For some time now, many people have been writing about the various topologies and political figures produced by the so-called war on terror. If this latter is not exactly a war in any classical sense of the term -- and, indeed, the mobilizations of this period may have completely eroded the historical distinction between politics and war -- this period's prevailing politics has certainly enabled countless architectural experiments in the strategic organization of zones of exception, undecidable topoi. In light of this analysis, Iraq may be a primary case study for studying these contemporary problems of spatiality. I'd like to think about these places as more than mere physical organizations of space, for, as any architect worth his mettle understands, they also construct mass and individual psychologies, political potentials, legal statuses, and behavioral constraints. This is the sense in which what Jameson has called a "spatial dialectic" strikes me as a fruitful concept for further elaborations.
Noam Chomsky argues in a number of his works that the tactics of our period have generated an undecidability between the terms "State" and "Terrorist". Giorgio Agamben argues that the camps, which have so proliferated in our era, are marked by an indistinction between force and law, between inclusion and exclusion, and that the very proliferation of this form, the camp, is evidence that it has become the dark metaphysical horizon of Western politics. One of my favorite blogs, Subtopia, traces the various new gray zones between battlefield and city that have begun to emerge within the complex spatio-political configuration of what is called "military urbanism". At any rate, a hypothesis seems to be emerging from these different strains of thought, which I do not have the space to evaluate individually here. The hypothesis would run something like this: politics of security proliferate organizations of space that collapse analytical distinctions or indeed that radicalize the oppositions between inside and outside, war and politics, force and law, such that they threaten to flip into their apparently opposite term. Some of these terms might represent spatializations of the antinomies of postmodernity, and Jameson's account gives some credibility to Agamben's project in the opposition between heterogeneous and homogeneous space whose historical adventures, as Jameson notes in Seeds of Time, "have most often been told in terms of the quotient of the sacred and of the folds in which it is unevenly invested: as for its alleged opposite number, the profane, however, one supposes that it is a projection backward in time of postsacred and commercial peoples to imagine that it was itself any single thing or quality (a nonquality; rather); a projection indeed to think that anything like a simple dualism of the profane and the sacred ever existed as such in the first place" (22).
But beyond a frustration of our categories of thought, what over-arching political rationality and psycho-affective structures have these spaces begun to produce, and are these spaces not merely antinomies of thought but evidence of some underlying contradiction marking our era ? What new subjects and structural logics are emerging? Can we even say that this network of strange new zones of indistinction could modify a systemic political rationality? Whose individual psychologies are being transformed? As Foucault famously argued, 18th century prison reformers -- in making the prison a site of correction and rehabilitation rather than just punishment -- inadvertently "turned the soul into a prison of the body" (30), and, on this ground, the penitentary "was not only able to establish itself, but to entrap the whole of penal justice and to imprison the judges themselves" (249). I take him to mean that subtle transformations in the organization of space around the body at a particular historical conjuncture creates a dialectical process in which not only the individual body, but also the rationality of the system itself and the various subjects of this rationality are transformed. His genealogy of the technique of cellular isolation in Discipline and Punish, which he traces back to monasteries is the most immediate example that comes to mind. Foucault's analysis of Bentham's panopticon argues for the centrality of the principle of visibility, an "optics of power" in disciplinary techniques that extend far beyond the prison walls.
I would like to venture the idea that there is another distinction that has collapsed inside the security architectures of our era, and this would mark a historical departure from the panoptic organization of discipline: The principle of visibility itself, as an organizational principle of the political rationality of discipline, becomes problematic when the reality of what is being examined is doubtful or, indeed, irrelevant to political strategies. What happens to the "optics of power" when the spaces of security are designed not as laboratories for examination and extraction of truth, but as sites built for the production of fictions, or, more precisely, as sites built for the realization of fiction? I have in mind here the problem of "false confessions," but also the scandal of terror suspects detained for years without any charges, subsequently released to Yemen who were understandably radicalized by this experience. The story is not new, as even Sayyid Qutb [pictured above] -- widely held to be the founding thinker of modern jihadism -- transitioned from moderate reformism to radicalism after his stay in Egyptian prison from 1954-1964 where he witnessed the brutal torture and treatment of his fellow Muslims. Put simply, what happens when an architectural space is designed to generate or confirm a false perception of reality rather than to provide a place for controlled observation? What happens when the reform and rehabilitation of individuals is no longer the strategic objective of their detention, and instead, the system has an explicit strategic interest in producing and reproducing radical subjectivities as a constant menace to society?
