Saved by Zero

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Saved by Zero Sovereignty and (Super)Heroics after 9/11
Shepard, Herschel E
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[Gainesville, Fla.]
University of Florida
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Doctorate ( Ph.D.)
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University of Florida
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Boxes ( jstor )
Comic books ( jstor )
Death ( jstor )
Deconstruction ( jstor )
Fear ( jstor )
Heroism ( jstor )
Narratives ( jstor )
Terrorism ( jstor )
Violence ( jstor )
War ( jstor )
9-11 -- comics -- deconstruction -- derrida -- miller -- rushdie -- terror -- zero
English -- Dissertations, Academic -- UF
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English thesis, Ph.D.


Our current epoch has been described as "a time of terror" in recognition of the 9/11 attacks as a "ground-breaking," and so tremor-inducing, moment in American history. This project investigates the consequences of this naming. Indeed, so identifying such a time always already requires a taking of sides, covering over the terrifying effects of U.S. policy on the world and seeking to set the terms of any debate about such policy in advance. Informed by Jacques Derrida's later work on sovereignty,hospitality, and autoimmunity, and drawing from explications of this work by Michael Nass, Martin Hagglund, and Sam Kimball, my project elucidates some of the theoretical quandaries and possibilities inherent to living in this "time of terror," especially insofar as they bear on the kinds of heroic positions exemplified by author Salman Rushdie, whose memoir Joseph Anton locates heroism in an appreciation and resolute defense of "serious" art, and comic artist Frank Miller, who promoted his 2011 graphic novel Holy Terror as a piece of "propaganda" meant to inspire support for retaliatory violence against radical Muslims. Ultimately, I argue that an aporetic understanding of "terror" as both the instantiation of tremors in the existential subject and the attack that shakes the foundations leading to such tremors (thus as both the terror of the terror tactic and the terror behind the terror tactic itself) is an essential part of the Derridean "preparation" necessary to approaching the future as something other than (in Benjamin Barber's formulation) a tribal battleground or capitalist utopia and paves the way for thinking a Derridean alternative to heroism/terrorism, concepts enjoined by their aggressively non-critical character even as they are set in opposition by cultural ideologies around the world. I propose to call this alternative "zero-ism," a (self) critical positioning that counters violence without simply striking out in turn and that unfixes positions without simply breaking them. ( en )
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201 4 Herschel E. Shepard III 2


To Mom, Dad, Ana, and Sam 3


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I thank my parents for their love and support, my wife for her patience and eternal optimism, Dr. Leavey for seeing me through, Dr. Wegner and Dr. Ault for inspiration, Dr. Hatch for his enthusiasm, Frank for going first and starting over, Ranjan for Rushdie, Kevin, Chris , Justin, and Rush for creative escape, and Sam Kimball for everything . 4


TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS .................................................................................................. 4 ABSTRACT ..................................................................................................................... 7 CHAPTER 1 ALWAYS ALREADY TREMBLING —ON TERROR AND TIME ................................. 9 False Starts, First Steps, Giant Leaps ...................................................................... 9 Another Start to Start Again .................................................................................... 10 Terror and the Time of Life: Security, Mortality, and Radical Atheism .................... 17 Terror Trials to Transcend Time ............................................................................. 29 Notes ...................................................................................................................... 38 2 ZEROISM ................................................................................................................ 44 Terror at Every Turn ................................................................................................ 44 No Outside of Violence: Autoimmunity, Radical Atheism, and Counter Conception .......................................................................................................... 47 Approaching Ground Zero: Rushdie and Miller’s Missives from the Edge .............. 56 Something Missing, Nothing Found: Rotman and the Semiotics of Zero ................ 60 Terror, Textuality, and the Time to Come: Why the Zero is No Hero ...................... 65 Notes ...................................................................................................................... 69 3 STARTING OVER, STRIKING BACK —SALMAN RUSHDIE AND THE SOVEREIGN SELF ................................................................................................ 73 Salman Rushdies Everywhere ................................................................................ 73 Joseph Anton and the Price of Survival .................................................................. 85 The Mystery Move .................................................................................................. 90 The Mystery Marriage ............................................................................................. 94 The Mystery of Mystical Metaphoricity .................................................................... 98 Satan the Secul ar Saint of the Self: Is Salman Always Already Satanic? ............. 109 The Terror of Language and Indeterminacy .......................................................... 113 Misogyny and Marianne’s Metaphor ..................................................................... 122 Frames of Violence and the Cowering “Inferno” ................................................... 131 Derrida ’s Disappearing Act: Hospitality and the Terror of a Life Left Open ........... 140 Joseph Anton : Autobiography as Immolation ........................................................ 147 Notes .................................................................................................................... 151 4 HOLY TERROR, BATMAN! MIGHTY MILLER STRIKES OUT ............................. 156 Dark Dreams of a Dying World ............................................................................. 156 The Terror behind the Terror: Frank Miller Pulls the Trigger ................................. 159 5


Fear of Infection: Frederick Wertham and the Aporia of Interactivity .................... 175 The Artist (Did Not) Mak e Me Think It —Scott McCloud and the Future of Comics ............................................................................................................... 182 Fixin’ to Start: Frank Miller’s Holy Terror ............................................................... 185 Blind Justice: When Seeing Isn’t Believing, and Believing Isn’t Enough ............... 205 Of Masks and Men: When the Face Falls Away ................................................... 214 Those Neighborly Bastards Don’t Die Eas y: Boxing the Dead .............................. 219 The Fix Is In: Why Justice is Blind (and the Fixer is Blinder) ................................ 224 Atheism and Nihilism, or Why Dan Donegal Doesn’t Sleep .................................. 229 Notes .................................................................................................................... 234 5 SAVED BY ZERO —DECONSTRUCTIVE HEROISM ........................................... 237 Why Zeroism? ....................................................................................................... 243 Notes .................................................................................................................... 254 WORKS CITED ........................................................................................................... 255 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH .......................................................................................... 262 6


Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the D egree of Doctor of Philosophy SAVED BY ZERO: SOVEREIGNTY AND (SUPER)HEROICS AFTER 9/11 By Herschel E. Shepard III A ugust 201 4 Chair: John Leavey Major: English Our current epoch has been described as “a time of terror” in recognition of the 9/11 attac ks as a “groundbreaking,” and so tremor inducing, moment in American history. This project investigates the consequences of this naming. Indeed, so identifying such a time always already requires taking sides, covering over the terrifying effects of U.S. policy on the world, and seeking to set the terms of any debate about such policy in advance. Informed by Jacques Derrida’s later work on sovereignty, hospitality, and autoimmunity, and drawing from explications of this work by Michael Nass, Martin Hgglun d, and Sam Kimball, my project elucidates the theoretical quandaries and possibilities inherent to living in this “time of terror,” especially insofar as they bear on the kinds of heroic positions exemplified by author Salma n Rushdie, whose memoir Joseph A nton locates heroism in an appreciation and resolute defense of “serious” art, and comic artist Frank Miller, who promoted his 2011 graphic novel Holy Terror as a piece of “propaganda” meant to inspire support for retaliatory violence against radical Musli ms. A n aporetic understanding of “terror” as both the instantiation of tremors in the existential subject and the attack that shakes the foundations leading to such tremors 7


(thus as both the terror of the terror tactic and the terror behind the terror tact ic itself) is an essential part of the Derridean “preparation” necessary to approaching the future as something other than (in Benjamin Barber’s formulation) a tribal battleground or capitalist utopia. This understanding paves the way for thinking a Derridean alternative to heroism/terrorism, concepts enjoined by their aggressively noncritical character even as they are set in opposition by cultural ideologies around the world. I call this alternative “zeroism,” a (self )critical positioning that counters violence without simply striking out in turn and that unfixes positions without simply breaking them. 8


CHAPTER 1 ALWAYS ALREADY TREMBLING —ON TERROR AND TIME False Starts, First Steps, Giant Leaps A “ start ” can have several meanings.1 On one hand, as a noun it can mean “ a beginning of an action” or “ the first part or beginning segment ” of something; and as a verb, it can mean “ to begin or set out. ” A start can startle, as in “ a sudden, involuntary jerking movement. ” As a verb, “start” can also mean “ to spring, slip, or work loose from place or fastenings, as timbers or other structural parts, ” and thus it implies a kind of unfixing. In this sense, a “ start ” can serve as “ a chance, opportunity, aid, or encouragement, ” a helpful piece of advice that, in tearing down what had come before, opened up new avenues for thought. The play of these meanings is important to my own project, and provides me with an ironically appropriate “ place” to start, especially insofar as the unmooring s uch a start refers to also and at the same time implies a beginning point, a stable ground from which to step forth, even as “ starting ” simultaneously involves a kind of involuntary shock or surprise that could set one back. The ambiguities of a start, the n, help point to the aporia of the human journey, the “ start ” of every birth that inaugurates a countless series of starts culminating in a final “ start ” for which no one can be prepared in advance. None of us chooses to start, but all of us, by necessity, start again, over and over, on contingent paths, helped along and startled, perhaps at one and the same time, by those we encounter along the way. All too often, though, we understand our starting points to be simple moments of opportunity wherein we choose to proceed or 9


stay put, to move ahead and earn our way or to refuse to move, work, or commit, and so to fail. A start can also refer to “ the resulting break or opening ” from “ a starting of parts from their place or fas tenings on a structure”; it thus names both the act of opening and the opening itself. In this sense, a start is both a wound and a kind of wounding, perhaps resulting from an involuntary shock (a start) or a voluntary “ sudden, springing motion ” (start, again) which requires a firm ground. With every start, it seems, fortuity and collapse commingle; involuntary surprise and measured intent are intertwined.2 Another Start to Start Again On September 11, 2001, at least as the predominate U.S. mainstream media have narrati vi zed it, the United States suffered a start. The collapse of the World Trade Center left both a literal and a figurative (specifically, a metonymic) start in the country and the culture, the geographic opening at what is now called Ground Zero in New York City, and a gaping wound in the nation's heart. As Martin McQuillan eloquently explains, the towers "operated as a shorthand for the technomilitary capitalism that emerges from the West . . . the glorious monuments at the center of an Empire that stretches around the earth and to the frontiers of the imaginations of its subjects" ( Deconstruction after 9/11 5). If this start was a good start to start again for the country, one could argue that it instead resulted in an intensification of the unilateral hegemonic policies and t echnomilitary practices that had preceded it. So attest the subsequent military actions taken in Iraq and Afghanistan, the establishment of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, the passing of the Patriot Act and the technosurveillance measures put in pl ace in its wake, and the ever increasing development of military hardware and software that allow for killing to take place at a distance and "upclose" on high definition monitors. All 10


these developments serve to emphasize both the imperial might that the “terrorist enemy” (if such a phantasmatic other3 even can be identified in such singular fashion) so despises and the policies it seeks to undermine. If the absence of a policy behind these policies —let alone a coherent metalevel policy — were to be acknow ledged, if such a possibility ever presented itself in the time between that September morning and the inauguration of the “ time of terror ”4 that would designate the epoch dominated by the aforementioned policy decisions, surely such a starting point was never suggested to American audiences by the corporate media. A n article published on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks by investigative reporter Raymond Bonner emphasizes just how myopic t he Western media’s perspective was on the collapse of the t owers during the buildup to the Iraq War: l ike the politicians, journalists were consumed with the fear that there might be a terrorist attack they hadn't anticipated, and that there were Al Qaeda sleeper cells crawling around Europe. Newspapers deployed their resources accordingly. They were far less concerned about civil liberties. Editors long ignored isolated reports that the United States was holding suspected terrorists in secret prisons. “ We wouldn't publish it even if we knew, ” a senior editor at a major American newspaper said when it was suggested that his paper devote its impressive investigative talent to exposing the secret prisons. That outlook, formed by 9/11, was shared throughout the industry. It took four years before the “ secret prisons ” were exposed, by Dana Priest at the Washington Post (though her editors, at the request of the White House, withheld some of what she had found, including the countries that were cooperating with the U.S.).When reports began to emerge that suspects were being tortured, the Bush Administration came up with the euphemism “ enhanced interrogation techniques. ” We supinely went along. Indeed, t hese institutions and their voices —journalists, news anchors, editors — framed the moments in question as representative of a pervasive threat to the American 11


way of life and thus to the liberal democratic capitalist system of which that media conglomerate is so essential a part.5 We might , therefore, think the start of that September 11th morning as a kind of “false” start insofar as the mainstream media narrative of that day , and the accretion of cultural artifacts that have been produced in its wake, has come to define our present moment as a “time of terror,” thus establishing a horizon of interpretation of our current situation and precluding other readings of the time in question. In other words, the overwhelming series of images of and commentaries on the 9/11 attacks and their memorialization as an historical turning point for the nation and a critical event requiring a certain kind of serious recognition (and, of course, a swift and serious response in the form of political action, military strikes, security measures, and civic solidarity) have served to close down other possibilities for starting again, for thinking the time in which we live.6 Of Artifactuality and Forced Choices To t hink about the complexities and contradictions inherent to this start is to broach the necessity of think ing what Jacques Derrida called “artifactuality”; it is to consider that what we t end to perceive uncritically as the “real” world is “not given but actively produced, sifted, invested, performatively interpreted by numerous apparatuses which are factitious or artificial, hierarchizing and selective, always in the service of forces and interests to which ‘subjects’ and agents (producers and consumers of actuality —sometimes they are ‘philosophers’ and always interpreters, too) are never sensitive enough” ( Echographies of Television 4). Such thinking opens us up to the possibilities of ano ther start, one that is no doubt startling, troubling, indeed terrifying, 12


and yet also invigorating insofar as it refuses to close down a relation to the future that isn’t settled in advance by those hegemonic interests whose primary ideological tactic is to hide in plain sight. So long as we neglect to think through the artifactuality of our current situation, we will not be free to choose the possible future that we envision but will remain bound to decisions the “numerous apparatuses” to which Derrida alludes have decided for us , though this subjection will not appear as such. Instead, a certain pragmatic choice will be presented as an authentic existential demand: does one choose to support the Western liberal democratic market system and the freedom to work and consume within its horizon, or does one align oneself with the forces of terror (typically in the guise of fundamentalist Muslims) that resist the inevitable spread of global capitalism and the entrepreneurial liberty it champions? That this ex istential demand is a symptom of a certain artifactuality is convincingly demonstrated by David Sirota in his book Back to Our Future, in which he argues that “almost every major [American] cultural t ouchstone is rooted in the 1980s” (xx). Writing specifically about the 9/11 attacks, he contends that “rather than evoking self reflective questions about the consequences of our bellicosity and the inevitability of blowback, the terrorist attacks elicited ever more ‘80sthemed militarism” (131). After citing “ elder antiwar icons who had lived through the 1960s” like Todd Gitlin and Marc Cooper who “suddenly started sounding like unreformed Reaganites when the Twin Towers went down” and who “lashed out at antimilitarist voices,” he makes the case that “the few w ho questioned Rambostyle militarism and junta culture in the years after 9/11 . . . separate[d] themselves from almost everyone else, and certainly from debates over 13


national security —debates that quickly devolved into 1980s talking points” (131). He then deftly reconstructs the defining artifactual features of post 9/11 national security discourse: As the media incessantly beat the drum for war through Super Bowl esque television graphics and revengeflavored narratives, reporters “ embedded ” with American battalions filed propagandistic satellite dispatches that made the messy conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq seem like the perfectly executed military op erations featured in so many 80s flicks. At home, [George W. Bush] reenacted his father’s Gulf War performance by pledging fealty to “commanders on the ground,” portraying war opponents as troopspitters or America haters, and bragging, “ I make decisions here in the Oval Office in foreign policy matters with war on my mind. ” (131) This imperative to “choose” the right side (a choice effectively made in advance in terms of viable US political options, given the anti terror platforms of both major parties) continues to be central to the contention that we live today in a “time of terror.” As Sirota maintains, “ to put it in the Bush lexicon, you’re either with militarism or against our troops, and that eighties psychology leaves the most prescient cautions against the downsides of war inevitably marginalized, precisely as Rambo hoped” (138). Thinking the parameters of this forced choice is thus essential for understanding what remains unthought, covered over, perhaps even hidden in plain sight (but concealed nonetheless) about this time. Sirota’s argument for the crucial link between ' 80s culture and contemporary political attitudes dovetails nicely with Phil lip Wegner’s provocative understanding of 9/11 as a “second death, ” one that symbolically repeat s the fall of the Berlin Wall and that mak es clear the radical political, theoretical, and aesthetic possibilities that had opened up in the 90s after the Cold War (36). Wegner’s avowed reason for writing Life Between Two Deaths, 19892001 is “to keep faith with the original counterglobalization movement of movements and other forms of cultural and political experime ntation that 14


emerged in [the ‘ 90s], movements whose radicality in the moment following September 11 have come under question, not only as we would expect from a ferocious chorus on the right but even from some on the left” ( 37). Using Fredric Jameson’s analysis of modernism as a guide, Wegner argues that the postmodern period can be divided into “‘high’ postmodernism, characteristic of the 1980s and the subject of Jameson’s classic analyses, and what we might call a ‘late’ postmodernis m that only emerges in the 1990s” (5). Unlike Jameson, who distinguishes two periods of modernism —such that a “late” modernist period was “marked by both a retreat from the radical energies of an earlier modernism and the development of a depoliticized modernist aesthetic ener gy” — Wegner holds that the “late” postmodernist period of the 90s “witnesses the revival of a radical political energy in abeyance in the earlier” (5). Wegner attributes this energy to a number of factors, including widening awareness and debate over global ization; the massive expansion of the Internet and the World Wide Web; the explosion of “a new kind of counterglobalization political movement” exemplified by activity in sites such as “Chiapas, Seattle, Genoa, Quebec City, and Porto Alta” ; the prominence of a number of “‘univ ersalizing’ theoretical projects , ” such as those of Hardt and Negri, Slavoj iek , Judith Butler, Derrida, and Jameson, among many others; and various “symptomatic transformations” occurring within art movements (including the architec ture of Rem Koolhaas, the grunge movement, various utopian fictions, the rise of African American authors such as “Foer, Arundhati Roy, Gary Shteyngart, and Zadie Smith,” and invigorated political work by established artists like Thomas Pynchon) (3536). The “0s themed militarism” that Sirota locates as having returned in our present situation would obviously belong to the period of “high postmodernism” that preceded 15


this explosion, and its notable reappearance (implying a disappearance) would thus emphasize the extent to which conservatives were in fact unable to capitalize on the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent fall of the USSR in the decade following . A s Wegner explains, “September 11 enabled the United States, in ways impossible in the immediate, uncertain aftermath of the Cold War, to assume a global mantle, giving rise to the socalled Bush doctrine of unilateralism and preemptive military violence— making all states in Derrida’s sense rogue states —thereby marking the final closure of t he world historical situation of the Cold War and the opening of a new period in global history” (25).7 Whereas Wegner challenges this “new symbolic order” by seeking to maintain “fidelity” to the “energies and potentialities” of the ‘90s (3940), I will e ndeavor to understand how both “time” and “terror” are constructed in this national story and how these terms affect the call to action mandated by the existential demand to choose a side in the ongoing “war” of which we are now, and perhaps forevermore, a part. In so doing, we must engage critically with these constructions, following Derrida, for as Martin McQuillan reminds us the confusion between inscription and reality in our present mediatic political culture should make us think that what is required most urgently to track these accelerations is a critical, more than philosophy, deconstruction as a reading practice up to the task of meeting with the beyond of today’s representational themes. ( Deconstruction after 9/11 7) Although I would not oppose “r eality” to “inscription” as McQuillan does, I would underscore his central insight —namely, that we must not confuse our inscriptions, particularly not those apparatus dictating ventriloquializations that turn us into mouthpieces for positions we have not c hosen. 16


Terror and the Time of Life: Security, Mortality, and Radical Atheism On one hand, the sudden start of the nation’ s exposed vulnerability emphasized the deathliness of the Darwinian struggle to survive inherent to all life (but onceremoved from a first world existence fueled by prepackaged meats and madeto order fast foods rather than freshly slaughtered and prepared animal carcasses) , startling a place that had largely been insulated from “ foreign ” terrorist attack s on its soil and a citizenry us ed to war playing out like a bloodless video game. In other words, t he “sudden st art” removed the “once removed, ” and the removal of this distance was startling, shocking, earthtrembling. The attack turned “urban renewal” into a scene of Darwinian reckoni ng. Viewed in this way, the attacks of 9/11 necessitated a violent response in return and thus served as a justification for war. In this sense, the designation “time of terror” can refer to the fact that, since the 9/11 attacks, many experience the United States as being embroiled in a “war on terror” and for this reason as striking out against the presumptive source of this terror —the external threat posed by certain Islamic fundamentalists. Walter Russell Mead clarifies this explanation of why the present “time of terror” has led to the American “war on terror” when he explains in Power, Terror, Peace, and War that our concern is with what Robert Art calls “grand terror” —terrorism like the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon that create devast ation and economic dislocation on a scale approximating that of a war. Currently, the only organizations in the world with both the will and the means to attack the United States on that scale are radical terror groups based in the Islamic world. It is this kind of terror by these people that we are fighting (110). Of course, the risk inherent to a recognition of this vulnerability to external threat, of holding open the start of 9/11 in order to maintain popular support for military action 17


against such “radical terror groups,” is that the strike against the towers exposes not only the fundamentally costly nature of mortal existence in general but the deathliness symbolized by the towers themselves. As Martin McQuillan explains: The attacks of 9/11 were aimed at the AngloAmerican idiom. They were aimed at the symbolic heart of that idiom, the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, New York . . . to attack this idiom in a highly concentrated and symbolic way is to challenge its global hegemony and its politic al, milit ary, and technocapitalist power . . . . It is to attack a parochialism in its own back yard and so confirm the vulnerability of its projected image and that which it represents. The Twin Towers operated as a figurative shorthand for the technomilit ary capitalism that emerges from the West, both a contemporary substitute for the once welcoming embrace of that other emblem of New York C ity and idea of post war, Western global responsibility, the Statue of Liberty. ( Deconstruction after 9/11 4) In other words, the risk is that the 9/11 attacks might expose the brutal struggle to survive predicated on a taking of sides and a defending of boundaries always already at work in the everyday operation of the economic machine symbolized by the World Trade Cen tre before the attacks. It risks exposing the functioning of that machine to critique, and it risks overtly linking capitalism to violence. It risks revealing the necessary deathliness of mortal life in general, a deathliness often covered over by the priv ileges afforded by life in a first world nation. In other words, it risks thinking what Derrida calls autoimmunity , which Nass explains as “a death drive that . . . comes to affect not only the bodies we call discourses or texts but psychic systems and pol itical institutions, nationstates and national contexts, and perhaps even, though this is the most contentious, God himself” (Naas 124). We will return to this concept throughout this project, but just considering the relation between domestic program funding and military expenses (recent estimates put US defense spending at over $1.2 trillion out of its $3 trillion annual budget8) and the fact that cutting the latter in any significant way in deference to the former, even during a lingering economic downt urn predicated at least 18


in part on that military spending, has become almost unthinkable is testament to its veracity. Any attempts to bolster security, to protect a sovereign inside, has deleterious effects on that which is being protected. Moreover, and more radically, that inside is always already divided against itself, because, as Martin H gglund explains, “there cannot be anything without the tracing of time. The tracing of time is the minimal protection of life, but it also attacks life from the firs t inception, since it breaches the integrity of any moment and makes everything susceptible to annihilation” (9). That life itself is possible only in its mortal relation to time means that identity is always at the mercy of forces beyond its control; one subsists only so long as one’s past is kept alive, and such survival comes at a cost to others (resources are finite, so some won’t survive) that always already marks our own mortal predicament. Indeed, no future is guaranteed, and any given traces of a si ngular past can be eradicated in an instant. Of course, thinking this link between external threat and internal catastrophe isn’t surprising at all, given the turmoil caused by the 2008 economic crisis and subsequent recession. Indeed, though the use of the word “terror” as our epoch’s primary designator certainly derives from the ongoing conflict against terrorism, it also aptly describes the tremors that rocked the world as a result of that crisis and that continue to be felt today. By many accounts those tremors have been devastating, especially when coupled with the already unstable financial position many middleclass Americans have found themselves in since the beginning of the 2000s. A 2008 report published by Brandeis University’s policy center Demos and the Institute for Assets and Social Policy (IASP) found that “4 million American households lost economic security between 2000 and 2006 . . . [and] are at high risk of falling out of the middle class altogether” (“76% of 19


American Middle Class Households Not Financially Secure”). In reference to the 2008 crisis, one of the report’s coauthors, Jennifer Wheary, argued that “a large percentage of America’s middle class are not well equipped to weather this current economic storm,” citing housing cost inc reases and an alarming lack of savings and health insurance (qtd. in “76% of Americ an Middle Class Households Not F inancially Secure” ). A 2010 Pew Research Center report showed that “median household income for the middle class fell from $72,956 in 2001 to $ 69,487 in 2010 . . . the first time since the second world war that the middle class ended a decade with a smaller income than it started with” (Fifeld). Journalist Sasha Abramsky, who has spent a year interviewing impoverished Americans for a forthcomi ng book, vividly captures the scope of the new American landscape where masses of formerly middleclass citizens have joined the ranks of the unemployed and the poor have gotten even poorer: As poverty spreads, it is carving broader arcs of desperation thr oughout the country. In the wake of the housing crisis and the lengthy recession, with its jobless aftermath— along with the drawnout collapse of many employment sectors and the decline in purchasing power of wages in many other sectors—a rising number of Americans are struggling to make it from one paycheck, or unemployment check, to the next. People who used to have modest degrees of security in regions traditionally more affluent than the Delta are seeing that security erode. Below them, people who had l ong had minimal levels of security are seeing their most basic needs going unmet as they fall through gaping holes in a shredded safety net. Relative hardship and absolute destitution are, in other words, on the march. Such summarizing observations and the statistical evidence that supports them could be multiplied indefinitely. Their urgency is that they point to very real existential consequences of how —in this particular “time of terror” —the aforementioned apparatuses inscribe themselves into the lives o f individuals, and of how those lives are inscribed in these apparatuses. They point to how ordinary Americans who have lived a 20


large portion of their lives in the shadow of 9/11 do so with the natio n’s “war on terror” constituting an ironic economic provi sioning: thus, this war could be said to “provide” a backdrop for life .9 However, this orientation towards a time to come marked by a terror looming without (in the dark shapes of terrorists and the dark suits in stretch limos) and lurking within (the grum bling stomachs of the hungry, the homeless sleeping in the streets, the protesters on Wall Street) is more than just a sad fact of contemporary life; it is an opportunity. In fact, as Derrida’s concept of autoimmunity emphasizes, if the time of terror we n ow live in risks brushing against the deathliness inherent to life, it also risks recognizing that deathliness as a necessary structure of life, a deathliness in life that allows for an orientation to life in general. Indeed, a radical thinking of our “tim e of terror” exposes one to Derrida’s claim that “deconstruction is what happens” and to Martin Hgglund’s allied notion of a “radical atheism.” At the beginning of the fifth chapter of his 2008 book of the same name, Hgglund succinctly explains what he m eans by the “radical atheism” he associates with deconstruction. Seeking to demonstrate that “Derrida’s work offers powerful resources to think life as survival and the desire for life as a desire for survival,” Hgglund lays out the gist of his argument: I have argued that every moment of life is a matter of survival because it depends on what Derrida calls the structure of the trace. The structure of the trace follows from the constitutive division of time. Given that every moment of life passes away as s oon as it comes to be, it must be inscribed as a trace in order to be at all. The tracing of time enables the past to be retained and thus to resist death in a movement of survival. However, the survival of the trace that makes life possible must be left f or a future that may erase it. The movement of survival protects life, but it also exposes life to death, since every trace is absolutely destructible. (164) 21


Hgglund thus suggests that deconstruction points to the unavoidable relentlessness of mortal life , the fact that life itself can only be thought as a sequence of relational moments harboring the trace structure that allows one moment to subsist in its absence for a future that itself will pass into memory; as he says elsewhere, “I can appear to myself only by holding on to myself through retention and anticipating myself through protention. Accordingly, my self relation is necessarily mediated across a temporal distance that prevents me from ever coinciding with myself” (70). The present moment , in whi ch I seem to have access to myself , is thus always already divided, trembling between past and future. A nd yet this division is the only possible way for life to endure, for to live is to live in time and thus to live without any assurance of continued end urance . If it is a truism that one will eventually die, that one’s traces always can be forgotten, and that one’s future may thus cease to be, the destruction of the Twin Towers instantly reduced an eventuality tocome to an eventuality that almost no one could have imagined will or would have happened. Hence the need to protect oneself from recognizing the division or risk a kind of perpetual anxiety . For many religious thinkers, this dilemma is cause to turn to an immutable, infinite God. For many secular thinkers, this is cause for despair. For Derrida, however, one must embrace this temporality, for it is precisely our mortal situation that affords us the capacity to love and hope, as well as to hate and suffer, because such radical finitude is not a lack of being that it is desirable to overcome. Rather, the finitude of survival opens the possibility of everything we desire and the peril of everything we fear. The affirmation of survival is thus not a value in itself; it is rather the unconditional condition for all values. Whatever one may posit as a value, one has to affirm the time of survival, since without the time of survival the value could never live on and be posited as a value in the first place. ( Hgglund 164) 22


This unconditional embrace of mor tality offers an alternative way of thinking the idea of a “time of terror.” Indeed, while the artifactuality of contemporary American life demands that such a label designates a persistent state of affairs wherein life resists the forces that threaten it and thus demands that one think an outside of such a time of terror, a time other than a time enclosed, threatened, haunted, and otherwise disrupted by death, deconstruction as radical atheism short circuits this logic by designating the time of life as al ways already a time of death and thus necessarily a time of terror, given that sustaining life in the face of death and trembling between past and future is nothing but the experience of living. Time is always already a time of terror, and in so being offers a chance for joy, love, friendship, and cooperation. No life without a looking towards death, no moment that doesn’t tremble between moments, so we have always lived in a time marked by the presence of terror. Without recognition of this alternative reading, though, the ‘time of terror” will continue to indicate an interminable struggle to one day return to an ordinary life of peace, a time marked not only by endless news reports of military successes and failures and discussions of military budgets (and the economic impact of paying for those budgets), but also by the turning inwards of the paranoiac state eye towards a citizenry under constant suspicion (increased TSA security measures, enhanced surveillance systems, expanded police powers, the targeting of American citizens abroad for assassination without constitutional dueprocess). The “time of terror,” set against some utopian time without terror to which it points but never approaches, thereby names the fact that the “War on Terror” has become an accepted part of everyday life. Thus does this “war” designate not just a “time” but a different thinking of 23


the trembling present, one that sets itself against a different “time” in order to extend itself into the indefinite future. It thus indicates a tim e without an easily identifiable limit, both in the sense of the urgency to get the job done (to protect the state by warding off future attacks before they happen) and in the sense that we live in the midst of a supposedly defining conflict against an ene my that threatens everything we hold dear. To live in such a time is to experience normalcy as a suspension of the “normal” necessitated by the ongoing war, especially in regard to the rights of the enemy, which means that living in a time of terror is tantamount to existing in what Giorgio Agamben calls a “state of exception,” the “voluntary creation of a permanent state of emergency,” an “emergency’ that entails “transformation of a provisional and exceptional measure into a technique of government” (2). Agamben cites President Bush’s 2001 “military order” authorizing “the ‘indefinite detention’ and trial by ‘military commissions’ . . . of noncitizens suspected in terrorist activities” as exemplary of this kind of contemporary state, and notes its radical effect on the existential status of those detained: Bush’s order . . . radically erases any legal status of the individual, thus producing a legally unnamable and unclassifiable being. Not only do the Taliban captured in Afghanistan not enjoy the status o f P OW s as defined by the Geneva Convention, they do not even have the status of persons charged with a crime according to American laws. Neither prisoners nor persons accused, but simply ‘detainees,’ they are the object of a pure de facto rule, of a detent ion that is indefinite not only in the temporal sense but in its very nature as well, since it is entirely removed from judicial oversight. . . . As Judith Butler has effectively shown, in the detainee at Guantnamo, bare life reaches its maximum indetermi nacy. (3 4) The “emergency” to which Agamben alludes evinces the power of a state apparatus to dictate to the future, to inscribe the future into a set of deci sions that have imprisoned the P resident and through him the nation. Though President Obama campaigned on closing the prison at Guantnamo, as of spring 2014 , it remains in use, and many of its 24


inmates have yet to see trial. While Obama has made some significant changes to the way suspected terrorists are apprehended and detained, such as mandating that detainees be read their Miranda rights, the New York Times reports that the President has subtly maintained many of the Bush administration’s policies: “without showing his hand, Mr. Obama ha[s] preserved three major policies —rendition, military commiss ions, and indefinite detention—that have been targets of human rights groups since the 2001 terrorist attacks” (Becker and Shane). In fact, Obama’s policy of using unmanned drones to kill terrorist targets, which “counts all military age males in a strike zone as combatants,” negates even the possibility for “bare life” left to the Guantnamo detainees; the enemies in this case are designated as such without substantial evidence, and “unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent” are tallied as enemy kills ( Becker and Shane). Moreover, in September of 2011, Mr. Obama approved the targeting of Anwar al Awlaki, an Americanborn cleric, reportedly saying that the decision to do so was “an easy one” ( Becker and Shane). In a time of te rror understood as an exceptional time necessitating legal and moral exceptions, the War on Terror complicates the legal status of its combatants, citizen and enemy alike, in some cases reducing lives to “bare life,” in others eliminating them completely. Roger Stahl elaborates on this relation between the War on Terror and the time in which we live, investigating the way time itself appears as a rhetorical device in regard to that war in his article “A Clockwork War: Rhetorics of Time in a Time of Terro r.” Arguing that “references to time have become major symbols in the War on Terror,” Stahl identifies three “new time signatures” recognizable in our contemporary era that “function mainly to contain democratic deliberation and control anti war 25


dissent.” The first is the “rhetoric of the deadline/countdown” whereby ‘the executive branch sets the exact time that conflict will begin and the public counts down to that moment.” According to Stahl, this rhetorical device establishes the parameters of discussion about military strategy; “ i nstead of debating the merits and consequences of an invasion, networks preferred to approach it as an inevitability, a foregone conclusion, discussed in terms of when rather than if.” The second time signature is “the rhetori c of the infinite/infinitesimal war” encompassing the executive branch’s contradictory attempts to describe the War on Terror as both a “war without end,” which “has the benefit of permanently extending executive war powers,” and of portraying specific con flicts engaged in the name of that war as “short, discrete event[s]” in order to ward off “the description of quagmire, a word that has come to be synonymous with Vietnam” ( Stahl ). The War on Terror thus is established as “an infinite number of finish lines . . . render[ing] protest irrelevant” because “the war is always almost over” ( Stahl ). This “always almost” signals “the permanent state of emergency,” its institutionalization as an unthought dynamic of the state apparatus. Stahl calls the third time s ignature “the rhetoric of the ticking clock” in homage to President Bush’s 2002 State of the Union address, in which he characterized the present as a time when “‘thousands of dangerous killers, schooled in the methods of murder, often supported by outlaw regimes, are now spread throughout the world like ticking time bombs, set to go off without warning.’” Stahl argues that this rhetorical device allowed the Bush administration to rationalize its disregard of certain facets of international law, such as those concerned with preemptive attacks; it “suggested that 26


either all threats were imminent or that there simply was not enough time to make this determination.” Stahl goes on to link this sense of urgency —better, this sense of emergency —to the expansion of presidential powers and the justification of torture. For the powers that be and the artifactuality of American life they so heavily influence (even as they are constructed by it and so never exist as a purely influencing agency), living in a time of ter ror thus means living in relation to an ever present, inevitable threat; it means subsisting in an imminent, ongoing state of emergency requiring hyper vigilance and a necessary relinquishing of measured critique in the name of a “normal life” that has been ruptured by national trauma and that is constantly under threat. Our mainstream narrative thus hijacks mortality for its own purposes, as if every moment of every day were not always already a crisis of epic proportions. If we think the time of terror wi thout deconstruction, if we fail to recognize that “mortality is the possibility for both the desirable and the undesirable, since it opens the chance for life and the threat of death in the same stroke,” we are bound to get caught up in the anxiety over t ime that Stahl outlines. Ironically, Stahl’s time signature analysis, by which he describes the discursive tactics designed to emphasize the immediate, pervasive threat of an externalized other, also offers an effective means for understanding the alarmi st rhetorical strategy implemented by those pushing for the 2008 financial bailout of major U.S. financial institutions, an extreme proposal necessitated by the eruption of economic terror internal to the very capitalist market system threatened by radical Islam. In After the Fall: The Inexcusable Failure of American Finance (A Penguin eSpecial) , Kevin Phillips explains this sense of alarm when he reports on the national perspective at the time, 27


fueled by media hyperbole and the anxious prognostications of political pundits, by evoking the Greek myth “when Pan frightened the Titans in their great battle with the gods, so that terror displaced rationality.” He explicates these rhetorical maneuvers, evoking panic in the name of warding off a future terror, thus: Especially in the week before October 3 [2008], the Bush administration and Congressional supporters of the bailout, and others in Wall Street, left no available panic button unpushed. A talking head on CNBC said that if the package didn’t go through, p eople might not be able to get cash out of ATMs. Ben Bernanke had actually told a Congressional committee in September that ‘if we don’t do this, we may not have an economy on Monday.’ Washington economist Kevin Hassett, an adviser to John McCain . . . sai d it certainly ‘looks like a panic. Markets are pricing in catastrophes beyond modern experience.’ Here , two of Stahl’s three signatures again are evident: there is no time for extended deliberation, the clock is ticking , and immediate action is required. In addition, when one considers the 2008 bailout as a “short, discrete event” that has been followed by smaller bailouts (for the commercial real estate market and auto industry, for example), and which can be viewed as a pronounced example typical of US f iscal policy , it is easy to see how the rhetoric defending such bailouts establishes “an infinite number of finish lines . . . render[ing] protest irrelevant” because it promises near future economic security while maintaining a constant register of threat with the consequence that the war on potential market collapse is never over (Stahl). As jour nalist Marc Davis notes, “the $700 billion financial sector rescue plan is the latest in the long history of U.S. government bailouts that go back to the Panic of 1792, when the federal government bailed out the 13 United States, which were over burdened by their debt from the Revolutionary War , ” and which include the purchasing of default mortgages during the Great Depression and the savings and loan bailout in 19 89 . Such history is testament to the always already terrifying internal threat that exists alongside the 28


threatening outside and points towards the inevitable terror of being itself, a terror ironically covered over by the rhetoric of terror and time Stahl identifies and analyzes. Terror Trials to Transcend Time At the same time that our time of terror is defined by the fear mongering survivalist ethos so prevalent in political speeches and media reports, from the start the US also started its post 9/11 journey bolstered by the mythological bulwark of its artifactual edifice, enacting the story told time and again in its mainstream Hollywood movies and TV shows, its adventure games and first person shooters, its inspirational autobiographies and celebrity pr ofiles, its pullyourself upby your bootstraps economic narratives, its bombastic professional sporting events and self help infomercials, for even at its most secular, most pragmatic, most technologically and scientifically savvy, the US is a deeply reli gious society emboldened by the myth of the inspirational hero who defies death and whose actions are underwritten by a righteous commitment to self evident liberty. In the heart of the iconic business district of the capital of capitalism, the objectivist high rise palaces of Wall Street, America's mythological underpinnings have been put to work as the nation galvanizes its religious heritage in order to slay monsters, rescue innocents, and return home triumphant. In this way, and in parallel with a narrative that emphasizes the brutal struggle for survival, post 9/11 America reaffirms itself as a nation of destiny whose existence is testament to a transcendental truth outside of mortal time. In his speech at the National Cathedral three days after the attacks, George W. Bush explicitly played on the US relation to God and characterized the 9/11 attacks as a kind of heroic trial: God's signs are not always the ones we look for. We learn in tragedy that his purposes are not always our own, yet the prayers of private suffering, whether in our homes or in this great cathedral are known and heard and 29


understood. There are prayers that help us last through the day or endure the night. There are prayers of friends and strangers that give us strength for the journey, and there are prayers that yield our will to a will greater than our own. This world He created is of moral design. Grief and tragedy and hatred are only for a time. Goodness, remembrance and love have no end, and the Lord of life holds all who die and all who mourn. It is said that adversity introduces us to ourselves. This is true of a nation as well. In this trial, we have been reminded and the world has seen that our fellow Americans are generous and kind, resourceful and brave. And in his welcome ad dress to the troops at Fort Bragg announcing the end of the war in Iraq, President Obama depicted the War on Terror as a trial by fire endured by heroic forces emanating from a continuous procession of American freedom fighters, blessed by God: Never forget that you are part of an unbroken line of heroes spanning two centuries — from the colonists who overthrew an empire, to your grandparents and parents who faced down fascism and communism, to you —men and women who fought for the same principles in Fallujah and Kandahar, and delivered justice t o those who attacked us on 9/11 . . . . All of you here today have lived through the fires of war. You will be remembered for it. You will be honored for it —always. You have done something profound with your lives. When this nation went to war, you signed up to serve. When times were tough, you kept fighting. When there was no end in sight, you found light in the darkness. And years from now, your legacy will endure in the names of your fallen comrades etched on headstones at Arlington, and the quiet memorials across our country; in the whispered words of admiration as you march in parades, and in the freedom of our children and our grandchildren. And in the quiet of night, you will recall that your heart was once touched by fire. You will know that you answered when your country called; you served a cause greater than yourselves; you helped forge a just and lasting peace with Iraq, and among all nations. I could not be prouder of you, and America could not be prouder of you. God bless you all, God bless your families, and God bless the United States of America. (qtd. in “Obama’s speech to troops at Fort Bragg”) My project sets out to challenge this narrative by taking seriously what Derrida dared to think about time itself and its inherent relation to mortality. On this count, as Martin Hgglund’s notion of radical atheism helps to clarify, deconstruction emphatically announces that to live is to live in mortal terror, in necessary anticipation of one’s own 30


death which is al ways already experienced as a catastrophe of epic proportion: “I live this anticipation in anguish, terror, despair, as a catastrophe that I have no reason not to equate with the annihilation of humanity as a whole: this catastrophe occurs with every indiv idual death” (Derrida, “Racism’s Last Word” 379) .10 This sort of thinking is especially repugnant to an American culture transfixed by the possibility of the heroic entrepreneurial spirit deserving of a happy ending, but it is all the more necessary given that such a heroic ideal has had such destructive consequences, especially since the collapse of the Twin Towers. This ideal is all the more insidious in that it manifests itself not only in the overtly religious language of political figures and other av owed religious thinkers (and are there any other kinds in American politics?) but in the discourse of supposedly secular thinkers, many of whom are professed atheists. As we will see, the seemingly heroic stances of Salman Rushdie and Frank Miller, two art ists and atheists on opposite sides of the political spectrum whose recent works overtly confront life in a time of terror, remain firmly fixed to religious concepts in spite of their secular outlooks. Their situations demonstrate how difficult it is to think beyond the religious horizon of our epoch and thus to imagine a future that isn’t decided on in advance and in deference to the hegemonic ideology of global capitalism, but in identifying the aporetic logic of their texts, we may at least trace the contours of our cage and perhaps find a means for rethinking our dilemma. Ultimately, we reclaim our time by embracing the terror inherent to all time, to all life, and to all humans. Only when we recognize the terror of every start will we be able to start again. 31


To that end, my project will proceed by first identifying this fundamental terror as it relates to Jacques Derrida’s work, in particular as that work informs Hgglund’s aforementioned “radical atheism” and A. Samuel Kimball’s notion of “ counter conc eption. ” Where Hgglund explains the logic by which Derrida’s thought rigorously maintains its atheism by deconstructing time and space, a deconstruction whic h by its very exercise precludes the kind of mystical and theological associations so often attrib uted to it, Kimball’s work establishes the ways our thinking about thinking itself always already maintains a covert thinking of life, of survival, of living on, which prevents us from “counter conceiving” the violence inherent to all life and which thereby “blinds” us from thinking our existential predicament. This sort of blindness —indeed, blindness to our blindness —is evident not only in the most stringently secular of scientific discourses but also in its putative mathematic al underpinning s, which are t hemselves vulnerable to such obfuscation. As I will show in the next chapter , this fact is additionally evident in regard to the semiotics of zero and the anxiety that this strange sign evokes. Taking up Mark Rotman’s examination of the zero and its connec tion to deconstruction, I end chapter two by showing how Rotman himself is blind to Derrida’s logic and in fact seeks to protect thought from the sort of deconstructive terror I identify in the work of both Hgglund and Kimball . Rotman’s self protective gestures are important to understand because they provide a glimpse of the auto immune challenges that are uncannily announced in the zero’s semantic connection to Ground Zero, to that site where the World Trade Center fell and from whence so many tales of A merican heroism in the wake of 9/11 issued forth. Two of these contemporary heroic narratives are Salman Rushdie’s Joseph Anton and Frank Miller ’s Holy Terror . Against their self 32


protective, self heroizing positioning, I offer the notion of “zeroism,” the radically atheist, counter conceptual thinking of every position’s limits , a thinking that recognizes the division inherent to recognition as such and to life in general, the autoimmunity innate to all positions. Zeroism’s philosophical significance is pe rhaps best assessed by establishing the costly limits of the kinds of auto immunizing heroism it resists. Clearly, this kind of examination could be pursued in many directions. For example, it might investigate contemporary “real life” American heroes , suc h as the 9/11 firefighters and police officers who sacrificed themselves for their fellow citizens in the midst of a terror that had not yet been fixed in the fantasmatic figure of a terrorist enemy. It might seek out the revolutionary potential of terror as a kind of “zerolevel” experience, exposing the limits of our political and economic situation, perhaps in the manner of thinkers like Alain Badiou and Slavoj iek . It might engage directly and deeply with recent billiondollar superhero film franchises , like Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy , Chris Snyder’s Man of Steel reimagining of the Superman mythos and its upcoming sequel, or Joss Whedon’s Avengers movi e and the Marvel superhero cinematic universe of which it is a part , analyzing the possibilities that such massively popular treatments of heroism offer for thinking radically about terror and action as represented in films that are mired in the corporate Hollywood media machine. All of these and other directions have their uses, and, in fact , I will touch on several of them as I proceed. However, for both pragmatic and strategic reasons, my project will focus primarily on Rushdie’s Joseph Anton and Miller’s Holy Terror ( chapters three and four , respectively) . One reason is that , since Rushdie’s book is so recent and since Miller’s (his last published comic work, as of this 33


writing) has been generally dismissed by most critics, these texts offer many possibi lities for original critical exploration. More important ly , these works represent overt literary responses to the supposedly overarching threat of the Muslim terrorist — Rushdie as the specific target of this enemy and as hypothetical precursor to our contem porary time of general targeting, Miller as hysterical New York representative of that generally targeted population . What is more, they represent literary responses by authors whose seemingly divergent political perspectives and artistic sensibilities nev ertheless dovetail in ways that help elucidate Derrida’s relentless deconstruction of any positioning that makes objective recognition of a threat possible. These two artists are certainly strange bedfellows —the former a worldrenowned author of socalled “serious” literature, the latter a comic book artist associated with “ escapist ” super hero fantasy. In fact, this seeming misalignment is itself pertinent to the issue of terror. It is, in fact, part of the defense strategy that was laid out in regard to the state expense incurred by Rushdie’ s security in the wake of the fatwa that was declared against the author in the 1980s . That strategy was t o argue that his infamous “attack” on Islam in The Satanic Verses should be read as a thoughtful literary exploration, and that because it was a book of “serious artistic intent” it deserved what he calls “the quality defense made in the cases of other assaulted books [such as] Lady Chatterley’s Lover , Ulysses, Lolita (Rushdie, Joseph Anton 115 , 116). Indeed, Rushdie’s infamous feud with author John l e Carr in part erupted over this contention, as le Carr asked whether Rushdie was suggesting that “those who write literature have a greater right to free speech than those who write pulp?” and then went on to argue t hat , if so, “such elitism does not help Rushdie’s cause” (qtd. in Rushdie, Joseph Anton 261). Though 34


there are moments when the logic of such a defense gives its protagonist pause, the persecuted author in Joseph Anton ultimately assumes the right to claim that Muslims must tolerate his secular critique in order to move into the future without being reciprocally tolerant of the counter claim that he has presumed to elevate his profane, worldly authority over the spiritual authority of Islam’s cynosure as we ll as over the “pulp,” escapist work which is not a viable form of “serious” literature. He thus has predicated “multicultural” acceptance on accepting the Western perspective and the “free market” that such a perspective champions (at least insofar as that market rewards “real” writers whose work has “literary” merit) .11 This emphatic insistence on the absolute nature of the struggle for which the embattled author sees his own life as a metonymy, and thus perhaps as a n insufficiently attentive or critical reader, precludes him from overtly considering the ways in which Joseph Anton presents Khomeini’s fatwa and Rushdie’s Satanic Verses as equivalent, and thus from grasping how both texts are determined in advance by a life and by a language that are beyond the author’s control . Such critical blindness serves to distance protagonist and reader alike from a terror beyond the terror of every first person plight. The professed atheism of the central authorial figure in Joseph Anton in fact covers over a deep in vestment in—better, a devotion to —the concept and the privileges of the sovereignty of the “serious” author . What is more, in this respect the professed atheism mystifies the creative process that affords Rushdie, the self authorizing — which is to say, self immunizing —sovereign the luxury of reveling in his own survival and absolving himself of mourning those who don’t occupy his privileged place as successful writer , serious artist, and celebrity. 35


Critiquing such a “serious ” work as Joseph Anton and exposi ng the aporia of seriousness itself insofar as this book uses the theme of survival as a morally unassailable tactic within its pages provide the means to contextualize “terror” more specifically in relation to the category of the popular culture “escapist ” text I explore in Chapter Four. The idea of “terror” bears heavily on contemporary depictions of subjectivity in comic books, video games, popular fiction, and film. In particular, many such “escapist” texts, produced as mass consumables and thus bearing the marks of corporate interest and complicating models of “authentic” artistic production, also have formal qualities and feature thematic elements that challenge ev eryday notions of the human. Controversial comics superstar, avowed atheist, and “911 co nservative” Frank Miller , through his interviews, blog postings, and comics work following the 911 attacks and leading up to his 2011 graphic novel Frank Miller’s Holy Terror , set s in motion an illustrative exercise in chasing these possibilities and problematizing aggressive heroic action as a viable response to terror. Given Miller’s heavy influence on DC Comics’ iconic Batman character in general and Christopher Nolan’s wildly successful Dark Knight trilogy in particular ( Holy Terror was initially slate d to be a Batman comic chronicling the hero’s encounter with Al Qaeda), examining his highly stylized, brutal depiction of a dark vigilante seeking vengeance against Islamic terrorists sheds light not only on Miller’s hysterical reaction to 9/11 but on pop ular vigilante heroes ( such as the Batman) and their relation to terrorism. Though he has attempted to frame Holy Terror as a piece of “propaganda” meant to inspire support for retaliatory violence against the radical Muslim other, Miller’s text in fact em phasizes the hopelessness inherent to a “heroic” positioning that cannot think outside of revenge, one that recognizes the 36


violence of its own position but lashes out anyway. Where Rushdie’s “serious” atheism covers for a mystification of the author as her oic purveyor of the Enlightenment tradition, Miller’s pulp warrior atheism measures life against an idealized past forever lost to our “time of terror” and thus gives itself over to nihilism even as it seeks solace in a rudimentary belief that “might makes right.” How we might think an alternative to such nihilism and find a kind of anxious solace in a radically atheist heroism is the focus of the next chapter. 37


