Violence and time in North America – some thoughts from Isabel Allende


Actually, as well as liking some of Isabel Allende’s ideas about Memoir and memory, I also found her comments on violence and time interesting. She wrote (and I hope I haven’t eliminated the context in which she writes this):

“I’ve been so thoroughly incorporated into the California culture that I practice mediation and go to a therapist…. I have adapted to the rhythm of this extraordinary place….”

“The North Americans’ sense of time is very special. They are short on patience. Everything must be quick, including food and sex, which the rest of the world treats ceremoniously. Gringos invented two terms that are untranslatable into most languages: ‘snack’ and ‘quickie,’ to refer to eating standing up and loving on the run … that, too, sometimes standing up. The most popular books are manuals: how to become a millionaire in ten easy lessons, how to lose fifteen pounds a week, how to recover from your divorce, and so on. People always go around looking for shortcuts and ways to [-p.189] escape anything they consider unpleasant: ugliness, old age, weight, illness, poverty, and failure in any of its aspects.
This country’s fascination with violence never ceases to shock me. It can be said that I have lived in interesting circumstances, I’ve seen revolutions, war, and urban crime, not to mention the brutalities of the military coup in Chile. Our home in Caracas was broken into seventeen times; almost everything we had was stolen, from a can opener to three cars, two from the street, and the third after the thieves completely ripped off our garage door. At least none of them had bad intentions; one even left a note of thanks stuck to the refrigerator door. Compared to other places on earth, where a child can step on a mine on his way to school and lose two legs, the United States is safe as a convent, but the culture is addicted to violence. Proof of that is to be found in its sports, its games, its art, and, certainly not least, its films, which are bloodcurdling. North Americans don’t want violence in their lives, but they need to experience it indirectly. They are enchanted by war, as long as it’s not on their turf.” (pp.188-189)

Ref: Isabel Allende (2003) My Invented Country: A Memoir. Translated from the Spanish by Margaret Sayers Peden. Flamingo: London

The meaning behind serial killers


The serial killer is the (post-)modern monster. Transgressing, subverting, finally rendering meaningless the socially constructed divide between Reality and Fiction, he (it is usually a ‘he’) is both inscrutable and overdetermined. Simultaneously fascinating and repulsive (in private life and in the public sphere), he taps into personal fears and violates cultural taboos, ultimately inviting each of us to discover our own meanings in his madness. Haunting our dreams as well as our waking lives in the news, on television, in novels, and especially (most powerfully) at the movies, the serial killer seduces us in the manner of the traditional Gothic villain while horrifying us with the threat of pure evil.

Uncanny by nature, the serial killer in film represents both rejected/projected Other and possible/potential double for each and every one of us.” (p.3)

Ref: (italics in original, emphases in blue bold mine) Steven Jay Schneider (2002) ‘Introduction, Pt. II: Serial Killer Film and Television’ Post Script – Essays in Film and the Humanities 22(2), pp.3-6

Abstract: “In the introduction to ‘Post Script’s’ second special issue devoted to realist horror cinema, Schneider discusses the representation of the serial killer in motion pictures, viewing the figure as a vehicle for audiences to project their personal fears and their fascination with cultural taboos onto. He comments on films that portray the serial killer as a ‘supernatural being,’ such as ;Halloween,’ ‘Child’s Play,’ and ‘The Eyes of Laura Mars.’ Schneider also previews essays collected in the issue, which analyze particular movies, themes, conventions, and generic traits from a variety of theoretical perspectives.” (p.3)

The Myth of Evil


Just came across a book that looks interesting: The Myth of Evil, by Philip Cole…. Reviewing The Myth of Evil, Niall Scott writes:

