This Is (Still) Not A Conclusion

For quite some time I puzzled over how to end this book. It seemed, in fact, to have no end — each “last chapter” led to another “last chapter,” which in turn led to the next. It came to me, finally, after a year of deliberation — one needs, after all, to finish a book, or else it is not a book — that to write a last chapter would be to commit the same sort of grievous sin of appropriation and disappearance that George Bush committed when he named the Gulf War the cure for the “Vietnam syndrome.” The process of analysis is neverending, but it is not a story.

“Holocaust,” “Vietnam,” and “rape” are still floating signifiers, still contested ground. I anticipate that they will remain unfixed for some time to come, the battles over their meaning revealing far more about our contemporary culture than about any sort of historical truth. What I have done with this, I hope, is to provide my readers with a way of watching these contests over meaning, and of recognizing other contests over similar signifiers (and there are many, ranging from “drugs,” to “patriot,” to “terrorism,” to “democracy”). I wanted to demonstrate the connections between these signifiers (signifiers float for a reason), and to show, from as many angles as possible, the investments different groups of people have in their interpretation. I wanted to make it clear why I believe that traumatic metaphors — the stories of survivors — are always political, they are intensely personal — that the personal is political, without exception.

If I have accomplished any of these things, that is good. But meanwhile, ideological battles over the meaning of the Holocaust continue to be fought, and the fate of the Palestinian people hangs in the balance. Despite normalization of U.S. relations with Vietnam, “winning” the Vietnam war, and the Vietnam-veteran-as-victim-hero continue to fascinate the American public, and the war in Afghanistan has stretched into America’s longest, given legitimacy by a revised, right wing history of American involvement in Vietnam. And a woman is still raped every five minutes in America — in the time it takes you to read a few pages. There is not plot. There is only the passage of time, from moment to moment, and, in each moment, what we choose to do, choose to do, choose to do.

every three minutes
every five minutes
every ten minutes
every day.1


1. ntozake shange, “with no immediate cause,” in Nappy Edges (New York: St. Martin’s Press) 1978: 117.