File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0110, message 105

Date: Mon, 22 Oct 2001 23:05:17 -0500
Subject: Re: terrorism


I've been away on vacation this past week without a computer, cell phone
or cable tv, like a monk in the desert, so I wasn't able to write. 

Also, I've been detached lately anyway and not really feeling the desire
to say much of anything about anything.  

I am torn between the horror of what has happened and the cynicism about
what is occurring - how people are being manipulated by agendas that
have little to do with ending terror or achieving justice and everything
to do with maintaining hegemony, policing the Empire, making the world
safe for the rich and hard for the poor.

On the subject of terror, I am also struck by the way terror tends to be
defined objectively as the loss of property.  (Under capitalism, even
the loss of life is equated with the loss of property - the self as
turf, the body as real estate, the flesh as a kind of time share.)

Classically, terrorism has been seen subjectively and certainly this is
the way Lyotard regarded it.  Somewhere Wittgenstein remarks that the
chief characteristic of religion is the feeling of being safe and this
is precisely what terrorism undermines.  

At the same time, however, God as the omnipotent, all-powerful deity is
awe-ful and capable of inspiring dread. The first cause is the first
terrorist. As the bible says, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of

This theological terror finds its way into the political as the state
like an angry Zeus hurls its lightening bolts while citizens mark their
doors symbolically with the blood of the lamb or the American flag and
hope somehow the angel of death will pass over them and by the grace of
chance they will somehow be spared.
The sublime in part is this feeling of surviving death, war, shipwreck
and knowing the terror while feeling simultaneously detached from the
terror. With distance, the terror becomes almost aesthetic as we watch
from a position of safety, feeling somehow guilty that the terrible
angel, Benjamin's angel perhaps, has once again passed us by. It is the
other who has died and never us. We remain immortal, if only for a time.
The terror of the not yet, of being spared.  

We who are spared the death are left to wonder what new plagues will
emerge, what fresh horrors?  To wait for Godot is to know the terror of
the banal.

Does philosophy, beyond the political, have anything to teach us about
how to overcome this terror?  Is there an ethics that is concerned not
merely with our duty towards the other, but with the realization of a
happiness that isn't merely a part of a non-zero sum game? (a happiness
that isn't in the end all about real estate.)

Can there be peace in the midst of war?  Is it possible to feel the
safety of which Wittgenstein spoke even as we wait for we know not what
is yet to come?

Some have said that when truths are known, they become science and no
longer philosophy.  Perhaps there is a similar relationship between
politics and philosophy with regard to peace. 

Beyond the simulcra of the Pax America there is a peace which passes
understanding and on the basis of which another politics can occur. 

Something to think about perhaps as we wait for the night to fall.



Driftline Main Page


Display software: ArchTracker © Malgosia Askanas, 2000-2005