Notes 1. All of these definitions for “start” come from 2. All of this encapsulates Derrida's discussion of entamer , which Gayatri Spivak translates as “breach” and “broach” to indicate “both beginning something and breaking into something, both in origin and trace” ( lxxxvi, lxxi). As Christopher Johnson explains, the logic of this term exposes the aporia of Rousseau’s discussion of artic ulation in regards to “pure voice” whereby the former concept supposedly denigrates the latter (119). When in De la grammatologie Derrida argues that articulation is in fact “Celle ci entame le langage,” Johnson points out that the verb entamer is here open to four related interpretations, all of which have bearing on the origin of language, its start : Firstly, “entamer” can mean to cut into, to incise. Articulation therefore divides the continuum of the inarticulated cry by the violence of an incision. Secondly, and by association, “entamer” means to begin, to open: articulation is the inauguration of language proper ( “ elle ouvre la parole”); before it, the natural voice expressed nothing. It is therefore a necessary violence. But, thirdly, the gesture of incision will equally diminish or degrade the medium in which it is practised: another meaning of “entamer” is to wear or break down, shake or weaken, and indeed shortly afterwards Derrida concludes that “la langue nat donc du processus de sa dgnrescence” (GR1, p345, Derrida’s emphasis) ( “ thus language is born out of the process of its own degeneration” (GR2, p.242)). Finally, associated with this material sense of degradation i s a moral sense: “entamer” can mean to harm, damage or cast a slur upon a person (its Low Latin root intaminare is tra nslated as “to dirty or sully”) . . . . The invariant element in these differing nuances is the basic duality of the word; it expresses bot h inauguration and decline, birth and dissolution, and suggests not the paradox or opposition, but the irreducibility of these pairs. (119120) 3. McQuillan calls “Al Queda” an “extraordinary Munchausen projection which exploits the image of a genuine terror and real death” so that “it can be claimed that this group (on its own, if it is one and if it is coordinated) represents an equal threat to Western values and hegemony as the mutually assured destruction of the Cold War or the lethal potential of the bli tzkrieg” ( Deconstruction after 9/11 6). 4. The literature on terror is immense. For a useful, historically oriented introduction, see The History of Terrorism: From Antiquity to Al Qaeda, ed. Grard Chaliand and Arnaud Blin (University of California, 2007), especially Ariel Merari’s chapter, “Terrorism as a Strategy of Insurgency” (1254), the editors’ chapter, “The Invention of Modern Terror” (95 112), and the seven chapters on terrorism since 1968, which include discussions of Islamic radicalism, suicide operations, and the American responses to terrorism worldwide. For a comprehensive introduction and historical overview, see Jonathan R. White’s massive and now classic work, Terrorism and Homeland Security , 7th ed. (Wadsworth, 2011). An older but still usef ul introduction 38


can be found in Charles Townshend’s Terrorism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2002). Many works on terrorism are concerned with achieving a pragmatic understanding of terrorist psychology so as to provide a basis for e ffective American military and foreign policy response. See, for example, Louise Richardson’s What Terrorists Want (Random House, 2006) and Gus Martin’s Understanding Terrorism: Challenges, Perspectives, and Issues (Sage Publications, Inc, 2012). 5. Noam Chom sky has analyzed how the mass media and the U.S. government are intertwined and how this interweaving affects news stories for much of his career. During a 2002 interview published in Power and Terror: Post 9/11 Talks and Interviews, Chomsky argues that “t he media are huge corporations that share the corporate sector that run the government ;” referenc ing media silence over U.S. involvement in the atrocities committed by Indonesia in East Timor i n the 1970s, he explains that they [the corporate media] share the interest in having Indonesia as the major source of resources that we’re going to exploit, and being a powerful force that will dominate that region. It’s the same as the one in Washington. So why should they expose it? And in particular, why should they expose the fact that they themselves share responsibility for the slaughter of people by hundreds of thousands. (9899) He then gives a more specific example of media silence during the Second Intifada that began on September 29, 2000: On October 1, two days later, Israel started using U.S. helicopters — there are no Israeli helicopters —to attack civilian targets, apartment complexes and so on, killing and wounding dozens of people. That went on for two days. No Palestinian fire, just stone throwing from kids. On October 3, after two days of this, Clinton made the biggest deal in a decade to send military helicopters to Israel. The media here refused to publish it. To this day there has not been a report. That was a decision of editors. I happen to know some of the editors of the Boston Globe. . . . I actually joined with a group that went and talked to them, and they simply made it clear, they’re not going to publish it. And the same decision was made by every other newspaper in the United States, l iterally every one . . . (99) Many other prominent contemporary thinkers have tracked the complex relation between corporate interest , globalization, and media production, including Marshall McLuhan, who imagined a benign “global village” fostered by worldwide electronic transmission of information in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964). Jean Baudrillard was influenced by McLuhan’s insights but argued that Western media reduced viewers to passive observers; in his 2002 text The Spirit of Ter rorism , Baudrillard argues that the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center is in 39


fact an attack on the Western media itself, its goal being the frenzied response of a communication network in panic mode whose stories will lead to the destabilization of the entire capitalist system. In Welcome to the Desert of the Real (2002), Slavoj iek observes that “for the great majority of the public, the WTC explosions were events on the TV screen” and suggests that “the oft repeated shot of frightened people run ning towards the camera ahead of the giant cloud of dust from the collapsing tower” was “itself reminiscent of spectacular shots in catastrophe movies, a special effect which outdid all others, since . . . reality is the best appearance of itself” (11). Hi s point here is to suggest that the media in a sense “staged” the spectacle of the attacks to promote the capital ist narrative in a way that both galvanized a political response and kept the viewers comfortable in their First World positions; as he notes a few pages later, “while the number of victims [of the World Trade Center attacks] —3000—is repeated all the time, it is surprising how little of the actual carnage we see—no dismembered bodies, no blood, no desperate faces of dying people . . . in clear contrast to reporting on Third World catastrophes, where the whole point is to produce a scoop of some gruesome detail” (13). He thus makes the case that even in a time of such tragedy, “the distance which separates Us from Them, from their reality, is maint ained; the real horror happens there, not here !” (13, iek ’s emphasis). 6. It is, of course, not solely media but multiple and intersecting social, political, and economic forces that are in play, forces that, as the examples cited in note 3, above, underscore, are ineffably intertwined . Derrida explains the radical repercussions of this intertwining relative to the very possibility of “public space” in an in terview with Giovanna Borradori: The obvious fact is that since the “end of the Cold War” what can b e called the world order, in its relative and precarious stability, depends largely on the solidity and reliability, on the credit, of American power. On every level: economic, technical, military, in the media, even on the level of discursive logic, of the axiomatic that supports juridical and diplomatic rhetoric worldwide, and thus international law, even when the United States violates this law without ceasing to champion its cause. . . . What is therefore threatened [by terrorists such as those w ho attacked on 9/11]? Not only a great number of forces, powers, or “things” that depend, even for the most determined adversaries of the United States, on the order that is more or less assured by this superpower; it is also, more radically still (and I would un derscore this point) the system of interpretation, the axiomatic, logic, rhetoric, concepts, and evaluations that are supposed to allow one to comprehend and to explain precisely something like “September 11.” I am speaking here of the discourse that comes to be, in a pervasive and overwhelming, hegemonic fashion, accredited to the world’s public space. What is legitimated by the prevailing system (a combination of public opinion, the media, the rhetoric of politicians and the presumed authority of all thos e who, through various mechanisms, speak or are allowed to speak in the public space) are thus the norms inscribed in every apparently meaningful phrase that can be constructed with the lexicon of violence, aggression, crime, 40


war, and terrorism, with the s upposed differences between war and terrorism, national and international sovereignty, national territory, and so on. (93) The “artifactuality” I am addressing here is thus not simply a problem of deep inadequacies or structural flaws in the media apparatus. To the contrary, it is a problem that is fundamental to any act of self representation on the part of even the most vig ilant and self critical voices, a problem inherent to the very “public space” it is possible for anyone to “occupy” and hence be “hear d” in the contemporary world. 7. It is important to note that Derrida resisted attempts to identify the end of the Cold War, arguing that “‘September 11’ is also, still, and in many respects, a distant effect of the Cold War itself, before its ‘end,’ from the time when the United States provided training and weapons, and not only in Afghanistan, to the enemies of the Soviet Union, who have now become the enemies of the U.S.” (Borradori 92). Wegner himself admits to the problems inherent to all such attempts at periodization, citing Jameson’s argument that periodization is “intolerable and unacceptable in its very nature, for it attempts to take a point of view on individual events which is well beyond the observational capacities of any individual, and to unify , both horizontally and vertically, hosts of realities whose interrelationships must remain inaccessible and unverifiable” (qtd. in Wegner 28). However, Wegner also agrees with Jameson that “we cannot not periodize” because it is “an essential feature of t he narrative process” and “represents . . . a ‘return of the repressed of narrative itself’ and of the politically contestatory stances narrative always already involves (qtd. in Wegner 28). As my discussion of radical atheism to follow will hopefully bear out, I agree with Jameson and Wegner that every such narrative process is both violent and essential, given that we live in time and are subject to all that time makes possible (life as it can be known, as relation of past to future slipping away in an ev er shifting present) and precludes (every periodization, every narrative, is always already a missed opportunity, a limited perspective, a misrecognition). The extent to which my project finds hope or solace in this aporetic logic or can muster enthusiasm for radical political engagement (or, indeed, human survival itself) given its repercussions is perhaps the primary point of departure between it and more abashedly leftist projects. 8. See Stone and Kuznick, page 610, for more on these budget figures and their relation to the budget crisis of 2010. 9. As an English instructor at Florida State College at Jacksonville, I daily engage with students living in such terrifying economic circumstances, in a time of terror, who are terrified by their future prospects. Ev en the young freshmen who are attending simply to save money and who have stable support at home through family and friends have lived a large portion of their lives in the shadow of 9/11, the United States’ war on terror thus “providing” a backdrop for their lives and certainly threatening to do so for some time to come. Meanwhile, any notion of the war requiring "sacrifice" is not discussed by the mainstream media, while in fact the middle class is the group sacrificing economically and the lower classes and 41


minorities are sacrificing in lives and opportunities (the military cutting back on college tuition assistance, for example) . 10. “Racism’s Last Word” is a companion piece to “The Laws of Reflection,” Derrida’s discussion of the long encounter with the law and violence that Nelson Mandela took up in the war against apartheid. In the latter essay, Derrida emphasizes that when Mandela represented himself before the all white South African tribunal accusing him of sabotage and conspiracy against the government , he not only addresses the judges as particular instances of the law (which, given its racist history in South Africa, is itself contemptuous of the law) but as “a universal instance” and so is “ able to speak to them, while speaking over their heads” (81) . In this way Mandela was able to appear before a universal law (recognizing the rights of all people) that had not in fact ever been instituted in South Africa but on which the particular laws of the country had been founded. Mandela thus testified to a c ertain future of his country; as Derrida puts it, “for Mandela, it was not only to show himself, to give himself to be known, he and his people, it was also to reinstitute the law for the future, as if, at bottom, the law had never taken place” (82 ). When Mandela testifies, then, he exhibits a respect for the law that makes respect for the other, for others in general, possible; following Kant, Derrida explains that “respect for a person . . . is first addressed to the law of which the person only gives us the example” (82). And yet the law itself is always already interwoven with recognition of the other; “it is the law, we must respect the other for himself, in his irreplaceable singularity” (82). In other words, it is the law that demands recognition of t he other as a singular being capable of death and suffering, a being that reflects my own singularity, my own capacity for suffering and death. The law thus demands that I recognize the terror of my own situation as a mortal being, reflected in the terrify ing visage of the other that suffers in turn. To refuse to recognize the other in his or her suffering, to refuse the law in the name of the law that accuses, is to deny seeing oneself in the other, to maintain distance from one’s own awful fate, even as t he specific instances of the law, the institutions that house it, testify to the cultural apparatus that seems to separate the human from the animal. According to Ajit Varki and Danny Brower in their book Denial: Self Deception, False Beliefs, and the Origins of the Human Mind, it is precisely this paradox (recognition of the other’s singularity [ which they call “ theory of mind ” ] and denial of its terrifying consequences) that constitutes the existential condition of being human. For Varki and Brower, evolution demanded the codevelopment of these capacities in order to protect the reproductive fitness of a self aware being whose reflective capacity portends perpetual anxiety if it isn’t checked by a safety mechanism that allows for risk taking . Taking this theory into account, e very particular act of condemnation, of externalizing the other and punishing him or her, is both a recognition of the recognition of the terror of life (the court of law only exists as a human instrument seeking justice for acts of t error against the community ) and a denial of the terror inherent to life (I externalize terror in the condemned other, prosecute and excommunicate him or her, and in so doing I forget that I am reflected in the suffering of the condemned) the capacity for which allows the human to live but which also precludes an absolute thinking of justice. Both Miller and Rushdie’s texts will themselves testify to this paradox even as they seek to barricade against the possibility of an internal terror that cannot be pur ged. 42


11. It is precisely in regards to this kind of theoretical blindness that Stanley Fish makes his case that multiculturalism as a philosophical position is inherently untenable: It may at first seem counterintuitive, but given the alternative modes o f multiculturalism —boutique multiculturalism, which honors diversity only in its most superficial aspects because its deeper loyalty is to a universal potential for rational choice; strong multiculturalism, which honors diversity in general but cannot honor a particular instance of diversity insofar as it refuses (as it always will) to be generous in its turn; and really strong multiculturalism, which goes to the wall with a particular instance of diversity and is therefore not multiculturalism at all —no on e could possibly be a multiculturalist in any interesting and coherent sense. (384) Fish subsequently argues that Charles Taylor’s notion of “inspired adhoccery,” which Fish defines as the recognition “that the [likely temporary] solution to particular pro blems will be found by regarding each situationof crisis as an opportunity for improvisation and not as an occasion for the application of rules and principles , ” and he proposes that such adhoccery is in fact precisely what goes on all the time instead of righteous, rational decisionmaking (“adhoccery will be what is going on despite the fact that the issues will be framed as if they were matters of principle and were available to a principled resolution”) (186187). This sort of “tell it like it really i s” smugness leads him to conclude that “talking like a liberal and engaging in distinctly illiberal actions is something we all do anyway; it is the essence of adhoccery. Perhaps if we did it with less anxiety, we might do it better. We might even be inspi red” (395). My project diverges with Fish’s precisely when the latter seeks to avoid such anxiety in the name of a “better” kind of “inspired” work; here Fish wants to rationalize feeling better about a world he knows is unjust. In short, he advocates embr acing acts of terror (the adhoccery that may require “acts of ungenerosity, intolerance, perhaps even repression, by acts that respond to evil not b y tolerating it . . . but by trying to stamp it out” (392)) by forgetting the terror in question. Fish thus only trumps Rushdie and other such “911 liberal” multiculturalists only insofar as he openly discredits their multicultural project by exposing its aporias ; in seeking to feel good about externalizing terror, his adhoccery names the same sort of blindnes s to violence that his pragmatic position supposedly unveils. 43


CHAPTER 2 ZEROISM “You yourself are participating in the evil, or you are not alive. Whatever you do is evil for somebody. This is one of the ironies of the whole creation.” —Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth “Through all its history, despite the rejection and the exile, zero has always defeated those who opposed it. Humanity could never force zero to fit its philosophies.” —Charles Seife, Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea “My discourse is not a discourse of death, but, on the contrary, the affirmation of a living being who prefers living and thus surviving to death, because survival is not simply that which remains but the most intense life possible. I am never more haunted by the necessity of dying than in moments of happiness and joy. To feel joy and to weep over the death that awaits are for me the same thing.” —Jacques Derrida, Learning to Live Finally Terror at Every Turn In presenting Rushdie’s and Miller’s texts together, this project endeavors to emphasize the ways in which terror always already instantiates itself structurally within texts that, implicitly or explicitly, treat terror as a threat against which one must defend. In Joseph A nton, Rushdie insists on conceiving of terror as a threat to what he supposes is the absolute integrity of that which is being assailed—in his case, the sovereign space of the serious author , himself, who celebrates the Western values of freedom of express ion over and against Islamic censorship . In Holy Terror , Miller refuses to occupy the position of victim who is vulnerable to an external evil that is obliterative; rather, he insists on appropriating the enemy’s survivalist, dowhat you 44


must mentality ( wh ich he accomplishes by way of his aggressive superhero protagonist, the Fixer) whereby he accepts what he claims is the necessity of facing up to and conquer ing the terrorist by marshaling all of the means for retaliatory violence at one’s disposal (including torture, espionage, gunplay, chemical warfare, illegal satellite technology, alliance with criminal organizations, etc.). However, t he aim of this project is not merely to describe how these two texts stage scenes of terror as a threat to a sovereign identity (author or nation, in these two cases), a threat from an outside that seeks to penetrate so as to destroy this identity on or from the inside. Beyond this descriptive task, this project seeks to show how Rushdie’s and Miller’s representations of t error are conceptually compromised by contradictions that nevertheless energize and motivate their work ; indeed, both texts expose the shakiness of such self positioning —in fact, of positioning itself1—insofar as all positions require the kind of “front fa cing” perspective that makes available the sorts of blind spots in which terrorism (as a particular strategy of aggression) operates yet to which such articulable strategies are not equatable. Why not? Because “terror” is not simply reducible to any of the acts that terrorize. “Terror” is not an ontological thing that can be located “out there.” To be sure, the particular purveyors of 21st century “terrorist acts” take advantage of this orientation, this predisposition to figure the terrorist as alien. They take advantage, that is, of the sovereign’s presumption (the presumption on the part of the subject, the nation, the international organization, and so on) that its boundaries are intact and its interiority homogeneously self recognizing ; and the terrori st s do so in order to surprise, to attack from the shadows, to startle, and thus to make tremble when least expected, in the guise of the noncombatant citizen or the ally, 45


from within the sovereign border2. The mimetic resources of the terrorist help clar ify that “t error” names a fundamental condition, one that is always feared (hence the importance of continuing to use the term, in addition to its evocation of “shaking” associated both with such fear and the instability of foundations I am trying to eluci date) from any position that is recognizable to itself as sovereign, as one that establishes and provides a privileged (safe, secure, and ontologically foundational) point of perspective. In other words, the position comes second, and one cannot position o neself against this condition. This condition, then, is what I am trying to indicate when I name terror as a structural necessity, as “something” that, though it cannot “appear” as such, always already subsists whenever and wherever a perspective is possible. This “terror” is at work at what could be called every turn (though it always has us turned around, and thus turns out to be around the turn, “somewhere” to which we cannot turn) as nations seek to discover the external cause of that which has elicited the feeling of being terrified, “turning” every which way to discover the face of an enemy . My goal , then, is to contribute a line of inquiry that can help clarify our “time of terror,” including what is at stake in repr esenting ourselves as living in and as challenged to sur v ive “our” time of terror. More specifically, it is to cal l into question the autoimmunizing function of the very c oncept of “time of terror.” This concept names an epoch implicitly defined by a subject that recognizes the possibilit y of “unknown” dangers inherent to living, an epoch that differs from other historical periods not because the terror in question designates the escalation of an external, though potentially hidden, threat to the “civil society” of the Western world, but because it names a time of cultural mutation affecting the nature and experience of subjectivity . 46


What gives our “time of terror” not only its singularity but its apparent uniqueness is the recognition that the very structure of the subject itself is necess arily plagued by the sort of mortal terror it cannot elide, a terror hidden out in the open, so to speak, as it plagues cognition itself “from behind,” a tergo.3 And this is the case whether the subjectivity is of the seemingly singular “I” or the collecti ve “we.” This chapter seeks to explore further the ramifications of this structural terror, especially insofar as it has bearing on human action, on how we make decisions and how we understand ourselves and our interrelations. To put it simply, one might rightly wonder why, if such unavoidable “terror” is simply an inevitable consequence of self conscious life, should it matter to us? Our orientation towards death has been a focus of human thinking from the beginning, and the fact that mortality and suffering are inextricable facets of life that dictate much of our behavior and inspire fear is simply a fundamental truth; how then does an understanding of the structural terror presented here differ from, and thus have ramifications other than, that of exist entialist philosophy, be it of a secular or religious variety? Moreover, if human life itself is fundamentally plagued by terror, is this not tantamount to denying terror, of diluting it to such extent that it simply equates to that which it supposedly aff licts? No Outside of Violence: Autoimmunity, Radical Atheism, and Counter Conception In the chapters to come I will explor e Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction of “hospitality” and “justice” as those concepts are evoked (either obliquely or directly) in Salm on Rushdie’s Joseph Anton and Frank Miller’s Holy Terror , respectively. In both cases, Derrida’s analyses serve to elucidate the aporias at work in these texts and thus to highlight the kind of radically terrorizing threat against which neither text c an pr otect and to which both texts serve as testaments. In so doing, I hope to open the possibility 47


of reading these works in their instability as radical performances of insecurity, helplessly cross eyed perspectives on worlds in chaos that belie a structural upheaval inherent to all attempts at protecting a precious interior from a threatening outside. In Rushdie’s case, his book proves itself to be inhospitable precisely as it attempt s to defend a tradition supposedly predicated on openness from an inhospitable other, thereby memorializing narcissism and cowardice in the name of freedom and literature; in Miller’s case, his graphic novel s eeks justice by reveling in and then recoiling from the very sorts of terrorist violence it wants to eradicate, thus losing sight of justice altogether and plunging into despair. Thus, in witnessing to the desperate stakes of the war against terror, both Joseph Anton and Holy Terror simultaneously document a certain kind of “interior” collapse, so that the protagonists of both works end up fighting on the “wrong” side or for the “wrong” things or emulating the very enemy they seek to vanquish while the texts themselves vacillate wildly, interweaving seemingly oppositional concepts and collapsing differences so that it is hard t o make out just what is being protected and what is being attacked, what is righteous violence and what is a terrorist strike. In other words, immanent critiques of both books provide access to what Derrida calls autoimmunity . In much of his later work, Derrida explores the trope of “autoimmunity” as it relates to sovereignty and any related concept that relies upon the notion of a self grounded, self empowered structure from which acts in the world can be said to emanate, the basis for all traditional noti ons of political authority, personal responsibility, and individual autonomy. In other words, any idea of freedom, and all that such a 48


concept entails (including equality and democracy), relies upon an essential self relation, some quasi circular return or rotation toward the self, toward the origin itself, toward and upon the self of the origin, whenever it is a question, for example, of sovereign self determination, of the autonomy of the self, of the ipse, namely, of the one self that gives itself its ow n law, of autofinality, autotely, self relation as being in view of the self, beginning by the self with the end of self in view. ( Rogues 1011) In order for this self relation to function initself, to be the basis for self determination and to engender actions for which it is responsible in its freedom, it is necessary that the ipse be entirely without relation to the other, and as readings of Rushdie and Miller’s texts will show , any such relation always already threatens corruption ( threats manifested i n Rushdie’ s fear of misinterpretation and the porous outlines of Miller’s figures). This, of course, renders sovereignty mute and immovable in its indivisible and inaccessible inside even as it supposedly gives rise to any and all self directed action, for “as soon as sovereignty tries to extend its empire in space, to maintain itself over time, to protect itself by justifying and providing reasons for itself, it opens itself to law and to language, to the counter sovereignty of the other, and so begins to undo itself, to compromise or autoimmunize itself” (Naas 127; my emphasis). The “cruel autoimmunity with which sovereignty is affected” is thus innate to its relation to the world; for a sovereign to enact its power, it must, of course, persist in time, mu st act upon something that it isn’t, must, in short, open itself to the very possibility of its undoing (Derrida, Rogues 109). In other words, the sovereignty that underpins every sort of traditional relation between free entities is itself poisoned by the very relationality it grounds. In order for sovereignty to take effect, to assert its power, it must cease to be, for its imposition on the other requires a misalignment with itself, a 49


relation it cannot, by its definition as self contained self relation, abide. This is why Derrida says “pure sovereignty,” like the notions of “unconditional hospitality” and “absolute justice ,” cannot exist: it is always in the process of positing itself by refuting itself, by denying or disavowing itself; it is always in t he process of autoimmunizing itself, of betraying itself by betraying the democracy that nonetheless can never do without it (Derrida, Rogues 101). For sovereignty to appear, then, it must always be in the process of dissolution, desperately holding itsel f together as it continuously falls apart, dying in order to live. It thus must live in terror, in a frightful state of shakiness, as a shaky ground, in order for it to recognize itself as life, as the grounds for a life of relation (to time, to other life likewise grounded) and so always already at war both within and without. The autoimmunity Derrida discusses in regard to sovereignty and thus to subjectivity (at least as it is traditionally understood, as self conscious agency) is a key factor in Martin Hgglund’s formulation of radical atheism. As Hgglund explains, given that autoimmunity is intrinsic to all formulations of identity, “nothing can be unscathed”: “[Derrida’s] notion of autoimmunity spells out that everything is threatened from within itse lf, since the possibility of living is inseparable from the peril of dying” (9). But this means that life itself, and everything associated with it (everything we value, all our hopes and dreams, as well as our fears, sorrow, and suffering) is dependent up on this always already threatened (terrorized) structure. To desire otherwise is nonsensical, since thinking itself depends upon the very structure in question. For Hgglund, this means that Derrida’s deconstruction, insofar as it recognizes the autoimmuni ty inherent 50


to life itself, is radically atheist because “it undermines the religious conception of what is desirable” (9): The common denominator for religions is thus that they promote absolute immunity as the supremely desirable. This ideal of absolute immunity is succinctly formulated by Augustine in the seventh book of his Confessions . Augustine asserts that the immutable is better than the mutable, the inviolable better than the violable, and the incorruptible better than the corruptible. All religio us conceptions of the highest good (whether it is called God or something else) hold out such an absolute immunity, since the highest good must be safe from the corruption of evil. (8) This religious critical disposition is entirely antithetical to that of Derridean deconstruction, given that, as Hgglund writes, “the absolute immunity that r eligions hold out as ‘the best’ . . . i s on Derrida’s account ‘the worst’ since it would eliminate everything that can be desired” (9). As has been established, in orde r to function, sovereignty (and every political stratagem and tactic, indeed, every articulation and expression of the nationstate’s identity defending autoimmunitary orientation, which underwrites sovereignty’s conceptual apparatus) must expose itself t o time, language, and the other in order to exist, and in so doing, it must be immanently corruptible (and so corrupted from the start). To desire otherwise is not only to desire the end of sovereignty (as something that can function in the world, given that pure sovereignty is impossible) but to desire the end of everything, to hope for an end4 to thinking, to hoping, to loving, to desiring itself. In desiring in this “worst” way, religious thinking becomes focused not just on death but on absolute death, the death of the very dying that makes life not only wonderful and terrible (in the sense that wonder is predicated on a bittersweet relation to mortality whereupon every moment testifies to a singular experience without guarantee of another) but possible . In this way, Hgglund turns the table on religion, associating its dream of a purified absolute, of immortality and a God 51


existing outside of mortal time, with nihilism; moreover, he is able to disassociate Derrida from those thinkers who would claim his work for their own religious projects. Addressing the “numerous theological accounts of deconstruction” rising from “the proliferation of apparently religious terms in Derrida’s later work . . . such as messianicity, faith, and God,” Hgglund contends that Derrida relies on the desire for mortal life in order to read even the most religious ideas against themselves. Messianic hope is for Derrida a hope for temporal survival, faith is always faith in the finite, and the desire for God is a desire for the m ortal, like every other desire. (11) For example, in the fourth chapter of his book, Hgglund addresses John Caputo’s equation of Derrida’s assertion that “desire is a desire for the impossible” with a kind of religious passion (120). For Caputo, such impossibility is only mortal; for God, anything is possible, and thus Derrida’s “passion for the impossible” would indicate a kind of passion for God (120). Hgglund argues that this equation “is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what Derrida means by the impossible” (120). For Hgglund, Derrida’s thinking of the impossible refers to the everyday aporia of mortal experience itself , as “it answers to the spacing of time that divides everything within itself” (121). In other words, the very structure of time that makes mortal life possible, the relation of past, present, and future that affects the dispersion of every seemingly present experience as it slips interminably between past and future, renders any “in itself,” any sovereign position (s uch as a “ God” outside of time) or essential identity, impossible (121)5. As Rushdie’s and Miller’ s texts will demonstrate, the dream of a purified, absolute sovereign position is not just that of avowed religious thinkers; indeed, those who claim to be atheists (w hom Hgglund calls “traditional atheists”) are themselves fixated upon 52


this dream, whether by seeking a version of it in the generative intellectual inner space of the empowered secular individual or by measuring the violent state of mortal existence against such purity and thereby lamenting our world as “a lack of being that we desire to transcend” (Hgglund 1). Understanding radical atheism in this context, thinking it as a relentless recognition of autoimmunity (always already missing it in the process o f looking, since no critical position is safe from its necessarily autoimmune structure), s ituates my work more clearly in relation to Hgglund’s , for insofar as terror manifests as a threat to mortality, and insofar as mortal life itself is always already threatened by the necessary autoimmunity that simultaneously gives life to life and thought to thinking, terror is life, at least if life is understood as something worth saving, something to secure and protect. Without at least a minimum of such valuation, we have nothing; with every protective gesture, though, we have a drawing up of limits, and within every boundary autoimmunity is imminent. Throughout his book Hgglund reiterates Derrida’s deconstruction of presence, that everything is exposed to pass ing time and thus never in relation to itself, as every present is a trace of a lost past left vulnerable to a future passing. Traces upon traces, vanishing outlines etched upon outlines erased, every trace both a spectral reminder of what was, is, and wil l be a brutal sketching, marking out other marks, other possible marks, always in danger of being marked over or misread in turn. Insofar as life seeks continuance, and any such perpetuity belies a desire for security that inherently looks past the structure of terror that defines living, Hgglund can say that “the socalled desire for immortality dissimulates a desire for survival that precedes it and contradicts it from within” (1). Radical atheism exposes the aporia of such positioning. 53


In his book The I nfanticidal Logic of Evolution and Culture, Sam Kimball figures this dissimulated desire for survival in terms of infanticidal cost, the sacrificial condition inherent to existence itself that cannot be exorcized from Western culture even as its articulati on butts up against the limits of that culture’s thinking; as Kimball explains, The apprehension that the costs of economization are another name for a violence that is unavoidably sacrificial of, in fact infanticidal toward, other human life is . . . one of the most intimate insights of the Judaic, Greek, and Christian traditions. So troubling has this prospect been, however, that it has evoked the most powerful of resistances from within the very traditions that have been led to acknowledge it. The result has been uncanny: the keeping hidden from view of a perturbing and dangerous awareness, which, century after century, millennium after millennium, has nevertheless been continuously passed on across the generations. (25) Taking up the etymology of the wor d “future,” Kimball demonstrates how the very naming convention we use to position ourselves in time (and thus to position ourselves at all as mortal beings) looks past the structural terror that shakes the grounds for thinking life as life (as growing, br inging forth, existing, becoming) and hence for imagining living on in perpetuity (262). Kimball traces the development of the Latin futurus from the IndoEuropean bheue, the stem of which “is the source of a Germanic root meaning ‘to be,’ from which event ually arose the modern English word be” and “is also the stem of the Latin fieri , ‘to become’“ (262). He goes on to show its relation to a host of other Western words designating life, growth, cultivation, habituation, lineage, construction, and prosperity (262). In so doing, he establishes that “the word future thus participates in an etymological development that affirms thinking as ontologically originary —conceptive. It inscribes within its root meaning a predicate movement by which what will be—the future —is conceived as being self engendering, hence self perpetuating” (262). The future, then, is always already sovereign (in its self relation) and hence always already corrupted by the very autoimmunity that predicates every 54


relation to a future expressed in every possible iteration of life, the exposure to time every trace must endure as it “can only live on . . . by being left for a future that may erase it” (Hgglund 1). By establishing that our very means of articulating this relation (through the conc ept “future” whose meaning is inexorably tied to a kind of sovereign power of life) precludes us from approaching the terr ifying possibility of extinction inherent to that relation, Kimball is able to evoke an anxiety to which even Hgglund only points, and he magnifies this discomfort by exposing precisely what is hidden by the dream of immortality intrinsic to the very temporal model required to think anything (life as the relation to a “future” semantically inseparable from the thinking of life is “immor tal” in its platitudinal association with “future” as a term always already evoking more life—in other words, life, identifiable only in its tracing from past to future, means nothing other than life in relation to (more) life): Conceived as that which wil l be, the future hides the infinitely greater loss of that which will never be. The deceit within all biological or mental conceptions of the future is explicit when the death of the other is figured as a finite loss offset by a potentially infinite and thereby sacred gain in life to the surviving victors. To so conceive of the future requires covering up the (infanticidal) costliness of all life, and that cover up condemns conception— biological or mental —to the very uncreation to which this trope would see m to be opposed. Every conception of the future implies an abortion or contraception of other possible futures. (263) In order to broach this therefore inconceivable limit to thinking, to somehow “think” thinking itself without resorting to the figures of conception (life in its perpetual generation) that even our thinking of time (as relation to the “future,” and thus to life) requires, Kimball’s project explores the covert ways a kind of “counter conception” runs through not only Western literature but al so evolutionary theory, and his book rigorously works to trace its logic. Where Hgglund’s “radical atheism” offers an alternative to “traditional atheism,” exposing the latter’s adherents as in fact dejected believers hoping 55


for an impossible world without the violence that makes every world possible, Kimball’s logic of “counter conception” rigorously emphasizes how even the seemingly most secular scientific discourse has maintained a “metaphysical commitment in the transcendental value of life” and thus h as not been able to “see” the extent to which violence permeates existence, including its own (Kimball 30). Hgglund and Kimball point to the kinds of radical violence—a nontranscendable violence —which haunt Rushdie and Miller’s missives on surviving terr or. In responding to and attempting to represent this haunting, Rushdie and Miller come close to understanding a terror beyond the specific terror of 9/11, a radical, aporetic terror overlapping with the (im)possibility of mortal time for Hgglund and the “costliness” inherent to life elucidated by Kimball, a terror I am suggesting always already necessarily returns in any and every narrative of survival. This terror is simultaneously the bane of every mortal life, given that it threatens that life’s continuance and implicates it in a struggle which necessitates hostility, and is the very possibility of that life and hence of hope, joy, and value. Ultimately, I will use “zeroism” to indicate the kind of living on that living with such terror might entail. Ap proaching Ground Zero: Rushdie and Miller ’s Missives from the Edge Rushdie’s Joseph Anton points obliquely to the terrifying aporia of survival that both Hgglund and Kimball expose (albeit in different registers) if read with a kind of doublevision. As a n impossible apology for one man’s existence, a self canceling, self incriminating letter to the world exposing its author as a coward and an egotist whose living on cannot be justified, it memorializes the stupid contingency of survival. Because any possi ble confession (including one that manifests only in its ironic self destruction) lives on in the stead of those who cannot so assert themselves, it thus always already 56


comes across as a self serving perpetuation of the violence for which it tries to take account and so never is adequate to the task of mourning for which it has been issued. The manic quality of Joseph Anton’s content, its jarring segues from joy to rage to sorrow, from shameful self debasement to extreme self aggrandizement, from plaintive reflections on self control to wild revengefantasies, thus also should be “seen” as a testament to the sheer, incomparable thrill of being alive, of holding onto life as it inevitably collapses, of dancing on graves as the only possible way to move. But t his exuberance is always blind and terribly short sighted; the gravedancing of life always already constitutes a whistling past the graveyard. There will always be blood on one’s hands and an infinite amount of mourning to be performed. If Joseph Anton me morializes our time of terror in order to establish an intellectual defense of the West against its critics, its exuberance also suggests the sadism inherent to survival, the existential cost of any celebatory memoir, the terror of every time that thinks t he future in terms of infinite life. Miller’s Holy Terror , on the other hand, insists on violence from the beginning and aggressively pursues vengeance as a measure of justice, thus overtly racing towards an apocalyptic end whereby terror is synonymous wit h despair and the inescapable costliness of existence isn’t worth the cost. If Rushdie’s text covertly implodes in its gushing enthusiasm for the serious literary tradition it defends, Miller’s meekly collapses under the weight of its explosively exaggerat ed escapist superhero tropes, as an exegesis of its final scene bears out. However, the latter’s graphic art allows for a superimposition of meanings that perhaps more viscerally captures the infanticidality to which Kimball alludes; the fading faces in fr ames read sequentially across the page 57


after Miller’s depiction of a terrorist attack on ‘Empire City,” his stand in for New York City, simu ltaneously explode as fragments across the page when “read” as a single panel, evoking ghostly images of phantom fra mes potentially ghosting to infinity, the empty, missing frames of missing faces that never were, themselves covering over other frames that could have been. The literal doublevision the seeing of this optical illusion requires accompanies the figurative overlay of sequential reading and all at once viewing; thus, we intuit autoimmunity in all its horrible glory. Traces of faces fade into spaces of nothing haunted by the virtual ghosts of never weres while black borders trace white interiors against a whit e background that likewise frames the thin black lines, outside and inside butting up and bleeding over. This incredible effect erupts across a meticulously organized layout; the borders of every panel are cleanly inked and carefully distributed in perfect ly centered columns and rows. Here, where the text could be most graphically violent, where body parts could litter the page, where the gobs of ink and smudges and fingerprints so prevalent in most of the text might seem most appropriate, abstract shapes dominate, as if Miller’s signature itself has disappeared in the destruction. And yet, the stacking of quadratic shapes simultaneously makes the author all the more present, his careful planning of the page sticking out like a sore thumb where his literal t humbprint is missing —the order itself contributes to the violence of his witnessing, the trace of his remaining against the impossible evocation of infinite remains. That Miller’s pages also can be read as rows of zeroes on a ledger is of significance; her e, of course, is his evocation of Ground Zero in New York City. In Joseph Anton , Rushdie’s narrator himself visits the site in passing; walking the streets 58


an unspecified amount of time after the 9/11 attacks, he remarks that “the dreadful hole in the ground, and the equally melancholy hole in the sky above, were still there, and fires still burned belowground, but even that agony could be borne. Life would vanquish death. It would not be the same as before, but it would be all right” (626). Where Rushdie l inks the empty hole to birth, an opening unto life set against and “vanquishing” death, Miller offers a zerosum equation. At this moment Rushdie’s text quite clearly “buys into” the deceit housed within the concept of the future, imagining a plenitude of living, a carrying on that always already implies life and the possibility that everything ultimately can be “all right.” Miller’s pages suggest otherwise and point to an unthinkable accounting that must take place wherever life can be recognized, wherever breath can be drawn (and for Miller, breath is always background, the carcinogenic white of the page over which outlines are etched). In Holy Terror , life (understood as a tracing of vanishing interiors fading in time) doesn’t vanquish death; it is death, and as the final, paranoiac shot of insomniac detective Dan Donegal suggests, such a life may not be worth living. Following Derrida and insisting on the rigorously anti religious character of his thought, Hgglund’s logic of radical atheism and Kimball’ s logic of counter conception suggest our choices in this “time of terror” do not simply come down to choosing between a dumb optimism that “covers up the costliness of life” (Kimball 263) by thinking the future as generative and a numb pessimism that recognizes this costliness as indicative of the worst, “a lack of being that we desire to transcend” (Hgglund 1). Taking into account the significance of Ground Zero as the “starting point” of this time, with all of the startling , hence tremor inducing (terrorizing) associations any such “start” 59


entails, and turning now to Brian Rotman’s archeology of the figure “zero” as a semiotic character, I will offer my own neologism to complement their work: zeroism. Something Missing, Nothing Found: Rotman and the Semi otics of Zero The hesitation and conceptual confusion that the appearance of zero “produces” in mathematics is well documented and has been the fodder for such acclaimed popular writers as David Foster Wallace (who discusses its peculiar status in his work on the history of the infinite, Everything and More) and Charles Seife (who traces its history in Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea). David Berlinski also provides an excellent overview of the zero’s enigmatic character in his 2011 book, One, Two, T hree: Absolutely Elementary Mathematics : the placeholder X was in time replaced by the symbol 0 . . . for every good reason. The simplest of hygienic routines demands it. The sum of 2 and 0 is 2. Treating 0 as a placeholder, and so as a symbol, renders thi s identity incoherent. A placeholder cannot be added to a number, any more than a horse’s name can be entered in a race. Yet the promotion of 0 . . . is hardly a model of logical scrupulousness, for if 0 is a name, just what does it name? The obvious answer, in virtue of the fact that two plus zero is still two, is that it names nothing. But if 0 names nothing, then it is difficult to make sense of adding 0 to two. There is no adding nothing to anything. If, on the other hand, 0 names something, then it is again difficult to see why two plus something should remain two. It hardly helps to insist that zero is that unique something that behaves as if it were nothing. Mathematicians have traditionally resolved these difficulties by embracing the thesis that at times something is nothing, a metaphysical achievement that cannot be said to inspire a sense of serenity. (20) The unease Berlinski uncovers here is rigorously confronted in Brian Rotman’s Signifying Nothing: The Semiotics of Zero, a text that is particul arly pertinent given its staging of an encounter between the perplexing semiotic status of zero and Derrida’s deconstruction of language. Citing its “formal equivalence with the vanishing point and imaginary money,” Rotman makes the case that zero inaugurates “a major signifying event” whereupon 60


what he calls “metasigns” —signs of signs and so of classes, sets, or systems of signs, rather than signs of a world “outside” those signs —are made possible (1). In other words, zero, as the sign of the absence of other mathematical signs, points to the systematicity of math itself, to its status as a semiotic system predicated not on an anterior reality but to relations engendered by the very relational structure of that system. Given its early introduction into thi nking, its “epistemologically rudimentary” status —such that it counts as a “more primary semiotic activity” than the viewing of paintings or the exchange of money, and such that it foregrounds the fundamental philosophical problem of nothingness (1) —Rotman claims for the zero an “exalted role” over and against all other semiotic phenomena (2). Focusing on “the peculiar, enigmatic, and profoundly abstract challenge that zero presented, as a sign . . . whose connection to ‘nothing,’ the void, the place where no thing is, makes it the site of a systematic ambiguity between the absence of ‘things’ and the absence of signs” (2), Rotman ultimately links the zero’s disruption of traditional ideas of origin and anteriority to Derridean deconstruction, specifically as elucidated in Of Grammatology, within which Rotman detects “the same semiotic mechanism and matrix of formal connections, that is the emergence of a metasign whose disruption is precisely the loss of a transcendental origin and with it the loss of anter iority, first identified for the mathematical sign zero” (104). Here, Rotman attributes to the concept of zero a deconstructive force or function the undecidability of which may be specified as above: zero does not refer merely to one number among a like s et or system of numbers (integers, real numbers, and so on) but, on the one hand, to the way most numerals other than zero seem to refer to something ontologically determinable (their 61


corresponding numbers), while, on the other hand, zero does not under th e circumstance that zero marks the nonontologicalizable trace structure of all numbers. Rotman ultimately hesitates to associate his project with what he (tellingly) calls Derrida’s “deconstructivism,” however (105). Calling the latter “a species of global absolutism which, in the end, does not impinge on a text which claims no more for its oppositions than that they are local and relative” (105), and suggesting that his own treatise is, in fact, just that sort of nondeconstructible text, Rotman explains his break with Derrida thus: Derrida’s arguments tell us that there is no absolute origin to signs (signs are always already there) that there is no absolute category of metasign (all signs are metasigns since they refer to and invoke other signs) that t here is no absolute sense of the literal (what is figurative and nonfigurative interpenetrate) that there is no absolute signifier (signifiers cannot be signifieds of other signs,6 and so on). But there is in these denials no reason why a sign such as zer o cannot be a relative origin, why zero cannot signify absence relative to the presence of certain signs, why, that is, zero cannot be privileged as a metasign with respect to other signs not so privileged. (105) What Rotman wants, then, is to think zero as a relative origin against what he calls “the whole persuasion of Derrida’s thesis that origins are always mythical and looking for origins of signs is the central illusion of Western metaphysics” (104). He thus characterizes the zero as “itself nothing other than an origin, ” a sign that, as metasign marking the absence of other signs within a semiotic system, is “more secondary, literally more significant, than others” (105). Moreover, as the marking of such an origin, Rotman argues that the zero “requires there to be . . . a certain sort of subject present,8 a conscious intentional agency, whose ‘presence’ at the initiation of the process of counting is precisely what zero signifies” (105). For Rotman, then, the zero marks an “origin” without origin and the virtual “presence” of a “subject” he has earlier 62


distinguished from the human individual in his or her singularity: “Such subjects are not to be identified with individuals, with persons who feel themselves to be authors and recipients of sign utterances; rather, they are semiotic capacities —public, culturally constituted, historically identifiable forms of utterance and reception which codes make available to individuals” (3). Thus, zero for Rotman is a conventional designation, a structural conseque nce of the iterability that “precedes” the human subjectivity (first or second order) that Rotman wants to preserve against Derrida’s multiple critiques. This sort of semiotic capacity7 gives rise to what Rotman calls the “metasubject” or a “secondary subjectivity,” the “self conscious subject of a subject,” which recognizes the “semiotic closure” of the system in which its capacity is inscribed (4). Thus, for example, where zero can be “used” as just another integer, added to or subtracted from other num bers or presented as the first in a counted series, there is consequently within the system a certain slippage, “the failure to distinguish between inner perception (self as author of signs) and outer perception (author as subject of signs), between words and words about words,” which, given Rotman’s semiotic understanding of subjectivity, “will be seen not as an error, a confusion to be clarified, but as the inevitable result of a systematic linguistic process which elides this very difference” (3). Rotman calls this confusion “the naturalization of metasigns into signs” and likens it to “figures of speech dying and becoming literal,” thus establishing the figurative parameters of his own analysis; naturalization and death are to signs (their first order m eaning, their functional capacity) and “individual” subjects as, presumably, denaturalization (a certain kind of detachment or secondorder meaning, a positioning outside) and life are to metasigns and metasubjects (4). Thus, though he claims that his se miotic analysis passes no 63


judgment on the processes with which it engages, the fact that “it becomes necessary, if one is to explicate what it means for a sign to signify other signs, to retrieve the fate of the absented subject,” is in fact predicated on a desire for resurrection, for an outside positioning that can access systematicity itself, that thereby elides the elision at work within systems and is free to observe from the outside. Thus, when he says that “there is no reason why a sign such as zero cannot be a relative origin,” it is telling that he fails to say : “there is no reason why a sign such as zero cannot be used as a relative origin.” Of course it can be used as . . . and of course this performative use can be effaced such that zero becomes ontologized as what it then “is,” what it manifests as being, what it appears to be (relatively or otherwise). In other words, in failing to recognize his own failure to distinguish the first order meaning of zero from its secondorder performance as a sig n of a sign, in covering over this difference in the name of that difference, Rotman himself falls victim to the zero, as its manifesting or appearing is always already an effect of its performative, not its constative, status. Rotman’s resistance to Derri da can thus be linked to a certain fear of death by inclusion, a desire to establish an absolute positioning by establishing a metaposition that is somehow always already at one remove from itself and that, ultimately, cannot account for its position. In this way he performs the very process of naturalization he seeks to elucidate and so is surprised by that which he seeks to get behind; accusing “deconstructivism” of “global absolutism,” he seeks an absolutism in turn, forgetting the radical lesson his ot herwise rigorous analysis of zero imparts: there is nothing outside the text. 64


Terror, Textuality, and the Time to Come: Why the Zero is No Hero Rotman’s perpetual pulling back in regard to the metasign of the zero forgets itself as it projects itself as a relative position and thus is comparable to the “psychological denial” he ascribes to the Greeks and their “reaction to the void”: in the psychologically more vulnerable and fraught regions of ontology and theology it inspired a form of terror. For Aristo tle, engaged in classifying, ordering, and analysing the world into its irreducible and final categories, objects, causes and attributes, the prospect of an unclassifiable emptiness, an attributeless hole in the natural fabric of being, isolated from cause and effect and detached from what was palpable to the senses, must have presented itself as a dangerous sickness, a Goddenying madness that left him with an ineradicable horror vacui. (63; my emphasis) The terror expounded upon here thus is not alleviated by the sort of denaturalization Rotman seeks when he names zero as a metasign but refuses to recognize the necessary performativity inherent to every act of writing, up to and including his own. Every privileging comes with a cost, with a blind spot9 t hat is vulnerable to a start, a secondorder perspective that gives the lie to the first order meanings of the signs it brackets and that is vulnerable to bracketing in turn. Such is the unnatural nature of autoimmunity that is always already at work withi n every established border, every identity, every thinkable sort of subjectivity. The terror Rotman names in regard to Greek thought, insofar as it accompanies any and every system of signs, is in fact equivalent to the zero as the terror of all signs, a t error that is perhaps intensified in the production of signs of signs, especially when this production offers the false promise of self certainty, and self security, a terror that, by virtue of its disruptive potential for upheaval as the mark of the alway s permeable limit of the system within which it appears, also grounds that system, brackets it and so defines it and establishes its working limits. 65


