Saturday, 29 May 2010

Human animal chimeras: can the subaltern speak?

Reading an interview with director Vincenzo Natali about his upcoming sci fi/horror (or should I say "weird fiction"?) film Splice, I was interested, to be sure, in his plans to adapt Neuromancer and Ballard's High Rise to the big screen. What particularly intrigued me though were the following remarks:

I understand that your point of inspiration was the Vacanti mouse experiment.

The Vacanti mouse was such a shocking image because it was basically a naked mouse with what appeared to be a human ear growing out of its back. It wasn’t a real ear. In fact, it wasn’t even a genetic experiment, but it was such a powerful image, and I think part of its power came from how vulnerable the mouse looked. I immediately identified with it. I really felt for it. It was speaking to some pretty strange avenues that are now opening up to us with the advent of this new technology, so I really think from its very earliest stages, Splice always put the emphasis, the emotional connection, on the creature. We were always going to be suspect and dubious of the humans and, in fact, in the making of this creature, we discover the monster lurking within the humans. In other words, I never thought this should be a story of a monster going on the loose and wreaking havoc and killing people. That was just not the story I wanted to tell. I was much more interested in how the people would end up smothering their own creation. It becomes kind of a hostage story. That’s the road we followed. So the mouse was a very influential mouse.

I read that George Charames, your technical consultant on genetics, actually said that this type of experimentation is occurring clandestinely around the world, that these human-hybrid chimeras were being created. Do you think that’s true?
Well, they are. They absolutely are. Not like what we have in the film, but in the UK they legalized the creation of human-animal chimeras for medical research. They destroy them after, I don’t know, a few days or a week or something, so they never go beyond the embryo stage. That’s what Clive and Elsa at the start of the film plan to do: destroy it before it grows. But it grows a little bit quickly and once it’s born, they don’t have the heart to kill it, so you can easily see how life often trumps the best-laid plans and how things can go horribly, horribly wrong.

What is left unspecified in the second question, but is strongly implied, is that the clandestine research, "around the world", is taking place in parts of Asia. The implication of Frankenstein type experiments is tacitly presented as inherently shocking to Western sensibilities. I believe, along with people such as Steve Fuller, that a range of genetic experiments should be conducted, provided appropriate regulation/accountability mechanisms are in place. However, things get even trickier once you consider the possible greater receptiveness to chimeras in countries such as India, where a long cultural tradition enshrines them as part of everyday reality up to and including the present day. I understand what Fuller means then when he acknowledges running the risk of committing "the dreaded sin of Eurocentrism", by sounding a warning against an emerging alliance between religion and science, which he refers to as "karmic darwinism". I believe Fuller's argument could prove applicable to those wishing to construe the science of human animal chimeras as proof of how "the human condition" can and should be downsized:

"I argue that the 21st century will be marked by a realignment of science and religion, which I call the “anthropic” versus the “karmic” perspectives. The former is aligned with the major Western religions and was secularized in the 19th century as positivism, with its identification of social science with the religion of humanity. The latter is aligned with the major Eastern religions, but also Epicureanism in the West. It was secularized as the Neo-Darwinian synthesis in the 20th century, since when it has made major inroads in wider precincts of normative thought. In this context, I focus specifically on the work of E.O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins, and Peter Singer - all of whom, in somewhat different ways, argue on naturalistic grounds for the removal of humanity’s normative privilege. Moreover, this sensibility enjoys somewhat surprising support from postmodern quarters, where anti-humanism tends to be strong. These emerging trends, even when articulated by scientists, have also been associated with a decline in scientific meliorism. Against all this, I argue for a reassertion of the anthropic perspective, mainly by suggesting how monotheists and positivists may join to reinstate the collective project of humanity. A crucial part of the strategy is to regard participation in science as a civic obligation, if not (à la Comte) a religious service".

