[-empyre-] Introductory post (Alan Sondheim)

Alan Sondheim sondheim at panix.com
Tue Nov 4 08:20:02 EST 2014

On Mon, 3 Nov 2014, James Barrett wrote:

> I chime in early as an uninvited contributor.
No, problem, I hope others come in as well.

> 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.

What I was writing about, and am trying to understand, isn't the 
geopolitics - here I totally agree with you. It about how can people
do such things to each other, how can groups attempt absolute 
annihilation, and how does one deal with that psychologically? This 
beheavior goes back thousands of years; the book Violence and Civilization 
deals ih depth with it. It's the anguish - and I use the word because for 
me there's something untranslatable at the heart of it - that we deal with 
and can't deal with - the wall.

> 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)

Yes, I agree, and I believe, rightly or wrongly, I can write and think 
through control this way; my choice of words was poor. It's not just W3 by 
the way - during the Vietnam war, there was evidence everywhere of torture 
and mutilation.


> 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.

We have a lot of terror in any case - look at the prison system in the US 
- privatized, violent, racist, hold apparently 25% of the world's prison 
population alone, 2.2 million people.

> 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?

Yes, here I agree, but I'd add, how does one deal with this image of 
terror, given it's effect on us - and how does one deal with the effect? 
And even further, in this particular case, how does one deal with the 
annihilation of whole tribes, archeological sites, mosques, etc. - with 
the deep erasure of the past? How does one address scorched earth?

> 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-

And violent torture everywhere, I agree, but this discussion, at least for 
me, isn't about outcry (although we do that), but about something violent 
and internal, something that might well become far more the norm than we 
want to believe.

Thank you so much, Alan

> where has been the global outcry over this barbarity?
> Best
> James
> James Barrett
> PhD Candidate/Adjunct
> Department of Language Studies/HUMlab
> Ume? University
> Sweden
> http://about.me/James.G.Barrett
> ________________________________________
> 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
> terror.
> 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
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu

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