copyright 2007, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Jump Cut, No. 49, spring 2007

Shock and awe:
the aesthetics of war and
its confrontations with reality

by Jyotsna Kapur

Soon after September 11, 2001, an acquaintance recounted to me her eight-year-old’s reaction to the incessant replays of the collapsing WTC Towers on different TV channels. Her son, she said, could not believe that it was really happening and claimed that it all seemed like an alien movie, with aliens attacking the Towers. In telling me the story, the point she wanted to make was that her son’s reading was in essence, if not in fact, true. According to her, those who had attacked the WTC were, indeed, aliens. I learnt first-hand then about the ideological sway of U.S. exceptionalism made explicit in the question: Why would any one attack “us” unless “they” were literally from another planet or, as George W. Bush soon called them, just plain evil? This foreclosed any discussion we might have had about the historical, political, or economic causes underlying the attacks because to do so would have seemed to justify the terrorist actions. There was also another lesson here: about just how blurred the relationship between representation and reality had become. While the adult was projecting reality onto the screen of a sci-fi or disaster movie her child was grappling with the awesome fact that the screen had become real — figuring that it must be so, if for no other reason than the fact that all the TV channels were simultaneously carrying the same screen.[1][open notes in new window]

That the current so-called global war against terrorism is as much a war of representation as it is for military and economic domination should be clear by the media-generated hoaxes around the breaking of Saddam’s statue and the Hollywood-style filming of Jessica Lynch’s rescue while the pictures of the tortures in Abu Ghraib (until their public exposure internationally) or the more recent ones of the dead Abu Musab al-Zarqawi served as war-trophies to cast the U.S. as winning the war. The notion of shock and awe — of war as spectacle — is shared both by the U.S. planners of this war and some of their combatants. The latter have shown their arsenal in their understanding of the spectacular impact of the attacks on the World Trade Towers and the horrific videotaped sequences of beheadings and hostages.

Closer to home, the student paper, The Daily Egyptian, at the university where I teach and the local paper, The Southern Illinoisan, fell for a hoax engineered by a former student and writer at the newspaper.[2] For almost two years, the newspaper carried letters and reports on an eight-year-old girl, Kodee Kennings, whose mother was reportedly dead and father, Dan Kennings, was fighting in Iraq where he was eventually killed. Kodee and Dan had visited the newsroom and the town and befriended the reporters. It was not until the hoax was carried to the length of organizing a funeral for Dan Kennings that reporters learnt from the Department of Defense that there was no one by the name of Dan Kennings who had either served or died in Iraq. It followed then that there was no Kodee Kennings either. Dan and Kodee were fictional characters whose parts had been played by actors.

What was fascinating about this episode was not that the student journalists fell into a race to tell a tale they thought would get them recognition and awards — afterwards they carried out a thorough self-critique and investigation which would have set an example for national papers like the New York Times. What was fascinating was that those who had pulled off the hoax were able to convince the parents of the girl who played the part of Kodee and the man who played Dan that they were making a “documentary” — apparently, tricking them into believing that they were acting in a movie shot with hidden cameras. On a larger level, these three adults appear to be tricked by the conceit of Reality TV that people can just go around being themselves while under observation from all sides. However, this sense of living as if in a movie (the subject of The Truman Show, Peter Weir, 1998) or in someone else’s computer game (as in Matrix, Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski, 1999), although substantially radicalized at the end of the twentieth century in the world’s leading imperialist nation, did not occur overnight or suddenly with television.[3] We have been socialized into it over the course of a century of capitalistic expansion through war.

In his incisive work on war and cinema, Paul Virilio suggested that our widespread inability to penetrate images is the end product of a century-old osmosis between the development of industrial warfare and media technologies.[4] Over the course of the twentieth century, he explained, both modern war and mass media coalesced not just to distort or manipulate reality, through propaganda, but to shatter the notion of reality itself. For instance, it was the underlying aim of Goebel’s propaganda machine, not just to make people believe in whatever false reports came from the Fuehrer but to give up on the concept of reality itself. Virilio cites Goebel’s total war speech, given on February 18, 1943, where he asked, “Do you want the war to be still more total, more radical than we can imagine it today?”[5] As E.J. Hobsbawm explains, the wars of the 20th century, in comparison to those of the previous century, could be characterized as total because of the global reach of the imperial rivalries that begot them and the communication technologies that made them possible. In the hands of the extremists within Hitler’s party, Virilio elaborates, war could expand to have neither limits nor purpose and to turn against reality itself.[6]