It is precisely the sense of unease that Aristotle experienced during his intellectual engagement, that in fact accompanies every pragmatic action, for which the “zero” is a metonymy, capturing the dilemma that, although something must be done (in this particular time of terror, perhaps especially, but since to live is necessarily to live in terror, recognized and felt or not), all action, including passivity, carries with it the consequences of “embracing” a thesis that “is hardly a model of logical scrupulousness” (Berlinski 20). In contrast to Rotman’s privileging of the zero as a relative, and hence seeming ly nondeconstructible, origin, and its thinking as therefore a privileged recognition of the subject onceremoved from the “semiotic capacities” by which it is predicated, I thereby offer “zeroism,” the (non) heroic recognition of recognition as the recog nition of a terrifying possibility, indeed necessity, within all signifying acts, including self signifying ones. Insofar as the idea of “zero” marks the paradoxical name of the nothing, stands “at the heart of the battle between East and West” and “at the center of the struggle between religion and science” and serves as the surname for the ground upon which the Twin Towers fell (“ground zero”), this sign (as the terror of nothing and its simultaneous covering over by an integer that has “shaped humanity’s view of the universe”) allegorizes the kind of radical atheist, counter conceptual (im)position that a new thinking of heroic positioning requires, one in stark contrast to that of religious thinkers and secular atheists alike (Seife 2). As Derrida explai ns in “Passages — from Traumatism to Promise,” “all experience open to the future is prepared or prepares itself to welcome the monstrous arrivant” (386387). Such preparation—which is really a preparation without preparation, a preparation to encounter what cannot be prepared 66


for —concedes certainty and functions in the dark; in other words, the “zeroist” sets out to greet monsters rather than slay, domesticate, or line them up in a series, numerable or not, that would preserve the semiotic capacity that terr or disrupts while making possible. Other contemporary philosophers of the void, like Slavoj iek and Alain Badiou, have found solace in the revolutionary potential inherent to the zero. For iek , the “zero point is the virtual attractor towards which our reality, left to itself, tends,” and a recognition of this zero allows for the possibility of “ acts that interrupt this drifting towards the catastrophic ‘fixed point’ and take upon themselves the risk of giving birth to some radical Otherness ‘to come’” (134). Badiou emphasizes the individual’s lack of being and the nothingness of “individual t ruth” in order to promote a radical conception of community: Since the being of the subject is the lack of being, it is only by dissolving itself into a project that exceeds him that an individual can hope to attain some subjective real. Thenceforth, the ‘ we’ constructed in and by this project is the only thing that is truly real —subjectively real for the individual who supports it. The individual, truth be told, is nothing. The subject is the new man, emerging at the point of self lack. The individual is t hus, in its very essence, the nothing that must be dissolved into a wesubject. (101) Unlike these theorists, though not necessarily in opposition to them, I am emphasizing here the zero’s radically destabilizing, deeply disturbing, relentlessly terrifying effect in order to imagine the kind of courage it might take to face an unrecognizable future, a heroism without a happy (self capacitizing) ending. Such a heroism, always already limited by its (in)capacity to secure its borders and thus unlimited in its vulnerability to an outside threat, recognizes that which is of most value, the time of living, as passing, its death named in the very now that seemingly announces its arrival. Every passing minute, gone; every past minute, lost; 67


every future moment dest ined to die, spectral in its coming and going, just a flicker of life fading as it bursts. And yet the flicker, in its always already passing, is all we have, all we could ever have, all we could ever want or hope or cherish. This is the terror and triumph of life; to think it requires a courage without valor or prescribed value. It is important to note that the triumphalism espoused here is always already a register of defeat, insofar as every “real” moment of survival is inscribed “within” a general text (arche writing) which makes the life we think we live impossible even as it affords us a means for valuing our existence; thus, in “Living On/ Borderlines,” Derrida warns that “to speak of writing, of triumph, as living on , is to enunciate or denounce the manic fantasy. Not without repeating it, and that goes without saying ” (176). What “goes without saying” (textuality and the mortal costs associated with the impossible structure of life) is always already being said at every moment, a ghostly reminder that the rules of saying are aporetic and exceed the power to say. In contrast to the “manic fantasies” of a living on without inherent sadism (Rushdie’s liberal dream) or a brutal survival that requires/justifies vengeful brutality and vigilantism (Miller’s conservative nightmare) , zeroism entails a fidelity to fading, to the coming of an always already going away and the disappearance of the distinguishing trait. It does not celebrate stoicism any more than rage or joy or hope or fear; it marks, rather, the trembling structure of structure itself, the trace of every mark remarked in its passing. The zeroist heralds the becoming nothing that every something precludes; one doesn’t choose, then, to join the movement, only recognizes the terribly wonderful predi cament in which we all find ourselves as we lose ourselves to the comings and goings of time. 68


Notes 1. In Positions , whe n challenged by his interviewers about his work’s position in regards to materialism and Marxist critique, Derrida explains that “deconstruction is not neutral . . . it intervenes , ” but he refuses to link its operation to a specific ally materialist intervention (93). In order to explain (the “economy” of) his position on— his critical caution about —taking positions , he asks in return whet her his interviewers are in agreement with him that there is no effective and efficient position, no veritable force of rupture, without a minute, rigorous, extended analysis, an analysis that is as differentiated and as scientific as possible? Analysis of the greatest number of possible givens, and of the most diverse givens (general economy)? And that it is necessary to uproot this notion of taking a position from every determination that, in the last analysis, remains psychologistic, subjectivistic, moral and voluntaristic ? (94) Derrida here makes the case for the rigorous questioning of positioning itself; insofar as deconstruction intervenes wherever a term such as “position” appears in order to gauge the logic of its inscription, its appearance withi n, across, and between texts, it resists subordination to the term in question, for “i nscription . . . is not a simple position: it is rather that by means of which every position is of itself confounded (differnce) : inscription, mark, text and not only t hesis or themeinscription of the thesis” (96). Every position, then, is always already an inscribed positioning—that is, a calculated, hence impure, economization that is always able to have unanticipatable effects, including costs — and deconstruction int ervenes as soon as such a position is taken (given that every text within which such positioning appears is “ deconstructible” as a matter of course). This does not mean that taking a particular position is impossible; on the contrary, positioning is unavoi dable, and necessary, as there is nothing outside the general text. In other words, each and every seemingly grounded position, insofar as positioning and grounding themselves not only imply but depend upon inscription, are simultaneously groundless, unfix ed, and (potentially) existentially terrifying if one seeks absolute certitude or metaphysical verification. As Rodolphe Gasch explains Position is . . . a form of constitution by means of which something becomes what it is through its relation to something other. Inscription, however, does not signify such a relation; on the contrary, it is the determination of positional constitution, of the relation of the same and the Other, for it demonstrates that this relation 69


refers to something that cannot in any case be posited—the alterity of the Other —since this alterity is itself the ground of possibility of a positing self. (158) Thus, there is no transcendental position ing from which one can survey the world from outside the world, only one or another situat ed position inside it —that is, only some position that, seemingly offering an outside view, is always able to be situated within a different, seemingly external, view. In other words, since all views can be viewed in turn, no view can be positioned as transcendental. . That position cannot encompass all possible positions, positionality as such, and will always be susceptible of repositioning. Deconstruction, as the thinking of inscription, thereby avoids the pitfall of relativity, which ontologizes the quas i transcendental character of relationality. 2. Examples of such border crossings and mimetic subterfuge abound. Ramsi Ahmed Yousef, one of the masterminds behind the World Trade Center bombings in 1993, entered the United States without a visa in 1992 and sought political asylum; though he was flagged as a suspicious character by an immigration inspector, he was allowed to enter the country and never reported for a hearing on his official status (Bernstein 65). The 9/11 Commission Report found that Nawaf al Hazmi and Khalid al Mindhar, two of the terrorist pilots responsible for the 911 attacks, arrived in California in January of 2000, enrolled in English classes, and received pilot training in the U.S. ( Kean and Hamilton 215 216). Tamerlan and Dzokhar Tsarnaev, the suspected perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombings in April of 2013, were members of a Chechen family that had received “derivative asylum status” in the United States; Tamerlan was “a legal permanent U.S. resident,” while Dzokhar was “a natur alized U.S. citizen” as of September of 2012 (Mattingly , Dorning, and Bykowicz ). 3. Our epoch is thus one wherein so many mainstream conservative and liberal thinkers alike defend against the commonsense implications that can be drawn from even a cursory und erstanding of the human condition; that, as Judith Butler explains in Giving an Account of Oneself , “the one story the ‘I’ cannot tell is the story of its own emergence as an ‘I’ who not only speaks but comes to give an account of itself” (66). In other words, we live in a time when we both know the limits of first person consciousness in regards to its formation (its development as a response to parenting, to educational opportunities, to peer to peer interaction, etc.) and often refuse to admit to knowing how problematic such knowledge is when it comes to theories of personal responsibility. Sam Kimball calls the self certitude that we take for granted “the tragedy of first person point of view,” the tragedy that “the ‘I’ is always at risk of being ‘locked in,’ of being locked into or within itself, hence of being locked out from a potentially superior point of view ” (“Evolutionary Psychology ( Deconstructed) ” 6). This “tragedy” is, at least from a perspective that seeks stable grounding and that desires suc h certainty, what I am calling “terror.” That such a perspective is always already in place insofar as we are capable of recognizing ourselves as selves and thus as functioning with in society all of whose other members or inhabitants are likewise subjected to such a perspectival placement only 70


magnifies the terrifying (groundshaking, certainty defying, hence existentially abhorrent) extent of this terror. 4. Perhaps another way to say this is that the truth of life is the immanence of death, an always already ending which paradoxically allows for the continuation of the very life that death brings to an end. Without death, no life; as Hgglund explains, “ temporal finitude entails all sorts of extermination and erasure, but it cannot come to a final, apocalypti c end. Or rather: the end of finitude would be the “worst,” since it would destroy everything” (46). From this perspective, apocalyptic discourse is always a kind of recoiling from the terror of death in life and acts as a kind of mystical reassurance even as it is blind to the absolute terror it would announce. Discussing the always already to come of time that allows for the present (as relation: the present as not the future to come) as it simultaneously destroys it (the relation itself eradicates the es sence of the present which is also always already receding, the future thus nam ing the impossibility of the present) , Derrida asks “and what if it was the apocalypse itself, what precisely breaks in [fait effraction] in the “Come”? What is “inside” and what is “outside” a text . . . ?” (“Of an Apocalyptic Tone Recently Adopted in Philosophy” 35). Here the question of the border intermi ngles with that of time and imma nent destruction, a question which will be especially pertinent to chapter four and its disc ussion of Holy Terror ’s disintegrating frames and outlines projected across the flipping page. The apocalypse, insofar as the term refers to a revelation of the end of everything, including the very trace structure of life that structures the general text “within” which every event comes to be, cannot happen, for happening coincides with being, and being always already infers the general text. When people invoke the apocalypse, therefore, they always project a fantasy of their (millenarian) survival. They t hus reproduce in their apocalyptic rhetoric the logic of the autoimmunitary response that underwrites their identification with sovereignty. 5. Hgglund also argues, contra Simon Critchley, Drucilla Cornell, and others, that deconstruction is incompatible wi th Levinas’s ethical metaphysics, for “the idea of a primary peace is incompatible with deconstructive thinking” (76). Briefly, where Levinas posits a relation to a trace of the absolutely Other, reflected in the immediacy of the other’s face recalling the “absolute past of the Absent One,” Hgglund argues that Derrida’s notion of the trace undermines such a One because the trace already (1) marks a “constitutive spacing” that eradicates the possibility of such an absolute position (2) always already “dissi mulates,” due to this spacing, any occurrence that precedes dissimulation itself and (3) necessitates the possibility of erasure in mortal time that renders any “in itself” impossible (80). Interestingly, this critique aligns nicely with Andrea Hurst’s arg ument, contra iek ’s reading of Derrida, that Derrida “show[s] that Levinas’ insistence on the purity of the Wholly Other remains inconsistent, since his discourse in fact requires the phenomenology he rejects” (83). Hurst’s book Derrida V is vis Lacan (2008) attempts to show how deconstruction and Lacanian psychoanalysis are in fact compatible as approaches to what she calls the “plural logic of the aporia” (8). Though iek has vigorously maintained that Lacanian discourse and deconstruction are incongruent, such 71


thi nkers as Hurst, Hgglund, and Kimball, insofar as they oppose Derrida’s work to its “post secular” readings, may open up ways to reconcile important aspects of iek ’s emancipatory project with Derrida’s thinking. 6. Derrida does not say this. Derrida expli citly deconstructs the opposition of signifier and signified to show that the opposition is always seemingly in place only locally but is never able to be determined to be absolutely, transcendentally in place. 7. "Semiotic capacities" are conventions; Derrid a elucid at es such capacities much more clearly as the problem of “Signature Event Context” in Limited Inc (Northwestern University Press, 1988). 8. Whether or not this “certain sort of subject” is human, it is, for Rotman, still “present,” and thus, in conseq uence, an origin of the origin. And yet he does not consider it a meta origin but a simple origin or a simple systematic condition of the possibility of the zero: the system gives rise to zero as a necessary position that evacuates all other numbers of their seeming ontological (ideal) character: they, too, are positional. When Rotman invokes the “semiotic capacities” of semiosis, he is invoking its systamaticity, something like Saussure’s “langue” in its opposition to “parole.” But as Derrida has tirelessl y demonstrated (in not only Of Grammotology but Writing and Difference, Speech and Phenomena, and Limited Inc. , amongst many others) the systematicity of a system depends on difference, on traces. If Rotman’s “certain sort of subject present” is able to “i nitiate,” his language indicates that he is conceiving of zero in traditional logocentric terms as having an originary, original, originative capacity. 9. See Paul De Man’s Blindness and Insight (University of Minnesota Press, 1983) for much more on such blind spots. 72


CHAPTER 3 STARTING OVER, STRIKING BACK — SALMAN RUSHDIE AND THE SOVEREIGN SELF “The home is a place where things can go wrong.” —David Lynch Salman Rushdies Everywhere Author Salman Rush die1, whose infamous 1989 book The Satanic Verses enraged many prominent fundamentalist Muslims and was the impetus for the Ayatollah Khomenei to declare a fatwa calling for the author’s death, provides an exemplary anticipatory account of living in our ti me of terror, especially insofar as such an existence requires taking sides and implicating oneself, necessarily and inescapably, in acts of violence. His situation also points to the timelessness of the terror I am discussing; if he is an exemplary figure of our current epoch, supposedly inaugurated on September of 2001, it is not only because his life under a death sentence preceded the War o n Terror by more than a decade and c an retroactively appear to be a foreshadowing, an allegory of the West’s post 9 /11 life in relation to fundamentalist Islam, but because this kind of death threat is always already a part of life in a structural sense, as explored in chapter two, and his previous state of anxiety thus exceeds the very epoch he exemplifies, as does th e terror of mortal life. His 2012 memoir Joseph Anton recounts these terrifying pre9/11 years through to his life in the United States in 2011. Despite its author’s compulsion to insist otherwise, the book in question insists that no one knows the ending in advance and that there is no happiness without terror and the threat of death . In this sense the book serves , contrary to Rushdie’s avowed aims, as testament for the terrible wonder of life recognized by the zeroist: every moment is a compromise. 73


A bo unty on his head, the Rushdie of Joseph Anton will fear for his life and be embroiled in the fight of his life, for his life, a struggle which will compel him to seek protection and to justify the cost of the security measures that the British state will p rovide for him. Terrorized by a subset of the international readership he longs to impress, terrified by the prospect that others will be harmed in his name, tortured by the collateral damage the controversy over his book incurs, Rushdie finds himself on t he counterattack, desperate to validate his continued survival. Choosing to lash out at his critics (terrorists, religious fundamentalists, and fellow public intellectuals alike) in the name of a universal rationality with which he will repeatedly align hi mself, Rushdie risks taking a terrifyingly tyrannical position in order to “feel good” about himself and his choices. In so doing, he blinds himself to the ways his defense mirrors the aggressive tactics of his attackers and thus remains unable to think the structural violence inherent to every position one might take, an inescapable violence of which Joseph Anton , gives testimony, even as its author turns away. Thus does Rushdie emerge as a fascinating , complex, and ultimately ambivalent figure of our time of terror (which, as I have been suggesting, is always already the time of mortal life) , both as an important chronicler of its crippling existential effects and at the same time as an insufficiently critical voice who winds up being a violent participant in its politics of rage. In the summer of 2012, Rushdie released his memoir Joseph Anton, in which he recounts the years he spent living under the aforementioned fatwa . In interviews conducted prior to the book’s release and during the press tour to prom ote it, Rushdie set out to establish the importance of his story, and of his survival, by generalizing his situation. For example, an October 14, 2011, interview with Gidi Wei tz of Haaretz leads 74


with Rushdie’s story about media reaction to him after the at tacks of September 11, 2001: “I remember post 9/11, many journalists from all over saying to me, ‘Ah, now we understand what happened to you.’ And I responded, ‘Really? That’s what it took for you to take note?!’ But in some way that was the moment at whic h these things, like the attack on The Satanic Verses or the persecution of other people in different places, became a big thing.” When asked about other writers and artists persecuted by Islamic fundamentalists, he explains that “There is a Salman Rushdie everywhere.”2 In an interview with NPR a year later, this “everywhere” has been specified to include all of those living in the West. As he tells Steve Inskeep: I think that the same mindset, the same extremism that attacked those buildings in New York and Washington, was the one that attacked me. And I think one of the strange things is that when it happened to me, people didn’t really understand it in the West because they couldn’t set it into a narrative that they understood. And after the 9/11 attacks, that narrative became the narrative of all our lives. The event of 9/11 thus makes Rushdie suddenly familiar at the same time that it estranges him or precipitates him into a sense of the strangeness of his identity to himself. Here, Rushdie recognizes t hat the “I” is not the same as the “me,” that in being recognized, what has happened to him is no longer what has happened to him as I, to the person he is or was to himself, but to the him that is now metonymically a standin for others under the circumst ance that he has no choice in the role to which others have scripted him. The validation he will thus claim to find in the eyes of the world will repeat the uncomfortable circumstances of his initial vilification; as he will repeatedly explain in Joseph An ton , his intent in writing T he Satanic Verses did not match the interpretation of his work. Writing to express himself, he found himself rewritten by his enemies, his text tracing out a wholly different identity that culminated in hi s being forced to take on a 75


different name. Thus, Rushdie’s newfound solidarity with the terrorized West comes at the same cost as did his transformation into “Satan Rushdy” in the 80s; “Salman Rushdie” names the same terrifying structural dilemma (he is never who or where he th inks he is) as did his alias, “Joseph Anton,” but Rushdie refuses to recognize this terror and instead celebrates his relevance to the culture at large. Rushdie had established the stakes of this narrative soon after the attacks occurred. In an October 2, 2001 editorial entitled “Fighting the Forces of Invisibility , ” he wrote: The fundamentalist seeks to bring down a great deal more than buildings. Such people are against, to offer just a brief list, freedom of speech, a multi party political system, uni versal adult suffrage, accountable government, Jews, homosexuals, women's rights, pluralism, secularism, short skirts, dancing, beardlessness, evolution theory, sex. . . . United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has said that we should now define ourselves not only by what we are for but by what we are against. I would reverse that proposition, because in the present instance what we are against is a nobrainer. Suicidist assassins ram widebodied aircraft into the World Trade Center and Pentagon and ki ll thousands of people: um, I’m against that. But what are we for? What will we risk our lives to defend? Can we unanimously concur that all the items in the above list —yes, even the short skirts and dancing —are worth dying for? The fundamentalist believes that we believe in nothing. In his worldview, he has his absolute certainties, while we are sunk in sybaritic indulgences. To prove him wrong, we must first know that he is wrong. We must agree on what matters: kissing in public places, bacon sandwiches , disagreement, cutting edge fashion, literature, generosity, water, a more equitable distribution of the world's resources, movies, music, freedom of thought, beauty, love. These will be our weapons. Not by making war but by the unafraid way we choose to live shall we defeat them. How to defeat terrorism? Don't be terrorized. Don’t let fear rule your life. Even if you are scared. (A25) The royal “we” presented here thus assumes the proper name “Rushdie” so that “there is a Salman Rushdie everywhere”; in o ther words, we are all living under fatwa . Rushdie thereby appears to exemplify, indeed he sets out to explain himself as, the 76


embattled rational thinker under threat of religious fundamentalist retribution. He thus stands in for the first world, moderatel y liberal Western citizen who is targeted not only by Eastern terror but by any tradition that glorifies or validates violence as a righteous measure of transcendental justice. This kind of validation is sought not only by conservative religious pundits, h owever, but, as Rushdie declares in his editorial, by radically progressive academic thinkers as well. As Rushdie goes on to announce, his “we” is threatened on all sides. Thus, though he argues that “it’s time to stop making enemies and start making frien ds,” his words are intended in no way to join in the savaging of America by sections of the left that has been among the most unpleasant consequences of the terrorists’ attacks on the United States. “The problem with Americans is . . .” -“What America needs to understand . . .” There has been a lot of sanctimonious moral relativism around lately, usually prefaced by such phrases as these. A country which has just suffered the most devastating terrorist attack in history, a country in a state of deep mourning and horrible grief, is being told, heartlessly, that it is to blame for its own citizens’ deaths. . . . Let’s be clear about why this bienpensant anti American onslaught is such appalling rubbish. Terrorism is the murder of the innocent; this time, it was mass murder. To excuse such an atrocity by blaming U.S. government policies is to deny the basic idea of all morality: that individuals are responsible for their actions. Furthermore, terrorism is not the pursuit of legitimate complaints by illegitima te means. The terrorist wraps himself in the world's grievances to cloak his true motives. Whatever the killers were trying to achieve, it seems improbable that building a better world was part of it. (A25) Insofar as Rushdie’s milquetoast brand of humanis m represents a mainstream liberal position bolstered by belief in scientific reasoning and equal rights, what Rushdie elsewhere generalizes as the “human condition,” it might be said to reflect the position held by the majority in “blue” areas of the United States, whether they identify as atheist or moderately religious (that is, tolerant of other perspectives, nonliteralist, etc.) Certainly this is not to say that he wholly embodies such a position, especially given his Indian heritage, extensive experiences abroad, and the luxuries he has enjoyed as a 77


celebrated author and internationally recognized persona. Still, given the cultural capital afforded him by mainstream liberal media outlets, such as The New Yorker , NPR, and HBO, among many others, there i s no question that he has come to represent and thus can be said to “speak for,” a significant segment of the Western world to whom he speaks as a representative of their lives under threat, the rational thinker who recognizes “legitimate complaints” but f inds himself under fire from extremists who terrorize the “innocent” citizens of first world nations like the United States (innocence being linked here to a refusal to engage in the overt violence against nonmilitary targets to which the terrorist’s “ill egitimate means” correspond). But to what extent might the “innocents” be forced into a kind of exclusionary violence in order to protect themselves, and how might one justify such exclusionary tactics, especially given that the liberal, anti colonial pos ition Rushdie typically espouses prides itself on multicultural inclusion? Indeed, perhaps the one issue on which Rushdie’s position most deviates from that of mainstream liberal Americans is in regard to the tolerance of Islamic cultural demands. On episode 260 of Bill Maher’s HBO program Real Time with Bill Maher , which aired on September 21 of 2012, Rushdie acquiesced in being included in a political grouping that Maher christened “9/11 liberals,” those whose multiculturalist perspectives were shaken aft er the attack on the Twin Towers. Maher parallels this group to “the 9/11 conservatives . . . people like Dennis Miller . . . Ron Silver was one . . . Rudy Guiliani perhaps . . . people who were changed by 9/11. . . they became conservative, they wanted war.” Though not equally war mongering, Maher explains that 9/11 liberals are “liberals on almost every issue, but not the Muslim issue.” He then quotes Sam Harris, whom he includes as a member, 78


in order to clarify the 9/11 position: “we are free to burn the Quran or any other book; we are free to criticize Mohammed or any other human being without apology.” Rushdie’s acquiescence in Maher’s characterization raises several urgent questions. First, since Rushdie presents himself, and is subsequently recognized by many media outlets, as living a life exemplary of our current situation (NPR says he “lived the post Sept. 11 story before it even happened” [Inskeep]) because of the fatwa declared against him (if we live in a time of terror, we are all, in a sense, living under such a death threat), does being a “9/11 liberal” mean being aggressively intolerant, proactively striking out at the enemy in advance? Second, if being a liberal indicates a multicultural program of openness to the other, how might the aggres sive stance against the Islamic enemy advocated by Maher foreclose on the very possibility of the liberal project? In other words, is Maher’s nomenclature, and Rushdie’s affirmation of the category, actually an underhanded admission of the dissipation of t he very liberal multiculturalist project for which the author (in all other respects) claims to stand, an embracing of “acts of ungenerosity, intolerance, perhaps even repression . . . acts that respond to evil not by tolerating it —in the hope that its energies will simply dissipate in the face of scorn—but by trying to stamp it out,” acts the necessity of which constitute what Stanley Fish calls “the lesson liberalism is pledged never to learn because underlying liberal thought is the assumption that, given world enough and time . . . difference and conflict can always be resolved by rational deliberation, defined of course by those who have been excluded from it”? (392) The urgency of these questions derives from the political, more generally the existenti al, predicament that arises from having to take sides — namely, that doing so implicates one in a form of the violence one 79


seeks to oppose. In other words, it risks opening oneself to the possibility that violence itself establishes the horizon of human exis tence, and thus that our “time of terror” in fact designates the general condition of a life lived in time. Given the hostility to the Islamic other the “9/11 liberal” designation underlines, it is thus no surprise that Rushdie’s act of proclaiming his af filiation occurs on the air (in an HBO studio), thereby recalling the air attacks of the 9/11 jihadists, though this coincidence passes by unremarked, as does its mediated implication —namely, the extent to which Rushdie is participating in an atheist crusade by tacitly positioning himself as an intellectual aggressor. Nor is it surprising that as Joseph Anton explores its author’s struggle to start over after being marked for death and forced into exile, its repeated attempts to champion both the mercurial power of language and the authorial position of the sovereign subject so essential to predominant Western notions of liberty coincide with a violent lashing out to which the text testifies but for which Rushdie ultimately refuses responsibility. Such are t he implicit consequences of taking sides, of affirming one set of values over another, of living in time, such that all times are times of terror (and, of course, times of joy and celebration, as well, but never removed from the necessary violence that acc ompanies all taking of sides in order to survive). As we will see, if there are Salman Rushdies everywhere, they are even more common than such a ubiquitous description implies, though for reasons Rushdie himself finds repellent. Indeed, insofar as the sur name “Rushdie” here refers to the terrorized, terrified subject seeking security, happiness, and a sense of certainty about the world, there always have been, and only ever will be, Salman Rushdies. 80


Rushdie seeks peace by imagining a rational future that would be all inclusive, and though Joseph Anton often testifies to the violence of the market and the contingencies of life that preclude such a rational ideal from ever coming to pass, within its pages he tries to write a happy ending for himself that can be generally celebrated. However, regardless of Rushdie’s peaceful intentions, the rage and confusion that run throughout the memoir serve to remind us that each and every celebration of survival requires a degree of certainty that itself requires a kind of violent absolutism that forgets its violence in turn. In other words, for Rushdie anything goes in literature—but only so long as it recognizes the superiority of the system that recognizes his own superiority as a man of letters, a sovereign author who has earned his reputation and hence his survival. At the very same time, though, Rushdie admits to the impossibility of such a sovereign position and attests to the power (and terror) of the word; after all, if his war is against literalism, it must embr ace the infinite interpretability of the word. Indeed, his life, insofar as it serves as a metonymy for our time of terror in regard to a war against the inflexible reading strategy of the fundamentalist Islamic other, is also and inseparably a life terror ized by the indeterminacy of language and the merciless possibilities inherent to said interpretation (a literalist interpretation, after all, is still a kind of reading made possible by the play of language). Thus, though he wants to define and control literature, parceling it up into "serious" and "escapist" categories and maintaining mastery over its meaning, linking it to a truth beyond the everyday world that is available to literary geniuses (in whose company he envisions himself), he is also deeply d issatisfied with his desire, as the discussion he recounts with his third wife about the meaning of one of his books reveals: 81


He had to talk for an hour to persuade her that this [her interpretation of the book as containing a comparison of herself with hi s second wife] was not so, that if she wanted to find herself in the novel she should look at the writing, at the tenderness and lovingness there, which was what he had learned from being with her, and which was her true mark on the book. He was telling th e truth. But when he had told it he felt that he had diminished the novel, because he had once again been forced to explain his work and his motives. (443)3 Rushdie’s equivocation is telling. On the one hand, to tell the truth is to bear witness to his lov e for his wife as well as to her salutary influence on him; to tell the truth is to write with an empathy for others by which he countersigns the truth of his (third) wife’s authorial “mark” on his own being. Thus, telling the truth is twice over in the se rvice of the affective power of literature. This affective force, however, is both elicited and undermined by certain acts of interpretation. Rushdie is clearly anxious about characterizing his wife’s interpretation as erroneous, since to do so is to seek to reduce the very affective power that her misinterpretation entails. Thus, in the case at hand to tell the truth is to diminish the possibility of interpretation that grants literature its power. Or, rather, it is Rushdie who “ felt that he had diminished the novel,” he says, “ because he had once again been forced to explain his work and his motives.” What Rushdie wants is not for his novel to mean, to signify, to compel a reader’s emotional engagement but to mean what he, the author, intends it to mean but without having to explain his authorial intention. In his effort here to retain sovereign control over his novel and the reader’s reception of it, Rushdie intuits that he somehow betrays the fictionality of his work of fiction in order to secure himself and fortify his relationship. This is a version of what he calls earlier in the text (in regards to the outrage over The Satanic Verses ) “the trap of thinking that his work had been attacked because it had been misrepresented by unscrupulous persons seeking political advantage” (212), and his 82


generally unflattering characterization of his wives throughout the book suggests that grouping them with the “unscrupulous persons” who castigated his infamous work is not much of a stretch (I will examine this charac terization in detail later). In regard to this “trap,” Rushdie laments that he once had “convinced himself, if he could just show that the work had been seriously undertaken, and that it could honorably defended, then people . . . would change their minds about it, and about him” but that “this was folly” (212). As this episode attests, Rushdie continuously engages in this folly; as a patron of literature and a beneficiary of its power, he celebrates its capacity for interpretive play, but he is constantly fearful of its destructive capacity, one which necessarily accompanies every communicative act. Indeed, it is the very power of interpretation that gives the lie to the “truth” Rushdie tells here, insofar as literary figures both challenge the possibilit y of literal truth as well as allow for such a truth to be thought (the literal as the opposite of the figurative, the truth as always already conveyed in a language that must be interpreted). The fact that “Rushdie” here also writes in the guise of Joseph Anton, a fictional alter ego forced upon him by his security situation, only heightens the aporetic relation of truth and fiction; what would it mean for a fictional character to tell the truth? And as his supposed “real” surname is itself a fiction invented by his father (“Anis renamed himself ‘Rushdie’ because of his admiration for Ibn Rushd . . . the twelfthcentury SpanishArab philosopher of Crdoba” (22)), what is the status of either of the names of the author here? If security is always already tied to a sense of certainty, the abyss of proper identification here precludes the security of truth from ever taking place. Thus, in fighting for the truth here, Rushdie opens up a relation to terror. In the following analysis, I will 83


endeavor to make expli cit the implications of Rushdie’s own identification of Joseph Anton as a kind of autobiography, a piece of “ nonfiction, ” even if he never fully addresses the problems in justifying such a self identification, but this reading cannot itself ever be fully justified. Provisionally accepting Rushdie’s projection of himself into his novel, I want to underscore that my own analysis is thus haunted by the possibility t hat the text could also be read as fiction, disregarding the author’s claim of interpretive pri vilege.4 Indeed, the book does much to complicate the very distinction between such genres, as the questions of truth and authorship posed in regards to interpretive truth suggest. Regardless, this alternative possibility (that the book should not be taken as “fact”) does not diminish the reading in play here. In fact, the very difficulty of distinguishing between fact and fiction, and the anxiety such a difficulty evokes, points to the insecurity that Rushdie locates in our age, on the one hand, while fail ing to recognize the structural terror inherent to it.5 Besides complicating the categories of truth and fiction, Joseph Anton also problematizes the categories of “escapist” and “serious” literature (by which Rushdie will maintain the value of his own s urvival as a “serious” artist) when it explores the influential power of the former, seemingly less important category on the author’s own writing. Indeed, Joseph Anton chronicles Rushdie’s reluctant fascination with escapist entertainment, with the "soca lled golden age of science fiction” (31), with Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (“which entered his consciousness like a disease, an infection he never managed to shake off” [27] ), with big budget Hollywood studio horror and fantasy productions (Hitchcock’s The Birds and Fleming’s Wizard of Oz ). He wants to know the secret of human truth, wants to master the word by categorizing and containing it, but 84


ultimately knows he can't know or tame it, either as author or audience member; having the secret validates his struggle but destroys his art and, ultimately, the meaning of life, while not having it puts him at the mercy of the world. Joseph Anton and the Price of Survival Early on in Joseph Anton, the author recounts his first thoughts immediately after reading t he death sentence the Ayatollah Khomenie had declared on him, a sentence that would require the author to start living as a man with a price on his head. After considering his own situation in relation to the fate of King Charles I, who had refused to acce pt Cromwell’s sentence against him, Rushdie writes matter of factly (in the third person, as the entire book is narrat ed from an omniscient position) that the book’s protagonist “was no king. He was the author of a book” (5). The logic of the distinction Rushdie so off handedly makes here informs the entirety of his self memorializing project, for it is upon the question of sovereignty that his text will turn. No, Rushdie was not royalty, but he was certainly afforded protection fit for a king after the fatwa was declared; in fact, he is literally assigned officers of the British state as security, and so his invocation of a royal title designating an elevated social status requiring security privileges not afforded ordinary citizens, while simultaneously distancing himself from such a title, is telling. At one point in the text he will shudder at the implications of this security gap when he recounts a time when “he asked a protection officer called Piggy: ‘What would you have done if The Satanic Verses had been, say, a poem, or a radio play, and had not been able to generate the income that allows me to rent these places? What would you have done if I had been too poor?’ Piggy shrugged. ‘Fortunately, as it happens,’ he said, ‘we don’t have to answer that question, do we’” (179). He thus must firmly establish why he, an “author of 85


a book,” will deserve the sort of state protection he has been granted and for which he must constantly lobby to continue to be assigned. Ultimately, it is upon the edifice of the " sovereign self" that he will defend his position as persecuted innocent, stubborn survivor, serious author, and defender of liberty and the Renaissance tradition against the forces of literalist religious fanatics. For Rushdie, heroism in a time of terror necessitates the celebration and protection of the sovereign self, of which the serious literary author is particularly exemplary. As he tries to explain to friends when the fatwa is first decreed: He hoped for, he often felt he needed, a more particular d efense [than just the right to free speech], like the quality defense made in the cases of other assaulted books, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Ulysses, Lolita; because this was a violent assault not on the novel in general or on free speech per se, but on a particular accumulation of words (literature being, as the Italians reminded him at Queluz Palace, made up of sentences) and on the intentions and integrity of the writer who had put those words together . (115; my emphasis) It might seem that Rushdie is conc erned throughout Joseph Anton to complicate the autonomous subject by multiplying it, such as when he discusses his "private, self justifying voice" that he grudgingly accedes to when delivering an apology he does not want to deliver (145) or pontificates that “in the pages of a novel it was clear that the human self was heterogeneous not homogenous” (617), or when he admits to a kind of bodily knowledge removed from his cognitive function (“his body knew what his mind had done and was expressing its opinion” [ 275 ] ). These and the many similar pronounceme nts notwithstanding, Rushdie commits himself —his commitment constituting, as I shall show, a form of the kind of religious identification he repudiates when he encounters it in Muslims —to a stable, secure core at the center of the sovereign human agent, an indivisible “closed space,” where creativity foments and 86


resistance is grounded, even if the person does not “fully understand” the miraculous, self rescuing character of his own being: “ All his life he had known that there was a small enclosed space at the center of his being that nobody else could enter, and that all his work and best thoughts flowed from that secret space in a way he did not fully understand” (294). He recounts that in his darkest moments , “ the something that had no name within him always came to his rescue in the end. He clenched his teeth, shook his head to clear his thoughts, and ordered himself to get on with it ” (397). Calling out to himself, responding obediently to his own self comm and, he maintains his intellectual investment in, which is tantamount to a devotion to a kind of absolute sovereignty even as he proclaims his atheism; his secular project is, at heart, a spiritual one. He is a believer in the manifest human subject, and t his ingrained belief is a privileged source of mystification for him; he “ had known” about this secret, unnamable central space, but at the same time could not “ fully understand” it. The consequence of this consecrated double gesture, this necessary certai nty in a center space that cannot be fully elucidated but that must be defended at all costs ( “ the world of the book, in which free people made free choices, had to be defended” [150] ), is that Rushdie will let certain mysteries remain mysterious while dev oting himself to the atheist cause of demystifying fundamentalist religious beliefs. In other words, Rushdie will privilege a particular kind of blindness in regards to Western secularism while relentlessly working to expose the limits of religious seeing. Indeed, Rushdie champions the mysterious revelation “flowing” from the “secret space” of his own inner core—the private space of his first person consciousness that remains inaccessible to others and that he privileges along with all the self statements 87


he claims bear witness to the secrecy of his interior being —even as he will essentially deny the mystery of Muhammad’s similar self attestation when the founder of Islam claims his revelati on on Mount Hira, when he “saw . . . the Archangel Gabriel standing upon the horizon and filling the sky and instructing him to ‘recite’ and thus, slowly, to create . . . the Recitation: al Qur’ an” (24). Rushdie believes like his father believed that Muhammad’s story is fascinating “because it was an event inside history and that, as such, it was obviously influenced by the events and pressures and ideas of the time” (24). Rushdie, however, refuses to adopt a similar historicizing criticism of his own self claims when it comes to his own interior space, which “nobody else could enter.” Rushdie’s refusal, ironically, underscores the fact that the very mystery of the “secret space” within him essentially exteriorizes the creative kernel that defines him as this kernel relates to his own conscious experience. Thus, he “[does] not fully understand” what this kernel is (294), hears it as a “private, self justifying voice” which opposes his intended actions (145), and experiences it “[come] to his rescue” (397) when he is despondent, like a voice beyond his own voice and yet behi nd it, a message from someplace impossibly outside and inside at the same time. Is it perhaps like the voice of an angel? Rushdie does not permit himself to reflect on the structural similarity between his experience and the experience of religious calling that pervades the spiritual life of the Muslim. Rushdie’s sense is that the subjective and the objective cohere mysteriously at these moments. And yet, when he explains (in regard to Muhammad’s religious experience) that “revelation was to be understood as an interior subjective event, not an objective reality, and a revealed text was to be scrutinized like any other text, using all the tools of the critic, literary, historical, psychological, linguistic, and 88


sociological,” he subjects Muhammad to a criti que from which he exempts himself. In this sense, Rushdie remains bound to a belief that is similar if not identical to the structure of religious belief (the sanctity of his own creative voice which enables him as a serious writer of serious fiction), even as the textual play of his “objective” language complicates the secure space of subjectivity itself. I will discuss Rushdie’s secret voice and its relation to Muhammad’s revelation in much more detail in the “Mystery of Mystical Metaphoricity” section below; what is important at this juncture is to recognize the way Rushdie attempts to reserve mystery for himself at the same time that his text continues to mystify the very conceptual apparatus he uses to explain the world’s secrets and, in fact, the very self he keeps in reserve. It is for this reason that I would characterize Rushdie’s avowed atheist humanism as supported or contaminated by and as entailing an unacknowledged religious6 excess. The religious structure of his atheist humanism is especially interesting when considered in regard to three interrelated mysteries that Rushdie acknowledges have haunted him throughout his adult life and for which he claims to have no answer. The first is that of his parents' increased identification with their Mus lim faith in their later years that had, by their account, motivated a move from Rushdie's childhood home in Bombay to Karachi, Pakistan. The second is his parents’ stubborn refusal to separate despite their unpleasant marriage, a choice that had severe ramifications for their children. The third is Rushdie's almost obsessive desire to write about religion and mysticism even though he is a hardline atheist. Though Rushdie is keen to point out these mysteries, he in fact memorializes them in such a way as t o master them, thus remaining secure in his knowledge of himself, his heritage, and the solidity of his atheist 89


foundation. In this way he will protect himself from terror by insisting on the universality of his position, thus engaging in a kind of tyranni cal structural violence in the name of a nonviolent, openminded, rigorously secular rationalism. He will thus use the tropes of mysticism and secrecy in fact to promote a kind of absolute security that masks the violence of its instigation. The Mystery Move The first of these violently protective gestures occurs when Rushdie reflects on his parents’ move to Pakistan. He is highly skeptical of his parents’ avowed reasons for uprooting from India; as he explains: They didn’t enjoy living in Karachi: why would they? It was to Bombay what Duluth was to New York. Nor did their reasons for moving ring true. They felt, they said, increasingly alien in India as Muslims. They wanted, they said, to find good Muslim husbands for their daughters. It was bewildering. After a lifetime of happy irreligion they were using religious rationales. He didn’t believe them for a moment. He was convinced there must have been business problems, tax problems, or other real world problems that had driven them to sell the home to whi ch they were devoted and abandon the city they loved. Something was fishy here. There was a secret he was not being told. Sometimes he said this to them; they did not reply. He never solved the mystery. (53) The use of the thirdperson point of view here s ubtly shifts the status of this mystery. Though “he” (Rushdie) never solved it, the fact that the mystery exists, that there are secret motives behind the move, is not in question. (Thus, the claim that “they were using religious rationales” is not overtly established as something “he” believes; rather, his assertion that "it was bewildering" appears as a general statement of truth. Moreover, these motives, since they cannot be tied to authentic religious belief, must instead be grounded in secular causes, “real world” problems. In fact, for Rushdie the atheist, the only kind of motives are “real world” ones. 90


Rushdie thus removes the mystical from the mysterious; that his parents were irreligious is not up for debate. Instead, he has established that this m ystery, indeed any mystery, is always already an inherently secular one; the range of possible answers must remain grounded in economics, psychology, politics. If any mystery, insofar as it remains mysterious, conceals the possibility of disruption, chaos, violence, and death and thus opens one to a kind of terror, Rushdie is keen to protect himself from such an opening by precluding it in advance, laying claim to an access to absolute truth encompassed by the secular rational tradition that lays the founda tion for his own literary projects and the intellectual pursuits by which they have been inspired. And this circumscription of meaning within a Western intellectual context removed from religious revelatory possibilities is precisely the move he makes when elaborating on the historical tradition that inspired him to write The Satanic Verses . Importantly, such circular delimiting in fact describes much of contemporary Western philosophy itself, at least in terms of the hermeneutic tradition attributed to Mar x, Darwin, and Freud, among others. David Gamez explains the paradox of this position as “the contemporary problem of the hermeneutic circle: we always approach worlds, objects and texts with fore conceptions that determine our subsequent interpretations. We have always already made up our minds in advance when we interpret something” (12). Gamez also stresses the extent to which this problem is an acceptable part of our reality rather than a cause of anxiety when he explains that “after Heidegger, and espe cially Gadamer, this has become something to be affirmed and accepted, rather than escaped from and denied. We are all historically situated beings whose approaches to worlds, objects and texts have inevitably been conditioned by the culture that we have b een thrown into” 91


(13). It is precisely the aim of this project to show how Derrida’s work challenges this affirmation and acceptance and thus opens thinking to a kind of permanent anxiety about the hermeneutic problem whereby aporetic thinking both acknowl edges the necessity of fundamental interpretive gesture s while always tracking the cost of such inevitably violent (because inherently blind and necessarily closed) perspectives. Rushdie thus exemplifies the callousness of a secular humanist perspective which claims openness to the other without recognizing the restrictive terms of its welcome; it locates terror elsewhere while perpetuating it in its discourse. Ten pages before he mentions his parents’ relocation, Rushdie anticipates the secular, mundane truth that grounds it when he discusses the controversial history of the satanic verses and his inspiration for writing his book of the same name. In the earlier passage, Rushdie explains that according to tradition, the Prophet Muhammad came down from the mountain and recited some verses (known as the sura called anNajm) , enjoining his people to worship three female birdgoddesses of the Meccan pantheon; some time later, he returned from the mountain and recanted, explaining that he had been tricked by S atan and that the sura should be removed from the Qur’an (43). Though the Muslim tradition thus already explains the repudiation of these particular verses in spiritual terms (Muhammad was tricked by Satan, realized his mistake, received a new revelation from the real Archangel, and corrected his erroneous false revelation), Rushdie is not satisfied with a literalist reading of the story. To correct the apparently self correcting literalism of the Qur’anic narrative, he thus turns to Western historians who have “proposed a politically motivated reading of the 92


episode” (44). Following them, he offers an economic/political explanation for Mohammed’s temptation: since the three goddesses were “lucrative figures in Mecca,” including them as secondary deities w ould be advantageous to both the city and the Muslims, for “the persecution of Muslims would cease” if such allowance was made and “Muhammad himself would be granted a seat on the city’s ruling council” (44). Rushdie then ponders what had happened to mak e Muhammad change his mind. Here are the possibilities he offers: “Did the city’s grandees renege on the deal, reckoning that by flirting with polytheism Muhammad had undone himself in the eyes of his followers? Did the followers refuse to accept the revel ation about the goddesses? Did Muhammad himself regret having compromised his ideas by yielding to the siren call of acceptability?” (4445). From the religious perspective, each of these possibilities could be read as a revelation of God's will, whether Muhammad himself realizes it. However, from Rushdie’s perspective, none of these potentialities leave open the possibility that Muhammad experienced an actual revelation. Instead, regardless of which prospect is the valid one, Muhammad is presented not as a prophet but as a political opportunist (he either “flirted with polytheism” for political gain, changed his mind in response to his followers’ whims, or felt he had “compromised his ideas” when he sought acceptance by the city leaders). What isn’t left up to thinking, then, even though “imagination had to fill in the gaps of the record,” is that Muhammad could have received the verses from a divine source (45). In other words, whatever the answer, from Rushdie’s secular humanist point of view it is always already a secular one, and Muhammad is, in the end, just a very influential author . 93


Read in conjunction with his analysis of this history, the "mystery" of Rushdie's parents' decision, like that of Muhammad's scriptural reversal, simultaneously exposes th e theoretical horizon of Rushdie's project as it establishes the range of possible answers to the conundrum in question. Since Rushdie precludes the possibility of transcendental religious experience in advance, the answer to all mysteries, be they of glob al historical import or of a local, personal nature, can only be found in the logic of "every day" pragmatic market transactions related to personal finances or cultural capital. In this sense, Rushdie seemingly dismisses any and all ontological and existe ntial speculation inherent to such a mystery , including ontotheology7; the "secret" behind his parents' move, like that of Muhammad's revelation, can only have a mundane answer, and hence can only ultimately be reassuring for Rushdie, who doesn’t have to c onsider his own rationalist worldview as a mere interpretation or metaphysical position. In other words, the secret can only be that his parents lied about their financial situation, whatever that might have been. The real mystery, then, is not about Rushdie’s parents but about his own proclaimed mystification in regard to it. Why isn't he satisfied with the answer he clearly provides? Why does he use this particular rhetorical strategy, feigning mystery, to establish his disappointment and hurt? To what le ngths will he go to protect himself from the quandaries of interpretation that allow for his work to have value but also disrupt all absolutist positions, religious and secular alike? The Mystery Marriage Consider the second mystery of the book, one that i s intimately connected to the first: why did his parents not divorce, given the unhappiness of their lives together? Rushdie writes: 94


