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1 Dominguez is quoted in Richard

Marosi, “UC San Diego Professor Who Studies Disobedience Gains Follow- ers—and Investigators,” Los Angeles Times, May 7, 2010, available at: http://arti-



2 Maulana Karenga, “Black Art:

Mute Matter Given Force and Function,” in Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Nellie Y. McKay, eds., The Norton Anthology of Afri- can American Literature (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1997), 1974.

3 T.V. Reed, The Art of Protest: Culture

and Activism from the Civil Rights Move- ment to the Streets of Seattle (Minneapolis:

University of Minnesota Press, 2005), xiv.

What Is To Be (Un)Done:

Notes on Teaching Art and Terrorism

I n thinking about this piece on art, activism, and pedagogy, I was drawn

not so much to that part of my own art- making and teaching practice consisting of community murals, radical activist print- making, and street art interventions, but to a series of projects that were catapulted by the long, hard, continuing regime of “endless war.” This may seem counter- intuitive. The former, whose legible prec- edents and recognizable vernaculars are part of a long tradition of uplift, solidarity, and community, speak to many of the themes of this issue of Radical Teacher. And unless one feels gleefully nihilistic or in the mood for provocation, the pairing of “art” and “terror” is bound to elicit feel- ings of dread. But my aim here is to work through this difficulty, primarily through the lens of Terrorism: A Media History, a class I developed in 2002. Together with my students, I have found that the visual and linguistic rhetorics of “terror” have the potential to both dull and enhance

By Mary Patten

our capacities for political acuity, empa- thy, and optimism—crucial elements of a politically-conscious creative process that can sustain our ability to imagine and fight for a just, even joyful world. My pedagogy has built upon many years of projects and collaborations that, while not discounting any tool or approach, have attempted a more complicated politi- cal response than outrage, unmasking, or critique. I have been drawn to the necessities of embracing “the possibility of doubt,” in the words of the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, and a process of radically slowing down. “Americans have to watch what they say,” said Ari Fleischer, former White House Press Secretary, at a White House press briefing on September 26, 2001. Like many other artists, writers, educa- tors, and organizers, I was determined to create a space against the prevailing tide of silencing of dissent so sharply manifest in this White House “warning”

of September 2001. All around us, there

were quiet sightings of mobilization other than rage and jingoism: a small jeweled peace-sign intertwined with an American flag pin on a nurse’s uniform, a plastic U.S. flag draped over the entry-way at my

neighborhood service station, run by an Iraqi family, where the flag served as pro- tection. Many people, it seemed, felt this moment as one of empathy that briefly promised to extend beyond our presum- ably-shared identity as “Americans.” We held our breath. At the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where I teach, a group of students, faculty, and others seized the moment of “Van Gogh and Gauguin:

The Studio of the South,” a major show

at the museum in the fall of 2001, to

launch “Post-Impressionists for Peace,” an ad hoc group that quickly organized on the cusp of the bombing campaign in Afghanistan. Students researched Van Gogh’s antiwar sentiments in his letters, and printed excerpts on the back of post- cards emblazoned with the exhibition’s logo. These were passed out to museum- goers, who were also greeted by people wearing Vincent masks holding a ban- ner painted with the words: “Van Gogh:

‘War? NO!’” An exhortation by Slavoj Zizek to resist “double blackmail” (the argument that mourning those killed in the September 2001 attacks must neces- sarily translate to patriotic support of the bombing of Afghanistan) appeared at the same time as a student sticker: “terrorist? patriot? choose neither!” Soon after, I initiated a project with

a group of artists, activists, students, and colleagues that several months later manifested itself as Project Enduring Look. The name we gave to this multidisci- plinary effort was taken directly from the

