Peter Watkins - Diary of an Unknown Soldier closeups

Stills from the film Diary of an Unknown Soldier by Peter Watkins (1959) / See past article

The second series of The Funambulist Papers, dedicated to the bodies is almost over (four more texts soon forthcoming), and the book that collects its essays is currently being edited. Today, we have the chance to read a text written by Derek Gregory (see our past conversation on Archipelago) about the concept of corpography, which attempts to give a reading of the war based on bodily experience. The relation between the First World War’s soldiers and the mud (see Peter Watkins’s first and fascinating film above) is one instance, but Derek particularly insists on the sonic aspect of the war: the sound of the guns and the bombs being simultaneously terrifying as an affect (see the descriptions by Mohammed Omer about last summer’s bombing of Gaza as a Wagner dreadful symphony), but also producing a knowledge informing bodies about their relation to the various agents of death surrounding them. In a way that conforms to the rest of his work, Derek complexifies our imaginary of the war and, by attempting to inscribe it in our flesh, contributes to make it more unbearable.

THE FUNAMBULIST PAPERS 57 /// Corpographies: Making Sense of Modern War 

By Derek Gregory

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Still from the film Concerning Violence by Göran Olsson (2013)

This article intends to give a personal critique of the usual interpretation of violence in the work of Frantz Fanon, in particular in light of the recent film Concerning Violence by Swedish director Göran Olsson. However, I highly recommend to read friend Bhakti Shringarpure’s own article about the same topic on Warscapes (June 17, 2014) since I could not possibly pretend to articulate these ideas better than she did back then. My approach will nevertheless be slightly different, insofar that it will attempt to link this notion of violence with the various corporeal references made by Fanon in both L’an V de la revolution algérienne (A Dying Colonialism, 1959) and Les damnés de la terre (The Wretched of the Earth, 1961), and noted by David Macey in Frantz Fanon: A Biography (Picador, 2000).

Fanon is well known to have stated numerous times that violence constitutes a necessary phase of decolonization. The interpretation made of such a statement is often systematized through an imaginary of guerrilla warfare, terrorism, and targeted assassinations. Olsson’s movie does not escape from the rule and provides us with fascinating footage of decolonizing combats in several colonized countries such as Angola, Congo, Guinea Bissau, Liberia or Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). This systematized interpretation does not go against Fanon’s understanding of violence; however, it takes its complexity away from it, in a similar manner than Jean-Paul Sartre did in his preface to The Wretched of the Earth, where he writes “killing a European is killing two birds with one stone, eliminating in one go oppressor and oppressed: leaving one man dead and the other man free.” Accusing Sartre to write from a position of absolute comfort is too simplistic; after all he received several death threats for his position regarding the decolonization of Algeria; yet, the absoluteness of statements made by a metropolitan European reveals the theoretical position (s)he occupies, when a situation on the field like Fanon’s forces to develop a discourse adapted to each situation’s complexity. If we were to oppose Fanon’s decolonizing violence and Gandhi’s decolonizing non violence, we would fall into the trap of an exclusively semantic contradiction. The Indian National Congress Party’s non violence consisted in the strategic refusal to use arms in the independence struggle; yet, the numerous blows at the colonial economy orchestrated in the 1930s and 1940s through the salt march, the local manufacturing of clothes (see past article) and other various forms of disobedience against the colonial legislation incarnated a violence in the radical disruption of the colonial mechanisms. This strategy of violent “non-violence” was not chosen because the population of India had more friendly feelings towards the British colonizers, than the Algerian did towards the French, or the Guinean towards the Portuguese; it was chosen because it was the most effective decolonizing method — of course this is easy to state retrospectively.

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This article is intended to continue a specific part of the research started with Weaponized Architecture: the consideration of a normative body when creating objects and architecture (see other articles at the end of this one). In order to do so, I would like to particularly examine the work of American industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss (1904-1972) in relation to the two malleable standardized bodies he invented and that he found fit to name Joe and Josephine (see scans of the chapter dedicated to them at the end of this article). These bodies are puppets whose threads linked to every part of their limbs are ubiquitous dimensions, each of them claiming to inform a reality.

