Subject redacted: 9/11 and the silenced space of dissent

Suchitra Vijayan in conversation with  Kalyan Nadimiti


Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s political memoir Guantanamo Diary (2015) raises urgent questions about the biopolitics of dissent in post-9/11 America. Long withheld from the public as a form of “presumptive classification,” the memoir presents an unwitting literary device authored by U.S. military censors: the black bar of redaction. Far from silencing Slahi’s narrative, the blank space of redaction heightens the narrative’s desire to present a grim tale of American militarism and its regime of Islamophobia. While many official details of Slahi’s internment remain hidden under the twenty-five hundred redactions, the blank space of suppressed information offers the chance for an ironic reversal of state power, one that creates a hyperbolic mode of representing both the fragility and necessity of dissent.

Similarly, Iranian American poet Solmaz Sharif’s debut collection Look: Poems (2016) reconfigures the blank space of redaction by using bureaucratic vocabulary from the U.S. Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms. Like Slahi, Sharif meditates on the brutal intimacies naturalized by America’s perpetual wars. Querying the aesthetic and political form of dissent, the talk suggests that both Slahi and Sharif uncover a new register of dissent by writing from within the American military-industrial complex.

Reading list:
Agamben, Giorgio. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Stanford University Press,1998.
Dayan, Colin. The Story of the Cruel and the Unusual. MIT Press, 2007. Boston Review Book Series.
Devji, Faisal. Landscapes of the Jihad: Militancy, Morality, Modernity. Cornell University Press,2005.
Puar, Jasbir. Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times. Duke University Press,2007.
Goyal, Yogita. “The Genres of Guantanamo Diary: Postcolonial Reading and the War on Terror.” Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry. Vol. 4 No. 1 (2017).
Scarry, Elaine. The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World. Oxford University Press, 1985.
Sharif, Solmaz. Look: Poems. Graywolf Press, 2016. Siems, Larry.
The Torture Report: What the Documents Say About America’s Post-9/11 Torture Program. OR Books, 2012.
Slahi, Mohamedou Ould. Guantánamo Diary. Edited by Larry Siems. Little Brown, 2015. Guantánamo Diary: Restored Edition. Back Bay Books, 2017.
Other Material

Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s recommends reading Poet Ahmad Matar’s poems.
Guantánamo Memory Project (
Slahi’s handwritten manuscript (the complete handwritten, redacted text is available on the book’s website,, a timeline, notes on the text, and an editor’s introduction and acknowledgements as well as a final author’s note.