Pentagon’s aerial surveillance operation in Afghanistan after the bombing cam- paign. The U.S. military’s caption made a semantic link with “Enduring Freedom,” the official name used by the U.S. gov- ernment for the war in Afghanistan. But we wanted to give a different twist to the phrase, emphasizing another kind of tem- porality—not permanence or the hard- ness of steel, but a long, troubled look, an extended pause. This slowing down, we felt, could create a different space to think deeply, to resist the need to rush into action, or even assume a fixed position. Rather than polarizing debate, we wanted to open up the questions: to recognize what already existed in the culture dur- ing those short weeks in September and early October. We said, “Let’s stop, slow down, and carefully, deeply examine the language and the feelings that are being summoned at this moment of crisis. Let’s take back the terms of how we understand and make our political culture.” For Project Enduring Look, my cura- torial practice class and a core group of 10-12 other artists created a “hub” for a series of events at 1926, the for- mer experimental exhibition space run by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. This crazily ambitious project involved over 100 people from Chicago and around the world in a series of exhi- bitions, exchanges, performances, and screenings that unfolded in an intense three-and-a-half weeks. Instead of the traditional celebratory opening, we locked the gallery, and people gathered in front of the windows to watch silent projections of broken buildings and ruined spaces, sites evocative of destruction and war. At our “anti-opening,” the automobile, one of the key emblems of the post-war American “good life,” the embodiment

of a forever-gone era of industrial labor

and capital, and now the sign of a reck- less consumer culture dependent on fossil

fuels, became a different kind of vehicle. At Project Enduring Look, cars parked

in front of the gallery were decorated

with colored pennants, reminiscent of a used-car sale, but whose windshields were painted with large letters spelling out words like “choices,” “labor,” “food,” and

“guilt.” The core group of artist-organizers had adopted the popular leftist strategy

of generating “keywords” 1 in our brain-

storming process. At its heart was the need to take back our language, to exert our power to re-frame the terms of the public discourse of “terrorism.” Our alter- native lexicon spoke to the necessities,

scarcities, and possibilities, affective as well as “material,” both manifest and hid- den, during a time of war. The cars’ inte- riors became gathering points, complete with tape recorders, for conversations that broadened and extended this brainstorm- ing while people drank coffee and shared snacks, stories, and camaraderie on a cold and dark February night. Later that winter, I developed Terrorism:

A Media History, a class that “investi-

gates media and cinematic representa- tions of ‘terrorism,’ historically and in contemporary life, examines the mobiliz- ing effects of these works, and seeks to unpack a hefty suitcase of current debates about moral relativism, just and unjust wars, the problem of evil, and uses of violence in film.” In the class, we screen, study, write about, and discuss propa- ganda films, narratives, film and video essays, photographs, and experimental works whose subject directly or obliquely addresses the subject of political violence. The course is structured as a seminar, with assigned readings drawn from theol-

ogy, political science, philosophy, cultural and visual studies, anti-colonial and post- colonial literature, feminist studies, radi- cal histories, media criticism, and current events. We also read interviews with art- ists and filmmakers, and letters, polemics, and memoirs by members and survivors of revolutionary clandestine movements. 2 Students generate an ongoing archive of key words and feelings, which in turn builds our collective class bibliography and knowledge-base. They work on inde- pendent research projects, which can take the form of a studio art piece, a video, an image/text analysis, a performance lec- ture, a research paper, or a puppet show. These are presented to the whole class at the end of the semester. Students attracted to this class include those already engaged in some form of political activism—anti-war, anti-racist and anti-occupation organizing, including participants in “Post-Impressionists for Peace,” global justice and anti-capitalist work, and queer activism. The class draws ideological anarchists, as well as students exhausted by what they call “activist-ism” and people who are looking to make sense of a dizzyingly incoherent political landscape. Artists whose practice tends to the moving image—including film, video, new media, and animation—are drawn to the class, as well as those work- ing in sculpture, performance, art his- tory, theory, criticism, and visual/critical studies. Visual communication and other design students interested in the concepts and uses of propaganda are often on the roster. And given the rich undercurrents in “relational” and other extra- or alter-art world practices that broadly proliferate in Chicago (through energy concentrations and spaces like Mess Hall, Insight Arts, Experimental Station, and Version, and


SLIDES FROM THE “TERRRORISM TAKE HOME qUIz” in publications such as AREA Chicago and Proximity )

in publications such as AREA Chicago and Proximity) there are often students who are part of these “glocal” networks. The class has far exceeded the expecta- tions of a topical seminar, and has become one of our department’s key offerings. It evidently speaks to a generation of young artists, media makers, writers, and emerging scholars intent on examining the multiple valences of political violence and their representations and mobiliza- tions in film, media, and visual art.