The Myth of Evil does not just concern the words in the title, but is a sophisticated treatment of evil in general, focussing strongly upon both the coherence of the concept and the attribution of the description ‘evil’ to phenomena and human behaviour. Cole’s aim throughout the book is to show that evil is a myth, that as a concept it is neither philosophical nor psychological, nor religious, which is quite a challenge. Although he argues that we would be better off without the concept of evil altogether, flying his flag in this way from the outset does not diminish how serious he takes the discourse of evil to be. This is evident in his willingness to recognise how the term and associated adjectives are used. In his introductory chapters, he provides a truly illuminating history of the devil, and challenges what is meant in descriptions of human behaviours as diabolical or demonic.
Although predominantly a politico/philosophical enquiry, the book offers much more than this. It is an argument drawing upon literature, history, and popular visual culture, and as a result it speaks to a range of disciplines. Cole addresses contemporary questions that have arisen around the multi-faceted concept of evil, such as fear and horror. This is also a political work that does not just provide a treatment of evil as a myth. It engages directly and importantly with the now frequently encountered political discourses regarding the holocaust, terrorism, Iraq, and the Bush and Blair administrations’ participation in disseminating discourses of fear and (in)security. These use the terminology of evil, the demonic, and the monstrous in contemporary conflicts, and the frequent occurrence of ‘evil’ functions as an explanatory device in the justification of appalling human behaviour. Cole provides four possible ways of conceptualising theories of evil. They are: (1) a monstrous conception, (2) a pure conception, (3) an impure conception, and (4) a psychological conception.” (Scott, p.97)

Apparently, Cole’s “concluding chapter presents a challenge to the reader where it addresses the contemporary state of world politics in the context of discourses of evil, with a detailed analysis of terror, terrorism, and violence. Cole spends time laying out the Iraqi problem, drawing parallels between the language of terror and fear and the phenomenon of witch trials and the eastern European vampire myths dealt with earlier in the book. Cole’s strategy is again seductive. At times, he tempts the reader into agreeing with the description of, for example, the western regimes and the terrorist as monstrous and demonic. However, it is clear that if one has paid any attention to his preceding argument, such very understandable, but simplistic assessments of terrible and horrific human actions require a more responsible treatment. So he refers to the sheer monstrous arbitrariness of terrorist victims in recent terrorist activities, and rhetorically asks that ‘Surely this arbitrariness fits the model of Monstrous evil?’ (234). But it is this very description that he challenges. We can move beyond evil in our understanding of such events and come to a position that even the arbitrariness is not without significance, and this reminds us that literary monsters have a history of grievance and need not be characterised in terms of a model of monstrous evil.” (p.100)

Ref: Niall Scott (2009) Has Evil Run its Course? Phillip Cole, The Myth of Evil, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2006, 256 pp. [Review] Res Publica (2009) 15:97–101 DOI 10.1007/s11158-008-9062-2

stitching together of everyday life with the war on terror?


Thinking of violence as it relates to geography, this article by Louise Amoore caught my eye. Pointing to former senior American politicians who went into business in security (eg former under Secretary, Asa Hutchinson, who established the Hutchinson Group, a homeland security consulting company), Amoore writes:

There is, as William Connolly describes it, an emerging “resonance” between security activities: [‘]Airport surveillance, internet filters, passport tracking devices, legal detention without criminal charges, security internment camps, secret trials, “free speech zones”, DNA profiles, border walls and fences, erosion of the line between internal security and external military action—these security activities resonate together, engendering a national security machine that pushes numerous issues outside the range of legitimate dissent and mobilizes the populace to support new security and surveillance practices against underspecified enemies[‘] (Connolly 2005:54).

Neither a militarization of society, nor even a commercialization of security, then, what we are seeing is a stitching together of the mundane and prosaic calculations of business, the security decisions authorized by the state, and the mobilized vigilance of a fearful public. It is important to stress here that questioning the logic of militarization is not to underplay the acute violence inherent to this different kind of war. What I call here “algorithmic war” is one specific appearance of Foucault’s Clausewitzian inversion—the “continuation of war by other means”, its appeal to technology and expertise rendering the violent force of war somewhat ordinary and invisible (2003 [1976]:16). “The role of political power”, writes Foucault, “is perpetually to use a sort of silent war to reinscribe the relationship of force, and to reinscribe it in institutions, economic inequalities, language, and even the bodies of individuals” (16–17). Understood in this way, the political practices of homeland security—what Derek Gregory and Alan Pred call “expert solutions” (2007:1)—are actually sanctioning and reproducing the war-like relations of power seen in the overtly militarized spaces of Afghanistan and Iraq. They target individual bodies, designate communities as dangerous or risky, delineate safe zones from targeted locations, invoke the pre-emptive strike on the city streets.” (p.50)

