About Christina Stephens

English and Comp Literature

“Mourning becomes the law” – Judith Butler from Paris

“My wager is that the discourse on liberty will be important to track in the coming days and weeks, and that it will have implications for the security state and the narrowing versions of democracy before us. One version of liberty is attacked by the enemy, another version is restricted by the state. The state defends the version of liberty attacked as the very heart of France, and yet suspends freedom of assembly (“the right to demonstrate”) in the midst of its mourning and prepares for an even more thorough militarization of the police.”

http://www.versobooks.com/blogs/2337-mourning-becomes-the-law-judith-butler-from-paris

Drones: Terrifying (and maybe illogical)

What does the drone program actually produce if not intelligence? Bodies, of course. Those who die in drone strikes are “dead ends” for US intelligence. Even current Special Ops manager Joseph Votel agrees: “We get a lot more…when we actually capture somebody or we capture material than we do when we kill someone” (italics mine).

Side note: I appreciate someone in the military differentiating between people and raw material (in this instance at least). I found myself bristling at the conflation of subject (people) and object (intelligence/enemy/objective/thing) throughout the drone papers. I find the EKIA acronym highly disturbing—these are human beings.

So it seems the drone program is in the business of consumption; it consumes intelligence (and bodies let’s be honest) but doesn’t actually reciprocate any intelligence. This strikes me as odd given US foreign policy was so deeply invested in procuring intelligence that torture became standard practice. Maybe we could talk a little more about the policy shift from Bush (intelligence gathering) to Obama (find, fix, finish)?

I would like to briefly note that this website is a visual masterpiece—interactive to the point of making me uncomfortable. I assume that’s what the creators were trying to elicit, the discomfort of being thrust into the program yourself. I watched the “blink” in a transfixed state. I can see how these drone operators come to view the business of global killing as a game. And it’s scary.

Global Capitalism and Oil: Thoughts on Carbon Democracy

Confession: Timothy Mitchell’s book frustrated me. I found it difficult to conceptualize oil as a political force in the way he was asking. Not because I think he’s wrong, but because the basic premise—that carbon-based energy literally and metaphorically fueled (and continues to fuel) Western democracy both practically and conceptually—felt like nothing I had ever read before. I had to read it slowly and carefully like an entirely new piece of theory. (I’m also no economist or political scientist, so take that how you will.) The point where I felt I could actually wrap my mind around Mitchell’s theory came with the growth of global capitalism alongside the oil industry.

Capitalism, oil, labor, imperialism, industrialized culture—it’s all bound together for Mitchell. He writes, “The leading industrialised countries are also oil states. Without the energy they derive from oil their current forms of political and economic life would not exist. Their citizens have developed ways of eating, travelling, housing themselves and consuming other goods and services that require very large amounts of energy from oil and other fossil fuels. These ways of life are not sustainable, and they now face the twin crises that will end them” (6). Those twin crises—1) fossil fuels are running out and 2) the planet is damaged beyond repair— suggest that politico-economic change is imminent. But what will that change look like? Maybe one of the following…

Capitalist Status Quo

Capitalism makes too much sense to the people who profit from it (corporations and the wealthy elite), and the people who profit from it control the resources and have the power to influence national and global politics. Once the oil runs out and we, as a global populace, are forced to embrace clean(er) more renewable energy sources (let’s say solar for the sake of an example) then dependency simply transfers from now-limited or obsolete carbon-based resources to the newest indefinite energy resource: the sun. Overconsumption continues, albeit within a new frame that will undoubtedly restructure global politics and economies. Perhaps the U.S. focus would shift from the oil-laden Middle East to sunny Africa under this new “solar” democracy? Private corporations would continue to capitalize on and monopolize clean(er) energies.

To illustrate, Ian McEwan satirizes global capitalism and clean energy in his 2010 novel Solar, which explores the implications of shifting from carbon-based energy to solar energy. In the following passage, a businessman, Toby, set to invest in the solar panel industry expresses concern to his business partner. Toby is unsure whether or not people are convinced that global warming actually exists. His business partner attempts to calm his fears. Toby begins:

“If the place isn’t hotting up, we’re fucked.”