War and representation are inextricably intertwined, Virilio explains, because at the heart of every war is the intent to terrorize, to create the fear of death (6). What changed in the twentieth century was the radicalization and blending of both the weapons and the means of representing warfare. Vision itself became cinematic as wars from the first half of the twentieth century destroyed reality and annihilated space with a speed that could be matched only by cinema. For instance, Mussolini’s son’s commented about “the effect” he produced upon dropping an ariel torpedo right in the middle of a group of Galla tribesmen who then, according to him, “opened up just like a flowering rose.”[7] Virilio compares this vision to that of a film editor who has just edited a scene with one scene fading into another in an aesthetically pleasing manner.

Walter Benjamin, writing under the shadow of Hitler’s assent to power saw the same cinematic vision amongst the futurists and, as evidence, he quoted Marinetti in concluding his essay on the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction:[8]

"War is beautiful because it establishes man’s dominion over the subjugated machinery by means of gas masks, terrifying megaphones, flame throwers, and small tanks. War is beautiful because it imitates the dreamt-of metallization of the human body. War is beautiful because it enriches a flowering meadow with the fiery orchids of machine guns. War is beautiful because it combines the gunfire, the cannonades, the cease-fire, the scents, and the stench of putrefaction into a symphony. War is beautiful because it creates new architecture, like that of the big tanks, the geometrical formation flights, the smoke spirals from burning villages, and many others…Poets and artists of Futurism!...remember these principles of an aesthetics of war so that your struggle for a new literature and a new graphic art…may be illuminated by them."

For Benjamin, such an aesthetic sensibility was the ultimate expression of capitalist human alienation, such that humanity could “experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order.” (242) Amidst this fetishization of technology over the human, Benjamin exclaimed,

“The sight of immediate reality has become an orchid in the land of technology.” (235)

Since then, however, the arsenals of weapons and technologies of vision have been geared towards widening the distance between the target and the killer. Now the target is reduced to a ghost or line of perception while the killer is cosseted within the sterilized space of a game room from where targets can be affixed and finished — to enact war as a film, Virilio writes, in which ghosts or dematerialized bodies perform for an audience. (76) The first instances of such theaters of war were the war rooms in London, where the electro-magnetic radar beam invented by Watson-Watt had made it possible for the generals to see the war on a large screen on which both the home and enemy pilots appeared as blips on the screen. The generals, assisted by female assistants, spoke to pilots, warning, guiding and consoling them. The pilots in turn, could visualize the audience in the war room, and they punctuated their feats with commentary and exclamation marks. It was not only the war film, Virilio remarks ironically, that had become a talkie. (76)

The logic of this line of militaristic perception is to eliminate the humanity of both the killer and the victim. It performs war as a play of images, eliminating cinematic narratives in favor of the rapidly changing imagery of video games. On the one end is the disembodied target, not so much to be destroyed as de-realized because it is reduced to an optical blip or a trace to be sensed by sensors, infra-red flashes, light enhancing television cameras, and thermographic pictures that identify through temperature. At the other end, the goal is the “sight machine,” the weapon meshed with the eye that will recognize the target and exercise its decision with efficiency and the speed of light. As an example, Virilio describes the "homing image," which joins an infra-red ray and an explosive projectile fitted with a device that acts like an eye that picks up the image of the infra-red-lit target. The projectile then makes its way towards the image, i.e., the target — with all the ease, Virilio adds, of someone going home. This was indeed, how the First Gulf War was televised.

All this, ultimately, to reduce human error and the costs of war for the ruling class within the aggressor nations — the body counts, war injuries, and the panic that strikes the soldier when faced with his own ruin or the consequences of the destruction wrought by him. Quoting from Ernest Junger’s Steel Storms, published in 1920, Paul Virilio depicts a first-person account of the war experience:

"In this war where fire already attacked space more than men, I felt completely alien to my own person, as if I had been looking at myself through binoculars … I could hear the tiny projectiles whistling past my ear as if they were brushing an inanimate object … the landscape had the transparency of glass."

