115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Security of Failure: Philosophy and Metaphorics in the Falling Man Photograph

Jared Gee, University of California, Riverside

The Falling Man photograph from September 11, 2001 persists today as the result of the multiple ruptures it enacts upon subjectivity and the inheritance of thought in the West. By reading the metaphorics of suicide and war (now based on “security”) with and sometimes against Saint Augustine, Judith Butler, and Jacques Derrida, the paper argues that the persistence of the image lies in its inability to be adequately inserted into the political-theological system in the U.S.


How does one begin to think a philosophy or politics of war today as a function of the concept of security when the stakes of security intertwine with the history of legality, of philosophy, and of Christianity in the West? My paper seeks to begin to think the problematics of war in the U.S. by way of its persistent visual imagery--in this case the Falling Man photograph by Richard Drew from September 11, 2001. The photograph of a man jumping to his death from a window of the World Trade Center just before its collapse opens up readings of the persistence of trauma and its relation to security, of suicide and its threat to the redemptive structure of the juridico-theological system of the West, and of a racialized globalization that questions interventions and stabilizations in the Middle East. Although the date September 11, 2001 marks only one point amidst a long trajectory of the security era, the discourses and imagery that proliferate from it can be read to think what propels tactical and philosophical shifts in war given that its attempts and achievements continue to resonate broadly across culture and its subjects. When these wars often divide along religious lines--Christian vs Islam or Judaism vs Islam--both war tactics and expectations often confound or confront the traditions that precede these approaches. With the image at hand, the confrontation of suicide to the juridical order can be read through and against St Augustine and his relation to the Bible. The concept of the fall opens onto a specific religious politics of desire and vulnerability, and the politics of racialization and globalization emanating from the photo can be scrutinized by way of Jacques Derrida and Judith Butler. To address these issues as problems of war in the security era allows one to address how we have come to think the way we think in the Western philosophical tradition but also how the Western tradition fails to account for the complexity of the security era. Such philosophical and political issues confront the future just as much as the past. In addressing such topics propelled by this image a metaphorics of security begins to unfold from which one can think possible conceptual frames of war, but more importantly the problems raised within the history of Western thought reflected in the security era.

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