A first degree of critique is fairly obvious: although these bodies attempt to be descriptive of as many bodies of a given society — I am however not aware of any non-Western example of such systematization — as possible, many others are not included within this standard, and will therefore be in position of discomfort when interacting with objects created based on this system: some will have to bend their heads to pass into a door, others will not reach the hanging handle in a subway car, examples are plethora and each of us have been experiencing it as children at the very least — remember how much effort was needed to climb up a stair!

A second level of this critique consists in affirming that these bodies ‘on paper’ do not actually find any incarnation. Their claim is to represent most bodies, but such a rationale implies a binary categorization between bodies that do conform to them, and bodies that do not. In reality, each body relates to these standard bodies through a specific degree of differentiation. Some bodies reach an extremely small degree of differentiation from these standards, some others incarnate a much higher one. Thinking in terms of degrees (intensities), rather than in terms of categories, allows us to examine the relationship of power between bodies, rather than separating them in two definite classes (the privileged that conforms to the standard and the unprivileged that does not). In other words, the power exercised by a body on another finds its actualization in a different degree of fitness to the environment they share. This means that the environment — whether built or not — and its multitude of ‘objects’ — whether designed or not — are that through which relationships of power are organized. Drawings of Joe and Josephine, as well as their other avatars (Le Corbusier’s Modulor, Ernst Neufert’s Architect’s Data, etc.), are thus creating systems that thoroughly contribute to this organization.

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Pablo Picasso;Pablo Picasso [Misc.]

Pablo Picasso drawing with light / Photograph by Gjon Mili (1949)

The second series of The Funambulist Papers continues around the topic of bodies. Today, I am glad and honored to welcome Grégoire Chamayou to this ‘assignment,’ after his three books (Vile Bodies (2008), Manhunts (2010), and Theory of the Drone (2013)) were discussed on this blog. The fifty-seventh text of the series, “Patterns of Life: A Very Short History of Schematic Bodies,” is an illustrated essay about bodies’ movement traceability, using Michel Foucault’s historical and philosophical method of genealogy. From the scientific domains of archaeology and ethology that particularly focused on animal itineraries, the evolution of traceability technology shifted to the capitalist and military realms. While the traceability of gesture and movement was able to both optimize the working gesture, as well as the consumer’s approach to the commodity, Western armies engaged in the so-called “war on terror,” also found interest in establishing patterns of normative behaviors contrasting with their suspicious anomalies. Grégoire’s article provides one more proof that the very act of cartographying can never be politically neutral, since it produces a knowledge about a subject, and thus a relationship of power between the cartographer and this same subject.

THE FUNAMBULIST PAPERS 57 /// Patterns of Life: A Very Short History of Schematic Bodies

by Grégoire Chamayou

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Ukraine Protesters Mirror

Protesters in Ukraine holding mirrors to show the police their own reflection / Photograph extracted from the lecture ““How to Dress up a Police?,” by Ethel Baraona Pohl at the seminar Missions and Missionaries at the Het Nieuwe Instituut (Rotterdam, Nov. 27, 2014)

This article starts on the bases of the lecture given by friend Ethel Baraona Pohl at the seminar Missions and Missionaries organized by Malkit Shoshan at the Het Nieuwe Instituut this last Thursday, as well as the conversation we had together subsequently for the need of Archipelago. Ethel’s lecture, entitled “How to Dress up a Police?,” particularly insisted on the sartorial aspect of the police along the 20th century, arguing that the process of militarization of the police of the world has substantially accelerated this last decade. Both through the lecture and the Archipelago conversation, she presented the economic logic at work behind this militarization process and the necessary production of a fearful environment associated to it. As she says, the use of the distributed weaponry to the police retroactively legitimates their purchase in the first place. We can also insist in the philosophical founding of such logic. The very fact that a given police owns anti-riot equipment (flash balls, tear gas, etc.) stigmatizes the speculative vision that a state develops, imagining in advance, an antagonism of crowds that fundamentally disagree with its policies. Such an anticipative vision certainly undermines the democratic claims that many of these same states pretend to embody.