Alienation is the word that comes to mind to describe a sensibility that looks at oneself from the outside, confronting oneself as at an image. The beauty industry, in turn, over the last century, has been socializing civilians to prefer the non-sensory image, which can be endlessly touched up and perfected, over the sensory image of the human body, which is necessarily diverse and grows older in time. One of the enduring promises of consumer culture has been eternal youth, whether through products directly geared towards maintaining youthful appearances or through its larger seduction, that life itself can be an endless pursuit of novelty, spontaneity, self-invention, and play; a privilege granted to children and youth since the invention of childhood in modernity. Its ultimate promise is a break from history. Its lure is that one can live without accumulating life’s traces, its wrinkles etched in the body, heart, and mind.

In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde gets to the gothic core of this fantasy of consumer culture.[9] In the novel, a painter falls in love with, Dorian Gray, an exquisitely beautiful aristocratic young man, and paints his portrait. Dorian wishes upon the picture that he could remain forever as young and uncorrupted as his portrait. In what, with the hindsight of history, we can now recognize as an artist’s profound insight into the logic and pulse of his age, Wilde draws a vision in which Dorian remains unchanged, but the portrait, in a series of cinematic dissolves, ages and accumulates all the ravages of his excesses and personal corruption. In the end, Dorian slashes the painting, only to be discovered as an old, loathsome man with a knife in his heart while the painting is restored to its original beauty.

Written in 1890, amidst the first burst of consumer culture in Victorian England, Dorian Gray epitomized the first consumer (the aristocratic philanderer) who gathers experiences, acquaintances, women, objects, and is attached to none. Dorian’s wandering can certainly be interpreted as the restlessness of unfulfilled homoerotic desire, but the references to his relentless pursuit of life as art or self-improvement through consumption are unmistakable. “You are the type what the age is searching for and what it is afraid it has found,” is how another character describes Dorian:

"I am so glad that you have never done anything, never carved a statue, or painted a picture, or produced anything outside of yourself! Life has been your art. You have set yourself to music. Your days have been your sonnets." (223)

For all his riches, the companions and objects he has gathered, what Dorian wants most desperately is to forget the past and live endlessly in the moment. “…if you really want to console me,” he asks the painter when the latter comes to console him upon learning of the suicide of the woman Dorian had previously loved, “teach me to forget what has happened, or to see it from a proper artistic point of view.” (113) “To become the spectator of one’s life,” he concludes, “…is to escape the suffering of life.” (114) In the end, Wilde restores the image and the human to their proper place: the marks of life appear on Dorian’s body and not his image.

Marx’s entire life-work was driven by the passionate conviction that capitalism diminished the human putting it in the service of accumulating capital, a dead thing which grew vampire-like by exploiting or sucking the lifeblood of the living worker. So for Marx, estrangement was the defining experience of capital. It manifested itself in the complete lack of control workers had over what they produced and the conditions they produced them. Work and the products of labor appeared to them as an alien power. The relation to one’s body was torn apart by the mental and manual division of labor. Antagonistic relations with others and nature turned nature and others into instruments to be used. And finally, the experience of alienation through capital meant experiencing separation from one’s own true creative capabilities as a human being. The ultimate embodiment of this alienation was money, which held the human in a tyrannical hold, limiting one’s activities to the amount of money held and not to one’s capabilities or interests:[10]

"…all the things which you cannot do, your money can do. It can eat and drink, go to the dance hall and the theater; it can travel; it can appropriate art, learning, the treasures of the past, political power — all this it can appropriate for you — it can buy all this for you: it is the true endowment."

