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CULTURAL POLITICS 391 REPRINTS AVAILABLE DIRECTLY FROM THE PUBLISHERS. PHOTOCOPYING PERMITTED BY LICENSE ONLY© BERG 2006 PRINTED IN THE UK CULTURAL POLITICS VOLUME 2, ISSUE 3 PP 391–394 BOOK REVIEW THE EMPIRE OF THE SPECTACLE BOB HANKE Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War, RETORT, by Iain Boal, T.J. Clark, Joseph Matthews, and Michael Watts, London: Verso, 2005, $24 CAN/£10/$16 US, PB 1-84467-031-7 Through a dual focus on the means of material and symbolic production, this book challenges conventional wisdom about world politics and war since September 11, 2001. Through an analysis of capital and spectacle, imperialism, and the image world, the authors rethink left politics and discover common ground for a multitude that would be an alternative to US empire and an antithesis to al Qaeda. While they paint a grim picture of the present, their message is that resistance is possible, and it might be more effective if it were framed as a movement against the tyranny of military neoliberalism. The authors begin by arguing that both the US empire’s power and the power of resistance to it are “afflicted” in different ways. By invading and occupying Iraq, the US is on the verge of a strategic failure worse than Vietnam,while the BOB HANKE TEACHES IN THE GRADUATE PROGRAMME IN COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE AND THE COMMUNICATION STUDIES PROGRAM AT YORK UNIVERSITY, TORONTO, CANADA. > CULTURAL POLITICS 392 BOOK REVIEW antiwar movement in particular, and the left in general, is afflicted by its own “limits and insufficiencies” (p. 5). The problem, as they see it, is that the left will be doomed to repeat the experience of failure when speaking truth to power unless it takes seriously the new revolutionary vanguard in our midst and draws a new political map of the world. Their cartography, which highlights “the contradictions of military neo-liberalism under conditions of spectacle” (p. 15), rests on the premise that the state is vulnerable because control over the image is never total. In their neo-Debordian first chapter, 9/11 is understood as a violent, spectacular riposte to a US state that depends upon an investment in images as much as in stock markets. The authors insist that understanding what took place requires a dual perspective on the “struggle for crude, material dominance, but a battle for the control of appearances” (p. 31). The exploding Twin Towers demonstrated that the US no longer had a monopoly over violence and the means of destruction. But the spectacular state was then “obliged” to answer this suicide bombing by using its afterimage to implement ultra-right-wing policies and launch a new round of image war and mass destruction in the name of “security.” There were “ordinary military, neo-colonial, grossly economic logics” at work (p. 34), but they also stress the imperatives of image-war and its relation to a new round of primitive capital accumulation. The second chapter critiques the commodity determinism of the “blood for oil” account. Oil, they argue, is a commodity fetish that masks the mutation of liberalism and the return to primitive accumulation. Beyond strategic and corporate oil interests, the “dialectic of oil and armaments – of ‘build and destroy’” (p. 70) extends well into other industries and countries. In this wider perspective, the Iraq war was not so much about oil as it was about “extra-economic” restructuring of the conditions for profitability. In the case of Iraq, neoliberalism (the conservative revolution against the welfare state) converges with the revolution in military affairs to yield a new hybrid – military neoliberalism. In the third chapter, they examine the historical trajectory of US militarism. If technology begat modernity and war begets information technology, then war has become “modernity incarnate” (p. 79). Their story echoes Foucault,who said that politics is the continuation of war by other means. The permanent war machine, facilitated by weak citizenship, has its own momentum and seeks to “normalize” itself through sanitized images of war and a culture of terror. Yet the empire’s structural inclination toward war is not merely a matter of propaganda to preempt public opinion. Other contingencies – greed, hubris, mania, bureaucracy, ideology...


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