in a world without borders
University of Western Sydney
1. As is now well known, at the end of 2001 three hijacked planes
crashed into three buildings in the U.S.A - an event that was immediately
labelled, by left and right, by local and global media, as an
event that changed the world. Meanwhile in Australia, unnoticed
by the world media, a small group of academics was preparing to
launch an interdisciplinary electronic journal called borderlands.
One event, the Event, quickly symbolised a new awareness of the
fragility of borders, and constructed a new generation of monsters
to inhabit this too-open world. The other was a small
monster created to thrive in interstices, between and across
borders. In this article I want to trace interconnections between
these two events, and begin to theorize a context in which such
interconnections can become a richer, more powerful basis for a
more effective practice.
2. The Event smashed into many things, amongst which was the current
organization of knowledge in institutions of learning in Universities
in the western tradition. In 1995 I described that organization
as a dual structure, in which a dominant disciplinary form of knowledge
is contested by a looser, critical transdisciplinary form I called
variously new Humanities, postmodern or
monstrous knowledge (Hodge 1995). In the scenario I
sketched then, disciplinary knowledge still dominated most institutions
and areas of study, but the fluid, dynamic strategies of transdisciplinarity
were inherently better able to understand the multitude of new objects
and new connections constantly thrown up by a dynamic post modern
3. That still seems more or less true to me, but at the same time
the Event has posed a major challenge to this whole situation, including
current assumptions and strategies in various branches of postmodern
knowledges. It is not that disciplinary forms of knowledge suddenly
came into their own, but the Event has dramatically drawn attention
to an object in the world today that needs more than current forms
of transdisciplinarity. That object is a new, dynamic and chaotic
relationship between the three elements that make up the simple
sentence an event that changed the world: events, change
and the world. Where Lyotard famously saw the essence of the postmodern
condition as a turn to language (1986) there is
now an irrestible pressure for another turn: a turn to chaos.
4. From this perspective, events, big and little, cannot
so easily be separated out from the structures that are still primary
in late as in early Foucault, in theorists as diverse as Bauman,
Jameson and Derrida. Some events cannot be treated merely as epiphenomenal
effects of underlying causes, but themselves have potent agency,
in a dynamic interaction between causes and effects, systems and
structures at every level. Eventology might be constructed
as a new focus of studies, which centre on disruptions: earthquakes,
hurricanes, El Niño the African droughts, and other physical
disasters, epidemics like AIDS, political events like the Tampa
effect in Australia, the attacks of September 11.
Shock waves in Australian academe
5. In an article in The Australian (24 October 2001, p 31)
headed Wake up and smell the cordite, Luke Slattery
draws a clear lesson for Australian academics from the Event. His
wake-up call is directed only to one kind of academic, postmodernist
intellectuals and their relativism. They need
a reality check, he proclaims. More than 5000 people
dead in the attacks is the smack of reality the postmodern somnambulists
surely cannot ignore, he argues, though his tone suggests he thinks
that even this will not be enough.
6. He has an important point. Whether the body count is more than
5000 or less than 4000, as in later reports, the difference is not
important. This number of people killed is far too many to be sacrificed
to make a symbolic point. The Pentagon and the twin towers
of New York are ideal symbols of US economic and military empire,
but no ideological point justifies the waste of human life. It is
time to start counting, and to place a higher value on human lives.
7. But Slatterys concern with reality begins and
ends with the events of September 11, 2001. It is significant that
the Event is normally referred to in US media as 911:
the date turned into a triple numbered code, a secret shared by
the whole population. In Mexico, where I write this reflection on
the impact of an event in New York on Australian intellectual life,
the normal term is las torres gemellas, the Twin Towers.
The Mexicans forget the Pentagon and turn the event into a myth,
where it connects with the blockbuster Lord of the Rings
which played to packed houses at the same time. The US form refers
to a date, but it is only another way of taking the event outside
normal time. The complex history that led up to the attack is removed
from the number. The actions that flowed from it, its complex ongoing
effects, are less obviously but just as completely removed by this
linguistic device. Slatterys body count begins and ends with
the deaths of 9-11. The open-ended destruction that followed is
motivated and legitimated by the attack, but not part of the same
order of reality, not part of the wake-up call.
8. The number of innocent people killed in the terrorist attacks
was outrageous and indefensible, on moral grounds that were shared
by most nations and cultures on the planet. By the same principle,
the well-documented deaths caused directly by US state policy are
also outrageous, numerous, and indefensible. The modern world is
a dangerous place, too full of injustice and deaths of innocent
people. But the paradox of Slatterys position is that he shows
an extreme form of the relativism he accuses postmodernists
of. For him, death is not death if it happens to non-Americans,
or not on American soil, or not on prime time TV, but in vast tracts
of the third world beyond the gaze of US media. Politically-motivated
relativism like this is collateral damage from the Event.
9. Slatterys attack on postmodernism in Australia
is a reprise of another Event, on a smaller scale, which took place
some years before. In 1996 Alan Sokal, a physicist with a secret
hostility to postmodernism, submitted an article from
a critical (postmodern) point of view to a special issue
of the New York journal Social Text. After it was published,
he claimed it was a hoax, because he didnt really believe
in postmodern ideas. The fact that Social Text published
it proved that postmodernism lacked standards and was intellectually
bankrupt. (See Hodge 1999 for a discussion of the controversy).
In Australia, other anti-pomos dominated strategic sites like The
Australian with claims Sokal had proved a case by pulling off
his trick. Slattery, former editor of The Australian's "Education"
section, clearly drew confidence from this earlier triumph. In his
mind the postmodern enemy had already been routed by Sokal. This
final blow to a defeated foe was like saturation bombing on the
last caves where the last Taliban huddled in terrified defeat.
10. But from another point of view, Sokals tactic had more
in common with the terrorists of September 11. He tricked
his way past the defences of a too-trusting New York monument and
crashed into it, an intellectual kamikaze attempting to destroy
a symbol of the enemy, incidentally but without remorse causing
extensive collateral damage (to reputations of fellow
New York academics and many others, to academic standards, which
previously would not have seen a hoax as acceptable professional
behaviour, nor any kind of proof). The narrative is similar: only
the signs are changed, with different outcomes. The New York terrorists
provoked a far more powerful enemy to retaliate with overwhelming
force. Sokals terrorists already commanded most of the resources
in the world of the academy. His postmodern enemy have
not retaliated like Bushs USA, partly because they do not
command such unequal forces.
11. The lesson I draw from this is not the need for postmodernists
to buy arms for a new war of terror against the disciplinary establishment,
to catch the enemy with surprise attacks or nuke them through their
defences. On the contrary, it points out the dangerous, counter-productive
stupidity of that whole cast of thinking, the urgent need for an
approach which does not create any such boundary. The Event is a
challenge to many current branches of knowledge. It is multidisciplinary
in its demands, covering far too many areas of knowledge for any
individual to know them all in any depth. This creates problems
for disciplinary knowledge, since no one discipline will provide
more than a fragment of what is needed. Yet it also creates problems
for most current forms of transdisciplinary studies,
because too many relevant ideas and information are buried in disciplinary
or non-academic hiding places, not part of a transdisciplinary
Monsters and borders
12. The world today is chaotic and turbulent, interconnected on
an ever-increasing scale, moving ever farther from equilibrium.
On that there is more or less general agreement. But there are two
diametrically opposed kinds of response to this agreed state of
affairs. One is the turn to chaos, in science and humanities (chaos
theory see Prigogine and Stengers, 1984, Gleick 1988; postmodernism,
see Lyotard 1986). The other is a turn to order, as in the hostility
to postmodernism represented by Sokal and Slattery. These moves
in the world of ideas are mirrored and driven by a similar set of
responses in the political and social world. The laws and forces
that operate in these two worlds are so similar, drawing on underlying
common attributes, that I want to outline a single theory to begin
to understand them: a theory of monsters and their borders, of borders
and their monsters, five laws that describe stages in a process.
1. In conditions far from equilibrium, borders
are simultaneously more impossible and more desired.
2. Borders are created as reactions to the monstrosity of chaos,
and monsters are created by these borders, in a dialectic process
in which both borders and monsters acquire material dimensions,
becoming real, having real effects.
