The Ugly American: The New Orientalism
Trevor Paglen and Andrea Liu
Saturday, July 3rd, 2010 12-4PM (part of Governor’s Island Radical Citizenship Tutorials)
Colonel’s Row Building 408, Governor’s Island
Pilloried, one-dimensionalized and demonized by the American press, Islamic extremists and “terrorists” are largely caricaturized by the West as the unfathomable “Other” who, by virtue of their violation of the social contract and vehement refusal to take their place at the table of the New Global Economy, are the cipher for “pure evil.” “Why do they hate us?” “They hate us because of our freedom,” was the mantra recited with robotic reliability by Middle America after September 11th. Intellectually unequipped to jumpstart a national dialogue about the long fraught history of the West’s colonization of the Middle East, we instead regressed into a type of infantile narcissism and autism, reassuring ourselves of our bravery with a John Wayne rock-like faith in American goodness, thereby banishing any informed discussion of terrorism to being outside the parameters of polite discourse.
These tutorials will dispel the Anglo-Saxon racist orientalist fantasy that the current “War on Terror” is a battle between Medieval “irrationality” (Orient) and modern “progress” (West). We will look at the work of Egyptian poet, literary critic, and educator Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966), the “Lenin of Islamic Extremism” and his seminal prison writings Milestones, which largely influenced the development of anarcho-Islam and the founding of Al Quaeda. We will build bridges between Qutb’s caustic denunciation of modernity with similar denunciations found in Western high modernist literary works such as T.S. Elliot’s “The Waste Land,” E.E. Cumming’s “Progress is a Comfortable Disease,” Huxley’s Brave New World, Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” and Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. We will look at the evolution of Osama Bin Laden as a unique hybrid of populism and elitism, a disgruntled trust fund kid in an epic King Lear-like desert isolation, who rejected his privileges and used the infrastructure of his patrician background to form a counter-hegemonic Robin Hood-like folk-populist revolt. We will look at the uncanny intimacy of the CIA and Al Quaeda, the CIA’s central role in training Al Quaeda in the 80’s in Afghanistan, and the Frankenstinian irony of its protege coming back to declare Jihad upon it now.
A radical citizen is he/she who destabilizes the narratives of the “Other” propagandized by the state. A radical citizen skates on the perimeter of the given rubrics of its nation’s rhetoric without ingesting them, and mixes, hybridizes, and cannibalizes them. A radical citizen is not subsumed or manipulated by the rhetoric of his/her state, but prefers to, as Emily Dickinson said, “dwell in possibility.”
Guest Speaker: Trevor Paglen
Trevor Paglen is a visual artist, writer, and experimental geographer whose work blurs lines between social science, contemporary art, and journalism, most renowned for his work on the CIA's use of ghost rendition sites to detain alleged Islamic extremists. Paglen's visual work has been exhibited at Transmediale Festival, Berlin; The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA); Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA), North Adams; the 2008 Taipei Biennial; the Istanbul Biennial 2009, and has been featured in the The New York Times, Wired, Newsweek, Modern Painters, Aperture, and Art Forum. He has received grants from Rhizome, Art Matters, Artadia, and the Eyebeam Center for Art and Technology. Paglen is the author of three books: Torture Taxi: On the Trail of the CIA’s Rendition Flights (Melville House, 2006) I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have to be Destroyed by Me (Melville House, 2007) and Blank Spots on a Map (Dutton/Penguin 2009). Utne Magazine named him one of “50 Visionaries Who are Changing the World” in 2008. Paglen received his MFA from the Art Institute of Chicago and his Ph.D. in Geography from UC Berkeley. He is represented by Altman Siegel Gallery in San Francisco and Thomas Zander Gallery in Germany. www.paglen.com
New Orientalism Tutorial Conceived By:
Andrea Liu is a visual art and dance critic. She has been a writer-in-residence at Atlantic Center for the Arts (poetry), Museum of Fine Arts Houston Core Program (visual art criticism), Wildacres (poetry), Jacobs Pillow (dance criticism), Vermont Studio Center (poetry), Chez Bushwick commissioned writer (dance criticism) and a core participant in New Museum Nightschool Program (visual art criticism). She has given talks at Sculpture Center, Triangle Arts Residency, Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center, Tradeschool, Banff Centre, and Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Archetime Conference. She is founder of the Foucault Lab. She was a literature major at Yale (BA) and thereafter studied literary criticism at Centre Parisien D’Etudes Critiques.
Mary Walling Blackburn’s “Radical Citizenship Tutorials” is part of No Longer Empty’s “The Sixth Borough Exhibition,” a series of public art and film screenings from June to October on Governor’s Island.