It is hard to miss the anger with which Marx speaks against this loss of reality, the turning of “image into reality and reality into a mere image” on account of the power of capital over labor. For Marx, the real was that which came from

“man as man or from human society as society.”[11]

We can now appreciate why to restore power to the human might appear radical in our historical trajectory. The spread of capitalism has increasingly disembodied the human into an abstraction and human alienation reached the extent that far from feeling in control of the world we feel we are at its mercy. One aspect of this is that the very technologies of vision, from cinema to now the Internet, that could have helped us locate ourselves in an increasingly globalized world, appear to have taken off a life and logic of their own — making them untrustworthy allies in such a practical knowledge. At the other end, these very technologies are now capable of keeping the entire planet under surveillance and tracking a war in real time. In the final analysis, the technologies of vision and warfare are both products of human invention and society and, consequently, reveal its internal conflicts and contradictions.

What is missing from Virillio’s analysis is a consideration of the ability of collective history and individual memory to unite the past, present, and future and to use these technologies of vision in stubborn resistance to the erasure of history wreaked by war and media manipulation.

In other words, the very technologies that serve to question the notion of reality as part of the destructive apparatus of war are also our means of grasping reality — a point not missed by early theorists of the still and moving image, Walter Benjamin, Siegfried Kracauer, and Bertolt Brecht, whose insights on the relationship between war, fascism, capitalism, and the subjective experience of history, memory, and the body are absolutely compelling today, in the midst of our very own state of permanent war. Their insights are sharp because of the relative newness of the technologies of war and representation in their times, both of which were being pressed into large scale social transformations to alter the course of history, i.e., fascism and socialism. The same question has been at the center of the non-fiction film, whose core concern has been to understand and engage with the real. Consequently, it is entirely appropriate to see this cinema also as a theory about reality and to regard the work of filmmakers as expanding our concept of reality itself.

In this essay, I would like to discuss a recent film/ performance, Mutual Conversations 1979-2005 (Mike Covell, 2005) that, in my view, gets to the heart of confronting the image with the real. The work transforms the two-dimensional space of the film screen into the three-dimensional space of theater by staging an encounter between the filmmaker and a life-sized projected filmed sequence of himself from twenty-five years ago, in which his projected image asks him questions, very much in the nature of a time capsule with letters written to oneself to be opened in the future. However, Covell’s encounter with time is staged in a public setting as opposed to the private reception of a diary. In fact, Covell cannot see himself meet his younger self because as a performer he is in the meeting. That perspective is available only to the audience, without whom, therefore, the performance would remain incomplete.

The filmmaker’s projected image asks questions that range from

The opening shot is that of a life-sized screen on which is projected the title, with two boxes on either end and one in the middle with a clock and microphone. The clock runs for 11 minutes, which is also the length of the film. The clock in the middle, serves as a reminder of the passing of time, both outside of the film and the film reel itself. In fact, the projected actor closes the meeting and the performance by pointing to the clock and the film’s running out of time. The performance ends when the two subjects leave the stage, which is now, as in the opening, occupied by the screen, the clock, and the seats the subjects have vacated.

1. Filmed title: Mutual Conversations 1979-2005. The man Mike Covell as he is now walks in.

2. The projected image of the younger Covell walks in. He stops, faces the audience and says, “I would like you to meet a friend of mine, I think…”

3. The image shakes hands with the older man: "How have you been? Sit down, I’d like to ask you some questions."

4. They both sit and talk. Image: "I am wondering whether my daughter/your daughter Kim, participated in that kind of scientific wave that was unfolding at the time this was being made or was more concerned with being a domestic or more involved in the art forms rather than the hard sciences?"

While Covell answers his question if UFO’s have been explained amidst laughter from the audience, his projected image remains unaware of the reaction he has evoked.

Covell: "I wish, I/you had not asked that question….But, they no longer get the kind of public attention that they did twenty five years ago. They still fascinate me. There were things that happened when I was young that I still don’t have an explanation for…."

5. "The time is just about ready to run out, I think. It has been nice to see you."  They get up and shake hands and the younger waves goodbye.

6. "Bye." The Mike of today waves back. They leave, one exiting right, one left.

The entire performance is somewhat surreal as the image and the real appear to merge together appearing in the darkened theater space as the projection of a ghostlike meeting in which the past and the present blend into each other. Both figures cast shadows on the screen and because of the light from the projector turn strangely into projected images. Moreover, the living figure is choreographed as a mirror image of his younger self. The mirroring effect is in the minimalist mise-en-scene  —  the two subjects sit facing each other on two exactly similar boxes which are placed on either side of the clock, they speak to each other and mirror each other’s actions, such as, shaking hands and crossing each other. Finally, the living one has to take his place in a scene that is pre-recorded, unchanging, and already set in time.

