I am happy to announce that the twelve first volumes of The Funambulist Pamphlets, a series of small books collecting articles written for the blog, will be published by Punctum Books as part of the CTM Documents Initiative series all along this summer. Such an opportunity was made possible by Eileen Joy, director of Punctum Books and Ed Keller, associate dean at Parsons The New School of Design and director of the Center for Transformative Media; I am very grateful for the trust they put in me. This series of Pamphlets has twelve volumes for now but will be able to expand in the future, it will allows a collection of article by themes as well as a reading of them in a correct(ed) English (thanks to Anna Kłosowska and Eileen Joy). Following Punctum’s manifesto for an open-access to knowledge that I could not approve more, they will be downloadable for free as PDF and purchasable in printed version on demand. The volumes will be released one by one (normally one per week) according to the following order:
What is wrong with these pictures? Start maybe by looking at them all. The landscapes that they show are beautiful and seem to be almost untouched by humans. The problem is that they are taken where Palestinian villages used to exist before 1948. Five days ago was the 65th anniversary of the Nakba (the catastrophe in Arabic), the day that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had to flee from their land when the State of Israel was established. These photographs are from the website of the association Zochrot that attempts to familiarize Israeli people with the tragic consequences that their country originated, advocate for a Palestinian right to return (see past article about it) and, hope for a bi-national reconciliation. In this regard, Zochrot has established a map (in Hebrew only) giving an inventory of the Palestinian villages that were evacuated and those that have been destroyed after 1948.
Sometimes their destruction led space to the new Israeli towns but as these photographs reveal, it was a much more profound destruction than a “simple” take over. Palestinian villages have been purely annihilated to the very last stone. Such a clear act of negating the presence of a civilization before the existence of Israel is even more shocking and disturbing as it occurred only a few years after the industrialized Nazi death machine against the Jewish people – let us not forget the gypsies, homosexuals, handicapped and communists either. Ruins of these villages would have told a narrative involving the Palestinian existence prior to the state of Israel and would have implied their evacuation from it. This narrative was apparently not part of the newly born State that got rid of it through the violent erasing of this historical tracks. The ruin implies a tragic situation, but the negation to the right to the ruin goes even further: it is an absolute re-writing of history as it attempts to erase a part of it (it is understood here as the factual history, not the interpretation of it, also named history).
The space beyond the walls: Defensive “a-legal” sanctuaries
(originally written for the Wheelwright Prize – failed)
Considered purely in the abstract, the law appears to be a tool which makes strict categorizations of human actions and behaviors as either legal or illegal, just or unjust. Concomitantly, the abstraction of the law corresponds with a similar spatial abstraction in which territories are defined diagrammatically. This is true as far as the sovereignty of states is concerned but also for all architectural plans; they diagrammatically organize space into distinct territories of jurisdiction. In each case, law and diagram are reduced to their abstract lines. Once manifested as physical architecture, however, such strict delineation becomes far more ambiguous. Which law is applied in the space of a wall, the space of a border or the space of a contested zone? These spaces are legal anomalies and may be understood as the architectural manifestation of what Legal Philosophy Professor Hans Lindahl calls a-legality. Such in-between spaces seem at once to underwrite the law as well as to contradict it. In this research project, I propose to investigate specific cases in which the architecture of such “a-legal zones” is strategically used as a space of sanctuary from coercive forces. My argument insists that an “a-legal architecture” is specifically a defensive one as it gives itself the means to preserve such a status.
The immanent domain (see third letter) – Dharavi in Mumbai / Photograph by Léopold Lambert (2009)
FIRST LETTER (New York on July 12th 2012) ///
I read your essay Archiving Burroughs: Interzone, Law, Self-Medication with attention and appreciated, as usual, the way you manage to link narrative, law and space all together. I do think however that we should keep this text for a little bit later in our conversation as its specificity might make us miss the bases of the discussion that we would like to have about law and architecture. In this regard, I would like to ingenuously start by stating some obvious facts which are always good to remember for such a discussion.
Law, understood as a human artifact, constitutes an ensemble of regulations which have been explicitly stated in order to categorize behaviors in two categories: legal and illegal. In order to do so, it expects from every individual subjected to its application a full knowledge of its content in order to moralize and held accountable attitudes that are either respectful or transgressive towards it.
Law is undeniably related to space as it requires a given territory with precise borders to be able to implement itself. Nothing easier to understand this fact than to observe in which space one is allowed to smoke and in which one is not. It also includes within this territory smaller zones of exclusion, from the corner of the class room to the penitentiary, in which another form of the law -supposedly a more restrictive one- is applied for individuals who, through an active refusal of specific parts of it, are to be separated from the rest of society. Those individuals, when captured by law enforcer instances, are brought within those zones of exclusion and are being held in them for a given period of time provisioned by law itself.
