Thursday, 3 December 2009

Manituana and American exceptionalism

You may recall my expression of puzzlement a while back at Wu Ming 1's statement in an interview that "Manituana is our novel on Iraq and the 'war on terror'". Well, things became a little clearer after I read the following exchange (from an interview on the Social Text website):
Marco Deseriis: Can you talk about Manituana in terms of political allegory relating to the War in Iraq.

Wu Ming 1: Right, because we started from a journalistic metaphor that was used in the weeks prior to the shock and awe bombing that began the 
war in Iraq. This metaphor was 
"the Atlantic Ocean is widening," with reference to the difference of opinion 
between the US and Europe about the necessity of attacking Iraq, about the
 complicity of Saddam Hussein's regime in the attacks of 9/11, and about Saddam
 having hidden weapons of mass destruction. There was complete disagreement at the UN about this. And in Europe, most of the public, even
 the right wing, was against attacking Iraq. For instance, in Italy 50% of the people are explicitly 
fascist, but if I remember the figure correctly 92% of them were against the
 war in Iraq. This marked a big 
difference with what was going on in the US at the time. The same was true throughout 
Europe. And many newspaper 
articles kept talking about the widening gap between the EU and the US, one 
that was never so great as at that moment. So we began to reflect on the history of the relationship 
between the US and Europe. And of 
course the beginning of that relationship was with the American Revolution and
 the birth of the US as a separate country. At the beginning, the project was different. We wanted to write a novel set in 1876,
 exactly one century after the revolution. 
But one set in a parallel reality in which George Washington had been 
defeated. This involved 
reinventing a completely different reality, which was very difficult to handle, to the extent that we weren't able to imagine the changes that would be 
necessary. So we came
 independently to a conclusion: why imagine an alternate reality when the
 American Revolution itself contains so many different realities, depending on 
the different point of view that you choose? If you choose the point of view of Native Americans, the
 American Revolution is something totally different. It's something really far away from what one expects. So we decided to write a novel set in 
1775, at the beginning of the revolution, and lasting the whole course of the 
war, until the Treaty of Paris, when the British Empire acknowledges the existence
 of the US as a separate country.

Ashley Dawson: And so having written the novel, what do you make of the discourse of American exceptionalism?

Wu Ming 1: It's the birth of American exceptionalism; it's reflected in all the discourses and conversations that you find in the novel.

Ashley Dawson: But did your perspective on these questions change in the writing?

Wu Ming 1: I don't know what we thought at the beginning. It's the curse of 
knowledge, that when you know something you don't remember how it was not to
 know it. But it's a book on 
American exceptionalism, seen from Europe. There are some conversations in the London section of the 
novel that are deeply allegorical of American exceptionalism, seen from a
 European perspective. And American 
exceptionalism is still there; Obama is an exceptionalist like Bush. Of course, the politics are different, 
but the exceptionalist assumptions are still there: the key role that America
 has to play on the world stage, etcetera. 
"We are the chosen ones" is the subtext underlying every discourse,
 whether it's Bush or Obama.

No comments: