“Unremarkable Suffering: Banality, Spectatorship, and War’s In/Visibilities”

Wendy Kozol and I have an article forthcoming in an anthology called In/Visible War: America’s 21st-Century Armed Conflicts.  This volume, edited by Jon Simons and John Louis Lucaites, is under contract with Rutgers University Press, and will be released as part of their War Culture series.  Here’s a snapshot of our contribution:

Critics of the American War on Terror have long called for an alternative optic to the relentlessly myopic perspective of American news media.  The presumption behind this call to look elsewhere is that doing so will reveal images that are authentic or compelling enough to disabuse American spectators of their ambivalence about the casualties of militarized violence.  This logic imagines the grisly ‘truth’ of war to happen somewhere beyond or outside the frame of mainstream representations of combat.  What happens, however, when conflict photographers who seek visually graphic and affectively searing images of war find only evidence of its banality?  In this chapter, we focus not on how suffering becomes banal in and through representation, but on the spectatorial possibilities opened up by visual objects that endeavor to capture the non-spectacular conditions that war engenders.  Our argument orbits around Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin’s photo and video project, The Day Nobody Died (2008), exploring their visualization of the unrepresentability of militarized violence as it moves along the axis of banality.  We propose what we call an ‘asymptotic approach’ to the scene of militarized violence, and ultimately reflect on the ethical potential opened up by apparent failures to witness or render it.