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Terrorist Aesthetics as Ideal Types: from Spectacle to "Vicious Lottery"

  Marshall Battani
& Michaelyn Mankel

This essay builds on Arnold Berleant’s concept of the negative sublime and his less-appreciated image of the vicious lottery to engage the ongoing discussion about the importance of aesthetic analysis for understanding terrorism. Sociological definitions of aesthetics and terrorism are presented as potential tools to aid in the analyses of terrorist aesthetics. Three aesthetic types of terrorism are developed in the tradition of Weberian sociological ideal typification. The article discusses the appropriateness and applicability of that typology for enriching our understanding of terrorism and counterterrorism.

Key Words
aesthetics; ideal types; negative sublime; production of culture; terrorism


1. Introduction

In September 2001, President George W. Bush launched what would come to be known as the War on Terror (WOT). Later, President Barak Obama inherited an expanded WOT that he further expanded into an unprecedentedly clandestine program of remote assassinations across a variety of international borders. Under his administration, the WOT was transformed into what has now been labeled by some a Global Shadow War (GSW).[2] While the Obama administration radically expanded the power of the President to place US citizens and non-citizens on kill lists in the secret war, the Trump administration has sought to expand that power by no longer limiting strikes to high-level militants and by interpreting the requirement that targets pose a “continuing, and immanent threat” in the loosest way possible.[3] The idea that a terrorist attack is always imminent is perhaps the central assumption upon which the legitimacy of the WOT or GSW rests. Understanding the nature of this assumption is a central challenge to understanding terrorism and counterterrorism today.

Responding to this challenge, the field of Critical Terrorism Studies (CTS) has emerged to argue that the war on terror is based on a flawed epistemology that inevitably produces counterproductive, dangerous, dishonest, immoral, and even absurd actions.[4] At the core of the epistemic problem is a fundamental irrationality, namely the way institutionalized counterterrorism discourse and practice are driven by an imagined certainty that an attack of some kind is imminent. According to Michael Frank, this creates a particular kind of fear, an apprehension and anxiety over an imagined future attack that is the core motivation and justification for counterterrorism and the war on terror. He explains by holding up the idea of terror to our current understanding of trauma and post-traumatic-stress disorder (PTSD):

Terror, on the other hand, works in the opposite temporal direction. To some extent, it involves intrusions of the (imagined) future into the present, in other words, “flashforwards.” Put simply, trauma is the unintentional (re)experiencing of past violence, whereas terror is the fearful anticipation of future violence – based on, and initiated by, the occurrence of violence in the past.[5]

PTSD is turned on its head so that future trauma impacts the present. The imagined fear presides regardless of the likelihood of any actual threat.[6]

Confronting the fundamental irrationality of the war on terror requires what Jackson calls “epistemic disobedience.”[7] Artists, critics, and philosophers have made a parallel argument in which aesthetic appreciation offers just such disobedience. That it is disobedient is evident in how Damien Hirst’s and Karlheinz Stockhousen’s early calls for an aesthetic appreciation of 9/11 were met with harsh criticism and rebuke.[8] In the years that followed, others argued more successfully for aesthetic appreciation and analysis.[9] This paper contributes to that effort by building a Weberian ideal typology of terrorist aesthetics that includes but also goes beyond Arnold Berleant’s important concept of the negative sublime. Ideal types in the Weberian tradition are heuristic constructs that capture salient characteristics of social phenomena to create tools for comparative analysis. By stressing characteristics common to most instances of a given social phenomenon, terror attacks in this case, ideal types provide a kind of rubric for describing the similarities and differences among empirical cases. While the negative sublime is an aesthetic feature fundamental to understanding what we will call spectacular-type terrorist attacks, like 9/11, we need to describe additional aesthetic characteristics and types by appreciating forms of terrorist acts increasingly more common than the large, spectacular kind.

