Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Coda on Premediation and Preemption

In the final paragraph of yesterday’s blog post on the premediation of Hurricane (now post-tropical cyclone turned post-tropical storm) Sandy, I wrote:  

“The premediation of Sandy does not work to preempt damage; there is no possibility that the damage is going to be prevented or displaced.  Rather premediation works to prepare people affectively for what might be coming and to multiply the virtual forms in which the damage might emerge, what kind of event Sandy will turn out to have been.  Premediation helps to bring Sandy into being not to prevent it.  Most importantly the premediation of Sandy does not exist outside of the event as something distinct from it but rather is immanent to the event; premediation is part and parcel of Sandy itself.”

I wanted to return to the relation between premediation and preemption to expand on and clarify this paragraph.  For on the face of it the claim that the premediation of Sandy does not preempt damage seems plain wrong.  The global aim of the massive premediation of disaster and catastrophe by media, government, and non-governmental agencies is precisely to minimize damage to life and property.  By prefiguring, modeling, and simulating the potential paths and consequences of Hurricane Sandy’s landfall, premediation may not aim to preempt damage completely, but surely does aim to preempt some potential damage, particularly to human life and to technical infrastructure. 

But what is so interesting about the way premediation works, and what links it to preemption, is that is does not consist merely of warnings about the potential dangers that would result from the event of Sandy but it creates these very dangers in advance of Sandy’s arrival as a way to try to contain, control, or minimize the damage that Sandy will cause.  That is, rather than wait for the disaster to occur and then to repair or remediate it, premediation creates the effects of the disaster before they happen—closing subways, schools, Wall Street, businesses, government offices, and so forth. 

The working of premediation here is indeed very close to what Brian Massumi has characterized as “the primacy of preemption” in US politics during the Bush (and now the Obama) administration.  But in the case of Sandy, and similar events of geopolitical and natural catastrophes, what we are witnessing could more accurately be described as “the primacy of premediation” in which our print, televisual, and networked news media create the damage of the catastrophe or disaster before it happens through the force of premediation alone.   

Premediation constitutes the virtuality of the catastrophe or disaster produced by Sandy, generating real effects prior to and in some sense independent of the actualization of the hurricane itself.  It is immanent to the disaster insofar as it is generated in advance of the hurricane itself, much as the wind, waves, and rains that serve as the forerunners to Sandy’s landfall.  And, I would argue, the multiple premediations of Sandy’s eventual landfall and ultimate dissipation are no less real than the storm’s meteorological and climatological effects, and are no less part of the heterogeneous event known throughout the print, televisual, and socially networked media as Hurricane Sandy.

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