The Accidentalization of War

Nota Bene: The following dangerous supplement can be read as a resynthesis of one of the core threads running through Archives of the Insensible: Of War, Photopolitics and Dead Memory (University of Chicago Press, 2015), which engages war as the medium of state formation, as an archival apparatus, and as an emerging protocol of political truth claiming.

The Accidentalization of War

We are living war as a largely unwitnessable time out of time, as a fall out of conventional time that fractures any polemological idea of progress. Jacques Derrida names such temporal dislocation the contretemps, or counter-time, which is poorly translated by the English term accident. 1 As simultaneously ‘inessential,’ rigorous necessity and catastrophic disruption, the possibility and actuality of the contretemps conditions all proper and programmed temporality, such as war, securitization, and democracy as their inadmissible conditionality. The contretemps signals a counter-logic to the iterable or the repeatable insofar as repetition or its possibility is expected to secure both time and place in the present and the future. As such the contretemps can disturb and concuss the normative foundation, inception, and continuation of a political act and program that conveys temporal linearization and teleology. The contretemps disrupts the historically given as the form of rationality, plenitude, and security and in its destruction of calculable time opens the anachronous thinking of historicity.2

The anachronicity of the accident is dissonant to the self-evidentiary as an apparatus of calculability; it is “a cipher in algorism,” that is a figure of no significance within a regime of calculability whose insignificance in relation to political pro-grammatization proves determinant. Derrida portrays the deframing relation of the contretemps to the self-evidentiary as “the background of a shadowy zone against which it stands out, this—the self-evidence of self-evidence….”3 The contretemps implicitly interrogates and thereby bifurcates the self-evidence of self-evidence as such and riddles its fixed schema with puncturing anomaly. The contretemps appears as the distal shadow of the incalculable “that allows the motif of calculability to be thought as what it is,”4 and Michel Foucault similarly points to the abyss upon which the politically self-evident resides: “the politically intelligible appears against the background of emptiness and denies its necessity.” Foucault here evokes Althusser’s possible-impossible “aleatory void,” the empty-site to be filled by contingent political practice lacking any stable normative ground. Derrida’s theorem of the contretemps correlates this necessary “emptiness” to the “essential” accident against which systematicity and repeatability are forearmed and by which they can be disarmed.5

The historical experience of a counter-time as a fall out of ‘proper’ time announces the nonsynchronicity of our internal-time consciousness in relation to the institutionalized metrics of objectified historiographic and cartographic convention that compress the differentia of social time and space into a calculable order. With the advent of the contretemps, the portentous breaks into our universe in the form of a parallel creation, a breach of procedure that disrupts extant moral order and social syntax.6 The contretemps does not achieve the status of a codified norm and is thus denied the stature of a legible action. It is this very anomic illegibility, the action of a nonaction that has emerged as the axial principle of counterinsurgent governmentality, by which warfare no longer fulfills the normative tasks that have historically been assigned to it. The contretemps is the interruption of a single and organized temporality of which justified and transcendentally grounded war was once the highest expression. With securitization, war proceeds not by teleology and teleocracy but by randomness, errancy, and the needful accident.

Contretemps carries the senses of a mishap, syncopation, and a blow to the body. The phrase à contretemps, originally a 17th-century category of fencing, hence of combat, diversely signifies an inopportune movement of a weapon, a false time, a motion out of time, an unexpected and untoward event, a random but intervening occurrence, being in counter-time, the unaccented portion of rhythmic structure, and is related to the anachronic in the sense of being up against directional time. The phrase allumage à contretemps is a military term meaning cross-firing. The war on terror, I contend, has become an operation predicated on a counter-temporal cross-firing at its own violence as a means of crossing out and cancelling its consequences and immunizing its an-archic force by invoking the contretemps named collateral damage as systemic surplus, or what Derrida terms the essential and necessary contretemps. The contretemps, by extension, underwrites the permeable and reversible thresholds between security and insecurity within which the current war on terror unfolds.

Aristotelian philosophy distinguished between essence (ousia) and accident (sumbebêkos), characterizing the latter as the necessary property of a substance but as peripheral to its essence.7 A later Scotist view holds that any res (substance) or entity is composed of its essence and an accidental reality termed its actuality. In this sense, the accident can be called a thing in its mode of appearing. However, these frameworks overly reduce the accidental to a derivative property of a substance rather than treat it as a process that constitutes its own autonomous and unanchored materiality and a discombobulating chain of events. In Machiavelli’s Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livy, history becomes a processual assemblage of occurrences, occasions, and accidents (accidenti) against which the security and duration of the state is measured.8 Accidenti are not peripheral to the substance of the political but a defining condition of the latter that could be exhaustively described purely in terms of the contretemps in its unfolding or its preemption. The accidenti were no pure exteriority but could emanate from a self-positing political will. However, hegemony is also prescriptively described as the task of making accidenti unlikely, which requires an ongoing thought of, and vigilance concerning, their possibility–the accidenti were not nullified but managed and instrumentalized as a medium of the political. In this context, the control of time as the management of the providential (no longer divinely mandated) was essential to political practice and power. For Machiavelli, the replication of a regime in time was in direct proportion to its exposure and processing of the accidenti–the latter are no longer peripheral, but generate the necessity of mediating contingency.
Machiavelli also spoke of a similarity and similitude of the accidenti that permitted comparative-historical analysis contributing to a dispositive, or governmentality based on the multifarious conjuncture of probability and the accidenti. The accidenti, in being both insubstantial and in their seeming peripheral errancy, constitute a temporal counterweight to any substantialist and continuist model of sovereign power. The executive model of the political, whether democratic, monarchical, or aristocratic, was inadequate to the historico-accidental and is to be superseded in Machiavelli’s program by a heterogeneous model of governance mixing attributes of different constitutive political forms that enabled an equilibrium of counteractions which would encompass what I identified above as allumage à contretemps. Machiavelli’s prescription of a mixed regime reappears in the providential machine constituted by the American campaign on terror as an equilibrium of counteractions–as a mixed regime of apparition and disapparition, publicness and secrecy, that traverses liberal democracy, the security apparatus, so-called democratizing regime change, black sites like Guantanamo, extraordinary rendition, collateral damage, targeted assassination, drone kill chains, humanitarian war, and the technocracy of disposable life.

