Hot Metal Bridge

Current Issue : Number Twenty-Five

Trauma, Hope, and Forgiveness in the Election of Barack Obama


Abstract: Most of the attention devoted to the recent campaign and election of Barack Obama has focused on the man himself. This essay poses the question of his reception by two subjective figures, the postcolonial and black American radical subjects. In order to arrive at a conclusion, it points toward a theory of trauma and its politicized version, the wrong, as well as of hope and forgiveness. The essay ends by relocating the real event at stake in Obama’s election as the mobilization of various peoples in the United States and abroad around an inclusive politics.

The present conjuncture—of economic crisis, international insecurity, and a situation in which we are faced with a new president of the United States—constitutes an opening in the space of American and global politics unlike any the world has seen at least since 1973-74, if not since 1968. On one hand, the present is a crisis in which the logics immanent to the most potent systems of human subjectification have produced limit-results that belie the pretense to order that these systems—capitalism, the international network of states, racism, and “representative” democracy—carry. On the other hand, however, it is a chance, an opportunity, or in any case a moment in which many people find themselves with grand hopes about the prospects for a better future after years in which no future save an apocalyptic one even seemed imaginable. The present conjuncture, in other words, seems to be an event, which will one day no doubt be caught up in the ensnaring web of historical signification, but which, in our own time, may be engaged for the purposes of producing emancipatory political constructions .

Before addressing the possibilities of the moment though, we would do well to understand how it is that we got here. Perhaps the most crucial turn is the transformation of a general malaise about the future into hope. But this transformation is not everywhere the same. We will begin by clarifying four distinctive reactions to Barack Obama’s recent election to the presidency of the United States among people who understand it as a positive occurrence. Because we are trying to understand the nature of the “hope” that is everywhere circulating in popular discourse, those who are unhappy and unhopeful about the outcomes of the election are not of concern to us here. The elucidation of these four reactions will in turn allow us to adduce two figures that have become, in the midst of this event, subjects to a novel and radical hope. This hope, I will argue, is not entirely invested in Obama himself but is predicated on the movement of the people itself. It is this latter orientation of hope that is indispensable to producing political emancipations.

There are two axes along which these reactions fall. The determinant of the first axis is whether one is nationally American or not—in other words whether or not one identifies oneself as an American in any way. One remarkable aspect of this last election has been the tremendous interest taken in the campaign by people living outside of the territorial United States who not only cannot vote in the American election, but are not otherwise interested in American culture save those ways in which it imposes itself by force through mechanisms of cultural imperialism. We will have to account for this interest. The second determinant is whether or not one accepts the logic of the state. We will call those who do not “radicals” and those who do “statists.” Our four figures, then, are the American and foreign radicals, and the American and foreign statists. We will be interested in the two radicals, but we will add some conceptual depth to all four figures in the following paragraphs.

In American society, there are two basic kinds of political imaginary—statist and radical—that implicate two correlative ways of thinking the temporality of politics. The vast majority of the populace thinks according to statist time. This is what follows from the reduction of politics to the biennial election of legislators and executives, which itself is the effect of a concerted effort by the various state apparatuses to channel the political energies of the people into an acceptable “convocation of the state” (Badiou 2008). People with this political imaginary tend to think about—and ascribe affective connotations to—political epochs in terms of the outcomes of their votes. In other words, most Americans tend to evaluate their political pasts and presents in terms of how their “leaders”—an umbrella term for members of both of the aforementioned branches of government—are deemed to have performed. As such, the prevailing—statist—mood in America is that the current malaise extends no further back than 2000, when George W. Bush took office and proceeded to devastate a system of checks and balances held quite dear here. This kind of thinking—shared by Republicans and most Democrats, who understand Obama’s victory as a transcendence of the past eight years of George W. Bush—will not be helpful to us in making sense of the conjuncture, because its temporal frame is too narrow and its logic too indebted to the legitimacy of the American and liberalist systems. The ‘hope’ of this dominant fragment of the United States is so enthralled by the status quo that the present contains the lack against which a putatively full past is posed as the object of desire. This sector of American society in reality wants little more than a basic restoration of the class privileges that were arrogated to the smallest elite during the Bush years. Furthermore, this major faction cannot think in terms of an ‘emancipation’ because, in their minds, America is already free, “the freest place on earth”. As such, we will not be interested in this American statist supporter of Obama, because we cannot discern here a hope geared toward the generation of innovations.

