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Monsters vs. Empire

ON JUNE 18, 2018, President Donald Trump took everyone by surprise. In the midst of remarks about U.S. and German approaches to immigration, he was suddenly directing “the Department of Defense and Pentagon to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a space force as the sixth branch of the armed forces” and banging on about achieving “American dominance in space” and “expand[ing] our economy.”

Despite Trump’s seemingly abrupt change of topic, there is no actual disjuncture—indeed, there is a rather obvious continuity—between the fear of otherness and the fantasy of control, between discussing ways to restrict the movement of “undesirable” people and fantasizing about Space Invaders—space being, after all, the final frontera. There is, moreover, no contradiction between fixing borders ever more firmly in place/space and finding ways to transform the limits to capital into barriers for it to overcome. And there is no conflict between the interimperial rivalry of nation-states—both China and Russia recently demonstrated their ability to shoot down satellites—and the global Empire of transnational capital. In fact, since Ronald Reagan’s neoliberal refashioning of the U.S.—andthus the global—economy in the 1980s, which transformed the world’s principal source of liquidity to the world’s biggest debtor, the United States has become utterly dependent on the rest of the world, including Russia and especially China, to finance its deficits. The U.S. empire needs, but does not fully control, neoliberal Empire—and the same is true of its rivals.

There has long been at the edge of the conquered world a curious interweaving of empires and monsters, the production of one depending on the production of the other. The periphery of the map always says “Here be dragons,” or so we imagine. In reality, the 1510 Lenox Globe is probably the only historical map actually to bear the warning “HC SVNT DRACONES”—and even that might be less an intimation of peril than a note of where in East Asia Komodo dragons can be found. Nevertheless, cartographers have long doodled allegorical wyrms in the margins of their charts, dotted the seas with mermaids and water-spouting leviathans, and sketched strange beings in distant lands: asps, basilisks, cannibals, cynocephali, elephants, hippopotamuses, lions, scorpions, serpents, walruses—even the occasional dragon. It seems that wherever an empire’s reach finds its limit, whether on Earth or in space, monsters sneak in.

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About Boston Review

Paperback, 128 pages “All history,” writes Maximillian Alvarez in his contribution to this issue, “is the history of empire—a bid for control of that greatest expanse of territory, the past.” Evil Empire confronts these histories head-on, exploring the motivations, consequences, and surprising resiliency of empire and its narratives. Contributors grapple with the economic, technological, racial, and rhetorical elements of U.S. power and show how the effects are far-reaching and, in many ways, self-defeating. Drawing on a range of disciplines—from political science to science fiction—our authors approach the theme with imagination and urgency, animated by the desire to strengthen the fight for a better future. Featuring Nikhil Pal Singh, Arundhati Roy interviewed by Avni Sejpal, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Yuri Herrera translated by Lisa Dillman, Pankaj Mishra interviewed by Wajahat Ali, Frank Pasquale, Adom Getachew, Maximillian Alvarez, Jeanne Morefield, Michael Kimmage, Stuart Schrader, Marisol LeBrón, and Mark Bould.

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