Search Currents Currents Archives Contact Currents UC Santa Cruz Home Page
Currents Online

 

October 11, 2004

New ‘Shock and Awe’ book explores political meaning of words through essays, photographs, and poems

By Scott Rappaport

Democracy, patriotism, family…these are words spoken with overwhelming fervor these days in the aftermath of 9/11, the invasion of Iraq, and the anticipation of the upcoming presidential election.

But what do those words really mean? Apparently, different things, depending on your political affiliation.

Shock and Awe: War on Words, explores the political meaning of words through essays, photographs, poems, and drawings by nearly 80 scholars, artists, and poets from UCSC and around the world. Created by the campus’s Institute for Advanced Feminist Research (IAFR), it is the first book to be published by New Pacific Press, a new venture recently begun by David Watson, owner of The Literary Guillotine bookstore in downtown Santa Cruz.

“The book is an effort to reclaim language that’s been debased in the politics of the ‘war on terror,’” explained IAFR director Helene Moglen, who holds a UC Presidential Chair in Literature at UCSC. “The political rhetoric of the present moment makes many of us feel that we’re strangers in our own language. And there are key words—words that feel to us particularly weighted—which when they are misused, make us feel disempowered as speakers and as writers.”

For example, in her piece about the use of the term “security,” New York University professor Mary Louise Pratt points out: “Talking about security is one of the most effective ways to cause fear. It’s effective because you’re not talking about fear, you’re assuming it’s there, or should be.” In a similar vein, author Kath Westin describes the word “on” as “a preposition designed to keep people in thrall to the things they love to think they hate. See War on Terror. See War on Poverty. See War on Drugs.”

Coeditor and UCSC anthropology professor Anna Tsing gets to the heart of the matter in her essay on “Glory,” when she quotes Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass: “‘When I use a word,’” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.’”

The idea for the book grew out of the activities of an IAFR working group titled Feminisms and Global War. Moglen noted that there was a tremendous response from people invited to contribute to the project.

“It struck a very resonant chord,” said Moglen. “Words and values that are important to us can feel like they are being strangled or turned inside out. And the language becomes so debased we become tongue-tied. We all know that feeling of going to another country and feeling marginalized—having that feeling of strangeness verbally. So, it’s very moving for people to have the opportunity to take language back, instead of feeling like outsiders who don’t have a right to that language.”

Watson said that the 200-page, soft-cover, small-format book is now being shipped to bookstores throughout the United States and Canada, and may also be ordered online at abebooks.com. Both he and Moglen noted that the volume is targeted to a general audience and is not an academic book.

“We made a strong effort to make this book accessible to everyone,” said Moglen.

Shock and Awe contains contributions by more than 20 UCSC professors and grad students and is coedited by anthropology professor Anna Tsing, associate history of art professor Jennifer Gonzalez, and graduate students Bregje van Eekelen and Bettina Stotzer. Local contributors will read selections at a Book Party on Wednesday, October 27, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the UCSC Women’s Center. Admission is free, the public is invited, and refreshments will be served. For more information, contact the Institute for Advanced Feminist Research at: (831) 459-3882 or visit: http://iafr.ucsc.edu.


Return to Front Page