Derrida distinguishes the accidental contretemps (the singular accidentality of the accident) from the essential contretemps; the latter is the essential, “non-accidental accident” that I suggest structures the time-consciousness of securocratic war.9 Derrida asserts that the infelicity of the accidental contretemps “remarks” the essential contretemps–the latter is the anachrony of structure that defaces all references to a center, to a subject, to a privileged reference, to an origin, and yet as such is an essential and intrinsic possibility of the essential as a determination in negation of the latter.10 The essential accident is a constitutive shadow exteriority that marks, forms, and deforms interiority, be that a system, an economy, a procedure, a technical assemblage, such as a drone kill chain, or the consistency and duration of a sovereign subject. The apparatuses of the self-evident attain propriety and rationality in being armed against and tacitly defined by the essential contretemps. Derrida’s deployment of the contretemps, as a structuring threshold of the essentialized, overturns the philosophical dicta that contends that the perfection of substance is far more perfect than the pursuit of the objective perfection of the accident; however, the latter, I contend, is the current project of the War on Terror.

With Derrida we do not find the notion that the substance precedes the accident, for the contretemps overturns any sequence of precession and succession, which have been preemptively installed as a cordon sanitaire against the possible contamination of the nonlinear contretemps. With this inversion of the priority of substance over accident, the latter has already happened before it happens. Of course the prognosticated and potentialized accident is subject to and can inadvertently instigate the aleatoric power of the inessential contretemps, thereby subverting any cultural or metrical construction of the accidental by accelerating the “the separation of monads, infinite distance, the disconnection of experiences, the multiplicity of worlds, everything that renders possible a contretemps….”11 Though each concept is necessary to the thinking of the other, the border between the inessential and essential contretemps is ultimately unsustainable. The accidental as the infrastructure of contamination also infers that there is no pure, uncontaminated accident–there can be a contamination of the calculated contaminant; a mishap can befall the concept, status, and experience of the accident, and therein lies the thinking of historicity as the accident that renders history radically contingent.

The contretemps, as the time of our war times, appears as the accidentalization of the accident. The suffix shifts the root term, accident, from the intransitive to the transitive, in the sense of to make or conform to the thing expressed by the derivation. The doubling of the stem word in the theorem “the accidentalization of the accident” implies a deliberate action upon the accident as temporal concept, event, and experience. The neologism refers to a historical mishap and countertime that has befallen the essence of the accident. Accidentalization stands in relation to its etymon as rationalization stands in relation to Reason, as reification stands in relation to the concept of the thing, that is, as the historical unfolding of the effective denegation of the stem word, concept, or etymon–a denegation that both negates and conserves without generating a higher synthesis. Here the Heideggerian durchkreuzung is apt; a residual term in a text is typographically crossed out and over to signal its historical inoperability, and yet is still retained in the text beneath the marks of its defacement, thereby signaling a flashing accident zone, a countertime that has befallen the defaced concept in its historical trajectory.

Accidentalization is the political calculation of what Werner Hamacher describes as the “pre-possibility of all temporal possibilities that does not precede these within a time series; [but rather] precedes the latter as the non-linear—non-geometric and non-metric—play of various times and time-possibilities, and precisely therefore lies within these as what is absolutely external to them.”12 The War on Terror, as a teleocracy of the accidental, unfolds as a series of counter-times, as “rhythmed anachronies” and as “moving errors whose errance is both finite and infinite, aleatory and programmed.”13 The aleatoric power of the accidentalized war is the disavowed externalization of the human, socio-economic, and ecological costs of sustaining global American and Western European sovereignty in the post-Cold War epoch, culminating in a prolongated war that has purloined its own finite ends, its own prescriptive temporality. In this political logic what is disavowed, finite teleology, and the very act of its disavowal, undergo their own particular fall out of perceptible time. The accidentalization of war is a mishap that has befallen the prestige and finality of the political terminus and related metrics leading to their subsumption and erasure under the seemingly infinite plateau of the means and the medium without ends or end. To comprehend this interruption of teleology as a politics, it is crucial to advance a mediology of the accident in which the latter is essential to the infrastructure of non-teleocratic war–this would be a mediology of dismediation and disframing that ceases to conserve any pre-programmed transmissibility.

Gaza, Bataclan, Orlando

With the advent of aleatoric power, aphorized as political terror and catastrophism, the polemological accident counterfeits and countertimes aleatory time under various guises, most notably through saturations of disavowed damage: the unlocatable, war-precipitating WMDs of Iraq, the migration of American forces from the confessed contretemps in Iraq to the “necessary” war in Afghanistan (as Iraq was effectively the contretemps of Afghanistan), drone crowd killings with their anonymized and dejuridified victims of crowd killings, the flotsam and jetsam of apparitional stranded Syrian asylum seekers become a hystericized, phobogenic hazard, transnationally outsourced torture and killing and the agonizing, yet politically generative, side-effects of forced feeding of hunger-striking Guantanamo detainees in the name of securing life. The accidentalization of the recent Orlando, Florida massacre on June 12, 2016, proceeded by way of compulsory exoticization that disavowed that atrocity as a quintessentially and historically indicative homophobic American atrocity by exporting its political causation to Syrian ISIS, its homophobia exclusively to Islam, and its authorship to illegal and/or Muslim immigrants. The spectacle of Christian and Republican homophobes of the racist and anti-gun control political right lamenting Orlando bears witness to the immunizing felicity of the accidentalization of terror during a time when anti-LGBT legislation sponsored by this same front has been ratcheted upward.

Consider François Hollande’s dehistoricizing calculus of bombing in the immediate aftermath of the Paris attacks of November 13, 2015. Hollande cut off the random killing of Parisians on November 13, 2015 from the collateral damage of his ongoing bombing campaign in Syria. It was this preceding campaign and its killing, mutilation, and displacement of not only ISIS, but of Syrian noncombatants, that opened the future anterior of the 2015 Paris attacks as the collateral damage that will have been. Hollande and his advisors robotically murdered their own citizens at a temporal distance as a corollary to robotic drone killing-at-a-distance. This bombing of Syrian ISIS was the temporal pre-possibility of the Bataclan and other massacres and thus the calculable accidentalization of the ‘random’ Parisian victims by Hollande that was cordoned off as absolutely external to his in-place military interventions and to the present nullification of the dead and the wounded. The contretemps at Paris “already happened, in essence, before it happens,” as a camouflaged part of the kill-chain assembled by Hollande’s bombing campaign.

