‘Nothing ever dies’

Nothing ever dies

I’m just starting Viet Thanh Nguyen‘s Nothing ever dies: Vietnam and the memory of war (just out from Harvard):

All wars are fought twice, the first time on the battlefield, the second time in memory. From the author of the bestselling novel The Sympathizer comes a searching exploration of the conflict Americans call the Vietnam War and Vietnamese call the American War – a conflict that lives on in the collective memory of both nations.

From a kaleidoscope of cultural forms – novels, memoirs, cemeteries, monuments, films, photography, museum exhibits, video games, souvenirs, and more – Nothing Ever Dies brings a comprehensive vision of the war into sharp focus. At stake are ethical questions about how the war should be remembered by participants that include not only Americans and Vietnamese but also Laotians, Cambodians, South Koreans, and Southeast Asian Americans. Too often, memorials valorize the experience of one’s own people above all else, honoring their sacrifices while demonizing the “enemy” – or, most often, ignoring combatants and civilians on the other side altogether. Visiting sites across the United States, Southeast Asia, and Korea, Viet Thanh Nguyen provides penetrating interpretations of the way memories of the war help to enable future wars or struggle to prevent them.

Drawing from this war, Nguyen offers a lesson for all wars by calling on us to recognize not only our shared humanity but our ever-present inhumanity. This is the only path to reconciliation with our foes, and with ourselves. Without reconciliation, war’s truth will be impossible to remember, and war’s trauma impossible to forget.

Here is the table of contents:

Prologue
Just Memory
Ethics
1. On Remembering One’s Own
2. On Remembering Others
3. On the Inhumanities
Industries
4. On War Machines
5. On Becoming Human
6. On Asymmetry
Aesthetics
7. On Victims and Voices
8. On True War Stories
9. On Powerful Memory
Just Forgetting
Epilogue

You can find an interview with the author at the LA Review of Books here: among other things, it addresses his doubled (and doubly admirable) interest in fiction and non-fiction.  There’s another with Tavis Smiley on PBS here and, since he’s just won a Pulitzer for his novel The Sympathizer – which also deals with Vietnam and the US – I’m sure there’ll be lots more….

A long day’s journey…

Anti-landscape of the Western Front.001

A note from Antipode to say that the latest edition is now available online and, unless I’ve mis-read things, is open access (for now, at any rate).  It includes what the editors say ‘might well be Antipode‘s longest ever paper’ – pp. 3-56! – my ‘Natures of war’ essay here.

JARMAN Sand.001

Archives of the Insensible

9780226277332News from the ever interesting Allen Feldman of his new book, Archives of the Insensible: of war, photopolitics and dead memory, coming from Chicago in December:

In this jarring look at contemporary warfare and political visuality, renowned anthropologist of violence Allen Feldman provocatively argues that contemporary sovereign power mobilizes asymmetric, clandestine, and ultimately unending war as a will to truth. Whether responding to the fantasy of weapons of mass destruction or an existential threat to civilization, Western political sovereignty seeks to align justice, humanitarian right, and democracy with technocratic violence and visual dominance. Connecting Guantánamo tribunals to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, American counterfeit killings in Afghanistan to the Baader-Meinhof paintings of Gerhard Richter, and the video erasure of Rodney King to lynching photography and political animality, among other scenes of terror, Feldman contests sovereignty’s claims to transcendental right — whether humanitarian, neoliberal, or democratic—by showing how dogmatic truth is crafted and terror indemnified by the prosecutorial media and materiality of war.

Excavating a scenography of trials —formal or covert, orchestrated or improvised, criminalizing or criminal — Feldman shows how the will to truth disappears into the very violence it interrogates. He maps the sensory inscriptions and erasures of war, highlighting war as a media that severs factuality from actuality to render violence just. He proposes that war promotes an anesthesiology that interdicts the witness of a sensory and affective commons that has the capacity to speak truth to war. Feldman uses layered deconstructive description to decelerate the ballistical tempo of war to salvage the embodied actualities and material histories that war reduces to the ashes of collateral damage, the automatism of drones, and the opacities of black sites. The result is a penetrating work that marries critical visual theory, political philosophy, anthropology, and media archeology into a trenchant dissection of emerging forms of sovereignty and state power that war now makes possible.

Here is the wonderful Talal Asad on the book:

Archives of the Insensible is a remarkable diagnosis of our time, tracing with great subtlety the multiple ways in which violence is transformed into justice and justice gives birth to destruction. This is a startling book written with passion and insight, and a valuable contribution to our understanding of the relationship of violence to international law in the contemporary world.

You can see why I’m so interested…

The nature(s) of war and biomimetic war

Charlie Haughey, VietnamOne of my tasks this past week has been to complete the revisions to ‘The Natures of War’ which, to my delight, Antipode has agreed to publish in its entirety (and with a handful of illustrations too).  I’ve added a discussion of the ways in which the narratives on which I draw – for the Western Front, the deserts of North Africa, and Vietnam – were all, for various reasons, ‘white boy’s stories’.  I had made it clear that there were troops from other continents fighting and dying on the Western Front, for whom the militarized nature of trench warfare in Europe would have been doubly strange (see also here), and I had also explained that in Vietnam there were at least two other stories to be told: most of the US memoirs were written by white soldiers so that the experiences of African-Americans were written out of the narrative, and the (not so different, as it happens) experiences of Vietnamese fighters only flickered in the footnotes.  I now address all these issues in the body of the text, and the racism of military violence – the racism within militaries ad coalitions as well as racial violence directed at ‘the enemy’ – speaks directly to racializations of nature, and I plan to write another essay drawing on the few extant and relevant memoirs from the People’s Army of North Vietnam and their ancillaries (for a taster, see here: scroll down).

But Juanita Sundberg has raised an altogether different though related question, about the ways in which non-white and (post)colonial subjects construed violence and, indeed, experienced it as quotidian.  In short, is war itself – in so far as its dominant conceptions privilege Europe and North America – seen from the position of a white subject, which is then confounded by the ‘intemperate natures’ of desert and rainforest?

The unrevised draft is still under the DOWNLOADS tab.  More soon.

***

While I’ve been rooting around with these questions, I discovered another way of thinking about ‘The Nature of War’.  Not sure how I missed this, but over at the Vision Machine Roger Stahl previews an essay on ‘The Nature of War’ and the ways in which

‘the discourse of “war” in news, pop culture, and weapons industry PR has taken on a host of biological metaphors. I call this discourse “biomimetic war,” and it is one that, in the end, tacitly extends military jurisdiction to the governance of life itself…

13sd1Of course, biological metaphors have been a part of war/security discourse for a while. Consider the fact that “drone” came from a WWII experiment in unmanned flight that relied on a control center called the “Queen Bee.” Surveillance, especially during the Cold War, has been rife with “bugs” and “flies on the wall.” In the post-9/11 period, however, the biological has edged toward the center as ultimate object of military power. War has gone ecological. Here, terrorism fuses with the natural disaster, Homeland Security responds to disease outbreak and domestic bombing alike, and the specter of biological weapons haunts the public imagination. In such a discursive environment, the contest we call “war” has effectively been mapped onto the biosphere as a permanent and ubiquitous condition determined less by the policing of national boundaries than policing life systems. ‘

You can download the full essay, ‘Life is War: the rhetoric of biomimesis and the future military’ at Democratic Communique 26 (2) (2014) 122-137 here.

Alternate spaces of war 1914-2014

German 'sound radar' 1917

Via the War & Media Network, news of an international, interdisciplinary conference on ‘Alternate spaces of war, 1914 to the present’, to be held at Plymouth University (I think) in the UK, 6-7 July 2015.

The aim is ‘to investigate alternate spaces of war and identify new ways of understanding the experience of conflict in the modern world’:

‘This event will be organised as a part of the AHRC funded ‘Alternate Spaces’ Network set up in 2014. By expanding the timescale of the project to include the last century we are seeking to develop the ideas and outcomes of the initial network project to further investigate the legacy of the First World War in contemporary society.’

Keynote speakers:  Stephen Badsey (University of Wolverhampton); Krista Cowman (University of Lincoln); Martin Hurcombe (University of Bristol); and Mary Brewer (University of Loughborough)

Possible topics include:

Alternate viewings of the Western Front

Alternate Theatres of World War

Global implications of local conflicts since 1914

Civilians’ experience of war

Internment

Domestic Spaces in Wartime

Colonial spaces

Children’s experience of war

War in 21st Century

Literary representations of war

War and life writings

Visual cultures of war

Abstracts (2-300 words) plus a short bio (100 words) should be sent by 5 January 2015 to Angela K. Smith (aksmith@plymouth.ac.uk), Sandra Barkhof (Sandra.barkhof@plymouth.ac.uk) and Cherry Walsh (cherry.walsh@plymouth.ac.uk)

Security by remote control

Security by remote control

News from Lucy Suchman that the website for the Security by Remote Control conference at Lancaster, 22-23 May, is now live here.  It will be enhanced and updated as the symposium approaches – including programme details: I’m still thinking over what I might present – but registration is open now.

Despite investment in new technologies, the legitimacy and efficacy of actions taken in the name of security is increasingly in question. In April of 2013 a coalition led by Human Rights Watch initiated a campaign in favour of a legally binding prohibition on the development, production and use of fully autonomous weapon systems. Simultaneously, some military and robotics experts argue that equipping robots with the capacity to make ethical judgments is an achievable technological goal. Within these debates, the ‘human in the loop’ is posited alternately as the safeguard against illegitimate killing, or its source. Implicit across the debate is the premise of a moment of decision in which judgements of identification and appropriate response are made. This symposium will focus on on the troubling space between automation and autonomy, to understand more deeply their intimate relations, and the inherent contradictions that conjoin them.

Sensing war

News from Kevin McSorley of a really interesting conference next summer which I’m going to try desperately hard to attend.  Full details at http://sensingwar.org/

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Sensing War

International Interdisciplinary Conference, 12 – 13th June 2014, London, UK

War is a crucible of sensory experience and its lived affects radically transform ways of being in the world.  It is prosecuted, lived and reproduced through a panoply of sensory apprehensions, practices and ‘sensate regimes of war’ (Judith Butler 2012) – from the tightly choreographed rhythms of patrol to the hallucinatory suspicions of night vision; from the ominous mosquito buzz of drones to the invasive scrape of force-feeding tubes; from the remediation of visceral helmetcam footage to the anxious tremors of the IED detector; from the desperate urgencies of triage to the precarious intimacies of care; from the playful grasp of children’s war-toys to the feel of cold sweat on a veteran’s skin.

Recognising the recent growth of ground-breaking work on the senses across the humanities and social sciences, Sensing War aims to bring together researchers from a wide variety of disciplines to foster creative dialogue and critical exploration of the multiple and shifting relationships between war and sensation.  What concepts, resources and methods does the sensuous turn in scholarship offer to further our understandings of the myriad experiences of war and militarism?  How is war sensed by and for the drone operator, the occupied population, the female engagement team, the insurgent, the medic, the refugee, the veteran, the military family, the arms fair delegate, the war tourist, the video-gamer, the artist?  As war continuously shape-shifts, bleeding across the global flows of late modernity, how might attentiveness to sensory experience help us to rethink its genealogy and ontology?  How might we enable innovative and critical sensory engagements with war that allow us to see, hear, sense and understand it anew?

We invite contributions that engage with the topic of Sensing War widely and creatively.  Potential themes may include, but are not limited to:

•   Sensing bodies, technologies and environments of war

•   Sensory and scopic regimes and counter-regimes of war

•   The militarization of sensation

•   War politics and the distribution of the sensible

•   Military orientalism, the colonial nervous system and the empire of the senses

•   Touch/smell/sound/vision/tastes of war

•   Rhythms, movements and kinaesthetics of war

•   The sensory and affective grammar of everyday life in wartime

•   Sensuous war/play

•   Sensation-seeking, extremity, craving and addiction in warfighting

•   Sensing the shadows of war

•   Sensory resonances and aftermaths of war

•   Gender, class, race, sexuality, disability and sensations of war

•   War sensation and activist practice

•   Doing sensuous ethnographies, sociologies, geographies and histories of war

Please send paper abstracts (max 500 words), or details of other proposed contributions, together with brief biographical details, by 14th February 2014 to: sensingwar@gmail.com

All proposals are subject to a review process.  We aim to publish selected papers from the conference as a special themed issue of a relevant journal and an edited collection.

Please address any other queries to Kevin McSorley at kevin.mcsorley@port.ac.uk

Academic Committee:

Kevin McSorley, Sociology, University of Portsmouth

Debbie Lisle, International Relations, Queens University Belfast

Tara Woodyer, Geography, University of Portsmouth

Holger Pötzsch, Media & Culture, University of Tromsø

Joseph Burridge, Sociology, University of Portsmouth