Post-9/11 counterterrorism sometimes has an apocalyptic feel in its sharp focus on an imagined future and imagined terror attacks. Nevertheless, despite some early missteps, the Bush and Obama administrations did what they could to temper apocalyptic themes of holy war in their engagement with the war on terror. Currently, however, Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) jihadists have found in Donald Trump and his administration a more satisfactory enemy, one that appears eager to embrace and play its part in an apocalyptic production that the two previous administrations had chosen to avoid as best they could. Just as the nature of the US response to terror is evolving, so too has the nature of terrorism evolved and changed. These changes are made evident through the construction of three ideal types of terrorist aesthetic: the spectacular, the corporeal, and the quotidian. Throughout this paper we describe the utility of aesthetic appreciation, informed by ideal types in this case, to bring into relief some of the contours of meanings and cultural logics at play in the ongoing production of the WOT.

2. Aesthetic disobedience

The artists Damien Hirst and Karlheinz Stockhausen were soundly repudiated for engaging in just the sort of epistemic disobedience that CTS calls for when, each in his own way, they asserted the value of understanding the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in aesthetic terms. While their comments elicited harsh criticism, they also set the stage for an eventual insightful discussion of the appropriateness of aesthetic analysis for such a subject.[10] So, for example, in making the case for aesthetic analysis, Aretoulakis compares the images of 9/11 to Delacroix’s Massacre at Chios:

In both instances there are spectators called upon to appreciate the representation of an atrocious event by judging critically the autonomous form of the event, therefore resorting to aesthetics and visual powerfulness for making a political inference (emphasis in original).[11]

Aretoulakis makes the case that aesthetic appreciation is a firm foundation for a critical judgment of politics. Following Kant, Bleiker argues somewhat differently that aesthetic insight is open to sensibilities in ways different from rational analysis and the politics of realism. He cites Picasso’s Guernica as a prime example. That painting has had tremendous influence on our collective memory of the Spanish Civil War:[12]

The significance of Guernica is located in the fact that it allows us to see, experience and remember political reality in new ways by moving us back and forth between imagination and reason, thought and sensibility, memory and understanding, without imposing one faculty upon another.[13]

For Bleiker, the potential instability of meanings created by “moving back and forth” among modes of thought and sensibilities generates understandings beyond what any one mode might be able to grasp. Both Aretoulakis and Bleiker argue for the potential superiority of the aesthetic because of its unique ability to tap into all the human faculties without inhibition and thus its key role in adopting an ethical stance toward terror. Constructing ideal types of terrorism that facilitate the meeting of these human faculties is an important contribution that cultural sociology can make to the discussion of aesthetics and terrorism. Ideal types of terrorist aesthetics can facilitate the description of aesthetic features in relation to one another and in relation to any empirical case in question, and provide an analytical structure for the interplay of different faculties that Bleiker describes.

3. Aesthetic types and their character

Terrorism is aesthetic because terrorist acts are staged for maximum effect and maximum sensory force. One important aesthetic experience of such attacks is what Arnold Berleant calls the negative sublime. The negative sublime adds to the Kantian ideas of mathematical and dynamic sublime to describe an aesthetic experience in which one witnesses the immeasurable and indeterminate, that is, something morally and aesthetically beyond conception.[14]  In our typology, the negative sublime perfectly describes the key aesthetic character of one particular type of terrorist attack, the type we describe below as the spectacular. We would like to build upon Berleant’s work by providing a typology that includes his negative sublime but adds two additional aesthetic types, the corporeal and the quotidian.

