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A significant means of thinking about affective marginalization comes from new trends in literature, film, and music, including hemispheric “narco-narratives.” I recently coordinated a conference, New Narrative Territories, Affective Aesthetics, and Ethical Paradox, at the University of Pittsburgh for mapping out what “narco-narratives” could mean. These narratives at first seem to be dedicated to hemispheric drug traffic; however, they pose, in an unfamiliar way, a number of central conceptual issues, such as affective marginalization and forms of contemporary violence that have grown immanent and thus invisible.

In the end, is not today’s hemispheric “war on drugs” a strikingly erratic prolongation of a larger “war on affect” Herlinghaus, Violence Without Guilt , 3-28. that has shaped modernity’s strategies of psycho-economic and geopolitical domination? No doubt, the “war on drugs” has violently interfered in the “distribution of the sensible” See Jacques Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics: The Distribution of the Sensible , trans. Gabriel Rockhill (London and New York: Continuum, 2004). on a global scale. Hasn’t this war become a sensitive arena shaken by the most exorbitant of desires and outcomes, where economic struggles, fantasies related to Original Sin and guilty territories and populations, and geopolitical punishment are being restaged and played out anew? We only have to look to Hollywood’s retelling and partial prefiguring of the ways in which hemispheric conflicts over narcotics are publicized today. The global North’s fear of intoxication is often predicated on imageries that hypostasize the South’s intoxicating power.

Affective marginalization works in highly flexible terms, for it circumscribes both those in the South who, under conditions of unequal global exchange, make their living by cultivating and trading illicit substances, and those others, predominantly inhabiting the North, who indulge in the pleasures of illicit consumption. To an extent, affective marginalities can be understood as those that carry the burden of sustaining negative affects for the Other and act as potential or imagined trespassers that allow ruling desires and anxieties to occupy a morally safe place. Herlinghaus, Violence Without Guilt , 12-15. Those carrying the burden can be profane actors in sacred territories or subjects and communities positioned at the low end of the class spectrum, the ethnic scale, or the geopolitical map, or otherwise serving as targets of stigmatization. Our initial considerations on the “deep” history of relationships between humans and the coca plant in the hemisphere might suggest a contrastive lens through which the dominant Western tradition of affective “Orientalization” can be reconsidered. In both Christianity and capitalism, the discursive and imaginary construction of an intoxicating or intoxicated Other is pervasive and open-ended. On the one hand, there has been much criticism of modernity’s rampant exploitation of human labor and natural resources across the globe. But on the other, the critical awareness of modern manipulation and regulation of the neurochemical resources that sustain the bodies of “modernity’s citizens” is still incipient. It is from this vantage point that “transatlantic histories of intoxication” have to be scrutinized anew.

More immediately, the “war on affect” as it is linked to narcotics conflicts in the Western hemisphere challenges current discussions in hemispheric Americas Studies for three reasons. First, it provides a multilayered global scenario that not only has genuine hemispheric contours but that also has strongly and somewhat unexpectedly become fused with cultural, cinematic, and literary imaginaries in both the South and the North. Second, it provides a lens for rehistoricizing Western modernity under the joint markers of colonization/modernization and affective subject fashioning that allows for more subtle and precise insights into delicate issues of citizenship, violence, bare life, sustainability, and the representation of conflicts and values in relation to contemporary history’s “open secrets.” And third, the heterogeneous realm of hemispheric narco-narratives poses weighty conceptual and ethical questions that shed new light on some of the most intricate problems of our global world. Such considerations lead me to end—provisionally—with a question that Walter Benjamin asked in his essay “Surrealism” (1929): “The dialectics of intoxication are indeed curious. Is not perhaps all ecstasy in one world humiliating sobriety in the world complementary to it?” Benjamin, “Surrealism: The Last Snapshot of the European Intelligentsia,” W. B., Selected Writings , vol. 2-1, 210.

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Source:  OpenStax, Emerging disciplines: shaping new fields of scholarly inquiry in and beyond the humanities. OpenStax CNX. May 13, 2010 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11201/1.1
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