The War of Images, 9/11 to the Present
The phrase “War on Terror” has quietly been retired from official usage, but it persists in the American psyche, and our understanding of it is hardly complete. Nor will it be, W. J. T Mitchell argues, without a grasp of the images that it spawned, and that spawned it.
Exploring the role of verbal and visual images in the War on Terror, Mitchell finds a conflict whose shaky metaphoric and imaginary conception has created its own reality. At the same time, Mitchell locates in the concept of clones and cloning an anxiety about new forms of image-making that has amplified the political effects of the War on Terror. Cloning and terror, he argues, share an uncanny structural resemblance, shuttling back and forth between imaginary and real, metaphoric and literal manifestations. In Mitchell’s startling analysis, cloning terror emerges as the inevitable metaphor for the way in which the War on Terror has not only helped recruit more fighters to the jihadist cause but undermined the American constitution with “faith-based” foreign and domestic policies.
Bringing together the hooded prisoners of Abu Ghraib with the cloned stormtroopers of the Star Wars saga, Mitchell draws attention to the figures of faceless anonymity that stalk the ever-shifting and unlocatable “fronts” of the War on Terror. A striking new investigation of the role of images from our foremost scholar of iconology, Cloning Terror will expand our understanding of the visual legacy of a new kind of war and reframe our understanding of contemporary biopower and biopolitics.
“In this heady brew of biopolitics and biotechnology, W. J. T. Mitchell explores some of the greatest terror of our times—the fears that claim us and chain us. His deft and defiant reading of the technologies of image-making lays bare the brutality and banality of the war on terror. This is a passionate and polemical engagement with reality and representation.”
“This is a brilliant and wide-ranging book that considers the role of images in the recent war on terror, locating a new logic of reproduction within the visual field. The centrality of imagery for understanding and waging the so-called war on terror is widely discussed, but few scholars are able to trace the animating effects of reproducible images with Mitchell’s acuity. Here we find a restatement of the ‘pictorial turn’ in the context of the Bush years and in the present when the icon of Obama remains a site of conflicted investment. Cloning Terror will surely become indispensable reading for a wide public of readers interested in cultural and literary criticism, visual studies, history of art, and political analysis.”—Judith Butler, author of Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence and Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable?
“Forget What Do Pictures Want?—the inspired title and theme of one of W. J. T. Mitchell’s earlier triumphs. The question is what do we want? The answer to which couldn’t be simpler: More Mitchell! In this, his latest entertainment, and a darkly unsettling one at that, the sly magus trains his eyes on the sorry times just past, decanting an entirely fresh instance of the sort of recombinant iconographies for which he is becoming so celebrated. A master theorist of political aesthetics, he does what all the great theorists going back to the Greeks are called upon to do: he gives us fresh eyes to see, and at a moment when the need for such clearsightedness couldn’t be more urgent.”
List of Illustrations
Preface. For a War on Error
1 War Is Over (If You Want It)
2 Cloning Terror
4 Autoimmunity: Picturing Terror
5 The Unspeakable and the Unimaginable: Word and Image in a Time of Terror
7 The Abu Ghraib Archive
8 Documentary Knowledge and Image Life
9 State of the Union, or Jesus Comes to Abu Ghraib
Conclusion. A Poetics of the Historical Image