I am sympathetic to Fuller's objectives, but from what I can tell, they are likely to be dismissed as impractical by an emerging research consortia that consciously arrays itself against [what they regard as] "conservative western attitudes", for fear that they will slow down the vaccine development which is the objective of chimera research. These scientists are basically arguing that heuristics will trump "dialogue between those holding differing views". It's not too difficult to understand [even if you disagree] why they would instead codify a minimal specification of "humane" treatment of the chimeras as central to their ethical framework, rather than a more expansive definition of humanity as a collective project. Afterall, the latter may be perceived by some as merely the latest form of neocolonialism.

Heuristics would therefore dictate that whatever is conducive to the fastest uptake of the research in other countries should be encouraged, not only to quell objections from those science watchers in the general public, but to encourage the participation of as many local scientists as possible. An appeal to cultural tradition may be just the ticket they're looking for. It is this strategy that threatens to legitimate karmic darwinism in a more general sense. So, to be clear, neither Fuller (as I understand him), or myself, are opposed to the science itself tout court, just one particular way of framing it (in such a way that it benefits devious elites to the exclusion of their fellow humans).

Of course, any inherent karmic darwinian sensibilities could be moderated as an incentive for participation or public consent to the research, given awareness that it could potentially have a beneficial global impact. This would certainly come much closer to satisfying Fuller's criteria of participation as a civic obligation. By the same token though, such a global impact could [unintentionally] make it easier for karmic darwinism to subsequently gain wider purchase. This compelling question remains unanswered:

"even though the creation of human-animal chimeras in research makes some people uncomfortable in the West, the benefits of creating such chimeras to accelerate vaccine development for disease that kill many more people in the developing world will likely be seen to be greater than the potential risks. If the attitudes in the West harden further, might the developing world itself supply a solution?"

Indeed, and will Western cultural products such as Splice contribute to the hardening of attitudes towards human animal chimeras, as appears to be its intention? When Natali speaks of things going "horribly, horribly wrong", I obviously can't cast too many aspersions (the film is awaiting release). But what is left unsaid may assume greater significance over time....

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Bioships, replicating spacecraft and the exploration of exoplanets

We were talking the other day about the inaccessibility of exoplanets (they can't even be captured by imaging because of their obscurity), and this drove home the point as to why the "generation starship" concept is being supplemented or displaced by scientists and sci fi authors alike. The practical problems are how to sustain life and the energy required to power a ship across such vast distances over really long periods of time.

Here we see the biotech focus of this blog coming into alignment with a number of fascinating possibilities. For some background on exoplanets, it is useful to pay a visit to the Planetary Society. And here is the quote by Freeman Dyson that really caught my attention:

"Any affordable program of manned exploration must be centered in biology, and its time frame tied to the time frame of biotechnology; a hundred years, roughly the time it will take us to learn to grow warm-blooded plants, is probably reasonable".[21]

However, Dyson is not solely preoccupied with manned exploration, as anyone who Googles "astrochicken" will quickly discover. Here we have Dyson, along with other scientists, applying the concept of "self replicating machines" to the development of spacecraft. As you can see from this link, the replicating spacecraft has also become a staple of science fiction. Unsurprisingly, while it offers in theory a means of exploring further and quicker than manned flights, there are concerns about whether replication could be controlled. If not, according to the "berserker" model, replicating probes would regard the existence of other lifeforms as competition, and would therefore seek to exterminate them. A more benign spin on the theme is the "seeder"/embryo space colonisation model, whereby genetic patterns from the homeworld are stored in readiness for the terraforming of habitable exoplanets. A degree of automation would circumvent the need for sustaining the living, breathing crew, associated with generation starships.

Of particular interest to this blog, Alien appears suggestive of the possibility of catastrophe arising from an admixture of berserker and embryo space colonisation. The sequence of events is not clear at this stage, as we await release of the [two] prequel (s), but one possibility would be that the automation process became corrupted during either the flight or upon contact with the exoplanet Acheron, with the xenomorphs subsequently emerging as a berserker species.