The images we receive from Ferguson, MO illustrate the result of the United States’ martial policies, imported nationally after their international implementation. Many articles have been written about how equipment used by the US army in Iraq and Afghanistan finds its way back in the United States through its use by the police. Many things have been also said about the contrast between soldiers’ experience vis-a-vis this same equipment and the police officers’ irresponsible use of weaponry (aiming guns directly at bodies for instance), but insisting too much on this aspect of things might implicitly legitimize their use by the US army in the first place. Many things could also be said about the privatization and commodification of ‘security’ around the world, from the American Universities’ campuses — I am thinking of University of Chicago in particular — to the use of private contractors in wars (the American-UK war in Iraq being its paradigm).

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OWS Leopold Lambert

A  daily General Assembly at Occupy Wall Street (October 2011)
/ Photograph by Léopold Lambert

This second episode dedicated to The Invisible Committee‘s book, To Our Friends (Semiotext(e) & La Fabrique, 2014) will consist in a (too short) analyse of what we did wrong with Occupy Wall Street during the two months of occupation of Zuccotti Park in New York (September-November 2011). This is something we started to do a few months ago with Pamela Brown during our conversation for Archipelago (March 2014), examining how the discursive and behavioral mechanisms of racial domination never really dissipated within Occupy’s working groups. This examination is taken further by the analysis of the movement by the Invisible Committee, who simply affirms that things started to go wrong when occupy tried “to govern.”

The third chapter of To Our Friends finds its title (like every others) in a graffiti found across the world. This specific one, found in Mexico, writes “They want to force us to govern, we won’t yield to this provocation,” and defines as such the topic of the chapter. For the Invisible Committee, the paradigm of Occupy’s mistake can be seen in the attribution of a $29,000 budget to allow twenty of its members to fly to Egypt in order to help supervising the regularity of the Egyptian elections. Electing a parliament was however not the aspiration of Tahrir revolutionaries and the idea that it might have been, is a symptom of Western belief for representative democracy. The Invisible Committee goes further however, this is not a question antagonizing representative democracy against direct democracy like we attempted to practice it on Zuccotti Park; it antagonizes democracy as system altogether. Describing the various decisional general assemblies organized on a daily basis by movements like the Spanish Indignados or Occupy, the Invisible Committee writes the following unequivocal paragraph (my translation):

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Mexico City demonstration nov 20 2014

Massive demonstration on the Zócalo in Mexico City (Nov. 20, 2014)

As announced in the previous article, I will dedicate three ‘episodes’ to the new book written by The Invisible Committee, To Our Friends.  The book is forthcoming in its English version at Semiotext(e) — its is already published by La Fabrique in French, its original version — and the idea of writing a few chapters about it before it does, like Derek Gregory did with his twelve articles about Grégoire Chamayou’s Theory of the Drone (also published by La Fabrique in its original version), seems potentially useful. In 2007, the Invisible Committee had published The Coming Insurrection (Semiotext(e), La Fabrique), which was ‘prophetizing’ the numerous revolts and revolutions that the world has, and continue to, experience since then. Making a critique of the book is not what I want to do here, but I however have to note the ‘freshness’ of the sharp critique the Invisible Committee makes of our world. Throughout it, “radicals” (for their competitive and moralistic sense of “who is the most radical”) and “pacifists” (for their acceptance of their defeat before even starting the struggle) are being as critiqued as the designers of the counter-insurrection, who, at least, embrace the means of their domination. The very informed critique of the way a movement like Occupy has evolved is extremely useful to me, for instance, and I will dedicate the second episode to this problem.

Today, I would like to link two distant paragraphs in the book for the symmetry they imply. Both consider the bodies gathered in the street and examine the two opposite forces (insurrectionist and counter-insurrectionist) that attempts to produce these bodies within their respective narrative. While the external narrative attempt to make these bodies appear as an antagonist to society — the notion of society as we understand it, is critiqued at length throughout the book — the immanent one attempts to produce an insurrectionist movement.

