Surveying the damage: Political aesthetics of violence after Abu Ghraib
Walter, Patrick F.
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From the outstretched hands of an injured Haitian girl who reaches toward the camera to the thumbs up of a U.S. interrogator who stands over the naked body of a detainee, we are inundated, today, with politicized images of violence. This dissertation, "Surveying the Damage: Political Aesthetics After Abu Ghraib" argues that such scenes of suffering, torture and mutilation are key sites where the limits and potentialities of the political are established and contested. Through close analysis of literature, film, comics and political discourse, I identify two modes of looking at violence: a global aesthetic and a diasporic aesthetic. The first part of the dissertation argues that the global aesthetic of violence establishes a key distinction between a melancholic subject aligned with an unmarked whiteness and a hypervisible corporeality equated with tortured flesh of the racial other. The central assumption of this aesthetic – that witnessing and depicting violence is tantamount to enacting violence – produces a melancholic subject characterized by inevitable submission to a totalized, spectacular system of late capitalism. This subject ceaselessly reproduces itself through racially coded spectacles of brutality. The second part of this dissertation is devoted to texts that develop a diasporic aesthetic of violence. These literary and cinematic depictions of violence articulate a corporeal affectivity that confounds the spectacular, racialized dualities of the global aesthetic. By evoking this affectivity, these texts attempt to formulate a diasporic subject and a proletarian body that would offer political alternatives to the late capitalist order.