One of the more interesting pieces I have read of late discusses the derelict in terms of its being a bioship.
Let me return to Freeman Dyson though, given the lecture I've watched online of him advocating the need for "heretical thinking" in science. Furthermore, the Research Channel featured a video of author Ann Finkbeiner naming Dyson as a member of "the Jasons", "a self-selecting cadre of scientists independent of the government who evaluate military technologies at the frontier of physical feasibility". If such claims bear closer scrutiny, Alien may one day prove extremely prescient, given how the Weyland Utani Corporation was likewise interested in acquiring the lifeform for military purposes. Here, I mean to suggest that "heretical thinking" in science can easily translate to "the ends justify the means".

Although I am not charging Dyson with guilt by mere association, I do share Finkbeiner's concerns, which are raised as well in sci fi such as Alien: what role should the government play in scientific research? At what point is the inventor accountable for the hazards of the invention? The sheer vastness of "the final frontier" reminds us of the inherent difficulty of regulating any applied biotechnological research in such a context.

Please note that Dyson enthusiastically endorses biotech in the first part of this talk, before moving on to the theme of what kind of life might exist on Europa, and how we might go about finding it. In the final part, around 16:00, he connects biotech to space exploration, arguing that if we cannot find life out there, we should create it for ourselves to populate the universe, thereby making it a much richer, more interesting place. Hence it will not just be us moving from Earth into the universe, but living things in general. These proposals are obviously fraught with potential benefits and hazards, but the latter are not addressed in Dyson's talk:

Thursday, 20 May 2010

To lose planetary contact and soar into the void

My previous post quoted Ridley Scott talking about how the Alien prequel will prominently feature terraforming. I don't know to which end yet, but his tantalising comments have ensured that terraforming has weighed heavily on my mind of late. As a fan of Kim Stanley Robinson, I nurture progressive dreams of what we could accomplish on Mars, but there is another side of me that is more pessimistic. I've been watching the new series Voyage to the Planets (not to be confused with the similarly titled American and British programs) and I find myself becoming very enthusiastic about what we are now able to observe, only to then experience the disappointment of how tantalisingly out of our grasp anything more ambitious appears to be. I just can't see enough marshaling of collective will, capital and expertise, in my lifetime at least, for terraforming to become a practical reality. Indeed, I scoffed the other day when I came across an old issue of The Good Weekend supplement of the Sydney Morning Herald circa 1986, which dutifully reported that "Soviet and American scientists agree that Moon colonies should be fully operational by 2010"!! I dare anyone to watch the Mars episode, letalone the upcoming one on Jupiter- to get an idea of how inhospitable these planets are (not to mention inaccessible)- and retain your confidence that you will be a witness or participant in something truly miraculous. I suspect that, like me, you will experience a sense of Lovecraftian "cosmic horror", in the full knowledge that we will [probably] not venture very far.

The conflict arose in me at an early age. I read Lovecraft as a teenager, which afforded me, like everyone who reads him, a glimpse of the horror lying beneath the placid surface of everyday life. When I was 17 though I came across sociology for the first time, and I started to grow more balanced as per the Gramscian ideal of "pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will". There was one book that really did it for me: I started to appreciate that power was immanent within society itself (rather than alien beings, mysterious forces or whatever), and this meant that it could be called to account. The Two Faces of Deviance was written by a criminologist, and it critiqued liberal "band aid" type solutions by using the analogy of someone standing on a riverbank who catches a glimpse of what he thinks might be a person drifting by. Every time he dives in to rescue someone, another appears. Realising that he can't continue in this fashion, the man resolves to walk upstream to discover the source of the problem so he can stop it from happening. In other words, he gains an appreciation of structural violence by treating causes, rather than mere symptoms.