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Comic Zombies

Excerpt from Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2012)

I am currently reading To Our Friends (La Fabrique, Semiotext(e), 2014) (by that I mean that I started it yesterday evening and will finish it today!), the ‘sequel’ of The Coming Insurrection (see 2009 article). Even though I was expecting no less from the Invisible Committee, I remain mesmerized by the sharp precision that it uses in its description of today’s political situation; but I will write more about that soon in a forthcoming article. In the meantime, I wanted to dedicate a text about a point spotted in the first chapter of the book. It indicated that, in 2012, the American Federal Health Institute, also known as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – note the precautionary plural of “centers,” already telling in its speculative emergency strategy — released a short comic book foreseeing a ‘zombie virus’ in the United States. Entitled Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic, this comic claims to consider zombies as an entertaining excuse to a generalized prevention program for (all?) the American population. We could ponder a moment on the necessity that Western governments seems to currently have to produce graphic novels in order to distillate their violent policies through an apparently benign medium (see the graphic novel developed by the Australian secretary of immigration to prevent Pakistani migrants to attempt moving into the country), and we could balance them with others, conceived against these very same policies like the one created by friend Tings Chak about Canadian migrant detention centers (see past article).

The argument I would like to make is however different here. As explained in a previous article entitled “The Zombie Is a Human You Have the Right to Kill” (July 2013), I was reflecting upon an article written by friend Gastón Gordillo (December 2012) about the imaginary provided by the film World War Z (Marc Forster, 2013) that was depicting such a ‘zombie pandemic.’ The argument that both Gastón for World War Z and the Invisible Committee for Preparedness 101 are making — and others have made in the past — is that beyond the biological contamination that the zombie carries, what is really at stake in this figure is political contamination, and the revolution that comes with it. In this regard, it cannot be innocent that the zombie is the Haitian creole figure of a dead slave whose soul never went back to Africa; the fear of the insurgent black body is still operative. Similarly, it cannot be innocent that in both World War Z, and Preparedness 101, the protagonists are middle class heteronormative white couples with kids (WWZ) or a dog (P101). By “cannot be innocent,” I do not mean these ‘creative’ decisions were necessarily made consciously, but rather that the imaginary that was used to produce these works is one that corresponds to the dominant normative narrative.

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“In public space, no one can wear an outfit dissimulating the face. (“Law of October 11, 2010)”

We can no longer allow others to turn our mucous membranes, our skin, all our sensitive areas into occupied territory—territory controlled and regimented by others, to which we are forbidden access. (Félix Guattari, “To Have Done with the Massacre of the Body,” in Three Billion Perverts: Great Encyclopedia of Homosexuals, Recherches no. 12, 1973.)

In the passage above, Félix Guattari describes marginalized bodies as “occupied territory.” An occupied territory is characterized by its administration exercised by a foreign institution that regularly uses it coercive power to re-affirm its absolute control of surfaces that do not legitimately belongs to it. This description corresponds well to many instances where female bodies have been captured from their own decisive power, to be administrated by male policies and practices. The recent deaths of thirteen women in the province of Chhattisgarh (India) after having been surgically operated in the context of a governmental program of sterilization (accomplished in camps) reminds us of the corporeal effects that global demographic policies entail. These policies operate exclusively on female bodies in their systematic association to reproduction, when male bodies’ full sexuality seems to necessitate to be savaged.

Similarly the tests of virginity accomplished by the Egyptian police on female body as described in Scott Long‘s excellent article “Virginity Tests, Vile Bodies: Stories from Sisi’s Egypt” (Nov 11, 2014), take part in the administration of female bodies by male policies. Long describes the story of a young Egyptian woman who was accompanying her male friend to a police office last week. The police then searched her purse — thus making of another intimate surface, an occupied territory — found condoms and threatened her to charge her with prostitution. She was then forced to do a virginity test. The name of virginity tests does not merely express the corporeal violence they  exercise. Although they may sound like blood tests or other medical procedures, they consist in reality in the subject’s stripping and in the direct examination of her vagina (by a female officer in this case). The capture of the female body is manifest here. This young woman was already at the police office and had no choice but to submit to this test: her body was scrutinized in its bareness and offered to the moral judgment of a patriarchal society.

