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Sunday
07Dec

Rephrasing the Question: the Affect Underlying the Metaphor

Antoine, with regard to your response to my question, you are of course right that I implied a base-superstructure model in my original post. And you are right in general that flat ontologies are necessary to escape the deeper problems of reduction that base-superstructure models imply. That said, as I continue to read your excellent book I think that the concern elaborated in the first of my four questions still remains – though I would like to rephrase it to see if this elicits a deferent response.

In general the thing I am most interested in is the way that you treat the adoption of scientific metaphors by military planners as the adoption of models of reason intended to dispel chaos. This is what I meant when I said that you seem to privilege reason. You seem to imply therefore, that both chaos and order exist as empirical states of affairs and the route from latter to former is via reason. But there may be another way to see this:

1. As David Campbell has noted in Writing Security, security discourses arise out of a profound anxiety generated by ambiguity and lack of certainty. He shows how first religion and then medical science provide schemas for reducing the anxiety by imposing schemas of interpretation that allow us to domesticate the seemingly wild and unpredictable world. Might we not also see the adoption of scientific metaphors by the military in this light?

2. Moreover, if we have regard to the problem of the disenchantment of warfare we also see that war needs rationalising in the modern world. War is a brutal and animal event. It relies on people doing terrible things to each other. It might be seen as no surprise then that scientific metaphor is adopted in order to represent (literally re-present) this activity. Science has the veneer of distance and respectability. It gives the impression that killing is merely an organisational problem. The same can be seen in the scientific discourses of the death camps and in the various debates concerning humane forms of execution (where the veneer of science has been employed to give the impression of legitimacy).

Thus my question becomes this: in addition to the use of scientific metaphor by military planners as if they offer rational insight into technical problems, is there also an affective reason for the emergence of such discursive tropes? That is to say are not the scientific metaphors adopted not because they speak to technical problems, but rather because they satisfy a need to obscure our anxieties and potential revulsion? If this is the case, might we not need an ontology that does not simply treat the assemblage as the connection of regimes of science, technology and force, but also understands the manner in which reason is always supplemented by affect?

Martin Coward is Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Sussex, UK. His research focuses on post-structuralist theory and political violence. He is author of Urbicide: The Politics of Urban Destruction (Routledge, 2008).


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