I like to picture sociologists and [future] terraformers alike adhering to this operating principle. But the character Anselmo Quemot in Asimov's The Naked Sun, a sociologist by trade, reminded me that a lack of institutional structure can foster anomie and a sense of losing control. This was really brought home to me after playing Half Life. I never fully comprehended the structure driving events. The irony here had to do with the fact that, as Richard J Hand points out in his "Proliferating Horrors: Survival Horror and the Resident Evil Franchise", this genre draws on Lovecraftian archetypes, but returns to the player a sense of control by allowing them to manipulate the environment to their own ends, as they gradually penetrate the heart of the mystery driving the storyline. Ever since, usually once a week, I have a dream reliving the part of Half Live where the player passes through an enormous underground cavern at the base of a research facility. Some kind of gigantic turbine is slowly rotating, with the sound of the machine punctuated by the ripping apart of bodies in its mechanisms. As you look up, you see bones, along with blood and gore, raining down.

What kind of an infernal machine is this? No answer was forthcoming, even once I completed the game. I feel this dream is a foil to the redemptive model of rationality I had earlier taken from The Two Faces Of Deviance. The fact that I still haven't solved the mystery feeds the compulsion to repeat; this serial logic sees me constantly adding new aural and visual elements to the dream. Most recently I passed by the Half Life machine, and heard the echo of power electronics style vocals coming from above, like what you would typically hear in the work of William Bennett and Kevin Tomkins. These were harsh commands, screams or whispers, that I was unable to decipher (hence heightening the sense of mystery).

Please note though, I am not saying that my survivalist fantasies have taken over my life, only that they sometimes furnish the pessimistic component of my Gramscian equilibrium. There's no total commitment to tragedy here. And yes, I have read The Influencing Machine and am fully aware of its significance when mapping what Seltzer describes as "the body machine complex". Hopefully my thinking is reflexive enough to treat it as an imaginative extrapolation, rather than the deus ex machina Viktor Tausk associated with schizophrenia.

This corpse grinding machine, along with my fascination for the Space Jockey mythos, may suggest an intuitive foothold on the meaning of cosmic horror. There's also some great passages in Perdido Street Station that are highly evocative of the mysterious torture associated with infernal machines. By the way, don't bypass the bleak aesthetic of films such as Moon. All well and good. I'm left wondering though: could it be that cosmic horror opens the floodgates to another malady of being? Any sense of bounded selfhood is liable to collapse because cosmic horror implies that the project of autonomy, characteristic of modernity, is revealed to be illusory. In this vein, recall the opening 6 minutes of Saturn 3: a motiveless and unfeeling act, problematising any distinction between an individual and his remote environment...Roger Caillois described a comparable syndrome in terms of the predatory behaviour of certain species, such as a mantis paralyzing its prey. Caillois speaks in terms of mimicry and legendary psychasthenia:

Dark space envelops me on all sides and penetrates me much deeper than light space, the distinction between inside and outside and consequently the sense organs as well, insofar as they are designed for external perception, here play only a totally modest role." This assimilation to space is necessarily accompanied by a decline in the feeling of personality and life. It should be noted in any case that in mimetic species the phenomenon is never carried out except in a single direction: the animal mimics the plant, leaf, flower, or thorn, and dissembles or ceases to perform its functions in relation to others. Life takes a step backwards.

I think of Caillois sometimes too while listening to the music of Darkspace. Unlike most "black metal", their focus is on the cold and bleak description of space. I read their work accordingly as a commentary on how legendary psychasthenia opens up in such lethal spaces after bearing witness to cosmic horror. Which is to say, their music:

"...does what most Depressive/Ambient/Suicidal Black Metal fails to do. It is a preview of death, as Atheism perceives it. No thoughts, no feelings, no emotions, nothing. Gravity withdraws itself and the void opens up".

I'm fascinated as well by the fact that a neoclassical darkwave group, such as Black Tape for a Blue Girl, could morph into a side project called As Lonely As Dave Bowman (referencing the character from 2001: A Space Odyssey). Again, a very cold aesthetic, albeit imbued with a touch of pathos.