Destruction of the Glencairn Tower in Motherwell (near Glasgow) / Photograph by Sam Hardie
Explosions are so ubiquitous in Hollywood Cinema, and the emotion is so intense when one torn-down reality that we do not quite seem to realize what they really are. In 2007, Mike Davis was trying to historicize the car bomb and its urban consequences in his book Buda’s Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb (Verso, 2007) but his analysis was legitimately anthropocentric, which I want to avoid in this specific article. “Leaving the human” can sometimes be risky as it potentially leads to the depoliticization of things – depolitics being a form of politics too and a rather totalitarian one – but it also allows to think of a better understanding of the material world in which we live, and from which we exist as a body.
What is an explosion at the pure physics level? A bomb is an apparatus that contains folded within itself the potential liberation of an important volume of energy in the form of an exothermic reaction. Such a volume of energy and the speed with which it gets released provoke a sudden disaggregation of the material bodies (animate or inanimate) that surrounds its center. Insisting on the suddenness or the violence of the explosion would be another anthropocentric way to consider it as it would necessarily associate the scale of time in which it occurs to the scale of time of human perception. In other words, the Big Bang could be considered as a sudden explosion at a certain scale of time even though, 14 billions years later, the universe is still affected by its original release of energy. In a materialist interpretation, the speed to which an explosion is effectuated is therefore irrelevant and such an “event” can be compared to any other modification of matter like erosion or entropy. If we define destruction by the operation in which physical bodies are being “broken down” into smaller material assemblages, we can however define an explosion as a destructive transformation of matter without being anthropocentric.
Antic Greek Statuette of a Hermaphrodite
I have been evoking the work of Beatriz Preciado a few times in the last year, the most notably reference being the wonderful text she wrote for LOG 25 (see past article), entitled Architecture as a Practice of Biopolitical Disobedience in which she was exposing the theoretical bases for a deep analysis of the society of control that she decided to call (and therefore orient) Pharmaco-pornographic society. The latter is implementing its control by the elaboration of apparatuses that modify and normalize sexuality within the context of biopolitics and capitalist strategies. The contraceptive pill is for her, the paradigmatic (designed) object of this society: a product elaborated by the pharmaceutic industry – which, for her, constitute the climax of capitalism – that is voluntarily ingested by millions of women (often in ignorance of their secondary effects) and that, by modifying their internal biology is able to construct a politics of demographic control as well as a normalization of sexuality by the hegemonic heterosexual imaginary that it implements.
Of course, just like Judith Butler (see recent article about this topic), Beatriz Preciado is not interested in merely bringing two more genders (gay and lesbians) to the level of normalization: there is a strong will to absolutely undo gender by subverting it through its very mechanisms of production. This is the topic of her book, Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era (already exists in Spanish and French, soon to be published in English). In it, B. Preciado articulates a theoretical time cartography of the formation of this pharmacopornographic society with autobiographical experiences including the main object of the book: her daily ingestion of doses of testosterone during eight months and the observation of her body getting modified by it. Along the chapters, she insists on the fact that she does not accomplish this experiment in the goal of changing her sex/gender but rather in order to develop a micropolitics of ambiguity, a zone in which she would be neither man nor woman, nor straight, nor gay, nor a lesbian, an unrecognizable body in a society that bases its control on principles of recognition.
The recent manhunt of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in Boston was probably quite shocking to many non-Americans – and probably some Americans too -, for the anachronism it constituted. The latter was caused by the ability for a Police to empty an entire city and therefore implements a sort of state of emergency, as well as the “march of the heroes”, the multitude of police officers acclaimed by the crowd after they arrested their prey. There is a profound feudalism in such absoluteness and one has the right to wonder what motivates this disturbing joy.
Let us focus on the urban condition that contextualize this manhunt. I have been repeatedly writing in the past, each house through its impermeability due to the implementation of private property is susceptible to become a prison for the bodies living inside of it in the sudden legal implementation of a quarantine. For an important part of Boston, the quarantine was not implemented stricto sensu but it was highly recommend to each resident to stay inside and the context of fear created by the ubiquitous media made such a recommendation a quasi-order. In the areas of Boston where the police and army was actually deployed, the quarantine was very much effectuated as this article illustrates: Looking through the windows seems to have been prohibited and enforced through the threats of weapons.
While this event was unfolding I was thinking of the descriptions that Michel Foucault makes in his seminar Abnormal (Les Anormaux) at the College de France (1975) of a Medieval/Renaissance city when contaminated by the Plague. Foucault distinguishes two things historically: the negative reaction to cases of leprosy in the same city that consists in the effective exclusion of the sick bodies from it, to the point that they are declared socially dead; and the positive (in the sense that there is an inclusion) reaction to the Plague that provokes a state of emergency and the absolute reorganization of the city according to a quadrillage which has been not so well translated into partitioning. Quadrillage involves indeed a sort of physical or virtual partitioning of a space, but it also implies a detailed, systematic and extensive examination of this same space by a controlling entity. Such an action is thoroughly described by Foucault in his class of January 15th 1975 in this same seminar: