Teju Cole’s Seven-part Excursus: Aerial Bombing as the Presiding Metaphor of Our Time

11 thoughts on “Teju Cole’s Seven-part Excursus: Aerial Bombing as the Presiding Metaphor of Our Time”

  1. Teju Cole has asked the wrong question. The question is this: what are you going to do about it? Are you going to sit in a crowded coffee shop and tweet about it while taking calls from your ‘people’ and working on your next novel? Or are you going to try and stop it? Because if you aren’t trying to stop it, then you’re accepting it as a fact of life, and that nothing can be done about it, except tell other people about it, and by this point it should be fairly obvious that talking about it, discussing it with people who either know or don’t want to know, isn’t going to change anything. Talk is cheap. The question is: why doesn’t anyone do anything about anything? Why does everyone – and by everyone, I mean me, you, Teju Cole, the United States of America as a whole – just sit and stare at it all and then mumble into our little digital mouthpieces? Why are we paralyzed and unable to move into action? Does Teju Cole have an answer for that? What’s our complicity in all of this? He blames it on some guy wearing a fleece windbreaker, some guy just doing his job. Maybe all of us are just doing our job, too. And our job is to do nothing. Just be the audience. And then chatter about it. Chatter, chatter, chatter. People talk, people talk, people talk.


    1. From Slavoj Zizek’s short book Violence:

      A critical analysis of the present global constellation—one which offers no clear solution, no “practical” advice on what to do, and provides no light at the end of the tunnel, since one is well aware that this light might belong to a train crashing toward us—usually meets with reproach: ‘Do you mean we should do *nothing*? Just sit and wait?’ One should gather the courage to answer: ‘Yes, precisely that!’ There are situations when the only truly “practical” thing to do is to resist the temptation to engage immediately and to “wait and see” by means of a patient, critical analysis. Engagement seems to exert its pressure on us from all directions.

      Cole’s poem (for this is what I take the piece above to be) is part of (his own) patient, critical analysis.


    2. What are you doing about ‘it’? Are you the Roman in the stadium watching Christians being devoured by wild beasts?


      1. I already implicated myself in the mess. Read what I said. Don’t read what you hear and then react to yourself. The doing nothing part is what I’m conflicted about. Judging from your tone, it sounds like you’re not conflicted about much.


        1. I am not maudlin. I am a realist. I am not contradicting what you wrote. Conflictedness and self-rigetousness never provide a solution. Daily, I refuse to co-operate with maintaining the great illusion about our society being chosen by god because we are so good. So, I am not well liked – but I wouldn’t want to have been a Jew that the Nazis thought well of either. This is about people being murdered hour by hour and the spirit squeezed out of our civilization every time a talking head appears in the media. Effective opposition now qualifies good citizens for being legal terrorists. It happened to this society without much whimpering, even. If I were on the Titanic and I couldn’t help and I didn’t qualify for a seat on a lifeboat, I would go where the music was still playing. I have lived a life trying to keep this society within its ideals, and I realize now that it did not mean much. Today, I think that the script has been written, and if one doesn’t like the play, one should hang out in the lobby or walk out of the theatre. My royalist friends told me that the major weakness of a democracy is that it is rule by the lowest common denominator. The great unwashed proletariat’s choice in politics this season is living proof of that.


          1. Like I said. Everyone is responsible. Me included. Those who protest that they aren’t the problem are suspicious to me. Because it’s always someone else who’s doing it. It’s always that other guy over there. It’s his fault. I just find this to be a dubious position.


            1. I could stand outside the church across the court here on Sunday with a sign announcing that the end is near, and most of the people going inside would agree with me, but they would continue on in and later leave and go home and eat and visit and indulge in the latest political fantasies. Or, I could stand outside the church and scream, ‘wakeup’, and the ems would calmly and gently cart me away for a good dosing with drugs. If you come up with a solution of how my tiny little input can make a real difference in saving the human race from itself, please let me know. Reminds me of a line from Bob Dylan, ‘….the prince and the princess discuss what is real and what is not…’ These remote killings have been going on since time immemorial. Now, it is more cinematic. Time for a read of Nikos Kazazantkis.


  2. ^ Zizek is a tricky one. He’s the official court jester of late capitalism. Half of what he says is spot on and the other half is a gag. I don’t know which half the above quote is. It could be both.


    1. Yeah, sorry to quote without much context, or even to use a quote instead of a direct response, but I think Zizek’s position is lucid and clear and logical. But, to be clear, he’s not pulling a gag with this idea; it’s an idea he reiterates through Violence (and elsewhere) very clearly.

      As far as him being a court jester (“official” or not), there’s more wisdom in a fool’s cap sometimes than a mortarboard or a crown.


  3. In the end, it seems to me that sea and land were compassed to make one proselyte, and when that proselyte was made, he became twofold more the child of alienation.

    Alienation, of the Redwood from its roots, of the river from its source, of the skyscrapers from their foundations beneath the concrete jungle, that aporia and desiccation of hope which is the mark of the post-modern condition, the waywardness of late capitalism and its neoliberal evangelists.

    Yes, it goes without saying that the topmost branches of such trees, the penthouse suites, these are also the commanding heights, the very excellent vantage points for pushing the buttons of ‘Aerial Bombing’, but this is also a metaphor for riverbeds, for wadis long forgotten by the rain, for Icarus, for the descent of and into Babel, this is the cleft in the rock of soulless conditions, the bedrock of Suicide Bombing and Fundamentalism.

    I am thinking of the moral dilemmas of being on the ground as was the case of that famed pied noir, Camus, and the much simpler choice, for justice, that Sartre had to make. Indeed. Such is the prerogative of Aerial bombers. Am I not an aerial bomber in my firm belief that Israel should stop the occupation? I live safely, far, far away, until that day when, ‘It ain’t safe anymore.’

    Is one not forced, by being in the world, to sometimes play the aerial bomber and at other times the one being bombed, perhaps by a suicide bomber? Is this incommensurable?Think. Think. Should one distance oneself from power? Should one join in Badiou’s disaster? Or should one be patient, refrain from hasty generalizations, analyse finely, put off that final judgement and engagement, interminably?

    How should one analyse this, one’s doing nothing? Analysis is double-edged sword, a man can self-justify anything, Aerial Bombing, Suicide Bombing or being the Ghost of Derrida Present. It’s not critical reasoning that will compel you to act, whenever you finally do. It always is faith. Ok,I’ll meet you halfway: faith in your rational convictions. Have the courage of your convictions.


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