3. The real penetration of borders in such conditions
then projects a multiplicity of phantom monsters, and glimpses of
real monsters across these penetrated borders produce
a multiplicity of new borders, real and phantom.
4. Attempts to impose order produce more chaos, in the form of excessive
borders and empowered monsters, thereby producing a sense of isolation
and risk behind these excessive borders, leading to a desire for
new alliances and new connections, and to new breaches in the new
borders, which the patchwork of created borders puts at risk.
5. As meanings cross and recross these borders they shift and change,
sometimes inverting and reinverting until each side is full of contradictions,
becoming a distorted reflection of the other.
13. The new world order and the vicissitudes of neoliberalism
are cases in point. Neoliberalism is the name given
to an economic doctrine which is played out minimally on a global
stage, with economic premises (a global free market) at its core,
and a political program attached. In this form it is a doctrine
based on the elimination of borders. But at every point in practice
there is a continual equivocation with borders and their monsters.
As boundaries between nation states dissolve (as Hardt and Negri
2000 proclaim has already happened) a massive, new more problematic
boundary develops, between North and South
(a rough map that tries to contain the problem within real though
highly fuzzy geography) or between haves and have
nots, rich and poor. But these latter categories are so widely
distributed they cannot be located in any map: with the poor inside
even the richest nations, and the rich in control of many of the
poorest. The new border is impossible to draw, and even more impossible
to police, since there is no authority empowered to do so. Hardt
and Negri claim that a new monster has emerged to oversee this process,
to manage the otherwise incomprehensible and uncontrollable flows
of globalisation, and they name it Empire. But like
so many other monsters created out of a contemplation
of borders and their problems, Empire still does not
evidently exist, for good or ill.
14. The new world order is a Disequilibrium Machine,
a manic device which produces exponentially increasing inequality
(of power, wealth, health, conditions of life) on a planetary scale,
affecting all nations and peoples, transforming political and cultural
relations between people, changing the relations between humans
and all other species, between humans and the life processes of
the planet itself. It is a single process at every fractal scale,
to use the useful concept developed by Mandelbrot (1977), in which
every level (from global to local and individual,
with countless homologous levels in between) exhibits a common form,
characterized by a radical transgression of boundaries, and the
production of new forms, new monsters to fear or welcome.
15. Paradoxically, one strategy that has developed to cope with
the terrified perception of uncontrollable flows has been a neo-liberal
theory of a benignly borderless world, which celebrates the free
flow of goods and money across previous borders which effectively
cease to exist as a result of these flows (flows which can only
exist, in all their freedom, if the borders are first dismantled).
A necessary side of this argument is that the other, more problematic
border (between rich and poor) does not exist either, because everyone
on both sides of it benefits, now or in the future. The potential
monstrosity of the other is normalised by terms like developing
world (they are not monsters, but on the way to
being like us). But as the developing world
develops only increasing impoverishment, a gulf is projected between
what is seen now as two worlds. The more the other
protests that there is indeed a gulf, that they are
not becoming more like but more different, the more anger and suffering
are projected onto the other side of a boundary which is too vast
and unlocated to be thinkable in practical terms. They become monsters
on the other side of a border: the more monstrous the more the border
16. If the ideological effort that went into sustaining this fiction
is shattered, as it was by the Event, then the energy that was locked
up in creating an image of a world without borders or monsters is
released, available to be invested in the creation of monsters and
borders in an explosive abundance. Borders that were denied are
aggressively accepted, and along with them hyper-borders emerge,
justified by the monster it created.
17. In academic knowledges there is a parallel process. Since globalization
has been recognised, for about two decades, to be a world-transforming
force, there is a perceived need for something like globalization
studies to study it. Countless special conferences and forums
have sprung up around globalization and related themes. But if globalization
studies need to exist, as they clearly do, they must emerge
fully grown like Athena from the head of a disciplinary Zeus: interdisciplinarity
on a radical new scale, out of a body of knowledges still organised
primarily along disciplinary lines.
