Agitation at the margins: War, reportage, and their contradiction in Iraq

Isaac Blacksin


The confusions, intimacies, and distress of war are common to the experience of journalists reporting from war zones, yet the professional conventions of war reportage erase these experiences from the commodity journalists produce. Journalists are left struggling with a twinned burden: the violence that saturates journalistic life, and the demands of an authoritative narrative genre. Based on two years of fieldwork in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, this article tracks what the news must expel, assessing a tension between journalist and journalism as the pressures of war and its commodification bear down. Contrary to scholarship emphasizing the separation of experience from output, I show how the production of war news is precipitated by what is occluded from that news, finding in journalists’ dreams, jokes, and traumas an archive that both transgresses and perpetuates the reality represented in journalism. Experience and output, I argue, form a relationship essential to the practice of war reportage, and to the production of a social fantasy of what war is. What disturbs this dominant fantasy is displaced by war reportage but never disappeared.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/720817