Keywords, Critical Feelings, Feeling Politics

We begin with the importance of names. Units are called things like: “shoot the women first,” “terror or love,” “a terror of images,” and “puppets are terrorists, too.” The lexicon of the class includes names that may be lost to us now but that were once pivotal, on hundreds of thousands of lips: guerrilla, foco theory, women’s libera- tion, the wretched of the earth. At our first meeting, we begin what will become a semester-long excavation of the visual and linguistic rhetorics of “terrorism,” while resisting a final definition of what terror- ism is. Sometimes we will use a prompt— a video clip, a reading, or perhaps an entire film to generate our “keywords,” or sometimes we just plunge in. More recently, I’ve used a “terrorism take home quiz” with multivalent political feelings to get things started. 3 [See pages 44 and

feelings to get things started. 3 [See pages 44 and 45, top] Crucial to this process

45, top] Crucial to this process has been the inclusion not only of analytically dis- cursive frames, but of political affect: we are, after all, talking about a “war on an emotion.” 4 This goes against the political common-sense that dictates that we must rise above our presumably unintelligent and raw feelings if we are ever to behave like enlightened citizens. A stunning lesson in this regard was brought home to me in one of the first semesters of this class. During our first keywords brainstorming session, a stu- dent defined terrorism as anything that induced fear, whether or not any overt acts are committed. Her statement cut to the heart of our current malaise, where, as we are constantly reminded at U.S. airports, the terror alert is always “orange.” Her words sidestepped debates about what constitutes “terrorism” and what analyti- cal criteria we bring to bear on the ques- tion, revealing how much terror is not the target, but the substance, the life-blood, of the wars of our political moment. Part of my job in the class is to remind us how emotions are manipulated and orchestrat- ed to suit the needs and agendas of forces that are not necessarily visible to us. But at the same time, how do we understand the urgent necessity to pay attention to, live with, and work through the affective political currents swirling around us? We need to “de-fang” terrorism, to be sure, to coolly understand it as a tactic of war- fare that has been used for thousands of

years. But while it is crucial to look at the historical groundings of a term like “ter- rorism,” its uses in military and political discourses, and how a range of “actors”— state and non-state alike—shape policy and change events, it is clear that the most brilliant, distanced, and “objective” analysis is not enough to counter the very medium through which so much of this new kind of warfare is prosecuted. We must recognize and speak to the way “ter- ror” works on us.

Battle of Algiers: A Case Study

I frequently show Battle of Algiers very early on in the class, during the first one or two sessions, as a springboard for discus- sion and brainstorming. This signal piece of politically-engaged cinema is rich with content, and can be viewed through mul- tiple thematic frames: anti-colonization and national liberation struggles, torture and terrorism, just war theory and “moral equivalence,” the role of women in revo- lutionary struggle, and unfinished/failed revolutions. Battle of Algiers is a great re-enactment, and begins by announcing itself as a work of fiction. This is not a legal disclaimer. Instead it calls atten- tion to the way the film was made: to the closeness of the space between “documen- tary” and re-imagined and remembered cinema verité. This space is so close that the Pentagon studied the film at the onset of the Iraq war for insights into guerrilla warfare in an occupied Arab country. Because the film is so powerful cin- ematically, it evokes complex scenarios and risky ambiguities, which are impor- tant to untangle. One of these are the multiple and various uses of the gaze:

