Can there be Costless War? Violent Exposures and (In)Vulnerable Selves in Benjamin Percy's “Refresh, Refresh'
David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Critical Horizons 12 (2):251-269 (2011)
The technological transformation of the conduct of war, exemplified by the American employment of drones in Afghanistan and in Iraq, calls for a critical reflection about the fantasies that underpin, and are in turn animated by, the robotic revolution of the military. At play here is a fantasy of a “costless war" or a “sterile war", that is such act of military state violence against the other that is inconsequential for the self. In other words, the seductive appeal of the “costless war’ fantasy rests on the desire to develop a self that is invulnerable in the face of violence. Importantly, it is a desire explicitly projected towards a particular American future (of an imagined warfare, or of a super-power status), but also one that is connected to a lacking critical reflection about the intersubjective aspects of violence in the debates about America’s post-9/11 military involvements. This article reflects critically about the fantasy of the “costless war" and about its underpinning politics of invulnerability from a perhaps unlikely angle of literature. In a close reading of a short story by Benjamin Percy called “Refresh, Refresh" (2008), it explores its narrative insights into how acts of violence, which are undertaken far from home, inevitably return to affect and damage, perhaps beyond repair, the subject at home. Importantly, the return of violence in Percy’s story occurs within the domain of the everyday and the mundane, not of the exceptional, and testifies to the despair experienced by young males “abandoned" by their military fathers. My interpretation draws also on theoretical explorations of the connection between violence, intersubjectivity and vulnerability, based on the ideas of Emmanuel Levinas on the subject's ethical captivity by the suffering of the other, and on Judith Butler's recent “uses" of the Levinasian ethical project in her writing about the post-9/11 America
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Elaine Scarry (1985). The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World. Oxford University Press.
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