I am very happy today to present a new episode of the second series of Funambulist Papers dedicated to the question of the body. This series will be running until the summer and should be very exciting for the extreme quality of its guest writers. Today’s guest is Dan Mellamphy, Lecturer at Centre for the Study of Theory and Criticism (Western University) and close friend of the Center for Transformative Media whose publication series includes the Funambulist pamphlets and papers. In this text, mysteriously entitled “AV (Anthropocosmogonic Vastupurushamanism),” Dan plays with the idea often developed here that the lines traced by architects (and any other transcendental actors of architecture) impose a violence on the bodies that they subjugate. He considers these lines (which bind bodies to create volumes in which these bodies have no choice but to fit) in a fantastic iconographic inventory including Hans Bellmer, Francis Bacon, the Vastu Shastra and the Pharaonic temple-builders. In these examples, the question is no longer what is in the thickness of these lines, but rather what is in the “inframince” (infrathin as invented by Marcel Duchamp) that separates bodies from their architecture: what lies in the quasi-non- space in which ᵂrests the violence of the encounter?
THE FUNAMBULIST PAPERS 43:
AV (Anthropocosmogonic Vastupurushamanism)
by Dan Mellamphy
Have you bottled her?
Samuel Beckett, Endgame.
New York: Grove Press 1958, 10+24.
The sixth volume of The Funambulist Pamphlets that gathers and edits past articles (as well as additional photographs) of the blog about Palestine, is now officially published by Punctum Books in collaboration with the Center for Transformative Media at Parsons The New School. You can either download the book as a PDF for free or order it online for the price of $7.00 or €6.00. Next volume to be published will be dedicated to Cruel Designs. Click here to see the other volumes of The Funambulist Pamphlets.
Thank you to Eileen Joy, Anna Kłosowska, Ed Keller, Raja Shehadeh, Nora Akawi, Eyal Weizman, Regine Debatty, Ahmad Barcklay, Dena Qaddumi, Dror Etkes, Franchaska Katz & Amir Terkel.
Official page of The Funambulist Pamphlets Volume 06: PALESTINE on Punctum Books’ website.
Index of the Book
Introduction: Cartography of a Colonial Politics of Space
01/ The Palestinian Archipelago: A Metaphorical Cartography of the Occupied Territories
02/ For a More Embodied Vision of the Occupation: The Israeli Settlements in the West Bank Through Palestinian eyes
03/ Architectural Stockholm Syndrome
04/ The Route 443, a Symptomatic Example of the Apartheid Apparatus in the West Bank
05/ Road Link between Gaza and the West Bank: A Sovereignty Contained in a Line
06/ The Ordinary Violence of the Colonial Apparatuses in the West Bank
07/ The Right to the Ruin: Civilization Absence in the Post-Nakba Landscapes
08/ Sympathy with the Obstacle in the Gaza Strip
09/ War in the Manhattan Strip
10/ Political Geography of the Gaza Strip: A Territory of Experiments for the State of Israel
11/ Representation of Otherness for a Gaza Kid
12/ The Policies of the “Lesser Evil”
13/ Palestine: What the International Legislation Says
14/ Law as a Colonial Weapon
15/ The Reasons for Disobeying a Law
16/ The Palestinian Legal Right of Return
17/ Manual of Return
18/ 2037 by Raja Shehadeh
19/ Running as Political Resistance
20/ Idealism & Imagination
21/ Are we Questioning the Essence of Problems?
22/ An Epistolary Conversation with R. Debatty
23/ An Epistolary Conversation with A. Barclay and D. Qaddumi
As announced in the previous article about the “thanatopolitics of death penalty,” I will propose a review of the book Les corps vils : Expérimenter sur les êtres humains aux XVIIIe et XIXe siècles (Vile Bodies: Experimenting on Human Beings in the 18th and 19th Centuries) written by Grégoire Chamayou (see past article) and published in 2008 (La Découverte). This book has not been translated into English yet and I am happy to propose a clumsy translation of a few excerpts in this article in order to share a little of its content to a broader audience than the francophone one. The original excerpts in French are included at the end of this article.