The psychological definition for this situation in which we experience a seemingly real perception of something that has no factual existence is hallucination. Many have argued (Naomi Klein's most recent account in Shock Doctrine comes to mind) that the politics of terror are fear-mongering, carefully crafted to reduce society to a childish state of docility and compliance, and this argument seems to have some traction here. Where it falters is in attempting to account for the radicalization which is so often observed among many of those who have experienced this disorienting sort of space. So perhaps, the phenomenology of hallucination, typically examined in localized individual cases, can capture the mass cultural psychological dimensions of these sites. What is often characterized as "mass hysteria" that has become so prevalent in our political climate of fear of terrorism, is better understood as a form of hallucination, a fundamentally deluded vision of the world political scene containing vast networks of terrorist conspiracy the likes of which are peddled on every news media outlet each time they run a "War on Terror" story, the most recent example being the so-called underwear bomber this Christmas; but hallucination would also equally apply to its ideological flip side: a vast western conspiracy to culturally pollute "Eastern" cultures. Both perspectives seem to approach the fundamental truth of our era of capitalism which has extended an unprecedented global impersonal system of domination and liberation all over the globe, elliminating any outside perspective from which this system could be judged, but this reality appears in such visions as distorted in some conspiratorial fantasy. Hallucination is also a state which throws us back into the distinction between the sacred and the profane: for millennia, human societies have consumed hallucinatory drugs in religious ceremonies (or recreationally) to interrupt the time-space of the profane and approach something like a sacred experience of the limits of sensual perception.
If these psycho-architectural spaces which trouble our conceptual distinctions between inside and outside, battlefield and city, force and law, and perhaps even sacred and profane can be characterized as hallucinatory, as displacements of a disciplinary model of visibility, we should expect to find actual hallucinations among those who inhabit them in addition to the larger cultural logics I have roughly outlined above. Of course, there are a number of exceptional techniques applied to individuals in these spaces, but one imagines that the experience of being out of normal space and time, might produce actual clinically observable hallucinations. I was amazed to discover that there is actually research on this subject (though a bit old).
An article published in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease in 1984, called "Hostage Hallucinations" notes that a significant number (25%) of individuals in hostage situations have hallucinatory experiences. The decisive factors for those who did have hallucinatory experiences compared with those who did not? "Isolation and life-threatening stress appear to be the necessary and sufficient conditions for hostage hallucinations" (271). The author of the study also insists that hostage hallucinations are almost never an indication of mental illness. A little digging turned up evidence that many of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay have been seriously tripping; one, who was placed in solitary confinement for over a year, began befriending insects.
All of this suggests that there is a real material contradiction produced by these spaces of indistinction, and one can be sure that the Psychologists employed by the Defense Department and C.I.A. know more about the political effects of hallucination far better than we do (they did after all many experiments with L.S.D.) This all suggests that security is a very different game than discipline. Black sites may be factories for producing militant religious experiences at the same time that they reduce human beings to animal-like states of bare life, materially constituting the very enemies they purport to "combat." But beyond such exceptional cases, any account of the cultural currents of postmodernity would also have to explore the way in which hallucination has become a general cultural phenomenon and the limits which this condition places on the political organizations of space and time, homogeneity and heterogeneity.
And now...enjoy a cybernetically induced hallucination of your own! (Watch full screen, staring at the center of the concentric circles, and when the video finishes look away. Do NOT watch the video below if you are epileptic)