Animism has continued to pose a serious riddle to Western epistemologies. While the evocation of life is a well-known effect in animated cartoons and digital animations, and in more delicate ways, in painting and sculpture, outside the territory of art and mass media, animation has been a disputed problem. Far from being a matter of abstract considerations, when animation is taken outside the field of art it becomes an ontological battleground that is at the frontier of colonial modernity: in the context of contemporary politics and aesthetics, it concerns the urgent question of the transformability and negotiability of ontologies, in which claims to reality and the ordering of the social world are at stake. On this battleground, the problem of animation was given the name “animism” by nineteenth-century anthropologists aspiring to see their work incorporated into the ranks of science.
It is as if, speech having withdrawn from image to become founding act, the image, for its part, raised the foundations of space, the ‘strata,’ those silent powers of before or after speech, before or after man. the visual image becomes archaeological, stratigraphic, tectonic. Not that we are taken back to prehistory (there is an archaeology of the present), but to the deserted layers of our time which bury our phantoms; to the lacunary layers which we juxtaposed according to variable orientations and connections.
The invention of the stethoscope by René Laennec in 1816 inaugurated the practice of auscultation—listening to the inner sounds of the body—and transformed the practices of medical diagnosis. While the stethoscope symbolizes communication between doctor and patient, this entailed direct communication with the body, bypassing the subjective account of the patient. The body was accordingly conceptualized as a collection of voices, which, unlike the speech of the patient, didn’t lie; it was unable to dramatize, embellish, and exaggerate the patient’s condition. The stethoscope thus shifted the medical ear from listening to speech to listening to the sounds of the body itself. As a form of forensic listening, it transformed the patient’s body into a hostile witness against its own speech acts, as simultaneous, not necessarily corroborative testimonies are emitted from the body and from the speaking voice.
In the spring of 2009, the Gaza-based and Hamas-run ministry of Public Works and housing compiled an astounding archive containing thousands of entries, each documenting a single building that had been completely or partially destroyed, from cracked walls to houses reduced to rubble. Each entry in the Book of Destruction included a single, frontal-view photograph displaying a catalogue number spray-painted onto the ruin itself. Each file also recorded how the damage to the building was inflicted—“destroyed by armoured D9 bulldozers,” “bombed from the air,” “shelled from the ground,” “directly targeted,” “indirectly struck,” or “controlled demolition by explosives”—and the state of the building—“reduced to rubble,” “partially destroyed,” or “ still standing but dangerous and requiring demolition.” In reconstructing histories of violence from the trash and rubble left behind, this archive is another instance of forensic architecture. Both practical and political, its forensics escapes, however, the limited frame of international law.
The word conviction draws a line between the legal verdict of “guilty” and the subjective sensation of constructed belief.
1. A technical term in criminology referring to efforts designed to frustrate or prevent in advance the forensic-scientific investigation of physical or digital objects, including documents and photographs as well as bodies, soil, weapons or their residues, buildings, etc. An often-sophisticated operationalization of the dictum “leave no traces,” counter-forensic practices seek actively to block the deposition or collection of traces and/or to erase or destroy them before they can be acquired as evidence. 2. A term coined by the photographer and writer Allan Sekula to describe the deployment of forensic techniques, derived from police methods, by human rights investigators and their colleagues (including forensic anthropologists, photographers, and psychotherapists) in order to challenge oppressive regimes or respond to their aftermath. Sekula writes, referring principally to the work of Clyde Snow and Susan Meiselas in Kurdistan after the first Gulf War: “Counter forensics, the exhumation and identification of the anonymised (‘disappeared’) bodies of the oppressor state’s victims, becomes the key to a process of political resistance and mourning.”
The destruction of refugee camps in Palestine is sometimes referred to as “the destruction of destruction,” which equates to the destruction of the destruction of Palestine. The camp is not a home; it is a temporary arrangement. Its rubble is the last iteration in an ongoing process of destruction that connects the destroyed village of 1948 to the destroyed camp of 2009, but the destruction of the latter is also interpreted as possessing a restorative potential. The twelfth-century Andalusian scholar ibn-Rushd (Averroes) penned a treatise of this very name—Tahāfut-al-Tahāfut—in which he refuted the refutation of classical philosophy proposed by Sufi ascetic Ghazali in his eleventh-century Tahāfut-al-Falāsifa. Is the refutation of the displacement, a proto-Hegelian negation of the negation, being applied here to the realm of political domesticity? Should we be packing up for return, when all we can do is to clear up the mess and rubble, recycle their component parts and start rebuilding the camp all over again? Rebuilding the camp does not stand in contradiction to return, rather it is its very precondition.
During medieval times, forensics practices were kept alive by people known as “devil’s advocates.” These were legal experts appointed by the Church who argued against a candidate for canonization by searching for faults or instances of fraud in the miraculous accounts presented as evidence—whereas in other juridical processes it was the voice of the witness that mattered almost exclusively, hence the Church’s emphasis on the practices of torture and confession. Miracles were understood as divine interventions into the earthly realm and consisted mainly of healings, sometimes visions, and only occasionally levitations. The process of their ascertainment involved the examination of bodies both living and dead, sometimes drops of blood, and even the nails and other carpentry details of objects presented as evidence. Experts competent in different areas of knowledge—physicians, artists, and artisans—were brought in where relevant and asked whether a natural explanation could be provided for a given material phenomenon. If so, the occurrence in question was determined not to be a miracle. This material forensics, central to the canonization process, was based upon a mode of quasi-scientific refutation that historian Fernando Vidal claims became the model for evidentiary and investigative legal practices.
When contemplating the euphemisms that have slipped into the lexicon since 9/11, the adjective Orwellian is difficult to avoid. But while such terms as extraordinary rendition, targeted killing and enhanced interrogation are universally known, and their true meanings—kidnap, assassination, torture—widely understood, the disposition matrix has not yet gained such traction. […] In truth, the matrix is more than a mere euphemism for a kill list, or even a capture-or-kill list. It is a sophisticated grid, mounted upon a database that is said to have been more than two years in the development, containing biographies of individuals believed to pose a threat to US interests, and their known or suspected locations, as well as a range of options for their disposal [targeted in drone strikes or captured and interrogated]. It is a grid, however, that both blurs and expands the boundaries that human rights law and the law of war place upon acts of abduction or targeted killing. There have been claims that people’s names have been entered into it with little or no evidence. (The Guardian, July 14, 2013)
While pathology deals with the individual body, epidemiology is concerned with the statistical measurement and spatial mapping of patterns of public health, disease, and mortality at the level of populations. With the advent of a general culture of crisis response and global health concerns, epidemiological and demographic studies of conflict-related mortality have begun to acquire a forensic dimension. Statistical data is increasingly called upon to play a role at the center of controversies involving international law and politics. The collection of epidemiological and demographical data by advocacy groups and aid organizations has thus become common practice. But recent debates around conflicts in Darfur, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Iraq suggest that the more pronounced this quantitative turn has become, the more it is contested—and even lends itself to political and juridical manipulation.