Algorithmic security is war-like, then, not primarily because it brings military force into closer proximity with our daily commute or airport check-in queue (though of course it does do this), but because it functions through a war-like architecture. It deploys an “architecture of enmity”, a drawing of the lines between self/other; us/them; safe/risky; inside/outside, that makes going to war possible (Shapiro 1997). Though political geography has given critical attention to the performativity of the violent imagination of threat, this has most commonly focused on spaces where the presence of war is visceral and visible—where uniformed military personnel are present on the city streets (Katz 2007); when urban spaces are the targeted sites of war (Graham 2004); or in the tangible violences of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay (Minca 2005). In this paper, I explore the less visible spaces where the architecture of enmity is present in the form of algorithmic war.” (p.51)

According to Amoore, “Algorithmic war appears to make it possible for the imagination of an open global economy of mobile people, objects and monies, to be reconciled with the post-9/11 rendering of a securitized nation-state.” (p.51)

NB: Amoore explains: “Rules of association are produced by algorithms—models or “decision trees” for a calculation (Quinlan 1986). In effect, algorithms appear to make it possible to translate probable associations between people or objects into actionable security decisions. In 2003, for example, a US Joint Inquiry concluded that “on September 11, enough relevant data was resident in existing databases”, so that “had the dots been connected”, the events could have been “exposed and stopped” (2003:14). It is precisely this “connecting of dots” that is the work of the algorithm.” (p.51) [I couldn’t help thinking of Person Of Interest here!]

Person Of Interst LogoAmoore quotes US Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff: “[‘]If we learned anything from September 11 2001, it is that we need to be better at connecting the dots of terrorist-related information. After September 11, we used credit card and telephone records to identify those linked with the hijackers. But wouldn’t it be better to identify such connections before a hijacker boards a plane?[‘] Amoore then explains: “The algorithm appears to make possible the conversion of ex post facto evidence in the war on terror into a judgement made in advance of the event. The significant point here is that probabilistic knowledge, based on the databased residue of daily life, becomes a means of securitization.” (p.52)

What is novel in the contemporary moves to algorithmic war, then, is the specific form that the aligning of science, commerce, military and the state is taking.” (p.54)

“Surveillance cameras, equipped with facial and gait recognition technologies, track “atypical” movements such as repeated traversals of a platform (Hale 2005); “smart” travel payment cards store journey data and identify anomalies; and poster displays urge the public “if you suspect it, report it”. The calculations of the algorithm appear to translate the observation of uncertain and contingent human life into something with the credibility of scientific judgement.” (p.55) “The specific deployment of scientific knowledge, then, incorporates the affective domain, rendering fears and anxieties a means of anticipating the future.” (p.55)

“Citing international relations scholar Michael Shapiro, Derek Gregory argues that “geography is inextricably linked to the architecture of [-p.56] enmity”, to the overlapping practices through which “collectivities locate themselves in the world and thus how they practice the meanings of Self and Other that provide the conditions of possibility for regarding others as threats or antagonists” (2004:20). Yet, Gregory’s “spiraling networks” do not fully push the limits of Shapiro’s architecture because they return the geopolitics of violence to the disciplinary norms of battlefield spaces, obscuring the subtle differential violences of the “surveillance network” of the “end-of-violence organization” that Shapiro later depicts (2004:121). In the name of homeland security (the end of violence), algorithmic war reinscribes the imaginative geography of the deviant, atypical, abnormal “other” inside the spaces of daily life. The figure of enmity to be feared and intercepted need not only dwell in a represented outside in the geographies of Iraq or Afghanistan, for the outside can be inside—in the body of the migrant worker (differentially normal in the space of the economy and abnormal in the spaces of immigration), the young Muslim student (permitted to study but observed in the college’s Islamic society), the refugee (afforded the hospitality of the state but biometrically identified and risk-rated), the British Asian traveler (granted visa waiver but ascribed an automated risk score).” (pp.55-56)

“Here the architecture of enmity becomes the means of securitization itself, such that the distinction between “real” war (with accompanying visceral violence and bloodshed) and the war by other means (legitimated by securing against future violence) becomes permeable.” (p.56)