Taking our cue from a production of culture perspective especially in accordance with Becker’s Art Worlds, we will take aesthetic to mean something close to what might often be labeled style or stylistic features by art historians, critics, and the like.[15] We will call these features, following Becker, "conventions." Conventions are aesthetic features of a cultural object that comply with taken-for-granted representations and cultural structures of meanings. In addition to describing the nature of the cultural object in question, convention also refers to the more-or-less routine nature of the social interactions that result in the creation and realization of the object. Routines institutionalized in bureaucratic organizations, with complex divisions of labor, like the US military, become standardized over time, and those standardized routines will more likely produce things, like counterterrorism, of a conventional nature. People develop routines to manage interaction across complex divisions of labor, and over time those routines become taken for granted and create a kind of inertia that mitigates the possibilities of producing something unconventional. Far removed from bureaucracies on the continuum of organization and institutional routinization is the sphere of media-sharing rhizomes and networks with amorphous links and connections and actions. Our aesthetic definition of terrorism is then as follows: a terrorist act is a constellation of conventions for the production, distribution, and interpretation of violent events, images, text, and sound that terrify by design. By design is not the same as with intent. An act like a targeted assassination that kills innocent civilians and destroys property may not have an explicit intent to terrify but will do so nonetheless by the nature of the act, that is, by design. To escape the tautology  of terrorism/terror, we will further specify, following Frank, that terror is a temporal phenomenon experienced as fear of an imagined future event.[16]

We can also say that these constellations of conventions are formed and arrested within what has been called socio-technical moments or “the agency that takes place when a set of technologies, meanings, uses, and practices align.”[17] Gomez Cruz and Meyer are particularly interested in this phenomenon in relation to image production and distribution via cell phone, which  they consider to be photography’s fifth historical moment. The concept informs our sociological approach to aesthetics as conventions by orienting us toward an analysis of the hybrid social and cultural dimensions of aesthetic production and experience.

The hermeneutic analysis of terrorist acts as aesthetic events that coalesce life-world conventions in socio-technical moments is facilitated by developing comparisons between acts and in relation to ideal-typical aesthetic constellations. These ideal-typical constellations describe variations in the nature of terrorist acts and their image production, the modes of image distribution, the conditions of production for the act or event itself, and the variety of meanings typically arrested by the particular cultural object created. That object, following Griswold, is a “shared significance embodied in form,” and thus an event or an act like the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001 come to have cultural significance as an object called 9/11.[18] Distinctions between each of the aesthetic types can be articulated by organizing a discussion around the historical unfolding of different kinds of terrorist acts in the post-9/11 era. We can think of this unfolding history as terrorism in three acts. Each act is associated with evolving approaches to the production of terrorist and counterterrorist actions. From these empirical changes we construct three ideal typical aesthetics of terrorism: the spectacular, the corporeal, and the quotidian.

4. Act I. The spectacular type: shock and awe

Berleant’s concept of the negative sublime anchors our first aesthetic type, and the spectacular 9/11 is its purest expression. The spectacular type of terrorist aesthetic is ocular-centric in that it is dominated by the image. The images are iconic, relatively sparse in their points of view, as compared to the flood of images we get now from attacks like those in Paris in 2015 or Manchester in 2017, and they rely on institutionalized mass media for their production and distribution. This type emerged before the ease of file sharing and before the even easier and more immediate creation and sharing of images and text via social media. The spectacular images are television or cinematic images, images whose production is centralized in large media institutions. The production of the spectacle requires extensive and complex planning and coordination that results in a singular and visually powerful event perpetrated in such a way that the symbolism is as, if not more, important than the actual human suffering. Claims of responsibility may come immediately, may be delayed, or may have to be discovered. Forensic performances in the spectacular type involve the gradual discovery, reconstruction, and unveiling of a sinister narrative, in which the terrorists have a transglobal network of personnel and resources, leading up to the attack. This is one likely source of the fear of imminent attack that CTS sees at the irrational core of institutionalized counterterrorism.

9/11 was spectacle. It was a perversion of the airliner. Planes were hijacked in the usual sense but so was the jet-airliner-as-symbol. Unleashing the killing power of the airliners was a de-sublimation because the planes already were weapons of mass destruction.[19]  This is the depth of their material and symbolic significance that makes it possible to create the negative sublime. The reality of their already-real destructive power was made inescapable in a spectacular perversion. On 9/11, a de-sublimation of the imperialist violence necessary for uninterrupted resource extraction was all made stunningly visual as (un)real violence and awesome destruction rained down upon Manhattan in the form of the World Trade Center rubble. A crisp, clear East Coast autumn day, with a bright blue sky; the jet airliner; the World Trade Center towers; all are iconic images of the optimism, dynamic movement, and economic dominance of a neoliberal United States of America, and all those came crumbling down in one spectacular conflagration. The scale of the actual destruction and the devastating subversion of icons combined to generate the negative sublime, and the attack’s incomprehensibility is evidenced in the frequent comparisons made between the actual event and “the movies.” [20]