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Otto Lilienthal in 1893

A good way to articulate thoughts consists in a dialogue with friends; that is what I intend to do here, by basing my reflection about the Spinozist body on the article written yesterday by anthropologist Gastón Gordillo (see our Archipelago conversation) on his blog, Space and Politics. Entitled “Passion for Terrain,” his text aims at taking part of a larger work around this fascinating concept of terrain. In this regard, it ought to be noted that Gastón and Stuart Elden (see our Archipelago conversation) will host two sessions about this concept at the Chicago Association of Geographers next April.

Gastón’s article uses the example of wingsuit flyers in order to illustrate an extreme relationship between the human body and the terrain, since these suits allow bodies to fly at high speed at a short distance to the ground/terrain, while adopting its form. He uses the Spinozist scream “We don’t know what a body can do” (see past article) to address these new corporeal possibilities and establishes a ‘non-compliant’ corollary in the form “We do know what a human body can’t do: escape the physical force that the planet imposes on it through gravity and survive the impact of a fall” (Gordillo, 2014). In this following article, I would like to argue that this is only true insofar that we have a clear idea of what a body is or, rather, of where a body stops. By this, I mean that it is only our confused understanding that creates the strict separation of the body and its wingsuit or, even, the aircraft where it sits.

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dogtooth weird dance

Still from Dogtooth (2009) by Yorgos Lanthimos

The Funambulist Papers series — the second volume will be published in the first part of 2015 — continues today. I am happy to supply some ‘fresh air’ in the middle of my obsessive writing! This fresh air is brought to us by Ina Karkani who is a film and literature scholar at Stockholm University. Her text,  “Framing the Weird Body in Contemporary European Cinema,” brings a cinematographic approach to this series dedicated to the question of the body. Through the three recent Greek films, Dogtooth (see past article), Alps by Yorgos Lanthimos and Attenberg by Athina Rachel Tsangaris, she attempts to examine the notion of “weird body” as a new form of cinematographic corporeal representation. The very notion of weirdness when it comes to the body is, of course, a jest insofar that no body could possibly be anything else than weird, i.e. in more or less strong discrepancy with the norm.

Framing the Weird Body in Contemporary European Cinema: Dogtooth, Attenberg and Alps

by Ina Karkani

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Gaza cucumbers nov 6 2014

Gaza cucumbers transported towards the West Bank (Gisha, November 6, 2014)

As occupied East Jerusalem currently provides us with more images of violence between the (armed) Israeli police and the (unarmed) Palestinian locals, and while a Jewish orthodox organization called for a provocative demonstration today on the Dome of the Rock’s esplanade, it would be once again easy to focus only on this spectacular and ‘photogenic’ violence, when the normal one, triggered by the occupation on a daily basis, continues. As argued in a recent paper, forgetting the “normal violence” only perpetuates the status quo, since the occupation can thus perpetuate itself between peaks of spectacular violence and periods of mediatic calm. This ‘calm’ is characterized by the ‘atmospheric’ nature of the violence, inescapable and continuous like the air that surrounds our bodies.