The marriage of Anis and Negin remained a mystery to their son . . . . More than once the older children Sameen and Salman t ried to persuade their parents to divorce, so that they, the children, could enjoy each parent’s company without having to endure the side effects of their unhappiness. Anis and Negin did not take their children’s advice. There was something they both thought of as ‘love’ below the misery of the nights and as they both believed in it, it could be said to have existed. The mystery at the heart of other people’s intimacy, the incomprehensible survival of love at the heart of unlovingness: that was a thing he learned from his parents’ lives. (567) Rushdie thus defines his parents’ “love” as in fact a “something” Anis and Negin “thought of” as love, a nonaffective thing they “believed in” and thus something that didn’t exist but instead only “could be said” to have existed so that the “survival” he speaks of is instead a kind of persistent, stubborn agreement to stay together . The mystery of love, then, is exactly what his parents’ “love” destroyed for him: “If both your parents had been previously divorced, and then lived unhappily ‘loving’ lives, you grew up with a belief that love was a darker, harsher, less comfortable, less comforting emotion than the songs and movies said” (567). Like their purported religious claims about their exodus to Pakistan, their “l ove” is a rationale that covers over a secret nonbelief in love that Rushdie the omniscient narrator knows but claims not to know. The fact that this “love” inflicted damage upon the young Rushdie allows him to write as a wounded child who found little co mfort in the idea of love, but “if that was true, then he, with his many broken marriages —what was the lesson he was teaching his sons?” (567568). Here, the text confronts the possibility that people are what their situations make them, that one’s decisio ns are in fact reflexes and are written for us in advance. In fact, earlier in the text, Rushdie expounds on this theory directly: “Without his father’s ideas and example to inspire him, in fact, [ The Satanic Verses ] would never have been written. They fuc k you up, your mum and dad ? No, that wasn’t it at all. Well, 95


they did do that, perhaps, but they also allowed you to become the person, and the writer, that you had it in you to be” (22). This model of care— that parents “allow” their children to “become” their inner potential —hedges its bets somewhere between nature and nurture: individuals are at once at the mercy of their caretakers and teleologically predisposed to certain destinies. However, when one considers that Rushdie recounts that his childhood w as an abusive, unpleasant affair, that he in fact was not cared for properly, that he was abused by a drunken father (“the son couldn’t wait for the father to leave so that he could start trying to forget the nights of foul language and unprovoked, redeye d rage” [21] ) who in fact had attempted to dissuade his child from doing the very thing he “had it in him to be” (51) (“When he graduated from Cambridge University and told his father he wanted to be a writer a pained yelp burst uncontrollably our of Anis’ s mouth” [21] ), and that his atheist project ended up marking the son for death, it is clear that he achieved his potential precisely because he was fucked up. In other words, even if your parents “fuck you up,” as long as they don’t murder you, you can ac hieve your purpose, and so you aren’t fucked at all precisely because you were properly fucked. But this means that to be is to be fucked, to be terrorized from birth and destined to terrorize others, an insight the logic of which defies Rushdie’s ability to theorize. But not his compulsion to enact, over and over. Not surprisingly, “fucking” is central to the issue in question, as Rushdie worries that his own libidinal urges may have fucked up his offspring and the women he has betrayed (at this point in the text, he has only experienced two failed marriages, but he will ultimately divorce four times, and he admits to cheating on all of his wives). After 96


revealing that “a friend of his once said to him that remaining in an unhappy marriage was the real tr agedy, not the divorce” (569), the specter of the sovereign subject haunts the text as he describes his haunted conscience: But the pain he caused to the mothers of his children, the two women who loved him better than anyone else, haunted him. Nor did he blame his parents for setting him a bad example. This was his own doing and his own responsibility. Whatever wounds his life had inflicted on him, the wounds he inflicted on Clarissa and Elizabeth were worse. He had loved them both but his love had not been strong enough. (568) Rushdie’s confessional self analysis turns on a complex rhetorical strategy. On one hand, Rushdie has suggested that his attitude towards love was shaped by his parents’ miserable marriage, that he was wounded by their persistent, unloving union. He then quotes a nameless friend who suggests that Rushdie’s propensity for divorce is in fact a blessing, an ethical choice— divorce avoids the “real tragedy” of an unhappy marriage, so according to this logic, Rushdie has done the right thin g by cancelling his own unions. Thus, Rushdie is not only not responsible for his inability to love correctly, but is also responsible for heroically ending his bad marriages; he learned the lesson of his childhood and won’t inflict the same violence on hi s children. But he then denies that his parents are responsible for his poor treatment of his wives, even as he has suggested their complicity in his behavior, so he at once forgives them and takes responsibility for his actions, heroically “manning up” an d doing the right thing by honestly confessing his sin. This honesty will prove the retroactive strength of a love that “had not been strong enough” during the marriages in question. Moreover, this dogged insistence on a personal responsibility that belong s to every individual and provides the possibility for heroism affirms his belief in the sovereign subject by enacting its authorial power; he writes himself into his text as supplicating hero, 97


admitting his wrongs and his concern for those he has injured. Portraying his parents’ marriage as a mystery is in fact Rushdie’s occasion for celebrating his heroic authorial capacity to memorialize his past without flinching, as if owning up to his mistakes enables him to own himself as serious writer and all aroun d upstanding guy. The Mystery of Mystical Metaphoricity The significance of these familial “mysteries” becomes even clearer when one considers the central mystery with which Rushdie grapples and the one that has most affected his life, indeed the one around which the entirety of Joseph Anton’s narrative turns: why is Rushdie, a devout nonbeliever, so fascinated with religion and so compelled to write about it in his fiction, regardless of the consequences? As he admits, “it was curious that so avowedly godless a person should keep trying to write about faith. Belief had left him but the subject remained, nagging at his imagination” (50). The second sentence turns on the “subject” that “remained”; it indicates the “subject” of religious belief, of course, but it also names the “sovereign subject” to which Rushdie remains fanatically devoted. The interspersing of these meanings and the belief that attends them both haunts the text throughout and operates as the driving tension in Rushdie’s story (the religious belief of the Muslim enemy vs. the secular belief of the threatened author) even as it threatens to contaminate this distinction. Indeed, at the end of the book, when Rushdie recounts his thinking as he walked around his new home of New York in the months after the 9/11 attacks, he writes the book’s final impassioned soliloquy on terror as a paean to the importance of championing the sovereign self: He chose to believe in human nature, and in the universalities of its rights and ethics and freedoms, and to stand against the fallacies of relativism that were at the heart of the invective of the armies of the religious (we hate 98


you because we aren’t like you) and of their fellow travelers in the West, too, many of whom, disappointingly, were on the left. If t he art of the novel revealed anything, it was that human nature was the great constant, in any culture, in any place, in any time, and that, as Heraclitus had said two thousand years earlier, a man’s ethos, his way of being in the world, was his daimon, th e guiding principle that shaped his life—or, in the pithier, more familiar formulation of the idea, that character was destiny. (62627) But w hat is the nature of this choice to believe in human nature? Is he saying that it is human nature to believe in human nature? And what if it is in fact the case that it is human nature to be a creature of culture and coincidence, to be “fucked up” by one’s parents, to be conditioned by one’s environment before one has developed sufficiently to be capable of making suc h a choice, to begin to realize the multiple contingencies that mark everyday existence? Rushdie briefly entertains this possibility when he then says: It was hard to hold onto that idea while the smoke of death stood in the sky over Ground Zero and the murders of thousands of men and women whose characters had not determined their fates were on everyone’s mind, it hadn’t mattered if they were hard workers or generous friends or loving parents or great romantics, the planes hadn’t cared about their ethos; and yes, now terrorism could be destiny, war could be destiny, our lives were no longer wholly ours to control. (627) It is nearly impossible not to read this passage as anything other than the expression of survivor guilt, especially since throughout the t ext Rushdie’s hard work and romantic ideals are manifested over and over in his descriptions of his early employment as an advertiser, the long hours he would spend at the writing desk working on his books, and his many romantic ruminations on happy ending s, and the power of language and art. Moreover, he takes great care to emphasize the emotional health and social success of his two sons and the experiences of recounting intimate moments with them, two rhetorical means by which he establishes himself as a “loving parent.”8 Perhaps most tellingly, he stresses the significance of friendship early on in the text: 99

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Friendship had always been of great importance to him. He had spent much of his life physically distant from his family and also emotionally distant from much of it. Friends were the family one chose. Goethe used the scientific term elective affinities to propose that the connections of love, marriage and friendship between human beings were similar to chemical reactions. . . . He himself didn’t like the use of chemistry as metaphor. It felt too determinist and left too little room for the action of human will. Elective to him meant chosen, not by one’s unconscious biochemical nature but by one’s conscious self. His love of his chosen friends, and of t hose who had chosen him, had sustained and nourished him. . . . (100) This ode to friendship evokes a determinist description (by a “serious” writer, no less), only to quash it in favor of a “conscious self” that chooses. The choice that Rushdie has made t o “believe in human nature,” then, a choice threatened by the senseless happenstance of a mortal world wherein one might find oneself or one’s loved ones trapped in a collapsing building or a hijacked plane, reappears in the phantom figures of the “ generous friends” who fell to their deaths that September morning; by Rushdie’s account, such friends must be choosers and chosen ones crushed by the cruel chemical reactions set off by another set of choosers and chosen ones, the Muslim hijackers, who elected to believe in holy destiny and gave their lives for the cause. A s Rushdie admits, “yes, now terrorism could be destiny, war could be destiny, our lives were no longer ours to control . . . ” (677). And in fact, the threat posed by a pitiless world to freely c hoosing friends was already anticipated by Rushdie in his aforementioned homage to friendship when he regretfully confesses that business had destroyed some of his most important relationships, noting that “the wounds his actions had inflicted, even though they were justifiable in business terms, felt humanly wrong” (100). In other words, sometimes one’s economic situation mandated that one choose other than one would like in regard to one’s friends; sometimes one is forced to betray one’s friends, to be a not so generous friend. Indeed, many of those in the World Trade 100

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Center, working in the world of high finance, most certainly were forced to make many inhumane pragmatic choices, understandable given their capitalist context but ultimately “humanly wrong”( 100). In a Darwinian sense, all such choices are forced when the choice concerns scarce resources; in that case, one’s generosity is always already tempered by one’s imperative to survive. The text thus trembles as determinism (manifest in the contingency of the falling buildings, in the belief system that inspired the attacks that toppled them, and in the competition for resources so iconically represented by the World Trade Center itself) threatens to overwhelm the sanctity of human nature as human charac ter, and one can imagine its author trembling, too, while envisaging the fate he himself had escaped as a harbinger of these terrifying deaths; he says “the story of his little battle, too, was coming to an end. The prologue was past and now the world was grappling with the main event” (626). But it is perhaps disingenuous to ascribe survivor’s guilt to Rushdie here, for his cultural heritage instead recognizes “shame” instead as a primary affect. Soon after the fatwa had been declared, Rushdie had experienced this sense of shame when he was forced to hide from a farmer behind a kitchen table: To hide in this way was to be stripped of all self respect. To be told to hide was a humiliation. Maybe, he thought, to live like this would be worse than death. In hi s novel Shame he had written about the workings of Muslim “ honor culture, ” at the poles of whose moral axis were honor and shame, very different from the Christian narrative of guilt and redemption. Although he was not religious, he had been raised to care deeply about questions of pride. To skulk and hide was to live a dishonorable life. He felt, very often in those years, profoundly ashamed. Shamed and ashamed. (147) Psychologically, to confess having lived “shamed and ashamed” would be to bring the sense of abjection into the open, the action of self revelation converting thereby the 101

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sense of shame into a rhetorical triumph over it. In addition, it would be, of course, to correct an existential error according to the model established by the Prophet. By the time 9/11 had happened, Rushdie was living relatively openly in New York. However, unlike the victims of the September attacks, the author had lived in hiding for years, had hidden behind security forces and an alias, and so his own survival had been f orever marked by a shame that was his Muslim birthright. If surviving had indeed been a fate “worse than death,” if he lived now only because of his previous acts of cowardice, then he wandered the streets as a kind of cursed zombie. Of course, this “shame ,” so central to his experience of living under fatwa, is itself a cultural imperative, a construction imposed from without and therefore a prime example of how our lives are not “ours to control.” In this sense, destiny is character ; none of us control the circumstances of our upbringings and so are always already vulnerable to forces beyond our capacity to choose. The terrorists themselves, given their Muslim heritage, were thus also determined by the same culture of shame and honor as the author, terrori sts terrorized by forces beyond their control. This religious heritage, so vital to Rushdie’s affective sense of self and to that of his enemies, also bears heavily on the author’s intellect. He admits that the structures and metaphors of religion (Hindui sm and Christianity as much as Islam) shaped his irreligious mind, and the concerns of these religions with the great questions of existence — Where do we come from? And now that we are here, how shall we live?— were also his, even if he came to conclusions that required no divine arbiter to underwrite and certainly no earthly priest class to sanction and interpret. (50) This dense passage repeats the rhetorical move Rushdie uses when articulating the “mystery” of his parents’ relocation to Pakistan: religious belief is evoked and summarily dismissed in the same gesture, “shap[ing]” him into an “irreligious” thinker 102

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and thus vacating its transcendental possibilities even as it marks its influence. That his conclusions require no “divine arbiter” means religious metaphysical interpretations are off limits in advance. What is at stake in his great struggle, then, is clearly named here: the ownership of language and the rights to interpretation. Throughout much of his writing career, and certainly over the course of the text to follow, Rushdie will insist on and exercise his interpretive sovereignty in the course of seeking to deploy the “structures and metaphors” of religion for his own purposes -specifically, to challenge the “earthly priestly class” and their l iteralist understanding of the very tradition over which they claim dominion. It is a claim that Rushdie repudiates over and over but in ignorance of how his act of repudiation reintroduces the logic of what he opposes. Thus, in precluding the possible ver acity of religious revelation in advance, Rushdie has already established himself as a kind of divine arbiter, even though his text often resists his totalitarian authorial tendencies, sometimes overtly. This palpable tension between the interpretability of the text, and hence its chaotically uncontrollable character, and Rushdie’s desire to control it as memorial to his life, to properly hold onto himself by writing himself in its pages, “is” the structural terror inherent to every autobiographical effort, indeed to every expression of autoaffection. Joseph Anton as memoir, as protective alias (the assumed name after which the book is titled), and hence as evidence of a survival that is always already in jeopardy, stands both as Rushdie’s ultimate security measure, his attempt to save his past, as he lived it, for the future, and as the trace of his disappearance, the inevitable failure of any such measure to conserve mortal life. As Derrida explains in Demeure, we are each of us lost to ourselves in the passage of time as the present evaporates: “Every one of us can say 103

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at every instant: really, I don’t remember what I felt; I can’t describe what I felt at that moment, it’s impossible, and I can’t analyze it in any case. What was me is no longer me” (66). A nd yet, how else can we remain present to ourselves (but necessarily and contradictorily absent) except through our attempts to archive ourselves, to write our testimonies even as we disappear? This unavoidable temporal dissolution, and our struggle to mai ntain ourselves in its wake is, as Hgglund’s articulation of “mortal time” makes clear, the only way to understand survival. Thus, Rushdie’s attempts to contain himself by interpreting himself in advance, and which, for this reason, are symptoms of an hys terical anxiety about the contradiction of remaining oneself, testify beyond his self avowals, beyond his simple testimonies, and point at a terror that exceeds any particular threat and yet is endemic to life, a relation to death that is life itself. Rus hdie’s self grounded, self assured sovereign selfhood takes particular root after he has signed an ultimately ineffective apology for The Satanic Verses at Paddington Green, where he met with Muslim leaders to negotiate an end to the fatwa. He feels that h e has betrayed himself ("his body knew what his mind had done and was expressing its opinion" (275)), that he has acted inauthentically, and becomes nauseated in consequence at his (might it be called?) bad faith. He then has a dialogue with his "inner voi ce": Yes, you have taken leave of your senses, said his inner voice. And you have no idea what you have done, or are doing, or can now do. He had survived this long because he could put his hand on his heart and defend every word he had written or said. He had written seriously and with integrity and everything he had said about that had been the truth. Now he had torn his tongue out of his own mouth, had denied himself the language and ideas that were natural to him. (276) His "secret self" appears to him like a revelation, in contrast to those other voices from outside that command and cajole him into writing and whatever conciliatory voice 104

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“inside” him has at some point agreed to listen to them . This apology, along with every other one he is asked to mak e throughout the book, then, will be his satanic verse, and the primal revelation of his sovereign self will command him afterwards to strike it from the book of Rushdie; for the atheist humanist writer, the 911 liberal author, true revelation will come f rom inside, not from onhigh. In a passage I quoted previously but which bears repeating, Rushdie explains that such a notion of interior, subjective revelation is “the only possible approach” to understanding the disclosure of truth and is in fact the mot ivation for his father’s, and then his own, exploration of the story of Islam: This passed from the father to the son: the belief that the story of the birth of Islam was fascinating because it was an event inside history, and that, as such, it was obvious ly influenced by the events and pressures and ideas of the time of its creation; that to historicize the story, to try to understand how a great idea was shaped by those forces, was the only possible approach to the subject; and that one could accept Muham mad as a genuine mystic — just as one could accept Joan of Arc’s voices as having genuinely been heard by her, or the revelations of Saint John the Divine as being that troubled soul’s ‘real’ experiences —without needing to accept that, had one been standing next to the Prophet of Islam on Mount Hira that day, one would also have seen the Archangel. Revelation was to be understood as an interior, subjective event, not an objective reality, and a revealed text was to be scrutinized like any ot her text, using al l the tools of the critic, literary, historical, psychological, linguistic, and sociological. In short, the text was to be regarded as a human artifact and thus, like all such artifacts, prey to human fallibility and imperfection. (24; my emphasis) Rushdie’s inner voice contests with outside forces in both literal and metaphysical guises, for interior revelation trumps both “real world” pressures (his “secret self” feels shame for acceding to his enemies to protect himself and his family) and religious poss ibility (this same inner self will be the one to author The Satanic Verses which will embody the “only possible,” that is, secular, approach to the founding of Islam). His inner voice must resist the pressure of the Muslim imams at Paddington Green and (in the earliest days of the fatwa) an otherwise unidentified "upstairs," a directional 105

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metonymy for English governmental authority that geographically approximates the heavenly direction of Muhammad’s revelation. And it also must resist any belief in religio n and the supernatural; recalling his thoughts during a particularly dark time before the Paddington Green apology, he describes the struggle thus: Maybe there were omens and auguries and portents and prophecies, and all the things he didn’t believe in wer e more real than the things he knew. Maybe if there were bat winged monsters and bug eyed ghouls . . . maybe if there were demons and devils . . . there could also be a god. Yes, and maybe he was losing his mind. The crazy, stupid, and, finally, dead fish is the one that goes looking for the hook. (267) In this way Rushdie positions himself as secular counterpart to the Prophet while simultaneously vacating the latter’s authority (and hence a uthorial power) by revealing what he claims to be the phantasmatic quality of all religious revelation. But since the essence of this phantasm is its claim to be revelatory, Rushdie cannot reveal the falsity of this revelation without miming its mimetic pretenses. What this means is that Rushdie cannot reveal what he bel ieves to be the truth —that there is no “objective reality” behind Muhammad’s, or any religious thinker’s, claims —without positing the very objectivity of this truth that he so insists is missing when the Prophet speaks. Forgetting at this moment the faith that every act of communication requires, Rushdie evokes and tacitly invokes a knowledge beyond discourse and thus forgets the power of language that elsewhere he seeks to preserve as a serious writer of serious literature9. And so, after living with deep regret for having signed the Paddington Green apology and having been called a "weak, self obsessed man" by his ex wife Marianne in The Sunday Times , Rushdie resolves to " unsay what I said. Until I do that I cannot live with honor. I am a man without reli gion pretending to be a religious man” (294). His apology had been a concession to a religious interpretive strategy he flatly denies and 106

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to a worldly self obsession with security and unprincipled survival for which his “real self” is ashamed. He goes on t o characterize the inner revelation of his “true salvation” that the Paddington Green apology, and his life under fatwa , had made possible: Now, the bright light of the fatwa had blazed through the curtains of that little habituation [the ‘small enclosed s pace at the center of his being that nobody else could enter’] and his secret self stood naked in the glare. . . . Naked, without artifice, he would salvage his good name, and he would try to perform once again the magic trick of art. That was where his tr ue salvation lay. (294) By characterizing his experience in this way, Rushdie can put the experience of revelation to work for him while still emphatically denying the possibility of religious revelation for others. Rushdie thus contrasts the "truth" of th e inner voice he recognizes as himself with the "seductive murmur of hope" he hears in the company of the imams (275). However, Rushdie further complicates things by associating the "real life" concerns of his false revelation (the need to be free of the f atwa and to return to a regular life, which impelled him to sign the apology) with the "real world" concerns he believes inspired Muhammad’s own "false" revelation (the desire for inclusion and political power). While Rushdie's inner voice represents the t rue revelation of the artist's authentic self, Muhammad is thus presented as trapped between the "truth" of the secular demands placed upon him (political and economic) and the falsehood of a heavenly revelation that, moreover, may itself have been inspired by a need to be loved (his people may have rejected his call to worship lesser female gods, thus forcing him to change his mind). Here, Rushdie is certain (though he does not explain how he has arrived at this certitude) that the Prophet suffers a false certainty. He is certain of the spiritual purity of his own inside voice and certain that Muhammad is not and cannot be likewise so spiritually certain (either choice the Prophet makes is satanic in the sense 107

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that it is inauthentic and yet presented as fro m God). From his position as a serious atheist writer, Rushdie usurps the religious language of his enemies and evacuates it of referential provenance while investing it with secular spiritualist power and then using it to vanquish the defenders of Islam. Another example of Joseph Anton’s aporetic flirtation with and rejection of the religious plays out when one considers Rushdie’s appropriation of religious language measured against his disdain for fundamentalists using contemporary tools to organize and implement their strategies against him : Modern information technology was being used in the service of retrograde ideas: The modern was being turned against itself by the medieval, in the service of a worldview that disliked modernity itself —rational, reasonable, innovative, secular, skeptical, challenging, creative modernity, the antithesis of mystical, static, intolerant, stultifying faith. (131) However, as previously noted, his “irreligious mind” is itself riddled with the verbal technology of religion —supernatural creatures and powers, for example, which appear everywhere. Moreover, they come to him, the sovereign author, unbidden. When describing the motivations for The Satanic Verses , Rushdie says that "his conscious mind was, as usual, at odds with his unconscious, which kept throwing angels and miracles at his rationality and insisting that he find a way to incorporate them into his way of seeing" (73). His own work, his own psychological makeup, is infested by the "medieval" world against which he imagines himself a purveyor of liberty and progress; the secular individual is thus depicted in the text as always contaminated by the "mystical" order it opposes. In fact, Rushdie admits as much when he explains the "real subject" of The Satanic Verses, w hich would be the great matter of how the world joined up, not only how the East flowed into the West and the West into the East, but how the past shaped the present while the present changed our understanding of the past, and how 108

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the imagined world, the l ocation of dreams, art, invention and, yes, belief, leaked across the frontier that separated it from the everyday, "real" place in which human beings mistakenly believed they live. (69) Once again, there are two orders of belief —“mistaken” and true—and Rushdie is certain that he can tell the difference. Moreover, he is certain that in telling the difference he can purify himself of the contaminating implication in violence to which his project attests; if there is a truth beyond truth, accessible to the wr iter in his sovereign inner space, that truth trumps all other perspectives on the world and guarantees one’s righteousness. He can thus “see” the intermingling of East and West from a privileged vantage point and be secure in his position, free from the t error of merely taking sides on an ideological battleground. Satan the Secular Saint of the Self: Is Salman Always Already Satanic? The battle over religious language and meaning is perhaps most contentious in regards to the figure of Satan and Rushdie’s a ffiliation with this tropological character, whose peculiar being is to be impelled to simulate the sovereignty he lacks in his identity as the fallen angel, the disgraced angel, the angel that has surrendered its angelicalness in a performative pretense o f self revision. For example, on the book’s fifth page Rushdie discusses his enemies’ tendency to remove the article "the" from the title of The Satanic Verses when discussing the text," making him the author of "satanic verses" (5). This subtraction corresponds with the negation of his first name in the public eye and his association with Satan, no doubt as a metonymy for the "great Satan" of the West: He was the person in the eye of the storm, no longer the Salmon his friends knew but the Rushdie who was the author of Satanic Verses, . . . verses that were satanic, an d he was their satanic author, “Satan Rushdy” . . . How easy it was to erase a man's past and to construct a new version of him, an overwhelming version, against which it seemed impossible to fight. (5) 109

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Despite the implication that he would like to "fight" such a "satanic" image, that it was constructed for him without his consent, Rushdie in fact encourages his connection to the demonic throughout the book. When asked to go on the radio show D esert Island Discs, one of his song choices was "perhaps, the music playing beneath the text of [ The Satanic Verses ]: ‘Sympathy for the Devil,’ by the Rolling Stones" (110). When discussing the early development of The Satanic Verses , and after characteriz ing himself as "a migrant . . . one of those people who had ended up in a place that was not the place where he began" (53), he imagines that "Satan was perhaps the heavenly patron of all exiles, all unhoused people, all those who were torn from their plac e and left floating, half this, half that, denied the rooted person's comforting, defining sense of having solid ground beneath their feet" (73). So Satan is patron of the unfixed, those on tremulous grounds, without a firm place to stand, and Rushdie, as a migrant ("migration tore up all the traditional roots of self" (53)), is one of his people. He confirms this allegiance by explaining that "his own sympathy lay more on the Devil's side, because, as Blake said of Milton, a true poet was of the Devil's party" (73). Serious literature, "true poetry," then, is of the Devil, and as Rushdie has emphasized time and again (and will continue to do so throughout the book), he is a serious writer of serious literature. He will continue elaborating on his alliance with the Devil and its relation to literature. At the end of the first chapter, called "A Faustian Chapter in Reverse," he recalls that "throughout the writing of the book he had kept a note to himself pinned to the wall above his desk. 'To write a book i s to make a Faustian contract in reverse. . . . To gain immortality, or at least posterity, you lose, or at least ruin, your actual daily life'" (91). Rushdie thus characterizes the writing of serious literature as a deal with the Devil, 110

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and even makes clear that it was a deal he willingly made in order to achieve (literary) immortality. And yet, twenty pages later, when he discusses a negative letter by Indian parliamentarian Syed Shahabuddin that accused him of having "Satanic forethought," he says The m ost powerful way to attack a book is to demonize its author, to turn him into a creature of base motives and evil intentions. The “Satan Rushdie” who would afterward be paraded down the world's streets by angry demonstrators . . . was being created; born i n India, as the real Rushdie had been. Here was the first proposition of the assault: that anyone who wrote a book with the word 'satanic' in the title must be satanic, too. Like many false propositions that flourished in the incipient Age of Information ( or disinformation), it became true by repetition. (112) Of course, Rushdie himself has repeatedly affirmed the validity of this satanic connection and has admitted that his "Faustian contract" had been signed in advance; he imagined himself aligned with Satan as he wrote the book, the very writing of which implied a Faustian bargain. At stake here is the indeterminacy of interpretation. What does it mean to cavort with demons, to be a patron of Satan, to commingle with angelic beings or supernatural forces, to have a spiritual revelation? How does one differentiate the "real" from the "imaginary," literary truth from empirical truth, fiction from fact? In other words, how does one read and understand signs responsibly? Rushdie claims that the "Faustian barg ain" he made when writing The Satanic Verses precluded him from enjoying an "actual daily life," and the fatwa placed on him certainly seemed to affirm the deal in question. However, Rushdie subsequently problematizes the possibility of such a life for any one. He says "people pretended that there was such a thing as ordinary , such a thing as normal , and that was the public 111

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fantasy, far more escapist than the most escapist fiction, inside which they cocooned themselves. People retreated behind their front doors into the hidden zone of their private, family worlds and . . . all hell was breaking loose" (104). The Faustian bargain, then, is in a sense a norisk proposition, for one simply trades one hell for another; either way, one's soul is lost. And what rev eals the "surreal," "bizarre" hell that lies behind closed doors, the truth of the socalled ordinary world? Why, the very art that one's satanic bargain produces: "it was the task of the artist to wipe away that blinding layer [of habitual ordinary life] and renew our capacity for wonderment" (104). Literary immortality is achieved when one sells one's soul to reveal the hell of the ordinary that everyone shares but that habitual norms cover up. And if every home is in actuality a kind of illusion covering over a hellish real, if "the family was not the firm foundation upon which society rested, but stood at the dark chaotic heart of everything that ailed us," in a certain sense every person is always already an exile, upended in their living rooms; Satan t hus becomes the patron saint of all humanity (104). Moreover, “serious” artists, especially such highly lauded ones as Salman Rushdie, are doubledamned, for they have contracted to reveal this surprising truth. Compounding the problem, and further uproot ing the everyday uprootedness of life, is the very real possibility that the art meant to "wipe away" everyday illusions might not be read correctly; every Faustian bargain has a catch, after all, and one might gain literary immortality for the wrong reasons. As Rushdie explains, when a book leaves its author's desk, it changes. Even before anyone has read it, before eyes other than its creator's have looked upon a single phrase, it is irretrievably altered. It has become a book that can be read, that no longer belongs to its maker. It has acquired, in a sense, free will. It will make its journey through the world and there is no longer anything the 112

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author can do about it. Even he, as he looks at its sentences, reads them differently now that they can be read by others. (90) Thus, the risk of the Faustian deal is that one cannot predict in advance how one's work will be received; one might be reviled or ridiculed, even if, perhaps even more so because, one has achieved or goes on to achieve literary notoriety . And how could it be otherwise? Literature's value as art, its very possibility, lies in its indeterminacy and textual play. But Rushdie often resists his own claims; Joseph Anton is a curious work precisely because it is both dedicated to pinning down m eaning, to maintaining that texts (such as The Satanic Verses and the historical tradition of the Koran) must be read in a certain way, that reality and fiction are in fact homogenous dimensions and thus that a call for violence in the one is not equivalent to an insult or call to questioning in the other (a fatwa is therefore not the same as a literary text) while constantly eroding those distinctions, suggesting that “ordinary” reality is itself unreal and that fiction unveils the truth precisely because of its multivalent possibilities. Rushdie wants to maintain a rigid distinction between the Enlightenment tradition and superstition/mysticism, arguing that his own dilemma should be read as the valiant struggle of the former against the latter, but he als o suggests (both in overt proclamations and in the very language he uses to champion the power and value of literature) that the border between the two is porous. The Terror of Language and Indeterminacy The real terror of the memoir, then, is related to l anguage and its unpredictable play; Rushdie knows he can't control his words, perhaps better than most, for a particular reading of his work put him in mortal danger. However, in standing his ground 113

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against fundamentalism, he has taken up an inherently mys tical position in regard to the sovereign subject, one that allows him to maintain the consistency of his identity as author only at the cost of the progressive atheism he espouses in the name of that same authorial position. He is drawn to religion becaus e he is covertly religious. He worships at the altar of the libertarian subject, the entrepreneur, the writer of popular fiction; in fact, as a highly successful popular author bankrolled by corporate publishers like Random House, whose money has afforded him the resources necessary to pay for a private security force, he has quite pressing pragmatic reasons to believe. A cynical reader might point out that his repeated paeans to liberty and sovereignty should in fact be interpreted as excuses covering over "real world" concerns, just as he interpreted his parents' appeal to Muslim religious belief and Muhammad's spiritual conflict over the satanic verses. Rushdie wants to be "satanic" but only if being so is interpreted ironically —that is, as synonymous wi th being on the side of "liberty" (the side of the angels) and so with being a serious writer and an intellectual; he wants to be free to offer dangerous revelations that would wreck a people's sense of themselves and the world they live in and wants to be championed for it, even though he admits knowing in advance that his work could be read as "Satanic" and might cost him his life. However, whatever risks he may claim to have taken ("He realized he was taking on a gigantic, all or nothing project, and that the risk of failure was far greater than the possibility of success" (56); "art was always a risk, always made at the edge of possibility, and it always put the artist in question, and that was the way he liked it" [595] ), they were already mitigated by the fact that he already knew that he was right, that he was facing "the forces of 114

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inhumanity" while championing the Enlightenment tradition (129). He wants those he challenges to take him seriously but not so much that they would retaliate with violence, as if his work could undo the singular idea of a faith that fixes their lives, that roots them in place and gives them purpose and identity, and yet not have such severe repercussions, as if the real truth of tolerant multiculturalism (he boasts of his "li fetime of anticolonialism" [ 121 ] ) is always already in place and just needs to be recognized. Over and over Rushdie equates his jeopardy as author with the vulnerability of the sovereign state in the face of the terrorist’s revelatory threat that the end is near, and then, as omniscient narrator, proceeds to objectify his claims. For example, he characterizes his plight as a foreshadowing of the "time of terror" to come: “In the years to come he will dream about this scene, understanding that his story is a sort of prologue. . . . It will be a dozen years and more before the story grows until it fills the sky, like the Archangel Gabriel standing upon the horizon, like a pair of planes flying into tall buildings, like the plague of murderous birds in Alfred Hitchcock's great film” (4). In this way, his biography becomes a metonymy for the central struggle of our age, which he describes as occurring in a post Marxist "new world . . . beyond the Communism capitalism confrontation" where "ideology, as Ayatollah Khomeini and his cohorts were insisting, could certainly be primary. The wars of ideology and culture were moving to the center of the stage. And his novel, unfortunately for him, would become a battlefield" (110). For Rushdie, ideology is firmly on the side of his enemies; he cannot imagine that the author of the "serious literature" he produces and the culture that allows for the 115

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freedom to engage in such production would be susceptible to such ideological self captivation: To be free one had to make t he presumption of freedom. And a further presumption: that one's work would be treated as having been created with integrity. He had always written presuming that he had the right to write as he chose, and presuming that it would at the very least be treat ed as a serious work; and knowing, too, that countries whose writers could not make such presumptions inevitably slid toward, or had already arrived at, authoritarianism and tyranny. (117) He reiterates this distinction between his “serious” intellectual position and that of the Islamic fundamentalists when he rationalizes his angry letter to Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, explaining that "he was defending a thing he revered above most things, the art of literature, against a piece of blatant opportuni sm" (118), and later while watching protesters on the television he says they are "performing anger for the cameras" and are "ready for their closeup" (128). He thus denies the authenticity of the Muslim argument; it is a cynical, constructed discourse me ant to bolster the power and prestige of the Ayatollah and those Muslim leaders who side with him. Indeed, he relies upon this characterization of his enemies from early on in a passage that is especially striking given the omniscient position with which he has chosen to narrate: [Ayatollah Khomeini] had taken his country into a useless war with its neighbor, and a generation of young people had died, hundreds of thousands of his country's young, before the old man called a halt. He said that accepting peac e with Iraq was like eating poison, but he had eaten it. After that the dead cried out against the imam and his revolution became unpopular. He needed a way to rally the faithful and he found it in the form of a book and its author. The book was the Devil' s work and the author was the devil and that gave him the enemy he needed. This author in this basement flat huddling with the wife from whom he was half estranged. This was the necessary devil of the dying imam. (11) 116

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Here again Rushdie relegates the funda mentalist religious position to the secular realm; the fatwa is a pragmatic solution to a “real world” problem, not an authentically religious declaration. The scene of the Ayatollah's writing of the fatwa appears again a bit later, framed this time from the point of view of the imam's son and establishing an interesting parallel between the latter and Rushdie, both of whom have had to care for "mortally ill" Muslim fathers who are portrayed unflatteringly and have carried out their father's wishes. Rushdi e's work and fiercely anti religious attitude is a testament to his father, whose “second great gift to his children” was “an apparently fearless skepticism, accompanied by an almost total freedom from religion” (25), while Khomeni's son is brought up in a strictly religious home and literally carries his father’s fatwa to the Iranian TV station. Like his father’s unrealized historical project about the Koran that served as the basis for The Satanic Verses , the Ayatollah’s declaration is a phantom document realized only by the son’s delivery; the fatwa is "just a piece of paper bearing a typewritten font" lacking the material majesty of a formal document, and Rushdie doubts one ever existed (135). Despite this correlation, the informality of Anis Rushdie’s project is praised as a “fascinating” wish (to desacrilize a holy book) fulfilled in the secular magical realism of the son’s novel (24), while Khomeni’s is degraded as "just" an informal document that has power only through coercive force ("the son of the mortally ill old man said this was his father's edict and nobody was disposed to argue with him" (135)). However, are we disposed to argue with Anis Rushdie’s project, given that his son spends over 600 pages insisting that the fate of The Satanic Verses a nticipates the plight of our current epoch and is a metonym for the survival of our own culture? 117

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Rushdie will make this connection between novel and fatwa even more explicit when he recalls the address he gave at King College’s Chapel on the fourth anniv ersary of his death sentence. Speaking “in the house of God about the virtues of the secular,” Rushdie thinks that he “sound[s] like an archbishop” and, recounting those who died having “fought the good fight” against Islamic fundamentalists, he uses his p ulpit to remind his listeners (and the reader) that “the ruthlessness of the godly invalidated their claims of virtue” (373). Then he quotes his address directly: “Just as King’s Chapel —may be taken—as a symbol —of what is best — about religion,’ he said in his best ecclesiastical dictation, ‘so the fatwa— has become— a symbol —of what is worst. The fatwa itself — may be seen— as a set —of modern satanic verses. In the fatwa—once again—evil —takes on the guise—of virtue —and the faithful —are —deceived.” (373) A host of contradictions come to bear on this address. Rushdie, the self avowed satanic atheist (the man without roots, the secular usurper of the religious tradition) and writer of The Satanic Verses , takes the pulpit to preach the virtues of secularism, claiming t hat “what is best” about religion is precisely that it opens itself to its own destruction, that it provides a forum for “Satan Rushdy,” the purveyor of atheism and the denier of religious truth. Ironically, there could perhaps be no better place for a secularist like Rushdie to stake his claims than a church and perhaps no less threatening a figure to address a religious audience than a secularist archbishop, for as we have seen, Rushdie’s devotion to the “secret self” of the author partakes in the very my stification he seeks to eradicate. From a Lyotardian perspective10, he simply chooses the “grand narrative” that suits him best, the “virtues” of which are determined by taking the secular side of the religion/secularism dyad, either unable or unwilling to consider the aporia inherent to both positions on account of their codependence. Derrida warns 118

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about this unavoidable , self mystifying comingling in “ Faith and Knowledge” when he explains : Henceforth reason ought to recognize . . . what Montaigne and Pas cal call an undeniable “mystical foundation of authority.” The mystical thus understood allies belief or credit, the fiduciary or the trustworthy, the secret (which here signifies “mystical”) to foundation, to knowledge . . . to science as “doing,” as theory, practice and theoretical practice—which is to say, to a faith, to performativity and to technoscientific or teletechnological performance. (57) The recognition of this mysticism beyond simple religious mysticism (which would already be defined by its relation to knowledge as its other) occurs “wherever this foundation [of any system of knowledge] founds in foundering” (Derrida, “Faith and Knowledge,” 57) and requires the kind of aporetic thinking I am calling “zeroism,” for it always already opens up a nd ruptures grounds , t erroriz ing those who have previously sought to anchor their standing in the world to the very foundation that zeroism makes tremble by witnessing to the necessary violation that every truth claim, every espousal of virtue, inflicts in its blindness to aporia. Everywhere a ground, always already a ground without grounding, a ground zero, a groundless grounding which can never be properly grounded a s a system of system. Gasch argues that this deconstructive thinking, as radical as it may seem, is simply a consequence of philosophy ’s conceptual rigor : Extending the requirement of philosophy that a ground must be different from what it grounds, deconstruction exhibits such an absolute other ground as “constitutive” of the canonical philos ophical problems. As a solution of sorts to traditional philosophical problems, such as, for instance, the problem of how something absolute can possibly have a generating, engendering, or constituting function, deconstruction both conserves the immanence of philosophical argumentation and concept formation while simultaneously opening it up to that which structurally disorganizes it. (175) 119

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This preservation of philosophy comes at a terribl e price, though, for with it follows the recognition that no judgment, no project, no decision, no relation to truth is ever without cost. How Rushdie fails to accept this cost — how he attempts to locate it in the Muslim fundamentalism he detests — further implicates him in a performative identification with the mimetic refl ection of the abjection he cannot confront in himself. Intent on preserving his own grounds, Rushdie will continuously lash out at the other, oblivious not only to the conceptual inconsistencies that riddle the justifications he makes for his own survival but to the ways those justifications alienate him and inflict pain on those around him, particularly the women in his life. Rushdie’s invocation of the satanic verses here is particularly telling, then, for in the context of this address at King College’ s Chapel , the allusion to them (when he says the fatwa calling for his death may be seen as “a set of modern satanic verses”) occurs as Rushdie discusses the founding of Islam itself, and the confusion of his language testifies to his aversion to aporetic thinking even as it affords him the opportunity to locate the particular violence (against “femaleness”) of this particular grounding (the formation of Islam).The allusion in question is meant to evoke the “evil” of deception, implying that the original ve rses in question were in fact spawned by a satanic lie, that the traditional story of their telling and subsequent erasure somehow has merit. But Rushdie has already discounted such a possibility when he argued “that to historicize the story [of Muhammad and the writing of the Koran], to try to understand how a great idea was shaped by those [historical] forces, was the only possible approach to the subject” (24). Such a definitive reading discounts the “satanic.” Moreover, Rushdie has in fact suggested that the removal of these “satanic verses” from the Koran is a clear 120

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sign of the inherent misogyny of Islam, a misogyny coded directly into the Archangel’s demand for their retraction (“‘ Shall God have daughters while you have sons? That would be an unjust di vision’ ” [ 24] ) since the verses in question allow for worship of female goddesses. Early in Joseph Anton Rushdie offers the following explanation: The “true” verses, angelic or divine, were clear: It was the femaleness of the winged goddesses —the “exalted birds” —that rendered them inferior and fraudulent and proved they could not be the children of God, as the angels were. Sometimes the birth of a great idea revealed things about the future; the way in which newness enters the world prophesied how it would behave when it grew old. At the birth of this particular idea, femaleness was seen as a disqualification from exaltation. (45) Thus, Rushdie sets up the possibility that the inclusion of the verses would have opened Islam to a different relation to women; the verses are deceptive or evil only from the retroactive point of view of the followers of the “great idea” whose behavior has been tainted by the original moment of erasure that “ prophesied” the faith’s future. In other words, from the perspective of Is lam, the verses can continue to be construed as “satanic” only because they speak to an inclusion of femaleness whose violent exclusion retroactively helped determine the limits of the faith. By this logic, the fatwa , issuing from a religious authority “speaking” from the “ future ” position Rushdie alludes to (the “old” face of the once burgeoning faith, its present position which is the future of the great idea at the time of the satanic verses’ erasure), is precisely not equivalent to the satanic verses th at belong to an inclusive, non misogynist Islam that never was ; it speaks for the “legitimate” verses that make up the Koran. We will soon see the irony of Rushdie’s discursive position here (as voice of “femaleness” speaking out against the Islamic tradition that oppresses it and against the fatwa which oppresses him ) for his own crusade will itself be founded on a rhetorical violence against women inflicted in defense of his authority. Blind to the aporetic evocation of a satanism that wildly veers 121

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between marking the sympathetic outsider and the tyrannical border, Rushdie will remain locked in a binary system that will callously inflict violence in the name of the virtuous with whom he sides (Western culture and its increasingly progressive attitude towa rds women) and simultaneously strikes down (when it comes to the particular women in his life) . Rushdie’s insistence on using religious language to characterize his dilemma thus continuously confuses the situation. Is he satanic or angelic? Is he on the side of the satanic verses or misaligned with them? Does he concede to the anomalous power of language or fix that language in the name of a mystical secret space wherein the “divine arbiter” of the author resides? That Rushdie insists on the absolute nature of the struggle for which he sees his own life as a metonymy precludes him from considering the other ways that the fatwa and his own Satanic Verses collide, blinds him to the possibility that both were determined in advance by a life and language beyond the control of their respective authors and thus blinds him to a terror beyond the terror of his first person plight. This will blind him, in turn, to the ethical quandary of the many moments of rhetorical violence (against women, especially) in which he partakes throughout the book, moments that he will justify in the name of the vital tradition for which his continued survival serves as testament. Misogyny and Marianne’s Metaphor Much of this rhetorical violence strikes at the women in his life. Indeed, it is no surprise that Rushdie forgets the feminist subtext of the satanic verses in his King’s Chapel address, for his relation to women is ambivalent at best throughout Joseph Anton . On one hand, the “winged goddesses” of the satanic verses are linked t o the “ornithology of terror” he constructs as a guiding trope for the book, and of which he 122

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claims his own story is a part (341). In the very first chapter, he establishes this ornithology through an allusion to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds and a scene of blackbirds gathering in a schoolyard: In the years to come he will dream about this scene, understanding that his story is a sort of prologue: the tale of the moment when the first blackbird lands. When it begins it’s just about him; it’s individual, part icular, specific. Nobody feels inclined to draw any conclusions from it. It will be a dozen years and more before the story grows until it fills the sky, like the Archangel Gabriel standing upon the horizon, like a pair of planes flying into tall buildings , like the plague of murderous birds in Alfred Hitchcock’s great film. (4) Like the winged goddesses of the satanic verses as read by fundamentalist tradition, here the birds represent evil; they appear as a “murderous plague” and are likened to the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center. But soon thereafter, the figure of the bird instead will be linked directly to Rushdie himself. Reflecting on his early writing career and the poor reviews of his first book Grimus , based on “a sort of Muslim Pilg rim’s Progress ” in which “a hoopoe led thirty birds on a journey through seven valleys of travail and revelation,” Rushdie says he felt “like the thirty first despairing bird” (51). Then, when on vacation on the isle of Mauritius right after delivering The Satanic Verses to his publisher, birds become an omen again, this time not because of their “murderous” tendencies but for their vulnerability: He should have paid attention to the birds. The dead flightless birds who had been unable to soar away from their predators, who tore them apart. Mauritius was the world capital, the extermination camp and mass graveyard, of extinct flightless birds. . . . In all, twenty four of the island’s forty five bird species were driven into extinction, as well as the previously plentiful tortoises and other creatures. There was a skeleton of a dodo in the museum in Port Louis. Its flesh had been revolting to human beings, but the dogs had been less picky. The dogs saw a helpless creature and ripped it to bits. They were trai ned hunting dogs, after all. They were unfamiliar with mercy. (97) 123

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These birds, like the erased goddesses from the satanic verses whose eradication forewarned the world of Islam’s impending misogynist traditions, appear as unheeded council to Rushdie; look ing back, he sees the merciless pursuit of his enemies in the dogs that hunted them and no doubt sees in their mass graveyard a plot of his own. Linked to the goddesses in this way, Rushdie becomes a potential victim of the very patriarchal fundamentalism that threatens female rights; he thus stands with them, and , as his address at King’s Chapel will bring into further relief 276 pages later (when the fatwa is described as the “modern” version of the satanic verses), his plight becomes their own. However, if the ambiguous appearance of the bird is linked both to the victimized female and to prophecies of a patriarchal evil to come, the figures of the females in the book (literally and metaphorically, as Rushdie obsesses on the physical appearance of his fe male companions over and over again) prophesy the author’s own patriarchal project and self centered obsession with the center of the self. This is especially true in the case of Rushdie’s second wife Marianne, whose first appearance in the book, on its ve ry first page, exemplifies the author’s rhetorical strategy in regards to women: It was Valentine’s Day but he hadn’t been getting on with his wife, the American novelist Marianne Wiggins. Six days earlier she had told him she was unhappy in the marriage, that she “didn’t feel good around him anymore,” even though they had been married for little more than a year, and he, too, already knew it had been a mistake. (3) So Rushdie sets Marianne on the stage, presents her as unhappy and complaining unreasonably (“even though they had been married for little more than a year”), and then weakly adds his own displeasure to the equation after the fact (“and he, too . . .”). He subsequently “had to explain to her” the situation of the fatwa (the use of the perfect ten se indicates a grudging attitude; the word “explain” implies a simplification or 124

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instructional moment rather than communication between equals) as she “stared at him” (she doesn’t “look” or “gaze” at him or show concern in her eyes). Having established her character thus, he will add that “she reacted well” and say that she “was courageous” upon learning of the danger, but the damage has been done; this bird is no angel, and like Hitchcock’s blackbirds on the book’s next page, her appearance is a harbinger of things to come. In fact, an unflattering portrait of Marianne will again appear as a forerunner to figural birds, this time those in Mauritius. Before they leave for their vacation on the island, Rushdie recounts the following: Ten days after he delivered The Satanic Verses , Marianne finished her new novel, John Dollar , a novel involving cannibalism among characters marooned on a desert island that she insisted —unwisely, to his mind —on calling “a feminist Lord of the Flies.” On the night of the 1988 Booker Prize dinner, when T he Satanic Verses finished runner up to Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda, she even described it in these words to William Golding himself. This was most definitely unwise. (96) The patriarchal condescension practically drips off the page in this passage: Rushdie appears as the wise, rising star male author, lecturing his feminist wife on how to properly behave in the presence of a respected literary father. He then jokes that Mauritius “was not a desert island, fortunately, so there w as no ‘long pork’ on the menu,” simultaneously conflating his wife with the cannibals she wrote about (shades of Rush Limbaugh’s “feminazi” caricature) while simultaneously belittling her work (96). Moreover, Rushdie appropriates the act of “delivery” here, entering into creative competition with his wife (“two days after she delivered her book they flew . . . to Mauritius” (96)); both “deliver” novels at the same time, but his creation wins literary recognition, his reproductive language embedding his geni us in an ungenerous portrait of his wife. Significantly, Rushdie repeats his ambivalent use of reproductive language 125

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to characterize his creative process while working on The Satanic Verses. On the one hand, he says that “there was a novel growing in him” (68); on the other hand, when his third wife Elizabeth becomes pregnant, he gushes that “his new book was alive in his head and new life had stirred in Elizabeth’s womb,” again making a claim for a conceptive power that, in being analogous to his spouse’s biological pregnancy (495), is precisely not the expression of the self sovereignty of mind that he wants it to be. Rushdie the serious sovereign author thus celebrates his legacy as producer of books and children, as if the latter guaranteed the former; i n fact, he will overtly conflate the two conceptive powers when after Elizabeth tells him she wants to have a child he declares “what could be a finer affirmation of life, of the power of life over death, the power of his will to defeat the forces arrayed against him, than to bring a new life into the world” (416). Their reproductive act, and her pregnancy, will thus serve as a sign of his will to survive, his unwavering creative spirit, much like the continued publication of The Satanic Verses and his other works. Rushdie is willing at least to share the spotlight with Elizabeth, perhaps because she bears his child and thus ensures his legacy (it is worth noting that Rushdie dedicates Joseph Anton to “my children Zafar and Milan and their mothers Clarissa and Elizabeth”) rather than her novel. However, the bitterness of his competition with Marianne cripples the couple’s relationship, a fact that Rushdie can comfortably reminisce upon as omniscient narrator/judge whose memoir, published by corporate giant R andom House, is testament to the popularity and economic viability he continues to enjoy (and of which no small part is due to the notoriety of his life under fatwa ) at the expense of those other writers like Marianne whose work fails to garner publisher 126

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i nterest, promotional resources, critical attention, or shelf space. Five weeks into a marriage that “was already showing signs of strain,” Rushdie recounts Marianne saying “‘I’m in your shadow’”11 with “resentment on her face;” a paragraph later, he brags about the bids for his book, saying “they were high, almost shockingly high, to his mind, more than ten times higher than his previous highest advance,” though he admits that his relationship with Marianne and his former agent “had been seriously damaged” and that “big money came at a price” (99). Recalling a day of panic when he could not reach his ex wife Clarissa and son Zafar on the phone and feared for their safety, he will say of Marianne only that “she was upset because her just published novel John Dollar had sold exactly twenty four copies in the preceding week” (158) and that she “sat facing him, staring at him, unable to offer comfort” (159). Forty pages later, after they have split up, Rushdie recollects a phone message Marianne leaves on his mac hine in which she claims: “‘You don’t want to live with me because I’m a writer. . . . You don’t own the franchise on genius’” (199). He also remarks that “she wanted to publish her ‘on the lam in Wales story’” about their living arrangements (199), which he earlier recalls being extremely “annoyed” by “because to be on the lam was to be running from the law. They were not criminals, he wanted to say, but did not. She wasn’t in the mood for criticism” (152). Her desire for the story’s publication, and the s tory of its development, presents her as simultaneously ill informed (she doesn’t understand the implications of the word she uses to describe their situation), overly emotional and therefore unteachable (her mood dictates her intellectual responsiveness), ideologically combative (she may see him as a criminal, living “on the lam,” thus linking her attitude with that of his enemies), and excessively competitive (she accuses him of fearing her prowess and claims to be 127

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a genius). She is a threat, not a nurtur ing spouse, a source of internal terror, living inside the secured home, in a life under siege by terrorist threats from the outside. This threat is fully realized in regard to Marianne’s capacity as a storyteller. When she visits some of their mutual fr iends in London, she tells them that she and Rushdie fight constantly, claims he has a relationship with a French actress, and alleges that he burns her with cigarettes (162). The friends phone Rushdie to report on this conversation, and when Marianne returns home, Rushdie confronts her: He asked her specifically about the worst allegation, the cigarette torture story. “Why did you say such a thing, ” he demanded, “ when you know it isn’t true?” She looked him boldly in the eye. “ It was a metaphor, ” she said, “ of how unhappy I felt. ” That was, in its way, brilliant. Deranged, but brilliant. It deserved applause. He said, “ Marianne, that is not a metaphor; it’s a lie. If you can’t tell the difference between the two you are in bad trouble.” (162) But it is prec isely this breakdown in reality, this porous limit between truth and fiction, metaphor and reality, on which he has made a living as storyteller and to which his own situation as unrepentant fugitive has been a testament. As he says at an address given in Stockholm at the Swedish Academy when receiving the Kurt Tucholsky Prize: At the heart of the dispute over The Satanic Verses . . . behind all the accusations and abuse, was a question of profound importance: Who shall have control over the story? Who has, who should have, the power not only to tell the stories with which, and within which, we all lived, but also to say in what manner those stories may be told? For everyone lived by and inside stories, the so called grand narratives. The nation was a story, and the family was another, and religion was a third. As a creative artist he knew that the only answer to the question was: Everyone and anyone has, or should have that power . . . . But in a closed society those who possessed political or ideological pow er invariably tried to shut down these debates. We will tell you the story , they said, and we will tell you what it means. (360) Does Marianne have a right to her story about living under fatwa and living with the great and serious author whose memoir reveals the extent of his disgust with her 128

