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© Canadian Review of American Studies/Revue canadienne d’études américaines 33, no. 2, 2003 Critique in an Age of Rigor Mortis?: Negative Dialectics, Symmetrical Logic, and Terrorism after September 11, 2001 David Brian Howard For there has been no change in society's basic condition …. No rebellion of mere consciousness will lead beyond that. In the minds of the subjects, too, a bourgeois society will choose total destruction, its objective potential, rather than rise to reflections that would threaten its basic stratum. – Theodor Adorno, Negative Dialectics There is an image by Klee called Angelus Novus. On it an angel is depicted who looks as if he is about to distance himself from something that he is staring at. His eyes are wide-open, his mouth is agape, and his wings are spread. This is how the angel of history must look. He has turned his face towards the past. Where, in front of us, a chain of events appear, he sees one single catastrophe. This unrelentingly piles rubble on rubble and flings it at his feet. He would really like to stay, awaken the dead, and repair the smashed pieces. But a storm is blowing over from paradise, and it is tangled in his wings and is so strong that the angel can no longer close them. This storm forces him irresistibly into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of rubble in front of him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress. – Walter Benjamin, Illuminations Following the nightmarish destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 an intellectual chill settled across North America as American government officials and Canadian Review of American Studies 33 (2003) 110 mass media howled for justice and the destruction of the terrorist “evil.” Rogue incidents of critical doubt about the role of the United States in international relations were rapidly dismissed as unpatriotic or un-American. This is not surprising given the historical record in the United States of seizing upon moments of national trauma as a way of rallying support for the forces of “freedom” and “good” against an alien foe. Remember, for example, the Sputnik Crisis of 1957, the destruction of the American Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor in 1941, the explosion of the battleship Maine in Havana Harbor at the end of the last century, Custer’s Last Stand, or the “Alamo,” to name but a few of an inexhaustible list of historical provocations that have steered the United States into one form of conflict or another out of which it has invariably gained new territories , strategic spheres of control, or outright imperial possessions. Globalization, in one sense, is the extension of the myth of the American frontier from the nineteenth century onto the global stage, once the frontier had exceeded the territorial limitations of the continental United States. The serious question facing critical intellectuals in the early days of the twenty-first century concerns the type and role of cultural and social critique appropriate for this moment when the forces of Western modernity and religious fundamentalism clash in such a vicious way. What is surprising in the aftermath of the horrors of 9/11 has been the readiness of some scholars and intellectuals to succumb to the siren call of war or, at the very least, to target critical art and political practices of the last quarter century as being suddenly out of date or irrelevant to the current political environment. September 11, 2001 has triggered a fundamental questioning of some of the most cherished assumptions in western art and culture that, in the short and long term, will alter the terms of cultural and political debate. It is this connection of critical culture and theory to the events of 9/ 11 that I will explore in this paper especially in the reflections of Martin Jay.1 What is the role of the Left, especially in its utopian strains, faced with the onset of a renewed Cold War and a suppression of civil liberties and freedoms? What are the consequences of 9/ 11 for critical inquiry in the twenty-first century? Martin Jay poses some very thoughtful...


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