- Musicology after Identity—Four Fragments
And so, one must accept that the hyperbolic could well end up as a grain of sand. This is, of course, the fate of all actions. Since thought is also an action, since it is not in opposition to action, it must undergo the same fate.Jacques Derrida, "Politics and Friendship"
After the torchlight red on sweaty facesAfter the frosty silence in the gardensAfter the agony in stony placesThe shouting and the cryingPrison and palace and reverberationOf thunder of spring over distant mountainsHe who was living is now deadWe who were living are now dyingWith a little patience.T. S. Eliot, "What the Thunder Said," The Waste Land
Eventually, Cindy Sheehan left the highly visible ongoing protest she had established outside of President Bush's Crawford holiday estate in Texas. She had received death threats, been systematically ignored by both the Republicans and the Democrats, and been lampooned by the media, so finally she concluded that the toll on her health, resources, and family had become too much—business as usual for a political activist. What, however, was shocking was the admittance of despair in her resignation. Her son Casey's death, she concluded, had indeed been for nothing and not simply because the reason he had found himself in the place where he would die was founded on lies regarding the Iraq war's justification. Rather, there could be no redemption because no force other than the almost completely corporatized American government could be invoked to revenge her son's ghost. In effect, she proclaimed [End Page 87] that there is no America through alignment to which his death could be dignified, nothing that could be distinguished from the very America that condemned him in the first place, no outside to those forces that are turning the United States, in her words, into a "fascist corporate wasteland." (One wonders, awfully, if she may in fact see Casey as part of her very object of criticism, i.e., as someone complicit with the very thing that killed him.) "Casey died," she states, "for a country which cares more about who will be the next American Idol than how many people will be killed in the next few months while Democrats and Republicans play politics with human lives."1 Hypnotized by the ghosts on TV that we will never be, we ourselves have become ghosts, and the tangibility of those who die because of our intangibility is barely opaque enough to even register in the space covered by our gaze as it haunts its way from us to the media, where it dreams us into the only solid thing we know: a fetish (an American Idol). We should remind ourselves, a fetish in psychoanalysis is that which stands in place so as to disavow an absence someplace else; it is the worst form of a ghost, a solid one, and so incapable of even spooking us into acknowledgment of what we have lost and of the revenge that we must enact for others as much as ourselves. This is what is terrifying about Sheehan's proclamation: in a world of ghosts there can be no retribution, for that can only be done by the living. And so the political question that our present catastrophic context raises is once more the oldest one of philosophy: How, therefore, must we live?
Unreal City,Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,I had not thought death had undone so many.T. S. Eliot, "The Burial of the Dead," The Waste Land
Concerns that we might not be alive and of the impotency inherent in becoming ghost have haunted modernity at least since Herder and the counter-Enlightenment debates of the eighteenth century. Today we are made ghost by our immersion within, in Guy Debord's famous phrase, a society of the spectacle.2 For Herder, the cause was Enlightenment reason, since reason is itself ghostly. Since, hypothetically, we are all in possession of it, reason is both always within us, here and now as part of...