Introduction: Degrounding War and the State

This edition of Periscope extends a conversation that took place on the occasion of the book launch held at New York University on April 30, 2016 to mark the publication of Allen Feldman’s Archives of the Insensible: Of War, Photopolitics and Dead Memory (The University of Chicago Press, 2015). It was an occasion for responding both to Allen Feldman’s latest scholarship and to Allen Feldman as a leading figure in the fields of political theory and media theory.

As one would hope, the esteem for his person and his work, freely expressed here, along with the willing acknowledgement of the momentous achievement that is Archives, did nothing to impede direct and serious challenges and criticisms regarding the politics and stakes in the conceptualization of the current historical conjuncture that Feldman’s work is intent upon analyzing. All participants, I think, recognize that endless war, forced migration, drone strikes, black sites, carceral societies, racial formations, militarization, capital accumulation, environmental devastation, climate injustice, imperialist war, settler colonialism, containerization, genocidal state and para-state formations, border walls, and the representational system or systems that mediate—and as Allen would say “dismediate”—these conditions pose a problem too large and complex for any unitary solution.

“Degrounding War and the State,” a title chosen by Allen for this Periscope dossier, indicates a shift in the hegemonic modalities of governance and sovereignty. This shift is registered in acts of torture, in juridical practices, and in the metaphysical constitution and deconstitution of entities subject to sovereign power. Among the many questions staged here is an important one about the legacy of deconstruction, either as a practice of unsettling entrenched power formations and thus a strategy of liberation, or, in a disconcerting turn, as itself having become a dominant practice of state-making—indicated by the emergence of what Feldman calls “the deconstructionist state” or “the deconstructive state.”

This question gets to the heart of Feldman’s notion of metaphysics as a medium of war and finds resonance (and perhaps some dissonance) with accounts offered here of the history of modern war (Talal Asad), the role of partisan theory (Drucilla Cornell), and the relation of sovereign mediations to computation and political economy (myself).

In a new piece written especially for this Periscope edition, Feldman endeavors to think through “a new synthesis of one of the core threads, among others, running through Archives of the Insensible that engages war as the medium of state formation, as an archival apparatus and as an emerging protocol of political truth claiming.” This synthesis deploys the notion of “contretemps” and “the accidentalization of the accident” along with a reading of Derrida’s event machine as an un-writing machine. In addition to offering a new set of insights into temporality and war-driven sovereignty in the present era, readers have the opportunity to consider the technicity and mediology of sovereign power, and to evaluate a type of materialist analysis in which the constituent power of the operations of mediation and dismediation rises to the surface with a startling legibility.

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Jonathan Beller

Jonathan Beller is professor of humanities and media studies and director of the Graduate Program in Media Studies at Pratt Institute. His books include The Cinematic Mode of Production: Attention Economy and the Society of the Spectacle (2006) and Acquiring Eyes: Philippine Visuality, Nationalist Struggle, and the World-Media System (2006).