In the vast cultural, economic, and political space of America, there is, on the one hand, the government, and on the other there is what governs us. There’s a lot of room between the strictures of law and the practicalities of daily life—a space occupied by family, bureaucrats, preachers, landlords, and doctors, by love, by money, or that thing you feel in the absence of money, by corporations, even by art. We can’t speak of empires today in the way that Edward Gibbon might. Even the new Star Wars is post-imperial. There is no monolith, no American Empire that provides all the rules, sets all the standards—what we have instead is only America, messy pastiche. So what could we rightly call a modern empire? A business, or a church, if it’s considerably big, or a natural resource, with its attendant corporate and environmental concerns? They can be powerful enough, and more than willing enough to wield that power. But this raises another question: Should we even give them that moniker? To crown a Wall Street tycoon or Silicon Valley technocrat an emperor might imbue them with power they don’t otherwise have. An exercise in rhetoric, maybe—but then again, how we define something influences how we see it, and, in turn, how we behave toward it.
In this special issue of Guernica, the third of four made possible through your generous support of our Kickstarter campaign, we offer a few panels from this sprawling imperial mosaic—its victims and beneficiaries, the merciful and the mercenary. You won’t find these empires on a map, tucked as they are behind the names of can’t-say-I’ve-been-there towns. Be on the lookout instead for an office complex, someplace awash in the soothing hum of data centers and microwave transmitters. Their borders are the perimeter of the boardroom table, the cut of a sharp suit. If, that is, you decide they exist at all.
In this issue: features from Richard Price, Laura Gottesdiener, Christopher Leonard, Jessica Machado, Ed Winstead, and the Guernica staff; interviews with Shannon Brownlee and Dr. Vikas Saini, Ben Wizner, and Anthony Pinn; an interview with artist Ben Davis; new fiction from Karen E. Bender and Constance Squires; and poetry from Danniel Schoonebeek and Rachel Richardson. We hope you enjoy the read.