On the other hand, there is a tradition of political thought in the United States that thinks democracy not in terms of voting but in terms of practices of freedom. This “black radical tradition” is not limited to subjective figures who are black; rather it takes race as one of its referents (Robinson 2000; Bogues 2003). To be radical in America, in other words, requires an explicit and para-doxal treatment of race. According to this political itinerary, the time of power and politics abides by a long-duration and transnational schema, and takes the extraordinary events of power and resistance as its temporal referents. For American proponents of this tradition, enslavement, manumission, the Jim Crow laws, and Civil Rights are the primary events—but it must be said, so are European capital expansion, exploration and imperial conquest, as well as various forms of resistance to each of these movements. The black radical tradition, in other words, even in the United States, is not bounded by events that are specific to that country; nevertheless, what we must acknowledge is that there is a significant segment of that tradition that operates in the U.S. and stages its interventions—intellectual and political—around questions of American power. The first subjective figure that I want to focus on is the proponent of this black radical tradition, whose primary historical traumas are enslavement and Jim Crow, and who has felt divested by American democracy.

The second subjective figure in whom we will be interested is what may be called the non-comprador postcolonial or third world subject. (From this point, for the sake of ease, we will call our two subjects the “black radical subject” and the “radical postcolonial subject”.) In the postcolonial world, where the apparatuses of consensus production do not perhaps function as efficiently as they do in the United States, people who explicitly think politics tend to do so according to a greater temporal span. We must immediately rule out of our analyses, however, the comprador subject, who pledges his allegiance to the West in order to derive various material benefits from the relationship. This subject will not be interested in emancipatory political constructions, because it is precisely the relationship of subordination instantiated by Western imperialism in the postcolonial world upon which his subjectivity and class interest depends. We can think, for example, of those Kenyans and Indonesians who claimed Obama as one of their own in terms of the dissemination of a regime of particularization (to which we will return) that organizes humanity into sub-groups and sets them against each other. Those who claim Obama as their own validate the ‘identity politics’ that subtends all such arrogations. But they do so at the expense of the event that is occurring around and outside the man himself the truths of which traverse any such particularities. On the other hand, there is a massive disaffection with the U.S. in these parts of the world, which is no doubt the result of another betrayal, that of the United States toward the event of decolonization. The subjective figure to whom this disaffection belongs, and who additionally affirms that this event can belong to everyone, is the postcolonial radical. She is the second figure on whom we will stake our analyses of the reception of the Obama-event.

Which is why the incredible outpouring of affect in the Third World about the recent election of Barack Obama has such tremendous significance. Hope—a term apparently oriented toward a future once forgotten—has been restored, or created anew, in the rest of the world. And that hope is invested in the next leader of a country even now deemed by many in the postcolonial world as the cause of many of the world’s problems. The irony of the current situation is palpable. But it also begs several questions. Does the rest of the world view Barack Obama as an exceptional figure, one who is essentially heterogeneous to the perceived imperial project and value-system propelling American internationalism? Or is he taken up as a synecdoche of the United States, one who represents a true, although recently latent, spirit of good-will towards the world? Does the restoration of this hope imply that our figure forgives or is prepared to forgive the United States for the past 8 years of its global imperiousness, the past 63 years of its domination of the system of states, the past 185 years of its promotion of spheres of influence, or even the past 516 years of European cogito-centrism and relentless expansionism of which the United States is the most recent heir? Does this hope signify the return of the to-come—a remembrance of the future—after its effective collapse with the arrival of postmodernity, the ostensible failure of projects for alternative modernizations, and the “end of history” (Huyssen 2003; Scott 2004; Fukuyama 2006)? If the future is once again in play in the Third World political imagination following Obama’s election, has there also been a collective forgetting there, such that the wrongs done in the past are no longer salient to the demands being articulated? In short, what is the time of the hope now in circulation—does it look forward to and mobilize based on the future alone? Or does this hope also draw on pasts, convoked and channeled in novel ways?

All of these questions seek to adduce the perceptions of an imaginary, generic third world subject concerning the man—Barack Obama—as well as toward the United States, the present conjuncture, and the future. They are oriented at drawing out the shifting perceptions, the relative affective positions, of people in the rest of the world, as they have changed over the course of the past forty or so years. And my questions are designed also to clarify the nature of the very uncertain present we inhabit, in which the dancing shadows on the cave’s wall mystify and phantasmagorize the people, while the bear lurking in darkness still looks on hungrily. Ours is a moment when nothing has changed but the symbols that circulate and the affect invested, in which the real conditions of human existence remain precisely as they were; and yet it is also a moment in which nothing seems as before. The time is out of joint. Pasts, presents and futures are being reconfigured with respect to each other, as they are being deployed in the political imagination of our two figures, or perhaps are being conflated. Has the present event traumatized us? Let us seek clarity as we cast light on the state of the situation.

