Wednesday, 12 May 2010

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 The public interpellation of the racialized subject by the trophies of lynching has been replaced by the invisible visibility of a police culture that claims that there is nothing to see while circulating its pixelated documents of imperial hierarchy around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.

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