Subsequent attempts by the United States to stage spectacular events have failed. For example, the US effort to transform the military strategy of Shock and Awe into a spectacle as it invaded Iraq in 2003 inflicted devastating human suffering but failed aesthetically. Live images like those shown on CNN were far from iconic and had relatively little visual impact. The overall scene was dark, as the attack took place at night, so there were no easily recognizable landmarks or icons.[21] Explosions lit up relatively small portions of the image at what appeared to be random intervals, and voice-over narration was focused on the war in general, as opposed to the particular image being seen. One could easily see that this was some sort of attack somewhere but little else could be gleaned from the visuals. This was also true for the April 2017 missile strikes on Syria and the deployment of the US military’s largest non-nuclear weapon against an ISIL tunnel network. Shooting fifty-nine missiles into the dark or dropping giant bombs on desolate uninhabited landscapes simply lacks the visual features necessary for the production of the negative sublime.

5. Act II. The corporeal type: lynchings and executions

The second aesthetic type is the corporeal aesthetic. Its expression can be seen in the ISIL beheadings that took place in 2014 and in the images of ritual torture and degradation of prisoners at the hands of US soldiers ten years earlier at Abu Ghraib Prison. Here we have then two major variations within the corporeal type. While both are focused on bodies, one draws upon the aesthetic of execution and the other upon the aesthetic of lynching photographs.

The similarities among the images from Abu Ghraib and lynching photographs have not been lost on commentators.[22] Corporeal images of the lynching variation focus on bodies as objects upon which agency is exercised. Bodies are humiliated, tortured, mutilated, and killed. Perpetrators and witnesses in lynching photographs pose unapologetically, sometimes menacingly, but often in a jocular or celebratory manner as they perform for the camera. There is a relatively specialized intended audience for lynching images at the time of their production, an audience assumed to share in the motives and self-satisfaction of the perpetrators.[23]

Lynching images in the United States were once available to the public via photographic postcards and reproductions in local newspapers, while the Abu Ghraib images were shared via file transfer, attached to emails or passed around on flash drives or disks.[24] Thus the corporeal type of terror today does not rely on institutionalized mass media for production and dissemination in the way that the spectacular type does. Rather, its production is orchestrated through the sharing of transgressive and symbolic images now via social media, so that by the time images are picked up by mass media, a large audience has already seen and interpreted them. Forensic performances concentrate on authenticating the images that were spread to validate if and in what manner the acts actually unfolded.

The Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse came to light in 2004 after a classified report was made public. The images largely feature American military personnel posing before scenes of prisoners being abused in various ways. Guards are typically shown smiling and mocking Iraqi prisoners whose bodies are sometimes literally piled one on top of another or posed to simulate homoerotic acts. Like in lynching photographs, the immediate audience is the perpetrators and their circles of friends and acquaintances, and as in lynching photographs, “(t)he viewer is meant to identify with the proud torturers in the context of the defense of a political and cultural hierarchy.”[25] The ritualized inhumanity of Abu Ghraib and lynching photographs produces a collective effervescence and social solidarity for their original audiences as they legitimate the infliction of torture and murder in defense of White power. Certainly the intent was to terrify and humiliate the particular victims in the Abu Ghraib prison and perhaps to blackmail them later, and once the images became public they operated in contradictory ways, as a critique of domination but also still as terrorism directed at the victims’ communities.

