DIScuss | Manning the Empire


Jesse Darling is an artist and occasional essayist currently based in London, UK. S/ he works in installation, digital and video, “dasein by design,” and the space in which performance becomes unmediated experience.

Hegemony is hermetic. The fantasy of total power is a fantasy of absolute control. Efficiency. Singularity. A million bodies acting as one. It’s a fantasy of homogeneity. Since no human body resembles another and absolute unity of expression can only ever be a fragile state of temporary synchronicity, pretty much everything is at stake in preserving this fantasy. Leaks and holes and contingencies, circadian rhythms and hormonal cycles – that shit is for chicks and pussies. Chelsea Manning’s crimes were biopolitical and have been punished with the severity accorded to what is genuinely transgressive. She ruptured the closed-ranks fantasy of a hermetically sealed nation-state – made the US Army look like a pussy! Showed the imperial anus of America to the whole goddamn world! – and the fantasy of biological masculinity. Everything is at stake. It’s not about pronouns.

The ideal qualities of Man – by which I mean the ideal qualities of “Human”, from which we extrapolate the human rights detailed in the US constitution – are modeled on the ideal qualities of empire. Virtue is derived from Virtus, derived from vir, the Latin for man. In Ancient Rome, virtus denoted a specific set of qualities pertaining to ideal masculinity, often ascribed to emperors, and later personified as a deity. Other ideal qualities of masculinity include: unyielding loyalty (which is to say servitude), moral impeccability (which is to say unproblematic adherence to a received code of behavior), virility (which is to say the [re]productive mobilization of the phallic apparatus, rather than being on its receiving end), diligence (which is to say uncomplaining adherence to your labor, which is to say the system of labor relations, which is to say capitalism, but that’s another story). To acknowledge that all this – as well as the notion of biological gender – is a totalitarian biopolitical construct that enables and advances the unspeakable violence of US imperialism and the hypocrisy behind the constitutional bill of rights – that shit is for pussies, pinkos, fairies, faggots, greasers, niggers, hippies.

Manning’s most serious charge was in “aiding the enemy.” But the enemy of empire is indiscrete, ubiquitous, indefinite and ineffable – as Bush reminded the world back in 2001, when the hermetic imperial hegemony was shockingly ruptured in an attack ritually described in the rhetoric of rape (being invaded/bombed/penetrated is for pussies, faggots, arabs etc unless you’re the embodiment of virtus in the form of a global military superpower). “You’re with us,” said Bush, “or you’re against us.” And by us he meant all those whose interests are served by hegemonic imperialism, the apparatus of war, colonialism, of global capital. Liberal bitches all stressing and straining to assure you and one another that they’re not among this number. It’s not about pronouns.

Trans* identities rupture the fantasy of biological gender that fuels the labor relations that fuel military imperialism and global capital. All delinquent bodies, who in their particularity threaten to expose the fantasy of total control as just that and not some god-given state-decreed bill of rights for some but not all (see also: Trayvon Martin), are enemies of the empire evoked by Bush, the empire that Chelsea Manning swore an oath to protect. In opening up, or revealing, the leaking hole at the heart of the superpower, she pointed a way out – for herself, for us, for everybody. Gender is over if you want it, but the war’s not over yet. It’s not about pronouns – but you gotta start somewhere. Are you with us?