Derrida speaks to this relation of the contretemps to alien exteriority and contamination that drives current securocratic and cognate xenophobic discourse in the USA and Europe.

The purity of the within can henceforth only be restored by accusing exteriority of being a supplement, something inessential and yet detrimental to that essence, an excess that should not have been added to the unadulterated plenitude of the within. The restoration of inner purity must therefore reconstitute, recite–and this is myth itself, the mythology, for example, of a logos recounting its origin and returning to the eve of a pharmacographical assault.14

As I have discussed in my Archives of the Insensible, Netanyahu pursued an analogous strategy of state immunization to Hollande’s through the accidentalization of the accident when speaking mournfully to CNN of the Gazan civilians killed by Israeli missile strikes:

All civilian casualties are unintended by us but actually intended by Hamas. They want to pile up as many civilian dead as they can, because somebody said they use, I mean it’s gruesome, they use telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause. They want the dead, the more the better.

In Netanyahu’s phantasmagoria, each “carefully” launched Israeli missile is subject to a mishap in its refunctioning by a Hamas affiliate imputedly committed to the mechanical mass production of televisual Palestinian dead. The Israeli first-person shooter, morally inoculated by the eternally citable Holocaust with an a priori moral incapacity for atrocity, practices a ballistics of innocence and the accident. Israeli’s claim is historically armed against any contretemps in being marked by “hesitancy and care,” and ultimately in search of a “sustainable quiet.”15 Under this polemological regime of “care and quietude,” civilian causalities in Gaza are imputedly emplotted by Hamas and Israel’s launched ordnance becomes the accidentalized prosthetic of the Palestinian will to telegenic death. The “true violence” of Gaza is cast in lead by Netanyahu as the self-enclosure of the agent and patient of force exclusively within the Palestinian body politic.


Werner Hamacher translates contretemps as Unzeit, an anachronous pre-essence that refuses “every compossibility and every co-presence and therefore also every place within a time series, a place that could be put before or after another.”16 Such denegating descriptions come close to defining the qualities and temporalities that Avital Ronell speaks of as “operations of destruction operating ‘inoperably’ from a time and space that destroys time and space.”17 The accidentalization of war is not war as accidental or as a mishap, but rather the mobilization and politicization of the accidentalized as an “event machine.” Derrida engages the dis-mediating event and the event of dismedia intrinsic to the technical infrastructure of the contretemps in his thinking of the polarity of the evental (singularity) and the machinic (automatic repetition). The machine is provisionally presented by Derrida as material replication responsive to imprinting by exterior intent or sovereign will that the machinic or medium lacks: “The machine…is destined to repetition. It is destined, that is, to reproduce impassively, imperceptibly, without organ or organicity, received commands.”18 The medium/machine appears as passively subordinated to the linear time of the will-to-actualization. Derrida identifies the gap between performative response and machinic reactivity: “Performativity…excludes in principle, in its own moment, any machine like [machinale] technicity. It is even the name given to this intentional exclusion.”19 However, traversing the subject positions of intentionality, performativity, and the machinic another scene emerges:

If intentionalist teleology is opposed to the machinic this […] foreclosure of the machine answers to the intentionality of intention itself. It is intentionality. Intentionality forecloses the machine. If, then, some machinality (repetition, calculability, inorganic matter of the body) intervenes in a performative event, it is always as an accidental, extrinsic, and parasitical element, in truth a pathological, mutilating, or even mortal element. Here again, to think both the machine and the performative event together remains a monstrosity to come, an impossible event. Therefore, the only possible event. But it would be an event that, this time, would no longer happen without the machine. Rather, it would happen by the machine.20

Here the contretemps, in all of its monstrosity and parasitism, presents as an automatism and as a mechanism or apparatus, that is, as accidentalized. Derrida terms the dismediation of any performative assemblage, such as warfare, the “event-machine” that controverts both the notion of the machinic as subjacent repetition and the event as an aleatory singularity while homing in on their possible techno-political complicity. Derrida thus proposes a mediatic theory of accidentalization and does not solely regard the contretemps as a radically singularized “non-anticipatable, inhomogeneous other time,” though these markers are never absent from the infrastructure of accidentalization.21 He poses his theory of accidentalization as an im/possibility, but one that I contend has become the aporetic infrastructure of war:

Will this be possible for us? Will we one day be able, and in a single gesture, to join the thinking of the event to the thinking of the machine? Will we be able to think, what is called thinking, at one and the same time, both what is happening (we call that an event) and the calculable programming of an automatic repetition (we call that a machine)?22

In thinking the instability of the evental, the performative, and the machinic, Derrida articulates the political with the accidentalized, thus calling into question reassuring assumptions concerning freedom, self-determination, and the ethically autonomous sovereign subject supported by the encapsulated, continuous rationality of its technical motilities. He presents the self-immunizing anatomy of criminal reason and its crime scenes in the era of mechanized and quasi-automated genocide and related global event drives like the War on Terror. Derrida discerns a certain rationality, a rationing and ratio of the accidental, such as collateral damage, an accidentalization of forces and ethical quandary that pointedly negates the opposition of the intentional and the machinic, that silently frames the testimony, excuses, silences, and retractions of consequence in war:

…on the one hand, the irrationality of the machine that is irresponsible or beyond my control, the mechanism that caused me to do evil, and, on the other hand, the absolute sincerity, the authentic innocence of my intentions.23

Derrida here sifts through the ethical debris of bad faith, autoimmunity, and disavowal enabled by the event machine that counterfeits the event by removing ethical responsivity in its widest scope and gauge from the serial killing of political modernity, while preserving jus ad bellum and the intentional purity of the killers through the accidentalization of atrocity and impunity. Here the incapacity to avow normativity in the act of killing through accidentalization, the sovereign right not to own and avow consequence, points to the evisceration of the contingent ethical encounter as an ontological possibility opened by the contretemps.

Derrida’s event machine can communicate with Foucault’s diagrammatic of power, termed the dispositif, despite the latter’s predominant structuring trajectory and its unclarified relation to destructuration, though it is related to the unsaid as much as to discourse networks. The dispositif, or power/knowledge apparatus, is etymologically related to the verb to dispose in its oldest sense of placing things apart at proper distances and in proper positions with regard to each other, to place suitably, to adjust; to arrange in a particular order.24 For Foucault this apparatus is

a thoroughly heterogeneous ensemble consisting of discourses, institutions, architectural forms, regulatory decisions, laws, administrative measures, scientific statements, philosophical, moral and philanthropic propositions—in short the said, as much as the un-said. Such are the elements of the apparatus. The apparatus itself is the system of relations that can be established between these elements. Secondly, what I am trying to identify in this apparatus is precisely the nature of the connection that can exist between these heterogeneous elements….In short, between these elements, whether discursive or non-discursive, there is a sort of interplay of shifts of position and modifications of function which can also vary very widely. Thirdly, I understand by the term ‘apparatus’ a sort of…formation which has as its major function at a given historical moment that of responding to an urgent need. The apparatus thus has a dominant strategic function.25

However, by placing the Foucauldian dispositif in conversation with Althusser’s “dispositive” (used to characterize Machiavelli’s political theory of the aleatory), Nick Hardy relates the dispositif to the political capture of chance that echoes Derrida’s aporetic event machine. The dispostif/dispositive orders at several levels of structuration and destructuration: “The first is the production of a ‘continuous present’ that gives form and content to social existence. The second is the ‘overdetermination of repetitious events’ so that recurrent entities, things, and circumstances are mostly, or even totally, formed within the parameters–and therefore the ‘rules’–of a dispositif. The third is the ‘negation of unexpected events’…this is Foucault’s argument that a dispositif responds to “an urgent need” (emphasis mine).26 The deployment of the dispositive/dispositive in anticipating and even producing the aleatory (proposed by Hardy), implies that the accident cannot be thought separately from the techno-logical; and this mediology of the accidental means that we can no longer think political form by way of essence but must think of it by means of the accidental and the aleatory.

Fronts and Frontalities

The accidentalization of the accident requires the self-substitution of the state, as a fixed point, as constituted power, for, as Louis Althusser observes of the statist capture of the aleatory as a criteria of political viability: “…supposing that this place…[of the political]…is a point, it would not be fixed, but mobile–better still, unstable in its very being, since all its effort must tend towards giving itself existence: not a transient existence…but historical existence.”27 The self-surpassing of the fixed point of the state marks the difference between the front and the frontier in war as the threshold between constituted and constitutive power, between procedural duration and the contretemps. The front is the facade of an instituted sovereignty–the frontality of implanted procedural force. Derrida writes of the front:

Frons names what faces, at the highest part of the head and the chef (kephale, caput) above the gaze, at the capital height of what is capital, the capitol, capital itself. On the eminent face or façade of what is most sovereign, the head, oriented locality, a surface of exposure but also of protection turned toward the outside, ily a lieu de faire front, as one says in French, that is, there is place and reason to form a front, a united front, to close ranks against the outside, or even against the outsider and stranger…frons, in Latin,…is also, in this figure of the figure and the face, a territorial limit, the frontier of a self-styled sovereign state when it means to defend itself by attacking on a battle line, at the moment of forming a united front against the invasion of the stranger or the enemy.28

Unlike the front, the frontier, as the edge zone of war and its conceptualizations, is a faceless, virtualizing, and constitutive power in media res that deposits fronts in sequence that become serially obsolete in the wake of war’s passage as the unfolding of counter-times. The frontline initially appears as an instituted space, the border zone where the state as an intensive totality is deposited. However the front is both a ground and an abyss upon which the state both reposes and displaces itself. The front is Althusser’s aleatory void–the countertemporal and accidentalized zone exemplified. The trench warfare of War I concretized the stasiology of modern war as the self-cancelling auto-consumption of antagonistic, yet essentially identical, underwriting materialities/mediologies that accelerated the war-drive toward a subsumption of substance culminating in the hyper-dematerialization of war. This was the secret other side of Ernst Jünger’s analogy of the battlefield to the factory. War becomes capitalism’s simulation and theatricization of its self-destructive acceleration, which capital itself never truly undergoes in its totality.29 The polemological logic, territorial predication, and aesthetic of trench war (the very epitome of the self-negating front) were but crude topographic precursors of an emerging topology of the state-in-war as a formation in stasis.

Around what object, space, or event can a front now be formed? Recently the ontology of the front has become so fractured that its institution gravitates to a singular punctum, like 9/11 or 7 /7, rendered momentous in search of the lost gravity that enabled the normative cohesions of the front–a pull that such anniversaries find difficult to exert with each surpassing of the front-line, each jettisoning of a previously grounded and now disposable front. The commemorative date is given a face because the enemy that punctured that punctum lacks one. The aleatory frontier unfolds the dissolution of the systematized front that accompanies the serial dissolution of a stabilized frontality of the enemy. From this locus of citational failure, wherein justification slips invisibly into dejustification, arises the shibboleth of the front(s) called ground zero, of multiple aleatory voids, as origin, rule, currency, debt, withdrawing abyss, hole, crevice, dead memory, and attentional apparatus authorizing one war and death after another in an infinite kill chain, and doing so each time with greater and greater counter-temporal retentional loss of both value, memory, and accessible and achievable targets and ends.

The frontier of war, as that which borders the codified borders of war, expresses the concept of the concept of war in marking all that which is as yet unthinkable in war and its various constative fronts and checkpoints, both territorial and ideological. The frontier affronts the war front, waging internal war against its own juridification and against the fixed hegemonic frontality of war’s facades through the hyperkinesis and hyperperformance of violence that turns against the normative grounding of jus ad bellum. Claudia Baracchi communicates with Althusser’s surpassment of a fixed punctum of the state by identifying the mobile frontier in Plato’s figuration of war:

In the dialogue on the politeia…war emerges as a mode of motion. Discourse itself, opening up in its temporality, belongs to motion. This is…true of the discourse in and through which war is enacted. Such a discourse is…a mode of war, a mode of that unique mode of motion which is war.30

The becoming war of the state is a groundless self-evacuating kinesis which implants sovereignty effects in site-specific frontiers of slaughter and terror, and as conceptual frontiers beyond juridified war. Acceleration is the contretemps technicized, a temporal ordering of the anachronique, as an implanted effect and accidentalization of war. If war and its discourses are modes of motion, then the state as a fixed point cannot be encapsulated as the fully constituted author or arkhé (origin) of that motion; the mode of motion of war registers the difference between instated fronts and murky frontiers, as a formative shapelessness and anticipatory topos that lies ahead of any legible political shape as the threshold of war. Topology is concerned with how bodies, discourses, and spaces are to be organized and related and with the political connectivity arising from these fronts. For Schürmann, in contrast, anticipatory topology is the anachronous frontier and aleatory void open to and structured by the contretemps that, “…deals with a possible historical locus, one already given, yet still to be occupied; thus it is a locus spaced out from within. Its description is first of all negative, since topos here no longer signifies any region of beings whose relations can be maximized to produce some archic referent.”31

Of the Ordering of Mishaps

Part and parcel of the accidentalization of war is that we have misplaced the enemy through geopolitical obsolescence (the collapse of bi-polar geopolitics in 1989) and from that dislocation have lost war itself. For Ernst Jünger this was foreshadowed by an emerging reversioning infrastructure of serialized weaponry. Writing in 1957, he observes that war is won not by heroic onslaughts and battles, but by rapidly making one’s own weaponry obsolete: “Weapons vanished in the abyss like fleeting images, like pictures one throws into the fire. New ones were produced in protean succession.”32 Jünger presents modern war as consuming itself, as a visual culture of technical, serial, cinematized disappearance, auto-erasure or retraction as the transitive infrastructure of technocratic war. Kittler only encountered technocratic negativity in the subject-decentering imperceptibility of automatic retention and retrieval machines–such negativity was the perceptual contretemps of a dismediated gaze that failed to capture the post-anthropomorphic Real of informational automatism.33. Jünger, whose thinking through of war begins with the banishment of pain as a Schmittian zone of technical political neutralization, eschews, in The Glass Bees and other writings, the technical positivity of war locating its auto-consumption in its auto-acceleration as the counter time of technological evolution. Technical seriality and self-substitution is an accident that befalls the war drive as state formation. In contrast to Kittler’s Aufschreibesysteme, in which information flows constitute the unrecuperable Real, Jünger’s notion of war is shaped by auto-erasing automatisms, both technical and political, as a generic immunology of polemology. Much the same can be said of another protean series of disapparition, that of the ever-receding metonymy of disappearing, replaceable, and unreliable enemies of the war on terror, who, in not being protological, but only derivative, can no longer function as indexical substrates from which American sovereignty can be globally projected. The unstable and recessional enemy points to the accidentalization of the enemy as the enemy’s shapeshifting through aleatory encounter–sovereignty’s serial consumption of its other by which it moves through time and space. One example of this, discussed in Archives of the Insensible, is the practice of biometrical counterfeiting of Afghani civilians as Taliban combatants murdered by American kill teams.34

In order for the encounter that results in counterfeited antagonists to take place, there must already been a kill chain in the making–cartographies, names, chronologies, photographies, and metadata, standing against all spatial and temporal dispersion, that promise a rendezvous predicated on the exclusion of noncoincidence. This barricade of the kill chain assemblage arrayed against the contretemps folds into itself in an implosion that paradoxically sustains political enchainment. The contretemps of collateral damage is the trace of the enemy that is erased as that trace. The victims and ruins of collateral damage constitute the nonarrival of the enemy; they materialize a missive that has missed its mark, an illegibility gone astray, scratched out, and misaddressed. The victim of collateral damage is the envoy of the enemy in withdrawal, a postal artifact of war, and a dead letter that has been dispatched and canceled in place of the terminal enemy whom the collaterally damaged simulate and evoke. The collaterally damaged carry the death of the other, the proper enemy, without witnessing that death; the collaterally damaged are engaged to the death of the absent and surviving hostile, the proper and capitalized target, through a dematerialized kill chain. There is no actual relation between them, for that Other, as what is reified as the proper enemy is more often than not, phantasmatic; thus the kill chain, that seems to underwrite and unwrite these two figures, is spun out into invisibility and elliptical disconnection enabling the chain’s prolongation into infinity. Even Bin Laden became his own collateral damage through his death and disposal at sea–his killing and corpse were not allowed to be publicly witnessed but only declared and abruptly withdrawn like Poe’s purloined letter, which was announced and put into simulacral circulation without ever being substantively divulged. The collaterally damaged die under the name of the enemy that affects their very being, and yet are merely the name of that name which is not a name, and thus rendered unnamable under the ahumanity of the name that befalls them as an essential accident. The victims-targets have no part in the enemy but are of him by virtue of the accidentalized name; they are a fractured, fragment of a name that restages what is not there–the reason and measure of war. They are the non-name of the name “enemy” that their wounds and death incarnate and nominate, and thus the collaterally damaged are structurally anonymized by an action in which the endowment of the accidentalizing name is politically more significant than the given name itself. All names of such targets assigned by war function as accidents, as mishaps, and as anachronous inadequations that befall the damaged before and after their death. This suggests that naming is the protological counter-time and essential accident that occurs at and as the inception of war, as the medium of unavoidable inadequation by which the accidentalization of war is founded and triggered. The weaponized name, like Jünger’s weaponry, is subjected to serial and automated obsolescence. War, like the collaterally damaged, begins in aphoristic certainty vulnerable to the contretemps, as “an economy or strategy of mastery that knows very well how to potentialize meaning…it says the truth in the form of the last judgment, and this truth carries [porte] death.”35

Collateral damage as the nonarrival of the enemy is atopic, without place, and anachronic, a nontime within wartime. The untimely dead of collateral damage are the dispatched who cannot be claimed and who have to be disappropriated and re-sent as inessential death and apology. The accretions, ruins, and remainders of admitted and deniable collateral damage become the unwritten archive of the unarchivable and the uninheritable. They are the “now” of the untimely, unthinkable, and unspeakable time of war time, a singularity of the here and now without presence and an irreplaceable dislocation of the present that puts out of joint the authority and historical experience of the “what is.” It is from this counter-archive of the contretemps that the only critical ethics of the war archive and the only just liquefaction of its petrifying memory and amnesia can be witnessed and advanced.

For the state, however, this residue must be depoliticized and dehistoricized as collateral, as untimely and dislocated, as incidental and accidental, but only in terms of what is politically determined under the name of an appropriate destination: a terminal enemy as a proprietary artifact of war over and against the collaterally damaged, as its discredited yet supplementary derivative which makes of collateral damage the essential accident and necessary possibility of the war on terror. Collateral damage is no inadvertency, for it preempts any singular target as a terminus and conserves both the enemy and the ends of war as a surplus return to come. The deaths and wounds of collateral damage condense the anomaly of an enemy promised and an enemy vanished in the same form and media.

Aphasic Archives

For Reiner Schürmann, if a transcendental and norm-endowing ground of war could be identified, it would echo Jünger’s serial obsolescence as a “system where representations of ground replace each other across the ages.”36 For Schürmann, an instituted and weaponized arkhé such as ground zero or the structuring enemy is “an historical entity grounded on other historical entities…which is to ground nothing at all.”37 The polemological origin as transcendental justification and ground is not a noun but a verb and a command that has been “perverted” into a referent. In many ways the arkhé as ground is a shibboleth, a performative password empty of intrinsic content, a void point, the cut of a nonsignifying difference, and “the grillwork of policing, normalization, and methodical subjugation.”38 However, in the degrounding and grinding up of norm and ground, the figures and relationality of both the sovereign subject and its polemological Other fall into a retentional contretemps. In war, sovereignty is archived in the figuration of the enemy under house arrest as a hostage, memorandum, support, transport, and historical substrate and subjectile of sovereignty. Sovereignty in war is effective only in being submitted to a mimetic-prosthetic logic of self-substitution and autokinesis that proceeds by way of the state’s serialized passage into and through the singular bodies of others from which dispersed multiplicity is assembled the Other One–the structuring enemy–to which sovereignty can be opposed, in which it is determined in negation, and from which it extracts and amplifies its Oneness.

War, in its destruction and technicity, can be remapped as hypomnēmata, the transitive, supplemental, artificed devices that strive to support, repeat, and preserve the political memory of sovereignty in prosthetic media. In the classical Hellenic-Latin world, hypomnēmata were originally copybooks of memoranda, account books, public registers, individual notebooks, dream books, and guides of conduct. Foucault stresses that hypomnēmata enabled the “defragmentation” of experience and discourse and hence the minimization of the encounter with the contretemps. The will to archive relies on a duration, a retentionality and retrieval that stands against the interruption of the accident. Foucault moves beyond the utility of hypomnēmata as an external support of memory in relating it to self-government, that is to autonomy and sovereignty. He associated hypomnēmata with apparatuses that enable the permanent relation of self to self, described as the self-subjection of a subject through an external supplement. As Reiner Schürmann elaborates in reference to Foucault’s schema of subjectivation:

“Self-identity,” endlessly invoked, thus results from interiorized, although heteronomous, subjection. Self-identity is self-objectivation accepted and enforced as self-subjection.39

Though Foucault eschewed apical models of political sovereignty, in his discussion of techniques of the self in relation to prosthetic memory supports he provides an archival theory of political sovereignty as self-subjugation through a dispositif of self-othering that forestalls, anticipates, and is conditioned by the contretemps of rebellion:

the constitution of a permanent relationship to oneself–one must manage oneself as a governor manages the governed…this new idea that virtue consists essentially in perfectly governing oneself, that is, in exercising upon oneself as exact a mastery as that of a sovereign against whom there would no longer be revolts.40

The archival supplement preserves against all decenterings, all contretemps, the sovereignty of the subject and ultimately the subject of sovereignty. Here the government of “self” through hypomnēmata assembles a transitive sovereignty that takes form and place through the passage into the supplemental and archival Other as a site of self-limitation, an enfolding materialization instated by an illimitable sovereign subject.

Derrida terms the recursive coil and subjectifying permanence formed by retentional interfaces ipsocracy, the being-same of oneself as a principle of autonomy and sovereignty; the Latin intensive pronoun ipse (self, or same) is a kratia, a power or capability, as a self-positing and self-determining will to continuity, knowledge, and autonomy.41 With both Foucault and Derrida, this sovereign self-positing and self-posing must pass through an ex-posure, an alterity and a template of self-substitution–the hypomnēmatic interface, be that a book, a mirror, a weapon, or another body, a topography or phantasm such as the structuring enemy (as diversely discussed by Hegel, Kojeve, and Fanon), and this locus of retentional passage-through may become the potential site of contretemps inferred by Foucault in his pairing of mastery and rebellion in the above passage. The political thought of Foucault and Derrida point to the archival support, substrate, and subjectum as the difference, the externality, the adjunct and citational device that mediates and constitutes the unity, the presence of a sovereign subject to itself in a polemological economy of attention/retention that organizes the semiosis of war. The sovereign apparatus repeats itself through violence, not only in its subjugated subjects, but also in the subjecting subjects of this signifier who are dispersed across a skein of mimetic sites and agencies from the security apparatus to the figure of the structuring enemy itself.