For the two subjective figures with whom we will concern ourselves, the black radical subject and the radical postcolonial subject, the most important rules organizing the situation in which they are counted by the state of the situation are the following. For the black radical subject and the radical postcolonial subject, the most important rules organizing the state of the situation are the following. There is first of all an American imperialism that conceals its intentions and produces consent by the claim that it doesn’t take colonies (Pease 2005). American imperialism implicates all human beings, as it constitutes a threat to both the targets of empire, in other words most of the rest of the world, and the operators of empire, in other words Americans. To the extent that the American people allow themselves to be tied up in interminable small wars with external enemies and, in so doing, expose themselves to a mortal external danger according to an internal process that they support, the Americans commit anti-American acts. Therefore no one in the world is safe, not even Americans, from the self-destruction that takes place in the name of the empire of liberty. This power particularly affects our two subjective figures: for the Black American, American empire is the double and contradictory injunction to join the army for the sake of improving his/her life, but also to sacrifice his/her life in the wars . For the postcolonial subject, American empire is that which simultaneously promises freedom and ensures subjection to the various impositions of the American world-view.

Second, there is a regime of relationality, which constitutes on the discursive register the ways in which human beings can imagine themselves in the presence of others, and on the politico-economic register the very ways that human beings can aggregate to either affirm or contest the ways in which they are put to use. The paradox of this regime of relationality is that it too is a double and contradictory injunction: on one hand humans are enjoined to mistrust each other and to pursue their desires as individuals, and on the other hand they are compelled to enter into a particular kind of community. Foucault explains that the twin impulses derive from the twin necessities of power’s self-maintenance, which are to organize society at the level of its details and at the level of its masses. He calls these two mechanisms of power, respectively, discipline and biopower, which aim simultaneously to individualize and to massify (Foucault 2003). It is on the terrain of human relations organized under this double and contradictory injunction that we must understand racism. American-style racism is one of the referents of both the black radical and the postcolonial subject in their perception of the United States, but one that can be subsumed in the category of human relationality.

Third, there is the nearly total hegemony of the ideology of neoliberalism with respect to the statist conception of what constitutes an appropriate economics. For the past thirty years at least the idea that the market is the supreme guarantor of all human freedoms has been virtually uncontested, both by governments and by intellectuals. This rule, although not universally accepted—indeed, our two subjective figures have been involved in many challenges to the articulation of freedom and markets—nevertheless organizes human life in an inescapable way; it both affirms prior prerogatives of capital and disseminates a new notion of freedom—and hence of emancipation—that preempts any resistances against it by posing itself as the inverse of state power, a stripping down of the state that mirrors anti-statist activities. There is no question, however, that neoliberalism—and capital itself—is currently in crisis, and that this is one of the contemporary openings that have made Obama’s election possible.

Finally, there is the notion that the political essentially functions according to an antagonistic logic. This fourth rule relates to the second one, which divides humanity into parts and adds them into populations. But here the organizing principle implicates not the social field but the political as such. The political, by this logic, is a zero-sum game, whereby the successful address of the demands of one group is conceived as being undertaken at the expense of those of another group. Moreover, the conception of a political construction which is universally beneficial is understood as a contradiction, because there is no universal human interest—only the interests of fragments. This idea of the political as the maneuvering of friends and enemies or of war—which Carl Schmitt theorizes as essential and ahistorical (Schmitt 2007), Foucault finds for the first time in the French Revolution (Foucault 2003), the Left almost universally holds as a truth, and the Right enacts through the class warfare it disavows, is now also almost universally accepted as the nature of the political.

