Blasted Moments: Remarking a Hiroshima Image

  • Gene Ray
Part of the Studies in European Culture and History book series (SECH)


What manifests for me now, this January 2002, what gets in my way and confronts me in this historical moment, is an image of a blasted wristwatch.


Hague Convention Global Justice Ground Zero Manhattan Project Visual Culture 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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  1. 1.
    I refer to the stunning paradox with which Maurice Blanchot opens The Writing of the Disaster, Ann Smock, trans. (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1995), p. 1: “The disaster ruins everything, all the while leaving everything intact.”Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See J. Samuel Walker, “The Decision to Use the Bomb: A Historiographical Update,” and Barton J. Bernstein, “Understanding the Atomic Bomb and the Japanese Surrender: Missed Opportunities, Little-Known Near Disasters, and Modern Memory,” both in Michael J. Hogan, ed., Hiroshima in History and Memory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 11–79; and Gar Alperovitz, “Historians Reassess: Did We Need to Drop the Bomb,” in Kai Bird and Lawrence Lifschultz, eds., Hiroshima’s Shadow: Writings on the Denial of History and the Smithsonian Controversy (Sony Creek, CI: Pamphleteer’s Press, 1998), pp. 5–21.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    I am re-inflecting some of the keywords of Benjamin’s essay in order to emphasize how historical “truth” is their point of convergence with the post-catastrophe reflections of Adorno and Derrida. “Empty, homogenous time” (leere und homogene Zeit) would be reified time, experienced as history purged of revolutionary “events,” closed to the possibility of any further rupturing of qualitative “arrivals.” Its conception of history would correspond to what Adorno called “the ever-new production of the always-the-same” (CCS 16/23, translation modified). The “Now” (Jetztzeit) would be the experience of reactivated revolutionary time, struggling to open itself to its own “weak messianic power” (schwache messianische Kraft) and thus to bring about “the real state of emergency” (der wirkliche Ausnahmezustand) of militant transformational action. Thus, to say that Hiroshima blasted a moment out of the stream of history is to say, in Benjamin’s terms, that the repression and avoidance of the trauma blocked access to the “Now” and reinstated the reified “intactness” and empty homogeneity of continuously elapsing time. To restart ethico-political time would be to blast open that reified continuum. Benjamin’s “arrest” (Stillstellung) of thought in a “constellation” of historical tensions that “crystallizes into a monad” would not, in my reading, be the seizure of Adorno’s dialectical movement into the frozen closure of resolution; it would rather be a moment within the dialectic that “hits” and propels critical thought into committed practice. See also, “Konvolut N” in Benjamin, Das Passagen-Werk, in Rolf Tiedemann and Hermann Schweppenhäuser, eds., Gesammelte Schriften, vol. 5 (Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1972); in English as The Arcades Project, Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin, trans. (Cambridge, MA: Belknap/Harvard University Press, 1999).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Michel Foucault, “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” in Donald Bouchard, ed., Donald Bouchard and Sherry Simon, trans., Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977).Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Michael Blow et al., The History of the Atomic Bomb (New York: American Heritage, 1968), hereafter cited by page number in the text. I thank Joni Spigler for putting a copy of this book into my hands ten years ago, thereby exposing me to this image and its hit.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    Robert Jay Lifton and Greg Mitchell, Hiroshima in America: A Half-Century of Denial (New York: Avon, 1995), p. 16.Google Scholar
  7. 11.
    On this period and its peculiar “splitting” of the atom into symbols of both war and peace, see Paul Boyer, Fallout: A Historian Reflects on America’s Half-Century Encounter with Nuclear Weapons (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1998), pp. 107–28.Google Scholar
  8. 12.
    Frank Barnaby, general ed., et al., The Gaia Peace Atlas: Survival into the Third Millennium (New York: Doubleday, 1988).Google Scholar
  9. 16.
    Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1951); and Eberhard Jäckel, “Die elende Praxis der Untersteller,” Die Zeit, September 12, 1986. Jäckel’s essay is translated and discussed in LaCapra, Representing the Holocaust, p. 49, and in Enzo Traverso, Understanding the Nazi Genocide: Marxism after Auschwitz (London: Pluto Press, 1999), p. 68.Google Scholar
  10. 18.
    Giorgio Agamben, Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive, Daniel Heller-Roazen, trans. (New York: Zone, 1999), p. 148. See also, Agamben’s Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Daniel Heller-Roazen, trans. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998).Google Scholar
  11. 19.
    Jonathan Schell, The Unfinished Twentieth Century (London: Verso, 2001), pp. 3–7.Google Scholar

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© Gene Ray 2005

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  • Gene Ray

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