18. Inertia on its own would produce formidable problems in the
generation of such interdisciplinarity, but to inertia is added
another motive. If the problematic boundaries in the world produce
inconvenient and inexplicable contradictions, then the dominant
ideology of neoliberalism can then reproduce those boundaries in
the form of borders between disciplines. If for instance the (claimed)
economic benefits of neoliberal policies produce dangerous political,
social, cultural and environmental consequences the contradiction
can be controlled by uncoupling economic analysis from political,
social, cultural and ecological analysis.
19. If these forms of analysis cumulatively produce a comprehensive
critique of neo-liberalism, then the dangerous possibility of an
alliance between them all (and with critical economic theory, which
also exists: eg Sen 1997) can be controlled by policing disciplinary
boundaries: at least, this illusion drives this tendency of thought.
The monster (globalization, neoliberalism
terrorism, resistance) is thereby banished
from most authorised courses in universities, insofar as they are
organised in disciplinary terms. But this device is powerless to
prevent the monster, the monsters, from being thinkable. They breed
and propagate with frightening speed and force in spaces that cannot
be policed by disciplinary machines, in extra-territorial conferences,
in new journals (like borderlands),
in popular debates, in the unregulated spaces of the Net.
20. But as with the world outside the academy, globalization produces
a new, amorphous border within the field of knowledge itself, which
mirrors in a complex double form the contradictions of the globalizing
world itself. In countless spaces, disciplinary and transdisciplinary,
in universities in every country in an academic system which has
long shown all the features of advanced integration
into a single global system, there is a division which crosses all
these other boundaries, organised fundamentally by attitudes to
boundaries. Since Lyotard we can call this tendency postmodern,
although the term has been appropriated by its opponents in order
to construct it as a monster (used of mostly faceless groups attributed
with almost total power). We can call the opposing tendency traditional,
recognizing again that this term is mainly used by opponents to
construct the monster that has monstered them.
21. A number of paradoxes circulate around this situation. The first
is that the boundary in this case is as diffuse and impossible to
locate as the boundary between rich and poor,
but this phantom boundary creates monsters on either side, who then
emerge, in shadowy but real form, to attack opposing
monsters or their phantom representatives, and to build and defend
walls that become real as well as phantasmatic.
22. Unlike the world of knowledge, in the material world material
equality seems sufficiently evident to be beyond dispute. The rich
(people, nations etc.) seem visibly far richer and more powerful
than the poor. Counting (of incomes, possessions, rates
of disease and mortality) seems to work as an agreed common language.
But even in the material world, things are not always so beyond
dispute. Osama bin Laden in a video interview claimed the attack
was not only a triumph beyond all expectations, but that Allah would
guarantee an ultimate victory as well. The apparently weak will
be powerful in two senses: morally (in the eyes of Allah) and materially,
in events as they will unfold.
23. The immediate aftermath rapid US military success in
Afghanistan, the burgeoning war on terror legitimated by the attack
seemed to demonstrate unequivocally, to anyone with eyes
to see, what reality really was. Yet reality exists
at many levels, in many time frames. The short-term outcome seems
clear enough, but not the longer-term consequences, which will be
equally real when they happen. Even in the short term, the world
and US economies were damaged by 911, so that capitalism
was actually as well as symbolically struck a significant though
not decisive blow.
24. In the academic war, it is harder to identify rich
and poor, but many indicators suggest that disciplinary
forms of knowledge are still dominant. In Australia for instance,
the Australian Research Council is the peak government body distributing
the majority of research funding, which is increasingly used to
divide the academic community into research universities
and teaching universities, and within institutions, between active
researchers (full citizens of the academic community) and
others. The categories used by ARC are primarily discipline based,
and ensure that the bulk of money and prestige still flow into disciplinary
research. In recent years some new transdisciplinary categories
have been added to the list, but the majority of categories are
still firmly disciplinary. In these terms, disciplinary knowledge
is the marker of the haves, and transdisciplinary knowledge
marks the have nots. Interdisciplinarity
is still the intellectual third world in the Australian system.
25. Yet critics of postmodernism like Slattery and Sokal
write passionately as if pomos dominate most key sites, as if disciplinary
knowledge has been dispossessed, as if their intellectual terrorism
is justified by the overwhelming power of their enemy. There is
a similar contradiction at the heart of the widespread US response
to the Event: simultaneous fear and sense of total vulnerability,
and arrogant confidence in the unlimited US might. For all the appeal
of Slattery and Sokal to reality, the reality that drives
their position likewise is the reality of their own contradictory
desires and fears, projecting a lurid substitute for the kind of
reality (material, objective) they claim. At the same time they
renounce any interest in reality on behalf of their
enemies, the pomos.