This article intends to examine one of this atmospheric aspect: the dependency of Palestinian economy on the Israeli one. Yesterday, the Israeli NGO Gisha (Legal Center for Freedom of Movement) announced that after seven years of Israeli ban on food produced in Gaza for the West Bank, a truck had been authorized to transport ten tons of cucumbers from the former to the latter. The fact that such a small cargo could be that newsworthy should certainly makes us wonder about the way the occupation also implements itself at an economic level. Thinking of the latter simply in its ‘negativity’ (i.e. its propensity to damage Palestinian lives) would be missing an important aspect of the Israeli strategy in this matter, and would therefore prevent us from seeing why Israel has deep interests in the daily exercise of the occupation. Instead, we need to think of this strategy as the colonial production of economy in favor of the colonizer. Colonies were not merely characterized by the take over of resourceful territories for the colonial empires, but also by the capture of nations to be used as exclusive and dependent consumers of colonial products — the tax itself being one of them. The implement of the colonizer’s currency in the colonies (like it is the case in the Palestinian territories) is also instrumental to this dependency.

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TOPIE IMPITOYABLE: Les politiques corporelles du vêtement, du mur et de la rue

Lecture recorded at L’Iselp in Brussels on October 16, 2014. The title of the presentation is the same than the book (English, French, and Italian) that should be published in the first part of 2015. Thank you to Florence Cheval for the kind invitation.

Go to the lecture’s page on Iselp’s website.

Yoro Park 05 - Photo by Leopold Lambert

Elliptical Field – Site of Reversible Destiny Yoro by Arawaka and Madeline Gins (1995)
Photograph by Léopold Lambert

I had recently the great chance to (re)visit two of the three architectures designed by Arakawa and Madeline Gins in Japan, namely Yoro Park in Gifu prefecture and the Mitaka Lofts in Tokyo. Being familiar with their vision and work for several years and having been collaborating with their office for a year and half does not prevent me from being struck each time I physically experience their architecture. In it, the body is continuously stimulated by the situations created around it and with it. I however already wrote many times about their work and dedicated one of the Funambulist Pamphlets (volume 08) to it, and I hope not to repeat myself in the following article. The main argument that I would like to establish through it, concerns the political interpretation of the body that this work provides.

On the contrary of many architectural and political discourses, Arakawa and Gins’s is constructed much less on what it claims to know, than on what it embraces to ignore. It appears more and more to me that all forms of corporeal violence (racism, misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, etc.) can be said to be built upon a complete knowledge of what a body is. In other words, essentializing a race or a gender, whether to value it or denigrating it – it is ultimately the same thing – would constitute in saying “I know what a body is.” The architectural corollary of such an hypothesis is that an architecture designed through a specific (conscious or not) idea of what a body is – the standards set by Le Corbusier, Ernst Neufert or Henry Dreyfuss are only the most explicit visions of this idea – inevitably creates an appropriate environment for such corporeal violence to take place.

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Melilla 2014

Mellila, October 22, 2014 / Photograph by José Palazón

Making a photograph speak is a common journalistic exercise, yet it is a perilous one, since much of the image’s story remains unseen on it – the outside of the frame, the position of the photographer for instance. The photograph above, taken in the Spanish enclave of Melilla (North Morocco) on October 22, 2014, despite (or because) its striking symbolism, does not escape to the rule. The flattening of perspective we can see on it suggests that the photograph has been taken from a long distance of its subjects, with the help of a large range zoom. When attempting to situates it scene on google earth, we can realize that the wall separating the Moroccan and Spanish territory is not situated in the golf course itself, but actually slightly further on a road at its periphery. The visual encounter of the migrants climbing up the wall, the policeman, and the two golfers is therefore not as direct as it suggests. This photograph, like any other, constructs a vision that is to be slightly dissociated from a self-sustaining truth discourse.

When we associate it to a relative knowledge of the situation it attempts to recount, we can however start to use its symbolical power as a vessel of our arguments. What this image shows us is only a few of the many African migrants who regularly attempt to reach Melilla by climbing up its high wall, which materializes a part of the Southern border of what I called “Fortress North” in the past (when analyzing another part of this Southern border). The contrast between the urgency and the risk taken by these migrants and the comfortable casualness of the two Spanish golfers is striking. It is even more so, when we come to realize that the very principle of golf is to insure that only a limited amount of people is able to practice it. The price of golfing, like any other luxurious product, includes a part essentially dedicated to making it prohibitive to the largest amount of people. It is thus difficult not to make a parallel with the western world whose claimed “problem of immigration” might just well be that the golf course is becoming slightly too crowded to practice it comfortably.

