the syntactic, caresses the abject. So that one
might drive poetics through the force of terrified flesh, one
might find language springing there, just as unutterable pain
may be surrounded by the cacophony of elegy and mourning.

Lyric poetry begins with nothing; poetics scrapes away at
lateral fluency, undercuts the corporate, only to die in the
advertising slogan. But Auschwitz is a borderland of time, where
end and annihilation are imminent, imminant, and I keep think of
this in relation to absolute terror, wailing postulations
against the wall that also disappear. Absolute terror, the
performative of beheadings, genocides, and crucifixions, signs
the performative of the end-time itself. It is not a question of
the inerrancy of the text leading the torturers on; it's the
errancy of any text in the face of decapitation; every world is
ultimately unutterable.

It's the unutterability of the world that founds anguish, that
tears momentarily at the soul and body under erasure. It this
which I've been wrestling with for years, only momentarily
handed off to ISIS and this and other geopolitics. How does one
live within the knowledge of annihilation? How does one produce
within such, in response to such? What is the conceivable
meaning of such production? Is meaning itself obliterated to
such an extent that even suicide becomes a useless act?


We have guests for this round, several each week for four weeks.
But we need your input, as many people as possible. I'm on a
number of email lists concerned with cultural workers, cultural
production, cultural politics, geo-politics; ISIS and terror
rarely come up for discussion or as a subject for production,
and when they do, things often tend towards the usual leftist
analysis (for which there is also BBC and Al Jazeera, which I
recommend). But here, we want less political analysis or
politics for that matter, and more, a form of personal/cultural
testimony that is rarely written. What of anguish? What of
inconceivable torture? What of a planet tending wildly towards
overpopulation, extinctions, local wars, starvations, all
producing despair, breakdown, anomie? In other words - how does
one sleep at night?

So in a sense, this is about the dark night of the soul without
god, without recourse. And the very absence of discussion in
general, about the interiority of absolute violence, opens the
subject up here, on Empyre (given the subject, an ironic title!)
- please contribute!

Thanks to Renate and everyone -

- Alan Sondheim

empyre forum
empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au

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