An Inclusive Litany


Two of the "Guidelines for Countering Racial, Ethnic and Religious Profiling," issued by the Society of Professional Journalists, October 6, 2002:
5. When writing about terrorism, remember to include white supremacist, radical anti-abortionists and other groups with a history of such activity....

8. Avoid using word combinations such as "Islamic terrorist" or "Muslim extremist" that are misleading because they link whole religions to criminal activity....


From "The Power, the Name, and the Word," an essay by novelist Carlos Fuentes published in the Mexican newspaper Reforma, September 27, 2002, excerpts translated by the New Republic:
Today, it is not about exalting an individual, a führer, a duce, but an entire nation. Hitler and Stalin made the mistake, part of ancient authoritarian culture, of demanding personal homage superior to those deserved by their own nations: to exalt the name. Washington's circle of power is infinitely more capable. It shields itself within the Nation and it gives it a total and exclusive ecumenical value....

Just as Hitler advanced in the name of the German Volk and Stalin in the name of the Proletariat, Bush claims to act in the name of the people of the United States, "the only surviving model of human progress." Such a declaration locates us, once more, before "the great lie" that Hitler so astutely invoked....

The terrible thing about a declaration like Bush's is that, subliminally and pragmatically, it prepares the extinction of all models of progress that are not the American one. With all due respect, and with due consideration to the American democratic civilization: that's what Hitler and Stalin thought of their respective models....

We have entered a new era in which an imperial government and its leaders no longer deserve historic epithets or mythic reigns. Bush Il Duce, Cheney the Masked One, Ashcroft the Warden, Lady Condoleezza of the Potomac, Rumsfeld the Lone Ranger, and Powell Tonto? No need. These characters represent profiles of power that are mutable, mutating, and even mindless. They can be replaced without worry. Hitler and Stalin were immovable. Bush and Cheney are not. This is the hope. That the group in charge of the White House will be expelled in November 2004.

Fuentes again on October 5, responding to his essay's numerous critics:
I don't compare Bush with Hitler and Stalin to equate them, but to distinguish them. The Nazi and Soviet dictators faced other powerful states. Today's U.S. president governs a country with no external counterforce, something that has not occurred since the height of the Roman Empire.... But neither Hitler nor Stalin had the military power that Bush has. Next to Bush, Hitler and Stalin were but petty officers.... [N]o, Bush is neither Hitler nor Stalin. But he has more power than they. This is the danger.

In its ongoing interpretation of the new McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, the Federal Election Commission ruled that it was permissible for late-night comedians such as David Letterman and Jay Leno to crack jokes about political candidates in the weeks prior to elections.

In awarding the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize to former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, the committee chairman, Gunnar Berge, said the award "should be interpreted" as a "kick in the leg" to President George W. Bush's "belligerent" foreign policy positions. Carter's Nobel citation reads:
In a situation currently marked by threats of the use of power, Carter has stood by the principles that conflicts must as far as possible be resolved through mediation and international co-operation based on international law, respect for human rights, and economic development.
A week later, the government of North Korea acknowledged systematic violations of a 1994 pact, brokered by Carter, in which it had agreed to halt its nuclear weapons program in return for generous economic assistance from the United States and South Korea. American officials say North Korea may have already produced one or two atomic bombs under cover of that agreement, which may destabilize the region.

The National Abortion and Reproductive Rights League led a campaign against an "anti-choice" Bush administration initiative extending federal funds bestowed under the State Children's Health Insurance Program to cover prenatal care of unborn children.


Highlights from "The Enemy Within," an essay by Gore Vidal in the London Observer, October 27, 2002:
One year after 9/11, we still don't know by whom we were struck that infamous Tuesday, or for what true purpose. But it is fairly plain to many civil libertarians that 9/11 put paid not only to much of our fragile Bill of Rights but also to our once-envied system of government which had taken a mortal blow the previous year when the Supreme Court did a little dance in 5/4 time and replaced a popularly elected president with the oil and gas Cheney/Bush junta....

Even so, we have been getting some answers to the question: why weren't we warned in advance of 9/11? Apparently, we were, repeatedly; for the better part of a year, we were told there would be unfriendly visitors to our skies some time in September 2001, but the government neither informed nor protected us...