The subtitle of the book is explicit about the content of the research. In the Foucaldian tradition of drawing philosophical arguments through the precise examination of history, Chamayou investigates the role of medicine in relation to the development of the new mode of sovereignty embodied by biopolitics. This includes as much the new means of punishment as the administration of the colonies. Chamayou bases his book on the Latin locution “experimentum in corpore vili” (experimenting on vile bodies) that justifies the principle of experimentation on human beings at the condition that the considered body could be determined as vile. The first chapter of the book thus looks at the dissection practiced on executed bodies in order to enhance the medical knowledge of the time (my translation):
Since dissection appeared as an infamous treatment, it was therefore applied only to subjects that were already considered as infamous. Dissection was then inscribed within the extension of the sentence they received. It could only be practiced on executed criminal bodies, in a sort of continuity between the gesture of knowledge and the gesture of punishment. (Grégoire Chamayou, Les corps vils : Expérimenter sur les êtres humains aux XVIIIe et XIXe siècles, Paris : La Découverte, 2008, 24.)
Electric Chair by Andy Warhol (1964)
There is still an existing political debate about whether of not a given society should adopt (perpetuate) death penalty as its ultimate judicial sentence. It is surprising to often hear people say that they are against death penalty “except for… (place here the most horrifying crime),” not realizing that this “except for” validates by definition their acceptation for this sentence. Beyond the strictly emotional (or even religious) aspects of the arguments given by its opponents, I would like to ask whether we actually fathom what death penalty really means in a given society.
In the context of premodern society that Michel Foucault describes as following a paradigm of sovereignty based on the right of the sovereign to dispose of its subjects’ life (to go to war for example) in exchange of protection against the various antagonisms coming ‘from the outside,’ the act to give death to one of these subjects can be integrated within the logic of such social tacit contract. On the other hand, the modern era is characterized by a biopolitical (quoting Foucault again) administration of society, i.e. an organization of life in its very mechanisms (health, sexuality, reproduction etc.) to optimize the function of society. In order to describe how death penalty integrates within this scheme, I need to briefly explain the idea of thanatopolitics (politics administrating death) that I introduced in a previous article. This notion emerges from the observation that death is “at work” and that there are therefore only two possible ways of dealing with it: acceleration or deceleration of the death process. Biopolitics therefore involves by definition its counterpart (one might say that there are the same), thanatopolitics. The administration of toxicity in the context of food production (an important part of biopolitics) or society’s infrastructure (pollution) or its risk factor (nuclear accidents), is what I include in this thanatopolitics that a given society has to organize to either administrate the acceleration or the deceleration of the death process.
Funambulism, Utopias, Backyards, Open Stacks, Architectures of In/security, Sonic Landscapes, Apian Semantics, Meta-Virtual Solipsism, Transcendent Delusions, Fibrous Assemblages, Circuses, Old Media, Pet Architecture, Persian Folds, DIY Biopolitics, and MORE (Eileen Joy describing The Funambulist Papers)
The Funambulist Papers Volume 1 that gathers thirty four essays of the first series of guest writer essays (plus an essay by Bryan Finoki) is now published, like for the Funambulist Pamphlets, by Punctum Books in association with the Center for Transformative Media at Parsons The New School for Design. I would like to insist on the variety of approaches and background of these authors whether we speak about their disciplines (architecture, law, cinema theory, art, history etc.) or their origins (23 nationalities) in order for this series to bring a fresh discourse in the middle of my articles that can be sometimes (often ?!) redundant. As for the Pamphlets, Punctum Books and I are keen to think of our work as part of an open access strategy and the book can be therefore downloaded for free as pdf. It is also available in its printed version on Punctum Book’s website for $15 (€13.00/£11.00). The book is also part of the “perks” of the crowdfunding campaign for Archipelago!
Thank you to Eileen Joy, Anna Kłosowska, Ed Keller, Peter Hudson, Petal Samuel, Liduam Pong, Mina Rafiee, and to Seher Shah for accepting that I use her painting “City Unknown” for the cover. Thank you very much to all the contributors as well for accepting to write pieces specifically for The Funambulist. This series will continue in the future and there should be a second volume at some point.
