A Democracy of Emotion: 9/11, Trauma and the Terrorism of Language
In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, Americans were confronted by a wave of “collateral language” through which the Bush administration, aided by a compliant corporate media, framed those attacks and the U.S. response. Like any system of political propaganda, this lexicon operated through a combination of euphemism, vagueness, and the appeal to base emotions. Assessing the effects of such a system in an age of accelerated “global flows” (Arjun Appadurai) requires going beyond linguistics, indeed beyond semiotics, to an examination of how hypermediated discourse continues to lead Americans on a deeply traumatic journey into a post-democratic world. In this paper, drawing on the work of Roland Barthes, Slavoj Zizek, Paul Virilio and others, I explore the ways in which the continuing linguistic afterlife of 9/11 has provided the fuel for what might be called an “anti-politics machine.” If the CNN era was marked by a “democracy of opinion” that saw everyone shouting at everyone, then the 9/11 era seems to be taking us on the road to what Virilio calls a “democracy of emotion” in which everyone is subject to the hegemony of speed and the gradual disappearance of democracy’s most crucial and overlooked prerequisite: the time and space for reflection.
Keywords: Language, Democracy, Politics, 9/11, Terrorism
Dr. John Collins
Associate Professor, Department of Global Studies, St. Lawrence University