- Lovecidal: Walking with the Disappeared by Trinh T. Minh-ha
New York: Fordham University Press, 2016, 298 pp.
Lovecidal: Walking with the Disappeared is written in the midst of a wartime violence whose endless terror has engendered and sanctified new forms of domestic and international surveillance, "security" measures, the militarization of daily life, discriminatory policing, and imperialist bluster. Haunted by the specters of other conflicts—Sudan, Tibet, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Rwanda, Congo, Burma, Bosnia, Kosovo, South Africa, Cambodia, and Vietnam—Trinh Minh-ha elaborates the intimate and worldly effects of war's Manichean violence on daily embodied life, on living "exiled, expatriated, segregated, deported, displaced, discarded, repudiated, estranged, disappeared, unsettled and unsettling" in times of crisis (2).
The book tracks both the rising US military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan and China's occupation of Tibet, mapping the intersecting forms of imperialism whose discursive force makes certain forms of writing and making impossible. In the face of wartime image making and iconoclasm, Trinh devises a method and language to write from and through the contemporary moment's unsettling climate. Lovecidal is partially a factual account of the state of war under US and Chinese imperialism and partially a philosophical account of the epistemological and ontological conditions of [End Page 377] the post-9/11 world, these two accounts interspersed with lyrical passages of a woman's movement through a twilight landscape, as well as black-and-white photographic images of fragmented, bisected, and mirrored female bodies in natural landscapes. The book aims explicitly to challenge acts of militarism and surveillance, as well as the confiscation of language by militarized rhetoric, and to find a voice resonant with the forms of resistance she turns to in and through the text.
Much of her account of imperial power (by both the United States and China) revolves around the intersections of state violence with image making and image repression. In response to the missing image of the corpse of Osama bin Laden, for instance, Trinh recounts the frenzied circulation of hoaxes on the internet, including a doctored photo of bin Laden's bloodied head that appeared on Pakistan's GeoTV (10). Image making, for Trinh, is a tactic of wartime propaganda, the reiteration of power through showing sensational, exceptional, extra-ordinary feats, what she calls a "mise-en-scène of victory" (43). She points to the 1991 Gulf War (the first twenty-four-hour cable news war) as a site for the orchestration of homogeneous coverage of an event, which programmed the world to feel "shock" and "awe" at "the deployment of power via images of raw sensational destruction" (43) and the "power of the camera indulging evil as aesthetics" (58). The Gulf War was not only a spectacle of "shock" and "awe," though, but also a concerted orchestration of the absence of the war itself. The "war" went unseen as the coverage focused on techniques of war processing, a "carefully filled Absence: since the press was not allowed to see what was happening" (87).
The account Trinh builds of wartime is contemporary but transversal—sliding between the first and second Gulf Wars, between the "war on terror" and the war in Vietnam, between the imperial ventures of the United States and France, and between Western and Eastern imperial power. Drawing predominantly from news reports, popular magazines, blogs, and alternative press sites, Trinh builds an account of war in its very emergence, in the liveliness of its contemporary moment, through the media apparatuses that give it (and its repressive effects) shape. If the first half of the book concerns itself with US imperial power, the second half focuses its lens more properly on emergent Chinese imperialism, most particularly evidenced in its occupation of Tibet. China exercises its power not only through direct repression of dissent, but also through complex processes of displacement (the forced modernization and "Sinicization" of Tibet) and censorship of all objects of Buddhist veneration, most notably images of the Dalai Lama. Throughout her account, Trinh traces how the war of words empties language (and signifying...