26. In all this, it would be foolish and dangerous for pomos to
accept in any way the present anti-postmodern exclusive
claim to reality, as implied by Slattery, and their
own exclusion from any such appeal. Reality is the site
and stake of every intellectual struggle, every intellectual search.
Exclusive claims to truth are the intellectual equivalent of a land
grab: normally based on dubious grounds backed up by some kind of
terror, in which only the land and the fraud are real. No serious
intellectual should renounce any interest in reality:
especially not to anti-pomo tricksters like Sokal or Slattery.
27. To dismantle the borders that create monsters, transdisciplinarity
needs to draw on some of the disciplines that deal in and scrutinize
various relevant kinds of fact, whether taken for granted
or in dispute. At the same time, appeals to reality
and truth are never enough across a monstrous border.
Fears and desires on either side can turn all arguments into their
opposite. The fears and desires themselves need to be heard, even
if they seem as deluded as bin Laden does to Slattery or Sokal,
or as they would to him.
Transdisciplinary strategies and the challenge of Events
28. The Event is a monster, from the point of view of current forms
of knowledge, because it is so huge, so amorphous and with such
potent effects. In different aspects it involves such disparate
disciplines as politics, economics, law, engineering, geography,
anthropology, sociology, psychology, philosophy and comparative
religion (including Islamic Studies and Capitalism Studies, if such
exists) among traditional disciplines, and semiotics, discourse
analysis and cultural studies among more transdisciplinary studies,
along with many kinds of history. As a global event it touches on
all forms of area studies, most obviously American Studies and Middle
Eastern Studies and, from Australias point of view, an Australian
Studies rather different from current forms, but also all other
regions where terrorism is an issue, where support for
terrorists or the war on terror may come from: European studies,
Asian Studies, Latin American Studies, African Studies. Only Antarctic
Studies does not seem relevant, for the moment, but I could be proved
wrong about that. I list them all to make the point: the globalizing
world is very large, very interconnected and very complex.
29. There are many different points of entry into something as complex
as the Event, whether from different disciplinary or transdisciplinary
bases or area studies. Yet the complexity of the Event continually
exceeds each of these, in their present form, creating a pressure
to follow up other lines, find other connections with other sources
of data, other methods of inquiry, other disciplinary areas. If
these pressures are firmly resisted the result is likely to be a
tight, disciplined article or book which will be systematically
obtuse about whole classes of relevant factors, whose explanations
will impress only a small circle of disciplinary affiliates. High
boundaries guarantee partiality and irrelevance. Outside the disciplined
world made safe with all these compartments, the monster still prowls,
unexplained by bodies of practice whose primary task is to explain.
Yet the demands of a fully transdisciplinary or global enquiry seem
impossibly demanding: so many different connections to be made across
a vast, open-ended and constantly changing field. Low boundaries
and chaotic flows mirror the phenomena but seem to undermine the
possibility of understanding.
30. The Event has exposed weaknesses in all three forms of organization
in Australian universities. There is no strong Middle Eastern studies
centre, for instance, and the level of understanding of the Middle
East and the Arab world in Australian universities is dangerously
close to negligible in disciplinary departments, and transdisciplinary
groups alike. In Cultural Studies, for instance, Edward Said is
almost the only known voice from the Arab world. However
fine his books, they do not give a sense of the range of what is
thought, felt and experienced in a large, diverse region. It is
far from enough. And the next major Event may come from a different
region, from Africa, Latin America or some part of Asia. Even worse,
it may come from a part of the world Australians do not know enough
about to realise it is a major Event (like genocide in African countries
that dwarfs the body count in New York, Washington and Afghanistan
31. As a start towards addressing the problem of total transdisciplinarity
on a global scale, I look to where borderlands
has found a niche: cyberspace. Cyberspace is a far from equilibrium,
borderless world in which information and money flows with new speed
and freedom on behalf of transnational capitalism. It is also a
source of models and strategies for coping with unlimited connectivity.
Of all aspects of cyberculture, the most distinctive and radically
new is the concept of hypertext, invented by Ted Nelson,
a founding father of cyber-theory (Feizabeidi 1998:6). It takes
many forms, from the small closed sets of linked texts of Home Pages
to open sets constructed by surfers on the net, to the very large
sets of various search engines or the World Wide Web itself. Nelson
proposed Xanadu as a vast hypertext consisting of linked
texts, a backend system consisting of all the print
works of a culture, accessed through local stations with their own
data bases as front-end systems.
32. The World Wide Web drew on the Xanadu concept and realizes
most of its aims and more, in a multimedia world larger than Xanadu,
with texts in different semiotic forms, or from domains that otherwise
are rarely in contact. Nelsons model can be adapted to current
realities to see the totality of systems of a culture as a vast
backend global system, accessed through a variety of
local frontend processors, which include other local
systems outside the Internet itself. I combine the concept of the
hypertext with a development of a critical project into a strategy
I call Critical Hypertext Analysis (Hodge 2000, Coronado
33. Something like Critical Hypertext Analysis may prove to be part
of the solution for what is no less than a crisis in all forms of
academic knowledge, disciplinary, area studies and transdisciplinary
alike, to different degrees. The idea of the hypertext grows out
of earlier notions of intertextuality, combined with the dream of
the borderless world of cyberspace. Where the rich hypertext of
intertextuality remained within a very well-educated head, the electronic
hypertext is out there, dynamic, demotic and monstrous. A critical
hypertext in my sense is not the full set of available texts, which
is without limit, but a set of critically motivated routes between
texts and groups of texts, links which activate relations of similarity
and difference, patterns of meaning which form and can be fixed
against the infinite, swirling sea of the chaos of information.
34. Within a critical hypertext framework, knowledge can be accessed
from different data types, including disciplinary and transdisciplinary,
expert and popular sources, from many different regions, in as many
different languages as can be understood by a given user. Within
such a framework, disciplinary and transdisciplinary bodies of knowledge
become something different and more comparable: different forms
of organisation, with their own entry conditions and constraints,
their borders still policed, to some extent, but crossed by too
many hypertextual routes for any knowledges to remain pure.
35. Traditional disciplines (history, politics, economics etc.)
become different in a critical hypertext framework. Each hypertextual
discipline can be the initial point of contact with some aspect
of an Event, a relay point with links to many other sites that emerge
as relevant to a particular critical enquiry, which may be a different
set with a new Event, a new crisis. Without borders, with multiple
links, they become functionally transdisciplinary yet maintain their
own coherence, held together by a set of connections that continues
to make sense. Sterile wars between individual disciplines and between
disciplinarity and transdisciplinarity would
have no intellectual reason to exist.
36. The configuration of knowledges which has stabilized in transdisciplinary
formations like cultural studies or various area studies has similar
needs: for looser boundaries, multiple connections, the freedom
to rapidly take on any issue which emerges as important. Meta-disciplines
(like philosophy, mathematics, theories of chaos and complexity,
semiotics, cultural theory) can co-exist in the same space, thriving
or withering by the number of links they make with others, or others
make with them. For any user, in whatever kind of academic setting,
the domain of knowledge can now be a single hypertext of hypertexts.
37. There still remains the problem of the size and indivisibility
of the Event as monster. Where does it begin and end? How far back
does its history have to go, to capture its roots, chains of cause
and effect that concatenate in its irruption as monster? How far
forward will it have consequence to challenge current generalizations?
What are its parts, its divisions, and how do they relate to one
another? As a methodological guide I suggest that events like the
Event always have a fractal structure, consisting of many smaller
moments, each as complex as the Event in its totality, a totality
whose boundaries are arbitrary and never reached. As in ancient
magical beliefs, even a claw or a scale from a monster contains
an enigmatic key to its meaning. In modern terms, each cell contains
its genetic code. Moments at every level are never identical, never
comprehensible on their own, but they are linked by the same kind
of network as everything else, made comprehensible through the multitude
of other moments that are also accessible, to some degree, via existing
networks of knowledge, on the Net or outside it.