The behavior of President George W. Bush on 11 September certainly gives rise to all sorts of not unnatural suspicions. I can think of no other modern chief of state who would continue to pose for 'warm' pictures of himself listening to a young girl telling stories about her pet goat while hijacked planes were into three buildings.

Constitutionally, Bush is not only chief of state, he is commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Normally, a commander in such a crisis would go straight to headquarters and direct operations while receiving the latest intelligence....

Obviously, somebody had ordered the Air Force to make no move to intercept those hijackings...

As it proved, the conquest of Afghanistan had nothing to do with Osama. He was simply a pretext for replacing the Taliban with a relatively stable government that would allow Union Oil of California to lay its pipeline for the profit of, among others, the Cheney-Bush junta....

Many commentators of a certain age have noted how Hitlerian our junta sounds as it threatens first one country for harbouring terrorists and then another. It is true that Hitler liked to pretend to be the injured—or threatened—party before he struck. But he had many great predecessors not least Imperial Rome....

We have only outdone the Romans in turning metaphors such as the war on terrorism, or poverty, or Aids into actual wars on targets we appear, often, to pick at random in order to maintain turbulence in foreign lands....


An Australian Pentecostal worshiper sued a church for negligence for failure to provide someone to catch her when she fell to the floor after being "slain in the spirit" during a 1996 service, causing her to strike her head.


After Kimberly Cloutier was fired from a Costco Warehouse in West Springfield, Massachusetts, a federal court ruled (in a $2 million lawsuit) that Costco violated her religious beliefs for refusing to acommodate her eyebrow ring. Cloutier belongs to the Church of Body Modification, whose adherents believe piercings are a form of religious faith that help to unite mind, body, and soul. "It's not just an aesthetic thing," Cloutier said. "It's your body; you're taking control of it."

The entertainer Harry Belafonte, speaking on a San Diego radio show, October 8, 2002:
In the days of slavery, there were those slaves who lived on the plantation and there were those slaves that lived in the house. You got the privilege of living in the house if you served the master... exactly the way the master intended to have you serve him.

Colin Powell's committed to come into the house of the master. When Colin Powell dares to suggest something other than what the master wants to hear, he will be turned back out to pasture.


The Des Moines Register reports that a candidate for the city's school board—40 year teaching veteran Jim Patch—believes students shouldn't have to be able to read to get a high school diploma, since to do so would discriminate against dyslexics. "I would like to see us be accountable, but as far as tying graduation to reading, we're going to have a lot of architects and artists and doctors out there who aren't going to graduate from high school if we do that," he said.


Shelton Richardson, Mayor of North Randall, Ohio, is leading an effort to ban requirements by gas stations that customers pay before they pump, which he regards as a racist presumption that customers will steal.


Commenting on her installation, Sept. 11, which features a representation of the World Trade Center towers, New Zealand artist Gail Haffern said the attacks had been "wonderful... because it was a new idea." "Being an artist," she said of her reaction to that day's events, "I thought what if this had been a performance piece and Osama bin Laden had declared himself an artist, how would the world have seen it then?" Her piece, she says, "asks the viewer to take a new position free of accusation and prejudice to view the acts of September 11 with a sense of amazement."

And after the British artist Damien Hirst, who specializes in presenting bisected and eviscerated barnyard animals, told the BBC that the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks "need congratulating" for such "visually stunning" artwork, he issued a clarification that "I value human life."


The Orange County Register reports on the proliferation of "bounty hunter lawsuits" seeking compliance with California's Proposition 65, which mandates warning labels on all hazardous chemicals. Targeted products have included chocolate, playground sand, picture frames, lightbulbs, Christmas lights, electrical tape, braces, game darts, stained-glass lamps, fire logs, gasoline (which emanates gas-pump fumes), exercise weights, hammers, tools, terrariums, cue chalk, cosmetics, and Slim-Fast.


The St. Petersburg Times reports on the gradual disappearance of show-and-tell from American schools, partly as a means to avoid self-esteem problems in children who don't bring items that are interesting enough. Mona Schuster, a child development specialist with the Pinellas County school system in Florida, said the original intent of the exercise was to increase self-esteem, but that in recent years children have started bringing in things that are bigger and better than what their friends brought in.

Former President Bill Clinton, interviewed by Charles Gibson on ABC's "Good Morning America," September 27, 2002:
Gibson: Do you agree with the administration's contention that we have a right to make pre-emptory attacks—what they're now calling anticipatory self-defense? That we have the right to attack a nation we believe threatens us?