Ref: (italics in original, emphases in blue bold mine) Louise Amoore (2009) AlgorithmicWar: Everyday Geographies of the War on Terror. Antipode Vol. 41 No. 1, pp.49-69

Abstract: Technologies that deploy algorithmic calculation are becoming ubiquitous to the homeland securitization of the war on terror. From the surveillance networks of the city subway to the biometric identifiers of new forms of border control, the possibility to identify “association rules” between people, places, objects and events has brought the logic of preemption into the most mundane and prosaic spaces. Yet, it is not the case that the turn to algorithmic calculation simply militarizes society, nor even that we are witnessing strictly a commercialization of security. Rather, algorithmic war is one form of Foucault’s sense of a “continuation of war by other means”, where the war-like architectures of self/other, here/there, safe/risky, normal/suspicious are played out in the politics of daily life. This paper explores the situated interplay of algorithmic practices across commercial, security, and military spheres, revealing the violent geographies that are concealed in the glossy techno-science of algorithmic calculation.” (p.49)

Reference is to: Gregory D (2004) The Colonial Present. Oxford: Blackwell

Gregory D and Pred A (eds) (2007) Violent Geographies: Fear, Terror and Political Violence. New York: Routledge

Shapiro M (1997) Violent Cartographies: Mapping Cultures of War. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press
Shapiro M (2004) “The nation-state and violence”: Wim Wenders contra imperial sovereignty. In J Edkins, V Pin-Fat and M Shapiro (eds) Sovereign Lives: Power in Global Politics (pp 101–124). New York: Routledge

The Castle Doctrine, ghettoization, gated communities, and spaces of the home


Oooh… brilliant position piece on the Trayvon Martin tragedy… Hilda E. Kurtz writes:

“The February 2012 shooting death in Florida of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, by George Zimmerman, an Hispanic neighborhood watch captain – and the police’s immediate release of the shooter – drew widespread outrage at racial disparities in law enforcement of violent crimes in the United States. It also drew attention to a fundamental shift in the doctrine of self-defense as legislated in Florida and 24 other US states since 2005.
The social production of multiple spaces shaped this tragedy, and this intervention reflects on the intersection of ghettoization, gated communities, and spaces of the home (read, castle) as they contributed to these events. Lefebvre’s (1991 [1974]) articulation in The Production of Space of space as a social product shaped by values, meanings and power relations is well trodden ground in human geography. The Stand Your Ground law used to justify the initial release of the boy’s killer adds a frightening new twist to how we should understand the play of power in spaces, and the way that space can be used to reproduce overtly violent social dominance.” (p.248)

“The history of ghettoization of non-whites in American cities, and most virulently, of African Americans is, of course, a textbook example of the use of space to reproduce and deepen social dominance.” (p.248)

“The shadow of ghettoization extends across society in the pervasive stereotyping of African-American men and boys in urban, rural and suburban settings. Stereotypes are a particularly insidious form of ecological fallacy. Pervasively linked in much of the collective (white) imagination with ghettoes and criminal behaviors, black boys and men can unwittingly and without warrant provoke fear and consternation when encountered in spaces in which they are viewed by others as not belonging.” (p.248)

Without the systematic social production of the spaces of ghettoes over decades, the stereotyping of black men and youth would not have the durability that it does, black parents would not be subjected to the unrelenting fear of hate-based harm coming to their children, and black boys would not come up in the world sensing fear and distrust at their very presence, and experience the attendant social and psychological ramifications of such mistrust.
Far from a recognizable ghetto, the boy Trayvon was feared, followed and fatally shot in a gated community in Sanford, Florida, a racially diverse suburb of Orlando. Gatedness is a clear example of the social production of spaces of belonging and exclusion, of us, not them; here, not out there. Zimmerman was acting as a neighborhood watchman, seeking to protect residents of the gated community from possible intruders. Some commentators have suggested that the mixed demographics of this particular community signal that Trayvon was not being targeted because of his race. Rich Benjamin, who lived as a black man in three gated communities across the USA to research his book Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America (2009), disagrees.” (p.249)