Ali Lapointe’s demand that the police- man he is assigned to shoot look at him;

the Algerian woman who slowly looks at the customers in a bar about to be torn

to bits by the homemade bomb she is carrying; the looks on the faces of wit- nesses to torture, both French soldier and Algerian civilian. These varied uses of the gaze, especially through anti-colonial and psychoanalytic lenses, make the film

a rich object for cinema studies. The

powerful uses of these long looks embody

the desperate need of the colonized for recognition by the colonizer; the horror of the disciplining gaze; and the long, silent looks full of terrible knowledge of what is

to come, the consequences of one’s “nec-

essary” acts. The same sorrowful musical chords are heard after different scenes of destruction, no matter who planted the bomb. This sense of a long look embodies the complexity and ambiguity of a story that eschews simple oppositions between perpetrator and victim, good and evil. More recently we used the method of free writing, a tool many writers and artists use in their own work. Because it involves an associative, non-linear pro- cess, attached to no object but itself, this “dreaming out loud” can often yield a deeper kind of excavation than a strictly analytical, discursive approach. This is a

great equalizer—no one is held in higher esteem because of her theoretical fluency or rhetorical confidence. Everyone lis-

tens and pays attention to everyone else. What does Madeline notice, differently from Jorge or Maissa? While watching

a film like Battle of Algiers, we will jot down names, phrases, memory triggers. We will then read these aloud, listening

to each other without commentary. Our

list-making and brainstorming includes feelings/emotions, images, and sounds as

well as linguistic signifiers—not just what

is being represented and how, but what it

feels like in our bodies while we watch, and what lingers afterwards. Everything is allowed to stew together with “belief” and “conviction,” yielding a fuller, more dissonant awareness. We then categorize our words and lists in terms of political concepts/ideas, feelings/emotions, and sensory triggers. Then, through the students’ couplings of “terror” or “terrorist” with one of their keywords—especially a word that denotes an image, sound, or feeling—they begin their web-based image research. They look for the surprising and unexpected while also taking inventory of the pre- dictable (Hamas rallies, masks, images of casualties). We share these, and ask: what languages do these images speak, in what key or register—horror, humor, cynical reason? What do they mobilize? Do we accept them as “natural” or something other than authentic, false, or manipu- lated? What potentials do these images raise for us? Throughout the semester, we exchange our real time responses and articulations while negotiating the many films, art works, videos, YouTube forays, media interventions, propaganda, and punditry that make up the visual curricu- lum of the class. Our listmaking, brain- storming, free-writing, and collecting of visual and textual rhetorics is an ongoing process, the “spine” and nerve-endings of the class, a way for us to keep checking in with one other. There are also striking ways in which theoretical pieces can puncture compla- cency or received wisdom about the politi- cal/social valences of “terror.” One partic- ularly useful tool has been “The Rhetoric of the Image” by Roland Barthes. 5 This mid-1960s piece is extremely useful not just as a pictorial introduction to semi- otics, but because of Barthes’ haunting


words about “the terror of certain signs.” He was not speaking politically, in any kind of direct way, but was writing about the anxiety produced by the instability, discontinuity, and uncertainty aroused by unfixed meanings. This has pushed us as

a class to confront our discomfort about

“not knowing,” and to realize that set- tled, given meanings, while familiar and

reassuring, often function to level com- plexity, or worse, mask terrible things. Barthes also helps us understand that

a photograph can seem to “naturalize”

a framed reality, because of its proxim-

ity (likeness) to that which it represents, thus hiding the artifice, the frame, and the intention of whomever is behind the camera. Discontinuities and breaks—for both makers and “readers”—allow a non- hierarchical ordering of the senses that can create a more active and participa- tory audience, with potentially liberatory political effects. How do we unpack and de-code, but also what do pictures say, spill, and leak, in spite of themselves? After we have established a collec- tive process of knowledge-making that emphasizes the emotive and the sensory as well as the analytical, we are ready to investigate historic precedents and con- temporary strategies of “political art,” to study how different representations and strategies work, and what they do. The curriculum of Terrorism: A Media History draws on many kinds of film languages, genres, and modes of address:

agit-prop, neo-realist, social realist, direct cinema, cinema verité, expressionism, essay film, re-enactment, performance, found footage, narrative fiction, magic realism, speculative and science fiction, amateur and DIY videos on YouTube, silent cinema, new wave, old wave, broad- cast news journalism, and media spec-


