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  • Outtakes and Outrage: The Means and Ends of Suicide Terror
  • Samuel Thomas (bio)

Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.

—Gospel of Mark, 9:24

For perverse unreason has its own logical processes.

—Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent

In his introduction to The Plague of Fantasies, Slavoj Žižek attempts a brief précis of “the antagonisms which characterize our epoch.” Writing just before the most far-reaching and spectacular phase of the Age of Terror, and thus with some prescience, he begins to delineate some of the specific processes that have been brought to their extreme—often to the point of their collapse and/or dialectical reversal—in our contemporary “audiovisual media.” Among the numerous factors in play here, the tension between “world market globalization” and the assertion of various historical “particularisms” (ethnic, religious, national, linguistic) stands out as particularly significant in that it both binds together and immediately transcends the audiovisual focus of Žižek’s project (1). Borrowing from Raymond Williams’s well-worn formula of “epochal analysis,” we can say that it extends into a bewildering variety of “dominant, residual and emergent” cultural forms (121). The processes through which the boundaries of the nation-state have become increasingly [End Page 425] porous and pliable—penetrated by networks of influence as diverse as the International Monetary Fund, tourism, flu viruses, drug trafficking, sports franchises, and Al Qaeda—are matched by a series of appeals to origins and claims to self-determination, by the pull toward localized or sovereign political units and by the solidification of various so-called fundamentalisms. In fact, such is the intimate relationship between the two sides of this antagonism, which erupted to such spectacular effect in the Event of 9/11; it is often difficult (or just plain wrong) to separate them out. This, as Žižek contends, has placed many of the “paradigmatic critical procedure[s]” forged in “the good old days of traditional Ideologiekritik” under considerable strain (Plague 1). And in the broadest possible terms, it is hard to argue. It requires no special kind of radicalism nor, for that matter, postmodern ennui to claim that the legitimacy of our modes of analysis have been called into question (and also, for better or worse, reanimated) by these violent upheavals in the contemporary life-world. I therefore begin in this rather expansive fashion with the opposite approach implied—a Žižekian switchover, if you will, a series of relays between the general and the particular, between the global and the local, between the macropolitics of the post-9/11 world and the micropolitics of the fictional text. More straightforwardly, I begin in this fashion because my topic demands it: the representation of suicide bombing and/or jihadist martyrdom; the theory and practice, as it were, of what Alex Houen has usefully termed “sacrificial militancy” (“Sacrificial Militancy” 113). Suicide bombing, in all its diverse and terrible forms, is a phenomenon that vividly dramatizes the most destructive possibilities of this interface between global and local forces, and for scholars of contemporary fiction, it is also the source of a significant outgrowth in discursive/creative practices. One of the underlying aims of my discussion here is to demonstrate that any critical treatment of this topic, whether directly or indirectly enmeshed in cultural politics after 9/11, must necessarily confront the simultaneous blurring and (re)inscription of boundaries that the suicide attack exemplifies in extremis.

This task is made all the more acute if we consider the proposition that the totality of global capitalism itself can be understood as developing from apparently closed, nationalistic forms of collective identity—an argument, for example, that underpins much of John Gray’s Al Qaeda and What it Means to be Modern. The undisclosed symmetries between, say, laissez-fare corporate economics and the informal hawala banking systems that help to sustain the cross-continental operations of terrorist cells provide a stern rebuke to any crudely sketched and insidiously conservative clash of civilizations—with Samuel Huntington’s thesis famously reenergized in the [End Page 426] aftermath of 9/11—and to the “stupefying” belief that “modernity,” and thus capitalism, “is a single condition” (1). Indeed, various elements of Gray’s thought...


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pp. 425-449
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