- Toward a Critical Poetics of Securitization: A response to Anker, Castronovo, Harkins, Masterson, and Williams
In this brief set of responses to the five challenging and insightful articles gathered above under the banner Security Studies and American Literary History, I draw attention to what I regard as a particularly pressing area for future research on the relation between security and literary studies: the distinction of security from securitization and the implications this has for the constitution and lived experience of contemporary subjectivity. My contention is that there is a diminishing relation between the secure subject and the securitized subject. A critical poetics of securitization capable of exposing this growing rift with greater clarity thus constitutes a significant program for the broad field of literary studies. It also potentially provides the means for contesting the internal logic and relations between concepts such as vulnerability, fragility, and precarity on the one hand, and of adaptation, resilience, and robustness on the other. Indeed, a critical poetics of securitization further promises to shed light on the techniques and technologies of neoliberalism as dominant paradigm, drawing particular attention to its implication for the constitution of contemporary political subjectivity and the tensions which persist between virtual and visceral subjects, and between the biopolitical abstraction of bodies and the politics of viscerality that witnesses their return in terms of race, gender, disability, sexuality, age, and economic inequality. [End Page 779]
I begin, however, with a brief excursus through Teju Cole’s recent Twitter fiction, “Seven short stories about drones” (2013), which offers a remarkably concise and precise thematization of the problems and prospects for the intersectional study of literature and security. In these works, Cole splices the opening lines of canonical novels by Woolf, Melville, Joyce, Ellison, Kafka, Achebe, and Camus to stark and disturbing fragments depicting drone warfare and its consequences. Limiting each story to the 140 characters of a single tweet, the force of these works hinges on this violent parataxis well exemplified in the second of these: “Call me Ishmael. I was a young man of military age. I was immolated at my wedding. My parents are inconsolable” (Cole). Beginning with the opening of perhaps the most celebrated of all American novels, Moby-Dick, Cole shakes the habitual, delivering a shock to an historical past numbed by the familiarity of repetition, while the catastrophic present is intensified by the assertion of its connection to the past. He subtlety indicts the US appropriation of vastly different strands of cultural memory to justify geopolitical intervention as so-called national security concerns, constructing micronarratives that offer themselves as critical emblems of a securitized world. These works gesture toward a number of the central problems confronting the study of security under contemporary geopolitical conditions: the tensions between the local and global contexts of security; the ubiquity of technologies of securitization and surveillance and their transformation of the public and private spheres; the pervasiveness of insecurity as a justification for securitization; the paradoxical manner in which security is simultaneously indiscriminate and capable of targeting specific individuals and bodies; the increasingly porous boundaries between securitization and militarization; the explicit asymmetries of power that separate the agents of securitization from their targets, and correlatively, the implicit symmetries between securitization and the ascendancy of neoliberalism as the dominant geopolitical program.
As provocations to thought, Cole’s miniatures gesture toward a larger critical program that Elisabeth Anker, Russ Castronovo, Gillian Harkins, John Masterson, and Merle Williams take up in various ways in the articles gathered above. These critics interrogate many of the themes I have identified across a range of literary and other cultural works; collectively, they reflect a nuanced vision of contemporary security as grounded in regimes of representation with complex historical genealogies and trajectories. It is not surprising, in this light, and in contrast to Cole’s more poetic gesture, that they should focus on the significant role of complex narrative in coming to terms with the pervasiveness of securitization, nor that these narratives should be centered in North American literature. As [End Page 780] Castronovo demonstrates, security as a coherent concept emerges with the rise of private property that accompanied the British colonial enterprise in North America...