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  • New Geographies of Modernity
  • Ali Mirsepassi (bio)

There is an ongoing struggle over the meaning of modernity that has been invested with renewed and volatile intensities in today's historical moment of globalization. Whether the term globalization is indeed appropriate to describe the world in the wake of events on September 11, or for that matter before, is something I give consideration to here. This essay is broadly concerned with exploring ways of understanding the contemporary concept, or meaning, of modernity, and particularly so with respect to the world situation in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the United States. Modernity is understood in this context as being defined by the overall history of the crisis produced by the global expansion of European capitalism, the resulting transformations of world space, and the concomitant struggle for hegemony over the paradigm of modernity. These struggles have centered in large part on the nation-state as the defining locus of modernity. Today, this too is brought into question more radically than ever. Not surprisingly, the dominant narratives of modern rationality that buttressed this global capitalist expansion were most often and fundamentally articulated as geographic conceptions. Geography is understood as place, culture, and power.

The spectacle of September 11 compacted into several gruesome hours many of the principal motifs of the global crisis of modernity that had hitherto remained at disparate temporal and spatial remove. It was a moment of worlds drawing suddenly closer together in a radical geographic implosion, a collapsing of massive distances. There was, to borrow a concept from Jean Baudrillard, a returning as modern of everything believed to have been buried. The events, in their hideous illumination of a global systemic, inflicted a final breach on any thinly or artificially preserved membrane separating a world inside from one outside. No such world has indeed existed for a very long time, as those who exist on the subordinated side most bitterly and unfortunately know. It was not merely, as Noam Chomsky has said, that for the first time the guns were directed the other way;1 it was, rather, the history of a violently globalized capitalist empire, long in the making, finally turning inward on itself with all of the seething viciousness of a catastrophically uneven accumulation of violence. The highest symbols of unsurpassed technological achievement were used against themselves in a fatal attack on thousands, by another made lethal by its sheer transparency, and in this moment the features of a new form of empire and a new logic of power were exposed to a glaring light.

Endeavors are made to explore ways of understanding the concept of modernity with respect to the world situation in the aftermath of September 11. It is immediately absurd to conceive September 11 as a clash of modernity against its other. The entire discursive construction of modernity and its other had been successfully undermined by postmodern and postcolonial interventions well in advance of the fatal day. As shall be explained, the events of September 11 give only additional affirmation to these theoretical conclusions. Yet these [End Page 1] events point to something still more: the deconstruction of the modernity-other totalization is simultaneous with an outmoding of a totalizing (colonial/imperial) identity for modernity occurring through transformations within global capital itself. Global social divisions resulting from capitalist globalization have become more rather than less intense, yet there is increasingly less of an inside/outside relationship in this imperial scenario. If the inside/outside intellectual device was conceived as a tactic for the closure of the crisis of modernity, today it is visibly and manifestly fading in its powers even in spite of energetic efforts to reaffirm it.

September 11 and Modernity

The dominant paradigm of modernity, in its fundamental self-identity, is conceived as being in a binary relation to its other. The overall identity of the system is sustained by the imparting of essentialized identities, ontologically separate yet dialectically relational, to modernity and its other in a negative dialectic of recognition. This can be seen in seminal works of modernity from Charles de Secondat, baron de Montesquieu's Persian Letters to G. W. F. Hegel's Philosophy of History and most...


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