Today, I put something approximating finishing touches on an essay that’s been on the backburner for too long, since I had never promised it to anyone and never set a deadline for myself. It about the circulation of recordings of Osama bin Laden’s voice in the western (mostly U.S.) media and I’ve been working on it on and off since 2004. I finally sent it off last spring and now tt’s accepted for publication in Social Text and should appear in winter 2009. Here’s the thing: the essay was originally written in terms of “the present” but the “present” is so stretched out that it is no longer present but past. I wrote a footnote to try and wrap my head around it:
A few words on method are warranted here. […] I began collecting press coverage of bin Laden’s tapes in 2003, and gave my first talk on the subject in 2004. In subsequent revisions of the paper, the quantity of primary source material has declined as it is quite repetitive. For simplicity’s sake, I focused on the November 2002 tape because it was used in the run-up to the second Iraq war, because it was the subject of some controversy and because it was in many ways typical of tapes that appeared before and since. However, because drafts and revisions of the paper have essentially spanned the second Bush administration (indeed, this essay will likely appear in print only after the next U.S. president assumes the office, though I suspect that the next administration will not be so different in how it deals with bin Laden tapes, whatever its foreign policy), there is a bit of a mix between present and past tense in the wording. I have decided to allow some of the present-past tense conflicts remain in the writing, since I would otherwise be writing in a past tense to refer to things which are not yet over (which feels strange to do), even though they may well be in the past by the time you read this endnote. Such is the dilemma of cultural studies: the pace of writing and publishing is often slow enough that critiques of present conditions only appear once the present has receded into the past. Though a variety of alternatives to “traditional” scholarly outlets have appeared in recent years, the problem is constitutional and not simply technological, since it is more an issue of scholarly production than circulation.