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and his condescending attitude towards her own creative projects? What is Joseph Anton but an attempt to shut down the debate over Rushdie’s life in exile, to give it meaning, and especially to sort the lies from the truth? In reading Marianne’s story, Rushdie insists on the literal truth of their marriage and thereby tries to close down the subversive metaphorical power of storytelling. Marianne’s story implies that he is not simply an innocent, that he is guilty of i nstilling terror in those around him. His response to her, and his publication of Joseph Anton, his retroactive revenge1 2 on his enemies, validates her metaphorical claims. Moreover, his attitude towards Marianne and his dismissal of her creative powers as “deranged”1 3 only highlights the general marginalization of female claims to authorship running throughout the book. For example, when reflecting back on his childhood and the stories his father used to tell him at bedtime, Rushdie recounts “two unforgett able lessons” he learned from this paternal transmission of tales: first, that stories were not true (there were no “real” genies in bottles or flying carpets or wonderful lamps), but by being untrue they could make him feel and know truths that the truth could not tell him, and second, that they all belonged to him, just as they belonged to his father, Anis, and to everyone else, they were all his, as they were his father’s, bright stories and dark stories, sacred stories and profane, his to alter and renew and discard and pick up again as and when he pleased, his to laugh at and rejoice and live in and with and by, to give the stories life by loving them and to be given life in return. Man was the storytelling animal, the only creature on earth that told i tself stories to understand what kind of creature it was. The story was his birthright, and nobody could take it away. (19) Though this passage gestures to a universal ownership of stories, its use of “man” to designate humanity and its repeated use of the male pronoun to emphasize ownership (the stories are his , belonged to him ), as well as its repeated recognition of the father as possessor of tales, cannot be ignored. He contrasts this fatherly storytelling to the tales he learned from his mother, whom he says “was a gossip of world class” and who chose 129

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“to spill everyone’s secrets except her own” (20). Her stories, then, don’t belong to her; her secret authorial self remains hidden, even when she speaks the secrets of others. Rushdie says that “gossip was her addiction, and she could not [stop engaging in it], any more that her husband, his father, could give up drink” (20). Female storytelling is here depicted as a vice, a character flaw. And even these illicit female stories become the property of the m ale: And these secrets too, he came to feel, belonged to him, for once a secret had been told it no longer belonged to her who told it but to him who received it. (20) This is precisely his attitude towards Marianne’s secret story of abuse, confided to mut ual friends who turned it over to Rushdie via phone; it ultimately belonged to him, and he finally seeks to pin it down as a lie in his own capacity as omniscient author of Joseph Anton , where it appears as a proof of her insanity and of Rushdie’s supreme position as conceiver and deliverer of stories, reader and receiver of messages, and teacher and interpreter of truth. Another passage, read in conjunction with his dismissal of Marianne’s metaphorical claims and the elevation of his authority to tell truth from lies, further confirms his patriarchal bias. “The writers who had always spoken to him most clearly,” Rushdie explains, were writers who understood the unreality of “reality” and the reality of the world’s waking nightmare, the monstrous mutability of the everyday, the irruption of the extreme and improbabl e into the humdrum quotidian. Rabelais, Gogol, Kafka, these and their ilk had been his masters and their world, too, no longer felt like fantasies. He was living —trapped—in the Gogolian, the Rabel aisian, the Kafkaesque. (342) So these great male writers, whose stories challenged the “everyday” distinction between truth and lies and surrendered the stability of the literal to the “monstrous 130

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mutability” of “unreality,” lay claim to him as “masters,” but his wife, whose “metaphor” spoke to the horror of her waking nightmare, is dismissed as a liar. Is it any wonder there are no women on his list of masters? In spite of his great claims to speak for liberty and free speech, to speak out against the clos ing down of language and the public space of rhetoric, does he truly offer an alternative to the patriarchal terror he associates with his enemies, the deniers of the female goddesses of the satanic verses for whom “femaleness was seen as a disqualification from exaltation” (45)? Like Mohammed, who eradicates the satanic verses and thereby denies the female goddesses their adulation, Rushdie discharges Marianne’s name from the book of masters : both men “know” reality and its other, and both act on it. It i s telling that “the image . . . that stuck in his mind” of his great enemy Hesham el Essawy, the man who arranged the signing of the apology at Paddington Green, was that of “a man making phone calls while a woman knelt at his feet” (270). And yet, when he tells of his own triumphant return to India in the waning days of the fatwa , Rushdie brags that Indian newspaper The Pioneer “improbably but delightfully accused him of ‘turning the city’s sophisticated party women into a bunch of giggling schoolgirls’ who told their men, ‘Dahling, [he] could send the Bollywood hunks back to school” (603). Again, the text announces Rushdie’s tendency to engage in the very behavior he relegates to his enemy, in this case misogyny and macho posturing, even as the author only sees the violence of the other. Frames of Violence and the Cowering “Inferno” Rushdie’s final word on his most recent ex wife Padma is exemplary of his text’s general attitude towards women and of the rhetorical violence he is willing to inflict on others in order to empower himself and justify his survival; he is willing to sacrifice her 131

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reputation to assure his own truth1 4 and thus ensure himself a happy ending, the righteousness of which requires a blindness to the sacrifice itself (in the name of the v ery truth it serves to support, namely, his well earned happiness as protagonist of his story). Reflecting on a party he attended with her in March of 2002 just before the Academy Awards, he remembers watching her pose for photographers and thinking, “She’ s having sex, sex with hundreds of men at the same time, and they don’t even get to touch her, there’s no way any actual man can compete with that” (631). In this moment, he is threatened by her power, which stems from her objectification (she is a virtual object for many men, and the potency of that becoming image for her cuckolds him as he stands beside her), but that threat is also empty, for “no man” could compete with the rush she feels from becoming a general male fantasy. He thus not only sees her being seen, he feels her feeling wanted and translates what he imagines to be her feeling into a reassurance, thereby affording him both a mastery of her mastery and an affirmation of his own empathic understanding, an affirmation by which he converts his im potency into a strength; no man can satisfy her, so he hasn’t lost anything, and knowing this makes his impotence bearable, even communal, a powerlessness shared by the male population that desires her. Indeed, he has proclaimed his membership in this comm unity of desire from the beginning, as he has continually portrayed Padma as the embodiment of his own fantasies, an ethereal, virtual being with no real ontological status. When he first introduces her in Joseph Anton ’s final chapter, he says of her: The Phantom of Liberty was a mirage of an oasis. She seemed to contain his Indian past and his American future. She was free of the caution and worry that had bedeviled his life with Elizabeth and which Elizabeth could not leave behind. She was the dream of le aving it all behind and beginning again—an American, pilgrim dream —a Mayflower fantasy more alluring than her beauty, and her beauty was brighter than the sun. (578)1 5 132

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And twelve pages later he says of their eventual parting: “Once she had gone away into t he world of makebelieve where she truly belonged, reality returned” (590). Having conjured the phantom of her photogenic infidelity in order to exorcise his insecurity, he sums up the lesson he has learned from their relationship. Given its placement in the work (two pages from the end), the fact that it is his last reflective statement (the rest of the text recounts facts and dialogue), and that it serves as a rejoinder to the “trap of wanting to be loved” that he presents as being at the root of all his weaknesses (chapter four, in which he reaches his lowest point and is duped into signing the Paddington Green apology, is titled “The Trap of Wanting to be Loved”) — this statement thus can be read as central to the book’s overarching lesson or moral, the t ruth of Salman Rushdie’s hardwon triumph: “And in the end he lost her [Padma], yes, but it was better to lose one’s illusions and live in the knowledge that the world was real, and that no woman could make it what he wanted it to be. That was up to him” ( 631) . The indeterminacy of this statement is revealing; the world cannot be made by a woman; the woman inhabits a fantasy space that is worse than reality; the world he wants cannot be made by a woman; it is up to him to make the world, not a woman. Rushdie’s ruminations on Padma and the lesson his experience with her has taught him parallels his reflections less than twenty page earlier on critics and their reactions to his work. Admitting that “he had always cared, sometimes too much, about being well reviewed,” Rushdie notes that “this, too, was another version of the trap of wanting to be loved,” and though his book Fury was “his worst received book since Grimus ” he says that “he remained proud of it, he knew why it was the way it was and still felt tha t there were good artistic reasons for his choices” (619). And here, at the end 133

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of his book, Rushdie seeks to fix the “start” of his literary career, establishing his writing as an enjoyable adventure driven by choices of his own making: Like all writers, he wanted his work to be appreciated, that was still true. Like all writers, he was going on an intellectual, linguistic, formal, and emotional journey; the books were messages from that journey, and he hoped readers would enjoy traveling with him. But, he now saw, if at some point they were unable to go down the road he’d taken, that was too bad, but that was still the road he was going to take. If you can’t come with me, I’m sorry, he silently said to his critics, but I’m still going this way. (619) Here Rushdie validates all his choices and claims immunity from the voices of the other, whose potentially negative reactions are linked to the “trap” of their love, their desire of him, for him. The trap, then, is related to his capacity to be read, for his wo rk to be exposed to the expectations and comprehension of a variable he cannot control in advance. And in its connection to Padma, Rushdie makes clear that this trap of reading is also one of “illusions,” of his own capacity to see reality, to read it properly and “to live in the knowledge that the world was real.” This reality, however, is not simply a matter of objective truth; it was “up to him” to “make it what he wanted it to be” (631). And what does it mean to be such a maker? Rushdie answers this question when he recalls a moment of existential insight he had while working on Shalimar the Clown in 2001: This in the end was who he was, a teller of tales, a creator of shapes, a maker of things that were not. It would be wise to withdraw from the world o f commentary and polemic and rededicate himself to what he loved most, the art that had claimed his heart, mind and spirit ever since he was a young man, and to live again in the universe of once upon a time, of kan ma kan , it was so and it was not so, and to make the journey to the truth upon the waters of makebelieve. (630) Taken together, the insinuation of these passages seems to be that Rushdie is well and determined to live his own fiction as reality, to embrace his vision of the “things that were not” as if they, in fact, were, to take his authorship and his comprehensive powers 134

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and invest all his faith in them on his “journey of truth” upon which he hoped readers, others whom he could address but never control, would join him but whose companionship he no longer required. That the reality he so espouses is thus hopelessly intermixed with fiction, always already intermixed with “the waters of makebelieve,” is thus tacitly admitted. For Rushdie, this attitude is simply a matter of survival. Indeed, if nothing else, Joseph Anton is a testament to the inescapable intermingling of text and life and the impending threat of violence that accompanies every act of communication. Early on, Rushdie reveals that, as a younger man, “to tell the absolute truth, the publication of a book always made a large part of him want to hide behind the furniture” (116), an almost identical protective gesture to the one he shamefully remembers performing in the early days of the fatwa when “he had to duck behind a kitchen counter” to avoid being seen by a harmless farmer (147). As we have already noted, for Rushdie and the Muslim “honor culture” to which he was born, “to skulk and hide was to lead a dishonorable life” (147). He thus views gestures of compromise, such as apologies or equivocations, to be shameful in the same way as hiding in order to live on. Expressions of concession, then, are tantamount to cowardice; one must be willing to say what one means and must fight for the freedom of such expression, even to the deat h. Word and action, writing and violence are thus necessarily intertwined. In fact, however, Joseph Anton ’s style indicates that this intertwining is even more complex than Rushdie dares to openly admit, for one might call the rhetoric Rushdie employees t hroughout the text the rhetoric of concession: he admits to a position, only in order to overturn it ( paromologia, concessio, metastasis1 6). If the book is meant to serve as a defense of 135

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his honor, that the erection of such a defense is built upon the sort of wilting discourse against which it is measured confirms again the aporia of founding itself; every structuring logic, every “honorable” position, is always already threatened from within. The complexities of this interrelation ensure that life itself is always already exposed to a violence from which escape would mean apocalypse; in other words, Rushdie’s fight against compromise can only be compromised by a vision of a world without violence and the terror it inspires, an apocalyptic vision Rushdie ca nnot seem to shake. For example, late in the book, upon regretting negotiating the aforementioned apology with Muslim leaders that made him feel like a fraud, he reminds himself that “he was fighting against the view that people could be killed for their i deas” but several sentences later says: He had asked himself the question: As you are fighting a battle that may cost you your life, is the thing for which you are fighting worth losing your life for? And he had found it possible to answer: yes. He was pr epared to die, if dying became necessary, for what Carmen Callil had called “a bloody book.” (285) He thus at once recognizes the risks of writing, celebrates them, even affirms a heroic attitude towards them, but claims to be fighting for a world in which such heroic struggle will not be necessary, one in which people "could not be killed" for their words. Could "serious literature" exist in such a pacified world, or is it a dangerous, potentially worldchanging art for a dangerous world, an art that can b e brandished like a weapon, enacts violence, and instigates violence in return? Are ideas always already worth dying for, or in fighting for a world wherein violence is not instigated by ideas, is Rushdie fighting for a world in which ideas no longer truly matter? In other words, isn't he in fact envisioning an apocalyptic future wherein books are simply commodities struggling for shelf space 136

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and everyone has a right to make free consumer choices, "choices" masking the violence of the market wherein such a right has meaning?1 7 If Rushdie has on one hand reduced the horizon of violence to that of shelf space in a bourgeois shopping mall (which, as his own observation about the financial stakes of his security and the desperation of Marianne’s literary aspir ations make clear, he is all too aware is rife with its own violence), on the other hand by acknowledging the “trap” of wanting to be loved and admitting that avoiding it requires a kind of “makebelieve,” he freely admits that such myopia is itself a security measure taken against the terrifying prospect of a world defined by violence. In fact, Rushdie can see this threat, can describe it vividly, but cannot bear the brunt of its full force. Perhaps the closest he comes to acknowledging the inescapability of the existential terror he has been forced to confront occurs in the middle of Joseph Anton, when Rushdie draws together the themes of terror and violence as they relate to literature and reality while recounting his earliest imaginings of how his memoir of the fatwa years might finally take shape: He began to think of a project provisionally called “Inferno” in which he could try to turn his story into something other than simple autobiography. A hallucinatory portrait of a man whose picture of the world had been broken. Like everyone he had had a picture of the world in his head that had made a kind of sense. He had lived in that picture and understood why it was the way it was, and how to find his way inside it. Then like a great hammer swinging the fat wa smashed the picture and left him in an absurd formless amoral universe in which danger was everywhere and sense was not to be found. The man in his story tried desperately to hold his worldpicture together but pieces of it came away in his hand like mi rror shards and cut his hands until they bled. In his demented state, in this dark wood, the man with the bleeding hands who was a version of himself made his way toward the daylight, through the inferno, in which he passed through the numberless circles o f hell, the private and public hells, into the secret worlds of terror, and toward the great, forbidden thoughts. (340) In a paragraph Rushdie thus recalls the stillborn project he might have produced, the terrible truth he might have “made,” giving it a k ind of monstrous half life within the 137

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confines of his “actual” memoir. He thus remembers his abandoned child, the “version of himself” he killed along the way because “the only reason his story was interesting was that it had actually happened. It wouldn’t be interesting if it wasn’t true” (34041). This “hallucinatory portrait” of a man with a broken “picture of the world,” a broken portrait of a broken portrait, testifying to the brokenness of a world in violent chaos with no fixed truth, gave way to Rushdie’s “real” truth, that “the days were hard but, in spite of his friends’ fears, he was not crushed” (341). Instead of succumbing to despair, he says he “learned how to fight back, and the immortal writers of the past were his guides” (341). He then remem bers the struggles of Dostoyevsky and Rabelais, recalling that in the latter case, “he [Rabelais] had been defended by the king , Francois I, on the grounds that his genius could not be suppressed. Those were the days, when artists could be defended by king s because they were good at what they did. These were lesser times” (341). In her scathing review of Joseph Anton, Zo Heller counters Rushdie’s observation here about the state of the world and the security of the authors in it, remarking that though Marg aret Thatcher was “not a Rushdie fan,” she and her cabinet “recognized their duty to protect the free speech of a British citizen— even one they did not like — against the death threats of a foreign cleric. And this, by and large, indicates something rather h eartening about those times. Certainly, it presents a more reassuring situation than one in which a citizen’s safety depends upon a monarch’s arbitration of his literary talent” (8). Her retort certainly highlights Rushdie’s obsession with sovereignty, bot h in the figure of the royal personage and its bearing on the author as genius (Rushdie dreams of a sovereign that will recognize his sovereignty as author). 138

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But she makes no mention of the memory of “Inferno” that directly precedes the passage in question and instead zeroes in on Rushdie’s general attitude of entitlement: “one would hope that when recollecting his emotions in freedom and safety, he [Rushdie] might bring some ironic detachment to bear on his own bombast. Hindsight, alas, has had no sobering effect on Rushdie’s magisterial amour propre. An unembarrassed sense of what he is owed as an embattled, literary immortal in waiting pervades his book” (8). As the present critique of Joseph Anton no doubt has emphasized, Heller’s point is well taken. And yet, by preserving traces of Rushdie’s past, like the abandoned outline of “Inferno,” and by witnessing to the compromises he makes in order to make himself feel safe, any reading of Joseph Anton must account for its strange power to indemnify the very s ubject it seeks to celebrate. Indeed, it is precisely in that celebration that the text wilts most convincingly, becoming at once an overwhelmingly narcissistic paean to the author’s greatness and an unbelievably candid admission of the narcissism in quest ion, a pathetic reminder of the author’s mortal mistakes and the lengths to which he was willing to go in order to survive and, further, to convince himself that he was worthy of that survival. Rushdie not only wants to be protected, he wants to be assur ed of his righteous cause and absolved of his sins, yet such absolution requires him to abandon the indeterminacy upon which the power of literature manifests, a terribly wondrous power confronted by the fictional character of “Inferno,” whose “picture of the world,” whose fixed horizon of possibility, was destroyed by the “hammer of the fatwa ,” the document that testifies to the indeterminate interpretability of all documents (as the terrible consequence of a certain reading that itself denies the indeterm inacy of language) 139

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(340). “Inferno’s” protagonist was forced to confront a possibility that Rushdie admits he chose to abandon when he declares that his own story “had actually happened” (340), that “his mistake" ( in remaining “an invisible, silenced man” when “the fight against fanaticism needed visible faces, audible voices” [ 340 ] ) had “opened his eyes, cleared his thoughts and stripped him of all equivocation” (341). The actuality he demands in fixing his position against his enemy requires him to inhabi t a universal “picture of the world” within which his own violence is virtuous, thereby abating his fear of “an absurd formless amoral universe in which danger was everywhere and sense was nowhere to be found” (140). Thus does Rushdie introduce and dismiss the “great forbidden thoughts” that “The Inferno” dared document and that Joseph Anton , the frame of this abandoned and shattered framing of his past, now risks. Derrida’s Disappearing Act: Hospitality and the Terror of a Life Left Open “Inferno’s” “great forbidden thoughts” are presented and quickly erased, but they nonetheless flit before the reader of Joseph Anton as reminders or traces of a possibility to which the memoir attests even as it seeks to bury them. Their fleeting appearance parallels that o f another specter in the book, the name and figure of Jacques Derrida, who is conjured up only to be hastily and summarily dismissed. As we will see, the relation between these apparitions is not coincidental but substantive, especially insofar as they tes tify to a certain tracing or writing, in form, as fleeting ephemerals, as well as in content, given the terrifying ideas Rushdie intuits but hastily abandons. In short, Derrida arrives as an unwanted guest, and his appearance speaks to a terror beyond the terrorist other upon which Rushdie would like to focus in order to secure a place of comfort, a terror intuited by the “world of terror” associated with the “great forbidden thoughts” of his abandoned autobiography.1 8 140

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Derrida appears a little more than three quarters of the way through the book when Rushdie remembers going to Strasbourg and attending the Parliament of Writers: He met Jacques Derrida, who made him think of Peter Sellers in The Magic Christian , walking through life with an invisible wind mac hine permanently ruffling his hair. He soon realized that he and Derrida would not agree about anything. In the Algeria session he made his argument that Islam itself, Actually Existing Islam, could not be exonerated from the crimes done in its name. Derri da disagreed. The “rage of Islam” was driven not by Islam but the misdeeds of the West. Ideology had nothing to do with it. It was a question of power. (438) That Rushdie’s offhand summation of Derrida’s argument is misleading at best is perhaps the least interesting element of this account. For one thing, the description he provides of Derrida, likening him to Peter Sellers, mirrors his depiction of the duplicitous Arab dentist Hesham el Essawy whom he finds culpable in regards to his scripted apology at P addington Green; Rushdie remarks on Essawy’s “passing resemblance to a fleshier Peter Sellers” (267). Essawy, of course, is a pivotal figure in what Rushdie considers his “Dreadful Mistake” (294) and thus represents a kind of forced compromise, the “trap o f wanting to be loved” by others that he ultimately says he learns to avoid in order to be free (284). He thus stands for the hostile other, the fact that “there were people who would never love him . . . [n]o matter how carefully he explained his work or clarified his intentions in creating it” (284285). These people would terrorize him regardless of his appeals to reason: The unreasoning mind, driven by the doubt free absolutes of faith, could not be convinced by reason. Those who had demonized him would never say, “Oh look, he’s not a demon after all.” He needed to understand that this was all right. He didn’t like those people either. As long as he was clear about what he had written and said, as long as he felt good about his own work and public positi ons, he could stand being disliked. (285) In other words, Rushdie recognizes that he will always be at risk and in a conflict against the other, but he requires a remedy, an internal autoaffection, a “feeling good” 141

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about himself, that will rectify the sit uation and keep him secure. As his lessons about the trap of the other’s love have clarified, Rushdie wants to avoid compromise at all costs in order to be secure in himself and to “feel good” about things; that would seem to be enough for him to tolerate being a “demon” in other people’s eyes. But the “demonization” he names here distances him from blame; he is being demonized by the other, not admitting to being a demon in order to protect his own space. In this way, his enemies become the enemy, terroriz ers projecting their hatred onto rational, sympathetic individuals who don’t deserve to be attacked. He can thus be secure in the knowledge that his insecurity is not a necessary condition, that his fight is the good fight, that his happiness is well deser ved. Nearly two hundred pages later, he will say: Outside the pages of books the question of a satisfying ending was mostly unanswerable. Human life was rarely shapely, only intermittently meaningful, its clumsiness the inevitable consequence of the victor y of content over form, of what and when over how and why. Yet with the passage of time he became more and more determined to shape his story toward the ending everyone refused to believe in, in which he and his loved ones could move beyond a discourse of risk and safety into a future free of danger in which “risk” became once again a word for creative daring and “safe” was the way you felt when you were surrounded by love. . . . he needed to start grabbing those fragments of freedom that were within his re ach, to start moving toward the happy ending he was determined to write for himself, step by lightening step. (44142)1 9 In search of a “happy ending,” Rushdie imagines a “future free of danger” in which a closed circle of people (“he and his loved ones”) are safe within the confines of “love.” Outside of this circle stand “those who would never love him,” like Essawy, characterized as “unreasoning” and “driven by the doubt free absolutes of faith.” Rushdie thus sets up a rational universe whereby the ending to his story, the “genuine, bona fide, well earned happy ending he had wanted” appears to be a reasonable 142

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dnouement (230) . After all, “he was an innocent man trying to lead a free man’s life” (323). He explicitly argues for the reasonableness of this desire when he tells a senior security officer “All I am asking for is that this British family be allowed to lead its life and raise its child. . . . you must accept that our child is going to be born, and will grow up, and have friends, and go to school; he will have a right to a livable life” (508). It is thus no surprise that Rushdie links Derrida to E ssawy and dismisses him almost immediately,20 for Derrida is a thinker of the compromised and compromising subject par excellence, the compromised and compromising character of the subject’s autoaffection, the thinker of the always already compromised and compromising concept of hospitality . In this sense, he is inextricably linked to terror insofar as the concept relates to security and the home. In regards to Rushdie’s desire for a happy ending, for a safe space where he and his loved ones can rest, the parameters of which are inextricably linked to his insistence on a sovereign interior on which his happiness can be founded away from the barbs of critics and religious fanatics who either take him too seriously (by reading him literally when he should be read figuratively) or not seriously enough (who do not accord him with the “serious” status that would guarantee him a right to protection over and against those other writers who are also under threat), Derrida’s approach to hospitality is of particular pertinence. For Derrida, the concept of hospitality names an irresolvable tension between an unconditional openness to the other and every necessarily conditional moment of encounter. A n interview the philosopher gave to Le Monde in 1997 helps to clarify this inescapable contradiction: Pure hospitality consists in welcoming the arrivant, the one who arrives, before laying down any conditions, before knowing or asking anything of 143

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him, whether this be a name or a piece of identification. But this pure hospitality also presupposes that one addresses him, and singularly so, that one calls him and acknowledges a proper name from him . . . . Hospitality consists in doing everything to address the other; it consists in granting him, indeed, in asking him, his name, all the while trying to prevent this question from becoming a " condition, " a police interrogation, an inquest or an investigation, or a border check. The difference is subtle and yet fundamental, a question asked on the threshold of one’s home [ chez soi ] and on the threshold between two inflections. ( qtd. in Naas 21) Being hospitable, welcoming the other, even with the widest of open arms, thus involves the contradictory play of risking everything (since the other can always be a threat) and of threatening the other in advance, since every specific act of recognition requires a particular hegemonic relation, a choosing of sides, a naming of a host and a gues t that always already consists of a power relation that does violence in its establishing of boundaries, ownership, and identity. Salman Rushdie, as an atheist from a Muslim background, an Indian abroad in Britain and the United States whose parents moved to Pakistan, and especially as a writer of literature engaging a literalist religious tradition, has spent more time than most overtly engaging with the problematics of hospitality. Indeed, the title of his memoir testifies to the problem of recognition and the name; named by his father after a radically atheist Muslim philosopher, he lived up to this legacy (thereby acquiescing to the hospitality afforded him at birth) by writing a book that forced him to change his name and literally live behind a police barrier. The name “Joseph Anton” thus names the extent to which its bearer has acceded to a legacy (he dared write the blasphemous book his father and namesake inspired in him, thereby living up to the name, “Salman Rushdie,” for which the replacement name “Joseph Anton” testifies even as it covers over) and been forced to give up that very heritage in order to survive in an inhospitable world. “Joseph Anton” thereby names the unavoidable problem of hospitality itself, as one is at the mercy of one’s parent s and 144

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one’s name even as that name empowers one in the world and affords one the right to a legacy. No life, no identity, no home without the enigma of hospitality. But this means a perpetual risk is always already in place—terror is always already in the security of home, for one has always entered the home as an other at birth, has been indoctrinated, and remains essentially at the mercy of one’s parents throughout childhood; moreover, any home can always be invaded or destroyed by forces from the outside. Of course, a secure home always involves a relation to the other, not only as a marker of its limit, what isn’t at home, but also in the sense that the mercy of the neighbor, the hospitality of the community at large as determined and perpetuated by part icular laws of the land, is fundamental to any security whatsoever. And yet, what prevents this kind of actual security from being a tyrannical drawing of limits, a police state? Only an opening to an other that can’t be anticipated in advance, that can’ t be properly named, and that may disrupt or destroy the security in question. Derrida calls this other the “absolute arrivant ”: The absolute arrivant does not yet have a name or an identity. It is not an invader or an occupier, nor is it a colonizer, though it can become one. This is why I call it simply the arrivant, and not someone or something that arrives, a subject, a person, an individual, or a living thing. . . . It is not even a foreigner identified as a member of a foreign, determined community. S ince the arrivant does not have any identity yet, its place of arrival is also dis identified: one does not yet know or one no longer knows which is the country, the place, the nation, the family, the language, and the home in general that welcomes the abs olute arrivant. ( Aporias 34) In opening to the possibility of this arrivant , then, one puts everything at risk, including oneself, one’s positioning, one’s home and family, one’s sovereign self, for the very notion of the arrivant compromises every limit t hat would establish inside and outside, subject and object, host and guest. It is impossible to imagine in advance its arrival, as any such imagining would already involve a limiting in order to recognize (and hence 145

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negate) its possibility. And yet without remaining somehow open to this impossible notion, to this unconditional hospitality, one gives up on hospitality altogether, has closed the door, so to speak, and thus opened oneself to tyranny. In this sense, every past moment of quantifiable conditional hospitality can be read as equally inhospitable, and every projection of hospitality into the future (as a relation decided in advance, programmed, subject to specific inflexible laws) closes down on its possibility. Any “happy ending” one might wish for oneself that involves security and the surroundings of love is thus necessarily compromised by its insistent lack of hospitality; such a desire cannot simultaneously be unselfish, nonviolent, and totalitarian. As exhausting as the perpetual thinking of the absolute arrivant may be, it speaks to a relation to the future that no desire for rest and repose, no desire for well earned comfort, no matter how gracious, inviting, or seemingly pacifist, can otherwise hold open. In other words, this uncompromising thinking of the always already compromised state of the actual home is the only thinking that can assure such a home, any home, can remain hospitable rather than totalitarian. Only by recognizing the compromises we make in order to be secure, by marking and remarking on the violence we enact in the name of our own safety, our “right to a livable life,” can we be vigilant about remaining an open society, at least as open as any actually existing community can ever be without giving itself over to ruin by opening itself to everything and thus ceasing to exist. Michael Nass eloquently articulates this fundamental dilemma when he explains that the question concerning the link or relation, the articulation, between these two laws, these two regimes of hospitalit y [conditional and unconditional], must thus be constantly raised, and the language to describe this relation perpetually reinvented. . . . It is thus in the name of the law of unconditional hospitality that conditional laws are made effective and inscribe d in history, even if these conditional laws inevitably betray the law of the unconditional 146

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and even if they not only expose the perfectibility of this law to pervertibility but sometimes hinder its progress and even lead to regression. Indeed, for Derrida , progress toward greater and greater universality in hospitality is hardly inevitable and can always be reversed. Hostility, inhospitality, and xenophobia are always possible, and history offers no guarantees that the intrinsic perfectibility of the laws of hospitality will not be developed or will go unheeded. Vigilance is thus always required, because things can always get worse. (25) There are only endings, then, not happy endings, insofar as every particular time remains at risk in relation to a time t o come that could close down the opening to the other (and could erase the trace of the past that the present retains) at the very same time as every particular moment is itself a closing down of all other possibilities, a violent shutting out that erases what it is not. No life without openings and closings. No position without violence. No time without terror. Joseph Anton: Autobiography as Immolation That every actual instance of security and safety, that every sovereign space, always already enacts a ki nd of violence in its appearance and persistence and can offer no universal guarantee of its righteousness is thereby what Rushdie at times admits (when he worries about the cost of his security team, when he pontificates on the horror of the family, when he recognizes the competitive writers’ market that damages Marianne’s career but favors his own, when he considers the breaking of frames and the power of literature to convey more than its author can control) yet is continually forced to dismiss, and his cavalier approach has severe consequences, for he thus inflicts massive amounts of collateral damage (on his wives, his critics, his enemies, religious believers, “nonliterary” writers, and his own reputation) without taking responsibility for it. He repeatedly conducts himself like a fundamentalist, a totalitarian, and in so doing engages in a war without end, a (in his case, literal) “war of 147

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the book.” He backs away from a terrible truth he intuits and in so doing capitulates to the fear he thinks he has conquered. If wanting to be loved means wanting to be accepted, to belong, to be appreciated and celebrated, it is the very basis for community but also the root of threat and of violence, for one can always fail to embrace another and can be dismissed in turn. Rushdie wants to undersign his own global citizenship by basing it on an adulation he will claim in advance, linking himself to “serious” writers, excluding “escapist” ones, and confining truth to a multiculturalist secularism beholden to market capitalism, even as he acknowledges his position as one mired in “makebelieve.” In fact, it is precisely his own capacity for fiction that legitimates his “real world” status as a celebrated intellectual and provides him with the security he desperately want s. His position is untenable, and his book is an account of the shaky ground we all stand on when we stand up to fight. Joseph Anton is thus not a testimonial against violence but an admission that it is always already a part of life. Rushdie’s project warns that we become what we fight not by doing violence but by doing it without taking responsibility for it, without being fearful of being wrong or being sorry for the terror we have wrought. We must acknowledge that wavering as we stand for something i s the only possible way to maintain courage; to live is to live in fear and so also to live amidst the possibilities for joy that only a terrifying world, one that offers no assurances, can produce. The brilliance of the book in fact lies not in its braz en attempts to speak out against terror and to establish itself as a beacon of liberty but in the accretive extent of its self loathing; from an omniscient thirdperson perspective, announcing upfront its author’s god complex, the text puts its "seriousness" to work narrating the pathetic 148

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attempts of a misogynist coward with daddy issues to establish himself in retrospect as a heroic caretaker of the flame of enlightenment, a valiant literary warrior who should be taken seriously, thus at once underwriting and undermining the legitimacy of the aforementioned omniscient perspective signed in that very author’s name (which, as we have seen, is an inherited pseudonym handed down by an abusive drunk). That the seriousness in question is undermined by the book’s tropes and tabloidlevel content (its guiding allusion is to Hitchcock's escapist horror film The Birds , a work of questionable seriousness, The Wizard of Oz and science fiction imagery are employed to characterize some of the author’s personal relationships, and many of its pages are given over to insider gossip21 and celebrity namedropping) and its portrayal of its author as an unrepentantly petty narcissist who espouses a nonsensical secular spiritualism as a counter to a literalist religious tradition that at least announces its rigid irrationalism in advance, is of no small consequence. Joseph Anton, then, exposes the contradictions symptomatic of the Western culture it defends; it serves as an excessive, celebrity obsessed, patriarchal testament to t he liberty of market tyranny, irrationally faithful to the sovereignty of the human subject in whose name it champions the triumph of rational humanism. Given the terrifying situation he was put in, we can understand Rushdie’s torment and rage as a meas ure of his fear, his terror at forces and voices inside and outside, everywhere up above and down below. The author as orphan of orphans, spinning words into the void to falter or flower as they will, living on as a dying trace of a lost past: Rushdie's work testifies to this feeble authorial power even as, perhaps especially because, he tries to master it, claims the rights to a creative capacity and 149

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communicative prowess he openly admits to being impossible. In this sense the snake eats its own tail; the Great Satan Rushdie seizes power and loses everything, thereby exposing himself as a narcissist.2 2 Is this not, in fact, the most effective way to apologize, perhaps the only way to effectively subordinate oneself to the universe? Rushdie destroys himself by exposing himself to the critics he desperately fears, to the forces that hate him, by defiling himself completely. In a post modern world of reality TV and perpetual ironic detachment, perhaps he is not the type of hero we want but the only one we can have, at least insofar as we continue to understand the hero as a kind of proactively virtuous warrior who stands on firm foundations even as our increasingly virtual experiences belie the artifactuality that makes such foundations so obviously untenable. A s the next chapter will further elucidate, remaining stubbornly insistent on such a heroic model, even, perhaps especially, if one grudgingly admits to its violent underpinnings, leads only to nihilism. 150

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Notes 1. I write here of a certain Salman Rushdie (or Rushdies), whose name (and the question of the name is what is largely at stake throughout this chapter, what it can designate and protect but also what it always already opens itself to and complicates) has come to signify a relation to terror, Is lamic terror, obviously, and that associated with religious persecution. I thus can’t help but do violence to the name and the corpus, the archive, it designates, and this chapter will not have much to say (directly) to Postcolonial studies or those fields concerned with South Asian history and culture. However, by teasing out how the name “Salman Rushdie,” as author of Joseph Anton and counter alias to the namesake of the book in question (“Joseph Anton” was “Salman Rushdie’s” pseudonym when he went into hiding) also designates a relation to the kind of structural terror that disrupts proper designation itself, this chapter explores the very conditions by which other “Rushdies” are possible. In other words, if it appears that I take sides against the figure(s) of Salman Rushdie confronted in this chapter, it is not in order to close down other approaches to the writing and legacy indicated by the name but to celebrate the possibility of Rushdies beyond the terrified (and often terrifying) Rushdie(s) under fatwa, to imagine a Salman Rushdie whose relation to deconstruction is something other than the antagonistic one upon which a certain Salman Rushdie seems to insist. As we will see, Joseph Anton often terrorizes the proper name of its author and points to a “Salman Rushdie” that exceeds, escapes the terrible security of the proper itself. 2. Freud defines the primal scene as being constituted (traumatically) only retroactively —not when it occurred, but when something else occurs. Rushdie’s entire memorial projec t can be understood in these terms; he wants to write the past into existence in order to fix the trauma of fighting for his life in place in order to believe his struggle to survive is over. 3. In fact, he is not telling the truth about telling the truth, for he mistakes truth for the truth of truth. The former is a projection of his autoaffective investment in the dream of self sovereignty that the latter renders impossible. 4. Gidi Weitz’s 2011 Haaretz interview with Rushdie characterizes the then forthcoming Joseph Anton as a “voluminous autobiography which deals extensively with the fatwa period” and then immediately quotes Rushdie on the project: For a long time there were many things I couldn’t say, because they were confidential and involved the time when there was police protection . . . There was a level of danger then. So now it is a relief to say: here is what happened. I went through the experience and then wanted to go forward. Not go back and relive the whole thing. I wasn’t in the mood to do it for a long time. Then suddenly, I just changed my mind. I realized that there was an interesting story, a story which has resonances which are still very much with us. Having done it, I am pleased with it as a piece of writing. I didn’t want it to feel like a confession or journal. I wanted it to feel like a book by me. You read Garcia Marquez’s autobiography and it feels like a book by him. I wanted it to feel equal, not like 151

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some sort of lesser confessional tale. Apart from finding the voice and the manner, I also feel like it’s taken the monkey off my back, so in the future, if someone asks me about my past I can just tell them to read the book. I wanted to draw the line under a stage of my life. Here, though he obviously brings up the issue of the style of the text and opposes it to a “lesser confessional tale,” Rushdie certainly doesn’t make the case for it being a fictional memoir ; he claims it as his past, an experience that he “went through.’ Further, Rushdie’s presumption of the factuality of his memoi r is underscored in his 2012 interview with Steve Inskeep of NPR where he is promoting its publication; not only does he answer questions about the content of the book with a series of responses that always refer to the situations therein as his own experi ences, but he contrasts his narrative with a fiction he created for “ Joseph Anton” when he lived under that alias, telling Inskeep, “ I had to be invisible, and this name the name is all that could be visible. We even invented a life story for him . He was an American publisher, actually . . . A rather nervous American publisher who felt he needed a lot of bulletproof glass” (my emphasis). 5. For a useful introduction to the theory of autobiography and how it negotiates the fact/fiction distinction, see James Olney’s Metaphors of Self: The Meaning of Autobiography (Princeton University Press, 1981). 6. As I have tried to show by closely reading Rushdie’s discussion of his interior voice as it relates to his characterization of Muhammad’s angelic encounter, he cont inues to desire an inviolable space of self over and against the outside world even as his language subverts the logic of this space. Thus, I am using “religious” here to link Rushdie’s position to the transcendental desir e of traditional atheism as descri bed by Hgglund, who argues that “in traditional atheism mortal being is still conceived as a lack of being that we desire to transcend” (1). In this sense, atheists , like religious thinkers and philosophers of presence, are still thinking within the metaphysical paradigm that privileges immortality and presence over the timing of space and the spacing of time elucidated by Derrida’s work . Thinking entirely outside of this paradigm is impossible, but owning up to the limits of such a system of thought is pr ecisely what religious thinkers and traditional atheists fail to do, and this conceptual blindness has violent consequences which the zeroist must not fail to recognize. 7. When read in relation to Rushdie’s comment on page 438 that “he and Derrida would not agree about anything,” this demystification of mystery and insinuated dismissal of ontotheology comes into further relief. As Rodolphe Gasch explains and meticulously argues in The Tain of the Mirror , Derrida never dismisses metaphysics; instead, whether discussing Hegel, Husserl, or Heidegger, Derrida is primarily engaged in a debate with the main philosophical question regarding the ultimate foundation of what is. Contrary to those philosophers who naively negate and thus remain closely and uncontrollably bound up with this issue, Derrida confronts the 152

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philosophical quest for the ultimate foundation as a necessity. Yet his faithfulness to intrinsic philosophical demands is paired with an inquiry into the inner limits of these demands themselves, as well as of their unquestionable necessity. (7) Thus, where Rushdie closes off possibilities in order to secure the security of his own position, thus ascribing to an ontology that he won’t recognize as a hermeneutic strategy (and thus a matter of faith), Derr ida acknowledges the absolute necessity of such a security measure while also emphasizing its always already broached limits. 8. On promises to his first child, Zafar, see page 7; on Zafar’s successes, see page 584; on Milan’s healthy emotional attitude, see page 609. 9. Derrida calls the radical kind of “faith” that every discursive act (indeed, that every moment of auto affection) requires, “ messianicity without messianism ” (“Faith and Knowledge,” 56). He argues that this messianicity, “ stripped of everything . . . this faith without dogma . . . cannot be contained in any traditional opposition, for example that between reason and mysticism ” (“Faith and Knowledge,” 5657). In his rush for security, Rushdie fails to think precisely this quasi transcendental “fait h.” His disagreement with Derrida’s thinking, which (as mentioned in note 4) he will announce on page 438, is thus telegraphed here as he seeks to secure knowledge against faith without considering the radical “faith” both concepts, locked in binary opposi tion, presuppose. 10. See Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition for a discussion of the death of metanarratives and the “pragmatics of language particles,” in the form of local “language games,” which rise to fill the vacuum left in their wake (xxiv). 11. Later, Rushdie will find a covert way to dismiss this fear by recounting that Marianne also feared “a shadow within her” when she has a hypochondriac episode and thinks she has cancer (105). Rushdie will thus insinuate that her kind of storytelling, of which her fear of drowning in his success is a part, is in fact a kind of paranoid acting out and so can be dismissed as delusional genius at best, outright selfish lying at worst. 12. This revenge plays out in a number of ways and is enacted against many of his critics, most prominently John LeCarre. Though he ends his discussion of their feud by admitting that “he regretted the fight, and felt that nobody had ‘won’ the argument” (530), Rushdie can’t resist a final dig, revealing that an MI5 intelligence agent told him ‘‘ I suppose he did work for us in some sort of capacity for five minutes, but he never, my dear, reached the levels you’ve been talking to . . . and let me tell you, after this business, he never will’” (531). 13. Even when complimenting her, Rushdie implies that she is crazed. He says that “he was sometimes alarmed by the speed at which she transformed experience into fiction” and that “when the brightness blazed from her face she could look fabulously attractive, or nuts, or both;” in the same paragraph, after explaining how she revealed that “all the women in her fiction who had names beginning with the letter 153

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M were versions of herself,” he says of one particular alias, an inmate in a mental hospital, that “the balance of her mind was disturbed,” implying that the same was true of said creator’s author (127). 14. Which, perforce, is not the universal truth he dreams of being the author who can disclose. 15. That he will later say that this shining supernova “was becoming competitive with him and thought he was blocking her light”(617) gives one an indication of the imagined girth of his greatness; the serious author can overwhelm even the heavenly bodies of young supermodels. 16. In The Anxiety of Influence, Harold Bloom identifies a number of strategies by which writers si tuate themselves antithetically to their precursors in order to triumph over their baleful influence. (Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry , 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997). 17. Of course, there are other ways of addressi ng the relation of writing to authority besides just these “all or nothing” questions. In “Persecution and the Art of Writing,” Leo Strauss argues that “persecution . . . gives rise to a peculiar technique of writing, and therewith to a peculiar type of li terature, in which truth about all crucial things is presented exclusively between the lines” (491). Strauss thus cautions against an over eagerness to identify certain authors as holding political positions that they may be repudiating indirectly, between the lines, or otherwise by a strategic misdirection. In his deconstructions, Derrida generalizes this caution. Thus, in the aporetic reading of Rushdie that I am attempting here, I am endeavoring to read between his lines in order to think the very possibility of outlining itself in regard to drawing the line, establishing a border, etc. This sort of radical reading “between” the lines becomes particularly vertiginous in the next chapter on Frank Miller, whose line art will provide an exemplary means for i nterrogating the difference between inside and outside, figure and background. 18. In the 2011 Haaretz interview, Rushdie says that Derrida “had a level of personal vanity which distorted the way he expressed himself.” The jokes write themselves in this instan ce. 19. Note the “fragments” in this passage recall the fragments of the portrait from “Inferno” that cut the hands of the protagonist as he helplessly tries to reconstruct his life; Rushdie imagines a life of happiness even as he summons the specter of the ni ghtmare narrative he claims to have abandoned where everything is always already at risk. 20. One could say the comparison to Sellars is itself an immediate dismissal, likening Derrida to a clown. But Sellars was also recognized as a genius, a serious clown, o ne might say, and so the text again hesitates. 21. Thus linking Rushdie the serious author to the tradition of his mother, the gossiper, and again jeopardizing the homogenous space of serious literature, pointing the way 154

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to an altogether more radical, aporetic , conception of the literary than Rushdie (at least overtly) seems to intend. Indeed, when Derrida writes in Acts of Literature that “what we call literature (not just belles lettres or poetry) implies that license is given to the writer to say everything he wants or everything he can, while remaining shielded, safe from all censorship, be it religious or political” (37), he can be read as defending the gossiper against the serious author, for “seriousness” itself requires a kind of policing that literatur e always already resists. This is not to argue that anything counts as literature; rather, it is to argue that literature itself escapes its own branding. If Rushdie’s text is “reduced” to gossip here, it also subverts the very paradigm that restricts literature to the serious, thus opening itself to the risk, and the chance, associated with another kind of literature, one that cannot guarantee the privileged status of any kind of author but that might realize the promise of a writing without restriction. 22. It is important to recognize here the extent to which every act of writing is narcissistic, for simply castigating Rushdie for his narcissism would mean imagining that a conventional confession, one that could somehow circumvent the economy of exchange an d escape the demands of mortal time, could be possible. Writing about Derrida’s confessional work Circumfession , Hgglund explains that for Derrida, “narcissism is . . . the point” and that the text in question is “a reminder that Derrida writes not only t o pronounce philosophical truth; he writes to make truth and let his singular life live on in memory” (155). As we have seen in the previous chapter, Hgglund reads Derrida as radically atheist precisely because his writing gives the lie to any conception of immortality that would guarant ee survival; his work thus recognizes the desperation that accompanies all acts of writing (and this must include living itself, as all living requires the trace structure of memory) that seek to preserve an existence predi cated on passing away (always already deferring, differing). In this sense, every oeuvre, every signed text, is blatantly, publicly, shamelessly narcissistic because it is always already autobiographical; it memorializes the frantic drive to archive what i s already lost, the present moment that always already disappears. Read in conjunction with such an understanding of writing, Joseph Anton announces the desperate time of survival bearing upon us, within us, regardless of any external threat. 155

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CHAPTER 4 HOLY TERROR, BATMAN! MIGHTY MILLER STRIKES OUT “If you meet the infidel, kill the infidel.” —Epigraph to Frank Miller’s Holy Terror “If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha.” —Chn Buddhist koa n “If we’re not anxious, if we’re okay with things, we’re not trying to explore or figure anything out. So anxiety is the mood, par excellence, of ethicity . . . the minute you think you know the other, you’re ready to kill them.” —Avital Ronell, in Astra Taylor’s Examined Life “Deconstruction must neither reframe nor dream of the pure and simple absence of the frame. These two apparently contradictory gestures are the very ones —and they are systematically indissociable—of what is here deconstructed.” —Jacques Derrida, The Truth in Painting Dark Dreams of a Dying World Where Salman Rushdie’s memorial project galvanizes the idea of “serious” literature and the “rational” secularism of Western liberal democracy to justify the author’s continued survival in a terrifying world of conflict, thereby imagining that continuance as a consequence of a certain intellectual heroic posturing that deserves life and absolves itself of violence in advance by linking it to the “truth beyond truth” inherent to literature, Frank Miller’s 2011 graphic novel, Frank Miller’s Holy Terror , exhibits a very different strategy in its confrontation with terror.1 Presented by the author in interviews as an overt propaganda piece meant to excoriate its target (Islamic fundamentalists), energize Western aggression, and otherwise ““piss off”“ critics, Miller 156

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makes no excuses for his violent message and indeed seems to relish the opportunity to lash out. Having lived in New York during the attacks on the World Trade Center, Miller has contended in various interviews that he was traumatized by his experience of 9/11 and that everything he has produced since that day has been marked by the terror he felt in those moments. In this sense, like Rushdie, one can read Miller as a victim of terror and, specifically, of Islamic fundamentalist terror. However, though Miller’s work has had a seminal influence on the mainstream comics market since his run on Marvel Comics’ Daredevil and DC’s Dark Knight Returns (featuring Batman) in the 1980s, unlike Rushdie’s more widely accepted reputation as a serious author, Miller’s position is problematized by the presumptions made about the industry of which he is a part and the genre for which he is famous (the American superhero). Indeed, to t he extent that Miller has achieved a kind of literary notoriety, it is for precisely the kind of “ escapist” texts from which Rushdie has tried to distinguish his own work (a distinction that has been integral to his defense of the state security measures p ut in place to protect him and that has been at the root of his feud with John Le Carr, among others). Perhaps the overt commercialism (expressed in the history of grossly unfavorable work for hire contracts signed by legendary creators like Superman’s Jerry Sieg el and Joe Schuster and Captain America’s Joe Simon and Jack Kirby), graphic content, and critical marginalization of action adventure comics predispose Miller to engage more openly with violence and the cost of survival in his interviews and work; after all, his medium was forged in violence (the seedy criminal roots of the early publishing syndicates is well known), has weathered devastating critical attacks (psychologist Fredrick We r tham’s blistering moral crusade in the 1950s led to the 157

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Comics Code of America that severely restricted the content of mainstream comic periodicals), has hemorrhaged hundreds of thousands of readers in the wake of other visually arresting entertainment options and digital piracy and has been perceived as a dying art for decades, and is famous for its exaggerated tales of clashing vigilantes, warring soldiers, and bloodthirsty monsters. Whatever the case, Miller has made a career out of the graphic depiction of violence; from the kinetic martial arts action of Daredevil to the brutish, sadistic revisioning of Batman in The Dark Knight Returns to the sleazenoire revenge fantasies of Sin City and the bloodsoaked PersianSpartan clashes in 300 , Miller’s work not only depicts violent conflict, it is synonymous with it. Thus , it comes as no surprise that Frank Miller’s Holy Terror is a further exploration of such violence, this time as a direct response to the “time of terror” in which we now find ourselves. If Rushdie’s Joseph Anton is structured around a passiveaggressive defensive program through which a “serious” author seeks validation for his continued survival, and if it testifies to a violence in which it is caught up but for which it cannot take responsibility, Miller’s latest work can be read as an overtly aggressi ve attack launched by an escapist author who announces his violence in advance and dares his enemies to respond but which also testifies to an overwhelming despair, a defeatism that runs counter to the kind of hope engendered by the radical atheism Martin Hgglund attributes to Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction. This latter hopefulness, never outside of violence and never in relation to a transcendental economy without cost, offers us a new way to posit heroism, the “zeroism” I defined in chapter two. Miller ’s Holy Terror thus serves as a useful counterpoint to Rushdie’s Joseph Anton as its overt “war 158