The book is organized in two parts, “The Power of the Line,” and “Architectural Narratives” as follows:
Posted in Architectural Theories, Books, Cinema, Essays, Fine Arts, History, Law, Literature, Philosophy, Politics, The Funambulist Papers
In Antic Rome, no General had the right to bring his army in the city, beyond the Rubicon that Julius Caesar dared crossing in 49 B.C. against the Roman legislation. In his new book La barricade: Histoire d’un objet révolutionnaire (Autrement, 2013), Eric Hazan, director of the publisher La Fabrique about which I wrote many times, establishes the first generalized construction of barricades to May 1588 in Paris. What triggered the insurrection led by the Duc de Guise and the Catholic League against King Henri III back then was the entrance of the King with his army (composed for half of it by Swiss guards) inside Paris.
Even nowadays, it is understood that an important amount of soldiers within a city involves if not a state of war, at least a state of emergency (sometimes a mix of both). The order of a city is supposed to be kept by the various forces of the police that have evolved during history (in Japan during the Meiji Era for example) with various degrees of bureaucracy for instance. However, one clear tendency that can be observed in Western countries, and more specifically in the United States, consists in the militarization of the city police, transforming the latter in something that look and act more and more like a regular army.
In November 2011, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg declared to the Press that he was proud to count on the seventh army in the world in the presence of the New York Police Department (NYPD). It has been proven that this figure is actually inaccurate and does not correspond to anything in terms of budget or equipment; nevertheless, the fact that a mayor of a major world city is able to make such a claim — even if the NYPD is the thirtieth army in the world, it is still something — is highly illustrative of this evolution of the police of the world. The NYPD owns indeed an impressive set of equipment, some of which is designed for its own specificity like the mobile observation towers (see past article) that one can see in various neighborhoods of New York. This equipment also counts various armored vehicles as well as six small submarine drones. This does not include by definition what is kept secret in the defense against terrorism but that often escape from Bloomberg’s and Ray Kelly’s (the New York Police Commissioner) satisfied speeches.
It might not been well known internationally but France still counts four regions in the Caribbeans under its sovereignty. Saint-Martin Island and Saint-Barthélemy island both have a certain autonomy, but the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique are still considered as overseas departments just like three other territories in the world (French Guyana, Reunion Island and Mayotte). In 17th-century, the islands’ native population was massacred and approximately at the same time slavery started to develop under the French rule. Following the French revolution and local revolts in parallel of the glorious one lead by Toussaint L’Ouverture in San Domingo (now Haiti), slavery is abolished in 1794. In 1802, Napoleon (then Consul, not yet Emperor) re-establish slavery that will have to wait 1848 to be absolutely abolished on French territory.
Napoleon’s wife, Joséphine de Beauharnais, grew up in Martinique. She was the daughter of a renowned ‘local’ plantation owner that owned [sic] three hundreds slave. She married Napoleon in 1796 (and therefore became Empress in 1804) and she is said to have been the one that influenced her husband in the re-establishment of slavery. In 1856, a statue of her was setup in Fort-de-France, the capital city of Martinique that carries a clear reference to its colonized status in its very name. Aimé Césaire, magnificent poet of Martinique, known internationally as a main actor of the decolonization, was mayor of Fort-de-France between 1945 to 2001. He did not change the names of the streets that had a colon name nor did he withdraw the statue of Empress Joséphine, as he wanted to insist on the metis history of Martinique that should consider the vicissitudes of the past as part of the island’s identity. In 1991 however, a group of people succeeded to ‘behead’ the statue of Joséphine in a symbolic execution like the one the guillotine would have provided for her when she was almost sentenced to death with her first husband in 1794. Since 1991, and despite various debates, the statue remains headless.
