[-empyre-] Introducing Ana Valdes

Ana Valdés agora158 at gmail.com
Mon Nov 24 01:37:56 EST 2014

Dear Rustom I ordered your book from Amazon, will come in two weeks
and I expect it with eager. A very crucial book, indeed.
As we have discussed at lenght here which is the difference between
ISIS and the public lynchings in the US, described in the
extraordinary book "Without Sanctuary", the collection of postcards
picked by James Allen showing the public attending the public lynching
of hundreds of Black accused of different crimes, raping White girls
or stealing or killing, many of them totally innocent of the allegated
People attended the executions as they were gathering for a party,
eating out, having kids with them, playing music. For me this book and
the killings showed there are more disturbing than ISIS beheadings,
alone in a empty desert landscape.



On Sun, Nov 23, 2014 at 5:45 AM, Rustom Bharucha
<rustombharucha16 at gmail.com> wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Dear all,
> Many thanks to Johannes for introducing me to the group.  I've been following the exchanges with a strange sense of bonding not least because I've recently published a book on Terror and Performance (Routledge, 2014), which is still burning within me. Listening to your voice, which come through with visceral intensity in a myriad registers, I sense that we are in dialogue, and nothing could be more hopeful in an age of terror.  Terror has the potential to annihilate dialogue.  We must fight this delusion of omnipotent arrogance and absolutism - currently propagandized by the ISIS in its enactment of violence, which, as Monika rightly designates, represents itself as 'the ultimate language and the ultimate law.'  We must refuse this absolutism through an embrace of our own vulnerabilities in trying to find our voices, stutteringly, hesitantly, with some faith in our limited capacity to sustain dialogue through doubts, differences and acknowledgments of 'anguish', as Alan has repeatedly punctuated his reflections on terror.
> And yet, it could be asked: Can there be any reassurance in sharing a dialogue on terror?  Jon McKenzie echoes this question: 'Does sharing violence somehow console even as/if it amplifies?' I'm not sure if such sharing 'consoles', but it helps one to realize that the pain of others is not necessarily 'unspeakable', 'unutterable', even as it pushes the possibilities of representation.  Unlike Elaine Scarry, who would valorize the non-translatabiity of one's own pain, Talal Asad would urge us to see the pain of others as the very condition of our sociality.  Learning to live with pain is not just an obligation; it is becoming, increasingly, a necessity for holding on to the shreds of what it means to be human.
> ISIS, Absolute Terror, Performance: this triad of categories, in which we have been urged to frame our dialogue, catalyzes a clash of colliding temporalities. If only 'the time' were 'out of joint', I don't think that we would be facing the trauma of terror that we are facing today; the reality is that several 'times' are being simultaneously lived, in past, present, future, and their interstices, through different manifestations of virtuality and invisibility. If ISIS represents both the incendiary and mediatized NOW, and Absolute Terror invokes a time OUTSIDE time, beyond questioning, in a pseudo-religious state of a 'realized utopia' (which, as Ashis Nandy has correctly pointed out, could be another name for terror), then 'performance' - unqualified, with no accompanying adjectives - would appear to be almost painfully stark with its familiar associations of 'contingency': always unpredictable, dying in the moment of its creation, processual, and singularly divested of any absolutist Truth.  This could be too hopeful a reading of performance, as we will discuss later.
> Returning to the collision of temporalities, Jon hits the nail on the head with his prescient observations relating to 'slow terror', approximating the 'slow violence' of ecocide and the systematic pauperization of entire populations through new economic policies driven by neo-liberal capitalist greed.  Extending the orbit of terrorist mechanisms beyond the likes of the Al-Qaeda and ISIS, Jon makes us think of the terror of civility: 'With the best of intentions, government, museums and universities have contributed to this slow terror, which provides the backdrop for the fast and furious terror of ISIS, Boko Haram, Abu Ghraib, Taliban and Latin American death squads.' This focus on colliding speeds encompasses both the terror that hits/strikes in the blink of an eye, and the terror that moves so slowly like a Noh dancer crossing the stage with invisible stealth that one doesn't even see the movement until it is completed with the deafening sound of wooden clappers.