Like the ritualized torture images from Abu Ghraib, the YouTube beheadings produced by ISIL in 2014 operate as a warning of the ruthless and inhumane cruelty that befalls unlucky captives. But unlike the lynching variety of corporeal terrorism, the executions can be interpreted for a Western audience via the aesthetics of executions stemming from England in the second half of the eighteenth century. Mid-1700 executions were theatrically staged events of Augustan display and ritual designed to bombard the senses of both the convict and the public.[26] This followed the Lockean and Hobbesian theory, which considered vision to be the primary human sense and argued that intense or sustained visual experience leaves an impression on the mind. The ultimate goal of execution rituals was deterrence and, in pursuit of this goal, reforms of the 1780s moved away from elaborate visuals that didn’t seem to be having the desired effect and embraced Edmund Burke’s argument that the imagination is more powerful than the senses. Thus, executions in the last decades of the eighteenth century relied upon hidden rituals that worked on the imagination. What is interesting for us in building our ideal type is not so much the complex history of English execution rituals, certainly cut short here, as the fact that we can see both of these different aesthetics, one of elaborate display for maximum ocular force and one of hidden horror and terrifying imaginations, mashed-up in the 2014 ISIL beheading videos.

The ISIL beheading videos released or leaked via social media starting in August 2014 are theatrically displayed murders of American and British captives. Those videos involving James Foley, Steven Joel Scotloff, David Haines, Alan Henning, and Peter Kassig, released consecutively from August through November, follow a very similar pattern. The videos typically open with a title screen and a clip of a news segment from the country that the message is targeting. This is followed by a message delivered by the victim, often wearing an orange jumpsuit as a symbolic reference to prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, that explains why his beheading is taking place. Then, staged images of his beheaded body are shown before the video ends with a message from one of ISIL’s members, with threats of what will follow if the target country does not take action and comply with ISIL’s demands. Sometimes the prisoner next in line to be executed also reads his captors’ demands.

The 2014 YouTube video of James Foley’s beheading, entitled “A Message to America,”  juxtaposes images and sound of President Obama ordering air strikes, the prisoner reading an incriminating statement, and the state proclaiming the righteousness or rightness of the execution. But the Foley video and later videos don’t show the actual moment of the beheading. The most terrifying moment is typically unseeable or it becomes the most terrifying because it is unseen and left to the imagination. In the series of 2014 beheading videos we can see the corpse, we can see the executioner standing over the severed head, we can see the next victim, but we do not typically see the ultimate object of our fear, the act of severing the head itself.

The symbolism captured in the images of ISIL executions is far from spectacular. Instead, the corporeal domination of ISIL’s captives is couched in a tightly controlled narrative promising greater future attacks. Throughout all five videos the dress remains consistent: the ISIL member featured all in black and the victim in an orange jumpsuit. The victim’s outfit is iconic and evokes images of US prison regimes. On some level, these videos are a subversive account of power relations between the West and the rest of the world. In this display, we see Western foreign policy criminalized, then disciplined in accordance with ISIL’s penal code. But it is the unseen moments between the image of the victim with his head and then without it that fully engage the imagination of horror. The fearful anticipation that Frank says is central to the experience of terrorism is intensified in many of the execution videos by the appearance of the next victim,  also in a jumpsuit and also reading scripted confessions and demands.[27]

6. Act III. The quotidian type: snapshots of a vicious lottery

The third of our ideal types is the quotidian, and while, as its name suggests, there are many examples, the Paris attack of November 15, 2015, throws into relief typical aesthetic conventions. The quotidian aesthetic relies on social media enhanced by institutionalized mass media for the production and dissemination of images. There is a potential flood of images, and these images, produced as they so often are by amateur witnesses, are ambivalent in that they require captioning via text or spoken word to give them context and meaning. Like the spectacular, each quotidian object is a one-off event but the pedestrian nature of these acts arrests a sense of frequency and pervasiveness of violence in a post-apocalyptic dystopia.[28] These events are very distant from the sublime aesthetic of the spectacular. They often require little in the way of extended complex planning and coordination.

