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Am I Paranoid Enough?
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American Literary History 18.2 (2006) 390-393

Robert A. Rushing

I'm paranoid, thought the king.
But am I paranoid enough?

Emily Apter's essay offers a useful breakdown of different ways in which we might conceive of the world as one, as a unified field of interconnected events, objects, and phenomena. Leaving aside the more utopian visions of planetarity and transnationalism, Apter turns her attention to "one-worldedness," which, in a memorable phrase, "envisages the planet as an extension of paranoid subjectivity." Everything and everyone is connected, but not in the way you had hoped—instead, even the most ordinary and banal manifestations of your normal life conceal a terrible and monstrous conspiracy. The T-shirt you are wearing, for example, is merely the visible manifestation of an ideological veil concealing the sweatshop labor that produced it in Los Angeles or Sri Lanka; your cheerful, smiling, next-door neighbor is merely the bourgeois mask that hides a functionary of the World Bank; even the unusually mild autumn weather you have been enjoying is a manifestation of global warming brought on by over a century of capitalist exploitation of the environment.

The examples I have just outlined are typical of a specifically leftist paranoid one-world worldview, one whose tacit emphasis is on paralysis: I cannot do anything—buy a T-shirt or a cup of coffee, wave at my neighbor, or even enjoy the weather—without "feeding the machine" of one-world interconnectedness, the vast network of exploitation and surveillance that I thought I stood outside of. In a world governed by the "butterfly effect" (a notion that emerged from chaos theory attempting to model the weather, in which a butterfly flapping its wings in, say, Kyoto, could cause a storm in Brazil a week later), every seemingly banal and insignificant action is loaded with an immense and vertiginously unknowable secret meaning, with "unintended consequences." I thought I was buying a cup of coffee, but I was really working a South American peasant to death. This is, of course, the logic of "always worse" (exemplified in the film The Butterfly Effect (2004) and a whole series of other science fiction films about time travel), in which every attempt to rectify the current situation leads to an even worse outcome. In this vein, it is no surprise that a writer such as Pynchon returns again and again to the idea of entropy: the laws of thermodynamics dictate precisely that "it always gets worse," that the total disorder or entropy will always increase until the universe suffers "heat death," where every structure, no matter how elementary, is dissolved into an eternally unchanging, lukewarm pabulum. Quite literally, every action or intervention has the unintended consequence of speeding up (if only by a miniscule amount) the arrival of this heat death. With these kinds of long-term prospects, why take any action at all?

This, of course, is not the right-wing response to a paranoid one-world worldview, or at least not that of the current right wing. As Apter rather brilliantly notes, "what we are told is connected [by the Bush administration, such as Sadaam Hussein and 9/11] is rivaled only by what we are asked to believe is not connected: there is apparently no link between oil and the Iraq invasion." This view leads to a simultaneous demand for action (invasion, internment) and submission to authority—albeit with a twist. Governed by paranoid thinking, the right wing perversely acknowledges, even insists, that systems of authority are permeated throughout by moral corruption, liberal incompetence, double agents, secret jihadists, and so on (indeed, the David Horowitz "network" model—see http://www.discoverthenetwork.org—proposes an unbroken anti-American continuum between, say, John Kerry [or Barbara Streisand, for that matter] and Osama Bin Laden). Clearly, obedience must be to the "true leader," recognizable precisely through his total freedom from all doubts—the true leader appears ever more like an automaton, free from the necessity of thought. Perhaps nothing captures the essence of this thinking more than the Fox network show 24, whose formal conceit (tracing out, in the course of twenty-four episodes, the twenty-four hours of "real time...

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