That's probably enough for today. You're now free to judge for yourself if the cosmic horror and/or Caillois labels fit everything I've referred to. As for me, I'll wander off to check if a soundtrack takes shape in my mind as I watch the Jupiter episode of Voyage to the Planets tonight. Derridata once offered a description of the following track entitled "Black Star" by the Modified Toy Orchestra that is much in the spirit of what I've tried to convey here:

"it's a couple of guitar chords played from a toy with a guitar sound chip (the Texas Instrument voice embedded in the track repeats "you found a black star") but put through a reverb and it sounds so celestial, so crystalline like an alien transmission signalling through cosmic echoes of background noise pulsing through the void".

punishment park

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Militainment, Inc & War Made Easy

“The People of Greece Are Fighting for the Whole of Europe”

"Karl Marx was disastrously wrong about a lot of things. But if the job market keeps growing as slowly as it has the past few months — even with April’s 290,000-job boost — the U.S. economy could soon find itself in a place he’d recognize.

"In Das Kapital, Marx described a problem he saw in the way capitalist societies function. As companies became more productive, learning to get more from their workers, they would need fewer and fewer of those workers. This would create an 'industrial reserve army' of unemployed people, whose desperation to work would keep the fire at the heels of those who had jobs and keep wages in check. As a result, all the added value created by workers would accrue to the owners of the companies."

Mark Whitehouse
Wall Street Journal
Number of the Week: 29.4 Million in ‘Industrial Reserve Army’

Star Wars & Modernism
An Artist Commentary

Star Wars Modern

Kubrick’s film presented a future of company men moving with assurance and clear intention toward a godlike minimalist object. Lucas, on the other hand, gave us a slapdash world of knuckleheads pursued by industrial-scale minimalists. Visually, Kubrick’s film is as seamless and smooth as the modernist authority it mirrored. Like the mid-century modernists, 2001 associated abstraction with the progressive ideals of the United Nations as embodied by its New York headquarters. Lucas, on the other hand, was a nonbeliever. Even the initially smooth and unitary form of the Death Star was shown, as the rebel fighters skimmed its surface, to be deeply fissured with an ever-diminishing body of structural fragments. These crenulated details suggested a depth and complexity to modern life that modernism’s pure geometries often obscured.

"Star Wars: A New Heap"
Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Death Star
by John Powers

Glenn Beck plays "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon," except there's just one degree and Kevin Bacon is Hitler

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Back in Black - Glenn Beck's Nazi Tourette's
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Glenn Palin, The (Wo)Man in the High Tower

Blitz Streets

The first episode in the series focuses on the outbreak of the Blitz in September 1940.

The first bombs used against Blitz Street, a row of terraced houses specially built on a remote military base and subjected to a frightening range of large-scale bombs and incendiaries similar to those dropped by the Luftwaffe - are the SC50 (25kg of TNT), the most common bomb dropped on the first day of bombing in London, and the SC500 bombs, which contained 250kg of TNT.

The programme features emotional eye witness testimonies, giving a fantastic insight into day-to-day life on the home front and the immense psychological damage caused by the bombardment.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

"Unclouded by conscience or delusions of morality...

...It's structural perfection matched only by its hostility..."

These were the android Ash's words in Alien, as he confessed his admiration for the creature that was systematically wiping out the crew of the Nostromo. In this post, I'd like to consider some of their thematic implications.

Firstly though, I have a confession of my own to make: sometimes I can be a little slow to post the various things I've seen and heard. So I don't pretend to be breaking the exclusive of Ridley Scott outlining the premise of the Alien prequel he's working on. I also take it as read that the film will be steeped in Lovecraftian lore:

"It's set in 2085, about 30 years before Sigourney [Weaver's character Ellen Ripley]. It's fundamentally about going out to find out 'Who the hell was that
Space Jockey?' The guy who was sitting in the chair in the alien vehicle — there was a giant fellow sitting in a seat on what looked to be either a piece of technology or an astronomer's chair....
[The film] is about the discussion of terraforming — taking planets and planetoids and balls of earth and trying to terraform, seed them with the possibilities of future life".

