- Floods, Fortresses, and Cabin Fever: Worlding “Domeland” Security in Dave Eggers’s Zeitoun and The Circle
Security has become one of neoliberalism’s signature growth industries, exemplified by the international boom in gated communities, as walls have spread like kudzu, and the marketplace in barriers has literally soared, from Los Angeles to Sao Paolo... . Ironically, as neoliberal policy makers have pushed to bring down barriers to “free trade,” those same policies have resulted in the erection of ever higher barriers segregating inordinate wealth from inordinate poverty... . The wall ... materializes temporal as well as spatial denial through a literal concretizing of out of sight out of mind.Rob Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor
[The] notion of the world itself as a sovereign entitlement of the United States must be given up, lost, and mourned... .From the subsequent experience of loss and fragility, however, the possibility of making different kinds of ties emerges.Judith Butler, Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence [End Page 721]
As Rob Nixon maintains, there is a defining tension at the heart of issues from Homeland Security to ecological degradation, from the transnational displacements of people to the circuits of global capitalism. Such regulation/deregulation dialectics are figuratively represented by walls, barriers, and gated communities, on one hand, and liquidity, breached defenses, and open doors, on the other. To show how these epochal debates play out across Dave Eggers’s oeuvre, I will concentrate mainly on two texts; Zeitoun, his 2010 journalistic account of the experiences of Syrian-born Abdulrahman Zeitoun and his family during and after Hurricane Katrina, and his 2014 novel The Circle, which imagines a near future in thrall to the titular Circle, which refers both to a corporate behemoth (such as Facebook, Google, and Apple) and metaphysical ideal. By foregrounding what I take to be the politics, as well as poetics, of Eggers’s deployment of the peculiarly generative tropes of water and walls, I propose that he supplements and, at times, reorients the kinds of security debates central to this special issue. As a counterpoint to what Nixon calls “superpower parochialism,” Eggers frames these tropes in strikingly transnational terms (34). I therefore read his work in the immediate post-9/11 shadow of Judith Butler’s Precarious Life (2004). In both reportage and fiction, Eggers bids those susceptible to what I term “Domeland” security soundbites that have emerged in recent times to “world” their sense of international entanglements, then and now, more fully. Water, in the form of those literal and figurative floods so central to both texts, and walls, in the guise of fortresses, capture the writer’s broader interest in how peculiarly twenty-first-century visions of an increasingly securitized world might be refined. By attending to the form/content relationship in Zeitoun first, I explore how and why it foreshadows such debates as reimagined in The Circle.
1. Down in the Flood: Cosmopolitics and Cataclysm in Zeitoun
Eggers’s novel, Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? (2014), centers on Thomas, an outlier with a thoroughly eschatological worldview: “I shouldn’t have been left to live among the rest of society. There were so many days I looked at it all and wanted it wiped away, wanted it on fire” (45). Thomas’s purging fire motif corresponds with the apocalyptic strains that run throughout Eggers’s work. From the formally playful A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2000) to the literary ventriloquism of What is the What (2006) through adaptations of Where the Wild Things Are (2009) and A Hologram for the King [End Page 722] (2012), personal and political end-times dominate Eggers’s oeuvre. This is also signaled toward the close of The Circle: “To have gotten so close to apocalypse—it rattled [Mae] still” (489). The significance of Eggers’s apocalypticism, however, should be weighed in relation to equally pivotal security and globalization discourses. These are apparent in the absurd transnational zigzagging of You Shall Know Our Velocity (2002), as well as the short stories of How We Are Hungry (2004).1
As Rita Floyd maintains in “Whither Environmental Security Studies?” there is...