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mongering” dramatizes the conservative response to terror in relation to which Bill Maher (and, by association, Rushdie) has positioned his “9/11 liberal” desig nation (as an exceptional call to violence against Islam). Both Rushdie and Miller lay claim to rage and fear, but where Rushdie will posit an intellectual, secular truth that justifies his life, Miller will imagine a world of conflict in which violence is justified in itself, where might makes right and the fight is everything. As we will see, neither response is adequate to confronting the structural terror inherent to mortal life itself; if Rushdie finds hope in a truth beyond truth that renders truthfi nding itself irrelevant and posits the apocalypse of literature by imagining a worldto come wherein ideas are not worth the cost of mortal life, Miller also posits an impossible dream of absolute peace against which he measures our mortal world and finds it crushingly lacking. In both cases, hope dies on the vine, and our innate susceptibility to terror becomes cause for nihilism. The Terror b ehind the Terror : Frank Miller Pulls the Trigger The story “behind” Miller’s most recent foray into superhero comi cs is itself a dramatic and confusing narrative punctuated by Miller’s perplexing artistic responses and wildly contradictory interviews, conference appearances, and internet postings about contemporary American life and the war on terror. The writer/artis t, who moved to New York just months before the events of 9/11, was profoundly affected by the collapse of the twin towers, explaining in a 2003 interview with The Comics Journal that “for the foreseeable future, [9/11]’s the whole point of my work. I’m going to play around with doing some propaganda” ( Miller , “Interview Six” 110). At the time of the interview, Miller in fact had already overtly responded to the attacks and their aftermath with two pieces of sequential art. One, an entry in the anthology 9 11: Artists Respond Vol. One, is a threepanel graphic work spread over two pages. The first page consists of two 159

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vertically stacked panels; the uppermost panel contains a large, black star whose edges extend beyond the visible frame2, an inky black maw de fined by the white background; it looks like a star shaped chasm, a bottomless starry hole stamped out into white cement, perhaps evoking the “hole” left in New York after the World Trade Center fell. A white text box hovers in the middle of the black shap e, declaring: “I’m sick of flags” (64). Both star and words “show up” as contours, carvings out of the white paneling, signifying lacks (holes in the page) marking out meaning, marking up the panel. The text box establishes the sickening power of the star, linking it, of course, to the “flags” its shape invokes. Indeed, the text box itself seems to fly as a kind of flag here. Insofar as it consists of symbols etched on a rectangular background, like a star etched on an American flag stretching “behind” the panel in question, it functions as a flag on a flag (again, the star as part of an “old glory” flying largely off panel) declaring the sickness of the “I” that simultaneously declares its existence by being flown. In other words, the narrative voice here i s made possible only by flying on a flag and is thereby a testament to the sickness3 that it decries. “I am sick of the sickness that I am part of,” it seems to say (Jasper Johns with a vengeance). The bottom panel, like the first, consists of another blac k shape, this time a massive cross4, barely discernible given its width, the white around its edges reduced to small rectangular boxes in the corners of the panel. These marginalized rectangles are fascinating; how do we read them? They resemble empty text boxes, perhaps empty comic panels, even as they “merely” give shape to the cross at the panel’s center (these boxes will be of particular interest later when we look at Holy Terror ’s bomb sequence, which I briefly touched upon in chapter two). In the midd le of the black cross, another 160

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white rectangle, slightly smaller than the ones in the panel’s margins, reads, “I’ m sick of God ” (64). Again, as in the first panel, the words work to pin the image down; before serving as verbal signifiers, they function as emphatic punctuation for the image, retroactively fixing the shape as a recognizable symbol (of “God”) – a cross. In other words, after we read the text, the movement from image to image transforms the massive gutter between the four blank comics panels, enabling it to emerge (from the shadows, so to speak, where Batman lives) as the quintessential Christian symbol of redemptive suffering. Thus, the text comments on the image on which it seems to rest. But perhaps this symbolization is too easily determined. Upon close inspection, the “I” in the text box itself “contains” a crossing of lines at its base where the vertical center of the letter meets its horizontal bottom; part of the center line extends past the base, forming a cross. Could the black cross be a “close up” of the “I” in question, the panel thus depicting an infinite regress of text boxes inscribed within themselves, tiny text boxes housed in the ink of “I”s all the way down? If “God” is evoked in the cross, and if the cross is a part of an “I” in a text box announcing the sickness induced by the God so evoked, the second panel becomes a kind of repetition of the first, a declaration of sickness of self as graphic marker.5 The piece’s final panel encompasses the entirety of the next page. A vertic al black box extends from nearly the top of the page to its bottom, set off against a white outline, its border smudged and imperfectly drawn so that, especially on the right hand side, some black ink extends “beyond” the frame it simultaneously makes view able, evoking either jet black tentacles extending outside the panel or cracks in the aforementioned frame. Either way, the blackness threatens the outside framework (or is 161

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it seeking liberation, escaping its prison?) and spills out into the world beyond t hat paradoxically defines its place. Outside and inside, threatening and defining one another: black on white, intertwined but not intermixed, the nongrey nonborder scattered across the page, at its margins, “inside” the panel itself where two fencelike white etchings, bent and broken, one stretching out “behind” the lower right border of the frame, lean. Centered in the upper quarter of the panel, another rectangular text box, jagged at its edges and even more evocative of a tattered flag, exclaims: “ I have seen the power of faith ” (65). Again, this text ascribes potential meaning to the image— the leaning, bent lines represent the World Trade Center, destroyed by the power of fundamentalist Islamic faith. But this image, like those on the previous page, is fascinatingly overdetermined. Beneath the text box, the leftmost leaning structure is topped by what look like three broken crosses, barely attached to the criss crossed lines below. The base of this structure and that of the one leaning off panel to the right could be white capital I’s connected together like a string of Roman Numerals. Flag, cross, first person pronoun— all three symbols are traced out in black and white here, evoking each other in stark contrast, outlined by darkness or etched into it, framed or branded across the page, recalling the logic of the first two panels of the previous page, conjuring self sickness, patriotism, Christianity. Blur your eyes a bit and the all caps word “faith” in the text box appear to be of a kind with the fall en latticed structures at page bottom; its letters also slant to the right, but whereas the broken shapes of the iconic towers are traced out in white against a black background, the word itself is black on white. Are there “holes” in the text box, through which the black background seeps through? Is the outer white frame painted onto a black page, or is the page white, the 162

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ink black? Given the previous panels, the black would seem to be inexorably associated with the sickness the narrative voice suffers (i t “fills” in the star and cross and thus constitutes the “content” of both shapes, themselves markers of the flag and God inducing sickness), but the “I” itself, as letter, as flag symbol, as crossed shape, is also “filled” with the black; moreover, as cit izen and potential believer, as seer of faith’s power and presumably also recipient of its comfort, as member of a species capable of unspeakable violence motivated by God and country, every I is “filled” with the capacity for this I’s sickness. The white shapes of the towers’ structures, then, insofar as they are made up of crosses and I’s, and insofar as the page itself could be held horizontally and pitched on a stick like a flag6, are thereby implicated in the very violence they have suffered. It is te lling that no “bad guys” appear here; existential sickness and the tragic consequences of belief are instead depicted as the consequence of being human. Indeed, the art questions the very possibility of recognizing absolutes, given the ambivalence inherent to its black and white structure, the intermixing of light and dark playing out across its two pages. This ambivalence is further dramatized when considered with the other 2002 Miller piece addressing what The Comics Journal called “the post 9/11 sabre ra ttling climate in America today” ( Miller , “Interview Six” 115). Appearing in the 2002 anthology Dark Horse Maverick: Happy Endings , this one page, one panel image features a Kirbyesque superhero pastiche standing tall at center panel and giving the Nazi one handed salute, decked out in a spandex chain mail ensemble almost identical to that of Captain America, save for the swastika emblazoned across his chest in place of the good captain’s star. Taken in conjunction with the 163

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aforementioned black star in the 9 11: Artists Respond piece discussed above, this substitution of the Marvel character’s metonymic emblem suggests a striking equivalence between Nazism, patriotism, and personal identity: no self without symbols, no symbols without “sick[ening]” fidelity to the capacity for violence against the other. While the previous work suggested this violence through shape and symbol, here this other appears in the literal form of the Nazi caricature of the Jew as rodent; the costumed figure is battling a horde of ra t people with enlarged noses. The hyperbolic caption at the page’s top reads: how do you destroy an idea? How do you destroy an annoying stereotype— an insufferable bromide—a shameless, self righteous sop to our basest instincts? Perhaps these are the thoug hts that bang around like uninvited relatives in the suppurating skulls that hold the pustulant brains of the Juda—who face the rabid, righteous racism of the Reich’s most ruthless, relentless, rampant rampager —the surging, swastika bedecked scourge of Sem ites, who has been a towering source of sanctimony to sociopath shithead skinheads everywhere! How can the fearful forces of pluralism ever hope to destroy the unconquerable Aryan Race? (92) The text recalls countless other Silver Age superhero captions. The jarring effect of the passage’s forced alliteration and over the top description, practically begging to be read in the booming soprano of Superfriends narrator Bill Woodson, applied to Nazi propaganda is lessened somewhat by the paragraph’s self conscious language; the Jews depicted here are overtly announced as being “an annoying stereotype,” the hero in question a “rabid, righteous racis[t]” whose followers are “sanctimon[ious] . . . sociopath shithead skinheads ” (92). The two seemingly rhetorical questions asked in the panel, “how do you destroy a truly shitty idea?” and “how can the fearful forces of pluralism ever hope to destroy the unconquerable Aryan R ace?” are answered in the piece’s combination of exaggerated heroic imagery, symbolic substitut ion (the Nazi symbol simultaneously replacing and recalling the American symbol) and ridiculous, 164

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self conscious, race baiting language (92) . If we recoil at the imagery, we are thus aligned with the “Juda” being stomped out, and the narrative voice itself, in its awareness of the “annoying stereotype” put to use in the image, aligns against itself to destroy the “unconquerable” Aryan Race. The “truly shitty idea” of the despicable Jew is precisely what is confronted and mocked in the work, and the combinati on of word and image conspires against the violence pseudo celebrated in the frame. Moreover, the piece, appearing as it does on the heels of 9/11 and at the same time as Miller’s and other artists’ work was appearing in anthologies memorializing the World Trade Center attacks, serves as a warning against any such stereotypical depictions being used to promote a nationalist response (hence the necessity of using a Captain America pastiche here) to the tragedy. In a startling reversal, Miller manages to evok e the specter of Arab stereotyping in the form of anti Jew imagery, simultaneously defending both peoples against kneejerk political responses to the tragedy. (I t is worth noting here that some 9/11 “truthers” suspect a Zionist conspiracy was behind the attacks on the towers, seeking to provoke war against Arab countries . ) Recognizing the complexity of the rhetorical strategies at work in these two Miller pieces is of paramount importance when one considers Miller’s later Holy Terror graphic novel and what it might “say.” These strategies include the infinite regress of image and words in the first comic, the sickness it announces at an I ness graphically as well as existentially implicated by the very phenomena it decries (country and God as existential s ignifiers providing meaning for subjects; flags and crosses, symbols and shapes, text boxes and panels marking out meaning as structural relations across systems of difference), and the paradox of self conscious propaganda enacting and 165

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simultaneously destr oying the racist message in the second Dark Horse piece, linking American superhero iconography to Nazi propaganda and warding off the revenge fantasies many Americans may have entertained in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. In fact, Miller’s ambivalence about the grief, terror and subsequent personal and political reflection he experienced that September day is evident in interviews and his Internet postings published prior to and subsequent with Holy Terror’s publication. In the January 2003 interview with T he Comic Journal’s Gary Groth cited earlier, Miller calls himself a “liberal hawk” ( “Interview Six” 115) and emphasizes the mistrust of flag waving patriotism expressed in his Artists Respond comic, explaining that when creating the piece, he was “sick of seeing American flags everywhere. We’ve had this horrible thing happen, and we’ve got to retaliate and we need retribution and we need to solve a global problem. We’re in World War III, and everybody’s standing around thinking that if they put a flag on their bumper they’re doing something” ( “Interview Six” 114). He indicates disgust with conformist pressure to back President Bush’s Iraq policy (“if you say, ‘Maybe this isn’t the best way,’ you’re [decried as] a traitor” [ Miller , “Interview Six” 114] ; “My p roblem is there’s got to be a way of looking at this where we look over the options we’ve got rather than just getting lock step behind Bush” [ Miller , “Interview Six” 116] ), but cannot contain the rage, grief, and demand for retribution that has driven him since he personally witnessed the horror of that day. In a way, I think I’m more properly informed by having to have sucked in and coughed up the World Trade Center for a couple months. I think that there is still a national denial about it, where we have a pathetic peace movement that is trying to argue against Vietnam or something. We have a lot of people who are saying New Yorkers should just get over it. I went down there. It’s not the kind of thing that you ever get over. It was unspeakable, the scale of it. I’ve born witness to something that is difficult to 166

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proportion. How can I not have that inform me on every level? ( Miller , “Interview Six” 114)7 Despite his frustration and anger over the trauma, though, Miller also expresses relief that specific groups in New York had not been the targets of misplaced violence, explaining that “I was very glad, on 9/11, that people didn’t have guns all over the place. Tempers were running high but nobody had guns. It was almost funny to me that there were almost n o assaults or anything on Arabs or Indians or anything here, but there were in Montana” ( “Interview Six” 115). Miller is adamant about his general disgust for fundamentalism of all kinds, not just Islamic radicalism, saying, “I really don’t see the differe nce between one radical and another. . . . To me, 9/11 focused how dangerous and horrible the effects of religion can be. That’s another debate to be had that no one is having, because it all boils down to ‘My God can beat up your God’ ” ( “Interview Six” 117). However, when Groth presses him about “secular faith-pax Americana, faith in our manifest destiny throughout the planet . . . that we do have the planetary right to use 30 percent of the planetary energy supply and wage war anywhere we want to enforc e that right” and explains that he read Miller’s 9 11 Artists Respond strip as a “double edged admonishment” of the fact that “waging this war as we are is also a matter of faith” ( “Interview Six” 117), Miller is taken aback and stammers: “Yeah. I was part icularly . . . I meant to refer . . . Come on, I did this in a burst of horror” ( “Interview Six” 117). Miller’s uneasiness with Groth’s characterization of U.S. patriotism as a type of fundamentalism and his general ambivalence about a nationalist respons e to the 9/11 attacks is overtly on display in his September 2006 memorial editorial “That Old Piece of Cloth” written for NPR’s “This I Believe” feature. In it, he describes his youthful attitude about patriotism, explaining that he was “exactly the age t o rebel against” his parents, 167

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who were “World War II veterans . . . FDR patriots.” In fact, he says this rebellious attitude extended not only to US nationalists like his parents but to the ‘ 60s era counterculture that opposed them, and he confesses that “ I could never stomach the flower child twaddle of the 60s crowd and I was ready to believe that our flag was just an old piece of cloth and that patriotism was just some quaint relic, best left behind us.” His younger self distinguished between “the noble, indestructible ideas” of Madison and Franklin, which he thought were “ideas . . . of rebellion and independence, not of idolatry,” and the American flag, “that old piece of cloth . . . that stood for unthinking patriotism. It meant about as much to me as that insipid peace sign that was everywhere I looked: just another symbol of a generation’s sentimentality, of its narcissistic worship of its own past glories.” It seems the young Frank Miller had no problem equating patriotism with a religious orientatio n; indeed, his former self sounds a lot like the creator Gary Groth imagined behind the 9 11 Artists Respond strip. His attitude changed “that sunny September morning when airplanes crashed into towers . . . and thousands of my neighbors were ruthlessly i ncinerated—reduced to ash.” As he explained to Groth in the earlier interview, this incident profoundly changed his life; Miller now expands on his situation, saying “for the first time in my life, I know how it feels to face an existential menace.” In a p articularly poignant passage, he describes his confrontation with this menace and its connection to his comic career: I draw and write comic books. One thing my job involves is making up bad guys. Imagining human villainy in all its forms. Now the real thi ng had shown up. The real thing murdered my neighbors. In my city. In my country. Breathing in that awful, chalky crap that filled up the lungs of every New Yorker, then coughing it right out, not knowing what I was coughing up.8 Here Miller resorts to seemingly definitive notions of inside and outside, us and them, invasion and violation, to describe his experience, though his ambivalence still 168

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persists through his anger. On the one hand, he characterizes his comic work as involving “imagining human villai ny in all its forms,” a description (“human”) belying his awareness that such villainy is not unique to any particular human group, that it is consistent with human behavior in general. Moreover, this villainy, as imagined, subsists within him; as a comics creator, in particular, and as a human being in general, he can understand, express, perhaps even empathize with, this capacity for wrongdoing. In other words, such villainy, as human and imagined, is not radically other. On the other hand, Miller maint ains that, during the 9/11 attacks, “the real thing had shown up,” as if the imagined human villainy mentioned before actually manifested as a wholly other nonneighbor, a “thing” outside of home and hearth threatening “my city” and “my country.” In the next paragraph, this “thing” becomes a “they”; he claims that “they want us to die,” and he couples this terrifying acknowledgment with a new understanding of “what my parents were talking about all those years.” Since 9/11, Miller has had an epiphany about nationalist fervor, an understanding that finds common ground between the American spirit of rebelliousness and independence embodied by Franklin and Madison and what he once saw as the “idolatry” of “blind patriotism”: Patriotism, I now believe, isn’t som e sentimental, old conceit. It’s self preservation. I believe patriotism is central to a nation’s survival. Ben Franklin said it: if we don’t all hang together, we all hang separately. Just like you have to fight to protect your friends and family, and you count on them to watch your own back. So you’ve got to do what you can to help your country survive. That’s if you think your country is worth a damn.9 Warts and all. As he attempts to summarize his attitude in his concluding remarks, Miller seems clearly to advocate a nationalist stance; he justifies giving oneself over to the “unthinking patriotism” he once abhorred on the basis of fear. He is terrified that the 169

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United States will die without it, though he never changes his initial assessment of its blin d, unthinking character. Indeed, whatever the radical nature of Franklin or Madison’s rebellious attitudes, his use of Franklin’s adage indicates that American solidarity must trump the subversive tendencies of American thought. In other words, fear must c ome before reason, aggressive reaction before reflective, potentially seditionary, repose, in order to ensure the future of the country — what Miller’s parents understood, evidently, was that one must respect this fear and honor it above all else. In order t o properly revere the country’s past, symbolized by all the previous generations, and metonymized by Miller’s parents, who understood how to fear properly and thus how to mobilize, how to decide to take action against a terrorizing other, and to protect th e future of the United States (as recognizable future in relation to the past of those patriotic previous generations who fought against terror to ensure the survival of the present country), Miller is championing a return to a blind, unthinking dedication to the flag. In this newfound respect for blindness, he has learned to see differently, exclaiming that “now, when I look at [the flag], I see something precious. I see something perishable.” This perishability, in fact, is the very trait that affords Mil ler the opportunity to recognize preciousness; in the shadow of his fear, having breathed in the remains of his neighbors and glimpsed the possibility of extinction, Miller perceives the beauty of “that old piece of cloth,” at the cost of being able to cri tique such thoughtless devotion. He thus is testifying to being struck dumb by fear, and to the necessity of relinquishing one’s critical faculties in order to strike out in the name of survival. He makes no intellectual excuse for this move; for him, a people’s survival always already comes first. 170

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There is something harrowing about this essay; it functions at least as much as a sad confession of horror and hopelessness as a convincing call to arms. Miller is announcing the loss of his youthful, independent spirit and is reconciled to taking up a political agenda founded on a desperate defensive reaction. Like the visionimpaired superhero Daredevil whose adventures he was made famous for depicting in the ‘ 80s, a character who gained extrasensory powers when he lost his ability to see, Miller once could see and now is blind, and in this blindness he has a new sense of how precarious life is, what it costs, and who must be held accountable. But is he truly reconciled to living life without the spirit of inde pendence he once recognized as the paramount American virtue? Has he resigned himself to being one of the flag waving patriots he so denigrated in the Comics Journal interview? For many of his critics, the answer is an easy yes, especially in light of the 2011 publication of the long delayed Holy Terror graphic novel. Wired ’s Spencer Ackerman calls it “even worse than . . . a vulgar, onedimensional revenge fantasy” and says the comic is “a screed against Islam, completely uninterested in any nuance or empathy toward 1.2 billion people he conflates with a few murderous conspiracy theorists.” Comic Book Resources ’ Graeme McMillan argues that “the entire book reads like the fantasy of an old man who wishes things were easy like the stories of earlier wars that he grew up on, refusing to complicate his world view with nuance or facts.” Comics Alliance ’s David Brothers calls it “a hateful piece of propaganda.” Miller himself openly agrees with Brothers’ assessment of the book’s political status. In a posting on entitled “Propaganda” published right after the book’s release, Miller announces that the comic is “naked propaganda” and explains 171

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that “when I say that . . . I mean so in all the ways that the vi rtuous works of Thomas Paine practiced it, through to the ways that the current, shameless MSNBC practice (sic) it. I employ propaganda in Holy Terror as such. Without apology.” He then compares the book, which centers on a masked superhero called the Fix er brutally confronting (mostly Islamic) terrorists, to superhero stories of the past, asking the reader to “keep in mind that, back in the forties, Superman punched out Adolf Hitler. Or that the O’Neil/ Adams Green Lantern/ Green Arrow series in the seventies was a left wing screed that climaxed with Jesus strung up on the head of a jumbo jet. Subtle stuff, all of it.” Having established his work’s (escapist) pedigree, Miller then argues that such works of ideological bias are in fact the norm, exhorting his readers to realize that “Propaganda is rampant. News objectivity is a twentiethcentury myth. We only complain about propaganda when we don’t agree with it.” For Miller, there is no outside of propaganda; critical assessment of any text thus only proc eeds on the basis of a reader’s political leanings in relation to that of the work in question. Miller follows this relativist explanation with an angry missive establishing the emotional motivation for the Holy Terror project, recalling once again the 9/ 11 attacks when “3000 of my neighbors were murdered. My country was, utterly unprovoked, savagely attacked. I wish all those responsible for the Atrocity of 9/11 to burn in hell.” The dissonance here is whiplashinducing, as the first part of the post bears mightily on the second, thus relegating the angry diatribe at the end to the status of propaganda and undermining its truthvalue at the very moment Miller takes an absolute position on the United States’ global innocence (the terrorist attacks were “ut terly 172

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unprovoked”). Indeed, one can easily imagine this passage within a text box inside a comic panel depicting crazed Captain America slaughtering caricatures of Arab terrorists vis a vis Miller’s work in the aforementioned 2001 Dark Horse anthology. At the end of this rant, Miller offers a final account of Holy Terror , overtly linking its production to patriotic violence and civic service. “I’m too old to serve my country in any other way,” he confesses, adding that “otherwise, I’d gladly be pulling the trigger myself.” In lieu of shooting the country’s enemies, then, Miller claims to have created a text that will motivate someone else to do so by proxy; he is triggering the trigger finger through the “naked propaganda” he has produced. But what power does such propaganda maintain when it is named as such? To what extent does the “nakedness” of a piece of propaganda, its ideological function laid bare, cancel out its political effectiveness? And there can be no question that readers were informed of Mil ler’s intentions; in addition to the interview with Groth I cited above and the blog posting Miller himself published just after the book’s release, a July 2011 overview of the panel Miller attended at the San Diego Comic Con, the most widely attended, media covered comics event in the country, discussed the history of the project and the fact Miller “had proudly proclaimed [it] as a ‘piece of propaganda’” (Daniels). Indeed, even if we grant for the time being that this kind of authorial “honesty” does not necessarily short circuit a text’s power to maintain its political agenda, how are we to gauge its possible inverse effect, whereby the (seemingly obvious) target of its hostility is motivated to respond in kind? Fatwas , or threatened fatwas , against polit ical cartoonists and other artists (South Park’s Matt Parker and Trey Stone, for example, or 173

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the threats issued in 2006 when Danish and Norwegian newspapers published cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad) are just one possible response; certainly any terrorist attack motivated by Western “blasphemy” would be another, as would any violent crime somehow influenced by a perpetrator’s exposure to cultural productions. All of these questions are of course predicated on how we understand the power of texts in general and the implications our understanding of this power has on our notions of producing and assimilating them. In fact, as I initially wro te this, the major news story across the country wa s the Aurora, Colorado, mass shooting that took place at a mi dnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises , the final film of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy that was heavily influenced by Miller’s work, especially his Batman: Year One (Jesser and Pourroy 40). James Holmes, the alleged shooter, called himself the Joker when he was initially questioned by police (Gann et al); almost immediately after the incident, Washington Examiner writer Sean Higgins wrote a story linking the shooting to a scene in Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns , which itself deals with media infl uence and violent motivation. As Higgins explains it, “in the comic, a crazed, guntoting loner walks into a movie theater and begins shooting it up, killing three in the process. The passage concludes with the media blaming Batman for inspiring the shooti ng.” An article on The Daily Mail’s website reports that “a Batman mask [and] other Batman paraphernalia” were seized by police at Holmes’s apartment (“ Batman Mask and Movie Poster Found in Apartment of Dark Knight 'K iller' Who Called Himself The Joker ”); another Daily Mail article reports that “a former classmate [of Holmes] from the University of Colorado suggested another cause for the killings, describing Holmes as someone who had lost touch with reality after becoming ‘obsessed’ with video 174

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games” (Gye, Keneally, and Bates). TMZ reports that Torrence Brown, Jr., one of the audience members in attendance during the night of the shooting, is planning to file a lawsuit against, amongst others, Warner Brothers, because his attorney says “ Dark Knight Rises wa s particularly violent and Holmes mimicked some of the action” (“James Holmes Massacre First Lawsuit”). How should we account for such alleged counter trigger effects, especially as they bear on Miller’s discussion of Holy Terror and the presumptions many of us make about interacting and communicating with each other, behaving ethically, and being human? Just as Rushdie lauds the power of the text when it serve s his purposes (to establish his worthiness as a serious author and liberal humanitarian) but resi st s the most radical (and arguably terrif ying) effects of the signifier ( its inimitably enigmatic interpretability), so Miller embraces authorial power as a means for righteous retaliation but ignores the inherent aporetic dangers of “his” instrument . This ignorance not only points to the dumb cowardice of overt aggression; it also precludes Miller from imagining possible futures for comics in general. Fear of Infection: Frederick Wertham and the Aporia of Interactivity Comics are certainly no stranger to fear mongering media attention or to speculation about their negative (terrifying, terrorizing) effects. After all, Frederick Wertham and his notorious book, Seduction of the Innocent , in which he argues that comics are a primary factor in the “moral disar mament” of their adolescent readers, nearly destroyed the American comic book industry in the ‘50s (Nyberg 97). In fact, many hold that the Comic Book Code implemented in reaction to Wertham’s text may have seriously damaged the future of comic books in Am erica, given that it called into question the medium’s artistic merit and potential for personal expression. Indeed, if comic book readership in this country continues to dwindle as it has since the early ‘90s, 175

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a surprising decline when one considers the i ncredible success its properties have enjoyed in film and video games, and if that decline can at least in part be attributed to the medium’s struggle with artistic acceptance by the American culture at large, Wertham’s crusade against comics may well prov e to have been ultimately successful. E very time a comic’s publication is cancelled due to questionable content (and according to the Bleeding Cool website, the Aurora tragedy already impacted an upcoming Joker storyline and delayed publication of another Batman storyline) or a comic shop is closed down because of the “pornographic children’s books” for sale inside, every time comics are linked to violent crime or dismissed as being merely adolescent literature, Wertham’s impact on the American public’s per ception of comic book culture can be felt . Many of the kinds of arguments Dr. Wertham made against sequential art over half a century ago are now applied to video and computer games . What these arguments share, apart from being critiques of pop culture m ediums often dismissed by American society as being mere escapist entertainment, are their grounding in the presumption that the media in question can somehow contaminate an individual’s subjectivity. Indeed, where Wertham insisted in his 1948 paper “The B etrayal of Childhood: Comic Books” that comics “create a mental preparedness or readiness for temptation” and “set off a chain of undesirable and harmful thinking” in the minds of children (58), Senator Joseph Lieberman argued in 1997 that “a kid playing a violent videogame is a participant” (“Videogames are Good For You” 13) in the game’s violence and thus “will have a tendency to be more violent in real life” (9). His crusade has been taken up by other political leaders in various forms over the past fift een years, including 176

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repeated pushes by California Representative Joe Baca to restrict the sale of maturerated games to minors, an effort which was ultimately struck down by the Supreme Court in 2011. For Wertham, then, comics inculcate themselves into a child’s thinking process, in effect possessing the adolescent’s mental life; for Lieberman and other such lawmakers, a child’s agency within a virtual environment serves to infect his or her sense of agency in the “real” world— violent interactive behavior in a virtual realm becomes the impetus for a violent active behavior that is no longer purely intentional but always already influenced (possessed) by the prior interactivity10. As I have shown, mere days after the Aurora tragedy, news outlets were already publishing stories in line with both of these crusades against comics and video games. For critics of comics and video games, what is at stake is not only the subjective space of the potentially violent individual , but, by extension, the physical space o f those who live in relation to him or her. The political and social repercussions of Wertham and Lieberman’s assertions reflect this dual concern in eerily parallel ways. Indeed, where the Comics Code was voluntarily adapted by the industry in the ‘ 50s largely due to Wertham’s attacks, a self imposed ratings system (the ESRB system) was established by the vi deo game industry in the late 90s as a concession to the Liebermanled governmental pressure that challenged it; since then, the Comics Code has been a bandoned in lieu of publisher specific systems indicating the appropriateness of a book’s interior content. The ESRB system can perhaps be compared to the film industry’s MPAA rating system, at least insofar as one considers the animated visuals of video g ames to be structurally similar to film’s moving images. Given such an assumption, one might go on to conclude that such self censorship on behalf of the 177

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video game industry is an entirely reasonable political compromise, especially since the American publ ic for the most part has accepted some form of ratings sys tem for films since the early ‘ 20s and the use of a similar system for television, as well (Nyberg 163). Frank Miller, though, has argued for most of his career that no such mechanism should be in place for any entertainment industry. In a 1998 interview with the Comics Journal , for example, he decried the entire process using his favorite terror trope, the gun analogy: The MPAA doesn’t technically defy the First Amendment, no, because it is purpor tedly “voluntary.” Kind of like it’s voluntary to hand somebody your wallet when he pokes a pistol into your stomach. . . . It was a surrender —a damn, cowardly surrender, just like the Comics Code was. There is an alternative, damn it; simply no censorship at all. There’s no MPAA or Comic Code on books and magazines. Damn the public, if that’s what they want. Distributors will press for censorship, as will parent groups, politicians and others who want to have power over what people see or, more commonly, w ho are afraid that somebody out there somewhere might take offense. You can’t avoid the censors by appeasing them. They’ve got a political stake in keeping their cause alive, so they can’t declare victory. They lose their reason to exist the moment they admit they’ve won. So, no appeasement, no compromise. The only way we can fight for the First Amendment is to give not one damn inch. So there. ( “Interview Five” 98) The bravado of Miller’s language here as he rails against the terror imposed by a corporate system in the name of protecting the populace against the kind of terror “adult material” may instill in an audience, be it by offending that audience’s sensibilities or (presumably) by affecting readers’ moral outlook and/or behavior, all in direct violation of the kind of discursive freedom that founds that populace’s identity as citizens of the United States (the First Amendment), will reappear in his interviews and promotional appearances for Holy Terror . For example, in a 2010 interview with Christopher Irving, he discusses how he won’t back down from publishing the book, regardless of the political climate of the superhero comic industry; Irving explains that though “this current 178

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‘War on Terror’ has lasted for a decade in a time where corporately sponsored superheroes now stay out of politically controversial and potentially volatile wars,” Miller “has no illusions about finding a publisher,” and Miller in fact says “if all else fails, I’ll [publish] it [myself].” At the 2011 San Diego Comic Con, Mille r brashly announced that he “hop[ed] this book really pisses people off,” and when asked if he was worried that it might make readers he had offended think negatively about his work, he replied, “‘Not at all’” with what reporter Hunter Daniels called “a cocksure smile befitting of the Joker.” The blog post he published on propaganda that I so exhaustively quoted above, wherein he likens his work to a gun trigger, posted right after the book’s release, complicates all of this rhetoric when one considers his language concerning the MPAA’s tactics requiring use of its ratings; Miller’s “naked propaganda” and corporate censorship both take the form of a violent coercion, imposing terror on company and reader alike. The MPAA seeks to ward off terror by censoring offensive material, thus protecting citizenry from discomfort or (more seriously) psychological violation and thus protecting the very companies they are coercing from the threat of public outrage and legal action; terror is thus put to work in the name of fighting a kind of terror. Miller flagrantly avoids the kind of corporate coercion such a censoring mechanism represents (thus avoiding being “cowardly’) by putting out the work he wants without compromise, pulling a trigger on the reader in the name of t he War on Terror by coercing him or her to rally against the external threat of the terrorist other. Even allowing for the MPAA’s system to be valid and for the similarity between video games and other visual media to hold, thus bolstering the case for the video game industry to impose its own, similar rating system, the case of a comic book rating 179

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system, given its application to a static, printed medium that relies on pictures and words to communicate meaning, appears to be a more problematic enterprise. Indeed, the appropriateness of applying ratings to comic publications over and against the First Amendment would seem to hinge on whether or not comics can be considered a form of written literature, and when one reviews the attacks of those early comics critics of the ‘ 40s whose work influenced Wertham’s own, it appears that this was, in fact, the case from the very beginning of the debate over comics’ cultural status. Literary critic Sterling North, for example, to whom author Amy Kiste Nyberg credits the “first national attack” on the comic book medium in her Seal of Approval: The History of the Comics Code, argued that the old dime novel could be considered classic literature compared to the comic book . . . [he] concluded his editorial by calling for p arents to become aware of what their children were reading and to furnish a good substitute. He wrote: “The antidote to the ‘comic’ magazine poison can be found in any library or good book store.” (4) For North, then, comics are the antithesis of literatur e; though read by children, the consumption of such a medium is analogous to the ingestion of poison, the remedy for which consists in the reading of “good” or “classic” books. Just as poison can be “eaten,” comics can be “read” ; neither activity is recomm ended. Nyberg goes on to note that Wertham himself later echoes such sentiments in Seduction of the Innocent when he claims that “‘comic books have nothing to do with drama, with art or literature’” and that they in fact “prevented children from developing an appreciation for good literature” (94). Like North before him, Wertham holds that comics are wholly other than literature. Rather than offer the reading of literature as the solution to the problem of comics’ consumption, however, Wertham instead pres ents the latter as threatening the experience of the former; “reading” comics as a kind of anti reading. Of course, the difference between these apparently distinct kinds of reading 180

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experiences are never rigorously examined; for Wertham, the break between comics and literature is so obviously absolute that the subjective experience of either medium would necessarily be distinct, as well. Thus, Wertham’s characterization of comics as “‘simple, direct, mechanical, and violent’” allows him to develop a logical schema wherein the “complex works” of literature belong to an entirely different realm of communication, one that can never be “reduced” to comic book form (94). North and Wertham’s failure to absolutely distinguish between reading comics and reading in general threatens their entire enterprise. For if both comics and literature can be read (and, as Wertham himself argues, comics themselves are actually more “direct[ly]” read than literature is), and if reading itself influences the reader’s moral charact er , then the threat of comics lies not in the possession of the reader (which, in theory, all literature partakes in) but in the form that possession takes. And yet, neither North nor Wertham ever attempts to clearly define the structural difference between the pictographic paneling of comics and the word/ sentence/ paragraph/ page structure of the “complex” literature that stands in opposition to it. In fact, the Comics Code itself never defined the essence of the “comic book,” never established rigid guidelines as to the type of publication its “general standards” should apply to; it merely posited that “the comic book medium” exists and “compares favorably to other media” (Nyberg 170). That the code’s legacy lives on in the current rating systems deemed necessary by comics’ publishers, though not required of other publishing industries, one might quite plausibly ask exactly of what this “comic book medium” consists that makes its texts so different from other kinds of publications. 181

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The Artist (Did Not) Mak e Me Think It —Scott McCloud and the Future of Comics Comic book artist and theorist Scott McCloud attempts to answer precisely this question in his graphic novel Reinventing Comics , wherein he defines comics as “based on a simple idea: the idea of placing one picture after another to show the passage of time” (1). McCloud’s purpose here, of course, is at odds with that of the Comics Code and its proponents; indeed, he likens Wertham’s crusade to “a gruesome fairy tale” and calls the Code’s restrictions “a severe blow [to the] art of comics” (87). Instead, McCloud champions the medium as one that “offers . . . enormous breadth and control for the author, a unique, intimate relationship with its audience, and a potential so great, so inspiring, yet so brutall y squandered, it could bring a tear to the eye” (3). As this hyperbolic explanation indicates, McCloud’s attempts to define and to understand comics as a unique and potentially limitless art form appear to be the absolute antithesis of Wertham’s efforts to denigrate and control it. Indeed, where Wertham sought to minimize the influence of comics on future generations, McCloud seeks to guarantee the future of that influence by assessing the breadth of its possibilities and ultimately projecting it into the digital realm. What is fascinating about his project, however, is that, by attempting to establish comics as being especially conducive to “the forging of an emotional connection between creator and reader” (39) and potentially opening up a “direct, meaning ful exchange of ideas and experiences” between these two positions, McCloud essentially allows for the very anxiety of influence that Wertham’s argument plays upon, an anxiety played upon by the media’s fascination with the Aurora shootings; namely, that c omics have the power to penetrate (and thus potentially to negatively affect) the mind of their readers (20). McCloud wants this to be a kind of “partnership,” a “connection” rather than a form of possession, but he remains blind to 182

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the fact that the “inti macy” of his model threatens the very positions of artist and reader that such an intimate partnership is founded on (39). Indeed, McCloud’s model is constantly in danger of negating itself —on one hand, he locates the “lynchpin” of successful comics creati on as being in the “individual imagination and hardwon skills” of the creator, and on the other he locates the “heart of comics” in “the space between the panels where the reader’s imagination makes still pictures come alive” (1). The art, it seems, exist s everywhere at once, and thus cannot be located anywhere at all. Interestingly enough, the inherent co mplications McCloud’s conceptual model hinge on his desire for an interactive text, one that allows for both the breaching and the absolute maintaining of the artist’s creative space and the reader’s active imagination. The logical aporia at the heart of such a fantasy of interaction, the uncanny displacement that such a schema necessitates, is precisely t hat shared by interactive video games such as fir st person shooters and adventure games wherein players control avatars and “see” through their eyes as they inhabit worlds rendered by graphic artists and stories written by professional authors. By McCloud’s logic, then, one’s experience of reading a comi c book threatens the identity of the medium he has so diligently sought to locate; as an active reader, one disrupt s the intention of the artist and thus sever s connection to his or her static work , turning it into the very kind of interactive media that have usurped comics in terms of popularity and sales to youth markets . And yet, to passively be dictated to or possessed by the artist’s vision prevents the reader from interacting with the text and thus renders the art form lifeless even as it maintains it s existence as a “book . ” In other words, interactive games, and, by extension, the “gutters” between comic panels representing the “gap” between authorial 183

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intention and readerly play, give the lie to such absolute distinctions between positions (character and player, author and reader, etc.) and celebrate the strange and disco ncerting power of the signifier.11 A s we have seen, this power haunts Rushdie’s Joseph Anton and threatens his attempt s to find security, to know him self and to recognize and respond t o threats from the other in a decisive, certain, nonviolent way. Miller’s escapist propaganda will be similarly terrorized by this power as he attempts to secure himself by using his art to overtly attack the threatening other. Miller’s response to com ics’ digital possibilities is especially interesting. When asked by Gary Groth about online comics, Miller says reading online is “not comfortable” and then provides a history lesson in order to argue that the comic form is not malleable: Max Gaines folded a newspaper over and created a comic book —in this country, at least. At least, that’s the story I heard. And it’s a print medium. So if you’re going to step out of print, fine. Just don’t call it comic books any more. Don’t try to imitate it with word bal loons and all of that when you’ve got sound! ( “Interview Six” 119). When Groth brings up McCloud’s argument that the digital experience of comics is preferable to print because of links and screen manipulation, Miller responds, “then maybe it’s a game. I d on’t know” ( “Interview Six” 119). He caps off the interview by stressing his desire for creative authority over the reader, stressing that “I like [authorial] control. I don’t think I’d be a good games guy, because I only want one ending in my story. No mu ltiple choice” ( “Interview Six” 119). Miller thus recoils from the aporetic definition of comics inadvertently espoused by McCloud, taking a firm stance but potentially opening comics up for Werthamian critique when one considers that this authorial positi on, when coupled with his express intent of triggering violent reader response through propaganda, implicates the medium as a threat, a potentially 184

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terrorizing device, a weapon. Where McCloud’s explanation problematizes the common sense relation between reader and text, Miller attempts to reduce that relation to one of puppet and master, reminiscent of Rushdie’s desire for a sovereign authorial position in Joseph Anton (though, as we have seen, Rushdie’s text also testifies to the impossibility of that posi tion and the helplessness of every author in regards to the interpretation of his or her work). In this sense, Miller reveals his desire to get out in front of the violence he intuits in the world; he sees the threat of digital publication, of video games and digital media, and wants to draw the line, to take the offensive, to protect what is his, what he understands and has seemingly mastered. The existential cost of this aggressive maneuvering, the unspoken despair it serves to mask, becomes evident when one studies Holy Terror closely . Such an examination will help set “zeroism” into relief, especially when read as a complement to the previous chapter’s reading of Rushdie’s passive aggressive apologizing. Fixin’ to Start: Frank Miller’s Holy Terror From the very start of Frank Miller’s Holy Terror , the aporia of “start” takes root. The title names Miller as author of the piece and as fearful individual (the “holy terror” in question is his, his terror of the holy and his sacred terror, which Groth has al ready pointed out in relation to his faith in the American right to use force). The title looks like spattered blood; the ink spatter has been one of Miller’s stylistic markers since Sin City ; his blood on the page —the title’s double meaning repeated. Also, given that “holy” can mean “inspiring fear, awe, or distress,”1 2 the title describes the effect of the terror being articulated in Miller’s name; Frank Miller’s fear inspiring terror. Finally, given that “holey” means perforated by holes, the lack of the “e” in the title enacts the attempt to “fill the holes” opened by violence in a body or by critique in an argument. The silent “e” can still 185

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be heard (one can’t tell it’s missing if the title is spoken), and so the holes haunt the holy in its very name (no “holy” without the missing hole; the missing “hole” thus holes the holy). Indeed, even the Fixer’s costume is perforated by holes, reiterating/reminding the reader about the “hole” in “holy. Finally, these holes manifest as outlines on the page, marking out the rends in the figure’s fabr ic but also marking up the background in order to render the illusion of depth (exposing the Caucasian flesh beneath the costume) and to establish a relation to a prior whole (the costume in an imagined earlier moment, don ned before being damaged), a metonymy of all the marks themselves (rendering the foreground, establishing the background, “breaking up” the whole page); thus the hol(e)y marks point to a wholly ness , a totality established as a relation of marking to marke d, cuts that cut out the possibility of a lost unity always already rendered in parts (and it is important to note that the blank page, as background, insofar as it is formed by cutting away from some larger piece of material, removed from some prior context, always already is perforated at its edges and thus is marked in advance, so it can only suggest another lost whole). The hole motif appears again in regards to the mouths of the two characters locked in conflict on the cover. Every mouth is a hole and, as such, a point of entry (the opening onto the outside, hence a vulnerable spot threatening the inside); it is also the locus of sustenance (we eat with it, can only survive by letting the outside in and assimilating it), violence (we can bite), greeting s (we can hail the other), threat (we can insult the other, profane the other, designate the other as unwelcome, etc), signifier of mirth (smiling, laughter) or angst (scowling, gritting of teeth). The contradictory logic of the mouth, its aporetic functio ning as opening, weapon, loudspeaker, transmitter of 186

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silence (one refuses to communicate by closing the mouth), and vehicle for prayer and ministering, means it is a most holy hole, as it functions both to profess and address the sacred and to inspire fear in the other by threatening perforation (the bite, the wounding word, the scathing critique) even as it opens up to the outside and thus invites invasion, thereby making vulnerable the wouldbepredator (inspiring an internal fear in this opening). The open mouth of the costumed superhero on the left, visible as a hole within the “hole” of the mask he is wearing, displays a full set of teeth; his opponent’s mouth, identifiable only as a bloody gap in the fold of what looks to be a full face keffiyeh, has b een struck by the superhero’s left hook, and teeth are flying in a stream off the right side of the page. We are witness, then, to a defanging, by a fanged attacker; moreover, given the stark black between the folds of the keffiyeh and the pink skin of the Fixer, we are also witness to a race war. The serrated “teeth” of the knife wielded by the keffiyeh wearer reinforces the point, the literally pointed point, as the open mouth of both figures threaten violence in their opening, rather than inviting another form of interaction. Both hooded figures are linked in their hol(e)y acts of aggression, with violence covering over other possibilities of the mouth hole (speaking, smiling, kissing, etc). The cover image also links directly to an almost identical panel in Miller’s The Dark Knight Strikes Again that depicts Batman throwing a left hook and knocking the teeth out of a secret service agent (104 105), though notably this scene was one of “white on white” violence and of a strike against a security representative of the U.S., so the political implications of this new image, and perhaps of Miller’s newfound (potentially racist, avowedly aggressive, conservatively patriotic) worldview, are certainly thrown into further relief here. Regardless, f rom the very firs t image, the 187

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spectre of Miller’s Batman work rises to haunt this project and its spandex clad protagonist. Also of interest on the cover is that while the costumed crusader is positioned at a quarter turn, his eyes on the recipient of his fist, the punched fellow’s eyes are positioned full front, looking right at the reader from the dark shadows of his head/face wrap. On one hand, these eyes look sinister, embedded in black and set at a slightly inwardsloping angle, the classic glare of the malicious super villain. They look comically incredulous, as well, as if asking the reader, “Is this comic really happening? Can you believe this masked guy?” If the quarter turn of the superhero preserves the dramatic action’s believability, however overwrought the viol ence, by “buying into” the action (he is focused on its repercussions) and not “breaking the fourth wall,” his opponent’s overly intimate gaze is breaking the rules of traditional escapist narrative, thus breaking into the reader’s space and challenging the “suspension of disbelief” required for such escapist fantasy to be convincing, to be effectively escapist (ironically, a fantasy can’t function as fantasy if it i s not experienced as a kind of believable reality). Thus does the cover “hole” the reader’s perspective in a Brechtian sense, alienating the audience in its direct address and opening out into the “real” world even before it’s literally opened up (we haven’t opened the cover yet!). Upon opening the book, a kind of graphic bomb goes off, as the inside cover and adjacent page, both blood red, are riddled with images of nails and tacks, a hail of deadly detritus from a dirty bomb. Splattered ink again is strewn across the pages, perhaps depicting blood drops while also perforating the red background (covering over and punching through, as any depiction of a hole on paper must). The blood and nails 188

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recall another scene of “holy terror,” the crucifixion of Christ, linking Christianity, terrorism, and suicide bombers (and hence Islamic fundamentalism), a link Miller previously explored in his 9 11 Artists Respond piece which, as we have seen, questioned faith in general and its link to terror. Critics like Spencer Ackerman accuse Holy Terror of being a regression from the “sophisticated, complex reaction” exhibited in this earlier work, but from its opening, from the first opening of the cover before the opening of the narrative itself, this text opens itself to the radical possibilities of opening, holing, holiness; Ackerman argues that it is “a screed ag ainst Islam, completely uninterested in any nuance or empathy.” Whether Islam represents the only source of terror in the text, the only threat of perforation, the only “holy” source of “holing,” remains an open question given images like this one. An interesting shift occurs over the next several pages.1 3 Although the narrative itself will not “start” for eight more pages (which will be taken up with credits, an epigraph, and the title pages of immediate interest here), the first graphic after the cover in sert (the aforementioned “dirty bomb”) is a “proper” title page, reading “Frank Miller’s Holy Terror” amidst what looks to be streams of rain/ ink streaks and ink drops. These droplets, white against the red (bloody?) background, invoke more than just incl ement weather; in The Dark Knight Returns , Miller used the image of Bruce Wayne’s mother’s pearl necklace breaking in the hands of the gunman who murdered her as a kind of trigger effect, graphically signaling the “snapping” of Wayne’s middleaged mind as he listens to news reports and ultimately surrenders to his compulsion to become the Batman once again. As Wayne remembers these falling pearls, white ink against a dark background, he takes a cold shower, trying to drown out the voice of the Dark Knight he 189

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hears in his head; the streaming water of the shower is depicted as streaks of streaming ink, almost identical to those on this title page. The drops and streaks of Holy Terror ’s title page thus return to the scene of the crime of Martha Wayne’s murder, Batman’s birth, and his subsequent rebirth. The text that accompanies the transformation sequence in Returns establishes Wayne as both possessed by the Batman but also nothing other than this possession; the “inner voice” “speaks” over a series of panels d epicting the older Wayne smashing a statue and then taking a shower as he (and the reader) “see” images of his “inner” terror (the moment of his mother’s death and the breaking of her necklace), exclaiming The time has come. You know it in your soul. For I am your soul . . . You cannot escape me . . . You are puny, you are small —you are nothing —a hollow shell, a rusty trap that cannot hold me —smoldering, I burn you— burning you, I flare, hot and bright and fierce and beautiful —you cannot stop me— not with wi ne or vows or the weight of age—you cannot stop me but still you try —still you run —you try to drown me out . . . But your voice is weak . . . (25 26) Batman declares himself a kind of internal dirty bomb, flaring out and blowing Wayne’s “hollow shell” to bits. In other words, Batman is a kind of terrorist weapon, a terror tactic striking outwards from the inside and blowing the facade of the rich playboy to smithereens. “He” is both Wayne’s inner terror and his external weapon, a poisonous pill that allows him to function in the world while destroying his humanity, his right to a “real” life as a well adjusted member of society. Miller has explicitly played on this notion that Batman is a terrorist in both his art and his interviews. In the sequel to The Dark Knight Returns , The Dark Knight Strikes Again, Batman, with his feet on a table and his hands clasped casually behind his head, says , “Striking terror. Best part of the job.” In 2003, when Gary Groth says that he was “struck by how closely [this speech] actually sounded like a terrorist manifesto,” Miller 190

