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  • Editor’s Note
  • Elizabeth A. Povinelli

As many readers of Public Culture will already know, the Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in the Bush administration recently interpreted the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and the Berman Amendment (enacted in Section 2502[a] of the 1988 Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act, Public Law 100-418) in such a way as to preclude academic journals and presses from modifying the content of certain essays, videos, and other scholarly information submitted to them for publication. The Berman Amendment provided an exemption for "information or informational materials":

The authority granted to the President by this section does not include the authority to regulate or prohibit, directly or indirectly, the importation from any country, or the exportation to any country, whether commercial or otherwise, regardless of format or medium of transmission, of any information or informational materials, including but not limited to, publications. . . .

But as reported in the New York Times, publishers of texts from countries under embargo have been "forbidden to reorder paragraphs or sentences, correct syntax or grammar, or replace 'inappropriate words,' according to several advisory letters from the Treasury Department in recent months. Adding illustrations is prohibited, too. To the baffled dismay of publishers, editors and translators who have been briefed about the policy, only publication of 'camera-ready copies of manuscripts' is allowed" (February 28, 2004).

We find this interpretation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act not only a dangerous assault on the cosmopolitan principles of critical public circulation [End Page ix] this journal has long stood for, but also a deceptive means of producing the illusion of different standards of scholarship internationally. In the spirit of scholarly dialogue and exchange, the editors, editorial committee, and editorial staff of Public Culture work extensively with all of its authors on all levels of thought from the poetics and rhetorics of the text, to its visual illustrations and argumentative logic. And, of course, Public Culture as a collective is richly enhanced by its own continual engagement with material and ideas that refuse its habitual ways of thinking.

In our introductory essay to Public Culture 15, no. 3 ("Technologies of Public Forms: Circulation, Transfiguration, Recognition"), Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar and I called for a reconceptualization of translation as transfiguration and for attention to the social life of textual forms rather than denotational meaning. This special issue, "Johannesburg—The Elusive Metropolis," is an exemplary instance of a transfigurational movement and refashioning of thought that does not respect—indeed often refuses—the national imaginaries of enemy and friend imposed by the state, for example in the 1917 Trading with the Enemies Act that the IEEPA amends. Issues like this one expose the bad faith, and simple untruth, of this national discipline when it is not commodities that are at stake but rather the commodious clash of particularly located essays with a cosmopolitan address. A critical attitude does not have a passport.

But in any case, without active public outcry and resistance to this policy, the uneven distribution of intellectual labor will reappear as the natural outcome of differences in "national genius." This aggressive assault of the Bush administration on international—and intranational—scholarly dialogue strongly suggests that its militaristic unilateralism and its intellectual unilateralism must be fought rigorously side by side.

Postscript On April 2, 2004, the Treasury Department appeared to reverse its position following protests from scholars, publishers, and professional organizations, notably the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. We are glad to hear of this development; it demonstrates the kind of vigilance we need.

Elizabeth A. Povinelli
New York City
April 2004
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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-8018
Print ISSN
0899-2363
Pages
pp. ix-x
Launched on MUSE
2004-10-01
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived 2004
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