A Few Steps of Deproliferation. . . .

Today it was announced that the United State’s largest nuclear bomb at 9 megatons, the B53, is being disassembled.

President of the Ploughshares Fund, Joseph Cirincione follows up this summer’s piece in The Atlantic by reporting on Congressman Edward J. Markey’s letter to the Super Committee, which calls for massive cuts in the U.S. nuclear budget.

And read Markey’s letter, signed by 65 other members of Congress, here.


Excerpt: Grant Morrison and the Bomb

In his excellent new history/study/biography of comic book superheroes, I think Grant Morrison quite convincingly and significantly frames the horizon for understanding superheroes with the bomb. A lengthy excerpt.

Four miles across a placid stretch of water from where I live in Scotland is RNAD Coulport, home of UK’s Trident-missile-armed nuclear submarine force. Here, I’ve been told, enough firepower is stored in underground bunkers to annihilate the human population of our planet fifty times over. One day, when Earth is ambushed in Hyperspace by fifty Evil Duplicate Earths, this megadestructive capability may, ironically, save us all–but until then, it seems extravagant, somehow emblematic of the accelerated, digital hypersimulation we’ve all come to inhabit.

[. . . ]

And the Bomb, always the Bomb, a grim and looming, raincoated lodger, liable to go off at any minute, killing everybody and everything. His bastard minstrels were gloomy existentialist folkies whining hornrimmed dirges about the “Hard Rain” and the “All on That Day” while I trembled in the corner, awaiting bony-fingered judgment and the extinction of all terrestrial life. Accompanying imagery was provided by the radical antiwar samizdat zines my dad brought home from political bookstores on High Street. Typically, the passionate pacifist manifestos within were illustrated with gruesome hand-drawn images of how the world might look after a spirited thermonuclear missile exchange. The creators of these enthusiastically rendered carrion landscapes never overlooked any opportunity to depict shattered, obliterated skeletons contorted against blazing horizons of nuked and blackened urban devastation. If the artist could find space in his composition for a macabre, eight-hundred-foot-tall Grim Reaper astride a flayed horror horse, sowing missiles like grain across the snaggle-toothed, half-melted skyline, all the better.

Like visions of Heaven and Hell on a medieval triptych, the postatomic wastelands of my dad’s mags sat side by side with the exotic, tripple-sunned vistas that graced the covers of my mum’s beloved science fiction paperbacks. . . .

On television, images of pioneering astronauts vied with bleak scenes from Hiroshima and Vietnam: It was an all-or-nothing choice between the A-Bomb and the Spaceship. I had already picked sides, but the Cold War tension between Apocalypse and Utopia was becoming almost unbearable. And then the superheroes rained down across the Atlantic, in a dazzling prism-light of heraldic jumpsuits, bringing new ways to see and hear and think about everything. . . .

The superheroes laughed at the Atom Bomb. . . .

Before it was a Bomb, the Bomb was an Idea.

Superman, however, was a Faster, Stronger, Better Idea (Grant Morrison, Super Gods [New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2011], xiii-xv).

Abstract: “‘Literature has always belonged to the nuclear epoch’?: Interrogating Nuclear Criticism’s Fabulous Textuality”

Below is an abstract for a paper I will be presenting / discussing at a seminar / roundtable at the 2012 Northeastern Modern Languages Association Conference (NeMLA), taking place March 15-18 in Rochester, NY. The panel/seminar will address nuclear criticism, and is titled “Nuclear Criticism and the ‘Exploding Word.'” Michael Blouin at Michigan State is organizing the seminar.

