Horror : Kiarina Kordela

Here politics meets not only logic but also (the recapitulation of) philosophy, helping us see the true meanings of monism and dualism. Properly understood, these two systems of thought, far from excluding each other, are correlatively intertwined. For, as Baruch Spinoza, the founder of modern monism, put it, “truth is the standard both of itself and of the false.”20 That is, one can arrive at a monistic truth only by passing through both itself (monism) and the false, the dualistic truth. Similarly, dualism is neither something merely false that, as such, should be discarded, nor can it arrive at truth by itself, but is rather an integral part in the constitution of truth, next to what initially appeared as a monistic (i.e., merely non-individuating) truth. The truth of biopolitics as a monistic universal is the standard both of itself (life is the objective—non-individuation) and of the false (life is superfluous—individuation). The normative biopolitical incitement to horror always ultimately concerns the defense against the recognition of its terrifying constitution as a monistic universal.

Both the invocation of an intrinsic link between eroticism and violence and the appeals to religious sacrifice as means to expressing an understanding for suicide bombing are misleading, yet symptomatic of the true cause of terror, against which horror is mobilized. It is not difficult to see how easily the trope of the love-death linkage can lend itself as a metaphor for the linkage “life as objective—superfluity of life.” Yet, this linkage is made in the context of suicide bombing, and not in the context of the biopolitical “safe warfare” with its UAVs—therein lies the problem. The terror caused by monistic universalism—which as we have seen, constitutes a basic principle of modernity, cutting across subjectivity and power—is displaced onto terrorism, as a horrifying phenomenon, whereas all the while biopolitical “safe warfare” enjoys quasi-general approval. Criticism, therefore, should above all address both the displacement and the misuse of the metaphor—the combination of which alone can help us figure out both why a metaphor is wrongly applied to suicide bombing and what the proper application of the metaphor is.

Undoubtedly, the application of the love-death metaphor to suicide bombing—and even further, to the building of community—is based on a perverted marriage of violence and eroticism, which entirely ignores the question of reciprocity, a principle equally observed by Leopold Sacher-Masoch and Marquis de Sade, throughout all Romanticism, up to Freud. As Cavarero puts it, “in a simultaneous death imposed unilaterally by the suicide bomber, there seems not to be any reciprocity, as . . . communication would . . . require.”21 This unilaterality becomes truly absolute when the act testifying to the superfluity of life is performed not by a suicide bomber but by an UAV. For how can there be reciprocity between a decorporatized perpetrator (machine) and a subhuman victim? Reciprocity or not, it takes at least two human beings to make out of eroticism anything more than masturbation, let alone to make a community. As the youth of advanced modern secular capitalist biopolitical countries train themselves in finding erotic satisfaction through the internet (i.e., train in masturbating), the military of the same countries advances research and experiments on killing through remote-control (one could call this “masturbatory killing,” except for the fact that somebody is actually killed). In a truly bilateral and amorous-deadly embrace are not the perpetrator and the victim but the two sides of the coin of biopower, on which alone the metaphor of love-death can be properly applied.

With the advent of modern secular capitalist biopower, humanity’s old fantasies (and the real they carry in them) can find their realization not in relations between humans (whether lovers or perpetrators and victims) but in the relations that structure power and thought—between the normative field and its exception, consciousness and unconscious, norm and its transcendental preconditions. This is the real terror, which we opt not to decipher, whether by taking recourse to horror or by remaining within discourse and attempting to express an understanding for the site in which the cause of our terror is displaced—thereby being actually in horror with regard the true source of our terror.