At the same time, the spell is constantly broken as life penetrates the image through the interaction between the black-and-white projected younger image and the older living person and the questions and answers, which clearly demarcate the past and the present, the image and the real. Covell’s answers, which are refreshingly honest and improvised, change across performances while the questions remain the same. Moreover, it is the live actor who completes the performance. At one performance, Covell was still fixing the audio when his screen image entered. When Covell took his place across from his image to participate in the performance, with just a moment’s delay , the irony of who was really in control was made doubly clear.

Moreover, we know that although the image appears to be in control that control is ceded to it by the living. For instance, it is a poignantly funny moment during the performance in which the screen image interrupts the living actor’s thoughtful ruminations about his daughter and granddaughter to ask a long-winded question, if the real nature or cause of UFOs has been found. This invariably invokes laughter from the audience because it immediately dates the image. But the laughter could also come from a release of tension because the UFO question acts as a break in the mesmerizing interrogation which had come to dwell on the passing on time implicit in the question about the filmmaker’s daughter’s future. The moment animates history so visibly. While those in the present, i.e., Covell and his audience, share the laughter, the image — unaware of the laughter his question has evoked — waits for the answer in just as matter-of-fact a manner as with the previous questions, head down preparing to ask the next question by reading it off of the paper he has brought to the interview.

The clock is the third subject in Mutual Conversations: the setting that brings the past and the future together in the present. The presence of the clock stops us from identifying closely with Covell, in the narrow way sometimes called for by autobiographical work. Rather, the clock leads us to consider the larger question posed by the work, i.e., the unity of the present with the past and the future. In the meeting between the two, it is the present which remains contingent or open to change. For instance, if the performance were to be done this year, Covell would have to change the year in the title, Mutual Conversations 1979-2005 to 2006 or 2007. Even more significantly, the film/ performance could not be complete with Covell. Even if the film part of the performance were to be projected after his death or inability to perform, it would serve as a reminder of his presence, for it is written into the work itself. Ultimately, the work speaks to the truth that our collective history has no final ending even if our individual lives are finite and mortal. It asks its audience, at a collective level, to confront mortality soberly, without exhilaration or terror, with each asking the question, how did I live in my particular time?

Every photograph, Benjamin suggested, was a statement made for the future by the subjects who know that the photo would survive them.[12] In turn, the photograph reminds us of the contingency of our own present moment because while what we see is the photographed past, we see it from a time which for the subjects of the photograph is the future.[13] To think dialectically and historically is exactly this: to pull the present out from the past and the future and see it as a moment of action and examination. Kracauer made precisely this connection in his comment that history resembled photography because it was, among other things, “a means of alienation.”[14] Benjamin saw cinema as a further advancement over the still photo because it could show movement in time and space, making it possible to

“permeate real time, bring its image in our grasp, and isolate it in precise fragments which could be recombined."[15]

Both Kracauer and Benjamin were preoccupied by death and how the photographic and cinematic image allows us to speak, Eduardo Cadava suggests, about “our death before our death” announcing “our absence foreshadowing a time when all that will be left of us will be our image.”[16] Perhaps, this is the reason why Covell’s daughter, now about the same age as when Covell recorded the film, cried when she saw the film/ performance. In between the permanently unchanging image of her father in his youth and his changing older self in person lay the reminder that there will be a time when she will not have him, only his image.