In the third act, the tools of terror range from the technologically sophisticated missiles launched via remotely controlled aircraft to suicide bombers, planted bombs of varying levels of sophistication, guns, and the use of trucks to simply mow down innocent gatherings of people. Guns were used in the New Year’s attack in Istanbul (2017), upon revelers at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando (June 12, 2016), at a work party in San Bernardino (December 2, 2015), and upon people enjoying an evening out, at a concert, and at a soccer match in Paris (November 13, 2015). The Paris attack also included suicide bombers, while spectators at the Boston marathon (2013) and pedestrians in Chelsea (2016) were terrorized by fairly simple planted explosives. At the other end of the technological spectrum, US drone strikes are also directed at similar soft targets, often homes, typically referred to as compounds, cars on the street transporting suspected targets, or gatherings where militants are suspected to be in attendance.[29]

In each case, everyday experience or the rituals of celebratory gatherings are suddenly, unexpectedly, and dramatically broken down, literally exploded into chaos, confusion, and terror. In December 2013, four Hellfire missiles destroyed a wedding party in Yemen, killing at least twelve and injuring at least twenty-four more.[30] The target of the strike was Shawqi Ali Ahmad al-Badani, of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. He reportedly escaped, and reports that the United States has paid reparations to victims of the strike contradicted official statements that there were no civilian casualties. While it can be argued that this was a military strike upon a military target, it is also the case that it was terrorizing by design if not intent as a community ritual experience was suddenly and horrifically transformed by sophisticated and lethal high technology. This has become a norm of the currently fashionable light footprint staging of the WOT or GSW.[31] Accusations, denials or silence, and demands for explanations follow such attacks. Was it a legitimate target? Who authorized the strike? How many were killed and injured? What, if anything, did the victims have to do with the war on terror?

These same questions persist following attacks that utilize shockingly low-tech approaches to transforming ritual gatherings into objects of terror. The trucks rolling over gatherers for the 2016 Bastille Day fireworks celebration in Nice and through the Christmas market in Berlin later that same year, especially when piloted by lone wolf agents, create a haunting juxtaposition with drone warfare. Somewhere between high-tech drone strikes and these low-tech truck attacks are attacks such as those in Istanbul on New Year’s Eve 2017 and the Paris attacks of November 2015 that utilized guns and suicide vests. In each of these events, the rituals disrupted are of a quotidian nature and range from celebrating at a nightclub, attending a concert, or simply going out to eat or take a walk. Because of this, and because of the now ubiquitous nature of smart phone camera technologies among the victims, we end up flooded, at least in comparison with the spectacular object of 9/11, with evolving sets of images that because they are recorded by amateurs in most cases require captioning and commentary, both of which are also evolving, in order to portray their message. That message will of course vary depending on who is doing the captioning and providing context, that is, amateurs, journalists, police, military, civil administration, and so on. Images and video snippets are picked up by mass media outlets and played in endless loops behind anchor-persons and other talking heads, thus becoming similar to an evolving tapestry on the green screen. They function as a literal backdrop of terror.

These events take on the quotidian characteristic, in large part, because the images, if left uncaptioned, are easily mistaken for everyday occurrences like car accidents, hazardous material spills, natural disasters, violent crime, and the like. The juxtaposition of images from everyday life, with a caption or reporting that redefines them as images of terror, casts terror and everyday life into supporting roles. Terrorism then begins to operate as what Arnold Berleant described as “a vicious lottery with equal opportunity to lose.”[32] Because it highlights the “circumstantial, uninvolved, and oblivious” nature of victimization, the lottery image is especially apt for the quotidian type of terror directed at soft targets. The US audience has a ready-made aesthetic for snapshots of this lottery, and we can find it in the all-too-common images of mass murder by gun. Americans in the United States are so accustomed to mass murder and its images that the horrifically absurd question, “Is this a terrorist attack or just a regular mass murder?” seems like a reasonable inquiry: images of heroic first responders comforting victims; armed police officers, with their weapons drawn, searching out survivors and sometimes the perpetrator; helicopter overviews of the scene; victims escaping; people crying; people hiding; bloodied bodies; covered bodies; and diagrams and timelines describing events in cold detail. This dystopian vicious lottery of sudden and unanticipated violence is rendered in a snapshot aesthetic of disjunction, juxtaposition, and off-center framing that further conspires to render the most horrific violence in the vernacular of the everyday imaginary.