Less obviously though, I'm also interested in how the hopes invested in the film may be related to the process of rationalisation. Weber's thesis described a situation where charisma would be one of the few means available to break the "iron cage". This can tell us something then about the appeal of auteur theory, with the pantheon of "great directors" acting as circuit breakers on the model of mass serial production that is business as usual in Hollywood. Reading fan reactions and reflecting on my own expectations in light of this most recent event contributes to the sense that the Alien series is one of the most self reflexive ever made: at every level they are obsessed with the meaning of (re)production.

Other readers of Weber's work, not least Habermas, were critically aware of how attempts to manifest the surrealist project in everyday life, as per Bataille, amounted to a horror story (see The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity; but also recall Andre Breton's claim that the simplest surrealist act would be to open fire on a crowd with a pistol). Bataille so feared the utilitarian calculus that he deliberately avoided systematising his own thought, but in so doing, argues Habermas, he provided inadequate contextualisation to prevent it becoming a philosophical wildcard.

It might also be said that Alien is sympathetic to Habermas' perspective as the film makes use of surrealist H.R. Giger's designs to horrific effect to demonstrate the consequences of the surrealist project literally colonising "the lifeworld". Indeed, there is a telling scene in Alien Resurrection where the evil scientists who had attempted to breed the xenomorphs in captivity for their own purposes, find themselves fused to the wall of the hive. But they are so transfixed by the biological/aesthetic qualities of the creatures ("my beautiful butterfly") that it comes as a shock to them when their creation lumbers over to casually bite off the top of their heads. Like Ash before them, these scientists had failed to heed Habermas' words. You might call this "blowback".

If I had the means available, I'd like to write a book on critical theory called Everything I Know About Philosophy I Learnt from the Alien Films. In my version of Alien Resurrection's hive scene, I'd substitute Bataille and certain other philosophers for the scientists. Let the punishment fit the crime, you might say. Another way of putting it is in terms of thinkers committing a common category mistake and being forced to reap the consequences. For example, here is how a recent limited reading of Whitehead's work is taken to task. It could serve equally well as an admonishment by a science court of any number of scientists in the Alien series:

"Consequently, it is one thing to claim, with Shaviro, that from the purely aesthetic perspective destruction (or robbery) is justified by the degree of novelty that is released into the world, but it is quite another thing to pose this justification from the perspective of another living society that has just been robbed to become "food" for the creation of the new beautiful order. According to Whitehead himself, this is where the nature of reflective judgment becomes ethical and concerns the moral issue of creativity that must be "reactively adapted" to fit each living occasion of novelty. Even though creativity becomes "the highest notion of the ultimate generality" in Whitehead's metaphysical system, it cannot serve as a kind of categorical justification for every actual occasion of "craving for intensity", for novelty and adventure, in short, for every act of robbery. It is clear that there is a moral dimension to Whitehead's system as well, a second critique that is hidden behind the first and primary affirmation of the general notion of creativity, and I would even suggest that certain negative and critical feelings (or what Whitehead calls "negative prehensions") can also belong to the creative process in the production of new "discordant feelings." Of course, these negative prehensions need not necessarily lead to new prohibitions against beautiful feelings as in most traditional Marxian critiques, which would be tantamount to a prohibition against eating, and according to Whitehead, would result in the loss of inter-play between living societies and the environment composed of other societies, both organic and inorganic. However, it could lead to a construction of "critical aestheticism" that would be capable of both "creativity" and "critique".

Numerous lebensphilosophie style conceptions of creativity could have served equally well as illustrations of the category mistake. Hans Joas is someone who understands where Habermas was coming from, but attempts to be more thorough in bringing together creativity and critique, to avoid any limitations associated with the aforementioned "traditional Marxian critiques". There is a danger that the creative turn can amount to the same thing as the universal calculus: the only real ground for guilt is a lack of self-interest. Moral behaviour is the acquisition of a value. Certain goods have a higher value simply because others desire what you have. It matters less whether this entails imposing your will on others as long as you make it. This becomes an end in itself, another form of instrumental rationality to legitimate all perversity, strangeness and eccentricity. Again, as Ash said of the xenomorph, "I admire its purity".