Each one of these rules organizes the elements of a situation or society in such a way as to constitute a void (Badiou 2005). The void is in one sense the product of power, but is just as much that which power can’t recognize, its loophole. The void is the aporia of power, simultaneously the signature of its agency and its lack thereof. Those humans who are voided—call them subaltern, the part of no part, or the oppressed—live this aporia in its full ambivalence: they are the ones who both bear the deleterious effects of power and the only ones who possess the potentiality to depose that power. One effect of the voiding operation is to produce a trauma that circulates among the part of no part. Trauma has three inextricable dimensions: first, as we have mentioned, there is its constitution by the rules according to which power operates. Trauma is always constituted by the count of a situation, which attributes inclusion but not belonging to the various elements that it voids. The disjuncture between being included and not belonging produces the psychic and affective reaction of those who do not count for a situation. Or, to put it another way, trauma is the situation one finds oneself when one has been excepted—taken outside—of the realm of the normal and rendered as bare life. In short, trauma is always the product of a power relation, whether sovereign, disciplinary, or biopolitical. The second aspect of trauma is that it always has a material dimension, which follows from the differential distribution of the count. Those who are voided are, in addition to being stripped of their political capacities and reduced to mere biological life, also given less back in terms of material benefit than those who belong to a situation. Perversely and tautologically, the state (or status quo) organizing the count justifies its denial of material provisions for the voided based on the nullity that it attributes to those whom it refuses to count. Therefore we can say that the traumatized is the one who is always twice wronged: first by a power whose strategic interests compel it to deny her full humanity, and again by the distributive dimension of that power that allocates resources based on the attribute of possessing full humanness. The third aspect of trauma is that it is the natural or pre-political relation to this situation of disjuncture between inclusion and not belonging and the attendant material lack. What the traumatized subject experiences is pure disjuncture—materially, juridically, and ontologically. That disjuncture is then taken up psychically, and acted out in terms of various conflations. The most important of these for our purposes are the temporal and the agential. As Cathy Caruth points out, the traumatic victim cannot adequately parse past from present, which leads her to experience the trauma that took place in the past as though it were taking place in the present, and thereby to recreate the wound again (Caruth 1995). Various forms of self-defeating behavior can be explained in terms of the tendency of the traumatized to reproduce past traumas in the present, renewing the trauma masochistically. But these can also be explained in terms of the second great conflation, in which the traumatized cannot correctly identify what precisely is the agency that subjects her to the injury that catalyzes the trauma. The traumatized tend to confuse the source of the trauma—which is the count of the situation, or the various rules organizing a situation so as to void certain humans—such that a particular human, human group, or even the self is blamed for the suffering that the traumatic victim undergoes. This tendency to ascribe a human face to the agent who traumatizes is an almost universally occurring phenomenon; and yet it is also one that hinders the proper subsumption of the trauma by mechanisms of reasoning and politicization. What is at stake, in other words, in the conflationary impulse of trauma is the misidentification of the source of victimization, temporally and agentially.

Trauma is the basic human reaction—not meditated, but instinctual, pre-political—to the material operation of a count that voids certain elements from a given situation. In the case of the Black American, trauma is indexed above all to slavery and the particular racism—juridical and normative—of the post-Reconstruction period (Eyerman 2004). The void constituted by slavery rendered the slave as the one who was included in the regime of accumulation but forbidden from belonging to the political community that possessed the rights to material provisions and to the ability to have one’s demands heard. Specifically, the trauma was the product of the disjuncture between being left to live and being forced to live such that “being” was of the lowest order and “life” was barely life at all. Subsequent generations of Black Americans experienced trauma not only in terms of novel constructions of race, but also in terms of the counter-memory of slavery that was inherited such that the past was actualized in the present. For the postcolonial subject, the pertinent trauma is linked especially to colonialism, which is in turn linked to a host of divisive technologies of rule, and its updated version, American imperialism. Colonialism, like slavery and racism, operates on the basis of a negation of the full humanity of the colonized. It also deploys those dehumanized bodies for the purposes of accumulation. But additionally, it is linked to a much more explicitly geopolitical formation of strategically maneuvering states. The specificity of the void produced by colonialism was the denial of the capacity of the colonized to organize for the sake of resistance. The various divide and rule tactics, the denial of non-European national formations, and the ascription of a permanently pre-political status to the colonized preempted resistance. But they also disabled the colonizers from properly recognizing organized anticolonial resistance when it came, a fact which facilitated the efforts of the colonized in the moment of the event of anticolonialism (Spanos 2008).

In order to move beyond trauma, the human groups who have been voided must make themselves count by resisting the power that excepts them (Fanon 1965, 69, 179; Fanon 1968). But even before this resistance is possible, they must perform a conceptual operation upon the trauma itself: they must transform trauma into the wrong. The wrong, like trauma, is constituted by power and concerns a material divestment of the people. But where the traumatized do not yet identify the source that voids them, those who acknowledge the wrong name that which oppresses them. Unlike trauma, the wrong is constituted by the accurate perception of the power instantiating the injury, and names it as such. In other words, the wrong must be perceived and pronounced.