“Literature has Always Belonged to the Nuclear Epoch”?: Interrogating Nuclear Criticism’s Fabulous Textuality

During the brief heyday when nuclear criticism was a visible and viable critical practice—from around 1984 to 1993—one of its principle debates raged around a provocative statement made by Jacques Derrida in the founding document of nuclear criticism, “No Apocalypse, Not Now.” Derrida famously remarked that global nuclear war is “a phenomenon whose essential feature is that it is fabulously textual, through and through.” Critics such as Peter Schwenger, Avital Ronnell, and, to a lesser extent, Richard Klein embraced this statement in quite productive and interesting ways. J. Fisher Solomon, William J. Scheick, and others, though clearly indebted to Derrida, took issue with nuclear criticism’s emphasis on the textuality of the nuclear referent, wanting instead to practice a more ethical nuclear criticism, one that constantly stressed the reality (rather than poststructural textuality) of nuclear weaponry. This debate culminated in Christopher Norris’s Uncritical Theory (1992), a considered response to Jean Baudrillard’s infamous article, “The Gulf War Has Not Taken Place.” Right around the time Roger Luckhurst, Klein, and Ken Ruthven were considering the “future of nuclear criticism,” however, not only did the debate end, but the explicit practice of nuclear criticism disappeared with the end of the Cold War. (Ruthven also suffered the curious fate of publishing the first and ostensibly last study of nuclear criticism in 1993).

As one of the goals of this panel is to seriously take up the question regarding the function of nuclear criticism at the present time, an endeavor I consider to be of paramount importance for a number of reasons, this paper will return to this historical debate in light of our contemporary moment. Rather than situating this debate between the “archive” or “text” and the “real,” however, my aim is to interrogate an equally provocative statement of Derrida’s that, to my knowledge, has not been seriously discussed anywhere: that literature “has always belonged to the nuclear epoch, even if it does not talk ‘seriously’ about it. . . . I believe that the nuclear epoch is dealt with more ‘seriously’ in the writings of Mallarmé, of Kafka, or Joyce, for example, than in present-day novels that would describe a ‘true’ nuclear catastrophe directly and in a ‘realistic’ fashion.” What does Derrida mean by this offhand remark? What could Kafka or Joyce have to do with the “nuclear epoch”? I will argue that for the practice of nuclear criticism to go forward, we must take Derrida’s statement quite seriously, for it points to a more fluid, rigorous, and historically adaptable form of nuclear criticism than what has previously gone under that name. Specifically, I will consider the final scene from the “Cyclops” chapter in James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922), and the “Nausicaa” chapter more generally, as definitively nuclear moments. To do so not only returns us to the past of nuclear criticism’s internal debates, but forces us to ask the serious questions: what is nuclear criticism, what are its current or possible roles, and what is its appropriate critical object? If something as canonically inscribed into the archive and as exhaustively studied as Ulysses can still benefit from the practice nuclear criticism (especially considering it cannot really be called explicitly nuclear at all), then we must take very seriously nuclear criticism’s current possibilities, not only in a world circumscribed by disasters of all kinds, but to imagine a world free from the threat of nuclear annihilation.

An Excerpt from Gravity’s Rainbow. . .

“‘And sometimes I dream of discovering the edge of the World. Finding that there is an end. My mountain gentian always knew. But it has cost me so much.

‘America was the edge of the World. A message for Europe, continent-sized, inescapable. Europe had found the site for its Kingdom of Death, that special Death the West had invented. Savages had their waste regions, Kalaharis, lakes so misty they could not see the other side. But Europe had gone deeper–into obsession, addiction, away from all the savage innocences. America was a gift from the invisible powers, a way of returning. But Europe refused it. It wasn’t Europe’s Original Sin–the latest name for that is Modern Analysis–but it happens that Subsequent Sin is harder to atone for.

‘In Africa, Asia, Amerindia, Oceania, Europe came and established its order of Analysis and Death. What it could not use, it killed or altered. In time the death-colonies grew strong enough to break away. But the impulse to empire, the mission to propagate death, the structure of it, kept on. Now we are in the last phase. American Death has come to occupy Europe. It has learned empire from its old metropolis. But now we have only the structure left us, none of the great rainbow plumes, no fittings of gold, no epic marches over alkali seas. The savages of other continents, corrupted but still resisting in the name of life, have gone on despite everything. . . while Death and Europe are separate as ever, their love still unconsummated. Death only rules here. It has never, in love, become one with. . . ” (Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow [New York: Viking Press, 1973], 722-3).