tacle. We pay special attention to how these varying film forms use or disavow irony, catharsis, and empathy. We look at the modernist avant-garde strategy to shock, to “make things strange” through radical juxtaposition, or suspend- ing narrative pleasure in favor of a direct confrontation with audience, spectator, reader. We become aware of the intentions of the filmmakers, their manipulations, framings, and points-of-view, and discuss how each of us is affected and moved. We look at unmasking and de-mystification as a Marxist strategy. We look at urgent claims to force disclosure of information and “truth” that motivates so much criti- cal grassroots media, like Democracy Now. We debate whether or not these strate- gies entail an over-reliance on “rational,” analytic models for understanding, and if “transparency” is perhaps over-rated—an execution is still an execution, after all, whether public or hidden from view. We look at the “hot” agit-prop of JUNG: War in the Land of the Mujahadeen, an unapol- ogetically subjective documentary that uses identificatory strategies to produce a connection between viewers and gravely wounded people in Afghanistan. Films like these rely on the horror of the image, and the belief that pictures can change consciousness. We look at the “cool” agit- prop of the Yes Men, Billionaires for Bush, Jon Stewart, and Bryan Boyce, who all use impersonation, tricks, satire, and caustic wit to brilliant ends. We look critically at the uses of irony: always at the ready to outsmart, outlast, and out-whip the worst-case specters and scenarios. We are helped here by the late and great Eve Sedgwick, who wrote so beautifully about the pull of the “paranoid view”: we already know what to expect, so we will not be ambushed or surprised, an event even


worse than the horrible scenarios that are already, always, unfolding. We look at a different kind of coolness in Harun Farocki’s “Inextinguishable Fire,” that tells viewers in its opening moments:

“If we show you pictures of Napalm dam-

first, you will

close your eyes to the pictures, then, you

age, you will close your eyes

will close your eyes to the memory


you will close your eyes to the facts


you will close your eyes to the connections between them… If the viewer wants no responsibility for Napalm’s effects, what responsibilities will they take for the expla- nations of its use?” 6

We look at how torture is represented in Carl Dreyer’s classic of silent cinema, The Passion of Joan of Arc, and in a con- temporary documentary like The Torture Question. After watching the most brutal and harrowing beatings, we see long shots of haunting stillness—the time it takes for one guard to wash blood from a pris- on corridor floor—in Steve McQueen’s Hunger. We debate the refusal of narration in James Longley’s Gaza Strip, in contrast to John Pilger’s sonorous and moralistic voice-over in Palestine Is Still the Issue. We argue about our enjoyment or disdain for spectacular hijacking scenes, scored to “Do the Hustle,” in Johan Grimonprez’s dial h-i-s-t-o-r-y, or the Dionysian explo- sion at the end of Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point, or the bombing of the radio tower atop of the World Trade Center in Lizzie Borden’s speculative feminist fantasy Born in Flames.

“Sometimes you don’t know what you’re filming…”

This Chris Marker quote from Grin Without a Cat (Le Fond de L’air Est Rouge) eloquently captures the misfires, mis-


recognitions, and delays that sometimes occur when we are looking at something strange or incomprehensible. In the class, we discussed our initial responses to the first published Abu Ghraib photos of a pile of live bodies in a prison corridor:

what is happening here? For some, this did not conform to our fantasy of a scene of torture. As more and more pictures were released, what became chillingly clear was that the threat of a snarling dog or being wrapped in electrodes produced damage as serious, and perhaps more enduring, than the physical application of the tools of torture themselves. At the heart of the most cruel and abject suffering in these scenes is utter humiliation, one of the ultimate weapons of psychological warfare, whose goal is to dismember the personality. Another set of misrecognitions and dis- articulations emerged when we watched a homemade video from a Norwegian web site of children playing a game of hos- tages. This amateur re-staging of a staged media event elicited more horror and dis- may than the actual beheading videos of the same period. Some in the class argued that the children were monsters, while others speculated that they were inno- cents being directed and manipulated by unseen, off-screen adults. We marveled at how this scene of very white, Nordic children enacting a videotaped execution with masks and sticks made us all unwill- ing accomplices in a fictional beheading scenario, where the lens of the camera becomes our gaze, against our will. This gets to what I call “the problem of difficult pictures,” another central preoc- cupation of the class. Pictures are a staple in warfare. The “shock and awe” campaign during the first weeks of the Iraq war was intended to produce an image of reality so