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Avis d'expulsion

On March 29, 2013, Stéphane Raffalli, the mayor of Ris-Orangis, a 25,000-inhabitant town of the South suburbs of Paris, issued a municipal order to evict and destroy a shantytown where more than 200 Romanian migrants (including Romas and non-Romas) lived. This municipal order certainly strikes by its stylistic prose, whose study gave birth to a collectively-written book entitled Considérant qu’il est plausible que de tels événements puissent à nouveaux survenir: Sur l’art municipal de détruire un bidonville (Considering that It Is Plausible that Such Events Could Occur Again: On the Municipal Art to Destroy a Shantytown, Post-Editions, 2014). The municipal order uses the dry administrative language, yet articulates it around an anaphora of the terms VU (observing, used 21 times) and CONSIDERANT (considering, used 75 times) at the beginning of each paragraph (see the entire order at the end of this article), thus mixing poetry and administrative jargon in an unprecedented and disturbing manner. Of course, the order’s arguments consist in enumerating the dangers from which this population should be saved but racism against the Roma population (and other people who could be interpreted as being part of it) is now wearing the bare minimum of disguise in France. The fact that this order has been written against this population renders its literary style closer to a prosecutor’s diatribe than a benevolent discourse from a mayor supposed to consider — the word is far from innocent — the life of bodies who live on municipal land.

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A few weeks ago, I was asked to write a text for The Fall Semester, an in situ (Miami) and online symposium that occurred last week. I figured that it would be a good opportunity to make a synthesis of my thoughts/maps about the recent Israeli military massacre on Gaza as being ‘only’ a spectacular episode of a continuous siege. There is not much new information for people who had been kind enough to read the articles day by day (listed at the end of this text), but I am hoping that this synthesis could be helpful to others. The Fall Semester’s guest speakers were Nick Gelpi, Jean-François Lejeune, Nick Srnicek, Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss, Grey Read, Jan Verwoert, Benjamin Bratton, Michael Hardt. Its online contributors were Jason Dittmer, Keller Easterling, Matteo Pasquinelli, François Roche, Nathalie Rozencwajg, Leandro Silva Medrano, Marion von Osten, and myself (each essay can be downloaded on the symposium’s website).

The Continuous Siege: Spectacular and Normal Territorial Violence in Gaza ///

As the Israeli bombs stop raining on Gaza and, with them, the outrage that this recent chapter of the continuous siege on this small land of Palestinian territory triggered, the last thing that we should wish is that things “go back to normal.” The normal is unacceptable, since it is made of the same violence than the bombings, only in a less spectacular manner. Throughout this text, I propose to use the oxymoronic phrase of “normal violence” in order to describe the (infra)structural subjection imposed on the Gaza inhabitants.

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The Palestinian government of Ramallah in May 2012

In the recent days, both Sweden and the United Kingdom parliaments moved ahead to give recognition to a State of Palestine. What sounds like good news is actually not one, regardless of the good or bad intentions of the members of these parliaments. One can actually interpret this decision as a wish from Western countries to ‘wash their hands’ over what they still call the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, precipitating a future that has very little to offer, rather than the profound recognition for the legitimacy of the Palestinian cause. The recognition of a State of Palestine understands the latter as fundamentally separated from the Israeli one. It recognizes the pre-1967 borders as being the ones that bases the territorial separation of both states with the probable admission of a special status for East Jerusalem, which already indicates a fundamental failure in this scenario — one could think that the capital of this new state would rather be displaced to Ramallah. The “two-state solution” is certainly not a solution as it claims to be. Furthermore, as I wrote in the past, we should be fundamentally cautious when encountering the notion of solution: they imply a form of “end of history” and allow the worst to happen providing that it leads to this end — again, this is not innocent that the Nazis’ official denomination of the holocaust was “the solution of the Jewish problem.” What I would like to argue in this short article is that the establishment of a State of Palestine would in fact correspond to an update of the 1993 Oslo Accords that saw a Palestinian bourgeoisie and political elite emerge and take advantage of the occupation, rather than lead the Palestinian struggle to a just situation.