Benjamin’s preoccupation with death should certainly not be startling — it could not be otherwise for a Jewish communist living under the Third Reich. Describing the impulse behind keeping a diary, Benjamin explained,

“From day to day, second to second, the self preserves itself, clinging to that instrument: time, the instrument that it was supposed to play.”[17]

In recognizing time as an instrument that the self was supposed to play, Benjamin spoke profoundly as a Marxist amidst the impending crisis of fascism. Accepting modernity’s secularization of time as linear and not driven by some preordained flow of fate or destiny he, along with Marx, placed in human hands the ability to act and change the force of history. In other words, he was claiming, loosely paraphrasing Marx, that we make history but not in circumstances of our making.[18]

Bertolt Brecht also had a fundamental concern to show this dialectical understanding of time — that between the objective time of the clock which moves forward relentlessly and subjective time which is open to human action and intervention. One of the goals of Brechtian experiments in epic theater was to put quotation marks around the notion “real.” But in retrospective contrast to postmodernists, Brecht's intent was not to challenge the existence of the real. Rather, he wanted to teach his audience to think about the real skeptically, subversively, and ironically so as to question fascist propaganda, which authoritatively presented itself as fact rather than interpretation. Consequently, Brecht advised his actors to freeze a moment in the following way:[19]

"So you should simply make the instant
Stand out, without in the process hiding
What you are making it stand out from."

Theater for Brecht was a means to stop the flow of time so as to reflect on it, to see it with astonishment.

To show the coexistence of the past and the future in the present, as Covell does, is the exact opposite of the disunity proposed by fascism, whose mission is to eradicate history and rewrite time as an eternal present. In his dystopian novel, 1984, George Orwell described the existential crisis of the individual in a totalitarian regime where history is constantly rewritten, photographic and print records relentlessly erased, and people disappeared without a trace.[20] In such a society of secrecy and surveillance the individual feels no control over the material world, cannot trust his/her memory. When one is living in isolation from others, the real world begins to appear to be a trick of the mind.

Mutual Conversations is a powerful work because it restores the power of the living over the image, the human over cinema. It performs the complicated relation between the cinema-image and the human presence coming out at the end of a century of cinema to claim ownership over the image. In doing so, it is both an expressive and theoretical enquiry into cinema and its relation to the real, into cinema’s preservation and erasure of the human presence, and ultimately into the enduring human quest to grasp reality through the image, to take it in one’s hands and transform it as a work of art. For me, the timeliness of this work can be best understood if contextualized in the history of cinema and capital over the last century. The work is at once both contemporary, in that it is part of recent arts practices which have combined film with the other arts, particularly performance, and primitive, in its form and effect. The entire film is Lumière-like — comprised of a single shot, with a static camera, and lasts the length of the film reel. And in its effect it brings back the magic of early cinema’s uncanny capture of the image of a person.

Mutual Conversations returns us to the beginning of the last century when cinematic time was jostling with the real time of theater. Virilio has shown that film movements of early cinema, including montage, narrative ellipses, surrealist and futuristic experiments, were all concerned with establishing the independence of cinematic time and thus served as training grounds in industrial warfare where reality could be changed as if in a movie. The same argument has been made in relation to video games as a training ground for a generation to be recruited to fight the technological wars of the 21st century, where the target appears as a line in vision. In returning cinematic time back to the real time of the clock, akin to the earliest Lumière actualities, Covell’s film/ performance goes back to the birth of cinema, when cinematic time still resembled the real time of theater. However, the return is not in the nature of a nostalgia trip or an aestheticized fetish of early film form but a means of estrangement. By bringing in an early moment from film history the work makes us look anew at what has since passed.

Covell’s live performance, without which the filmed one would be incomplete, restores the aura (as defined by Benjamin — unique existence in time and space) of the uniquely human aura offered by theatrical performance (not the cult of the star as market commodity). The cinema image, Benjamin claimed, separated the reflection of the actor and placed it before the public, the consumers in the market, as an endlessly repeatable, saleable commodity. Cinema responded to this shriveling of the aura of the actor by creating the cult of the star, the “phony spell of a commodity.”[21] Unlike film, which cans an actor’s performance for all times, Mutual Conversations unites the film image with the real to show at once both the autonomy of cinematic time and also its inability to stop the forward movement of real time. It shows us that the past is not “merely an imaginary back-projection of the present” —  Terry Eagleton’s elegant summary of postmodern thinking that reality is only discursive — but reminds us that "even if the past does not exist, its effects, most certainly, do.” (51) It is this interaction between theater and film, the non-sensory image and the sensory living person, the unchanging eternally youthful image and the aging human body that can teach us, gently in the manner of art, about the violence of contemplating ourselves, others, and our world as merely an image.

