- States of Exception: Anxiety, Panic, and the Nation
Although it happened over ten years from this writing (January, 2012), the event we now call “9/11” still seems to have happened very recently. On that terrible day, I was teaching a large lecture class on the West coast of the United States. By 12:30 p.m. (the scheduled start time), the students would all have known about the attacks and, presumably, I thought as I walked from my office to the other end of campus where the class met, they would choose to spend the day with friends, with family, on the phone, glued to the television, at a bar—certainly not at a 90-minute class on Mary Rowlandson’s captivity narrative. I wasn’t even sure why I was going. There were about 120 students enrolled in that class. I would say about 140 showed up. We talked about the Event for the entire 90 minutes. I will never forget the very first comment made in that meeting: “We have to recognize we are now in a state of emergency.”
“Now,” he said.
Still? One would have to be very daft or very deft neither to recognize nor experience the lingering effects of 9/11 in the everyday life of the United States and Canada today. “Security” has become the stated goal of policy makers, an aspirational ideal of the managers of the republic where not a category of normalized identity for the managed: Airport security; Border Security; “Security Moms.” Public discourse encourages greater attentiveness to the monstrous and the mundane: Amber alerts; alertness to the “suspicious”; alertness to unattended bags in train stations. The nation has even been renamed in and by a newly popular and official parlance alarming because largely unremarked: The Homeland: Department of, Defence of, Love of, America’s Blithe Acceptance of that Loaded Term as Description of. We now listen to “God Save America” rather than [End Page 1] “The Star Spangled Banner” at ball games. For roughly six years, young people have been leaving America showered in love and hope to fight a war long since clouded with regret and pessimism and now sheepishly if unclearly abandoned; far too many of these brave and misled persons have returned to their country—their “Homeland” as we now call it—in coffins under flags and under the conditions of a shameful media blackout that only ended with a change in presidential regimes in 2008. 9/11 continues to dominate domestic US politics (as fights over gun control, education policy, electioneering, apportionment, federal and state funding).
9/11 has come to mean many things not obviously or exclusively connected to the events of that day. It has, arguably, contributed to the ongoing financial malaise of the nation as measured in unemployment numbers, GDP, an eroded tax base, the trade deficit, currency strength, and the like. In her essay in this issue, Melanie Armstrong describes the performance of “security” in bio-attack preparedness exercises in New Mexico. “Bio-preparedness,” of course, would have done nothing to prevent the 9/11 attacks or even the “Anthrax attack” that quickly followed, and yet the need for such preparedness is self-evident and part of a pre-emptive prophylaxis that contains emergency by routinizing it. Cultural critic Susan Knabe describes the emergency conditions of American “family values” perceived to be under assault by a post-hetero family whose anti-value will be asserted in hystericizing discourses of the “predator” figure bizarrely because atavistically figured in the phenomenon of “Purity Balls” which—with a bizarre illogic only possible in America—presume to “protect” prepubescent female sexuality by spectacularizing its choreographed surrender to the father. It is not as if Christian fundamentalists need any particular reason to announce their difference from a sinful world by engaging in other-worldly behaviour, but the religious, social, and political ambitions of the 9/11 terrorists appear to have intensified America’s ongoing Protestant pageant.
9/11 shadows domestic Canadian politics as well, from the apparently endless case of Maher Arar, whose detention and torture implicated Canada in the pseudo-legalities of America’s state of emergency, to the recent and...