The radical is precisely the one who has transformed her trauma into the wrong. It is statist logic that both constitutes the injury and provides ideological justification for the subjection of the people in order to naturalize suffering. The radical is opposed to statist logic, which means that she both demands an end to the injury that she has named as the wrong and understands the state’s maneuvers to conceal its wrongdoing. The past is past for the radical, and is invoked in the present rationally for political ends. According to Ron Eyerman, “[t]he notion of an African American identity…was articulated in the latter decades of the nineteenth century by a generation of blacks for whom slavery was a thing of the past, not the present…If slavery was traumatic for this generation, it was so in retrospect;” it was “tinged with a bit of strategic…interest.” (Eyerman 2004, 14). These figures to whom Eyerman refers have put an end to the temporal conflation inherent in the traumatic condition which they experienced as a legacy of slavery, and have been able to politicize their injury in order to transform their trauma into a wrong. It is an altogether different question as to whether they have adequately addressed the other conflations of trauma. W.E.B. DuBois did, which is why he was able to pose “abolition democracy” as the necessary solution to the problems of racism, the economic and cultural legacies of slavery, and to the most devastating effects of capital. The Black American radical forms a chain of equivalences linking capitalism, racism, slavery, and American foreign policy. As for the postcolonial radical, she articulates a historical colonial wrong with a contemporary imperial one. She faces the opposite problem with respect to the temporality of her trauma as that of the traumatic figure Caruth describes. Whereas for Caruth the trauma victim collapses the past into the present, for the postcolonial subject the situation is such that the past and present are as one, but are perceived as distinct. The primary symptom of postcolonial trauma is to be unable to recognize that decolonization gave way to American imperialism, and that the injury really has been reconstituted in the present with the same ends. For the postcolonial subject to politicize her injury and constitute the wrong, she must forge a continuity between past colonialism and present imperialism. Although it feels like a betrayal of the event of anticolonialism and its subjective protagonists, to establish this continuity is in fact the truly contemporary anticolonial act, and the one that is most faithful to the acts of her forebears. The Black American radical and the postcolonial radical experience different conflations because they have undergone different injuries. Both have a legitimate claim to present injuries, too; but it must be recognized that the nature of the power operating on Black Americans has shifted to alternate ends, where the power acting on the postcolonial subject is largely oriented toward the same extraction and geopolitical positions as its colonial predecessor. In any case, both figures are rare, and both are absolutely heterogeneous to the state.

The establishment of the wrong, as we have mentioned, is the first step in transforming trauma into emancipation. But to remain caught in the snare of a recognition that a wrong has been done is to lend oneself to the death grip of nihilism. One has then to channel the perception of the wrong toward creating the universal principle that will serve as a basis for political organization aimed toward novel and emancipatory constructions of human relationality beyond the purview of the state’s grasp. The second shift that must be effected is to invest a different affect into the perception of the wrong. The political affect to which the radical must turn herself is hope.

As Balzac writes, “hope is a memory that desires.” Hope here is an affect that is primarily dependent on the assessment of a traduction that has already taken place. Insofar as hope looks forward to a future in which the wrong has been remedied—a better future—it also necessarily looks back to a past against which the vision of the future is posed. The formation of a historical wrong, as we have already said, depends on a denial to the people who are included but do not belong to a situation of provisions which they feel they are owed and at least some part of which are material. Those who belong, however, are given these very provisions. Membership in the situation—which can also be described as belonging to the community—earns one certain rights that are deemed normal. The disjuncture between, on one hand, being included in a situation such that one is in a relation of obligation to the state, and on the other, being denied belonging by the state, along with the attendant benefits one receives from belonging, produces a sense of lack in the party voided by the count. But this lack is not necessarily tied to a conflation in the way that trauma is, which we have already described as producing a psychic disjuncture. The lack, as we will define it (contrary to the claim that the lack is the mark of an ideology of consumption that always already stigmatizes those whom it interpellates and incites them to desire, against their class interests, that which they don’t need) is the mark of the rational and political perception of the disjuncture between belonging and inclusion, between needing and not having. In turn, desire is oriented toward the fulfillment of the lack, to acquiring that which has been denied to the human rendered as bare life by the excepting power of the count.

