Los Angeles (1992)

What kinds of terror are enacted by and on behalf of the U.S. Crisis State, both as response to
and mystification of power shifts occasioned by the new international economic order during the past decade? How do local—that is, intranational—forms of state terrorism work to create and maintain alienated publics in the current crisis, publics who are contingently united, if at all, in cul-de-sacs of identity politics, most frighteningly realized locally as resurgent American nationalism? By American nationalism I mean an allegedly restorative tendency (back to family values and all that), normatively white, in patriotic revolution against the “stark utopia” of both late capitalism’s exportation and the state’s domestic squandering of the possibilities of household-based economic security. What’s at issue is not simply that things are getting worse (and they are) but that they are getting worse in stark contradiction to still-rising expectations—the ideology of progress embedded in American commonsense consciousness. In no way an anticapitalist movement per se, this revolution seeks to explain contemporary disorders and structural adjustments in U.S. political, cultural, and libidinal economies in natural terms, as though transcendent discourse would guarantee the transcendent innocence of the richest, most powerful, most technologically advanced nation-state in the history of the world. The contradictions of fascism deny the social but not the constructed character of U.S. hierarchies. For the new American nationalism, hierarchy is naturally a result of specific “work,” the glory of constructing world power (identical with household-based progress toward the good life) in the empty yet threatening wilderness of continental North America. In this formulation, the U.S. is a muscular achievement of ideological simplicity: “White men built this nation!! White men are this nation!!!Antonio Gramsci reminds us that work mediates society and nature. The hierarchical divides of who performs what work define cultural tendencies of gender, race, sexuality, authority; the divides also enforce multiple and, in this moment of danger, competing economies of being. When all this identity chat is en route somewhere beyond “self” toward subjectivity, in motion from object to agency, its politics are about these competitions and their possible outcomes.


In a sense, 1992 is the year of the rehabilitation of white, male heterosexuality: its return to sites of centeredness, beauty, prosperity, power. Such a rehabilitation is central both to the European community and to the Columbian quincentenary. The rehabilitation extends to resurrections of some of those legendary dead white men—JFK, Columbus—as well as those who are trying to stay undead: from WAR’s Tom Metzger on the ultra “right” to name your pundit on the other side. Metzger’s laissez-faire terrorism, stage-managed for spontaneous, natural effect, is of a piece with the nationalist power theater which the U.S. tuned in to with the invasion of Grenada in 1983. The shifts in the production of profit in the U.S. during the several years immediately preceding that invasion reflect how the circulation of value was less and less a function of productive labor and more and more the direct transfer of capital among competing traders—investment bankers, corporate raiders—and the exportation of labor relations. The major warfare matériel and engineering transnationals are located in the U.S—the principal but by no means only state to which the transnationals pay tribute in exchange for defense, both for protection and for patronage. By 1983 they needed the kind of ideological zap (and subsequent funding spurt) which Sputnik provided the military-industrial complex in 1958. (The historical connection between the military-industrial complex and contemporary U.S. white-racist nationalism is explicit, and current; for example, Richard Butler, founder of the Aryan Nation, recolonized northern Idaho to maintain and produce the pure.) These ideological zaps are certainly a function of the “I’m proud to be an American” rah-rah, but more, they work—the dramatically arouse the sorts of sensations that last even unto the voting box and other fora where Americans are emptying their pockets into the valises of the rich—if cemented by blood and anger. Thus the need for an enemy whose threat obligates endless budgetary consideration (“I could see him look through me.” He was on something.”) and who can perhaps be found and fought as well by the brave American nationals who are sacrificing all for the sake of the nation-state: the dead and undead white men and their cadres who, Tom Metzger’s windshield flyers assure us, built and (therefore) are this nation. Contenders.


The attempts to get major, in particular televised, coverage of this series of murders, and of deaths in similar circumstances as far away as Kansas City and Florida, encounter no dramaturgical zeal. After all, what work would this revelation do to extend coercion of the least powerful segment of the social formation? And, further, the coverage would result in an excess of something else, of attention paid to black women who are not individually upwardly mobile objects of rape and other male abuses (Hill, Givens, Washington, Winfrey). The coercion is already effectively in place, carried by fear and the antigospel gossip circuit; women get on the phone and talk, like the women who tried to turn on a suspect word—and say we’ll talk some more when (when?) we meet again. We are the accused (like Anita Hill, who also accuses us), we who conspire  to prevent the American nation from regaining ancient heritage, its accessible white-male identity, clothed in whatever melanogender fits the needs of the political economy of the crisis-capitalist state. Spectators at our own undoing, we are filthy vessels of unwanted offspring, body parts that just won’t work in bodies of those who can afford to buy a spleen, a kidney, a heart—not even Fordism can save us now—separated by the excess of genetics, the fact of race in this era of neo-biologism, from any work/act/performance that does not run up in the face of state terror over and over and over again. I can stay in the mountains for this show; it won’t be televised.

Stand ins. What is so perfect, so perfectly austere in this theater is how nobody is a star—American equality in action. We’re stand-ins, as Gloria Anzaldua says, and so are all objects of state torture, of state terrorism, targets cast for the fit, the lighting, the camera, the angle, the story, in place of anyone who dares perform a comparable excess of being. But even stand-ins, in times of austerity, might unionize, might move from being objects of organized abandonment, red-lined along with the buildings and neighborhoods, to subjects who refuse—who refuse to bear the weight of late capitalism’s stark utopia, the abstraction of abandonment, the violence of abstraction. We are poised in a performance I’ve yet to plot, or map, or systematically to theorize the semiotics and histrionics of, beyond these preliminary remarks. I believe it is too late to fight nationalism with nationalism; that bloodily disintegrating process must result in planetary death. I also believe it is not too late to act, to make work work, through rearticulation of the “complex skein of relatedness”: organic integrations of the earth, technology, desire.

The Great Leveler Thomas Rainboro said it in 1637: “Either poverty must use democracy to destroy the power of property, or property, in fear of poverty, will destroy democracy.” If we start from where we’re at, and organize in and for work, conceived in the fullness of our imaginative powers, we might push and pull the current tendency of crisis away from a national resolution in fascism: terrorism, imprisonment, deportation, sterilization, state-supervised death. All of these features are everyday elements of life in California, in Arkansas, in Texas, New York, you name it. This is where we’re at; where are we headed?

Excerpts from: Ruth Wilson Gilmore, “Terror Austerity Gender Excess Theater,” in Robert Gooding-Williams, ed., Reading Rodney King/Reading Urban Uprising (New York and London: Routledge, 1993)

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