As I wrote as commentary to a map of the region without borders, the scenario of a State of Palestine existing aside a State of Israel, despite its lot of simulacrum of immediate victories (the eviction of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and in the most optimistic scenario, in East Jerusalem too, for example), would crystallize fundamental issues. The first one is the most obvious one: the separation of the population of Gaza with the one of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The high contrast of distance makes the comparison with the two territories under Pakistani sovereignty — one that became Bangladesh in 1971 — at its creation (1947) difficult to be made, yet it is certainly present in historical filigree. Scenarios of a road linking both territories have been elaborated (see past article) but the precariousness of such an infrastructure and the potentiality for absolute control by the State of Israel cannot be possibly ignored. For this reason, the so-called “two-state solution” awfully envisions an actual future three-state situation.

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George Zimmerman Trial

Trayvon Martin’s hoodie as a piece of evidence during George Zimmerman’s trial
(Gary W. Green / EPA / June 25, 2013)

Text written last year for a publication that finally refused it ///

Our bodies do not form a society in a vacuum. They are embedded within a multitude of designed elements of various scales that all participate to a certain degree to these relationships of power. Urban design and architecture often play a tremendous role in exacerbating normative process, but this is also the case of another design element: clothing. Clothes are what Mimi Thi Nguyen calls the “epidermalization” of the public body (see our first conversation for Archipelago): they compose an epidermic surface that comes as an additional layer subjected to recognition and reaction in regard to the norm, as well as normalized expectations regarding the body. This is how a piece of cloth like the hoodie crystalized a set of racist and social expectations in Trayvon Martin’s murder by George Zimmerman in February 2012 as Mimi introduced in a lecture entitled “The Hoodie as a Sign, Screen, Expectation, and Force” (July 2013). The hoodie’s role was so crucial in this tragic event that it was part of the forensic items presented by the prosecutors during the trial of Zimmerman in June 2013 – which creates other problems that I attempted to address in the article “Fashion Forensic: The Cloth as (pre)judicial Evidence“. This cloth was even discussed to be acquired by the Smithsonian as an important piece for National Museum of African American History and Culture – this information, although denied by the Smithsonian, is more problematic for the spectacularization of a tragedy than for the idea that Martin’s hoodie is linked to the African American history.

Racist and social expectations materialize in the context of modern policing, which no longer restrain itself to investigation and suppression but now dedicates most of its activity to anticipation and prevention, something relatively new in the historical existence of the police. Anticipation implies a fantasized narrative informed by a collective and individual imaginary. In order to inform the narrative, it builds upon a set of expectations based on characteristics proper to the body itself, but also to clothing and its normative properties. Because of the necessary participation of collective and personal subjectivities to the process of anticipation, we could say that this particular function of the police and its privatized versions is fundamentally discriminatory. These subjectivities are informed by the norm and, through the policing processed, reinforced in their essentialization.

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Chenonceau WWII

When visiting for the second time the Chateau de Chenonceau (Indre et Loire, France) last week, I could not help but notice an important aspect of the chateau’s history in the sum of information given by the brochure. Usually known as part of the “Chateaux de la Loire,” all built during the 16th century in the region of Tours, Chenonceau has the particularity of bridging the Cher river, which has been implementing the demarcation line between occupied and free France between July 1940 and November 1942. During this period, France was effectively separated into two parts (see map below), one occupied by the Nazis including the cities of Paris, Lille, Nantes, and Bordeaux, as well as the two third of the resources of the country, and the other called “free” whose government based in Vichy has been instrumental in their collaboration with the Nazis, including in the massive arrests of the Jewish population that was subsequently deported to the extermination camps. Despite this collaboration, the French resistance had less trouble organizing in the ‘Free Zone’ and people susceptible to be arrested by the Gestapo were able to find a relative shelter South of the demarcation line.

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