Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Liberation Theology

At Lenin's Tomb, Lenin is tired of people continuing to throw the word "liberation" around:
And if there is no excuse now for such deluded horseshit, there never was any excuse. To imagine, to fantasise that the people who calculatedly and maliciously imposed the genocidal sanctions regime on Iraq, a wilful and wicked assault on Iraq's civilian population - to dream that such people are likely to want to 'liberate' Iraqis, except from their mortal coils, is a profound and shocking abdication from the duty to analyse and think through a situation. To then on the basis of this preposterous illusion go on and publicly, clamorously, boisterously demand invasion and occupation is to advertise a kind of collective insanity. And the hide n seek game, so beloved of the 'humanitarian interventionists', won't do either - "we found some Kurdish leaders who agreed with us, so we must be right." Of course the Kurdish leaders agreed with you - they, as the single Iraqi group most imbricated with the US, had the least to lose from it and the most to gain (at least in the short term). What happened to thinking for oneself? What happened to thinking?

"Liberation" - the canard of every bullshitter and hypocrite in the world, and yet another example of a cynosure of radical discourse being enclosed on behalf of imperialist tyranny.
All kinds of otherwise intelligent people still resort to disingenuous "liberation" arguments or its variations. And this crap shows up in all kinds of unexpected places. For example, over the weekend I read this article about photography criticism in the Boston Review by Susie Linfield (link via The Reading Experience). It's a very interesting piece. Actually, in many ways it's quite excellent. Along the way she discusses the criticism and influence of Susan Sontag and John Berger and Walter Benjamin--people whom even I, knowing virtually nothing about the history of photography criticism, would expect to potentially come up in such an article. Anyway, Linfield argues that present-day Anglo-American photography critics do not love photography (whereas, for example, Pauline Kael obviously loved movies), that they are stuck in a view of photography that is mistrustful, taking their cues ultimately from Bertholt Brecht and his own mistrust of sentiment and emotion. She writes:
There is much that is bracing, and revelatory, and so wonderfully challenging about Brecht’s emotional astringency. [...] What is often forgotten, however, is that Brecht—like Moses—was a particular man who lived in a particular time and place and who observed particular things. Brecht’s time and place was Weimar Germany, and he saw—correctly—that his compatriots were drowning in a toxic bath of unexamined emotion: of rage over their defeat in World War I, of ressentiment against Jews and intellectuals and others, of self-pity, of bathos, of fear. Brecht saw—correctly—that this poisonous mix of increasingly hysterical feeling, and the voodoo conspiracy theories to which it lent itself, was the perfect incubator for fascism. [...] Brecht’s relentless war on emotion was ethically, politically, and artistically necessary for him, but it has been taken up in an all too uncritical way by Anglo-American photography critics working in very different times and places and facing a very different set of challenges.
She suspects that these "postmoderns" (generally people identifying themselves with the Left), rather than worrying about people's "automatic" responses, instead don't trust viewers to come to the right conclusions about photographs. She may be right about this, and the quotations she supplies do appear to support her argument. But she presents examples, and her discussion of them is problematic. She discusses, by way of demonstrating the "strange, confounding ability of photographs to make us feel things that we do not think we should", a book of photojournalism about the Iraq War, Witness Iraq: A War Journal February–April 2003. Let me say that, in general, as she describes the various photographs and her responses to them and the questions they raised, her questions are usually interesting, provocative, well-taken. But she sneaks in a number of troubling assumptions. First, she describes a photo of relatives standing over the coffin of a man killed by a bomb. Linfield tells us:
Because the picture is dated “03/29/03,” we know that the bomb was probably an American one, and that it was dropped on the civilian marketplace almost certainly by accident—which is not the same as forgivably. (If the picture, and the bomb, were dated yesterday or today or tomorrow, we would know that it was planted by members of the Baathist or Islamist insurgency, and on purpose.)
As if there is no question about this whatsoever. As if the notion of "by accident" means anything when you have invaded a country and routinely bomb civilian areas. The clause "which is not the same as forgivably" does not get her off the hook. Linfield then discusses a couple more photos and her reaction to them, before offering us this gem:
These photos speak not just of the plight of children in wartime, though they depict that too. But perhaps more important, they suggest—though do not explain—the strange incongruities of the Iraq war, which cannot be summed up by phrases like “U.S. imperialism” or “war on terror.” It is a war in which an army of liberation quickly became an army of occupation, offering an unusual, catastrophic blend of negligence and oppression; in which the overthrow of a dictator led to the unleashing of tremendous violence against his already wounded people; in which a nation newly freed from decades of brutal rule turned, furiously, inward, its lessons in sadism learned all too well.
It is a war in which an army of liberation quickly became an army of occupation. I'm sorry, but no. This is indeed horseshit. At this point, the article is almost over, and Linfield finishes up by echoing the standard "decent Left" chorus, effectively accusing the "postmoderns" of missing the true enemy at the gates:
And though most photography critics—or at least those I have been discussing—identify themselves with the left, this detestation of the photograph is not a subversive or progressive or revolutionary stance, but in fact aligns them with the forces of the most deplorable backwardness: aligns them, for instance, with the frenzied crowds in Kabul and Karachi, Damascus and Tehran, who called for the execution of the Danish cartoonists and promised what they called a “real” holocaust. Here is where pre-modernism and postmodernism merge, for those demonstrators, too, view images as an exploitation, an insult, a blasphemy: as an “act of subjugation” indeed.
I don't know much of anything about Susie Linfield--a quick search reveals that she has written for The Washington Post, Dissent, Newsday, and The Nation--but here she emerges as just another Liberal buying into idiotic notions about a "Clash of Civilizations", unwilling to recognize the implications of American foreign policy and actions.


Stephen Mitchelmore said...

Oh her again! She (Linfield rather than Enfield BTW, though she's almost as funny, in her own way, as Harry) wrote something about Sebald and used it to bash the anti-invasion demos in 2003.


Richard said...

Damn! Thanks for the correction, Steve. Embarrassing.

But, yeah. And she quotes Michael Ignatieff, who was of course a big proponent of the invasion.

Thanks again, and for the link.

Anonymous said...

i notice that Handke's ACROSS i on the reading list & is found perplexing. i use ACROSS an example of Handke's lyricism [description of salzburg] in combination with a tortured psyche of the narrator in a piece on SORTING OUT THE HANDKE MILSOVICS CONTROVERSY
at http://www.handke.scriptmania.com

here are a bunch of other handke links


im gedeihen begriffen ist. Auch ein Interview ueber die Handke Kontroverse:





Member Seattle Psychoanalytic Institute and Society
SCRIPTMANIA PROJECT MAIN SITE: http://www.handke.scriptmania.com


"Sryde Lyde Myde Vorworde Vorhorde Vorborde" [von Alvensleben]