Clinton: Well, I think it depends upon what is defined as belief.


In addition to $850,000 for economic damages and pain and suffering, a Los Angeles Jury ordered Philip Morris to pay $28 billion in punitive damages to Betty Bullock, a 64-year-old lung cancer victim, for failure to warn her of the risks of smoking. (That's "Billion" with a "B.") Ms. Bullock had been warned by doctors to stop smoking for forty years and repeatedly urged to quit by family members.

A headline in the Washington Post, October 3, 2002, read: "Arbitrary Victims, Identical Fate: County's Growing Diversity Reflected in Those Gunned Down."

[Ed.: A great deal of surprise accompanied the revelation that the alleged Beltway Sniper turned out to be someone other than a lone white man. Still, reporters often used "Army veteran" as an epithet to characterize John Allen Muhammad, one of the two men accused, rather than "Al-Qaeda sympathizer."]


Promotional text for Voicing Chicana Feminisms: Young Women Speak Out on Sexuality and Identity, by Aida Hurtado, forthcoming from New York University Press:

Chicana voices are missing from the psychology of women. Though "Chicana feminisms" have only recently been enumerated, a feminist perspective has long existed in Chicano communities without ever having been explicitly named. Grounded in specific aspects of Chicano culture such as the contested role of La Malinche and the complexities of Marianismo, the distinguishing feature of Chicana feminisms has been their embrace of diversity. Chicanas readily ascribe to many feminisms and do not expect there to be only one.

Focusing on young women between the ages of 20 and 30, Chicanas Speak Feminisms explores the relationship between Chicana feminism and the lived experiences of Chicanas. What do they see as their day-to-day manifestation of feminist consciousness? What is the relationship between what Chicana feminists propose and their lived experiences as women and as members of other significant social groups? Including rich ethnographic testimony based on questionnaires, in-depth interviews, and shadowing, Hurtado allows the women to speak in their own terms about how they see their femininity, sexuality, gender identity, ethnic/racial identity, and ties to other feminisms and political struggles.

Another NYU Press offering, Queer Latinidad: Identity Practices, Discursive Spaces, by Juana Maria Rodriguez:

According to the 2000 census, Latinos/as have become the largest ethnic minority group in the United States. Images of Latinos and Latinas in mainstream news and in popular culture suggest a Latin Explosion at center stage, yet the topic of queer identity in relation to Latino/a America remains under examined.

Juana Marma Rodriguez attempts to rectify this dearth of scholarship in Queer Latinidad: Identity Practices, Discursive Spaces, by documenting the ways in which identities are transformed by encounters with language, the law, culture, and public policy. She identifies three key areas as the project's case studies: activism, primarily HIV prevention; immigration law; and cyberspace. In each, Rodrmguez theorizes the ways queer Latino/a identities are enabled or constrained, melding several theoretical and methodological approaches to argue that these sites are complex and dynamic social fields.

As she moves the reader from one disciplinary location to the other, Rodriguez reveals the seams of her own academic engagement with queer latinidad. This deftly crafted work represents a dynamic and innovative approach to the study of identity formation and representation, making a vital contribution to a new reformulation of gender and sexuality studies.

From the University of Minnesota Press, Masking and Power: Carnival and Popular Culture in the Caribbean, by Gerard Aching:

Does the mask reveal more than it conceals? What, this book asks, becomes visible and invisible in the masking practiced in Caribbean cultures—not only in the familiar milieu of the carnival but in political language, social conduct, and cultural expressions that mimic, misrepresent, and mislead? Focusing on masking as a socially significant practice in Caribbean cultures, Gerard Aching's analysis articulates masking, mimicry, and misrecognition as a means of describing and interrogating strategies of visibility and invisibility in Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, Martinique, and beyond.

Masking and Power uses ethnographic fieldwork, psychoanalysis, and close literary readings to examine encounters between cultural insiders as these locals mask themselves and one another either to counter the social invisibility imposed on them or to maintain their socioeconomic privileges. Aching exposes the ways in which strategies of masking and mimicry, once employed to negotiate subjectivities within colonial regimes, have been appropriated for state purposes and have become, with the arrival of self-government in the islands, the means by which certain privileged locals make a show of national and cultural unity even as they engage in the privatization of popular culture and its public performances.

