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Portents of the Real: A Primer for Post-9/11 America

The deeper meanings of popular cultural phenomena in post-9/11 America.

The shock and horror that gripped America on September 11, 2001, has given way to a culture of pathological worry. Ignited by the terrorist attacks, anxiety has been fueled by the nation's official response, which sanctioned a narrative good vs. evil, the suppression of intellectual debate and the political expediency of keeping the citizenry in a constant state of fear. Snipers in the capital, the government in bunkers, flag euphoria and anthrax hysteria, torture in Abu Ghraib and a stuntman who survived Niagra Falls – these are the nation's portents, signs of the times in post-9/11 America. Portents of the Real examines culture to apprehend the foreboding political subtexts of a nation perpetually at war on terror.

Against an ever deepening climate of political repression and a journalistic landscape dominated by sensationalized controversy and historical forgetfulness, Susan Willis offers an astute analysis of the realities behind America's cultural myths. The effect is both wry and unnerving.




  • “What we have here, then, is a political analysis, but one that goes beyond traditional critique and is more subtle and intelligent in that it ferrets out the weaknesses and identifies the fault lines of the system by an oblique approach that ultimately detects the ways in which that system destroys itself – with the torturer showing through the victim, the Real showing through in the appearance, in keeping with a set of rules that is both secret and fundamental. 'What goes around comes around.'”
  • “The lesson of Mao was right: revolution is, at its most radical, a cultural revolution. It is sad that, today, we have to learn this lesson from the neo-con Bush-men. However, Susan Willis's new book saves the critical credentials of cultural studies. Its analysis of 9/11 as a cultural phenomenon does not deal with an aspect which is less important than its directly political or military side – on the contrary, it strikes at the very heart of the ongoing struggle. This book is therefore a must for everybody who simply wants to understand what the hell is going on today. To ignore it means you want to persist in your blessed ignorance – at your own risk and peril!”


  • Perpetual War and Permanent Unrest: The Battle of Algiers After 9/11

    This essay is excerpted from Sohail Daulatzai's Fifty Years of The Battle of Algiers: Past as Prologue, published by the University of Minnesota Press. A new 4K restoration of The Battle of Algiers is currently touring theaters across the United States. 

    Though it is both troubling and telling, the screening of the film by the Pentagon in the aftermath of 9/11 and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan is only the latest chapter in the afterlife of The Battle of Algiers. In many ways, the film is a battleground and a microcosm of the enduring struggles between the West and the Rest, whiteness and its others. But in a post- 9/11 moment, it’s hard to ignore the ways in which the centrality and omnipresence of the figure of the Muslim and the “War on Terror” have not only coded and shaped every aspect of social life but have also sought to undermine the power and politics of The Battle of Algiers.

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  • A Survey of Verso's Responses to 9/11

    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:

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