Terrorism as Shock Art

The romantic artists of the late 18th and early 19th century associated art with terrifying awakenings that would undo our apathy and complacency, and set the stage for a new state of affairs. Although they stuck with representing the world in their art, they yearned for "extraordinary incidents" that would prompt us to look at the world afresh. Bomb-makers and gunmen have taken the place of novelists and painters in modern life. What today's terrorists have in common with the romantics of the past is that they make "raids on human consciousness" in order to propel us, suddenly, into a new way of looking at the world.

In the past, we used to read novels and view paintings for the beauty of their language, their character and the occasional "new truth" they offered. Not anymore. Now we have the NEWS that provides the same thing - an unremitting mood of catastrophe, impending change, and doom and so on. The novel is not enough anymore; we need something darker and larger. The reports, predictions and warnings feed our imagination in that regard.

"The greatest work of art that is possible on the whole cosmos" - karlheinz stockhausen sept 16th 2001. Did Americans really grieve for the victims of 9/11? - Lentricchia and McAuliffe in their book Crimes of Art and Terror. 911 as rupture and a DE familiarization with the world as we once knew it, not necessarily an emotional event. Bits of ground zero turned into artefacts and collectors items. 9/11 terrorists went one better than novelists - they jumped the gap between the word and the thing and thereby defeated the representational character of literature.

Terrorism is a fictional, romantic construct based on a belief in the power of the marginalized to transform history, which involves both actual killing and idealised alternative worlds. Both terrorists and revolutionaries view their actions as symbolic and designed to influence political behavior by extranormal means i.e. with either the use or the threat of violence. The very nature of centralised power yields an impetus to resist. By 1933 terrorism was considered an out-of-date method of revolution because the world was becoming more democratic and the tactics for achieving revolutionary aims changed with the times. For example, sustained strikes were seen as more effective than sporadic violence in confronting state capitalism. After the Second World War the revolutionaries/terrorists understood that social change could be brought about more effectively using legitimate means.

During the 1950s state socialism was regarded by many as state terrorism. At the end of the 1960s students became involved in revolution, asking "why should the state have a monopoly on the use of violence". They also began to ask "what is violence?". Many regarded censorship of art as a form of violence, and then there was the "structural violence" of state capitalism. The students' response was co-operation with working people, rebellion, drug use, communes and education among one another about different forms that a free society could take e.g. anarcho-syndicalism, real communism, and real socialism and so on. The state reacted by painting a propagandised picture of such ideas as either utopian or dystopian. Often, when pushed to the limit, people can free themselves only by irrational, aggressive actions e.g. "before I get transported to Auschwitz, I'd rather shoot first". The state does not show the side of the victim. The young generation in Germany often equated state capitalism with fascism. Art movements developed at the time such as fluxus, graffiti, situationalism, and avant-garde film in order to highlight discrepancies between what the state was telling people and what people's lives were actually like.

Anarchy (def.): the absence of a centralized authority or government. Thomas Hobbes, an early modern political theorist, first formulated the idea of anarchy as chaos, terror and violence. During the 19th century anarchy gradually came to be seen as an alternative to coercion by a centralized state conniving with Capital to facilitate exploitation of the population. The idea of anarchy is based around the assertion that people are capable of harmony and creativity but are deformed and oppressed by the current political and economic status quo. Anarchy, like most alternatives to the status quo, is difficult to envision precisely because of the current oppression - better to stick with the devil we know and so on. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865) coined the phrase "property is theft" and proposed that small associations of free producers should replace state capitalism. His idea ties in with Marx's idea of surplus-value resulting from surplus-labor, which is necessary only because people have been disenfranchised of their own small private holdings and must therefore go along with the current state-capitalist status quo.

During the late 19th and early 20th century, socialism and communism replaced anarchy as the dominant ideas for a society evolving beyond state-capitalism. Interest in both socialism and communism grew from excitement about the possibility for a rational, ordered, industrial society, and also out of concern for the conditions the majority of the population were living under, as private accumulation and market capitalism became more established. At first, socialism was confined to small utopian communities living their own lives more or less outside of the capitalist system. However, from 1850-1870, socialism became established into a political doctrine as Karl Marx and Fredrich Engels began to highlight in detail the origins and meaning of the struggle between working people and capitalists. Socialist ideas gave rise to the establishment of trade unions and mass political parties such as Labour in Britain and the Social Democratic Party in Germany. These groups incorporated both the small piece-meal reforms of the trade unionists and the more radical agendas of Marx and Engels. Lenin, on the other hand, advocated for violent revolution.

Moderates and revolutionaries parted company after the Bolshevik Revolution and at the end of WW1. People who regarded themselves as socialists began to highlight and criticize authoritarian tendencies in Marx's socialism, noting that centralization is the problem, regardless of whether it is authorized by elites or by proletariats. They asserted that the end result is always the same - an infantalized population bewitched by the mysterious state, which carries on its own agenda free of interference. In that way, statism was seen as being just like religion and likely to provoke terrorism in the population, not alleviate it. On the other hand, violent revolution hardly outlines a clear path towards a creative, industrialized society based on human co-operation. In that sense, both moderates and revolutionaries were full of their own internal contradictions.

That is only even remotely possible when a substantial section of the population is more sympathetic with the cause of the terrorists than with the state. One of the reasons why it does not usually succeed is because terrorists are almost always self-appointed, which usually leads to resentment among the population, not sympathy, let alone tolerance. Terrorism, therefore, is most effective when the terrorists are highly visible and widely regarded among the population as representing the oppressed, in which case we call them revolutionaries, not terrorists. Revolutionaries, therefore, can succeed if they can show continuity between the past and the present, and then convince the population that their acts are those of desperation, and no other tactics are available on the road to a better, hoped-for future. All of that is hard to achieve for two reasons; 1) because there are almost always opposing terrorist groups such as left-wing and right-wing, appealing to the same population, and 2) because the state simply plays each side against the other and lets them get on with the business of annihilating each other. And while the state often asserts that it does not compromise with terrorist groups, perhaps compromising with all of them at the same time does not count as compromise per-se. According to Noam Chomsky, in times of terrorism, the safety of the population is always way down the list of state priorities. The state is interested primarily in its *own* survival.