- Representation and the Event
Hegemony and Identity
In Being Singular Plural, Jean-Luc Nancy states, “The surprise — the event — does not belong to the order of representation.” Although not unthinkable, the event shocks, exceeding everyday patterns of thinking and acting, opening up a space beyond itself. If anything, 11 September 2001 marks the displacement effected by an event. Yet all too rapidly the “eventness” is becoming subsumed within various projects of hegemonization.
The primary mechanism governing the process of hegmonization within the US has been Bush’s “line in the sand,” his positing of an “us” and a “them,” and his demand that everyone must choose a side. This line suggests a clarity, but it is a clarity produced in part through the discourse of civilization versus barbarism – a discourse with a long and ignominious genealogy. Bush’s speech of 20 September 2001 makes this clear: the “us” is constituted in the racial tradition and image of the “civilized” West: “This is the world’s fight. This is civilization’s fight.” The “them” appearing in the position of “civilization’s” barbarous Other are those who believe the world might be otherwise than what it is within the global capitalist imaginary. They are denounced as “terrorists” and for their “radical” beliefs.
The elision between “terrorist” and “radical” is significant, especially as it informs the increasing condemnations leveled against activists critical of global capital. Such an elision supports attacks on what Peter Beinart, editor of The New Republic, refers to as the anti-globalization movement’s new “bible,” Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s Empire.
Beinart is right to suggest that Hardt and Negri’s work speaks to the current crisis. Hardt and Negri argue that the era of the territorial nation-state is now over. As they set out in Empire, capital is presently organized on a transnational basis, with branch offices, dispersed yet coordinated production and marketing capacities, and interests all over the world. It makes use of global migratory patterns, profiting from a globalized labor market and globalized consumptive patterns. With the global organization of capital, a new form of sovereignty is called into existence to meet the challenges posed by those who trouble capital’s global operations. This form of sovereignty is without a specific territorial location, although various institutions of military, police, and other governing bodies act in its name. Hardt and Negri call this new form of sovereignty Empire. From the attacks on the World Trade Center as a signifier of global financial markets, to the emergence of a transnational military coalition in response to the attacks outside of UN governance, the event of 11 September seems to resonate in profound ways with Hardt and Negri’s theorization of the new world order.
In this essay, we examine the unique logic and dangers of Bush-Blair counter-terrorism. Then, we consider how Hardt and Negri’s Empire might contribute towards a more ethical response to the event of September 11 than the present hegemonic project of militarized response, racially coded enemies, and religiously inspirited certainty. Because they avoid the terrain of representation, however, we find that what democratic politics needs now more than ever, Hardt and Negri cannot provide. Strikingly, Empire inverts the problem of representation and the event found in the Bush-Blair hegemonic formation. In their representation of 11 September, Bush and Blair occlude the excesses marking the event, to say nothing of their ongoing assault on the mechanisms of representative democracy. In their embrace of the singular excesses beyond representation, however, Hardt and Negri occlude the significance of representation for politics, in effect redoubling the present attack on representative democracy. The hegemonization of 11 September has established new binaries, a new self, a new enemy. And precisely because of the power, the enjoyment, these certainties provide, democratic responses must turn to politics, ideology, and representation lest we concede the field to its presently dominant formation. 
If the event can be expanded to include the responses to it, what sort of an event do we have? Clearly, we do not have a war, although war-like terminology has been...