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Institute of Advanced Study

Professor Acampora's Public Lecture

Date: 11 November 2008

Time: 5.30pm

Venue: Pennington Room, Grey College

Title: Agonistic Politics: Reflections on a 'War on Terror' 

This paper explores the boundaries between friends and enemies, the logic of opposition that drives and sustains that distinction, and the processes of dehumanization that occur in the rhetorical construction of the enemy, particularly in the context of current definitions of terrorism and the identification of distinct entities in international political discourse. My specific inquiry is organized around the question of whether policies and actions driving U.S. international relations entail a certain logic of engagement and a political ontology that cast friends and enemies and their relations in a new light. It has the appearance of the structure of opposition of "good" and "evil" that Nietzsche suggests has been dominant at least since the advent of Christianity and perhaps longer. But, this strikes me as rhetorically superficial. Utilizing a methodology that examines a variety of "texts"-including counter-terrorism training materials utilized by 'coalition forces', official U.S. military documents concerning rules of engagement, public statements by U.S. and British military officers, domestic 'public awareness' campaigns of the New York City police department, and the suicide note and published academic philosophical writings of a U.S. Army colonel in Iraq--I consider how this apparently tremendous conflict is framed in such a way as to undermine any possibility of real, legitimate engagement and opposition. Thus, it has the appearance of a conflict that might have possible decisive outcomes, when in fact it is structured so as to have no possible terminus.