Seeing Syria, differently

photography and its publicsThanks so much to Melissa Miles and Edward Welch for including my chapter, “Hospitable Looking: Towards a Different Way of Seeing the War in Syria,” in Photography and Its Publics. This chapter builds on the paper I presented (thanks for that invitation too!) at a symposium by the same name in Prato, Italy, a few years ago.  In “Hospitable Looking,” I reflect on the pattern of optimism that global publics seem to evince about images from the war in Syria: the sense that each new photographic revelation of atrocity will be the one that finally compels an end to this conflict. Tracing the upwellings of this optimism, I explore the vexed, often solipsistic assumptions about spectatorial empathy that underpin it.  Ultimately, I argue that this conflict requires a different visual ethics.

Who Cries for U.S. Empire?

imperial benevolence Imperial Benevolence: U.S. Foreign Policy and American Popular Culture Since 9/11, a smart new anthology edited by Scott Laderman and Tim Gruenewald, includes my chapter, “Imperial Cry Faces: Women Lamenting the War on Terror.”

In it, I explore the trope of the crying female agent of state power in popular culture depictions of contemporary American warfare, and map the currents of gender, sadness, and imperial violence embodied by characters like Carrie Mathison in Homeland.  Rather than analyzing the representations of these frail female warriors, I instead consider the political complexities of their crying in context.  Ultimately, I demonstrate that this type of lamentation, which might read as a critique of American militarism, serves actually to sustain it.

art therapy for indefinite detention

artworksCultural Studies  recently published a special issue on the theme of “Mediating Affect” (edited by Sarah Cefai).  I’m so pleased to be a part of it with my article, “Fictive Intimacies of Detention: Affect, Imagination and Anger in Art from Guantánamo Bay.”  This project is, essentially, a critique of the fetishization of detainee cultural production, on the grounds that it frequently shades into a minimization of the harms of detention and depends on the occlusion of detainee political subjectivity.

The abstract:

For many American critics of the ongoing war on terror, the detainees held at places like Guantánamo Bay function as objects of intense affective investment,generating anger, sympathy, or pity. But with very few exceptions, the people who experience such feelings for the detainees will never meet them. Kept unbridgeably distant from outsiders, these detainees embody political subjectivities that are unknowable (and perhaps unthinkable) to the people inspired to outrage by their circumstances. In this paper, I query the role of mediation in sustaining these lopsided affective connections, which depend on imagining the detainees: who they are, what they want, and how they feel. This imagination has lately been facilitated by access to artistic productions by the detainees, their writings, and visual art; I argue that these objects provide outsiders with a tantalizing but fictive experience of intimacy with their creators. Heavily promoted and explicitly framed as windows on detainee interiority, these works are generally circulated without any explanation from the detainees themselves, as if their meaning is self-evident and their emotional content is transparently expressive. Yet, the anger of the detainees cannot fully appear in any of these displays, and this occlusion enables the art to function as a conduit for affective investments in the detainees. Most descriptions of affect emphasize its essential intersubjectivity, the ways it spreads, catches, and circulates between bodies, but the desired affective linkage in this case is predicated on, and perhaps animated by, the inaccessibility of the other bodies involved. The imagination required to sustain it, I suggest, depends on the construction of the detainees as passive and apolitical, with their artistic productions as supporting evidence.

what would 330 suicide car bombings look like?

Figure 1

Earlier this month, Critical Studies in Media Communication published my article on ISIS and infographic visual practice.

The article is part of a special issue, edited by the Mehdi Semati and Piotr M. Szpunar entitled “ISIS Beyond the Spectacle: Communication Media, Networked Publics, Terrorism.”  I was eager to contribute not only because Mehdi and Piotr sent me a very flattering invitation, but also because their project coheres with my methodological commitment to looking past the most obvious visual artifacts and practices of militarized violence.

Here is the abstract:

Compared to the more spectacular elements of its media repertoire—the slick recruitment campaigns on social media, the artfully composed battlefield footage, the grisly executions—I.S.I.S.’s infographics may seem dull, even trivial. Indeed, these data visualizations have gone largely unremarked, eliciting more bemusement than serious consideration. Against the tendency to discount these images, however, I argue that when I.S.I.S. turns toward charts and diagrams to represent its operations, it launches a stealthy but substantial epistemological challenge to media outlets that depict it as backward and irrational and rely on command of information as an index of Western power. Comparing infographics produced about I.S.I.S. and those produced by the group, I demonstrate that, despite their obvious differences, both types of infographics evince common preoccupations. Like Western news sources, I.S.I.S. creates infographics to map attacks, plot territorial gains, tally and categorize casualties, and track the types of weapons deployed. News media and I.S.I.S. infographics diverge primarily in their affective resonance, as similar information signifies in radically different ways. Ultimately, by producing and circulating these infographics, I.S.I.S. renders simultaneously renders itself more and less intelligible to outsiders: encapsulating its story while confounding prevailing representations as it weaponizes information.


hot off the (electronic) presses: my new article on “security glitches” is now available …

… in Science, Technology, & Human Values!  The full title is “Security Glitches: The Failure of the Universal Camouflage Pattern and the Fantasy of ‘Identity Intelligence.'”  The article is available here.

