Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Antibodies, Nationhood & the Hard Body

The notion of the gendered, ‘hard white body’ is an intriguing one, and warrants some further exploration. Using the nation as an example, Ahmed draws parallels between how a nation acts like a body, and rhetoric surrounding nationhood is framed in biological terms. As a student of international relations, I found her explanation of the nation as a body interestingly analogous to Thomas Hobbes' construction of the Leviathan; parts that operate as one body governed by a sovereign. Ahmed expands on Hobbes' imagining of the nation as a body by linkening boundaries and borders as its skin (2), and its ability to be open as vulnerability. Much like a body, threats press upon the nation, threatening its existence (51) and potentially bruising it. Using the ‘soft national body’ as a counterpoint, Ahmed draws the conclusion that we want to move towards a hardness, a masculine attribute that will mask the nation’s vulnerabilities. Furthering her use of biological terms, we could argue that the body produces antibodies to deter antigens or pathogens, or foreign objects that pose a potential threat to the body. Could the antibodies, though beneficial in their role of protecting the body, in effect work as hate?

Spurred by the emotion of hate, communities form through the negotiation of boundaries between selves and others, in effect producing a form of love, or stickiness between bodies. Applied to Hobbes' concept of the Leviathan, this 'stickiness' is what composes the social contract that exists between the sovereign and its governed subjects. Antibodies serve as reinforcement of notions of love and strength and the identification as 'we', the community united by the governance of the sovereign, or Anderson's "fellow members of the nation". Arguably, we can see Ahmed’s interpretation apply well to the political sphere in the rhetoric used by Vice President hopeful Paul Ryan during the recent US Presidential election. Hoping to gather popular support, Ryan called for harsher sanctions and military action to be taken against Iran harboring a nuclear program. His justification was that the United States must not appear weak, or vulnerable. This rhetoric has grown ever since the attacks on 9/11, which the particulars of the English language compelled us to describe as an ‘invasion’. As a response to this invasion, we saw a 'coming together' of the nation -- as demonstrated by the celebrity phone bank -- or a stickiness produced by feelings of love for injured fellow-members. The same antibodies that produced these emotions also produced the 'war terror', arguable the ultimate example of foreign policy spurred by hate. Thus, Ryan strategically capitalized on the still healing wound that the nation nurses to create an ‘otherisation’ of the nation of Iran, a nation, although uninvolved with the 9/11 attacks, still recalled the previous invasion enough to be perceived as a threat. The production of antibodies, or agressive foreign policies branded as 'preventative' in nature but in actuality threatening another's sovereignty, would in turn enhance a stickiness between the bodies of support for his election.  

Perhaps the antibody analogy would also apply to Ahmed's notion of hardness: "...not the absence of emotion, but a different emotional orientation towards the other" (4). Antibodies help reinforce barriers to entry, in effect serving as a counter-emotional response that protects the body.

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