overpoweringly awful that Iraqis would quickly surrender. Some have argued that this spectacle was, perhaps unconsciously, intended to displace the image of the burning towers in New York. The recent and persistent wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the “war on terrorism” have been punctuated by debates about the roles and responsibilities of media. Many voices on the left have accused broadcast media of “sanitizing” these wars, and specifically

the role of the United States, by refusing to show images of bloodshed, torn bod- ies, civilian casualties, and the remains of soldiers killed in combat. The under- lying premise here is that if only people could see these images, then they would turn against the violence. But horror and revulsion, in and of themselves, produce nothing but more of the same—a kind of numbness. One’s politics will shape how, and what, one sees and feels. This is the problem of anguished pictures:

what Susan Sontag has characterized in

Regarding the Pain of Others as “

(inviting) us to be either

spectators or cowards, unable to look.” 7 There are other dangers, too: aestheticiz- ing war and trauma, or quoting already- saturated images, which have been emp- tied of power by their endless repetition. Some critics use terms like “unflinch- ing” and “unblinking” to authorize the long, penetrating gaze, making it some- how intrinsically courageous and risky. But what does it mean to want to produce shock, to manipulate images and sounds that evince a long, drawn-out visceral response, to make an audience gasp with horror and revulsion? What does this mean for the maker, what does this pro- duce for an audience, is agency possible, or is political action endlessly deferred by feelings of pity, shame, even empa-




thy? Is it possible to make a “prison narrative” that is not exploitative, to use violent images

without reducing them to spectacle? What happens to institutionalized and structural violence that is difficult or impossible to picture, so “normalized” that it is rendered practi- cally invisible? Many international students have taken the class, as well as bicultural/bi-national students trying to sort out their identi- ties and positions in relationship to their parents’ generation, sometimes resisting and sometimes welcoming absorption and assimilation into “America” and the global art market. At different points the class has been a flashpoint for radically dif- ferent political views; the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and the over- all Israel/Palestine conflict is an obvious example. But differences have been less along predictable ideological/religious lines than between a cynical view that sees war in the Middle East as eternal and unchangeable and an outraged impa- tience with “apathy.” At crucial points, progressive students from both Israel and Palestine have provided a much more complicated, on-the-ground perspective about small, under-the-radar resistance to the occupation and the separation wall by young Palestinian activists and Israeli anarchists, as well as the prolonged state of dread, anxiety, and the monotony of suffering that characterizes life there beyond the fireworks of the news. A stu- dent from Nigeria whose extended family includes people who have been impris- oned for their involvement in the struggle against big oil educated all of us about the political economy (and the emotion-

the underlying premise here is that if only people could sEE these images, then they would turn against the violence.

al costs) of those conflicts, as did a graduate student from Puerto Rico whose relatives

have been killed or imprisoned for their pro-independence activities. Because Terrorism: A Media History is a course cross-listed with Art History, Theory and Criticism, Visual and Critical Studies, and Film, Video, and New Media, students can choose among a research paper, pictorial essay, or other piece of imaginative writing; a visual study or performance lecture; or a video or other studio art project as their final presentation. Studio projects have includ- ed zines, comics, flipbooks, mini-graphic novellas, pop-up books, small sculptures, puppet shows, posters, endurance perfor- mance installations, and large “relational” sculptures. Students have written papers on rape as a weapon of war and the keffi- yeh as a fashion statement. Emily Siefken, an army veteran, made a “Tomb of the Known” to memorialize fallen female sol- diers in the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Jesse Trippe re-designed The Bill of Rights, while Pam Paggao took five yards of woven fabric, and systemati- cally pierced it with 1,000 straight pins. Mabel Nuernberg’s postcard, in which she wears only a keffiyeh and a gun, refer- ences both Lynda Benglis’s naked dildo shoot from a 1974 issue of Art Forum and Elia Suleiman’s sexy high-heeled ninja in Divine Intervention, who dismantles checkpoints in the occupied territories merely by walking past them. Mabel’s self-portrait is conscious of the commodi- fication of radical chic from Patty Hearst to Leila Khaled, while evincing a kind of cynical joy. What is maybe not so visible