If you’d like to read the abstract beforFigure 2e you click:

Focusing on the paradoxes revealed in the multibillion dollar mistake of the Universal Camouflage Pattern (UCP) and the expansive ambit of a leaked National Security Agency briefing on its approach to “identity intelligence,” this article analyzes security glitches arising from the state’s application of mechanized logics to security and visibility. Presuming that a digital-looking pattern would be more deceptive than designs inspired by natural forms, in 2004, the US Army adopted a pixelated “digital” camouflage pattern, a print that rendered soldiers more, rather than less, visible in the field; it acknowledged this error in 2012. Two years later, “Identity Intelligence: Image Is Everything” visualized the episteme of National Security Agency surveillance with an illustration detailing hundreds of different types of data—biometric, biographic, and contextual—that the agency believes it could exploit to identify and monitor “targets of interest.” These glitches originate in technofetishistic convictions about the nature of digital images and information, limited ways of imagining bodies and lives, and reductive understandings of complex relationships between power and perception. Together, they expose the paradoxes that arise as the state tries to extend its power over the body and the contingency of that power on the smallest of things.

“unremarkable suffering: banality, spectatorship, and war’s in/visbilities”

It’s shameless self-promotion time again!  Wendy Kozol and I just published an article in In/Visible War: The Culture of War in Twenty-First-Century America (Rutgers UP, 2017), edited by Jon Simons and John Louis Lucaites.  Our chapter, “Unremarkable Suffering: Banality, Spectatorship, and War’s In/Visibilities” is an extended reflection on a 2008 photography and video project by Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, entitled “The Day Nobody Died.”  We describe “The Day Nobody Died ” as a “visual record of commonplace and seemingly unremarkable affective elements of soldiering that is  both exceedingly accurate and minimally precise.” Our analysis explores the revelatory potential latent in its ostensible ‘failure’ to capture the grisly truths of war.

invisible war


airports, once again

The wonderful people at the University of Massachusetts Press (who published my first book in 2014) recently asked me to write something for their blog about contemporary visualizations of American identity and terrorism.  I opted to write about airports, thinking through the key role that they have played in both the implementation of and protests against travel bans in recent months.  Airports figured centrally in my book, as loci for civilian acculturation to the rhythm
s and exigencies of the Global War on Terror and, thus, for the performance of new rituals of militarized citizenship.  And so I found it interesting that airports became sites of protest (and counter-protest) almost immediately after the announcement of the first Travel Ban, and were also transformed into sites of both grief and detention.

Click here for more.

just in time for summer reading – “ornamenting the unthinkable,” a new article from wendy kozol and yours truly

So excited to report that the article Wendy Kozol and I co-authored about the remarkable needlepoint work of Esther Nisenthal Krinitz has just appeared in WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly.  

In their introduction to the special issue, the editors–Taylor Black, Elena Glasberg, and Frances Bartkowski–frame survival as follows:

If survival has just one affective mode, it might be defiance—the feat and fate of living beings after injury, trauma, war, captivity, and natural disaster. It would also be the survival of words, signals, and germinal states of being in the world that we sometimes call natural, but that also encode the cultural landscape. A topography of ruins, trash, exhaustion, and depletion remains and reminds us of that which lives on after in a state of belatedness that is survival: the afterlife of what was not supposed to remain, that which was to have died, but did not, after all. Survival defies nostalgia, envy, and accusation. Survival in the realm of resources—whether human, animal, or mineral—gives the lie to a necropolitics, forcing the living, those living, and those living on to accede to a call from the future to turn away from that fallen angel of history (14).

WenWSQ coverdy and I analyze Krinitz’s work as a register of how the everyday process of surviving war lasts as long, or longer than the conflict itself, and consider how her art functions as a reparative practice that ameliorates the traumatic impacts of historical violence without ever succumbing to them.  We are drawn to Krinitz’s tapestries not only for their technical virtuosity and lush aesthetics (see the panels in person if you ever get the chance!) but for the way these dimensions stubbornly refuse to grant monstrosity authority over the beautiful.