7. Conclusions

The experience of terror as an imagined and inevitable future traumatic event is reproduced and maintained by an aesthetic trajectory of terrorism that has evolved from the negative sublime experience of 9/11, through the corporeal aesthetics of execution and lynching, and into the quotidian experience of life as a vicious lottery where violence explodes from nowhere and everywhere. Along this trajectory, terror is transformed from the unimaginable, which was 9/11, to the relentless imaginary, which is violence being always present but invisible until it explodes. We have described points along this aesthetic trajectory with a sociological view, framed by ideal types: the spectacular, the corporeal, and the quotidian. Ideal types can be used in this way as hermeneutic devices to describe terrorism as aesthetic production and experience and to tease out similarities and differences among empirical cases. Aesthetic appreciation is the key to constructing a thoroughly ethical stance toward terror because the aesthetic facilitates an engagement with all the faculties while, at the same time, privileging none. Ideal types constructed from socio-technical moments provide a sociologically informed framework for that engagement.


Marshall Battani

Marshall Battani is Professor of Sociology at Grand Valley State University, Michigan. He is author of “Pop Culture: From Production to Socio-Technical Moments” in the Routledge Handbook of Cultural Sociology, 2nd Edition (London: Routledge, Forthcoming 2018), “Atrocity Aesthetics: Beyond Bodies and Compassion” in Afterimage: The Journal of Media Arts and Cultural Criticism (2011, Vol. 39, 1&2: 54-57), and  “Aura, Self, and Aesthetic Experience” in Contemporary Aesthetics (2011, Vol. 9). http://www.contempaesthetics.org/newvolume/pages/article.php?articleID=613&searchstr=BAttani


Michaelyn Mankel

Michaelyn Mankel is a student of sociology at Grand Valley State University, Michigan, a social activist, and a poet.

Published December 19, 2017.



[1] The authors would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for Contemporary Aesthetics for their generous and constructive criticisms.

[2] Marcus Lyckman and Mikael Weissmann, “Global Shadow War: A Conceptual Analysis,” Dynamics of Asymmetric Conflict 8:3 (2015), 251-262.

[3] Hina Shamsi, “The Trump Administration is Looking to make it Easier to Kill More People in More Places,” American Civil Liberties Union (2017). https://www.aclu.org/blog/national-security/targeted-killing/trump-administration-looking-make-it-easier-kill-more-people (accessed on 04.15.2017).

[4] Richard Jackson, et al, Critical terrorism studies: A new research agenda, (London: Routledge, 2009); Joseba Zulaika, "Drones, Witches and Other Flying Objects: the Force of Fantasy in US Counterterrorism," Critical Studies on Terrorism 5, 1, (2012), 51-68; Stephen J. Hartnett, "The Folly of Fighting for Providence, or, the End of Empire and Exceptionalism," Cultural Studies - Critical Methodologies, (2013), 201-214; Christos Boukalas, "Class War-on-Terror: Counterterrorism, Accumulation, Crisis," Critical Studies on Terrorism 8, 1, (2015), 55-71; Richard Jackson, "The Epistemological Crisis of Counterterrorism," Critical Studies on Terrorism 8, 1, (2015), 33-54.

[5] Michael C. Frank, "Conjuring up the Next Attack: the Future-Orientedness of Terror and the Counterterrorist Imagination," Critical Studies on Terrorism 8,1, (2015), 90-109.

[6] One is, after all, more likely to die in the United States at the hands of a white male mass murderer or an armed toddler than an Islamic terrorist. Christopher Ingraham, “People are Getting Shot by Toddlers on a Weekly Basis This Year,” Washington Post, (2015), https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/10/14/people-are-getting-shot-by-toddlers-on-a-weekly-basis-this-year/?utm_term=.63ff1612edcf

[7] Richard Jackson, op. cit.

