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Randy Martin: The Politics of Preemption

From Our Shifting Ground Is Written in the Cloud

The Politics of Preemption is a short film by Greg Elmer that combines an interview with Martin with archival material to bring Martin’s thinking to bear on collective social struggles. The central themes of Randy Martin’s final book Knowledge LTD: Toward a Social Logic of the Derivative (2015) serve as the basis for the interview.

The research outlined in Knowledge LTD brilliantly appraises the fragile entanglement of risk and knowledge. And in doing so, Martin diagnoses a new epistemological normal: nonknowledge. If conflict and crisis have become the political norm then knowledge (and facts) cannot be depended upon to anchor society: “Nonknowledge would have its moment to come rushing in.”1

A surfeit of rules contributes to the incoherence by which knowledge is exceeded as nonknowledge. The centerpiece of Elmer’s video is a transcendent articulation of nonknowledge: a 2002 press conference by US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. When asked why the “evidence” of Iraq’s support for terrorism and weapons of mass destruction was worse than the facts showed, he responded:

  • All of us in this business read intelligence information. And we read it daily and we think about it and it becomes, in our minds, essentially what exists. And that’s wrong. It is not what exists. Now what is the message there? The message is that there are no “knowns.” There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know. So when we do the best we can and we pull all this information together, and we then say well that’s basically what we see as the situation, that is really only the known knowns and the known unknowns. And each year, we discover a few more of those unknown unknowns.

1 Ibid., 44

October 11, 2019

Curated by

João Enxuto and Erica Love