“Here’s the good news. The UN estimates that already a third of a million people a year are dying from climate change. Even as we speak, Bangladesh is going down because the oceans are warming and expanding and rising. There’s drought in the Amazon rain forest. Methane is pouring out of the Siberian permafrost. There’s a meltdown under the Greenland ice sheet that no one really wants to talk about. Amateur yachts-men have been sailing the Northwest Passage. Two years ago we lost forty percent of the Arctic summer ice. Now the eastern Antarctic is going. The future has arrived, Toby.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“You’re not convinced. Here’s the worst case. Suppose the near impossible—the thousand are wrong and the one is right, the data are all skewed, there’s no warming. It’s a mass delusion among scientists, or a plot. Then we still have the old standbys. Energy security, air pollution, peak oil.”

“No one’s going to buy a fancy panel from us just because the oil’s going to run out in thirty years.”

“Toby, listen. It’s a catastrophe. Relax!” (McEwan 251)

Even catastrophe is ripe for capitalist profiteering. Catastrophic planetary collapse—it’s good news!


Post-Capitalist

Can post-oil signify post-capitalism? Nafeez Ahmed thinks so: “The death of the age of oil is, therefore, symptomatic of the end of the capitalism itself” (Beyond Extinction). Is this too idealistic? Will humans find some new substance to mine and burn in order to sustain Amazon Prime? Or, perhaps, will humans start viewing themselves as inhabitants of the land instead of owners of the land? I hope so. We would have to start by reducing our consumption and de-industrializing ourselves. Our technological abilities and industrial capabilities might actually be disabling us.

Further Reading: Nafeez Ahmed, “Beyond Extinction—The Transition to Post-Capitalism is Inevitable.” (Last two sections on “Renewal” and “Revolution” particularly relevant.)

Event at Davis Library: Photographs by Christopher Sims: Guantánamo Bay and The Library at Camp Delta

Reception/exhibition opening: Davis Library Gallery–Wednesday, Sept. 30th at 5:00
Artist talk: following at 5:45

From Christopher Sims’ artist statement:

Guantánamo Bay

In 2006 and 2010, I traveled by plane, ferry, and bus to the naval station and joint detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

On this small spit of land, on approximately 45 square miles held in perpetual lease by the U.S. military, actors from the world stage converge: American interrogators attempt to wrest information from Muslim “unlawful enemy combatants”; Jamaican and Filipino guest workers are imported by contractors to serve food, cut hair at the barbershop, and wash the laundry; and on the base’s residential streets that resemble an American suburb, a handful of Cuban families who fled Castro’s takeover of the island live out their days in exile. Against this backdrop, there are also strikingly mundane activities that take place: children go to school, guards pick up coffee at McDonald’s and Starbucks, and backyard barbeques are planned.

Restrictions by the military made making photographs of people at GTMO impractical, so I chose instead to photograph the environments that people create and inhabit rather than the people themselves, the stage sets rather than the players.

The Library at Camp Delta

The Library at Camp Delta is a site-specific installation and exhibition. Situated in Davis Library, the exhibition echoes the library location where the images were made at the U.S. Naval Station in Cuba. Visitors passing through the library exhibition space will encounter in a quiet way images that in part blend in naturally with the very shelves surrounding them on campus.

By focusing on the interior lives of those at Guantánamo Bay—the prisoners who read and watch materials from the library and who take drawing courses there, the professional librarians who carry out their duties in this remote facility, and the censors who black out parts of the library’s newspapers—the exhibition offers a unique viewpoint into the controversial and infamous prison camp.

Link: http://blogs.lib.unc.edu/news/index.php/2015/09/sims/

Notes on Zero Dark Thirty

Becoming Animal

That the movie is rife with scenes of prisoner dehumanization goes without saying. Towards the beginning, Dan (an American in charge of interrogating detainees) places a man in a dog collar before saying, “You’re my dog. I’m gonna walk you.” The verbalization of his action makes clear to the prisoner that he is indeed less than human and it is the U.S. male citizen who has power and control over his physical body.

One of the scenes from the film that stuck with me most isn’t even an integral scene. Actually, it’s so brief I didn’t even notice it the first time I watched a couple of years ago. In this scene, Dan shows his softer side—quite literally treating his “pet” monkeys to some ice cream. However, shortly after we see him looking forlorn into an empty monkey cage as he tells Maya, “They killed my monkeys.” They here being the U.S. govt. The monkeys were a security risk, I guess. Then the camera pans out to show prisoners inside a network of the same cages used to house Dan’s monkeys. This visual conflation of human prisoners and monkeys further entangles human and nonhuman animal bodies in the process of dehumanization. This dehumanization is often necessary to justify the inhumane practices of “enhanced interrogation.”