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agrees (“I know”) but reminds Groth that he had written the panel in question “early on” before the 9/11 attacks had occurred ( “Interview Six,” 110). He then makes a strangely contradictory claim, asser ting that I was stuck with it [Batman’s depiction]. Because DC left it up to me whether the book would be changed, because the parallels [to 9/11] are just creepy. I decided to write my way out of it. That whole period of time in this city . . . . It was th e flock of war. There were fighter planes flying over my home. Of course, every time I heard a plane, you know what I thought. So it was a very tough time to make those kinds of decisions. ( “Interview Six” 110) Miller being “stuck with it,” then, implying a kind of forced acquiescence, was not due to editorial interference but to his own creative impulse; he was stuck with what he had written because he decided to be stuck with it, though such a decision came at an admittedly “tough time” ( “Interview Six” 1 10). It is hard not to see a kind of internal struggle going on here, one in which Batman’s voice is dictating terms to his author. Indeed, any reticence Miller may have had to depicting Batman in this manner seemingly dissipated as the project wore on, as the following exchange makes clear: Groth: Of course, on p183 [of The Dark Knight Strikes Again] —which must have been done after 9/11—you have this speech by Batman: “This is only the beginning. Tyrants, your days are numbered. You can’t fight us and you can’t find us. We strike like lightning and we melt into the night like ghosts.” If you look at it from the point of view of radical Islamists, of course we are tyrannical and that is their credo. Miller: Oh, that was deliberate. Yeah. Because I long ago determined that a character like Batman can only be defined as a terrorist if his motto is striking terror. I didn’t want to dodge it and also, I wanted Batman to creep you out. That I wanted from the start. I don’t want you to like this guy. ( “Interview Si x” 110) Miller thereby accedes to the fact that, yes, his Batman is an unlikable, creepy terrorist, a sadist whose methods and attitudes are deplorable, a character who “strikes terror” into his enemies. And when Groth explicitly asks whether Batman’s atti tude 191

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reflects that of a radical Islamist, Miller says that such a depiction was “deliberate.” He then elaborates on the character’s bloodlust: My feeling about Batman is that he’s similar [to James Bond] in that you’d want him to be there when you’re being mugged, but you wouldn’t want to have dinner with him. The way he cheers Hawkman on as he crushes Luthor’s skull . . . . For me, it was really the idea coming into its own without the bullshit on top of it of being a socially acceptable role model and all of that. ( “Interview Six” 111) This “idea” is here depicted as separate from its thinker; it “comes into its own” for Miller; he can’t really take credit for it, as he has already explained that he was “stuck” with it and unable to change the work in ques tion. Instead, he built on the idea, continued with it, rode it out to its end. Was he then driven by a terrorist impulse, the voice of the sadistic Bat? It is no secret that Holy Terror was originally intended to be a Batman comic. NPR’s website reported on the project in a news story in February of 2006: Holy Terror, Batman! That’s the name of the upcoming comic by Frank Miller. The Joker and the Riddler can rest easy, the Caped Crusader will be taking on Osama bin Laden. The cartoonist says it’s silly for Batman to chase old villains out of Gotham City when there are real threats out there. Miller admits it’s a piece of propaganda. But hey, it worked for Superman and Captain America, who both punched out Hitler at the time. (Montagne) In September of 2006, as a lead in to Miller’s “That Old Piece of Cloth” essay, NPR again reported on its site that the artist had “recently announced that he’s working on a new graphic novel in which Batman pits himself against terrorists.” In a December 2010 interview with Christopher Irving, though, Miller announced that such plans had changed; he was now publishing the book through Dark Horse and had changed the central character to an original creation, the Fixer: I spoke with [DC president at the time] Paul Levitz about this, and it’s not a Batman story. Its closest cultural comparison would be Jack Ryan. He’s a much rougher player. At some point you’ve got to say " Is this Batman or 192

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not? " [The Fixer] breaks somebody’s spine on purpose. It’s just that if I’m going to do Batman, I want it to be Batman. The Fixer became his own character and is much rougher. He’s also going up against Al Qaida [sic]. These people are insane. These people blow themselves up and are not the nicest people. They’re crazy. We will probably never be privy to the discussions Miller had with Levitz, so we can’t know for sure what role editorial pressure played in this decision. However, given Miller’s previous takes on Batman, wherein Batman breaks the Joker’s neck ( The Dark Knight Returns ), eviscerat es the U.S. Secretary of State and celebrates as Hawkman pummels Lex Luthor’s skull into mush ( The Dark Knight Strikes Again), and forces Robin to eat rats in the depths of the Batcave to learn to fend for himself ( AllStar Batman and Robin), it is hard to imagine that the Fixer’s sheer brutality is what separates him from the Dark Knight. In fact, as both Holy Terror ’s cover image and first title page contain allusions to Miller’s Batman work, there are signs that Miller had no intention of wholly (holy? holey?) distancing this project from his Batman mythos (something his reputation as seminal contemporary Batman creator and the project’s previously publicized status as a Batman comic would have made impossible, anyway). One of the complaints critics have voiced about Holy Terror’s art is that Miller has not done enough to (literally) erase this connection; Comics Alliance’s David Brothers argues that one of the comic’s “major flaws” is that “you can tell which pages were done back when it was about Batman. . . . In fact, on certain pages, you can actually see where there used to be Bat symbols and Batarangs, and Catwoman’s ear is visible in a shadow despite being erased from [cat burglar] Stack’s figure. . . . Some pages are just extremely rough.” Graeme Mc Millan is even less kind when he calls it “an almost comically obvious reworking of Batman pages” and asserts that “there’s no way to avoid groaning at how phonedin Miller’s revisions are.” Both critics thus assume that such 193

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traces of the book’s previous incarnation are not intentional on Miller’s part and serve no thematic purpose. However, as just the cover and title page make clear, as well as the thinly veiled depictions of Batman, Catwoman, and Commisioner Gordon (the Fixer, Natalie Stack, and Dan Donegal, respectively), Miller is emphatically referencing the Batman universe, making use of it, invoking it, even as he is superficially “creating” a separate fictional world. If one grants that such connections are meaningful rather than evidence of artist ic laziness or creative bankruptcy, one can focus instead on what the similarities and differences between the iconic DC characters and Miller’s pastiches might signify or complicate about corporate superheroes, power fantasies, and the response to terror Holy Terror dramatizes. For example, consider the implications when one reads the Fixer himself as Batman with a difference; in other words, he stands in for Batman, covers up or masks his “actual” identity as the DC character, by taking on a different nam e, but is in most other respects the same character (and as Brothers and McMillan have shown, the art often makes this similarity impossible to ignore). The Oxford English Dictionary provides several definitions of the verb “fix.” In relation to an object, it can mean to “fasten securely in a particular place or position” or to “mend” or “repair” ; t o be a “fixer , ” then, might mean that one sets things right or holds things in place, thus stabilizing a shaky situation. The “terror” of the book’s title comes from the IndoEuropean base “ tre ,” which means “shake” ; the Fixer, then, would be one who holds things fast in the wake of such shaking, perhaps by preventing fear or violence or, in the aftermath of the terrible, by repairing the damage done by, say, terr or attacks. But if one reads the Fixer’s disguise as covering over his identity as Batman, masking the mask of the Dark Knight (while, as 194

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we have seen, simultaneously invoking him, for any work Miller does involving a masked vigilante cannot help but recal l his Batman work, and Miller seems to do everything he can to remind readers of Gotham’s protector with visual clues), this means that, as Batman, he is also, as Miller explained to Groth and made quite clear in The Dark Knight Strikes Back , a kind of ter rorist, one who shakes things up, inspires fear, breaks things, and generally condones violence and behaves anti socially. This propensity for terror, for shaking things up and thus for unfixing, is itself in fact already expressed by the verb “fix.” According to the OED , one of the word’s informal definitions is to “influence the outcome of (something, especially a race, contest, or election) by illegal or underhanded means” ; another is to “put (an enemy or rival) out of action, especially by killing them .” The very definition of “fix,” then, cannot adequately be “fixed” in place in regards to the title character, and his ethical position, his heroism, is called into question by the contradictions inherent to his name and his relation to Batman, a character whom Miller has clearly said is a “creep” and one whom readers should find unlikable ( “Interview Six” 111). The verb “fix” has another meaning pertinent to this text and indeed to graphic texts in general —to “make (a dye, photographic image, or drawing) permanent.” I n a very real sense, then, Frank Miller, as fixer of the images of the graphic novel in question, himself is the fixer of Holy Terror. This relation between author/artist and protagonist is made graphically overt (“fixed,” as it were) when one turns the title page and is greeted by a twopage spread, another title “page,” on which the previous title ( Frank Miller’s Holy Terror ) has been replaced by, simply, Holy Terror . In the “place” of the possessive form of Miller’s name, a closeup of the F ixer’s masked visage appears 195

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at the left side of the left page, so that one will “read” this visage before one reads the title, thus my argument that it precedes, and thus “takes the place” of Miller’s possessive moniker, which on the previous page had appeared at the top of the page, preceding the title. The dizzying linguistic connections between author, character, title, and subject matter continue. The OED says that, from a subjective position, “fix” can mean to “be directed steadily or unwaveringly to ward” (such as being “fixed upon” something or someone) or to “attract and hold” another’s attention; as I have previously made clear, in his interviews, Miller has said that terror (after 9/11) has been “the whole point of my work” (qtd. in Groth , “Interv iew Six” 110) and also that he wants to provoke people, that he hopes Holy Terror “really pisses people off” (Daniels). Miller is thereby fixed on, fixated by, terror and hopes to fix people’s attention on his fixation with terror, which he hopes will shak e them up in some way (thereby terrorizing them; when one is pissed off, one is potentially both angry and scared, pissing oneself). As the Fixer is his vehicle for his fixation, the character through which his fixation on fixing terror can be explored and the persona whose extreme actions will garner the fixed attention of an audience, and since we have seen how Miller is himself the Fixer (as artist who fixes images, as creator of the character, and as wouldbe terrorist fighter using his medium to fight terror and fix the terrible terror he sees around him), it is important to note how Miller’s fixation on being a fixation by being the Fixer makes him (both author and character) a holy terror. The OED notes that a “holy terror” is, informally, “a person, especially a child, who causes trouble or annoyance;” in short, one who pisses others off. Given that the expression "holy terror" is more often than not used to indicate mild annoyance, not 196

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terror, this term seems to undermine the kind of “pissing off” t hat Miller claims to want. However, as the final, despairing scene of the novel will attest, the phrase, as title of the project and pseudonym for its title character and (by proxy) author, appropriately announces in advance the ultimate futility of any ag gressively protective gesture and thus points to the “real,” structural terror that a “zeroist” must acknowledge but against which every traditional heroic gesture must guard. In this roundabout way, then, one can work through the logic behind the twopage spread “title page,” a logic bolstered, as we have seen, by the turning of the previous (single) title page, a turn upon which much of this logic has turned, as it fixed a certain relation of character to author in the unfixing of the possessive proper na me (its disappearance from the title) and the appearance of the Fixer (a substitution upon which I have been transfixed) that equates the Fixer (and hence Miller himself) with the “holy terror” named in the title, a conflation that is at least as much a denigration as it is a form of wish fulfillment. Indeed, the contradictions and concessions inherent to this commingling of character and creator, heroism and terrorism, fixity and fear, are of utmost importance if this text, its context, and its critical reception are to help us think what it might mean to live in a time of terror and to express that living. Another turn of the page and we are confronted again with a twopage spread, a black background spotted with red ink. As we will see in the narrative proper, throughout the book Miller streaks, dribbles, and smudges ink on the page, and though most of the work’s color palette is monochromatic, this page suggests an equivalence between the black and white spots and drops (which, as we have seen, also reca ll the falling pearls of Martha Wayne, signs of death and the dissolution of parental comfort, the massacre 197

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of the maternal and the birth of the superhero terrorist) and blood (the black dots on the cover insert’s “dirty bomb”). In fact, since Miller makes a point of marking the ensuing pages with his fingerprints, thus literally leaving a trace of himself on many pages (constantly providing his signature and evidence of his guilt —his book is a kind of elaborate booking, an arrest for the arresting that bei ng a fixer, both propaganda artist and killer, necessitates), linking this “blood” to that of the artist himself “ bleeding out on the page” ( giving his all, confessing, making it personal ) is an easy interpretive maneuver. In his interview with Christopher Irving, Miller noted that Holy Terror is “definitely my story about a crusade on terror” ; the blood and fingerprints emphasize the “my.” To what extent the story is also his crusade, not just a crusade, what such a crusade entails, and whether it can even be meaningfully distinguished from its target, remains to be seen. Certainly Miller’s critics believe the answers are obvious; Graeme McMillan says Holy Terror “isn’t a story so much as a revenge fantasy from someone who is clearly terrified of the world that he’s found himself living in, and closed himself off from reality as a result . . . the entire book reads like the fantasy of an old man who wishes things were easy like the stories of earlier wars that he grew up on, refusing to complicate his world view with nuance or facts.” David Brothers calls it “a hateful, ill considered, simplistic, ugly, nasty little book” full of “bigotry” that “isn’t even as successful as propaganda because it’s poorly thought out and has nothing but weak reasoning as its f oundation.” Spencer Ackerman calls it “a screed against Islam, completely uninterested in any nuance or empathy toward 1.2 billion people he [Miller] conflates with a few murderous conspiracy theorists.” 198

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None of these critics seem to have performed a close reading of the book’s first several pages, though, for their reviews never mention the way Holy Terror implicates its author and central character from the get go in a kind of corporate collusion, exactly the sort of questionable capital enterprise marked by the moniker of the narrative’s locale, “Empire City.” This is the city’s proper name (the back cover brazenly announces that “Empire City is in peril”) , and at the very least it encourages a reader to consider the world of free market capitalism, what author Benjamin R. Barber calls “one McWorld tied together by communications, information, entertainment, and commerce,” from the point of view of the book’s Islamic terrorists, representing what Barber calls “a Jihad . . . against every kind of interdepen dence, every kind of artificial social cooperation and mutuality: against technology, against pop culture, and against integrated markets; against modernity itself as well as the future in which modernity issues” (4). My point here is that any argument dis missing the work on the grounds that it is a simplistic screed against Islam, implying some sort of fixed, righteous position from which Miller can take aim at his enemy, must contend with the specific, complex, often contradictory textual elements in play from its very beginning (the cover page and the beginning before the narrative’s beginning, its cover inset and title pages). We have now seen how the specter of Batman (the terrorist superhero) and the contradictions ensuing from the Fixer’s designation complicate the concepts of hero and terrorist from the get go. These complications become even more intriguing when one deigns to consider the publishing credits printed on the left hand side of the second twopage title spread we have been discussing. Suc h consideration is certainly not a conventional reading strategy, as this list of publication information and ownership claims essentially “disappears” (as do, 199

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admittedly, many of the prenarrative pages I have been focusing on) when one engages with a tex t to read the “real” story. However, given the central conceit of the narrative, that it dramatizes a “war” between tribalist Islamic fundamentalists (the back cover calls them “murderous zealots,” the front cover “names” this zealotry by way of the full f ace keffiyeh worn by the knife wielding gentleman whom the Fixer is pummeling) and Western corporate interest (the “peril” of “Empire City” described on the back cover, the appearance of an aggressive, spandex clad superhero punching the aforementioned kef fiyeh wearer on the cover metonymizing the mainstream American comic industry and its two biggest players, DC and Marvel, subsidiaries of Warner Brothers and Disney), such seemingly innocuous ancillary information is in fact anything but. Imagine that one were to consider these credits not simply as the insignificant interior stamp of exterior business concerns but instead as an essential part of the (pre) narrative dramatics of which we have been analyzing, simultaneously remaining aware of the typical dis missal, hence virtual disappearance, of such credits, a disappearance that will literally be enacted when the page is turned and the credits in question are in turn covered over by the first part of the epigraph scrawled on the proceeding twopage spread ( a turn we will return to shortly and that will prove as much a remarking as a cover up). Such consideration would have to account not only for the “mere” appearance of these credits but for their sequential appearance, by which I mean that they must be read in relation to the previous page/panel and not just as a block of text imposed upon the page (and progression of pages) in question. Indeed, however it might work psychologically, this reading in sequence is at the very heart of the comic 200

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book reading ex perience, a point we have already discussed in regard to Scott McCloud’s formulations. Jessica Abel and Matt Madden state this reading rule succinctly in Drawing Words and Writing Pictures : “When confronted with a series of items —oh, let’s just say a bunch of individual comic panels —we instinctively connect them by making logical leaps between each panel. We’ll make Herculean efforts to find the connections, even in the most unpromising of circumstances” (6) . Comic book reading, defined thus, is a sort of c onspiracy investigation wherein connections are discovered in retrospect (a later panel reveals the former’s relation to it, exercising the inbetween of the two as a kind of “missing time” over empty space whereby the reader simultaneously “fills” the gap by leaping over it), an investigation covered over in turn by this “leap” from one page or panel to the next making for a smooth reading experience (and Superman’s heroic leap of “tall buildings in a single bound,” especially in the wake of the Twin Tower s’ collapse, is certainly relevant here, and especially as concerns Holy Terror and the superheroic intervention it imagines as a response to terror). Such leaps can only be made between panels and pages recognized as such, but when and how does such recog nition take place? The appearance of the credits in question reveal that every such conspiratorial leap is always already an ideological one; does one “read” them as part of the (pre) narrative, or read past them, leap over them, as it were, in a jump to t he narrative proper. Imagine the implications of the former strategy; upon turning the page, we have “Frank Miller, LLC” there, in the place where the Fixer was, as if the hero dissolved into this text block or, in peeling the pages, was peeled back to rev eal his corporate backing, the economic undersigning, the corporate signature “behind” the corporeal form “Frank 201

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Miller” and his anti terrorist, freedom fighter alter ego; recognized as trademark holder of the work in question, “Frank Miller, LLC” replaces the replacement identity of Miller (the Fixer) and simultaneously traces out the cultural collateral of his name, its discorporate incorporation (the figure of the Fixer makes way for the name of the corporate author, protecting his business interests by replacing his name proper). This entity claims reproductive rights to the material (“No portion of this publication may be reproduced, by any means, without the express written consent of Frank Miller, Inc.”), thus establishing the violent rights based context of the text itself, the struggle that underwrites its ownership and transmission. No publication without a marking of territory, without a property claim requiring defense, but such defensive gestures always already mark the inherent questionability of all such claims, the problematics of each and every claim to proper ownership. Production credits and the publishing company’s name (“Legendary Comics, LLC " ) run down the page in white text, tracing the silhouette of the Fixer’s profile from the anterior page. On the opposite page, a misty red ink spatter covers a black background, “replacing” the title and credits on the spread previous, trailing out from left to right as if streaming from the credits (blood and bone?); in this sense, “holy terror” and “ Frank Miller” have “exploded” into nothing, along with the Fixer, echoing the splattered bits strewn across the inside cover. Something has been disintegrated, vaporized, in the attribution of credit, and this spread marks the disappearing traces of author (as) protagonist, memorializing the vanishing moment of creation, unfixing the Fixer as the page extends from left to right before it turns. 202

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The latter, and certainly much more common, reading strategy rationalizes the dismissal of the information in question; from such a perspective, this is just a list of publishing credits, necessitated to ensure intellectual property rights and name those responsible for the work’s publication. But this is exactly the point; nothing is “just” as it seems, as the appea rance of Blind Justice, Empire City’s symbol, in the next several pages will make clear (calling into question the very relation of justice and seeming itself). The capitalist ideology that takes such credits for granted, as a “natural” part of a text (and, of course, of the world at large, insofar as that capitalism provides the horizon for being and a foundation for an ethical position accepted, often without question, by large portions of the U.S. population), is exactly what is being attacked by the jihadists and that the text itself repeatedly challenges. What if terror doesn’t just name the fear of terrorist violence or the violent tactic itself but something far more complicated and frightening, something hinted at in Barber’s book, in Rushdie’s memoi r, but lost in his own celebration of democratic sovereignty? The confusing, contradictory relation of red to white, destruction (the spattered blood as mark of violence) to (in)corporation (the white text declaring corporate interest, simultaneously standing in for the author’s “true” name and replacing the Fixer as alter ego) exhibited on the credits page plays out on the following spread, where the white words “If You Meet The Infidel,” stark white against the black background on the left page, gives way to “Kill The Infidel,” in red, on the right. “Mohammed” is credited for the saying, his name also in white, the inverse of Miller’s redlettered name two pages before. No outside infidelity, the text insists; Miller and Mohammed are both linked, via colo r, to the white and red appearances of the word, to the white figure of the Fixer and 203

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the red explosion, to the white credits bathed in blood, the white pearls of a dying mother at the birth of a dark figure of violent justice, the terrorist vigilante upholding a law beyond law in order to protect the order of law that failed him. In a Darwinian struggle, the infidel is always already the other, the competitor; conversely, one is always already an infidel for the other, a threat. The text on each page, whit e and then red and then white again, centered perfectly, anticipates the balanced scales held by the statue of Lady Justice that appears two pages later, towering over Empire City, a balance that is as visually striking as it is structurally precarious. Indeed, so many possibilities converge on this simple spread that the effect is dizzying. Reading left to right, white becomes red and represents, through the evocation of blood implied by the latter color, the instruction—draw blood, kill the infidel. As we have seen, the white text can be linked to the corporate credits, which in turn represent the corporate culture against which the saying in question, attributed to Islam’s founder, may well be leveled. But as the previous pages have suggested, that white text already marks a kind of violence, a discorporation in incorporation, the struggle for survival at the heart of the market, and so the form of the sentence names a violence against violence that implicates all sides. And then Mohammed’s name is itself in white, linking it to the “infidel” at the beginning of the sentence and opening it to be read as a warning against the very call to violence and truth it embodies, a synonym for the Buddhist instruction “If you see the Buddha, kill the Buddha.” Read tog ether (there is no outside of violence/every call to violence is evoked by the infidel), the text implicates everyone and denies any privileged position exonerated from blame. 204

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But one can also “leap” from page to page, bearing witness to the red text repl acing the white, remembering the red of Miller’s name, imagining it being evoked in the red overlay, seeing the white “Mohammed” in relation to the red call to/enactment of violence (“covering over” the white words) and reading it as wishfulfillment; Fran k Miller, enactor of violence, redtext replacer, foreshadows his usurping of Mohammed, his bloody crusade against the prophet in the pages to come, caught up in the very bloodlust he fears of the other, trapped in a time of terror, hopelessly drawn to battle. Blind Justice: When Seeing Isn’t Believing, and Believing Isn’t Enough The narrative “proper” begins on the next page, white streaks across a black background, again reminiscent of Martha Wayne’s broken necklace (and the terrifying moment of her deat h that accompanied its breaking). Once more, white “merges” with red, even in its absence, as the white drops also recall the blood red spatter on the title page and the blood of Batman’s fallen mother. The fact that the smeared droplets also evoke sperm, reproductive spatter, anticipating the “holy terror” of the narrative to come as the book starts, is also significantly overdetermined; dried sperm, a stopped start, set against the background of a book on terror, evocative of the birth, in death, of the B atman, the terrorist superhero, whose origin in many ways birthed Miller’s career and his subsequent incorporation, as “ Frank Miller, LLC, ” the rights holder named in the white credits linked to the white word, infidel, the one who must be killed if seen, the author of the book about the killing of the author of the command to kill (Mohammed), himself an infidel (a white word) threatened by the redblooded author (Miller) whose red tinted name foreshadows the retaliatory violence necessitated by the “holy t error” of the 9/11 attacks. Birth and death, then, are streaked across this black page, birth in death, scratched and streaming across the void. 205

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The following page can be read as a kind of long shot, our perspective having “pulled back” from the previous f ullpanel page of streaks, revealing the white silhouette of a cityscape to the right and the towering figure of Blind Justice, a blindfolded, stoic female form, scales held aloft by her upraised right arm. She cradles a book in her left arm, her flowing r obes like deep ridges dripping down the page. The streaks and spots from the page previous are given context; it is raining in the city at night. The appearance of Blind Justice invites numerous readings. For one, given the context of the project, she no d oubt stands in for the Statue of Liberty, as “Empire City” itself stands in for New York City; on the following page, a low angle closeup of the statue’s face is a almost a dead ringer for that of the sculpture in New York Harbor (though the crown is not the same) . Interestingly, Martin McQuillan argues that Lady Liberty herself had been figuratively replaced by the Twin Towers as the symbol of Western power at the time of 9/11: The Twin Towers operated as a figurative shorthand for the technomilitary capi talism that emerges from the West, both a contemporary substitute for the once welcoming embrace of that other emblem of New York City and idea of post war, Western global responsibility, the Statue of Liberty. In the 1980s and the 1990s the World Trade Ce nt re had been a symbol that said “ bring me your tired and humble capital ” ; the twin towers were the Romulus and Remus of a newly emerging Empire of capital, the double columns inscribed in the pictogram “ 9/11. ” ( Deconstruction after 9/11 4) This connection between the statue and the towers is made explicit by Miller, for Blind Justice is the site of a terror attack by terrorist planes late in the book and collapses into the harbor. But as McQuillan suggests, the association between the towers and the statue is not one of simple metonymy; the towers replaced the sculpture because the figure of liberty was no longer the appropriate symbol of the United States and i ts “emerging Empire of capital”; in other words, the replacement itself signifies the 206

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new Empire, the substitution of capital for liberty. The Statue of Liberty thus disappears in its evocation, or, perhaps better, appears in its disappearance as a trace of a lost past. Miller then replaces McQuillan’s displacing towers with another statue, the covered eyes of which become the primary focus of the closeup image that verifies its connection to Lady Liberty. In this sense, the image of justice, as an unseeing (blindfolded) figure seen by the audience, stands in for the twin towers that replaced the sign of liberty which once symbolized the openness of the United States to the immigrating other. That the replacing symbol (the World Trade Center) was itself attacked and destroyed by the terrorizing other, that such an attack would provoke a measured closing down (in the form of enhanced technomilitary security, an ever increasing atmosphere of suspicion, etc.) already predicated by the replacement of the Statue of Liberty itself, and that Miller would choose a blindfolded figure of justice to stand in for t he stand in (the twin towers, symbol of Empire) as it stands over “Empire City” — this vertiginous chain of signifiers threatens to overwhelm the reader in its relentless displacement and deferral, pointing to the kind of structural terror, in the sense of a trembling instability at the heart of every system of meaning, that my project seeks to investigate. Indeed, it is hard to see all the connections, disconnections, replacements, and displacements of this fictional statue and thus is perhaps impossible to do justice to its inherent interpretive possibilities. On perhaps the most basic connotative level, the blind statue (and this blindfold has been a pretty common element in the depiction of Lady Justice since the end of the 15th century ) may imply that justice is just insofar as it does not “see” the empirical world or judge on appearance, instead “balancing the scales” by a nonempirical (i.e. 207

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transcendental) standard embraced by the city, and hence the society, over which it stands “watch.” This reading implies that the city under siege, insofar as it is a place signified by this blindfolded figure of justice, is a city worth saving, that its system of law is undersigned by an absolute form of justice represented by said figure, and that the Fixer’s revenge, taken up on behalf of the city in general and the statue in particular attacked in the forthcoming narrative, is thus righteous. This reading breaks down, however, when one considers Miller’s depiction of the city and its inner workings; the city’s police commissioner is “rotten , ” and the Fixer orders his assassination; images of abandoned manufacturing plants and dilapidated structures litter the landscape (the Fixer takes a secret meeting in “a rusty old factory,” further pointing to the erosion of t he manufacturing sector and the aura of decay established by the messy, black silhouettes of the cityscape depicted throughout); the only “good” cop in the city, Dan Donegal (a standin for Batman’s James Gordon) , is the “inside man” for the Fixer, a blood thirsty vigilante who himself works with the Jewish outlaw, David, the “most dangerous man alive” who operates on US soil without sanction and carries out hits on American citizens; and the city is literally called “Empire City,” as if to underscore the cr itical validity of an anti American perspective. The accretion of these facts undermine any absolute claims to justice in regards to the city over which Blind Justice stands. The perplexing appearance of a flashback scene twenty eight pages after Blind Justice’s close up further complicates the relation of justice to Empire City and, indeed, the distinction between terrorism and its victims. In order to discuss it, though, we must take account of the narrative text box overlays that supplement the images throughout 208

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the book. Though speech balloons appear when characters talk to one another, Miller has chosen to convey both omniscient narrative comments and character thoughts by housing them in identical text boxes that sometimes appear in the panels. The gen eral narrative voice will appear intermittently, set up a scene, announce a character, and then, after a colon, the boxes will apparently convey said characters’ “inner” voices. These inner narratives are reserved throughout for the Fixer and Natalie Stack , his sidekick and love interest (and Miller’s Catwoman pastiche), with one exception; the flashback scene I have just mentioned. At about a quarter of the way into the story, on a page across the top of which appears the announcement “ten minutes ago” (the book’s second start, if we consider the title sequence the first) and thus apparently what is the “real time” start of the text, revealing the beginning to be a false start twice over (it comes after the title sequence and this later scene), the narrator introduces Amina, “An exchange student. Humanities major. Taking it in:”. The page itself is laid out almost identically to the whitestreaked “first” page of the story, save for the appearance of a dark haired young woman’s face in the lower right handcorner. Her lips are a deep florescent pink, a further start; indeed, the narrative at this point is disrupted three times over by the time displacement, the sudden appearance of a new character, and this flash of bright color, which is unlike any shade her etofore introduced in the art. Like Blind Justice, she is facing us in the rain; the adjacent page reveals that she is also poised over the city on some sort of gargoylelike statue, cloaked in a pink parka and, like the city’s statueguardian, she thus watches over its citizens. A crane and some sort of industrial structure rise up to the right as Amina’s voiceover text boxes pick up the narration: “Empire City, USA. It’s cold, this city is. Cold and wet and so very proud of 209

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itself. Empire City. Cold. Wet. Haughty. Arrogant. Always building itself up bigger, taller, like some mad gaggle of robots. Always climbing. Its towers stab into the sky like sharpened sticks aimed at the eyes of God. Empire City. America.” On one hand, Amina clearly is meant to repres ent Miller’s Islamic straw man protagonist and thus provide context for the attack on justice, on Blind Justice, that will precipitate the Fixer’s crusade. She is a conservative nightmare: Arabic, female, boldly anti American, she is the other who has been inculcated into the culture in the name of a seemingly peaceful liberal arts based “exchange” program in order to attack from within. Indeed, the very appearance of her “voice” here reveals the extent of her penetration and lends an interesting dual meani ng to the omniscient narrator’s last set up line before her words —“ taking it in.” As an other, an “it” with a voice, the story, and hence the reader, will “take in” her words as it will those of the major protagonists and thus is endangered from “within,” as such a strategy carries with it the risk that her voiceover will be read as that of a protagonist’s, that her thoughts will carry equal dramatic heft and perspectival truth. And her words on this page are not outlandish; she remarks on the weather and t he cityscape, and these points are supported by the setting as it has been presented (we have seen the rain and the towering buildings, and we know that the city has been named “Empire City,” thus backing up her claim that the city is “so very proud of its elf”). In addition, her description of the towers, as “stab[bing] into the sky like sharpened sticks, aimed at the eyes of God,” immediately recalls the blindfolded statue from the book’s beginning. In an article on the figure of Lady Justice and its relat ion to the American judicial system, Randy Kennedy discusses the problems associated with depicting the female goddess with a blindfold: 210

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“Sight was the desired state,” Professors Resnik and Curtis write [in their 2012 book Representing Justice], “connected to insight, light and the rays of God’s sun.” Even in modern times the blindfold continues to fit uneasily in Lady Justice’s wardrobe, used as a handy prop by political cartoonists and a symbol of dysfunction by others. “That Justice is a blind goddess / Is a thing to which we black are wise,” Langston Hughes wrote in 1923. “Her bandage hides two festering sores / That once perhaps were eyes.” Like Hughes, then, Amina links blindness to injustice, to Empire City’s arrogance, and given what we have seen of the city, what we know about its name, its abandoned towers, its dismal weather, and its blind guardian, we have little reason to doubt her. In fact, the entirety of her inner monologue presented here could easily have been overlaid upon the opening page w hich it so obviously parallels, could have been presented as the general reflections of the omniscient narrator. It should come as no surprise, then, that several pages later, after Amina has entered a nightclub, seduced a young man, and detonated the dirt y bomb under her coat, the text boxes on the full page depicting the destruction she has wrought (black smudges and the silhouettes of nails against a white background) are easily confused with her own voice (“Empire City Screams. In Agony. In Terror.”). I n fact, one could make the case that Amina narrates almost the entire story —though it appears sequentially out of order, hers is temporally the first inner voice to be heard; as we have seen, her observations “sync” with the images, and her terse, staccato syntax is almost identical to the voiceover styles attributed to the Fixer and Natalie Stack. Though it is perhaps a stretch, such potential confusion is important to recognize, for the terror the city experiences, the terror named in the book’s title and claimed by its author, runs deep, structurally deep, and the very fact that an Islamic terrorist could be the book’s narrator points to the fundamentally violent perspective th at all of the central character s share and to the inescapably violent world the y all inhabit. Moreover, as voices merge in text boxes upon panel boxes/pages that 211

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depict outward explosions “set off” by the initial detonation on the text’s inside cover (the book must be opened to be read, after all), as one sequence displaces another i n time through flashbacks, as false starts are stopped and the reader is startled by splashes of color that link characters to settings, names to acts of violence, and one section to another, “leaping over” chunks of the narrative in order to draw elements together and suggest unholy alliances and unsettling implications, one realizes that nothing is sacred here: all boundaries are threatened, every distinction is potentially undermined, and no position is safe. Almost all of the aforementioned color associ ations are related to Holy Terror ’s female characters. Amina’s pink lipstick, shoes, and parka are the same shade as the strange pink water that lies underneath the Empire City in the ancient city below where the terrorists make their base; the bottom of N atalie Stack’s shoes is the same orange shade as the weaponized gas that emanates from the WMD located in this same place, the bomb that the terrorists plan to release upon Empire City but that Fixer and Stack set off in the ancient city instead. Finally, Stack’s green eyes are linked to the Irish mercenary and explosives expert working for al Qaeda, who says about his motivations: “My only love is for the long green” (a prominent closeup of her eye immediately follows this statement). These associations o f the female characters with the terrorists’ base, weapons, and motivations must be read in relation to the violence against the female figure of Blind Justice and the scattered images of Islamic women being brutalized throughout the story (bricks being thrown at a buried woman’s head in an unnamed Muslim country, a mustachioed male stripping and brutalizing his burqaladen wife with a stick) that are obviously meant to define the enemy’s egregious misogynist behavior; 212

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in other words, the text suggests that women are associated with the enemy (implicated in terror) and its primary victim (the protection of whom maintains the identity of the heroic position set against terrorist other).The fact that the Fixer’s Israeli vigilante partner David dislikes Stack b ecause he fears the Fixer is falling for her, that the Fixer is terrified of his feelings for her (“I hope I’m not in love with her. I’ve never fallen in love. I never want to fall in love. I must never fall in love. Never.”) , and that Amina’s seduction of the American student at a nightclub before she sets off her bomb (“There’s something under your coat -what is it?” he asks, and she replies, “Paradise,” before detonating) is laden with sexual undertones, thus connecting her sexuality to the bomb she conceals, further emphasizes the text’s confusion about gender difference and its relation to the terrorizing other. Like Rushdie, who sets himself against the misogyny of his Islamic enemy but reveals his own misogynist tendencies throughout Joseph Anton, M iller wants to defend the female while simultaneously protecting against her power. Both prominent female characters in the book are over sexualized ( Amina has luscious, fat lips, wears a form fitting parka, and is a seductress; Natalie Stack wears S & M g arb and is almost always portrayed in hyper sexualized pinup poses emphasizing her breasts and posterior), inflict violence on males throughout, and represent internal threats (Amina is an exchange student who infiltrates the country, Stack infiltrates th e terrorist cell in a burqa and infiltrates the Fixer’s heart, threatening his capacity for war mongering). Gender difference, like all other markers of difference in the book, undermines the identity of the heroic posturing that seemingly takes a firm stand against terror; the female is both inside and outside the heroic position, is both ally and enemy, helpless victim and aggressive attacker. The startling flashes of color that signal the 213

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woman’s appearance also signify the terror beyond such external ly relegated terror, the structural terror that displaces all positioning, the terror at the very heart of life. Of Masks and Men: When the Face Falls Away The problem of difference and the impossibility of absolute distinctions that we have been tracking is of paramount importance to the text. Indeed, in order to understand justice’s figuration as Blind Justice, blind watcher of a city plagued by corruption and violence, one must take into account the significance of the breakdown of the first order connotati ve meaning we have just traced out, the way in which the symbol of the city fails to adequately symbolize the meaning of justice. In other words, the logic of Holy Terror ’s storytelling devices, its images, text, sequential structure, and internal associat ions, consistently serve to undermine the conceptual integrity of the heroic posturing it seeks to narrativize and ultimately present the reader with the terrible possibility that justice itself cannot be figured in a nonviolent, purely rational way1 4. Fo r example, almost exactly halfway through the story, a two page sequence depicts the Fixer and Stack swinging across empty space, their faces smudged and misshapen under their masks (they have been brawling and have survived an explosives attack). Swirls a nd streaks of black ink litter the pages. The first page (the leftmost) features the Fixer swinging from a line stretching off the top of the page and clutching another line in his right that extends off the lower right hand margin, with Stack under him in mid leap, her hands gripping the edge of a black rectangle, probably the top of a building. This “building box” appears underneath six narrative text boxes, two of which “set up” the others as “belonging” to the Fixer, who is thinking about the situation in which the protagonists find themselves after dirty bombs have gone off across the city: 214

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The Fixer. Out for blood: They know where to hit us. They know exactly where to hit us. All my life there’s been something wrong. Something missing. A sense that everything I’m seeing around me isn’t entirely true. That this seemingly ordered world of laws and logic and reason is nothing but a shroud. A chimera. A mask. The inner monologue sets up a series of oppositions: us and them, sense and sight, truth and masks (shrouds, chimeras). The masked hero, then, who hides the truth of his identity, acts out against the law, and fornicates on rooftops with cat burglars, recognizes himself as a member of a community (“us”) that is defined in opposition to all of these trai ts (citizens obey the law, don’t wear masks, are victimized by criminals, etc.) . Moreover, he establishes his own appearance (he wears a mask) in opposition to a truth (the mask is the world of appearances, the shrouded surface that lies) he has intuited and presumably understands; as a masked vigilante, he embodies the symbol for the world of lies (the “mask”) that he presumably fights against (the corrupted law of the city, the complacent or complicit bureaucracy that has allowed terrorists to infiltrate the city, the peaceful exterior world that houses inner turmoil and violence). In other words, as a masked vigilante, he both stands outside the law of appearance (he is a criminal and, as a Batman pastiche, a terrorist) that constitutes the “mask” of ever yday life (which, as citizens, everyone else more or less participates in) and yet counts himself among those who fight against the enemies of the law, the terrorists, who, as Amina’s appearance as a petit e female exchange student, have infiltrated the com munity (they are among us, are always already wearing masks). All faces, then, are potential masks, a fact made explicit when on the right side of the page the Fixer tells Stack (in a dialogue balloon) , “I’ve got a captain on the force.” In other words, a non masked cop is in fact in a vigilante in disguise. Stack incredulously replies, “You’re shitting me,” meaning “you’re lying” but also stating the obvious fact that the law is a lie, 215

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that the Fixer and his accomplice have been “shitting” everyone. Shit, as an excremental waste product that emerges from the inside, this becomes linked to the mask and the problem of the face, for the inside of the mask (the face) is in fact always already another outside (the “shit” of the lie, the inside made outside, the worthless detritus of an internal process always already hidden away, the trace of a nutritive moment that mattered but has disappeared). That the page is covered in sloppy blotches of ink, that the line work on the page is shaky, that the composition is q uestionable (the figures are squeezed into the corner), that there is no background image (the page is mostly dead white space), that the “building box” at the bottom of the page is nothing more than an outline, that the prose is so stilted, the dialogue s o trite (typical hardboiled detective clich, which Miller has done over and over in his Sin City books), that, in short, Miller did a “shitty” job here, that Stack’s comment could be what the reader is thinking about Frank Miller’s Holy Terror at this ex act moment, compounds the problem; the image, what we see, is a lie, a sham, a shroud. The words in the text box rectangles (which, as filled rectangles, are more detailed than the rectangle representing the building at the page bottom) seemingly reveal the Fixer’s inner truth, but as words on a page in a graphic novel, superimposed on the image (no ink blotches invade their space, as if they were impervious to the shitty atmosphere of Empire City upon which they “hover”), as words conveyed to us in the sam e way and with nearly the same syntax as those of the terrorist Amina (conveying the inner truth of the “they” against which these words are opposed) presented just pages before, and, ultimately, as part of the surface image on which they exist, they, like the “inner face” of the mask, 216

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are ultimately no trustworthy arbiter of truth; their veracity is undecidable given the logic of the page itself. The adjacent page reiterates all of this boundary confusion. Stack and the Fixer have reversed positions, with Stack at the upper right and Fixer beneath her; she is now clinging to his cape like she was the rectangle on the other page, visually linking his outline to that of the box, the boundary, the outside, the membrane, the mask, the outer surface, the shit of the world. Not only have they reversed positions, but they are now filling the left hand side of the page (where on the page previous they were on the right), and the curl of the line above their heads (the lower rope shown on the previous) indicates they are “beneath” their previous position; left is right, then, and down is up, if one “reads” the two pages together. Space is folded, relativized, shakenup, terrorized. The figures cling to what looks like a balcony protruding from a building on the right, the lower part of the vertical bars of which have been blotted out by what looks like whiteout so that the background white breaks into their structure; outside becomes inside as hard lines “disappear.” “Inside” the black outline of the right hand buildi ng, “outside” the action but “inside” the Fixer’s head, the monologue on masks continues: “But every once in a long while, the mask falls away. Every once in a long while, the whole world makes perfect sense. The world reveals itself. I am at peace. And at war.” The surface, the mask, is presented as “falling away,” just as we see the Fixer and Stack (the “masks,” as superheroes are often called) falling, grasping at a grating that is giving way, a structurally unsound surface permeated by the outside (and, as supplementary outside, the graftedon balcony of a building, we actually have an outside of an outside permeated by the even more outer outside, the white, that 217

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becomes an inside). In fact, the black building itself, “inside” the balcony, is also perme ated by white splotches. The Fixer’s and Stack’s black masks, perhaps catching the light, are themselves mostly white, their outlines visible as thin tracings; the “inside” of their masks, then, in fact conveying the outside play of light and signifying surface detail. Taken in conjunction with the Fixer’s earlier claim that “the seemingly ordered world of laws and logic” are in fact a mask, a lie, his assertion here that, when the mask “falls away . . . the world makes perfect sense,” in fact makes no sens e, as the rules of logic that constitute such “sense” have seemingly been discarded in the moment of “falling away” depicted here, when the literal masks are rushing to action in the midst of a crisis in which down is up, left is right, and inside and outs ide (and hence all notions of “us” and “them” have been called into question). The Fixer here also reveals the identity of his police mole, saying “Captain Donegal. Dan Donegal.” as if this repetition with a difference (“Dan” replaces “Captain” in the lower part of the word balloon) can somehow speak the truth of the man, as if the mask of the “captain” could “fall away” by falling to the lower part of the speech balloon (but, as we have seen in this page’s juxtaposition to the previous one, down is up). St ack reiterates her previous equivocation (“You are definitely shitting me”), and fascinatingly Miller has drawn the tail of her dialogue balloon underneath that of the Fixer; this spatial “underneath” isn’t readable as such, given that the words aren’t “in” the picture dramatically speaking, but only by outlining both speech acts and overlapping their tails is the sense of who is speaking (which falling mask says what) made available to the reader. In other words, the text is readable because of the boxes and their overlapping logic, but that visibility is meant to be invisible and testifies to the play of surface details that allow for interior expression (the characters’ voices) to 218

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be experienced; the balloon outlines are in this sense the shit of the page, the detritus of the speech acts that simultaneously make those acts conveyable. Indeed, save for the thin outlines at the top and bottom of the Fixer’s speech bubble, the extended tail of Stack’s bubble could be emanating from his, as well. And in fact, given that his revelation is exactly what is “definitely shitting” her (the lie that is Dan Donegal, police captain) the two characters are, essentially, translating each other, complicating inside and outside yet again. Thus, the supposedly revelatory fal l of the mask conveyed by the inner monologue is accompanied by a visual fall from grace where all sense of direction and identity is compromised. If the Fixer is “at peace” when he is “at war,” insofar as the latter concept identifies the conflict of diff erence that always already plays itself out in every moment of identification and its subsequent displacement, then these pages exemplify the idea that there is no peace without war and thus no peace, only war. Those Neighborly Bastards Don’t Die Easy: Box ing the Dead The necessity of conflict, of marking and defending territory, of mapping space and delimiting boundaries —the structural terror inherent to life and to thinking in general and thus the condition necessary for any act of justice, insofar as it seeks reciprocity between distinct parties, to have meaning —is perhaps most profoundly expressed several pages before the balcony scene we have just examined. Soon after Amina enters the nightclub and blows herself up, bombs go off all over Empire City. The Fixer and Natalie Stack, fornicating on top of a building, are caught in one of the blasts, and we are witness to several pages of overt destruction as the two heroes are caught up in a hail of razor blades, nails, and other assorted debris. Buildings co llapse, smoke and detritus fill the air (smudges, fingerprints1 5, and ink blots litter the pages in question), and finally Stack and the Fixer are shown in silhouette, their shapes little more than 219

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shadows at the lower right of the page as a tower collapses in the background, clouds of white erupting against the deep black of their huddled figures. The relation of black to white here is paramount in regard to the logic of the page in general when one considers the words that accompany this image of destruct ion and collapse and the terror it means to evoke. Two narrative text boxes, stacked up on the far right of the page, continue Stack’s monologue from the previous pages, a stack of Stack, the practice of her preaching, words standing on top of each other as the buildings in the background collapse and thus visually representing her resilience but also establishing the danger of her position, as her interior mental state, drawn up like a tower of words, could be demolished like the geometrical structures re presenting the city’s skyline. No interior life without boxes and boundaries, always already under threat by virtue of a relation to the outside upon which they are drawn and against which they come into relief; after all, her words, in black and themselves stacked up in order to fit in the text boxes, remain visible only in relation to the white they are set against, a white used to convey the outside destruction but which permeates the text boxes even as their outlines give shape to a seemingly “subjectiv e” interior spacing. In this sense, the breathing problems Stack has narrated over the pages prior in similar such boxes (“Fixer sucks in a load of something ghastly. H e pukes it back out. Me, I can barely get any air in . . . And suddenly I can’t breathe at all.”), the threat of taking in the suffocating outside linked to a taking in (breathing) that is required for life, is visually represented by the structure of the text boxes themselves as outlines on a background demarking and containing the white bac kdrop they require (to be seen as such) and resist (in order to be perceived as 220

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housing an interior, as being other than the images against which they are set and therefore “read” as text as opposed to experienced as image). In other words, for the words t o “disappear” on the page (as interior voicing, narrating the scene but not literally appearing on it as part of the backdrop against which the Fixer and Stack stand out as they struggle to stand and understand the images of terror that surround them), they must simultaneously appear in their difference as black words on a white page of images, standing out as towering boxes on a page littered with the explosion of similar structures. The commingling of black and white, box and background, exposes the jeopardy inherent to every outline and suggests that the play of opposites must be read as an interminable fading wherein, for example, white becomes readable as the site of black’s disappearance, the ghostly “black” of outlines that have disappeared, the detri tus of exploded identities, the trace of what was and could have been but also the possibility of what could be and, of course, all of those countless things that never were and will never come. The white contaminants in the air, equivalent to the white paper upon which the layout of the page, and the figures and text therein, becomes visible as bordered panel, the site of a sequential instant in the narrative, in this sense are the carcinogenic (yet lifegiving) traces of borders erased, so when Stack says “Me and the Fixer, we don’t know what we cough up or who,” she is testifying not only to the traumatic moment in which she struggles to breathe but to the basic structure of existence itself, to the interplay of life and death, presence and absence, that constitutes every moment of appearance. In other words, every constituted interior necessarily takes in what it is measured against, is contaminated by its outside, and that 221

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outside itself bears the traces of countless other possible insides, borderlines or limits faded to white, destroyed, or never realized. Within these stacked boxes of Stack’s thoughts, we “hear” her ruminate on the terror of the loss to which she attempts to bear witness: “The bastards. How many of my neighbors have they murdered?” Her statement can be read in multiple ways which have bearing on the poignant pages that follow. For one, Stack emphasizes the “us vs. them” dynamic of a society at war; outraged and horrified, she names the enemy as “bastards” to reject their legitimacy (they are illegitimate children, a powerful rebuke if they consider themselves the righteous progeny of a holy father) and sets this illegitimate outside against the “neighbors” among whom she counts herself (“my neighbors”). Of course, as we have seen, her status as a “mask,” as well as her criminal existence (she’s a thief) already problematizes this familiar relation, as she stands apart from those she now claims as her own (she is a vigilante and a lawbreaker, not a law abiding, everyday citizen). However, i f the unmasked face of the law itself, embodied by the Fixer’s inside man Dan Donegal, gives the lie to the legitimacy of the very countenance by which legitimacy and hence all neighborly relations can be established, Stack’s words express a more complicat ed dynamic. Indeed, if the difference between mask and face collapses, she again joins her fellow citizens as a neighborly bastard, a group conjoined by a shared illegitimacy and hence bastards all. She could thus be announcing a despairing equivalency, saying that “the bastards” of her first sentences are the neighbors in the second (“The bastards, my neighbors; how many have been murdered?”) 222

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The page that follows graphically explores the implications of this equivalence as the neighbors/bastards in questi on, differentiated by caricatured physical features and stereotypical fashion accessories so as to establish their multicultural identities and so also to divide them from the outset in their communal grouping, are drawn up in stacked panels, first in five rows of four on the left side of the page, then six rows of five on the right, the black ink of the figures inside their rectangular panels fading incrementally until the panel in the far right corner appears almost empty, the spectral gray outline of a g rimacing face barely visible within its borders. In this way the violence implicit in drawing up boundaries, a violence fundamental to the thinking of identity itself, is made explicit. Consider, for example, that the portraits are set against one another in separate rectangles, staking out territory across the page. In neighboring, then, they at once exist together (a group of faces on the page) and stand apart, each disappearing in turn as the page plays out as sequential art and the propulsion of the nar rative necessitates their obliteration. Indeed, when “read” they pile up, one “covering over” another as the reader’s eyes scan from the upper left corner to the end of each row and over again. The page dramatizes the dilemma of reading itself and the viol ence inherent to recognizing the other, as opening oneself to one other necessitates turning away from another other and all those other others in turn. The next two pages further stress the point as more rows of rectangles are stacked atop one another. Here only the upper left panel houses a face, almost invisible within its black borders. The remaining boxes are empty, the left hand stacks organized in six five panel rows, the right in an eight by six configuration. The next page is also 223

