Cold War Unlimited Conference

This conference promises to rethink the continuities of the Cold War through the frameworks of Space/Time, Techno-culture and Deterritorializations. University of Sheffield, 20th September 2013.


1963: Cold War Unlimited

20 September 2013, University of Sheffield

Nuclear ExplosionOn 5 August 1963, one day short of the 18th anniversary of the dropping of an atom bomb on Hiroshima and after more than eight years of difficult negotiations, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union signed the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Kennedy signed and ratified the treaty on 7 October 1963, about a month and a half before his assassination on 22 November 1963. Any limit both forbids and allows: the Test Ban Treaty’s prohibition of any nuclear debris that crosses territorial frontiers acknowledges the limitless nature of radioactivity and grants the licence to continue testing (underground). This symposium, aware of Pynchonian ramifications and daisy chains (V is published in 1963), is thus concerned with the spatial and temporal imaginaries of the Cold War. We look to understand the political and cultural rhetoric as well as the continuities of the Cold War through its convolutions of space and time. We will analyse reversals, inversals; insides outside, outsides within; historical futures, belated presents and speculative pasts. This symposium is not about binaries, but about fallout: the illimitable dominion of the Cold War.

At the core of this symposium exists the 1960s, but the core is radioactive: Cold War Unlimited. We seek to establish a network of critical thinking inspired by, amongst others, Jacques Derrida, on the World Trade Centre attacks (‘Autoimmunity: Real and Symbolic Suicides’), where he calls for the necessity to ‘reinterpret this thing, the so-called end of the Cold War’ (2003: 92) and engages with the ‘residual consequence’ (98) of Cold War dynamics in the current ‘war on terror’. It is imperative to confront these dynamics—which are those of the state of exception which, as Giorgio Agamben notes, has become the dominant form of government over the course of Cold War/‘post’ Cold War—established before, and prevailing after, the ostensible beginnings and endings of the conflict. The National Security State persists in light of a ‘pure war’, to refer to Paul Virilio, a state of existence defined, or kept indefinite, through an endless pursuit of and preparation for war that yields ‘an emptiness and standstill of the law’ (Agamben, 2005: 48). This void allows for extreme measures of surveillance, tele-technological penetrations and tracking devices swarming in an environment that is totally technologized and (im)mobilized under ‘terror’ threats. There are, therefore, illicit and openly secret continuities between the Cold War as a system of state, military and techno-strategic operations and current globalized military-industrial governance, continuities that have modified as well as intensified over the years, yet are legible, still, as Cold War imaginary constructs. Over the last ten years, this interrogation of the illimitable Cold War has gained momentum, with studies such as Timothy Melley’s recent The Covert Sphere (2012), analysing the cultural imaginary of the National Security State in terms of Cold War lines of thought. Our aim is to contribute to this political and ethical endeavour to keep alert to the Cold War’s ‘live’ matter (Tim Armstrong in a 2008 special edition of Cultural Politics, ‘Nuclear Stories’). We conceive of the project as developing this emergent body of thinking in a spirit of radical critique directed against the prevailing conditions of the state of exception.