One arrives at the same conclusion following the line of argument that runs contrary to Cavarero, but which attempts to express an understanding for suicide bombing by valorizing religious sacrifice (via valorizing the principle of non-individuation, unlike Cavarero’s proclivity toward clear-cut distinctions). Asad argues that the repression of the principle of non-individuation constitutes the foundation of all legal (Western/Christian) secular institutions, insofar as democratic justice, with its “desire to punish the criminal,” relies on “the separation of crime and punishment,” which presupposes a clear separation of victim from perpetrator. The repression of this principle is equally crucial to so-called “just wars” officiated by democratic governments, since its non-repression would reveal that their “law itself is founded by and continuously depends on coercive violence.” Thus, both democratic justice and “just wars” postulate the repression of any continuum between victim and perpetrator or law and violence, which is exactly what suicide bombing reveals, insofar as here the perpetrator, by killing himself, includes in his act his own punishment. Asad invokes Christianity, as the predecessor of democratic censorship, to remind us of its continuum between good or love and evil, as: “Christ’s indirect suicide . . . is at once a loving gift and a model of unjust suffering . . . The Crucifixion is the divinely planned punishment of an innocent man . . . The success of his supreme act of good is paradoxically dependent on a supremely . . . evil act.” Yet, unlike in suicide bombing, “the violent breaking of the body” of Christ “is not an occasion for horror” but “the source of a transcendent truth through a . . . fable” that keeps apart good from evil, as John’s Gospel testifies to by having “Satan . . . enter into Judas the moment he receives the order from Jesus” to betray him. Through the fable, one forgets that in Christianity, “the gift of life for humanity is possible only through a suicidal death, [and] redemption is dependent on . . . disregarding human life.”22

That Christianity is based on the superfluity of human earthly life is no news—even as largely repressed through the Protestant machinations toward rechanneling the energy of this life (as well as the concept of sacrifice) toward earthy productivity and the proliferation of capital. Nevertheless, the merit of Asad’s argument consists in grasping that the issue at stake is not a matter of (non-)individuation between human agents but (non-)individuation on the structural level (between norm and unstated transcendental preconditions). This structural (non-)individuation marks equally modern biopower and any religion, since religion is based on the coexistence of, and tension between, non-individuation and individuation. Their difference, however, is that religion established itself institutionally/normatively on the basis of the principle of individuation—the right to segregate the sacred from the profane—whereas biopower’s normative principle is that of non-individuation. Thus, Asad’s conceptual and methodological error consists in attempting to explain the biopolitical incitement to horror in the face of suicide bombing on the basis of an alleged (and chiasmatically erroneous) religio-cultural difference between a Christian/secular pro-individuation West and a non-individuating religious Islam. As in Cavarero’s separation of horror from terror, Asad’s segregation between “West” and “Islam” is again constructed lexico-mythologically, this time between the afore-mentioned dualistic representation of Christ’s martyrdom and a non-individuating conception of Islamic shuhadá (martyrdom) and shahíd (martyr), a lexical territory open to anybody whose death involves the undignifying assault on the singularity of his or her body. For, following the Encyclopedia of Islam, shuhadá is not limited to “those murdered while in the service of God,” but includes “those who die through disease or accident,” and who, in Ignaz Goldziher’s words, “have nothing to do with voluntary self-sacrifice for a great cause,” but meet their “death in falling from a high mountain” or are “torn to pieces by wild beasts, and many more causes,” because of which their body is dismembered. Hence, Asad concludes, these are modes of “unintentional death,” in which “the living body . . . becomes a mound of dead flesh,” as in the Western representations of suicide bombing pregnant with horror, and these differences “set [shuhadá] apart from Christian understandings of ‘martyr.’”23

20. Baruch Spinoza, The Collected Works of Spinoza, ed. Edwin Curley (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985), 479; Ethics, part II, prop. 43, scholium.

21. Adriana Cavarero, Horrorism, 58.

22. Talal Asad, On Suicide Bombing, 91-92, 84-86.

23. E. Kohlberg, “Shahid,” in The Encyclopedia of Islam, ed. E. J. van Donzel, 2nd ed., vol. 3 (Boston: Brill, 1998), 203-207; Ignaz Goldziher, Muslim Studies, trans. S. M. Stern, vol. 2 (London: Allen and Unwin, 1971), 351-352; Talal Asad, On Suicide Bombing, 51, 80.

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