here is Mabel’s struggle with hybridity—both the desire and resistance to assimi- late, to pass as white, and to reconcile these conflict- ing forces with her ties to her Algerian Arab father. Lara Manzanares used imagery related to terrorism to construct “image-based children’s toys to juxtapose the complexity of the topic to the simplicity and straightforward- ness” of a child’s point of view. These included a kaleidocycle, a Jacob’s ladder, and a spinning top, all of which involve potentially never-ending or continuous movement, subject to the control of the user. In Brenna Conley-Fonda’s delicate line drawing from one of the photographs of an Abu Ghraib prisoner, she uses the medium of her own hair. Here the gap between “there” and “here” is collapsed via the body—a physical remnant of hers re-figuring a representation of his. The long dark hairs from Brenna’s head are molded into fine lines with glue to create the arching back and bound arms of the tortured Iraqi, whose face and head in the photograph are obscured by the humiliat- ing underwear. In Brenna’s hands, the abjection of the photo is transformed into a gesture of connection, of sorrow, of careful and healing touch. Some proj- ects were in gestation during the class, appearing later as fully-realized works. In Edward Salem’s experimental video works Ghazawi and Impunity, the camera disturbs and sensitizes: a horse’s bleeding sores and lacerated eye speak eloquently, strangely, and beautifully of the enormous suffering of people, animals, and land. In spring 2010, “Distant Voices Right Now” was a collaborative writing and

Voices Right Now” was a collaborative writing and sound project instigat- ed after watching Chris Marker’s

sound project instigat- ed after watching Chris Marker’s Grin Without a Cat (Le Fond de L’air Est Rouge), an epic film essay on the global revolutionary upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s. The project coordi- nators, Rae Ann Langes and Jillian Soto, with par- ticipation and performances by Megan Bonke, Snørre Henriksen, George Sferra, Madeline Snively, and Abbie Wilson, organized

our collective free-writings into a kind of exquisite corpse, grouping phrases under “I/You statements,” “actions,” “questions,” “events,” “exclamations,” “endings,” and “refrains.” After several rehearsals, we crafted an improvisatory spoken-word piece, collaged with a “found sound” mix from the film and live guitar and key- board passages. Phrases included: “We have to ask, is anyone against it?” “I feel


a middle class family

.” “Stop staring!” “It should be possible,

if everyone is willing on!” and “Why do


These projects represent a range of tonal- ities, affects, and politics. All are sharp, eloquent, intelligent, and deeply felt. All risk a kind of ambivalence and undecid- ability in their aesthetics and politics, which in no way precludes commitment, the ability to make a clear statement, or the necessity to take a principled stand. But most opt for a radical openness, and a caution against invoking absolute truths, even those that proceed from “direct” experience. At the end of the semester, we can see that it is perhaps unhelpful to even

I come from .” “Look at it burn

I feel ashamed

.” “One must go sometimes to tremble?”




use the term “terror” at all, and that, to paraphrase Edward Said, we should be discussing and debating the uses of politi- cal violence by multiple actors (including states) instead. 8 The class, in each new iteration, has created a temporary com- munity, a way of being together where dissent, difference, and respect co-exist, although sometimes painfully. At its most successful, we all risk a kind of vulner- ability in relation to knowledge, each other, and our work, and a thoughtful slowing-down that goes against the kind of hyper-rational certainty and mastery that has been so disastrous and duplici- tous in the hands of power. In some ways our cultural “rationality” is a lifeboat, the medium through which we become habituated to the endless state of emer- gency as described by Walter Benjamin, where the task is to “manage” unimagi- nable crises, from an oceanic oil gush to endless war. The way we look, sense, and feel are all components of our thinking, all crucial to resisting the mechanisms of the “societies of control.” 9 The question remains for all artists, thinkers, writers, and teachers who try to do the work we do mindfully, and politically: does slowing- down mitigate against urgency, against agency, when so much needs to be both done and undone? The question can only be answered in a spirit of optimism, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. We must continually reinvent the tools we use to unpack, unlearn, learn and rebuild, to create the kind of change we want to make—in the present tense, mindful of the past, and “for the future” too.