More from the website of Duke University Press:

Thinking Through September 11

Dissent from the Homeland: Essays after September 11
Stanley Hauerwas and Frank Lentriccia, special issue editors

In this special issue of the South Atlantic Quarterly (101:2), well-known writers and scholars from across the humanities and social sciences take a critical look at U.S. domestic and foreign policies—past and present—as well as the recent surge of patriotism. The contributors address questions such as why the Middle East harbors a deep-seated hatred for the U.S. and whether the U.S. drive to win the Cold War made the nation more like its enemies. These dissenting voices provide a thought-provoking alternative to the apparently overwhelming public approval, both at home and abroad, of the U.S. military response to the September 11 attacks. Also featured as a visual document of the devastation of the attacks is a photo-essay by James Nachtwey.

September 11—A Public Emergency?
Ella Shohat, Stefano Harney, Randy Martin, Timothy Mitchell, and Fred Moten, special issue editors for the Social Text Collective

This special issue of Social Text (#72) aims to move beyond public discourse toward thoughtful analysis. The editors argue that the challenge for the Left is to develop an antiterrorism stance that acknowledges the legacy of U.S. trade and foreign policy as well as the diversity of the Muslim faith and the dangers presented by fundamentalism of all kinds. This issue includes poetry, photographic work, and an article by Judith Butler on the discursive space surrounding the attacks of September 11.

Delegates at an anti-racism conference held in Barbados voted to expel non-blacks from the meeting because discussing the legacy of slavery in front of them would be too traumatic. Conference chairwoman Jewell Crawford later told the Barbados Daily Nation that, as those expelled were leaving, "I suggested that they get together amongst themselves, just like we're doing now, and plan and strategize, talk about ways that they can help to eradicate racism."

[Ed.: The Barbados Advocate later reported that officials turned to local white-owned businesses to pay off the conference's $200,000 debt, arguing that they have an obligation to assist the black community on whose patronage they depend.]

A transcript from the June 1 wedding of Cary Wolfe and Allison Hunter. Wolfe teaches critical theory at SUNY Albany. Hunter is an artist. Both apparently have a well-developed sense of humor.
Judge Silverman:
Friends and relatives, we are gathered here today to witness the marriage of Allison and Cary. To do so, we must perform these vows in an act of ceremony.

But what are these things: to wed, to marry, to take a wedding vow? They are what the philosopher J.L. Austin, in his study How To Do Things With Words, calls "speech acts," of which there are two different kinds: constative speech acts, whose primary attribute is that they say something; and performative speech acts (of which this ceremony is an example), whose primary attribute is that they do something. A performative speech act, as Austin puts it, doesn't describe a state of affairs; it possesses the crucial feature of accomplishing the very act to which it refers. The very act of saying it makes it so.

It's not enough just to think the words of the wedding vow, no matter how sincerely you may be thinking them. (If it were enough, then I wouldn't be here and neither would you.) And it's not enough even to say them. (If it were, Allison and Cary could just recite these lines to each other on the subway, say, or while making risotto, and—voilà!—they'd be married.)

No, for a performative to carry out its function, it must meet a number of criteria. To quote Austin:

(A.1) There must exist an accepted conventional procedure having a certain conventional effect, that procedure to include the uttering of certain words by certain persons in certain circumstances, and further, (A.2) the particular persons and circumstances in a given case must be appropriate for the invocation of the particular procedure invoked. (B.1) The procedure must be executed by all participants both correctly and (B.2) completely.
Although we've just begun the ceremony—or have we?—some interesting questions have already gathered on the horizon: Is this set of words, so far, "accepted"? Are they "appropriate for the invocation of the particular procedure invoked"? Are we executing the procedure "correctly" and "completely"? Is it enough simply to say, "Do you, Allison, take Cary to be your lawfully wedded husband?"

"I do."

Judge Silverman:
"And do you, Cary, take Allison to be your lawfully wedded wife?"

"I do."

Judge Silverman:
As it turns out, it is enough, and the words just uttered by both Allison and Cary are sufficient—but not because of the words themselves.

First of all—according to Austin and according to the law—the words must be meant "seriously" and not self-referentially.

