Fwd: Re: [Reader-list] Images and Weapons

William Mazzarella mazzarel at uchicago.edu
Tue Sep 18 22:16:51 IST 2001

>Re: Shuddha's post on the politics of images. In the past few days, I have 
>noted, on several email lists, reactions of intense disgust when attempts 
>have been made to come to terms with the aesthetic politics of recent 
>events. The very word 'aesthetics' carries some of that load. In modern 
>times, it has come to mean a quasi-autonomous domain, the  realm of 'art' 
>and transcendence as opposed to the instrumental concerns of the everyday 
>world. Consequently, people who are interested in discussing it are 
>dismissed, under conditions such as the ones we are now facing, as mere 
>But the older meaning of the term refers to our entire sensory and 
>embodied relation to the world. As such, it is the arena where we need to 
>ask questions about the seeable and the sayable, the sensible and the 
>intelligible, images and the discourses that are deployed to make sense of 
>them - in the media, on street corners, in secret meetings, around the 
>dinner table. This is NOT an appeal to apply the mystifying balm of 
>cultural studies to injuries of an inexplicable magnitude. Rather, it is a 
>call to recognize that we MUST, as Shuddha suggests, start thinking about 
>the ethics of the images that we circulate.
>What is crucial is that we understand that there is no rigorous separation 
>to be made between 'media' and 'authentic' images. It is not a matter of 
>'ideology' versus 'experience.' An event of this magnitude begins to bring 
>home to us that, as interconnected as we now must be, the lines between 
>'participant,' 'spectator' and 'commentator' cannot remained clearly 
>defined. We all felt the shock, in our various ways. We all saw. And we 
>are all busily - and exasperatedly - trying to talk our way into some 
>semblance of...."sense?"
>We live in a time when the circulation of mass-mediated images has become 
>truly pervasive. For a long time now, there has been a sense of 
>disjuncture between the accepted and established discursive languages of 
>'politics' and the intensely political yet affect-laden domain of images 
>that pour out of what used to be called the culture industries. What 
>happened on Tuesday does not change this. But I hope that perhaps it might 
>help us to see that we need to harness the profound energies of our own 
>sensory experience - the root of all politics, the root of all ethics - to 
>the task of developing a critical engagement with a world in which this 
>could happen.
>At 08:01 PM 9/17/2001 +0530, you wrote:
>>Two interesting ideas can be drawn out of the discussions on this list for
>>the past few days. Its all about Images and Weapons.
>>1.It is possible to lie with images
>>(whether or not the CNN footage of the cheering Palestinian kids is true to
>>the moment is less important than the fact that News Networks do sometimes
>>muddy the truth with images)
>>2. It is possible for people to kill themselves and thousands of other 
>>for the sake of an image.
>>This image can be a picture of heaven, or hell.
>>(here, consider - the image of an after life that is preferable to life 
>>as it
>>is - the program that ticks in the suicide bombers mind - as suggested by
>>Richard Dawkins's essay)
>>Why should we be so reluctant to accept this fact?
>>Images cause as much sorrow as they cause joy, or wonder. To pretend that 
>>realm of images and of image making is devoid of ethical dilemmas is to
>>presume that images are actually not about life as it is lived and about
>>death as it is died.
>>We are happy to hold an ethical torch to science, we are happy to ask
>>difficult questions about technology, what makes religion, the spirit, the
>>arts, culture, holier than nuclear physics, finance capital or military
>>strategy ?
>>Once, someone said, "when I hear the word culture, it makes me reach for my
>>gun". It could be said today, "when you hear the word, gun, you reach for
>>your culture". As if guns and culture need not go hand in hand. They do, and
>>then again, they dont.
>>The national anthems that goad people to war are also music.
>>The mysticism that produces jihadis, crusaders, dharamyoddhas is also
>>Just as the science that produces chemical, biological and nuclear 
>>weapons is
>>also science.
>>There is nothing less scientific in a smart bomb. There is nothing less
>>musical in a war song, or less mystical in the cult of martyrdom.
>>Anyone who makes images , or deals in images, or circulates images(artists,
>>photographers, filmmakers, new media practitioners, writers, prophets,
>>mystics, curators, art dealers) is as culpable, or not, depending on the
>>images, as those who make weapons, deal in weapons, circulate weapons.
>>Because some images can be weapons.
>>Just as some weapons ( planes crashing into tall buildings) can become
>>images, which in turn can be  used as weapons again.
>>Reader-list mailing list
>>Reader-list at sarai.net
>William Mazzarella
>Assistant Professor
>University of Chicago
>Department of Anthropology
>1126 E 59th St
>Chicago, IL 60637
>tel: (773) 834-4873
>fax: (773) 702-4503

William Mazzarella
Assistant Professor
University of Chicago
Department of Anthropology
1126 E 59th St
Chicago, IL 60637

tel: (773) 834-4873
fax: (773) 702-4503

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