[8] See, for example Tommasini, Anthony, "The Devil Made Him Do It," The New York Times (30 September 2001) and “Hirst Apologises for Calling 9/11 'A Work of Art,’ The Guardian (2002), https://www.theguardian.com/world/2002/sep/19/september11.usa

[9] E.g. Emmanouil Aretoulakis, "Aesthetic Appreciation, Ethics, and 9/11," Contemporary Aesthetics 6 (2008); Arnold Berleant, "Art, Terrorism and the Negative Sublime," Contemporary Aesthetics 7 (2009); Ronald Bleiker, "Aestheticising Terrorism: Alternative Approaches to 11 September," Australian Journal of Politics & History 49, 3 (2003), 430-445; Ronald Bleiker, “The Aesthetic Turn in International Political Theory,” Aesthetics and World Politics, (Springer, 2009), 18-47.

[10] Richard Schechner, "9/11 as Avant-Garde Art?" PMLA 124, 5, (2009), 1820-1829.

[11] Emmanouil Aretoulakis, op. cit., Section #3

[12] To that point, Bleiker notes how often the painting figures in history books and political analyses.

[13] Ronald Bleiker, op. cit., p. 443

[14] Arnold Berleant, op. cit.

[15] Howard S. Becker, Art Worlds (Berkeley: University of California Press 1982).

[16] Michael C. Frank, op. cit.

[17] Edgar Gomez Cruz and Eric T. Meyer, "Creation and Control in the Photographic Process: iPhones and the Emerging Fifth Moment of Photography," Photographies 5, 2, (2012), 213-221.

[18] Wendy Griswold, Cultures and Societies in a Changing World, (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage 2012).

[19] Airplanes were and continue through their everyday use to be weapons in a war against the planet, its resources, and anyone who might stand between us and access to those resources.

[20] Bill Schaffer, “Just like a Movie: September 11 and the Terror of Moving Images,” Senses of the Cinema 17 (Dec. 2001). http://sensesofcinema.com/2001/terror-disaster-cinema-and-reality-a-symposium/schaffer/ (accessed on 07.01.2017).

[21] "’Shock and Awe’ The Beginning of the 2003 Invasion of Iraq (CNN Live Coverage),” YouTube video. Retrieved, November 15, 2016: https://youtu.be/f7iorfwcmeY

[22] Dora Apel, “Torture Culture: Lynching Photographs and the Images of Abu Ghraib,” Art Journal, 64, 2, (2005), 88-100; Susan Sontag, "Regarding the Torture of Others,” New York Times (May 23, 2004).

[23] Once images are leaked or discovered by a wider audience they can come to operate in ways opposite to their intention; they can become a powerful critique of domination.

[24] Dora Apel and Shawn Michelle Smith, Lynching Photographs, (Berkeley: University of California Press 2007).

[25] Ibid.

[26] Steven Wilf, “Imagining Justice: Aesthetics and Public Executions in Late Eighteenth-Century England," Yale Journal of the Law and Humanities, 51, (1993), 51-78.

[27] Michael C. Frank, op.cit.

[28] See for example, Marcus O'Donnell, "Children of Men's Ambient Apocalyptic Visions." The Journal of Religion and Popular Culture 27, 1, (2015), 16-30.

[29] Alice K. Ross and Jack Serle, "Most U.S. Drone Strikes in Pakistan Attack Houses," The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (2014). Retrieved January 23, 2017: https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2014/05/23/most-us-drone-strikes-in-pakistan- attack-houses/ (accessed on 08.15.2017).

[30] Lucy Draper, “The Wedding that Became a Funeral: U.S. Still Silent One Year On From Deadly Drone Strike,” Newsweek (2014). Retreived December 15, 2016: http://www.newsweek.com/wedding-became-funeral-us-still-silent-one-year-deadly-yemen-drone-strike-291403 (accessed on 08.15.2017).

[31] Marcus Lyckman and Mikael Weissmann, op. cit.

[32] Arnold Berleant, op. cit., Section 2.