On the 30th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, I was teaching at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, so I was able to announce to my American students (and I hope impress them in the process) that I knew exactly where I was and what I had been doing on the fateful day itself. As a seven-year-old boy I was helping my parents carry family belongings from one side of the road to the other as we moved across from number 65A to number 60, when suddenly a neighbour came running round the corner shouting “President Kennedy has been shot”.
Twenty years further on, and being over here rather than over there, the event itself inevitably feels more distant; and yet the 50th anniversary makes me reflect on how important the Kennedy assassination has been in cultural criticism. For as soon as you reject the Warren Commission’s report into it (one lone gunman firing three shots) you are caught up in the realm of conspiracy theory – which in its turn becomes one of the most important narrative paradigms of the postmodern. For the figuration of conspiracy is, in Fredric Jameson's words, ‘an attempt – “unconscious,” if you follow my loose, figural use of that otherwise individual term – to think a system [i.e. multinational late capitalism] so vast that it cannot be encompassed by the natural and historically developed categories of perception with which human beings normally orient themselves’. Conspiracy films and novels have their built-in limits, but they at least begin the process of mapping the unrepresentable system which is global capital itself.