The mind of a monster
38. To illustrate, I will discuss one moment from among many in
the strings of moments that flowed into and out of the Event to
become part of it: as fractal, as a link in many chains, as nodes
connecting to many other nodes located in many forms of knowledge.
The moment I have chosen is President Bushs speech to a joint
sitting of both houses on 20 September. As a speech it was highly
successful: 2988 words that changed a presidency (D
Max, Good Weekend 10/11/2001, p 28). Before September 11,
Bushs popularity languished at around 51% approval. After
the speech it reached 86%, and was still in the high 70s in February,
2002. (Economist 2/2/2002, p. 27).
39. That seems like a spectacular success, reason for specialists
in discourse analysis or political rhetoric to study the words minutely,
to discover the secret ingredient. I dont believe there is
any such fact to be studied within the domain of one
discipline. Before, during and after September 11 and 20th, Bush
has given abundant signs that he is a man of very average intellectual
or political skills. There is no evidence that a fragment from the
attack landed in the oval office laden with miraculous, kryptonlike
powers, courtesy of bin Laden, to change his mediocrity. The speech
was a medium through which forces flowed. Bushs mind resonated
with the forms of the monster, generating the logic through which
it reproduced as a cataclysmic global force. Only a hypertextual
form of discourse analysis could hope to track this wider process.
40. It was of course a political event, not just a string of words:
a speech in a particular place, after a particular event, by the
person designated the President of USA. It was transmitted by TV
to most US homes, and sections of it published in most newspapers
in USA, and in many other countries, including Australia. It was
also reproduced on the government web page, accessed (in audio and
video as well as print) via the presidential web page (http:www.whitehouse/gov/).
Such media reach seems an image of communication power. Yet paradoxically
as messages travel across borders they can change dramatically.
Bin Ladens video, treated with contempt by US officials as
worthless propaganda, combined with the image of 911 in Arab minds
to produce a 95% approval among educated Saudis, aged between
25 and 41, according to a Saudi intelligence survey (Economist
2/2/2002, p 15). Bushs speech is over-exposed internationally.
In Mexico there were many highly critical analyses. On the government
web page it stays still, a sitting target for critics all over the
world: including Australia. In a far from equilibrium world causes
can produce unpredictable and even opposite effects.
41. Bushs aim was to construct a monster, and he did. It was
a curious kind of monster, huge enough to justify the terror and
the size of the response, small enough to be certain to be defeated.
The solution to the conceptual problem was the idea of a network.
There are thousands of these terrorists in more than 60 countries.
Thousands does not sound like many, but they are in more than
60 countries. That is an average of only about 50 per country:
not a problem. But as a network they have a power to affect more
than 60 countries: a big problem. The problem can be contained:
it cannot be contained. In Batesons terms (1973) this is a
classic double message, which according to Bateson conduces to schizophrenia
42. This vagueness is turned into something far more dangerous by
its apparent opposite: a simple binary logic in the form of a challenge.
Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make.
Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. (Applause).
This is a decision which every nation must make, (or USA will make
on its behalf). But how many nations will be turned into an enemy
by this simplistic logic? More than 60? Or less? But how much less?
But these doubts were not uppermost in the minds of those who applauded,
in Congress or outside.
43. Defenders of the President in USA, and there are many, praise
his simplicity, based on simple binary divisions which declare an
absence of confusions: strong borders as a sign of intellectual
power and political strength. Walter Russell Mead, for instance,
senior fellow at the Council for Foreign Relations, wrote in the
Los Angeles Times: U.S foreign policy has pundits and
politicians worldwide reaching for words like "unilateral"
and "simplistic". (in The News Mexico 24/3/2002,
p 13). But he does not worry. These are just the words of the global
chattering classes. Reality will vindicate US logic, he claims.
For example, he predicts that US will invade Iraq, with total success,
which will silence the chattering classes:
With Hussein out of the way, U.S. troops
can leave Saudi Arabia. Israel, freed from its fear of Iraq and
its weapons of mass destruction, undoubtedly will find it easier
to compromise with the Palestinians. Palestinian radicals and Arab
rejectionists will lose much support and prestige with a new demonstration
of U.S power and will, strengthening the hands of those within the
Palestinian leadership who are ready to deal seriously for peace.