Hope, then, is the affect that devotes the force inhering in the revelation of the wrong toward the attainment of that which is forced to be lacking in the subject by the state of the situation. As such, it is invested in convoking a set of pasts which it represents through the agency of its counter-memory in contradistinction to the historical recount conducted by the state. The pasts it draws together are disparate—the slave ship, the polling place, the American entrepreneur who promises to solve economic woes—but linked by and against the metaphor of the shark, who waits in the wake for unusable bodies, who hunts black faces that, as such, do not belong, and who single-mindedly and violently pursues his victims as a matter of pure ends without any thought given to means. Hope draws on and links past injuries in order to pose a future in which these injuries have been rectified, a chain of equivalences established between humans that would render them equal, and the lack fulfilled. As such, hope is a profoundly communistic political affect, so long as communism is understood as a prospective and generic figure rather than as a historical paradigm.

Let us conclude by returning to the present conjuncture, and assessing the nature of the hope invested in Obama by our two subjective figures. Insofar as these figures are aware that they do not count for the American state, their investment in the new head of state is remarkable. But this is where we must be careful. For it is those who have named the event after Obama who have initiated their own subjectivity, and not Obama who has named and activated them. As such, the act of agency in question is the constituting operation of naming the conjuncture, and it belongs to our figures, not to Obama, nor any more to the statists, who see in the man Obama a means to restore American and U.S. hegemony, domestically and internationally. Obama is in all reality just a cipher; he was fungible insofar as his campaign program was, like the other candidates, devoid of any substantial emendations to American presidential conduct. But the fact that people invest so much hope in him, that people organized—however temporarily—to ensure that he was able to defeat John McCain, and that we see a homologous perception of him and the events concerning him in other situations around the world indicate that perhaps we are in the midst of an event the basis of which is not Obama, but those people who have been voided, who have transformed their trauma into the wrong, who have invested hope into themselves, and who organize for the purposes of producing novel constructions of political and social relations. It is impossible to tell whether the Obama-event is a simulacrum or the harbinger of a truth. That depends entirely on whether the people wait for Obama-as-Messiah to solve their problems, or organize on the basis of a newfound hope and courage. We will only know if it was an event in the future—but for now, radicals will proceed with the faith that it is, and that they will have been vindicated in their belief in the community-to-come.

The last issue we must address is the question of the relation between hope and forgiveness. Forgiveness, as Derrida says, is absolutely heterogeneous to reconciliation, and pertains strictly to the unforgivable as such (Derrida 2001). Reconciliation is produced by a third party that is exogenous to the injurious relation, and which tries to contain the anti-statist potentialities of political organization that are always possible among the voided. Forgiveness, on the other hand, is an event that is strictly seeking the impossible, because that to which it pertains—the unforgivable—cannot be forgiven as such, or must be transformed into something else that is forgivable in order to be forgiven. The memory of slavery, the recollection of colonialism— these are closed chapters that continue to be open, because they have not and cannot be forgiven. To try to change them so they can be forgiven is precisely the operation of history, and the state that writes history. Memories, on the other hand, will continue to keep them alive as long as there is a people to inherit them. Forgiveness, then, is a totally inaccessible category, which is not conducive to any targeted interventions. It should not be a goal of radical politics because of its formal impossibility. It remains, however, a goal of the state. But the state can only ever achieve of forgiveness its simulacrum, a doppelganger, the monster that the state itself births.

The irony of our contemporary situation is homologous for the black radical and the postcolonial radical. The United States has led the charge to atomize, to racialize, to capture humanity in the snares it has devised, contrary to its claims to have liberated people from these practices. Our Black radical is perfectly well aware of this, and yet hopes—without messianism, and with hope too in the subjective power of the people—that the new head of state will effect changes in the policies that enable these subjections. The U.S. has also taken the reigns of the geopolitical project of ensuring the pax. The postcolonial radical knows this, and yet hopes, against all hope, that Obama’s understanding of the world will lead him to be more compassionate toward those who have been dispossessed by American empire than his predecessors. What seems to us ironic—that an object can at once be deemed the cause of the wrong and the source of hope—is in fact the constitutive paradox of the politics of the event. This symptomology marks the threshold that we now occupy between pasts of which we have taken hold and futures amongst which we must choose. It marks the indistinguishability of our being-in-the-midst, and calls forth either our skepticism or our courage. It is with the latter that we must move forward, with the faith that we will have been justified in a future community that will look back on the election of Obama as the inauguration of the people in their full and inclusive political sovereignty.

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