December 7, 2006

"Nothing is worse than what we imagine"

"Imagination that is material and dynamic," writes Gaston Bachelard, "enables us to experience a provoked adversity, a psychology of opposition that does not settle for the blow, the shock, but that seeks domination over the very heart of the matter."

In his recent article in the New York Review of Books -- "Iraq: The War of the Imagination" -- Mark Danner outlines the projections that led to the Iraq disaster. There was the wanton desire for an object lesson in retributive force, an American warning meant to reverberate throughout the Middle East. It would be the hammer blow, the shock and awe, and a longstanding reverberating threat. Yoked to this impulse was the idealistic dream of will: a pure, ungovernable ability to assert, a will free from the institutional gravity of politics.

"Nothing is worse than what we imagine," J. M. Coetzee writes in his novel of Empire's horrendous, self-destructive dreams, Waiting for the Barbarians.