In other words, by dealing with Iraq, the United States will be
doing exactly what the allies keep telling the United States they
wish it would do attack the root causes of terrorism in the
Middle East. (Ibid.)
44. As a member of the global chattering classes I am
amazed at the staggering unrealism of this realism. It is a fantasy
of linearity: x follows from y follows from z. The U.S gets exactly
what it wants, and everyone else is happy too. But it is not so
clear that the U.S. will leave Saudi Arabia, or Israel will compromise
with the Palestinians, or their radicals will lose prestige with
this show of force, etc. Every link of this chain is in doubt. Yet
this is presented in a respectable U.S newspaper as sound analysis:
the realism that the chattering classes are unable to
45. The causes of terrorism are a topic Bush addressed:
Americans are asking, why do they hate us?
They hate what they see right here in this chamber a democratically
elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate
our freedoms our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech,
our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.
46. The question is better than the answer, which makes no attempt
to address the serious grievances many people have about the U.S
role as a global super-power. For instance, since the second world
war USA has bombarded 24 countries, in campaigns that lasted a total
of 80 war-years. Of these Asian countries have been the victims
of 34, and Latin Americans 32. Middle-eastern countries (12) have
suffered less than these others. Australia is the only continent
the U.S havent bombed. (Abu-Jamal 2001: 20). Being bombed
or invaded might seem reasons to hate USA, but these facts are part
of a reality Bush is not wanting to explain. Instead,
he constructs the monster as an inverse image of US values, hating
what Americans love, loving what they hate: so inverted that they
cannot be understood, except as inverted forms of life.
47. Some American critics have tried to provide the counter-evidence
to Bushs rhetoric. For instance, Noam Chomsky (2001) made
a comparison between U.S. actions and those of what they claim are
terrorists. He uses the example of Nicaragua, because the International
Court of Justice considered their claims and ruled that the U.S.
had used excessive and illegal force against a sovereign country,
killing tens of thousands of its people, destroying its economy.
The court ordered the U.S. to desist, and pay reparations. They
paid nothing, and escalated the war, to a successful
conclusion: a ravaged and exhausted country governed by politicians
chosen by the U.S. Who is the terrorist here? Chomsky
asks rhetorically. Bush doesnt reply. Chomskys claims
rest on careful research and public evidence. Bushs arent.
Yet Bushs argument prevails, Chomskys is marginalised.
It is partly that Bush is US President, but also that in far from
equilibrium conditions, appeals to reality and truth
have to cross too many borders to be heard.
48. As I have briefly indicated, these and many more lines of enquiry
meet in Bushs text, not as its meaning but as
multiple connections with other issues, other texts, other aspects
of a context that is too complex to understand, too important to
ignore. Reality of various kinds is always important,
insofar as it can be determined: whether the speech was successful
or not, with whom and why, whether facts he mentions were as he
said. The critical hypertext includes and goes beyond such issues,
into a context that is a network without end: never separate from
reality, always touching on its different aspects. Ultimately
there is no border between understanding the speech and understanding
the highly complex world the speech smashed into, like the high-jacked
plane, like Sokals fraud.
49. If monsters are created by borders, they can be captured by
Nets: by networks which create and recognize a labyrinth of interconnections
in and between subject and object, between what can be known and
how it is known. I return to the seeming coincidence that happened
at the end of 2001: the eruption of the Event as a monster, the
emergence of the transdisciplinary electronic journal borderlands.
However different they seem, each needs the other. The Event needs
this form of organization of knowledge to be understood, for its
positive possibilities to be recognized and fostered. Borderlands
can thrive from its capacity to recognize where the real challenges
are, where the energy is located from which its own growth may come.
Bob Hodge is Foundation Professor of Humanities at the University
of Western Sydney. He is the author of 'monstrous knowledge' (1995)
and other reflections on transdisciplinary research, most recently
Anamorfosis (2002, in Spanish, with Lema and Satterle), as
well as work on the politics of Chinese language and culture (1998,
with Louie) and applications of chaos theory and fuzzy logic to
language, culture and society (2002, with Dimitrov). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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