The corset used to be the piece of clothing wore by many women in various European royal courts (mostly the French one) during the 18th and 19th centuries. Clothe is, by definition, a piece of design that covers the body and therefore, that needs to adapt to it to serve its purpose. The corset, however, imposes an ideal silhouette upon the body that wears it. In this case, it is the body that needs to adapt to it. As I have often stated in the past, it is interesting to consider extreme cases such as the one embodied by the corset to understand something larger about design in general.
First of all, let us not mistaken, the corset, when wore on a regular basis for several years, did modify the body in tremendous extents: muscular atrophy, reduction of the lung and stomach’s operativity, ptosis and prolapse are among these effects. Jean-Jacques Rouseau, in medical journal The Lancet (“On Tight Lacing, ” 1785) described it as a “body press.” It is not surprising that this piece of clothing was designed by men for women, as it allowed a literal modification of the female body into one, idealized by the men. For this matter, it is interesting to observe that the 1789 French revolution made it disappear from society for a while — probably less for ‘feminist’ purposes than for its association to the former nobility — before it came back during the Napoleonian Empire, despite the fact that Napoleon himself called it “the human race assassin.” This last point seems peculiar, just like the fact that many priests have also contributed to fight against it. It can nevertheless be explained by the fact that the corset prevented women from carrying children. Part of its criticism was therefore not so much addressed to the violence that it embodied on the female body, but rather to the impossibility for women to efficiently accomplish their task in society: giving birth to perpetuate the human species. This argument is a quintessential component of biopolitics: the idea that life, as a material value, needs to be organized administratively and normatively regardless of society’s individual aspirations.
Still from The Law in these Parts by Ra’anan Alexandrowicz (2012)
I recently watched Israeli director Ra’anan Alexandrowicz‘s fim, The Law in these Parts (merci Philippe) that unfolds the legal mechanisms of the occupation of the Palestinian territories (West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem) since their take over by the Israeli Defense Forces in 1967. Alexandrowicz alternates archival footage and interviews with six members of the Israeli military legal corps who had a significant action on the legal colonial framework. I have written a lot about how architecture was used as a colonial weapon in the Palestinian territories; it is important to observe also how this architecture is the embodiment of a series of legal strategies that were implemented in order to organize Palestinian daily life according to military occupation logic, to allow the civilian colonization of these territories, as well as to registers each actions in regard to the international legislation to determine a position that never reaches a ‘breaking point.’
This colonial law is a well-thought strategy, not a set of quickly decided tactics. In this regard, the first thing that the film tells us, is that the brochures informing the Palestinians that they were now under the Israeli military legislation — a necessary measure in the international law — were designed and printed by dozens of thousands long before 1967 and the actual occupation of the Palestinian territories by the I.D.F.. The content of this colonial legislation was then regularly updated as issues were raised, involving groups of military law-makers to continue constructing the legal means by which the Palestinian population’s life would be organized by the Israeli army. Alexandrowicz asks the question about whether it would have not been more simple to enforce the Israeli legislation on the Palestinians. He is answered that such logic had to be avoided absolutely as it would have been considering the occupied population as citizens of Israel de facto. The films also points out the ambiguous legal obligation on the Israeli civil population — there are currently 500,000 Israeli civil settlers in the West Bank — who live in the occupied territories. Unsurprisingly this population’s criminal activity is not judged by military courts as for the occupied population, but rather by the civil Israeli courts that has been consistently lenient with their action.
Juggling on the Berlin Wall / Photograph by Yann Forget
It has now been three months that I have the chance to write a monthly carte blanche column in Swiss architectural journal Tracés entitled Le Funambule. This third article is a re-articulation of various ideas that I have been writing in the past on this blog. I apologize for the clear redundancy.
What Do We Find in the Thickness of a Line? ///
(originally published in French in Tracés)
The line constitutes the principal medium of the architect. Of course, the lines that (s)he traces represent more than a simple drawing; they are thought as descriptive of an architecture that other humans will have to build. Nevertheless, it might not be exaggerated to state that the only veritably material act of the architect consists in tracing lines. The latter are mathematical entities that, by definition, have no thickness. When the architectural elements that they describe are translated in reality however, they acquire a thickness even it if it very small. This thickness is precisely the means for architecture to unfold its power on the bodies. A simple line traced on a map to delimit the American territory from the Mexican one, and, in reality, a thirty-feet tall wall to prevent the access to a country for bodies that seem to be considered to brown for it. The few millimeters of steel that embody this line insure of its physical and, by extension, political impermeability.
