Propaganda of the Dead: Terrorism and Revolution

by Mark Reilly


About the Author

9/11 Super Footage

Mark Reilly M.Phil., Ph.D., is a New York based web designer and developer, filmmaker, and teaches classes in digital compositing, filmmaking, and design at the New School, Columbia University, and New York University.

About the video

The series of images on the cover of this book are stills from a Super 8 film of the World Trade Center on September 11th 2001. I shot this film of the towers burning from the roof of my apartment building in Brooklyn. I feel this is a fitting image for a work entitled Propaganda of the Dead but it is also a personal landmark in this project, as I knew that day that the focus of my dissertation changed.

I had proposed a dissertation on the images of terrorism in the summer of 2000, finished drafting the table of contents in late August 2001. It focused on images of terrorism that I had watched growing up in the Republic of Ireland. I grew up in Dublin, one hundred miles from Belfast but experienced “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland only through the media. Growing up Catholic in the Republic of Ireland, my natural allegiance was to the my fellow Catholics in Northern Ireland. However, the government of Republic had long since distanced themselves officially from the Provisional IRA, even though the Republic was founded by Irish Republicans in a guerrilla war with Great Britain. I felt the raw emotive power of these images while understanding many of the nuances of the complex political situation. Like many of my countrymen, I avoided debate on these thorny issues of religion and politics. While I was studying history in university in Ireland, I was drawn to medieval history partially because it was before the reformation and avoided this intractable conflict between Catholic and Protestant in Ireland. Yet my masters thesis was on the heresy of Jan Hus—a pre-Luther reformer—who was burnt at the stake in 1415. For my dissertation I was originally interested in issues of the interactions between spectators and the spectacle; I thought of creating an interactive video art installation to coincide with my dissertation. For the content to be challenging for myself and the audience, I felt that these powerful emotive images of terrorism were the perfect source, although I was a little wary of reopening wounds that were only starting to heal with the Good Friday agreement peace deal that was signed in 1998.

On September 11th I realized that my original table of contents was no longer viable and the scope of my dissertation had to change. I knew that the scale and lethality of the attacks September 11th were new and frightening but felt that the ideas and motivations weren't. I quickly found that the field of terrorism studies was limited in both scope and historical research, focusing on the attacks themselves and not the intellectual history behind them. This text is my attempt to document the intellectual history of terrorism and demonstrate its relation to ideas of revolution.