In war, the reduction of distance between the image and the real, between the generals in their war rooms and the destruction of life on the battlefield is brutal and irrevocable. While the generals can oversee the war from a distance, as Tommy Franks did the war in Iraq from Florida, its consequences are borne on the ground, and for all of the technological prowess of the U.S. in comparison with the Iraqis war cannot be won on the strength of technology alone.  While the weapons of stealth and surveillance can help against a conventional combatant they fail in front of guerilla tactics.

In the end, we are left with the clear-thinking grief of Michael Berg’s indictment whose son, Nicholas Berg, was beheaded in Iraq and that beheading was publicized worldwide on video:

"I am sure that the one who wielded the knife felt Nick’s breath on his hand and knew that he had a real human being there. I am sure that the others looked into my son’s eyes and got at least a glimmer of what the rest of the world sees. And I am sure that these murderers, for just a brief moment, did not like what they were doing."

"George Bush never looked into my son’s eyes. George Bush doesn’t know my son, and he is the worse for it. George Bush, though a father himself, cannot feel my pain, or that of my family, or of the world that grieves for Nick, because he is a policymaker, and he doesn’t have to bear the consequences of his acts. George Bush can see neither the heart of Nick nor that of the American people, let alone of the Iraqi people his policies are killing daily." [22]


1. Mutual Conversations 1979-2005 and an earlier version of this paper was presented at Visible Evidence XII, Montreal, 2005.

2. Daily Egyptian Staff. "DE Duped in Hoax." Daily Egyptian. August 26, 2005.

3. For a discussion of this in connection to September 11, see Slavoj Zizek’s materialist psychoanalysis in Welcome to the Desert of the Real. London: Verso. 2002.

4. Paul Virilio. War and Cinema: The Logistics of Perception. Trans. Patrick Camiller. London: Verso. 1989.

5. Virilio, 57.

6. E. J. Hobsbawm. The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914-91. New York: Vintage Books. 1996. Virilio, p. 57.

7. Virilio, 19. Quote from Allan Sekula, "The Instrumental Image: Steichen at War." ArtForum, December 1975. p.33.

8. Walter Benjamin. "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." Ed. Hannah Arendt. Illuminations. p. 241

9. Oscar Wilde. The Picture of Dorian Gray. New York: Barnes and Noble. 2003 Edition. First published in 1890.

10. Karl Marx. Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. In Robert C. Tucker (ed.) The Marx-Engels Reader. (2nd edition). New York: Norton. 1972. p. 96.

11. Ibid. p. 105.

12. For a detailed discussion regarding photography, documentary film and video as evidence of the simultaneous presence of life and death see the extensive discussion on Terri Schiavo in Jump Cut no 48, Winter 2006.

13. "A Short History of Photography." Cited in Terry Eagleton, Walter Benjamin or Towards a Revolutionary Criticism. London: Verso. 1981. p. 33.

14. Siegfried Kracauer. History: The Last Things Before the Last. (completed by Paul Oskar Kristeller) Princeton: Markus Weiner Publishers. 1969. p. 5

15. Walter Benjamin. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Ed. Hannah Arendt. Illuminations: Walter Benjamin, Essays and Reflections. New York: Schocken Books. Pp. 217-52.

16. Eduardo Cadava. Words of Light: Theses on the Photography of History. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1997. p. 8.

17. "The Diary." In Michael W. Jennings (ed.) Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings Volume I — 1913-26. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 1996. p. 11

18. Karl Marx. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. 1851. In Robert C. Tucker (ed.) The Marx-Engels Reader. (2nd edition). New York: Norton. 1972. Marx’s longer explanation is: Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under the circumstances directly found, given and transmitted from the past. p. 595.

19. Bertolt Brecht. "Portrayal of Past and Present in One." John Willet and Ralph Manheim. Eds. Bertolt Brecht Poems 1913-1956. 307

20. George Orwell. 1984. With an afterword by Erich Fromm. New York: Signet. First printed Harcourt Publishers, 1949. p. 214.

21. Walter Benjamin, Work of Art, p. 230-31.

22. Michael Berg. "George Bush Never Looked into My Son’s Eyes." The Guardian, Friday May 21, 2004.

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