> Multiple speeds ignite the clashing temporalities of terror, which can simmer in clandestine secrecy, taking ten years or more for any attack to be planned and performed with botched technical rehearsals along the way, like the abortive attempt to blow up the Twin Towers in 1993. These secretive pasts are juxtaposed with the unbearable present of an actual terrorist attack, which in turn is deflected through the ultimate terror of terror, which, as Derrida puts it mercilessly, lies in a future that cannot even be grasped through the grammar of the future anterior.  This terror is terrifying because it comes from the 'to-come', form an 'impresentable to come.'  Not only is the worst not over, it may never be over.
> If many theatre scholars have turned a bit too rashly to Artaud's famous lines in order to evoke the terror of our times - 'We are not free.  The sky can still fall on our heads.  And the theatre has been created to teach us that first of all' - I think they could be jumping the gun. The point is that the sky can still fall on our heads. What has fallen are the Twin Towers, with one solitary Tower being resurrected in record time with due deference to the undying never-say-die triumphalism of American capitalism.  The sky has yet to fall.  And it is in this interim of the 'not-yet' that terror resides and mutates.
> More than ever, we need to differentiate between metaphors and reality, even as they tend to be conflated within the anxieties of our times, as we mimic far too painfully - and unproductively, to my mind - the frenetic pace of terror, trying to catch up with the latest atrocity as if we were running a race against time.  Better to 'slow down', as Johannes put its, thereby allowing us ' to reflect and listen.'  But this advice is prefaced with the telling remark: 'My personal feeling today.'  Can slowing down be made into an daily practice, a new habitus of being?  Can listening be factored into our need to be heard?  Erik puts it perceptively when he risks saying that 'the only real (sustainable) antidote to genocide that I have ever been able to imagine involves the stillness of listening/self-absenting.'
> Erik also has many wise suggestions in response to a key question that has preoccupied our group: Can there be valid artistic responses to terror?  This is where we are compelled to open the multivalent world of 'performance', in which far too many colliding representations are subsumed. Our correspondence has engaged with multimedia verbatim theatre, installations, soundscapes, dramatic texts, poems, but also with beheadings perpetrated by the ISIS and consumed on prime-time TV.  Ana has described these beheadings as  a kind of 'choreography', with its Grand Guignol on YouTube being compared to other kinds of public exhibitions of violence in the past including executions by the guillotine during the French Revolution and the lynching of blacks in the southern states of the United States.  In a telling afterthought, James Barrett has reminded us that public beheadings and 'crucifixions' of citizens and non-citizens in Saudi Arabia are a regular feature of public life, and yet there is no global outcry over this normalized barbarity.  Why this discrepancy in media attention and public outrage?
> The question that has troubled and haunted me since the writing of my book is whether or not we should even use the word 'performance' to address these atrocities.  Or, to inflect my position, the question could be posed differently:  What are the limits of performance?  I am only too aware that such questions can be easily critiqued, even as I persist in asking them. After all, it is only too clear that the beheadings orchestrated by ISIS have been ruthlessly stage-managed, timed, costumed, with Alan declaring that they represent 'a theatre of the real, degree zero.' One could further argue that these beheadings are intentional acts rejecting the indeterminacies of improvisation; they have probably been rehearsed and scripted in advance; they are made public with a global audience in mind, not privatized murders; above all, they have been massively mediatized and networked.  None of these performative circumstances can be refuted.  But do they add up to the implacable, over-confident assertion that what we are seeing is a 'performance'?  For whom are they a 'performance', or, more specifically, 'theatre'?  Does this apply only to those who 'believe in the religious ideology of ISIS', as Alan assumes, even though there is no empirical evidence to suggest that this is, in actuality, the case?  Perhaps, it would be more accurate to say that it is 'we' - representatives of a spectrum of dissenting views whose liberal assumptions are antithetical to the ideology of ISIS - who are in a better position to claim that these beheadings are performances.
