Blasting War. (Report and Essay)

By Zimmermann, Patricia R. | Afterimage, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview
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Blasting War. (Report and Essay)

Zimmermann, Patricia R., Afterimage

Mohsen Mahkmalbaf, one of the important lyrical film directors of the Iranian New Wave, published a powerful essay in Monthly Review in 2001 called "Limbs of No Body." He described the destruction of Afghanistan over the last 20 years. The body of the world amputated Afghanistan. (1) In this time of digital terror, various email snooping and commercial digital data mining technologies have been justified and mobilized by the USA Patriot Act. The digital, in this paranoid, authoritarian era, is being used to disembody and to disempower.

We need to reembody and reempower our politics, our analysis, our digitality, our critical art. Therefore, we must resist any and all architectures of disembodiment which remove labor from manufacturing in the global economy, war from geography, privacy from security, gender from race and dissent from justice. These ideas, and all of us, are limbs of one body-the phrase over the portal to the United Nations.

Our point of reference in this chaotic, endlessly morphing swirl of phantasmatic nationalist discourse is quite simple: we are dead, or we are alive. We must issue a call to humanity, not as some universalized abstraction, but as a specific dialogic action across and with difference. We must look to our humanity in and with others across the globe, and find them human. And we must look to the dead, everywhere-not just here in the United States-and forge connection. The people who die from AIDS in SubSaharan Africa each day equal the dead of two September 11ths. We need to see, to really see, and then to see more, through a digital viewing of all of the complicated, messy, invisible politics that evade us. We can choose: we are limbs of no body, or we are limbs of one body.

This essay is about blasting war. Blasting enfolds within and around itself many meanings from many different historical epochs that traverse many different disciplines-war, weather, infectious disease, biology, environment, slang, aggressive language, critical analysis. Digital terror requires historiography: a structure that can identify changes without a reductionist causality, that can connect the limbs to the body. "Blasto," in biology, means embryonic cell formation.

To blast is to open up, to make, to form. To blast is to proclaim. To blast is to criticize vigorously.

It is a word that both describes and sounds a process rather than a statement or a thing. Politically significant in this time of terror, this Digital Terror gathering at Cornell University identifies itself as a workshop-a place to work together. In this spirit of collective work and effort, this essay connects five, conceptualizations our convener, Timothy Murray, professor of' English and Comparative Literature at Cornell University, advanced in his symposium announcement: machineries depleted and abused by politicians, human rights, terror/war, ethnic anxieties and artistic responses.

This essay is structured as a homage to Mahkmalbaf's timely film Kandahar (2001), a film that blasts our imaginary projections of Afghanistan as a place of rubble, death, drugs, amputation, murder and bombed buildings (a place of absence) with an expansive, controlled compositional strategy of rich color, line, form (a place of presence). Kandahar insists on mapping visuality when our new world bans images. It is a cinema of many landscapes where the real and the imaginary twist together: sand, burqas, poverty, madrassas, people trying to live. Prosthetic legs cascade from the sky.

In Kandahar, a Canadian/Afghani woman journalist journeys into Afghanistan to search for her sister. The film moves from outside to inside but is always public. Subjectivity is figured as always larger than the self; it is self and others, in movement. The film genders the nation of the Mujahadeen and the Taliban through the vision of a diasporic woman. It is not a narrative.

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