As a website of contemporary critique, The Fourteenth Floor has always sought to respond to the most urgent problems of our time. War is all around us- in the droned exigency of the anti ISIS mission, in the threat of lone gunmen slaughtering citizens in public space, in floods of refugees streaming across porous borders, and in the daily humdrum of media coverage that urges us to support more interventionism abroad, so the forces of light can finally, once and for all, conquer the forces of darkness.
This month we asked our contributors to engage with the concept of War. The essays that follow work across the terrains of film, photography, music, literature, policy, and the media. They are all in agreement on one thing: we live in an era of perpetual war, where a global effort to destroy “terror” has only served to unleash instability, fear, and distrust across regions and cultures.
Trapped in a war which, by its very own terms of enunciation, cannot end, how can persons of conscience work towards a world of peace and justice for all?
In a trenchant analysis of the Star Wars franchise, Sean Callaghan argues that our most treasured cultural sites produce a deep-seated feudal desire within us. Such works encode perpetual war as necessary for the maintenance of a system dominated by ordained elites. Callaghan forces us to reckon with the unsettling notion that, at its most basic level, the problem of war is the problem of us: how do we break with that which we so readily love? Callaghan’s own fictional offering, Rulepole, maps a future encoded in a different set of desires. Not feudal narcissism but, say, collective scavenging?
James D. Poborsa argues that our state of perpetual war is rooted in a cumulative collapse of once treasured Enlightenment ideals: rational discourse, the sober analysis of different perspectives, and compromise amongst recognized groups for a greater good. While Poborsa is adamant that fanaticism cannot be tolerated, he too rejects any simple good vs. evil binary that would turn the world into a stage for Western triumphalism. As he visually guides us through the killing fields of Central Asia and the Middle East, he demonstrates the power of imagery to force us to think differently about our current state of affairs: will the fanatic or the citizen-in-dialogue be the ruler of the 21st century?
Like Callaghan and Poborsa, B. Stafford is highly suspicious of the idea that one hero will save the realm through sheer force of personality. He provides a nuanced reading of the 1986 music video to Genesis’ pop hit Land of Confusion. The video swerved grotesque paper-mache renderings of conservative icons such as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher with their arch enemies across the globe, including Muammar Gaddafi and the Ayatollah Khomeini. The phatansmagoria punctured the enduring claim that all political leaders make: that this generation will be the anointed one, finally bringing peace and stability to the realm. What happens when such a vision of progress is tarred, hollowed out, and flung into the void?
Finally, Mark McConaghy turns to the writings of South African Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee to reckon with what, in his estimation, is the underlying cause of perpetual war: imperialism as a logic of power. Coetzee articulates the fundamental lesson of the 20th century, one that Western leaders continue to ignore: military occupation creates resistance, not stability. Terrorize the Other and he will terrorize you back. If we truly accepted this reality, would we be so deliciously (if secretly) thrilled by our continued adventures abroad?
To say no to the war machine, we must think and feel and act against it. These essays are, in their own modest ways, a contribution to such a project.
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