I’ve written before about the relation between terror and narrative. But now my former student James passes me a link to Mark Danner’s essay “Taking Stock of the Forever War”, an account of the “global war on terror” since 9/11, which includes this observation:
A war that had a clear purpose and a certain end has now lost its reason and its finish. Americans find themselves fighting and dying in a kind of existential desert of the present. For Americans, the war has lost its narrative.
I don’t know whether or not Danner’s reference to a “desert of the present” is meant to be an allusion to Zizek’s “desert of the real”. I doubt it. On the other hand, it might as well be: the temporality of the real is, after all, alien to the chronology of narrative history.
At the same time, it is not as though the real–the real opened up in and by terror, the real of the war against terror, the real of the interplay of affect and habit–it is not as though this real were devoid of temporality or historicity. Any suggestion otherwise is psychoanalysis’s classic error, the imposition of eternal, unalterable forms onto the psychic life of power.
We need to invent new ways of thinking history adequate to what at first appears to be an eternal present. Deserts lack the recognizable features that otherwise orient us in space and time; but their shifting sands hardly lack differentiation. Indeed they are endlessly, intensively, immanently differentiated, rather than merely distinguished according to fixed relations of extension and transcendent identity.