C.P. Cavafy | Waiting for the Barbarians, 1927
Pretty much encapsulating my thoughts on today’s news. If Osama bin Laden’s death is indeed a “bookend” to 9/11, then ‘what shall become of us..?’ Can we, at last, look to ourselves, the barbarians? Will those questions about the illegitimate wars in Afghanistan and Iraq be given serious mass-voice and mass-thought, outside of “bring our boys/troops home!”? My hope was checked by the ‘USA! USA!’ chanting here on campus, and the extent to which the word ‘justice’ is being bandied about. Perhaps it’s naive of me even to entertain hope that the death of a spectre - of one who was made to embody certain evils - could to lead anywhere but further into the labyrinth. But maybe the moment demands more than cynicism.
I’ve been reflecting on how invisible this latest turn has been, and how in keeping with the rest of the narrative it is. The bodies of the suicide bombers, destroyed on impact with the towers, denied us the opportunity to look at them, to know them (sight as knowledge in this hermeneutic tradition). But an invisible enemy would not do, so the U.S. set about materializing enemies: Osama bin Laden was the mastermind and face/embodiment of evil; the transnational al Quaeda network was said to reside in Afghanistan & Iraq; Guantanamo became (one of) the site(s) where humans could be produced as enemy bodies by the fact of being imprisoned and through torture.
And while materializing the above for our consumption and compliance, the ongoing occlusion of the wars and the millions of people killed, the unfortunate ‘collateral damage’ produced by the West’s holy war against an axis of evil. Now the latest happenings occluded from sight - a body in the sea, DNA to satisfy our need to know, if not by sight then at least through modern science. Still, as many media sources are keen to note, the ‘enemy’ remains ‘out there’… now it becomes ‘imperative to note that al Quaeda is a vast network spanning 60+ nations’…
This Cavafy book is overdue.