> I question this position, even as I realize that it would be a lot easier to simply accept beheadings as performances.  In a related series of question that I have addressed in my book, I ask: Is the act of killing a performance?  Are suicide bombings and self-immolations intrinsically performative? I have tried to tread this mine-field of aporias and enigmas as carefully as possible, trying to disimbricate the action of killing from its effect/affect, and also by questioning the different subject positions and locations by which the very epistemology of 'performance' can be affirmed. For whom is 'performance' (as we understand the word in Euro-American academic contexts) an intelligible and socially acceptable category with universal significance?  We may need to insert into the discussion different understandings of performance, along with different resistances and capitulations to the idea of performance.  Without closing the possibility of interpreting any act of killing as performance, I would prefer to ask, 'At what point does it become pertinent to name the act of killing as a performance?  And at what point does it cease to be a performance?  What are the cut-off points and exits, the backstage life of 'the real', that collectively contribute to that massively uninterrogated dimension of 'non-performance'?  At what point does it become imperative to highlight that an act of killing is an 'atrocity' - nothing more, nothing less - and that it needs to be identified as such and condemned beyond its representational immediacy, terrifyingly lethal as it may be.
> What could lie at the heart of my deep reluctance to naming performance in the context of beheadings?  Very simply, I would say, Have you ever faced a moment in your life where your mind is telling you to say something within a prescribed hermeneutics, which is easy to demonstrate and prove, but, somehow, in your bones, it 'doesn't feel right'?  In a different register, I would say that there is in me an ethical revulsion to the idea of using performance as a category for what is better designated as brutality, a killing in the flesh, not just representational but actual, where it is not possible to have a dialogue with the dead on what performance means.  At some level, this revulsion has an aesthetic dimension. Here I find myself in deep sympathy with Erik's nuanced, yet inflexible resistance to what he calls the 'bad art' of terror.  'It is imperative,' as he says, 'that we don't respond to the bad art of terror or art stunted by trauma with louder, counter terrorist or re-traumatizing cliches.  This runs the risk of keeping the disaster alive, Frankenstein fashion... These beheading videos are bad art.'
> This description has an ironic resonance for me as I recall an interaction with that ultimate survivor of the radical cultural politics of the 1960s, Peter Schumann of the Bread and Puppet Theatre, who in a workshop conducted in the village of Heggodu in Karnataka, proudly affirmed, 'We do bad art.'  I had to remind him that regardless of the criteria surrounding the word 'bad', the point is that he did 'art' - highly German Expressionist for all its Vermont-inspired local inflections.  In contrast, I would say that beheading videos are not 'art'; they are atrocities in their own right, and need to be seen for what they are.  As 'art', do they need to be re-seen/re-viewed?  Do they warrant such attention?  Or, in their ceaseless relays on mediatized corporatized television channels and social networks, which we consume against our will, do they not affirm the terror of repetition, which can only result in the deepening of the banality of evil in our times?
> 9/11 may not have been a cliche when it happened, but it certainly became one by the time it was seen for the nth time, interspersed with commercials, visuals, talk-shows, illustrations in books and other replications.  We need to differentiate, as Derrida does, painstakingly and with acute care, between 'the heart of the event' [relating to 'September 11'], which demands 'unconditional compassion' for the victims and 'indignation' over the killings, and 'the interpreted, interpretative, informed impression, the conditional evaluation that makes us believe that this is a major event.' Such discriminations are being steadily eroded today as 'the real' seems to have no intransigent life outside its more-often-than-not misinformed mediatization.
> Countering this mediatization in his typical, laconic, matter-of-fact way, Noam Chomsky has suggested, 'Everybody's worried about stopping terrorism.  Well, there's a really easy way: stop participating in it.' When I had included this statement in the postscript to my book, I had expressed some scepticism that this 'non-participation' was possible, particularly since we seem to have 'advanced' far beyond the 'manufacture of consent' which Chomsky had formulated in what appear to be more innocent days of mediatized state and corporate propaganda.  How can one not 'participate' in terror today?  It surrounds and pervades us through a multitude of languages and sound-bytes, penetrating the epidermis of our skins, invading our imaginaries.