This might explain why so many figures in the esoteric underground, including Nikolas Schreck in this unintentionally hilarious clip (and his offsider, here wearing a monocle for effect) for example, develop a social Darwinian philosophy (described fittingly by Anton LaVey as "basically Ayn Rand's philosophy with some ritual thrown in", while Schreck prefers to talk in terms of how "it is difficult to explain something of this majesty and glory to mortal minds"). It also speaks to why provocateurs such as GG Allin felt entitled (while naked, covered in blood, and smeared in human excrement) to stage an afterlife to his performance by inciting a mini-riot in the streets of New York City (Allin died of a heroin overdose several hours after this footage was taken).

I recommend reading Colin Campbell's piece, which I have in part drawn on here, for an intriguing take on how the discourses of decadence used to frame the horror associated with transgressive culture are informed by a serial logic, with reference to C.S. Lewis' The Bell and the Hammer. In this post I have wondered about where and how to situate the popular appeal of the Alien films with respect to the continuum Campbell describes. Does it amount to resistance or complicity?

The Sodometries of the Invisible Empire

Revisiting Salo recently led me to some disturbing mashups by Jeff Wells of imagery from that film with the infamous photographs from Abu Ghraib (the "human pyramid" at left, for example). Whenever I think of that film from now on, I'll have an immediate association with Abu Ghraib. Other sequences in the film, such as when the fascists parade their naked victims on all fours wearing dog leashes, clearly parallel the picture of Lynndie England humiliating her prisoner.

To my mind, this demonstrates Pasolini's acute understanding of how power functions in "zones of exception". Mirzoeff in effect builds on these insights by referring to [the inspiration behind Salo] the Marquis de Sade, along with some other theorists, by arguing that the "sodometries", as originally described by Jonathan Golberg, are mobilised as part of a wider strategy. I try to read as widely as possible, and certainly don't pretend to always understand or agree with queer theory, but here is an argument almost as compelling as Michael Warner's work on the public sphere:

Indeed, as Hazel Carby has pointed out, in their mode of address and dissemination, the photographs at Abu Ghraib are crucially unlike lynching photographs, despite the apparent similarities.Lynching was in all senses a public and visible event. Special trains were laid on to the most celebrated lynchings, while newspapers ran special editions and the photographs taken were quickly produced as postcards and sent across the country by mail. While such souvenirs
may be hidden now, in the heyday of American segregation their visibility was precisely the point. It was the sight in a shop window of the preserved knuckles of Sam Hose, a man who had been lynched in Atlanta, that drove W. E. B. Du Bois into a career of activism. By contrast, the photographs of Abu Ghraib were intended only for the consumption of the Army and its associates. The public interpellation of the racialized subject by the trophies of lynching has been replaced by the invisible visibility of a police culture that claims that there is nothing to see while circulating its pixelated documents of imperial hierarchy around the Internet.

Far from constituting the accidental, this representation of enforced sodomy is that chosen by the military itself. For the Pentagon could have released a wider range of photographs, also depicting assaults on women and children, which Seymour Hersh has shown to exist....

...As the Marquis de Sade himself put it: “If we discover a hemisphere, we will find sodomy there. Cook sailed into a new world: there it was king. If our balloons floated to the moon, we would find it there as well.”De Sade’s universalism is not what I intend here. I suggest rather that as long as we remain under the sway of Hegel’s dialectic...the moment of imperial crisis necessarily entails a recurrent if not constant crisis of corporal definition between the body of the master and that of the slave. More precisely still, if, as Hardt and Negri put it, it is not reality that is dialectical but colonialism, then the recurrence of corporal crisis is one index that empire in their sense remains entangled with colonialism.

Whatever I have resurrected... is sure to come calling for me.....