1 The bedrock influence is the epony-

mous Keywords by Marxist writer and cul-


tural critic Raymond Williams (Fontana Communications Series, London: Collins, 1976); but also updates and extensions, like Jan Zita Grover’s “AIDS: Keywords,” October 102 (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1987), 17-30.

2 The bibliography of the class includes

Augustine and Aquinas on just war theory; Walter Laqueur on the political history of terrorism; excerpts from Giorgio Agam- ben’s Homo Sacer; Deleuze’s “Postscript for the Societies of Control”; writings on violence by cultural theorists Walter Ben- jamin, Susan Sontag, Slavoj Zizek, and Jasbar Puar; studies on guerrilla warfare by Che Guevara, Regis Debray, and Frantz Fanon; feminist critiques by Robin Mor- gan, Gayatri Spivak, and Zilla Eisenstein; writings by radical historians Howard Zinn, Barbara Engel and Cliff Rosenthal, Eric Hobsbauwm, and George Katsiafi- cas; Obama’s Nobel Prize speech; excerpts from memoirs by Emma Goldman, Cathy Wilkerson, Assata Shakur, Bill Ayers, Ulrike Meinhof, Astrid Proll, and Bommi Baumann; and The Scum Manifesto. The filmography/videography includes Sergei Eisenstein’s October, Eric Rohmer’s The Lady and the Duke, Peter Watkins’ La Commune, the sequences on anarchism and the labor movement in Chicago: City of the Century, Isaac Julien’s Frantz Fanon:

Black Skin, White Masks, Adam Curtis’ The Power of Nightmares, Paul Chan’s Baghdad in No Particular Order, Margarethe Von- Trotta’s Marianne and Juliane, Emile de Antonio’s Underground, and Fassbender, Kluge et al.’s Germany in Autumn.

3 The “take-home quiz” was made in

response to an on-line contest set up by supporters of Andrej Holm and other anti-gentrification activists and research- ers in Berlin who have been targeted by Germany’s anti-terrorism laws. Writers, activists, artists, and concerned people in Germany and internationally made proj- ects to answer the question “What is


terrorism?”: http:// einstellung.so36.net/


Harun Farocki, Inextinguishable Fire,



4 Lauren Berlant, “The Epistemology

of State Emotion,” in Dissent in Danger- ous Times, ed. Austin Sarat (Ann Arbor MI: University of Michigan Press, 2005),


5 Roland Barthes, “The Rhetoric of the

Image,” from Image, Music, Text, edited and translated by Stephen Heath (New York: Hill and Wang, 1977), 32-51.

1969, distributed by the Video Data Bank http://www.vdb.org.

7 Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of

Others (New York: Farrar, Straus and Gir- oux, 2004).

8 Power Politics and Culture: Interviews

with Edward Said, ed. Gauri Viswanathan

(NYC: Vintage Books, 2001).

9 Gilles Deleuze, “Postscript for the

Societies of Control,” October, Vol. 59 (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992), 3-7.

The Sustainable Energy of the Bread & Puppet Theater:

Lessons Outside the Box

By Marc Estrin

I read somewhere that the average lifespan of an independent theater

group is about seven years. I do not know where such figures originate, but from my experience it seems plausible to me. The average lifespan of a poorly maintained urban tree is seven years. If seven years is an average lifespan, equivalent to a human life of 75, and if Bread & Puppet (B & P) has been around since 1963, that would make the Bread & Puppet Theater approximately 470 human years old. So, as you might ask about any 470-year-old person, what is it that sus- tains the Bread & Puppet Theater? Why has it lived so long and so energetically?


Theater? Why has it lived so long and so energetically? 20 And more generally, what is

And more generally, what is it that makes any organization—political, social and artistic, educational—long-term sustain- able? Perhaps Bread & Puppet can do some radical teaching here. Unlike most things in the depleting world, this group seems to run on a battery that is ever recharging and ever recharged. And like a battery, its strength is directly proportional to the difference, the tension, between opposite poles. My thought, after working with them for forty years, is that the secret of Bread & Puppet’s survival is its continual feed- ing on six opposites in the universe. A Marxist or a Hegelian might call it eating dialectical tension.