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divided in half, the left hand stacks repeating the eight by six setup, the right broken into smaller increments, this time sixteen ten panel rows. The outlines of neighbors framed by boxes fade if read sequentially panel to panel or explode if read page to page as stacked columns of boxes being “blown to bits” as they are supplanted sequentially by smaller boxes, as if breaking apart, crumbling to nothing, frames that could have housed portraits, placeholders for visages that fail to appear, boxes like coffins housing the traces of (im)possible nonappearances and so providing a space for mourning, a stack of placeholders, sharpangled zeroes making something of nothing. This mourning is multiplied when one also “sees” the spectral boxes that “appear” at the intersections b etween the boxes themselves, optical illusions of other boxes flickering up in the reader’s peripheral vision, the ghosts of boxes not to be, other possibilities of other visages, other neighbors, the bastard children of the drawn boxes, illegitimate image s, traces of traces appearing only in the gutters between the (“tangible”) rows of empty boxes memorializing other lost lives. The Fix Is In: Why Justice is Blind (and the Fixer is Blinder) From this point on, the book chronicles the Fixer’s and Stack’s quest for revenge against the terrorists responsible for the bombing. The two torture an Islamic fundamentalist (the Fixer mockingly calls him Moe, short for Mohammed, breaks his back, then blows him up), participate in hightech espionage using an illegal s pace satellite, engage in brutal gunplay against terrorist cells, arrange the corrupt police commissioner’s assassination (with the help of David, the aforementioned Israeli vigilante), infiltrate an inner city mosque (“as close to an inner city sovereign nation as you’ll hope to find, this side of Rome”), and finally set off the chemical weapons laden WMD (which the terrorists had planned to detonate in the city) inside the enemy’s lair. 224

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This last scene plays out in an oddly reserved way, at least in terms of the visuals Miller provides; the page in question features six rectangular panels arranged in a row above one long rectangular panel that takes up most of the lower half of the page. The first five of the upper panels depict Stack, more or less facing us full front, as she witnesses the gruesome death of the last of the enemy and narrates what she sees in graphic detail; her mouth opens slightly, her head turns just a bit, but otherwise her visage remains consistent across the panels, all of which are c olored orangered to indicate the fumes of the corrosive gas that have filled the air but from which the Fixer and Stack are protected due to transparent breathing masks (this is the same color associated with Stack’s boot bottoms, as has been previously discussed). “He drops his gun. Just like that,” she explains in the first panel. The rest of her inner monologue plays out across the next five: His knees hit the floor. They drag the rest of him down with him. The sound is soggy, all wrong ... He vomits bl ood. A whole lot of blood. It takes awhile for it to stop. He gurgles out what should be a scream. He starts scratching himself all over, like he’s covered with beetles. He doesn’t stop gurgling. He rips his clothes. His nose and ears and eyes start bleedi ng. He keeps scratching. He pulls his hair out in clumps. He claws at his face. He wrenches his right eye from its socket. He digs into his doughy flesh. His skin comes off in sheets. His stomach splits open. His guts spill out. His left eye goes dead. His right eye dangles on his cheek, staring at nothing. He goes limp. It is hard not to read this as Miller’s morbid fantasy of retribution for 9/11. However, the way the scene is constructed gives one pause. Indeed, due to the layout of the page, the man’s disintegration, his literal turning inside out, occurs inside Stack’s “interior” thoughts, commingling in the upper space of the panels as we watch her witness his death, looking at us, the readers, as if we were at once victims and victimizers, terrorstri cken terrorists, the bastard neighbors the text earlier evoked and 225

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sought to mourn, seeing her with the very unseeing eyes we are “witness” to being made blind by not seeing, in terms of actual images, but reading, and hence by not being witness to. We are thus metaphorically blindfolded in this moment of potential justice and so can only experience it obliquely in a position from which we are simultaneously implicated (insofar as we enjoy it with Stack as we keep reading) and injured by its coming to pass (put in the place of the afflicted party, we potentially suffer its fury). The sixth panel shows Stack’s profile in silhouette, turning away from us even as she addresses us; “this is what they planned for us,” the text box at the panel’s upper left reads. We are thus both shunned and embraced, counted as part of the community (hailed as “us” in our privileged access to her thoughts) and shut out (she turns away, leaving us out here with “them” in the toxic air). Meanwhile, black blotches of ink, perhaps indicative of noxious smoke, spread between the panels, ignoring the rectangular boundaries and violating each frame, collapsing the difference between page and paneling, gutter and image proper. Once again, spaces are carved up and violated, positions are t aken up and surrendered, insides are turned outside or outsides are taken in, limits are permeated. In the oblong bottom panel, depicting the jet black figures of the two heroes against an orangered background riddled with black smudges, Stack thinks “The Fixer’s wounds finally catch up to him. He’s losing blood by the bucket. His wounds -I pray they don’t expose him to the poison,” further emphasizing the threat of contamination; moreover, she again interiorizes another’s externalized interior (his flow ing blood is in her mind), intermingling his insides with that of the already memorialized melting terrorist who has been linked to the reader, the neighbor bastard, all of which has been externalized in the confession on the page in 226

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blocks of text that fl icker and fade, disappearing in the reading eye of the witness who sees them (and thus forgets them as graphics on the page). “Come on, big man. Let’s get you up to where the air is clear -thanks to you,” she insists to herself, a statement the irony of which is immediately highlighted when, on the next page under the heading “six weeks later,” a white background, presumably the open air, is riddled with black smudgeclouds and the black outlines of flying nails; the air, the book reminds us, is never cle ar, and every marked space testifies to violence. No breath without death, no life without suffering and loss. And no justice without terror, as every balancing of the scales plays out on a field of violent demarcations and staked claims upon which recipro city itself is made possible. In other words, justice, insofar as it lays claim to “fairness,” only occurs in relation to a host of permeable relations between entities that are always already in flux, whose foundations tremble in their relatability, whose borders are under siege by the very structural effects of the framing that lends them identity. And so every tangible moment of justice, itself identifiable as a judgment in its coming to presence, its emanation from a judge in a system of law (including that of a vigilante justice beyond the law, one adhering to an overtly violent rule of retribution) is drawn up against other systems and judges whose authority will go unrecognized and exposes itself to the very same structural tremors fundamental to the site of its authority. In rendering judgment it remains blind to the violence imminent to every such rendering and so cannot attest to the injustice of the violence in which it is implicated, a violence to which only the justice of justice, an impossible j ustice always beyond every particular moment of justice, can attest. As Derrida explains, There is apparently no moment in which a decision can be called presently and fully just: either it has not yet been made according to a rule, and 227

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nothing allows us t o call it just, or it has already followed a rule—whether received, confirmed, conserved or reinvented —which in its turn is not absolutely guaranteed by anything; and, moreover, if it were guaranteed, the decision would be reduced to calculation and we wouldn’t call it just. (“Force of Law” 24) Thus, as Rushdie’s text helps us think the terror inherent to Derridean hospitality as it relates to the terrifying shape(lessness) of the unconditional guest that threatens all concepts of hearth and home and so dis rupts any and every security measure, Miller’s does the same for Derridean justice and the relation of the undecidable future to every decision made in the here and now. As Martin Hgglund explains, “the coming of the future is strictly speaking ‘undecidable,’ since it is a relentless displacement that unsettles any definitive assurance or given meaning. One can never know what will have happened . Promises may always be turned into threats, friendships into enmities, fidelities into betrayals, and so on” (40). However, it is precisely this frightening, insofar as always potentially threatening and disruptive, future that allows for decisionmaking to occur at all, for “it is because the future cannot be decided in advance that one has to make decisions” (Hg glund 40). Thus, when in “Force of Law” Derrida maintains that “the moment of decision as such , what must be just, must always remain a finite moment of urgency and precipitation,” he is arguing that every moment of judgment is necessarily blind, that deci sions can only be made in the dark, so to speak, and so are precipitated by a certain anxiety (255). Indeed, it is precisely this anxiety that attests to the terror of life but also the hope for a better future to come, one that will remain open itself to other, better futures, all of which will offer opportunity for riches or ruin. From this perspective, the attack on Blind Justice, metonymical of all the terror attacks on Empire City and those on its “real world” counterpart, New York City, in September o f 2001, can be read 228

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as an attack on the (admittedly fallible and often grossly unfair) system of justice at work in the democratic West, one at least still partially open to a future that has not been determined in advance. That such attacks have resulted in a closing of borders, an increasingly limited notion of hospitality, wars of aggression predicated on retribution, xenophobia, invasive security protocols, and justifications of unwarranted imprisonment and torture, all of which can be attributed to the Fixer and his crusade against the Islamic other as well as to the U.S. in the wake of 9/11, implies that the response to the attacks in question are in fact the source of tragedy documented in Miller’s text. The fall of the Blind Justice statue sets the F ixer’s vengeful quest in motion; the Fixer’s subsequent violence is blind in its certainty and so sets upon the fundamentalist enemy with a ruthless fundamentalism. Thus, where Blind Justice testifies to the blindness of all judgments by wearing a blindfol d, the Fixer’s blindness requires fidelity to an awful truth; the cowl that covers his face appropriately has eyeholes, for he thinks he sees the whole truth, the absolute truth, and so is free to lash out at t he other, even when, as we have seen, the logi c of the mask disrupts the very relation of “us” and “them” upon which his crusade, and that of those who seek justice in mounting retributive violence undersigned by a certainty that precludes mourning, is founded. Atheism and Nihilism, or Why Dan Donegal Doesn’t Sleep Frank Miller’s Holy Terror ends in despair; Dan Donegal, the ultimate neighbor bastard, a vigilante cop whose citizenface is a mask covering over his ties to the Fixer, is shown lying in bed from a topdown perspective, his wideeyed stare emanating from a bed of hard black lines mapping out folds across the top panel of the page, a man lost among a plethora of territorial markers. Five text boxes run from left to right and set the scene, explaining that this “hard man,” this “tough cop,” is “shivering in his sheets like a 229

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scared little boy” while thinking about the terror attacks from six weeks prior when “the air went soggy ash thick ” ; the streaming lines in the blanket are reminders of the plumes of smoke rendered earlier in the book against the white of a page representing both the air and the ash that contaminated it. The “next” panel, directly beneath and to the left of the top one, features Donegal now sitting up on the rectangular bed, his figure framed against an angular window acros s which bars extend like those of a jail cell. The aforementioned creases in the blankets and sheets cut across the bed and drip to the floor; Donegal’s undershirt and boxers are likewise segmented by hard dark lines. Stooped in the box of the panel, he si ts on a box and is boxed in, the lines of his outline intersecting with those of his environment, spaces carved out and flowing against one another. More text inhabits a stack of three boxes to the left, superimposed on the wall and bed, violating creased borders: Six weeks -and what does Captain Dan have to show for it? A noisy, busy, cranky city turned all scary polite. A cough that comes from out of nowhere, no telling when, making the most body proud health nut sound like a chain smoker. A bed gone lo nely. Children’s toys, turning up in strange, forgotten places. And the same sounds, the same smells. Every damn night. The cough here, underscoring the “soggy ash thick” air discussed in the previous panel, again emphasizes contamination. Donegal is putti ng on his glasses, which serve as a fascinating hybridization of the Fixer’s cowl (Donegal sees through them, like the Fixer does his eyeholes, and so recall the Fixer’s fixed vision, his sightless seeing in regards to justice) and Blind Justice’s blindfol d (they cover Donegal’s eyes and so recall her blind sight, “seeing” the limits of one’s power to judge). He is also holding a pack of cigarettes, another box in the box of the panel in which he is held, a sign, perhaps, of hopelessness and helplessness, g iven that his indomitable cough signifies the erasure 230

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of the difference between health nut and chain smoker (both are contaminated since the attacks and so are damned to breathing problems). The final panel shows a close up of Donegal at a quarter turn, his face marked by dark wrinkles like the creases of his sheets. His eyes are wide, his mouth opened and sloping down, a shocked frown (almost identical to Stack’s expression when she witnessed the terrorist’s disintegration). The background is stark white, as is Donegal’s face, the air of the apartment and the flesh of the man in question separated only by the thin outline marking his body’s border. He holds a cigarette, its smoke rendered as a streaming, inky squiggle cutting across the left side of the panel, paralleling the left hand side of the frame. A text box interrupts its ascent, cutting across the top of the panel; it reads “no wonder we call it terror.” Everything converges in this panel; the black, carcinogenic line of cigarette smoke, the ashy white of the air that chokes, and all of the interplay of black and white that etch out spaces of death, cancerous insides lined by hazardous borders. In Frank Miller’s world, the world of the Fixer, the trauma of 9/11 and the pervasive threat of violence in our time of terror necessitates a vengeful retort, a will to power harnessing force against force and leaving its purveyors lost and alone, resentful and forlorn, without hope for a different future and without love for a present that is adrift from any and all absolutes, one in which everything is cancerous and corruptible and anything goes because nothing really matters. On this last page Miller thus engages in the kind of nihilism Hgglund attributes to “traditional atheism” whereby “mortal being is s till conceived as a lack of being that we desire to transcend, even though the transcendent state of being is denied or deemed to be unattainable” (48). In other words, in the world 231

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of Dan Donegal, God is dead and we are simply left to mourn His passing while we kill each other. The “no wonder,” as in the lack of the wondrous in such a universe, is thus for Miller precisely “why” we call our time one of “terror.” Holy Terror suggests we are boxed in like Donegal, dreaming of a better time, perhaps the mythi cal one of Miller’s parents’ generation when the opposition between “us” and “them” made sense, when war occurred on traditional battlefields between identifiable armies, when terror played out on other shores.1 6 Though Miller certainly intuits the necessary violence of every world, even seemingly ideal ones, in his line work and layouts and the structural logic of his art, he can’t let go of absolutes and can’t help resenting that which compels him to render. In this sense, he, like Rushdie, remains a kind of religious thinker1 7, though Holy Terror compulsively mourns the loss of what Joseph Anton frantically seeks to defend yet consistently undermines. Hgglund and those who read Derrida as an intrinsically nonreligious thinker offer another perspective on our time and, indeed, on time and life in general. As Hgglund explains, the “radical atheism” he ascribes to Derridean deconstruction “not only denies the existence of God and immortality but also takes issue with the assumption that God and immortality are desirable. Rather . . . the time of survival is the unconditional condition for everything that can be desired” (48). In other words, in order to come to terms with mortal life, one must not remain blinded by the wish for another kind of being, an imp ossible existence that would somehow defy the very constraints on life (the disruptive play of difference and deferral, the violence inherent to every spatial limit and the erosion of every identity in time, the impending catastrophe of every potential fut ure) that make living possible; to wish for the infinite, for the homogenous, 232

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for the intrinsically peaceful security of absolute truth is in fact to give in to the very nihilism typically associated with the lack of such grandiose dreams, given that all s uch wishes desire the annihilation of any life we could ever recognize and so desire absolute death. From the radically atheist perspective, then, any notion of heroism worth its salt must resist both defending absolutes and resenting their passing while b eing open to mourning the terrible existential costs that mortal living always requires. Such zeroism insists on the anxiety entailed by existence and cannot turn away from the horror of living; it cannot seek solace in nirvana or suicide. It must say yes to the world and suffer the consequences. 233

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Notes 1. Note that such an avowed confrontation with terror belies an assumption that what one recognizes as terrorism is itself terrifying rather than tamed; as my analysis will show, the structural aporia inherent to Holy Terror suggests that “terror” may in fact be that which is not experienced as such, that what we openly confront is precisely where the terror we resist cannot be found. 2. The remarkable— frightening —structural feature of terror is that i t is beyond the visible, beyond the horizon, coming but not yet available to be recognized. The body trembles in terror when it registers something that cannot be resolved into coherent sensations organized around or partitioned by one or another or some c ollection of the five senses. 3. This theme of sickness will come back with a vengeance in Holy Terror in regards to breathing and contamination; sickness, as the (mal)functioning of an inner core innately infected by the outside, signifies a terror beyond terror, the structural terror of a terror that can’t be recognized as such. 4. The cruciform shape also alludes to the monotheistic context of our time of terror, in which one monotheism is pitted against two others. 5. The cross thus signals the autoimmune probl em of the one monotheism (Christianity) in a world of monotheisms in conflict. Hence the terrible irony of the “holiness” of the terror. 6. A symbol as well as a signal that is raised against any and all threats to the nation’s self sovereignty. 7. Note that Mil ler complains about the external threat by rediscovering a version of it as internal to the nation. The source of terror is neither simply from the outside nor on the inside. He wants the terror to form him, reshape him on the inside—literally inform him — a t the same moment that he wants to be immune to it. This radical confusion between inside and outside will be of great importance to my analysis of terror’s structural implications in Holy Terror . 8. It will be important to remember this quote when we examine the play of inside and outside, breathing and contamination, as it relates to terror in Holy Terror . 9. An oxymoronic idiom if read literally: it is worth being targeted for damnation by the terrorists. 10. The issue of the preparedness of the child for an adul t future, and exactly what such preparedness might mean, is complicated even further by the issue of drone warfare, the piloting of which recreates the participatory sense of interactive games, but with real effects. Ironically, the this kind of interactiv e warfare plays out in the comic book movie Iron Man 2 , wherein a throng of cell phone users inadvertently pilot drones in combat against the titular hero while thinking they are merely playing 234

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a game. The dividing lines between the virtual and the real, t he child and the adult, the intentional and the collateral, the work and the audience, the heroic and the villainous, are thus terrifyingly muddled and rife for exploitation, leading to real life terror effects. 11. In spite of the fact that this dilemma prec ludes McCloud from establishing a definitive, logically consistent explanation of the comic medium, it also may be that medium’s saving grace, as Wertham’s own position itself hinges on the possibility of such an absolute definition. For if comics cannot be adequately explained, it stands to reason that any attempts to regulate the medium are similarly doomed to fail. Ironically, this failure also opens up new possibilities for comics’ future, as the inherent undecidability of the concept frees it from McCl oud’s stifling insistence that comics can only truly exist on a “temporal map” wherein “every element of the work has a spatial relationship to every other element at all times” (215).McCloud’s earliest online comics are a testament to the disappointing li mitations of such a definition, as his idea of a digital revolution appeared to be based almost entirely around the not so radical notion of virtual scrolling, the reader’s ability to “move” around a large virtual canvas. However, in his defense, though co mputer technology has vastly improved and tablets have changed the landscape immensely since he published Reinventing Comics , today’s digital comics pioneers still haven’t really improved on his definition of the medium or adequately established an overly popular digital model for comics’ future. For example, prolific creator Mark Waid, a mainstay of mainstream superhero comics who over the last few months has sold his immense collection of comics in order to fund a self published digital initiative called Thrillbent and has been heavily involved in Marvel’s digital strategy, argues simply that “comics is all about the economy of storytelling” and thinks the key to digital comics success is to reduce serialized installments to “seven or eight screens’ worth” of material (qtd. in Sava). Other than this marginal insight, he adds little to McCloud’s definition, saying “I’m hideously opposed to music and animation in comics. . . . To me, what makes comics comics . . . is that you [the readers] control the pace th at you read the story. With comics, I need to be able to control how we turn the pages” (qtd. in Fischer). His intermixing of pronouns here is fascinating; again, the I of the creator and the eyes of the secondperson reader addressed by that creative I me rge in the “we” of his last sentence, so the strangely impossible inbetween (im)position of reader and creator that McCloud’s work inadvertently gestured towards is again spectrally evoked, but overtly, only the speed of reading is addressed, so comics’ digital revolution is reduced to a glorified exercise in page turning. Ironically, though, in their failure to delineate comics’ essence and thus to see the medium’s future, McCloud, Waid, and other digital pioneers have also opened up a conversation about the medium’s uncanny status and thereby protected it from the types of attacks that Wertham made, and that continue to be made, against sequential art, though their attempts to rigidly protect the medium against animation and games may also be the art form ’s downfall, as younger generations increasingly seek a kind of immersive experience that doesn’t rely on a “temporal map” to tell stories. In a sense, the bracketing of comics’ existence, or at least the recognition of the inherent contradictions that contaminate traditional attempts to define it, is as much a protective gesture as it is a kind of erasure. 235

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12. Definitions for “holy” and “holey” come from Unabridged. 13. Note that Holy Terror has no page numbers, so I have done my best to convey the pages I discuss by describing their relative position to one another in the text as I explicate it. 14. This is ironic, given that Miller has replaced the sword held by traditional depictions of Lady Justice with the book held by Blind Justice. However, given Miller’s insistence that his book is itself a weapon and that texts can trigger violent responses, perhaps this replacement is at once unsurprising and critical, since the whole point here is that Miller’s work is wholly implicated in holy terror. 15. The app earance of fingerprints is fascinating, as if Miller is both incriminating himself (being booked, literally, for his work) and submitting himself for a security check. When Blind Justice collapses, a burning American flag is shown, the smoke of which is re ndered by fingerprint smudges; is Miller signing off on this act of terror, implicating himself as a very part of the cell to which Amina, his Islamic terrorist protagonist, belongs? 16. Wars that occurred on fronts, out in front of their combatants, conflicts started in such a way that the start of living in a time of terror, of being caught from behind by the terrorist who works from the shadows, was seemingly defended against in advance. 17. Again, i n the sense that he remains a traditional atheist rather than a radical one, lamenting the world of mortal time measured against an impossibly pure world free of the logic of the trace. 236

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CHAPTER 5 S AVED BY ZERO —DECONSTRUCTIVE HEROISM “I still maintain that it is not love, compassion, humanism, or brotherl y sentiments that will save mankind. No, not at all. It is the sheer terror of extinction that can save us, if anything can.” — Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race “We must [mourn], but we must n ot like it — mourning, that is, mourning itself , if such a thing exists; not to like or love through one’s own tear but only through the other, and every tear is from the other, the friend, the living, as long as we ourselves are living, reminding us, in hol ding life, to hold on to it.” —Jacques Derrida, The Work of Mourning It is fitting that Miller’s Holy Terror ends with the despondent terror of Dan Donegal, the “hard man” and “tough c op” given over to despair, a man contaminated by his very existence in a text wherein every figure subsists against a carcinogenic background that also inhabits its outlined inside. If terror names a certain relation to the threatening outside, and every outside always already inhabits the inside, there is no outside of terror and hence no outside of the risk of despair at the prospect that all is lost. If all really were lost, then mourning would be irrelevant; all that would be left in the losing would be base survival, a carrying on without any value to the load, a burdened persistence into what would seem to be an inexorable oblivion. Such are the fear and allure of nihilistic despair on the part of a survivor who cannot get outside of his or her sense of loss, who feels his or her sense of loss so deeply that this person 237

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cannot recognize the self attachment that characterizes even the experience or sense of radical loss. This attitude resonates throughout our culture today and is dramatized, if not end orsed, in particular by such blockbuster “antihero” TV shows as The Walking Dead , True Detective, The Killing, Breaking Bad , The Sopranos , Deadwood , Dexter , The Shield , and Game of Thrones , among many other cultural productions. Its general worldview is pe rhaps most succinctly expressed by horror writer and pessimist philosopher Thomas Ligotti, who is a major influence on the Speculative Realist movement associated with philosophers like Ray Brassier and Quentin Meillassoux : There will come a day for each of us —and then for all of us —when the future will be done with. Until then, humanity will acclimate itself to every new horror that comes knocking, as it has done from the very beginning. It will go on and on until it stops. And the horror will go on, with generations falling into the future like so many bodies into open graves. The horror handed down to us will be handed down to others like a scandalous heirloom. Being alive: decades of waking up on time, then trudging through another round of moods, sensations, thoughts cravings —the complete gamut of agitations —and finally flopping into bed to sweat in the pitch of dead sleep or simmer in the phantasmagorias that molest our dreaming minds. Why do so many of us bargain for a life sentence over the end of a rope or the muzzle of a gun? Do we not deserve to die? But we are not obsessed by such questions. To ask them is not in our interest, nor to answer them with hand in heart. In such spirit might we not bring to an end the conspiracy against the human race? This would seem to be the right course: the death of tragedy in the arms of nonexistence. Overpopulated worlds of the unborn would not have to suffer for our undoing what we have done so that we might go on as we have all these years. (227 228) Deconstruct ion says otherwise to this (self contradictory) apocalyptic view . For Derrida, there is no way to carry on without mourning; in a 1990 interview he says: “I mourn therefore I am” ( Points . . . Interviews , 1974 1994, 321). But it is precisely this work of mourning, which can never be finished and in fact names the very structure by which life is possible (the trace structure whereby every mark of presence testifies at 238

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one and the same time to a disappearance and hence to a kind of never was) that must itself be understood in contrast to the pessimistic despair Frank Miller dramatizes in the figure of Dan Donegal. The insistence of this mourning is why deconstruction always says “yes” to life regardless of the suffering and loss that accompan y every such affi rmation. But this yes has to be a strangely conflicted one; it has to be a “yes” that affirms while leaving every existential question unanswered; insofar as it opens us to joy , it must also open us to fear, depression, violence, and death. It must open us to anxiety, for it necessarily demolishes boundaries, disrupts power, destroys certainty, delays meaning, and in so doing disturbs the difference separating “ us ” from the “outside” to which we are open, thus risking everything in order for anything to hav e a chance to be. This radical sort of risk taking , this interm inable opening, cannot be conflated with any project fixated only on loss, although loss is always part of the equation. This is because such a fixation seeks assurance in the name of a false courage and sees firm footing in the abyss. Again, t he perception that all is lost is a self contradictory, wishfulfilling sense of certitude that is nihilistic on the one hand but profoundly self protecting, self privileging, and narcissistic on the oth er: nihilistic, because it obviously privileges the nothing that such an absolute loss implies and thus finds something in the nothing it champions ; narcissistic, because it positions itself “above” the lost all, perched outside the nothing it perceives in order to say “ I told you so” and thus in order to reconstitute the sense of certainty it seems to have lost but in fact has rediscovered in the losing. 239

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This is not to say that deconstruction somehow flatly denies nihilism or narcissism, only that its relation to these concepts is consistent in a way that other practices are not. In Deconstruction after 9/11, Martin McQuillan argues that “deconstruction is truly a critical nihilism . . . in the Nietzschean sense [that] it is a type of reflection and utterance that requires an effort of intelligence and an exercise of reason as a practical, counter cultural engagement” (90). This critical nihilism names deconstruction’s “refusal to decide on the undecideable in advance” and so to develop a political program o f response to the coming of the other (McQuillan, Deconstruction after 9/11 88). Thus, insofar as political policy names a formulation by which the future can be apprehended, intercepted, and thus rendered intelligible (and so assimilated into the present and denied its futurity), deconstruction resists politics, has “nothing” to say, and thus appears nihilistic (McQuillan, Deconstruction after 9/11 89). This “kind” of nihilism, however, in no way points to a certainty about being or lack, a certainty that would cover over the aporia of every named “nothing” by establishing nothingness itself as the grounds for political action (for instance, a politics of will to power or might makes right, one that underwrites the existence of “hard men” and “tough cops”). The skepticism of deconstruction about promulgating a specific political program, however, does not simply indicate a neutral positioning or a wholesale evacuation of subjectivity. Insofar as deconstruction is concerned with the singular time of life rath er than the regulation of life in general, it is always already narcissistic. Hgglund, for example, explains how deconstruction’s refusal to programmatically anticipate the future (which McQuillan says underscores its rejection of political policy making) stems from a recognition of our inherent vulnerability as mortal beings and “induces the passion for 240

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testimony,” for “the divisibility of the instant —the fact that the moment passes away without ultimate witness” (154) means that every instance of writing is the writing of an instant: “one testifies because something is not known and to prevent the finite event from being lost without a trace” (155). Hgglund continues: “Derrida writes not only t o pronounce philosophical truth; he also writes to make truth and let his singular life live on in memory” (155). Where “hard men” like Dan Donegal, and, by extension, Frank Miller, cover up their narcissism with a despairing perception of the loss of every value, thereby paradoxically reinstating their self worth ( as hardboiled survivors who endure the weight of the world and thus have a right to violence), Derrida calls attention to “the way he signs and dates his texts” and “the way he lets autobiographical material invade his philosophical work” in an openly des perate attempt to preserve traces of his life (Hgglund 156). This remarked, self referential production is born from an admission of radical finitude and maintains an uneasy relation to violence, for it must recognize the violence inherent to any moment as a consequence of autoimmunity: every instant divided against itself in its sequence, every present delayed in its iterability, every relation a missed opportunity (with another, unrecognized relation). The acutely self referential character of Derrida’ s deconstructive commentary is obviously a far cry from the kind of open narcissism Salman Rushdie aggressively promotes in Joseph Anton, where the author seeks to justify his survival by promoting himself as a serious writer, ultimately identifying a “sec ret space” untainted by a relation to the world from which emanates his self worth and authorial powers. In recognizing the structure of the trace, Derrida recognizes a nontranscendable limitation of the subject to itself, a structural self contamination that the narcissism it stimulates cannot 241

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contain or eradicate, and thus the necessary violence of life. It is this trace structure that Rushdie does not understand. As a result, he often seems oblivious to his violence on the world (which manifests in, for instance the vitriolic gossip about his ex wives and his critics) and remains ambivalent about the complicated power of the language on which he has staked his identity, a power which, as Derrida reiterated throughout his life, both jeopardizes survival and makes living on possible. Thus, the analyses of chapters two and three: Rushdie, son of the Enlightenment, celebrates history, literature, and a certain kind of deserved survival , the heroism of high art; while Miller , pulp author and propagandist, embraces escapist literature, aggressive counter tactics, a “ survival of the fittest ” mentality , the valor of brute force in a violent world of market forces and wills to power . Both rehearsals of heroism are problematic wishfulfillments. This is not to say that the agonizing attempts at survival exemplified by Miller’s Holy Terror and Rushdie’s Joseph Anton do not brush against what Hgglund calls the “radical atheism” of deconstruction, its recognition of the plight and chance of mortal time; as I have int ended my second and third chapters to show, the texts in fact approach this atheism in their contradictory logics. Indeed, what I am interested in here is the way Derrida’s thinking relates to such works of heroic literature, “serious” and “escapist” alike , especially given how these sorts of portrayals remain so compelling for our culture at large. Hence the impetus for my use of the neologism “zeroism,” a term I hope might resonate with a general audience and might in some way help to keep the Derridean l egacy alive. 242

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Why Zeroism? In his 1973 Pulitzer Prize winning book The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker argued that “in times such as ours there is a great pressure to come up with concepts that help men understand their dilemma; there is an urge towards vital ideas, toward a simplification of needless intellectual complexity” (1). One such “vital idea,” he proposed, “is the idea of heroism; but in ‘normal’ scholarly times we never thought of making much out of it, of parading it, or of using it as a central c oncept” (1). Becker defines this central concept as “first and foremost a reflex of the terror of death” (11) and links it to two primary ideas: narcissism and self esteem (23). The former, narcissism, refers to the fact that “we are hopelessly absorbed w ith ourselves” and that “we feel that practically everyone is expendable except [us]” (2); the latter, which he says is inseparable from narcissism, he defines as “a basic sense of self worth” that is “constituted symbolically” and “feeds on symbols, on an abstract idea of [a person’s] own worth, an idea composed of sounds, words, and images, in the air, in the mind, on paper” (3). The abstract textuality of human self esteem “means that man’s natural yearning for organismic activity, the pleasures of incor poration and expansion, can be fed limitlessly in the domain of symbols and so into immortality” (3). Becker recognized the aporia of heroism, the fact that, on one hand, “heroism is by definition defiance of safety” (156) and yet that, on the other hand, it also names the reflex by which the human animal turns away from that which is most unsafe, living “in an overwhelmingly miraculous and incomprehensible world, a world so full of beauty, majesty, and terror that if animals perceived it all they would be paralyzed to act” (50). Thus the necessity of repression and “the formation of human character” (51), the fact that “all of us are driven to be supported in a self forgetful way, ignorant of what 243

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energies we really draw on, of the kind of lie we have fashi oned in order to live securely and serenely” (55). In other words, in order to “have a truly human existence there must be limits; and what we call culture or the superego sets such limits” (265). Within those limits, most humans practice what Becker calls “transference heroics” whereby the other person is man’s fate and a natural one. He is forced to address his performance to qualify for goodness to his fellow creatures, as they form his most compelling and immediate environment, not in the physical or e volutionary sense in which like creatures huddle unto like, but more in the spiritual sense. Human beings are the only things that mediate meaning, which is to say that they give the only human meaning we can know . (157) This sort of heroism allows for sec urity while establishing purpose; “transference heroics gives man precisely what he needs: a certain degree of sharply defined individuality, a definite point of reference for his practice of goodness, and all within a certain secure level of safety and co ntrol” (156). The hero is always thus a kind of coward, as t he “ heroism ” of the hero covers up the hero’s anxiety . In addition, Becker argues that such heroics are “demeaning” because “the process is unconscious and reflexive, not fully in one’s control” ( 156). Through such heroism, what gives a person’s life meaning is thus out of his or her hands twice over: one is first limited by defense mechanisms, which protect him or her from experiencing the true terror of existence, and then limited a second time by being forced to perform for the other by cultural rules in order to attain value. Following Philip Reiff, Becker argues that “culture is a compromise with life that makes human life possible” (265). Or, as Judith Butler explains it: “there is no ‘I’ that can fully stand apart from the social conditions of its emergence, no ‘I’ that is not implicated in a set of conditioning moral norms, which, being norms, have a social character that exceeds a purely personal or idiosyncratic meaning” (6). I mention her here because, importantly, Becker, though he entertains the notion of a kind of “creative” heroism that 244

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is not simply oriented towards the approval of the other, never fully advocates for its possibility and so remains in line with many contemporary post structural theorists in regard to the predicament of subjectivity; to merely dismiss him as an existentialist thinker would be a mistake. Indeed, in contrast to the advocates of ego psychology (the “prophets of unrepression”) and other forms of therapy at t he time, Becker believed that there was no workable solution to the dilemma of heroism as a reflexive response to the terror of death; indeed, he believed “the urge to cosmic heroism” was “sacred and mysterious and not to be neatly ordered and rationalized by science and secularism” (284). This is because “the problem with all the scientific manipulators is that somehow they don’t take life seriously enough; in this sense all science is ‘bourgeois,’ an affair of bureaucrats” (283). For Becker, “taking life seriously” means “that whatever man does on this planet has to be done in the lived truth of the terror of creation, of the grotesque, of the rumble of panic underneath everything . . . . Whatever is achieved must be achieved from within the subjective ener gies of creatures, without deadening, with the full exercise of passion, of vision, of pain, of fear, and of sorrow” (284). In other words, every science, every politics, every project, is itself a kind of heroic projection covering over the terrifying truth of mortality. And this doing is thus always at risk, for “how do we know . . . that our part in the meaning of the universe might not be a rhythm in sorrow?” (284). It should not be hard to see how Becker’s confrontation with heroism relates to deconst ructive thinking, especially to how Hgglund explains it in regard to “mortal time,” which, at least from a certain perspective (one that uncritically privileges 245

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homogeneity, fullness, and immunity) might be understood as “the lived truth of the terror of creation.” Always flirting with nihilism, deconstruction names the narcissistic attempt to trace one’s being as it always already disappears, delays, and defers in its symbolic (written, textual, remembered) appearance. As McQuillan has argued, if deconstr uction is a project, it is always a singular one, and as such resists policy making or system building; it cannot ever be reduced to “an affair of bureaucrats,” for its notion of justice requires the autonomy of decisionmaking over and against the automat ion of number crunching and so always already cultivates an overt relation to what would be considered “terrifying” from the perspective of any position that insists on the security of a stable ground. Of course, I am in no way suggesting that deconstructi on is equivalent to Becker’s analysis of existential heroism. Yet, considering the cultural collateral that the sorts of “transference heroics” that Becker recognized (whether in the form of nihilistic antiheroes or narcissistic humanists) continue to enjoy today in a “time such ours,” which is threatened by environmental and economic disasters Becker himself might have had trouble imagining, I think linking Derrida’s insights to Becker’s easily accessible work provides one way of inviting deconstruction to the table, so to speak, especially given that, as McQuillan has argued, deconstructive criticism “has fallen off the theoretical agenda for the wider readership that sits outside [its] immediate affiliation” ( Deconstruction without Derrida 3).1 Under this circumstance, linking deconstruction to the explication of a “vital idea” that helps people “get a grip on what is happening to them, that tell[s] them where the problems really are” (Becker 1), is, I 246

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believe, very much what is needed to return Derrida’s work (back) into mainstream consciousness . It is the wager of my project that the “vital idea” of heroism remains fundamental, and that deconstructive thinking provides a radical way to think its limits much in the vein of Becker’s work. In a world where superhero movies like Marvel’s The Avengers break every box office record; where first person shooters like Call of Duty allow millions of players worldwide to engage in virtual military heroism online; where immensely popular MMORPG’s like World of Warc raft encourage players to take their avatars on heroic journeys from their living rooms; where pro athletes and celebrities are idolized 247 on TV networks like ESPN and E! and have millions of Twitter followers; where YouTube, Facebook, and other social media services provide creative outlets only a click away to an audience that can fantasize its access to celebrity/hero status; in such a world it is hard to argue that any idea other than “heroism” is more vital to everyday life and thus more in need of deconstruction. This critical relation of deconstruction to heroism is what I have been calling “zeroism” throughout the text. The term obviously plays on the phonetic similarity of “zero” and “hero,” a lucky resemblance of which I have taken advantage in order to recall the aporia of the zero as the wish of overcoming “nothing” by naming it, circumscribing it, turning it into an inaugural void, “counting” it so as to start counting in general and so to start programming, politicking, policy making, etc., a ll of which was explored in chapter two through my reading of Rotman misreading Derrida. Given the zero’s ironically foundational importance to mathematics and science and consequently to all of those political and social practices that these disciplines underscore, my 247

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purpose is to show how the zero is what Penelope Deutscher calls a “phantom ideal” (2); in other words, i f zero is a number, nevertheless it i s not the difference between the numerable and the innumerable and thus not the “true” starting point it supposedly marks. Its phantomatic status generates anxiety because it testifies to the fact that the b ase 10 number system is not self generating. Like the pessimist philosopher who names nothingness in order to master the world, or like the heroic in dividual who forgets the terror of life in order to master it, the base 10 counter counts zero to take account of things. Analogously, if heroism stems from a reflex towards death as the denial of nothingness whereby the fullness of the subject can be celebrated in narcissistic self interest, every counting subject is just such a hero. In my use of the term, then, “zeroism” attempts to account for and demystify the protective gesture of the zero that starts every count. It reads the “zero” as a Derridean q uasi transcendental concept and links the denial inherent to heroism to every seemingly nonheroic act of counting performed by the bureaucrats Becker so disdained. In this sense, “zeroism” provides a more rigorous way of understanding Becker’s distinction between the serious and the nonserious; from a zeroist perspective, every perspective that protects against the trauma of life’s suffering is nonserious, including Becker’s own, since he, too, seems interested in naming, and thus to some extent, masteri ng, the void. Only the kind of deconstructive accounting “zeroism” alludes to lives up to the impossible “creative” heroism Becker imagines, in the problematic existentialist vocabulary of self responsibility on which he relies, as a “full exercise of pass ion, of vision, of pain, of fear, and of sorrow” (284). 248

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However critical it may be of every heroic starting point, however, “zeroism” necessarily recalls the term “hero” (though, pointedly, it starts differently, with a different consonant ) because decons truction does not merely destroy or abandon metaphysics; it “starts” again, recounts, by reinscribing quasi concepts into the order of the conceptual, thereby reinstating “the hitherto repressed traits of concepts, or traits held in reserve . . . to their generality, to their power of generalization, and to their generative force” (Gasch 172). Zeroism in this sense is my quasi conceptual name for deconstructive heroism, the heroism of heroism, which is heroism without heroism, since, as Gasch explains, f rom a theoretical perspective “the requirement of philosophy [is] that a ground must be different from what it grounds” (175). Or, as Becker intuited, existentially heroism in its courage always already betrays itself in its shirking from the terror of death. “Zeroism” thus names an impossibly terrifying courage to “encounter” something like the spacing of a space that cannot be calculated, counted, or counted on, that would be the nonnumbered possibility of number. Recognizing the necessity of such reinsc ription is of tantamount importance because it answers to McQuillan’s primary hesitation about Hgglund’s understanding of autoimmunity as it relates to radical atheism. In Deconstruction without Derrida , McQuillan argues that “autoimmunity cannot be solel y a question of the ruination of concepts from within” because “if every concept is autoimmune, then equally autoimmunity itself must be autoimmune and so launch the claim for its own immunity by which it establishes traction as a nominal effect” (10). In other words, McQuillan argues that Hgglund’s emphatic denial of “the religious notion of salvation” does not waver enough in its certainty to be adequately deconstructive; as he points out, echoing 249

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Gasch: “the absolute ruin of a conceptual claim by its own resources is only one moment in the wider sweep of deconstruction, one which is quickly outflanked by the equal inadequacy of that disarticulation, which accordingly is unable to establish its own truth claim” ( Deconstruction without Derrida 10). McQuil lan argues that Hgglund’s blindness to this kind of conceptual inadequacy is repeated in various ways, such as in what McQuillan calls Hgglund’s tendency to be “very loose” with certain philosophical terms, including “death,” “survival,” “desire,” and especially his notion of “mortal survival,” which McQuillan argues is “a curiously sheltered concept” that “ignores another prominent trope in later Derrida, that of sacrifice” ( Deconstruction without Derrid a 11). For McQuillan, the “crux of the matter” i s that Hgglund’s understanding of the kind of survival necessitated by an autoimmunity that allows for the certainty implied by “radical” atheism ignores the implications of Derrida’s later writing on the animal, which “attempt[s] to think a logic of sacr ifice without sacrifice, one in which, in the formulation from The Gift of Death , every other is absolutely, wholly, or every bit other,2 and which would displace the instrumental sacrificial logic central to Western metaphysics as an undoing of sovereignty that presumes the right to sacrifice as the basis of a certain humanization of the subject” ( Deconstruction without Derrida 12). If radical atheism can be said to effectively name a necessary striving to survive (which is never simply at all costs since it is precisely the irreducibility of unknown and unknowable costs to any determinate calculation, let alone enumeration) which occurs within the limits of a space and time that always already precede the subject and that subject him or her to the timing of space and the spacing of time, the danger McQuillan seems to point to is that it (radical atheism) undermines the Derridean concept of 250

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responsibility by justifying the violence inherent to each individual’s time of life; in other words, to McQuillan, Hgglund would be in the position or self position that I have described Frank Miller as being in: Hgglund seems to “see” the terror of life rather than the limits of such seeing and “relapse[s] into calculation rather than an affirmation of what might be otherwise” (12). For McQuillan, Hgglund too hastily reduces all heroics to cowardice and all politics to calculations of violence without adequately confronting the kind of (always inadequate) mourning, the unthinkable anxiety, that every reinscription requires, for “it,” our lives here and now, always could have been otherwise. “Zeroism,” then, cannot simply count on the idea that surviving at all is the only viable option. If the “heroism” that arises as a reflex stemming from the denial of death allows humans to survive, Ajit Varki and Danny Brower have shown that it also affords them a putative “uniqueness” as the only species that has obtained theory of mind and been able to exhibit reproductive fitness without giving in, succumbing, or surrendering to terror, without being overwhelmed or terrorized by it.3 However, such “uniqueness” simply allows for the perpetuation of the reproductive cycle, a cycle of costliness the value of which cannot be assumed. What I am provisionally calling “zeroism” is pre cisely a displacement of such an impossible determination of what survival is or is not. In other words, “zeroism” names the terror of terror, which is a terror without terror; a giving oneself over to what one cannot give oneself over to—that’s the autoim munity paradox I think Hgglund, perhaps, as McQuillan argues, with a bit too much “irrepressible certainty” ( Deconstruction without Derrida 9), is using “radical atheism” to reference: a giving oneself to in the very act of resisting such succumbing. 2 51

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A s Sam Kimball explains, the countless destructions heralded by the coming of every instant “have produced a future—the future that is being lived out in the present in inextinguishable debt to the life that has been extinguished as well as to all the once possible futures that have been traded for and thus lost to this life. Such is the double bind of the sacrificial economization by which the living destroy the living” (56). Given the unthinkable—again, the incalculable—cost of every survival, perpetuation as mortal survivors does not attest to the value of human life in any guaranteed way; in fact, survival relegates the human to the realm of the “mere” animal, automated in our continuance. Denial of the denial of death might require succumbing to the terr or of our mortal situation; it necessarily includes the potential of dying out, and thus implicates the present in a fight with and against the futurity of every possible or even impossibility future, or, perhaps better, refusing to fight for the future. “Zeroism” has to hold open the possibility that being human could mean resigning oneself to death, refusing to reproduce; it could necessitate the kind of species suicide imagined by pessimist thinkers like Thomas Ligotti. To be human, then, could mean the choice not to deny the crippling terror of existence which constitutes fitness for reproduction. Of course, not reproducing cannot simply be construed as a “better” option than reproducing, either, since both options are destructive; whether mortal surviv al itself is suffering or joyful remains open to interpretation. The double affirmation of deconstruction, the “yes” attested to by every reinscription that displaces metaphysics without destroying it, is always a confirmation without confirmation and so a terrifying proposition that survival has no determinably, calculable, or calculatable inherent value. 252

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Appropriately, then, as I come to the end, I must turn from zeroing in on the “z” of “zero” to its literal ending, the “o,” opened like a mouth in a silent scream, encircling a space, tenuously marking inside and outside, a close cousin to the 0 it phonetically completes (no “zero” without “o,” and no “hero,” as well; neither without the wailing mouth speaking the need of a life born in terror), in order t o recall again how every heroism protects against trauma, against a terrified sense of self evacuation. “ Zeroism ” names the wailing homophonically ins cribed in the long “o” of “hero, ” a wailing that begins even before we are born, for as interpellated subj ects , we are always already subjected to an address from others —before we are physical beings, before we are conceived, we are named and thus inscribed into heroic projects we cannot control. We are laughing, we are screaming, dissipating, deferring, disappearing. Zeroes all the way down. 253

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Notes 1. In Deconstruction without Derrida, McQuillan accuses Hagglund’s Radical Atheism of being dominated by “a tone of irrepressible certainty,” but throughout the introduction, McQuillan himself seems quite certain that he knows a thing or two about what the future of deconstruction should look like; he says that “deconstruction would be poorly served by the belief that it needs no institutional home” (13); “without such a home,” he asks, “how will the graduate students of today and their students tomorrow find their way to and properly understand the text of Derrida?” (4). What is this “proper” understanding? And despite its past history at places like Yale, why would deconstruction necess arily need to “live” at the university at all? If we are open to the monstrous future, we must admit that any present conception of deconstruction’s future may do it poor service, indeed. McQuillan is certainly aware of the problems inherent to his rigid w ay of thinking; he reminds us that “Derrida, like Groucho Marx, will have warned against wanting to belong to the club willing to have him as a member” and concedes that its current institutional homelessness likely arises “out of deference to a deconstruc tive idea of the proper” ( Deconstruction without Derrida 4), but he often sounds more professionally panicked than Derridean in these opening pages, sometimes even resorting to openly insulting the intellectual prowess of thinkers like Alain Badiou, Jacque s Ranciere, Giorgio Agamben, and Slavoj iek ( Deconstruction without Derrida 3). Certainly McQuillan imagines a future for deconstruction, but he does so without thinking deconstructively enough . 2. Chapter four in The Gift of Death is entitled “Tout Autre Est Tout Autre” and begins, in the translation by David Wills: “‘Every other (one) is every (bit) other’” (82). 3. A great deal of Derrida’s later work deconstructs the “uniqueness” such thinkers ascribe to the human. As McQuillan argues: much of the writi ng on the animal by Derrida . . . is an attempt to think a logic of sacrifice without sacrifice, one in which every other is absolutely other and which would displace the instrumental sacrificial logic central to Western metaphysics as an undoing of a sovereignty that presumes the right to sacrifice as the basis of a certain humanization of the subject. ( Deconstruction without Derrida 12) 254

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BIOGRAPHICAL S KETCH Herschel Elwood Shepard III graduated from Duncan U. Fletcher High School in Neptune Beach, Florida in 1989. He attended Birmingham Southern University from the fall of 1989 through the spring of 1990 and then transferred to the University of North F lorida in Jacksonville. He earned a double major in literature and philosophy at UNF in the spring of 1995, graduating Summa cum Laude and receiving both the James Lofton Philosophy Award and the Award for Excellence in Literary Scholarship. In 1998 he was accepted into the m aster’s p rogram in English at the University of Florida, and he received his M aster of A rts in May of 2003. He returned to UF in the fall of 2009 to pursue a doctorate in English. He has been a Professor of English at Florida State College at Jacksonville since January of 2004. 262




Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy SAVED BY ZERO: SOVEREIGNTY AND (SUPER)HEROICS AFTER 9/11 By Herschel E. Shepard III April 201 4 Chair: Name John Leavey Major: English Our current epoch has been described as “a time of terror” in recognition of the 9/11 attacks as a “groundbreaking,” and so tremor inducing, moment in American history. This project investigates the consequences of this naming. Indeed, so identifying such a time always already requires taking sides, covering over the terrifying effects of U.S. policy on the world, and seeking to set the terms of any debate about such policy in advance. Informed by Jacques Derrida’s later work on sovereignty, hospitality, and autoimmunity, and drawing from explications of this work by Michael Nass, Martin Hgglund, and Sam Kimball, my project elucidates the theoretical quandaries and possibilities inherent to living in this “time of terror,” especially insofar as they bear on the kinds of heroic positions exemplified by author Salma n R ushdie, whose memoir Joseph Anton locates heroism in an appreciation and resolute defense of “serious” art, and comic artist Frank Miller, who promoted his 2011 graphic novel Holy Terror as a piece of “propaganda” meant to inspire support for retaliatory v iolence against radical Muslims. A n aporetic understanding of “terror” as both the instantiation of tremors in the 2


existential subject and the attack that shakes the foundations leading to such tremors (thus as both the terror of the terror tactic and the terror behind the terror tactic itself) is an essential part of the Derridean “preparation” necessary to approaching the future as something other than (in Benjamin Barber’s formulation) a tribal battleground or capitalist utopia. This understanding paves the way for thinking a Derridean alternative to heroism/terrorism, concepts enjoined by their aggressively noncritical character even as they are set in opposition by cultural ideologies around the world. I call this alternative “zeroism,” a (self )criti cal positioning that counters violence without simply striking out in turn and that unfixes positions without simply breaking them. 3