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A Survey of Verso's Responses to 9/11

Phan Nguyen 8 September 2011

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Sparing no room for nuance, the magazine covers are all reminding us that the United States—and hence the planet—is set to commemorate the ten-year anniversary of 9/11, a day that not only changed the world and signaled the end of innocence and spawned a new greatest generation, but also launched a thousand new slogans with which to label that day, and inspired thousands of speeches intent on inspiring thousands more.

However, despite the horror, anger, uncertainty—and yes, for some, glee—from the damage inflicted on that momentous day, there remained, in the aftermath and up to now, a limited vocabulary within the mainstream with which to describe the events of that time and the trail of destruction that followed.

And since we aren’t anticipating a commemorative circuitous flight over the country on Air Force One with the President of the United States, we would like to offer an alternate journey—that is, a survey of Verso’s responses to 9/11:

We begin with Tariq Ali’s Clash of Fundamentalisms, which provides a historical perspective to the events leading up to September 11, 2001. And the lead-up was expanse: Ali begins his account in the seventh century and only arrives at 9/11 by chapter 21, eliminating any pretense that what happened on 9/11 started with 9/11.

Then, on the first anniversary of the attacks, Verso published a series of three books by notable European intellectuals diversifying the context on the scenes which 9/11 produced. The series featured Jean Baudrillard with The Spirit of Terrorism, Paul Virilo with Ground Zero, and Slavoj Žižek with Welcome to the Desert of the Real.

Reflecting on the meanings granted to the deaths on 9/11, Judith Butler’s Precarious Life explores “the differential allocation of grievability that decides what kind of subject is and must be grieved, and which kind of subject must not, operates to produce and maintain certain exclusionary conceptions of who is normatively human: what counts as a livable life and a grievable death?”

Meanwhile, in Afflicted Powers, the Retort collective finds that the ideas expounded by Debord and the Situationists established a suitable home in 9/11.

Susan Buck-Morss calls for a global public sphere with room for inclusion for Islamism in Thinking Past Terror.

Jacqueline Rose confronts evil in “The Body of Evil: Arendt, Coetzee and 9/11,” as part of The Last Resistance: “When you accuse someone of evil, history disappears. In the great and uneven distribution of the world’s resources, it becomes strictly irrelevant where or who they are.”

Speaking of which, Osama bin Laden’s words gave Verso a surprising plug this year when conservative talk radio host Chuck Morse reviewed Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden. Morse referred to Verso as “a very fashionable leftist book publisher.” (And who doubts him? Anybody who’s anybody is wearing Verso these days.) Yet Morse inferred from this impeccable observation that by publishing bin Laden’s statements, Verso had surely restored bin Laden to his rightful place as a full-fledged Communist—a deduction whose antecedents are more Glenn Beck than Žižek.

Verso author Simon Critchley cites from one of bin Laden’s statements, “The Towers of Lebanon” (chapter 23), in his recent 9/11 contribution to the New York Times online, “The Cycle of Revenge”—one of a series of appearances Critchley is making during this anniversary period.

In What Happened Here, Eliot Wieinberger gives a first-hand account of life in his home town in chapters entitled “New York: The Day After,” “New York: Three Weeks After,” “New York: Four Weeks After,” “New York: One Year After,” and “New York: Sixteen Months After.”

And while many commentators were quick to compare 9/11 to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, John Berger in Hold Everything Dear was reminded of August 6, 1945, the day the US dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The comparison was not in quantity of casualties—which would not register on the same scale—but rather:

The bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki announced that the United States was henceforth the supreme armed power in the world. The attack of 11 September announced that this power was no longer guaranteed invulnerability on its home ground. The two events mark the beginning and end of a certain historical period.

Michael Sorkin evokes 9/11 in several essays appearing in All Over the Map, discovering its remnants finely dispersed throughout the urban landscape of New York.

While in Cities Under Siege, Stephen Graham situates 9/11 in the context of “the new military urbanism” and notes that

at least a hundred nationalities were represented on the list of the dead that grim day, and many of those people were “illegal” immigrants working in New York City ... Posthumously, the dead of 9/11 were aggressively nationalized, re-emerging as heroic Americans whose deaths necessitated a global war orchestrated through Manichaean renderings of world geography. The transformation is ironic, to put it kindly, given that many would no doubt have been struggling as “illegal aliens” to attain such nationalization during their lifetime.

Tom Engelhardt reminds readers in The World According to TomDispatch that the Pentagon was attacked as well, but he does so only to wipe it completely from their memories:

On the fifth anniversary of September 11, there will, for instance, be no memorial documentaries focusing on American Flight 77, which plowed into the Pentagon. That destructive but non-apocalyptic-looking attack didn’t satisfy the same built-in expectations. Though the term “ground zero Washington” initially floated through the media ether, it never stuck.

Beyond the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, 9/11 evokes those heady days of anthrax, the DC sniper and excessive (even for the United States) flag displays. In Portents of the Real, Susan Willis gives us a critical look at such unexpected cultural markers of that time.

Finally, we cannot complete our 9/11 survey without acknowedging the other September 11, the one with the scenes of smoke and fine dust billowing from the Presidential Palace of Chile in 1973.

Verso titles that provide context to that time include The Nixon Administration and the Death of Allende's Chile by Jonathan Haslam, Pinochet and Me by Marc Cooper, The Trial of Henry Kissinger by a pre-9/11 (2001, that is) Christopher Hitchens, and Emir Sader’s forthcoming book, The New Mole: Paths of the Latin American Left.