PRINT January 2005


David Joselit on art and terror

IN 1968 HENRI LEFEBVRE, former fellow traveler of the Situationists and occasional muse to the students of the May uprisings in Paris, wrote in Everyday Life in the Modern World, “A pure (formal) space defines the world of terror. If the proposition is reversed it preserves its meaning: terror defines a pure formal space, its own, the space of power and its powers.” Reading these lines in 2005 is both inspiring and confusing. How should we take up Lefebvre’s oxymoronic conjunction of terror and form in a post–9/11 world? My first answer is perverse and possibly distasteful: a simple affirmation that terrorism is in fact a pure (formal) space, that the commercial planes Al-Qaeda repurposed as missiles constituted a stunning instance of Situationist détournement, causing an icon of American mobility to perform its own negation. For terrorism—unlike conventional warfare yet like

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