Florida’s 2005 Stand Your Ground law, promulgated by the National Rifle Association (NRA), deepens this particular tragedy. Historically in the USA, claims of self-defense were shaped by the Castle Doctrine, under which a person’s home is understood as a place in which certain protections and immunities apply to his or her actions. Claims of self-defense or justifiable homicide could be supported if the person’s home were invaded and/or they were attacked in the home. In many but not all states, such a claim required evidence of a prior attempt to retreat. The Stand Your Ground law first enacted in Florida in 2005, and since then, in 24 other states in a legislative sweep sponsored by the NRA, alters the spatiality of self-defense claims in two important ways. First, it extends the protection of the Castle Doctrine into other social spaces, such as the street, the sidewalk or the bar. Sanctioned by half the states in the USA, people can now carry their invisible castle along with them virtually anywhere they go, as long as they have a lawful right to be there (Catalfamo 2006; Ross 2007). Second, it eliminates the requirement to attempt a retreat from attack before responding with deadly force. It steers away from the relatively conservative self-defense doctrine which imposed a duty to retreat in order protect the sanctity of life (Catalfamo 2006).”

Fundamentally, Stand Your Ground laws justify violent response to perceived threats in a wide range of public and private spaces, of which gated communities are just one example. We know that spaces become coded over time, formally and informally, for the inclusion and exclusion of certain “kinds of people”. We have all recognized—fearfully—someone somewhere as out of place. Black and other nonwhite boys and men bear the ugliest brunt of such socio-spatial judgments, but many others have experienced the discomfort and alarm of feeling out of place in one setting or another.” (p.250)

“The question now confronting us is, what kind of dystopian future do we face when so-called Stand Your Ground laws sanction addressing socio-spatial discomfort and perceived threat with deadly violence?” (p.250)

Ref: (italics in original, emphases in blue bold mine) Hilda E. Kurtz (2013) Trayvon Martin and the Dystopian Turn in US Self-defense Doctrine  Antipode Vol. 45 No. 2, March pp.248-251

emotions, knowledge and serial killers


I read this article on emotions by Jennifer Harding & E. Deidre Pribram the same day as I read some of the literature on Dexter. This following statement stuck out for me as a result…:

Because emotions have been perceived as occurring predominantly at the level of individual experience, they have been dismissed as a disturbance: irrational and, consequently, unreliable and insignificant. However, this obscures the point that they also operate socioculturally; they act simultaneously as structures of meaning and structures of power. After all, discourses of the body also function largely experientially and at the level of the individual. However, as much recent theory has shown, discourses of the body are intimately connected to larger social operations. Indeed, they are the means by which social and cultural discursive formations are embodied . We are arguing a similar set of conditions for the emotions / they are the means by which social and cultural formations affect us, that is, render us as feeling beings in a series of complex, specific ways. Simply because emotions principally are enacted (‘experienced’) at the level of the individual does not exclude them from being simultaneously implicated in larger cultural processes and structures nor, for that matter, does it make them immune to theorization.” (p.871)

I couldn’t help thinking of Dexter and his inability/desire to feel emotions like ‘normal’ people – and his development as a father and family man…

Further on in this same article (discussing Larry Grossberg’s work on affect), Jennifer Harding & E. Deidre Pribram also explain that:

“Grossberg’s point is that affect needs to be taken into account as a constitutive aspect of popular culture. It is insufficient to heed popular culture only when it is transformed, through interpretation, into either ‘art’ or, as in some avenues of cultural studies, ideology/hegemony, that is to say, when it takes on meaning.

“A potential problem with a position that argues the prevalence of an affective dimension in popular culture is that its application may lead to too dramatic a bifurcation of popular culture from elite culture, or of feeling from thinking. This may suggest an antithetical relationship between high art and pop culture, as well as between meaning and affect, as if high culture audiences do not feel and popular culture audiences do not think. But, significantly, Grossberg observes that popular culture’s dominantly affective dimension is not inherent but historically constituted and that ‘a large part of the struggle over popular culture concerns the ability of certain practices to have such effects’ (1992, p. 79). That is, popular culture practices have fought to represent and retain their association with affective experience.

The ‘interpretive task’ facing cultural studies and left-wing politics alike is to identify the strategies and sites where affective empowerment might be possible, beginning with popular culture forms that resonate affectively for consumers (1988, p. 290): ‘Those differences which do matter [affectively] can become the site of ideological struggle’ (1992, p. 105). Things that matter affectively can be taken up as sites of ideological assertion or contestation. Political positions can be claimed through and shaped by modes or instances of felt popular culture.