However, Foucault did not contemplate the contretemps of prostheticization, the revolt, infidelity, and resistance of hypomnēmata–the withdrawal of the prosthetic as a purely retentional apparatus and its mutation into an errant and radicalized attentional apparatus. This mimetic subversion currently takes shape as the serial withdrawal, recession, retraction, and obsolescence of the structuring enemy as a pharmakon (a toxin and remedy) who threatens the loss of war, as we name and know it, by virtue of the generative powers of disapparition that can emerge from the fulcrum of the dangerous supplement as identified by Derrida.42 The attentional autonomy of vicarious and phantasmatic threat and risk coincides with the peripatetic and unreliable and endlessly asymmetrical enemy, infinitely asymmetrical with itself, that no longer succors citational expectations crucial to the replication of a molar sovereignty. The amputation of an organ of retentionality leaves a nonconserving disidentity and severing countertime. The reversioned and autonomous attentional apparatus produces the circulating counter-times of failed or dead memory. If the functional and domesticated hypomnēmata sustained a materiality and spatiality of memory that carried and extended the political subject conserved by this support, then the radicalized attentional apparatus, which has jettisoned retentional norms, forms, and functions, supports only the immateriality of that sovereign subject. The political economy of retention/attention is atomized into terrorizing and unmasterable, yet potent, fragments of autokinetic memory of threat, hazard, and radical contingency that cohere into a securocratic economy of the aleatory and the accidentalized. The errant enemy as protentional threat can be neither rejoined nor dialectically conserved and mastered. If the recessional enemy is a specter of a lost sovereignty, going to war against the attentional/recessional phantasm attempts to reactively organ-icize a now deferred political subjecthood through materialities of death and damage. This is the political will to both install and, more important, to be seen to install, a new regime of conserving political-archival positivity arrayed against all political invisibilities within the visible. A mobile multiplicity of enemies also implies a parallel multiplicity of counter-temporal sovereignties that posit and pursue the multiplying errancy and unpunctuality of the enemy. This self-partitioning and self-substitution of sovereignty in the repetition and contretemps of the receding enemy is only poorly grasped by appealing to the Schmittian state of exception, which presumes a stabilized and stabilizing “public enemy” and a mirroring molar Archimedean state apparatus. If the state reproduces its self, as Walter Benjamin proposed, through a permanent state of emergency as an interruption of normative time, or if, as Schmitt asserts, the “One” (to hen) is infinitely in uproar (stasiazon) against itself, then the question of the designed technopolitical contretemps becomes unavoidable.43 This returns us to a Spinozan notion of sovereignty as an abyssal place of indistinction, between order and self-sedition, proper time and the contretemps.44 There is no inherently foundational norm or legality from which the sovereign apparatus could except and exempt itself. All such norms have been instituted in preemptive relation to the threat of the contretemps that precedes and founds it. Warfare, as force protecting, retracting, and subtracting itself from itself through stasiological counter-temporalities, predicates violence through the latter’s indemnifying self-defacement and designed accidentalization, which becomes the condition of war’s presentation as lawfare.45 As forces in stasis, as conflictual and countervailing movements and culminating suspensions of each other, warfare and lawfare are neither exclusively interior nor external to each other, but are braided in a Möbius strip of productive and structuring dissonance, countertimes, and discontinuity. In this reciprocal hosting and hostaging of law and war there is a crosscutting di-visibility of power–war divides law against itself to produce the justifiability of violence, and law divides war against itself to produce its “justice.”

Containerization: The Accident as Kill Box

The break with justificatory ground in war and the resultant normative discontinuity, that is the condition of possibility of designed accidentalization, takes shape as the “containerization” of war. Containerized war is analogous to capitalist containerization, which fuses mobility, the evasion of legal accountability, and civil and public oversight with deferring invisibility and secrecy–what Alan Sekula terms the “serial discipline of the box.”46 Economic containerization is the stratagem of re-siting, dispersal, and disconnection that permits new mobilities and motilities of power, which expand corporatist predation and legal impunity. However, warfare’s aleatory traversal of such economic and political forms precludes any reductive determination of state violence by capital or the reverse. As Étienne Balibar puts it: “Violence [Gewalt] circulates, in a way that is fundamentally uncontrollable, between politics and economics.”47 This aleatoric circulation that connects war and political economy through a heterogeneous knot-work of countertimes points to an-archic relationality between economy and war as predatory, hyperconcentrated technicities of value extraction that meet at contingent points, though not always in encompassing synthesis. War and capital are situated, without fusion, in a matrix of accelerated liquidity, dissolution, and fragmentation that consequently accelerates the flux and mutability of their relations. They converge in a politics of abstractive destruction where the extermination of value becomes the inaugural point for the institution of value through the renewable exploitation of geostrategic and embodied substrates of threat, risk, and insecurity. Aleatory power extracts value from the contretemps as it drifts and swerves, thereby provisioning the securitizing project with expanding scenic prospects and newly encumbered bodies of value extraction and containment. Containerized war is the deconsolidation and deverticalization of the productive sites of power–the off-shoring of governmentality through site-specific installations of sovereignty. This mobile teleprompted grid is rapidly transposable across diverse political borders that are reversioned as “kill boxes.”

Containerized war is an organogenesis in which the increasingly detachable organ of war is no longer a subordinate organ of the state, but rather of the state’s dis-organ-ization and accidentalization. The self-amputating prosthetics of the state opens up a politics of the contretemps made up of contingent decompositions, recompositions, and a vertigo of the state from which any norm provisioning ground or finality has been cut away. The organ of war negates its own concept and triggers a contretemps in becoming abgrund, ungrounded and detachable as a self-referential, self-legislating, and self-constituting accidentalization of force. The drone form, as a severed and self-organizing prosthetic, is not a technical prosthetic or sub-routine of the war on terror, but heuristic in being shut up, like the sovereign in a kill chain, in the solitude of its proper duration, which promises the synchrony of a rendezvous with the enemy who may arrive in name only.


Agamben, Giorgio, 2009. What is an Apparatus and Other Essays, translated by David Kishik and Stefan Pedatella, Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Althusser, Louis. 2001. Machiavelli and Us. Translated by François Matheron. London and New York: Verso.

Balibar, Étienne. 1998. Spinoza and Politics. London and New York: Verso.

Balibar, Étienne. 2009. “Reflections on Gewalt.” Historical Materialism 17: 99-125.

Baracchi, Claudia. 2002. Of Myth, Life and War in Plato’s Republic. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Derrida, Jacques. 1981. Dissemination. Translated by Barbara Johnson. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Derrida, Jacques. 1997. The Politics of Friendship. Translated by George Collins. New York: Verso.