We know that, like the monkeys, the human prisoners are also security risks that must be destroyed. When Maya asks Dan if the prisoner they’re torturing will ever get out, he simply states, “He’s never getting out.”

“Crucifixion” by Kien Lam

Poem in the latest issue of PANK that takes up complexities of postcoloniality, imperialism, and war…

Crucifixion

If I drop napalm
on an ant hill, of course
they’ll scatter. Some will die.
Of course people look
like ants from above.
Of course my parents
want to be buried
in their home country.
I am not my parents.
I do not want to return.
I was born a little Catholic…

Link to full poem: http://pankmagazine.com/piece/three-poems-58/

On Prefixes, Colonial Haunting, and Internalized Colonization

David Kazanjian’s piece on the term colonial got me thinking…

To go back a little, Loomba questions the “post” in postcolonial and claims it implies both a “temporal” aftermath and “ideological” supplanting of colonialism (7). Does the “post” in postcolonial signify the erasure of colonialism? I don’t think so; it’s adding a prefix without abolishing the root. Neo-colonial—a new form of colonialism—better describes the contemporary state of affairs; however, neo still only modifies colonialism—something Frantz Fanon referred to as “violence in its natural state.” How do I feel, if I were to follow this line of thinking, about the inevitable centering of colonialism and thus violence as a result… It doesn’t feel great; it feels like a colonial haunting. It feels like subjugation reincarnated as internalized colonization—a way for cultural/political hegemony to eschew responsibility for the violent legacies of colonialism. I’ll use the U.S. as an example… It’s as if to suggest, well settler colonialism is over now (it isn’t—look at Native Americans) yet somehow “post”-colonial Americans still pledge allegiance to a flag that valorizes the thirteen original colonies and subconsciously colonize themselves. (When I say postcolonial in a U.S. sense, I’m mostly referring to historically marginalized groups—Native Americans and Black Americans, but you could broaden it out to include all Americans; however, I recognize the danger of claiming everyone and everything is postcolonial.) I’m being flip with the flag metaphor but the idea of internalized colonization—a self-ascribed subjugation doesn’t seem like the right answer. Maybe it is the answer now but I don’t want it to be the definitive diagnosis. I realize that’s somewhat incoherent but it’s somewhat incoherent to me right now.

Ishmael (too bad I can’t tag you to make sure you see this), this seems related to your post below re: decolonizing your mindfulness. There’s a quote from Carmichael and Hamilton referenced in Kazanjian’s piece: “Black people are legal citizens of the United States with, for the most part, the same legal rights as other citizens. Yet they stand as colonial subjects in relation to white society. Thus institutional racism has another name: colonialism. Obviously the analogy is not perfect” (51). Does that get at what you’re getting at when you say you’re working to decolonize your mind? I’d love to hear more about this…

– Christina S.

“Rebuilding America’s Defenses”- a Response

I’m curious—where did the funding for PNAC come from? This non-profit, educational organization strikes me as born of conservative values seeking to reinscribe American exceptionalism. I found it difficult to digest PNAC’s jingoistic tone. Erroneous statements such as—“it [the U.S.] faces no immediate great-power challenge…and its political and economic principles are almost universally embraced” (iv); “today the task is to preserve an international security environment conducive to American interests and ideals” (2); “[we need] a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad” (preamble)—not only conflict with international realities but downright make me uncomfortable. The report reads like a propaganda piece. Moving beyond my affective response to more critical points…

1) I very briefly researched PNAC and discovered that of the 25 members, 10 went on to serve in former President George W. Bush’s administration. Not surprising as the report could have (or perhaps actually did) serve as an outline for Bush’s foreign and defense policies. Which brings me to my next point…

2) This report pre-dates 9/11/2001; however, the Bush administration’s response to 9/11 eerily satisfied PNAC’s four essential missions on p.6: homeland defense, large wars, constabulary duties (increased military and non-military surveillance bracketed under the “war on terror”), and advanced military technologies (for instance, drones have become so commonplace post-9/11 that they’re influencing cultural and artistic expressions in Pakistan—http://www.nationaljournal.com/defense/in-pakistan-drones-have-made-their-way-into-love-poems-20140512).

3) Finally, I couldn’t get Foucault’s panopticon (footnote to Bentham, of course) out of my head with all the demand for increased surveillance and centralized power becoming decentralized (yet still framed in strictly U.S. terms) as it permeates living bodies, the environment, the internet, and whatever else is left to cannibalize—“the hegemonic gaze is alert and everywhere.”

All said, I found the contents of this report disturbing.

– Christina S.