First session of autumn quarter, Wednesday October 18th

Ronald Inden will speak on “America Communicates to the World,” with response.

Abstract: Representations such as “America is the destiny of mankind,” are often grouped together under the rubric “American exceptionalism.” US leaders placed great weight on “communication” in their representations of the “new world order” they were trying to create after 1945. Their idea of communication became for them a new postimperial instrument for ordering the world. It would counter the threat of Communism and “modernize” the countries of the “third world.” What I argue is that the communication at work here, what I call “cosmic representations,” is quite different from the one US leaders proclaimed and that we have come to take for granted in discourse about communication. Cosmic representations, constitutive of “epochal events,” have always been, I would argue, crucial to the formation and reiteration of most imperial polities. Looked at historically, the form of cosmic representation at issue in the US consisted of a secularized and scientized version of a form of communication central to Christianity as a missionary religion. Intellectuals—sociologists and scholars of the nascent discipline of communication studies—collaborated with government in a project, a secularized “mission”: the “resocialization” (conversion) of people in the underdeveloped world to the American way of life. Such representations consisted of spectacular audiovisual demonstrations of divine will and/or natural, scientific power (“shock and awe” in Iraq) intended to precipitate a mind-changing experience on the part of those witnessing such displays. Polities that hoped to gain and maintain supremacy over their rivals have all had to take and hold on to the “demonstrative function” with regard to making cosmic representations. I conclude with a brief discussion of the problems the US and its academic apologists have encountered here.

Seminary Coop Bookstore, 8-9:30 PM

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