The problem with that, though, as Jonathan Culler has pointed out in his discussion of Jacques Derrida's critique of Austin, is that the distinction between the serious and nonserious is always uncertain, always subject to deconstruction, and any attempt to solve that problem by insisting on the "proper" context for a statement is bound to fail.

For example, we are all familiar with the signs at airport security checkpoints that read, "All remarks concerning bombs and weapons will be taken seriously." Such signs, Culler notes, attempt "to preclude the possibility of saying in jest, 'I have a bomb in my shoe,' by identifying such utterances as serious statements. But this codification fails to arrest the play of meaning," because "the structure of language grafts this codification onto the context it attempts to master," creating "new opportunities for obnoxious behavior," such as, "If I were to remark that I had a bomb in my shoe, you would have to take it seriously, wouldn't you?"—a statement "whose force is a function of context but which escapes the prior attempt to codify contextual force."

It's a bit like George Carlin's observation about those same signs. "NO JOKES," perhaps, "but what about riddles?"

Our point is that the distinction between "serious" and "nonserious" as determining what makes a performative binding doesn't solve the problem; it only pushes it back a notch. At which point, we can only fall back on the very invocation of "sincerity" that Austin's idea of the performative seems designed to deflate. We can only ask, Did you, Cary and Allison, seriously mean what you just said about taking each other as husband and wife?

Cary and Allison:
Yes, we did.

Judge Silverman:
Okay, good. Now we're getting somewhere, legally speaking. Austin may in the end be wrong, as Derrida suggests, about seriousness being decisive, but what he is right about is this: when such words are uttered in the "appropriate" context—by two parties who have obtained a marriage license, presided over by me ("by the power invested in me," as one often hears), and so on—then those words are nevertheless binding, no matter what anyone thinks.

All of which is why the very first definition of the word "marry" in the Oxford English Dictionary is "to join for life as husband and wife according to the laws and customs of a nation." And this, in turn, is why it is misguided to think that what validates a wedding ceremony is the making public of innermost feelings, and the sincerity or earnestness thereof. That may be a satisfactory performance, but it is beside the point of the wedding vow as performative.

This is why Austin insists (in a stipulation almost too good to be true for our purposes) that "the act of marrying, like, say, the act of betting"—which is, incidentally, one of the meanings of the words "wed"—"is to be described as saying certain words, rather than as performing a different, inward and spiritual, action of which these words are merely the outward and audible sign."

To understand the act otherwise—to see it as, indeed, the outward sign of an inward and spiritual action—is precisely what makes most wedding vows written by the bride and groom so unsatisfactory to Cary and Allison.

Such pronouncements, heartfelt though they may be, indulge in a fundamental misunderstanding. They do not understand that the power of the wedding vow as a performative utterance derives not from its external registration of the bride and groom's intimate, spiritual feelings—as if somehow the more heartfelt and confessional your ceremony is, the more married you are—but rather from the external, conventional nature of the act itself.

This is why Cary and Allison are not going to drone on today about how much they care about each other, how they promise to do this and not do that, and so on. First of all, they assume that you all already know how they feel about each other without being told in graphic and maudlin detail—that's why you're here. And second of all, it takes a lifetime, not twenty minutes, for two people to define for themselves what the word "marriage" means. Your presence here is simply to witness their commitment to undertake such a definition.

In sum, then, it is not the "uniqueness" or "originality" or "sincerity" of the vow that carries its force but precisely what Derrida calls its "iterability" or "citationality," its repeatability, its utter unoriginality (Culler: 316-17). So it is that we find ourselves at this moment in the middle of a vow that is itself largely about vows. That such a vow may itself be taken as highly "original" perfectly exemplifies Derrida's point about statement and context that provides the lift in George Carlin's joke about airport security signs: If we wrote a vow about vows, you would have to take it seriously, wouldn't you?

So it is not that you, Allison and Cary, have said particular words, or even that you have performed particular acts such as the customary exchanging of rings to symbolize your commitment to each other.

[Cary and Allison exchange rings.]

Rather, it is that you have agreed to do and say these things under certain binding circumstances—circumstances to which you have, as it were, surrendered yourselves.

And now I will say, "by the power invested in me," that I now pronounce you husband and wife. Cary, you may now kiss not your girlfriend, or your domestic partner, but your wife with a binding force more powerful than all the kisses that came before.

[Cary and Allison kiss.]