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POETRYETC Home

POETRYETC  2001

POETRYETC 2001

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Subject:

Re: Afghanistan

From:

domfox <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Poetryetc provides a venue for a dialogue relating to poetry and poetics <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 8 Oct 2001 22:08:20 +0100

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Peace? Peace? There is no peace.

Plenty of fatuity, though; I hope less in the policy than in the rhetoric
vaunting the policy, but cause and effect do get mangled so. Media coverage
of the bombing of Kabul inherits the programmatic obscenity of media
coverage of the bombing of Baghdad. The bombing itself is not the obscenity,
or is a different obscenity. I mean to revisit the rhetoric of Henry V, its
reliance on pictures in the mind's eye: war, which even there involves
mindless butchery, extortion, terror, the most abject and blatant
desecration of humane ideals, is made the subject of a presentation (today
that of the "briefing": Flash and Powerpoint, the webcam at the warhead's
tip) which seeks fulfilment in a mental re-presentation enacted by the
audience.
    This is using aesthetic theory to describe a political effect, a device
of ideology. You can argue that the gap between presentation and
representation weakens the effect, or makes its strength dependent on the
very thing that leaves it vulnerable to subversion. The dominant effect of
ideology is not its only possible effect: ingenious rebels and radicals can
make the effect defect from its cause, deflect it to other purposes. It's
true: representations can be hijacked. You could make Henry V deconstruct
England back into its component sub-ethnicities, make the parable of
consensus-building demonstrate the chimerical and factitious nature of every
consensus. Give it a try, if you like. The dominant effect remains the
dominant effect. It expresses, enforces domination. It is one of the means
by which domination dominates. "Queering" fascist violence does nothing to
deflect the boot from the human head.
    This leaves the question of where to go, in poetry that is. I think Goya
and Otto Dix: disastrous art, desecrated art. What the "scanners" of the
media show, sweeping back and forth across the "theater of conflict", is
made safe because it is translated immediately into the light grainy
blue-grey of television. A few images break the code: the bare scream of the
napalmed child, ectoplasmic flesh of camp inmates pressed against the
perimeter fence; the Ethiopian dust-plain blotted with the living dead.
There will probably be a great many intolerable images - still-lives, or
still-deaths - from Afghanistan, and our job is to remember them all, to
record faithfully the desecration of the human image, the disasters of war.
Ideological pacifism is idiotic. War is not terrible because it is racist or
imperialist. Racism and imperialism are terrible because they sponsor war.
We have to remember what it is about war that is so terrible; then we will
not be shouting for "three, four, many World Trade centers!", and will not
be suckered into expressions of solidarity for those who a) talk such
execrable and vicious nonsense, and b) are at least as likely as those of
their fellow citizens who compliantly toe the "militarist" line to be alive
and in one piece in six, twelve, or twenty-four months' time. We'll all go
together when we go - unless we are to suppose that Al'Quaida have managed
to engineer a variant of smallpox that kills only "racists" and leaves
pacifists alone?

Dominic

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