Paper for Affect Theory Conference: Worldings, Tensions, Futures:
“Fictive Intimacies of Detention: Mediation, Affect, and the Activist Imagination of Guantánamo Bay”
This conference sounds so cool! And it’s just up the road! In mid-October, I’ll be heading to sunny Lancaster, PA to present this paper, which will eventually grow up to be part of a chapter in my next book, Figuring Violence. Here’s 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. Yet with very few exceptions, the people who experience such feelings on behalf of 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.
Most descriptions of affect emphasize its essential intersubjectivity, the ways it spreads, catches, and circulates between bodies, but this affective linkage is predicated on, and perhaps animated by, the inaccessibility of the other bodies involved. Media serve as conduits by which we imagine closeness to detainees we can never know, and who may not care to know us. Authorized images of them trickle out; heavily censored but widely available, we generally do not expect them to be revelatory. Alternatively, newly-accessible detainee artistic productions, their poems and paintings, provide a tantalizing but fictive experience of intimacy. Heavily promoted and explicitly framed as windows on detainee interiority, these creative works are displayed without any explanation from the detainees themselves, as if their meaning is transparent and emotional content self-evident. Yet the anger of the detainees cannot fully appear in any of these displays, which in turn enable their advocates to be righteously angry for them. Tracing these mediated short-circuits of affect, I argue that they obscure not only the unknowability of the detainees but the destructive transformations caused by detention itself.