> Do activism and art practice have the capacity to short-circuit the consumption of terror?  Are are they more likely to ignite its metastasis?  These are questions that I will need to take up later as this letter has gone on for far too long - questions that also need to be linked to practices of resisting terror through reinvented forms of non-violence and justice positioned outside - and against - the law.  For the moment, let us acknowledge 'our own complicity in the production of "common sense" around terror,' as Alan has put it so succinctly in his introductory note.  Terror is not just about killing others; it is about letting others die.  No one has expressed this excruciatingly painful truth more exactingly than Derrida: '[D]oes terrorism have to work only through death?  Can't one terrorize without killing?  And does killing necessarily mean putting to death?  Isn't it also "letting die"?  Can't "letting die", "not wanting to know that one is letting others die"... also be part of a "more or less" conscious and deliberate terrorist strategy?'  I leave you with these questions.
> warmly,
> Rustom
> On Sat, Nov 22, 2014 at 11:40 PM, Alan Sondheim <sondheim at panix.com> wrote:
>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>> I'd like to introduce Ana Valdes, guest for the next week of empyre,
>> ISIS, Absolute Terror, Performance
>> Ana was critical in the empyre discussion we hosted on Pain, Suffering,
>> and Death in the Virtual; a social anthropologist, her work and writing
>> combine universes of politics, theories, and media; we have learned so
>> much from her. Welcome Ana!
>> *
>> Ana Vald?s was born in Uruguay, South America, in a family of Spanish and
>> Italian emigrants, raised by German nuns. She studied Geography with
>> German maps from 1942 and she believed firmly that Belgium, Netherlands,
>> France, Norway and Danmark were a part of the Germany. In the maps the
>> nuns used Germany was almost the whole Europe.
>> She was put in prison when she was 19 years old for her political views.
>> Ana belonged to a guerilla group called Tupamaros, at that timeshe
>> believed in the weapons as a way to change things. She has changed her
>> views, radically, and has been a member of the pacifist group Women in
>> Black for years. After 4 years in prison she was deported to Sweden where
>> she became at least an adult. She studied Anthropology and worked on death
>> and blood ceremonies as these. 1982 she published her first book with
>> short stories, awarded by Sorbonne University. She has written and
>> published more than ten books and some of her short stories have been
>> translated into English, French, Greek and Italian, Faber and Faber and
>> Serpent's Tail has published several collections with her work, ?The
>> Garden of the Alphabet? and ?Columbus's Egg.? She is a bilingual writer
>> and writes both in Swedish and in Spanish. Ana has also been an
>> independent curator and worked with Swedish visual artist Cecilia Parsberg
>> in Palestine, they created the network ?Equator?
>> (http://www.ceciliaparsberg.se/equator). She has participated in several
>> debates about violence and representation with Jordan Crandall, ?Under
>> fire? (http://www.wdw.nl/wdw_publications/jordan-crandall-under-fire-2/)
>> She has been a member of -empyre since the beginning and guest moderated
>> several times, her topics related to the representations of the Arabs in
>> the contemporary world, the Crusades, and to urbanism and resilience. Her
>> latest book, ?Your time will come, has been published in Swedish and in
>> Spanish and it's about her time in prison, the torture and the resistance
>> to break. About that, Counterpunch published an essay where her
>> experiences were used
>> (http://www.counterpunch.org/2006/03/28/torture-works/). Ana has been in
>> Palestine several times and saw how the civilian population suffers, she
>> left Gaza one week before Rachel Corrie was murdered, and was in Jenin
>> with Parsberg when the Israeli army left the town after ten days of
>> attacks, death and mayhem, it was the Palestinian Ground Zero
>> (www.ceciliaparsberg.se/jenin).
>> http://www.twitter.com/caravia15860606060
>> http://www.scoop.it/t/art-and-activism/
>> http://www.scoop.it/t/food-history-and-trivia
>> http://www.scoop.it/t/urbanism-3-0
>> _______________________________________________
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