Derrida, Jacques. 2002. Without Alibi. Edited by Peggy Kamuf. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Derrida, Jacques. 2005. Rogues: Two Essays on Reason. Translated by Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Derrida, Jacques. 2005. Sovereignties in Question: The Poetics of Paul Celan. Edited by Thomas DuToit and Outi Pasanen. New York: Fordham University Press.

Derrida, Jacques. 2008. “Aphorism Countertime.” Translated by Nicholas Royle. Psyche: Inventions of the Other Volume 2. Stanford: Stanford University Press 127-142.

Derrida, Jacques. 2012. “Unconditionality or Sovereignty: The University at the Frontiers of Europe.” Belgrade Journal of Media and Communications 1: 13-29.

Derrida, Jacques. 2016. Heidegger: The Question of Being and History. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Farneti, Roberto. 2006. “Of Humans and Other Portentous Beings: On Primo Levi’s Storie Naturali.” Critical Inquiry 32, no. 4: 724-740.

Feldman, Allen. 2015. Archives of the Insensible: of War, Photopolitics and Dead Memory. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Foucault, Michel. 1980. “The Confession of the Flesh.”, in Colin Gordon (ed.), Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977. New York: Pantheon Books.

Foucault, Michel. 1984. “On the Genealogy of Ethics: An Overview of a Work in Progress.” In A Foucault Reader, edited by Paul Rabinow. New York: Vintage Books, 340-372.

Nicholas J. Hardy, 2015. “Alea Capta Est: Foucault’s Dispositif and Capturing Chance,” Foucault Studies, No. 19, June, 191-216.

Jünger, Ernst. 1993. “Total Mobilization” in The Heidegger Controversy, edited by Richard Wolin. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 119–139.

Jünger, Ernst. 2000. The Glass Bees. New York: New York Review of Books.

Kittler, Friedrich. 1999. Gramophone, Film, and Typewriter. Translated by Geoffrey Winthrop-Young and Michael Wutz. Stanford CA: Stanford University Press.

Ronell, Avital. 2012. Loser Sons: Politics and Authority. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Schmitt, Carl. 2008. Political Theology II: The Myth of the Closure of any Political Theology. London: Polity Press.

Schürmann, Reiner. 1985. “‘What Can I Do?’ In an Archaeological- Genealogical History.” The Journal of Philosophy 82, no. 10: 540—547.

Schürmann, Reiner. 1990. Heidegger on Being and Acting: From Principles to Anarchy. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Schürmann, Reiner. 2003. Broken Hegemonies. Translated by Reginald Lilly. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Sekula, Alan. 2000. “Freeway to China.” Public Culture 12, no. 2: 411-422.

  1. Derrida, Aphorism Countertime, 137-142.
  2. Jacques Derrida, Heidegger, 141.
  3. Ibid., 141.
  4. Ibid., 132-133
  5. Michel Foucault, “Friendship as a Way of Life,” 312; Louis Althusser, Machiavelli and Us
  6. Farneti, “Of Humans,” 726.
  7. Aristotle, Prior Analytics.
  8. Machiavelli, Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livy.
  9. Derrida, “Aphorism Countertime.” See also Werner Hamacher, “N’Essance,” 212.
  10. Derrida, Aphorism Countertime, 136.
  11. Derrida, Psyche, 130.
  12. Hamacher, “N’essance,” 214.
  13. Derrida, Dissemination, 114.
  14. Ibid., 128
  15. Ibid., 128.
  16. Hamacher, “N’essance,” 214.
  17. Ronell, Loser Sons, 87-88.
  18. Derrida, Without Alibi, 72.
  19. Ibid., 74.
  20. Ibid., 74.
  21. Hamacher, N’essance, 214.
  22. Derrida, Without Alibi, 72.
  23. Ibid., 74.
  24. Agamben relates the dispositif to dispositio, defined as “a pure activity of governance devoid of any foundation in being.” This absense of foundation infers a relation between governance and the contretemps, and the systematization of this relation that he terms economia infers accidentalization—the essential accident which Agamben associates with providential rule. This regulated distantiation connects to Derrida’s association of the contretemps with the separation of monads, infinite distance, and the disconnection of experiences. Agamben, What Is an Apparatus and Other Essays, 5.
  25. Foucault, “The Confession of the Flesh,” 195.
  26. Hardy, “Alea Capta Est“, 191-216.
  27. Althusser, Machiavelli and Us, 21.
  28. Derrida, “Unconditionality or Sovereignty,” 13-14.
  29. Jünger, “Total Mobilization, 119-139.
  30. Baracchi, Of Myth, Life, and War in Plato’s Repulic, 153.
  31. Reiner Schürmann, Heidegger on Being and Acting, 288.
  32. Jünger, Ernst. The Glass Bees, 74.
  33. Kittler, Gramophone, Film, and Typewriter.
  34. Feldman, Archives of the Insensible, 69-116.
  35. Derrida, Aphorism Countertime, 128-129.
  36. Reiner Schürmann, Heidegger on Being and Acting, 288.
  37. Ibid, 288.
  38. Derrida, Sovereignties in Question, 30.
  39. Schürmann, “What Can I Do?,” 540-47.
  40. Foucault, On the Geneology of Ethics, 363.
  41. Derrida, Rogues, 11-17, 45.
  42. Derrida, The Politics of Friendship, 84.
  43. Schmitt, Political Theology II, 122.
  44. Balibar, Spinoza and Politics, 68.
  45. The concept of stasis here partially references the classical Greco-Latin concept of an agonistic division and/or paralysis of a polity, as well as the progression of a disease through a body, including a body politic. Stasis invokes the Latin cognate, sēditiō (sedition), a going aside, a going apart, an insurrectionary separation.
  46. Sekula, “Freeway to China, 411.
  47. Balibar, “Reflections on Gewalt,” 113.

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Allen Feldman

Allen Feldman, a pioneer in the ethnography of violence, the body, and the senses, is the author of Archives of the Insensible: Of War, Photopolitics and Dead Memory (University of Chicago, 2015) and Formations of Violence: the Narrative of the Body and Political Terror in Northern Ireland (1991).