Arguably, this is what many contemporary cultural theorists have attempted to do in the move towards the analysis of popular culture. Specific subjects from pop culture are chosen for study, not because they are a priori ‘artistically’ significant to a trained critical eye or carry some other elite cultural value but, precisely the opposite, because they have mass emotional appeal. To continue with the example of popular music, in the case of ‘Madonna studies’ critical effort has been directed towards recapturing, for historical record, the basis of her wide appeal. Theoretical activity is taken up after popular fact, in an attempt to account for the widespread emotional affiliation of fans and to pinpoint that which is so resistant, in Williams’ terms, to historical investigation and documentation. What are the sources and effects of extensive popularity? Can they be turned into political statements or acts? Can such affective investments and energies be used to identify emergent subcultural identities?” (p.874)

I found this article really quite fascinating… how do laughter, fear, feelings of neglect, abandonment and I don’t know what appear in popular fiction… to what effect? What of feelings in Adolescent Fiction? Is there anything special about feelings in this ‘genre’? It’s interesting to consider! A couple more quotes are relevant here:

“Following Jaggar’s arguments, […] emotions are pivotal in identity formations, in the recognition of alienation from or connection to. She discusses how unexplained or uncoded feelings may cause one to feel isolated or ‘abnormal’, while recognition of others with similar feelings can serve as the ground for the formation of subcultural groups (1989).” (p.875)

We are arguing that, among other forces, emotion makes possible the exertion and reception of the effects of power relations, thereby constructing the subject and, more specifically, the emotional subject. In other words, the subject who feels is critical to the circulation of power, the establishment of social relations, and the construction of discursive and institutional formations.
Emotions are forces of energy creating ongoing movement that propels social relations. The circulation of emotion produces in and between people connections, ruptures, dependencies, responsibilities, accountabilities, and so on. In other words, people care / they are invested. If people care, certain effects are produced: they feel and act in certain ways. Individuals have emotional relations, a significant form of social relations. It is through these relations that subjects are ‘affected’, that they are constituted into specifically contoured kinds of feeling beings. Following Grossberg, the task facing cultural studies is to identify the strategies and sites where emotional authority might be possible, in addition to pinpointing the locations and terms within which emotions subordinate.” (p.879)

[Do we invest conceptions of ‘work’, ‘financial security’, ‘home’, ‘family’, ‘marriage’, etc. with emotional authority?]

In contemporary Western cultures, a prevailing assumption exists that men suppress emotion more frequently and more extensively than women - to varyingly positive or negative effects -/ while women display and release emotions more readily. Women tend to be seen as more emotionally ‘skilled’ and ‘fluent’, which confers a positive meaning. However, in contrast, being ‘more emotional’ is most often equated with being less in control of feelings in a pejorative or problematic way and has served as justification for women’s exclusion from any number of corridors of power.
Further, the gendered expression of emotion is dependent upon the emotion being considered. Men are regarded as better able to express certain emotions / anger, frustration, impatience. It then becomes possible to analyse emotions, such as anger or non-anger, as gendered structures of feeling. Such views need not be construed as essentializing. Rather, gendered subjects can be seen as constructed in/through specific discursive events such as the expression or ‘repression’ of emotion. In this case, individual subjects must live and feel the specificities of such constructions, and they must constantly re-enact / relive, refeel / those specificities in order to sustain their identities.” (p.881)

An analytics of emotion must examine specific occurrences and concrete examples. It must thoroughly examine: how emotions might be constituted and experienced; how they are used, that is, what their effects might be; how they might function with/in structures of power, towards both dominant and resistant ends; and what role they play in the formation of subjectivity and identity in the everyday lives and practices of individuals.
In other words, in order to further develop an analysis of emotion and relations between emotion and power, subjectivity and culture, we think that ‘power and emotion’ need to be discussed in detail and in relation to concrete examples.” (p.882)

Ref: Jennifer Harding & E. Deidre Pribram (2004): Losing our cool? Following Williams and Grossberg on emotions  Cultural Studies, 18:6, 863-883