In the United States, the early years of the war on terror were marked by the primacy of affects like fear and insecurity. These aligned neatly with the state’s drive toward intensive securitization and an aggressive foreign policy. But for the broader citizenry, such affects were tolerable at best and unbearable at worst; they were not sustainable. Figuring Violence catalogs the affects that define the latter stages of this war and the imaginative work that underpins them. These affects—apprehension, affection, admiration, gratitude, pity, and righteous anger—are far more subtle and durable than their predecessors, rendering them deeply compatible with the ambitions of a state embroiling itself in a perpetual and unwinnable war.
Surveying the cultural landscape of this sprawling conflict, Figuring Violence reveals the varied mechanisms by which these affects have been militarized. Rebecca Adelman tracks their convergences around six types of beings: civilian children, military children, military spouses, veterans with PTSD and TBI, Guantánamo detainees, and military dogs. All of these groups have become preferred objects of sentiment in wartime public culture, but they also have in common their status as political subjects who are partially or fully unknowable. They become visible to outsiders through a range of mediated and imaginative practices that are ostensibly motivated by concern or compassion. However, these practices actually function to reduce these beings to abstracted figures, silencing their political subjectivities and obscuring their suffering. As a result, they are erased and rendered hypervisible at once. Figuring Violence demonstrates that this dynamic ultimately propagates the very militarism that begets their victimization.