The line, in its geometrical perfection, is inscribed in a legal diagram that also benefits from a theoretical perfection. Its materialization as an architecture is an apparatus of implementation of this legal diagram in reality. A very simple of this statement can be found in the fact that a large majority of the world’s wall are the violent expression of a law that guarantees private property. Of course, this translation in to reality of the legal diagram cannot be perfectly executed: the material apparatus is fallible, and that is how hundreds of clandestine Mexican immigrants still manage to penetrate on the United States’ territory for example.
The fifth volume of The Funambulist Pamphlets that gathers and edits past articles (as well as additional photographs) of the blog about Occupy Wall Street, is now officially published by Punctum Books in collaboration with the Center for Transformative Media at Parsons The New School. You can either download the book as a PDF for free or order it online for the price of $7.00 or €6.00. Next volume to be published will be dedicated to Palestine. Click here to see the other volumes of The Funambulist Pamphlets.
Thank you to Eileen Joy, Anna Kłosowska, Ed Keller, Liam Young, Lucas Issey, Eric Hazan, John O’Toole.
Official page of The Funambulist Pamphlets Volume 05: OCCUPY WALL STREET on Punctum Books’ website.
Index of the Book
Introduction: My Body Is a Political Weapon
00/ Photographs of Occupy Wall Street
01/ “I Am a Citizen of Liberty Square”
02/ Urban Insurgencies: Algiers’ Labyrinthine Casbah vs. New York’s Weaponized Grid Plan
03/ “Mic-Check!”: Human Transmission Technology
04/ “This is What Democracy Looks Like” Is Not Just a Slogan
05/ Why We Should Stop Calling Occupy Wall Street a Protest
06/ Spatial Issues at Stake in Occupy Wall Street: Considering the Privately Owned Public Spaces
07/ The Tremendous Power of Space
08/ The Archipelago as a Territorial Manifesto
09/ About the Notion of Occupying
10/ Judith Butler to the Occupy Movement: “This is a Politics of the Public Body”
11/ Occupy the Department of Buildings
12/ Creating the Urban Labyrinth in an Orthogonal Street Grid
13/ National Security Drones vs. Liam Young’s Electronic Counter-Measures
14/ Aestheticizing Violence + Capitalizing on the Revolt Imaginary
16/ Occupy Gezi: Why Are Politicians Afraid of Bodies
17/ The Republic of Taksim
18/ What Is a People?
19/ The Political Archipelago: For a New Paradigm of Territorial Sovereignty
20/ Official Report on the question of the so-called New York Commune
21/ The New York Commune [Film in Progress]
My regular readers would have understood that I develop a certain amount of quasi-pathological obsessions for a certain amounts of ideas or concepts that tend to come back regularly in my articles, in such a way that one could say that each article tends towards an attempt to articulate always the same idea. Among these obsessions is the idea of the archipelago and you will soon see that I did not finish to articulate a few thoughts around this idea yet, since an ambitious project of the same name will soon complement my writing on this blog.
In the following text, I would like to approach the archipelago through the same way that I first did, through a philosopher that has been highly influential to me in this last decade, Édouard Glissant. The archipelago is for him a figure of a utopia towards which the world should tend in order to construct a politics of “the relation” rather than a politics of the universal. Of course, an archipelago is a very evocative example of territories that construct simultaneously the difference between each island, and a collective identity as a group; that is what makes it a strong figure for a new paradigm of sovereignty (see past article). However, according to Glissant, there is an additional complexity to it that enriches this territory of an exemplary ideology. In order to look at it more closely, we need to first observe its opposite, the continental sea — etymologically, the archipelago is also a sea before being a group of islands. The paradigmatic example of the continental sea, because of both its history and its contemporaneity is the Mediterranean Sea. The following excerpt is what he writes about it in one of his only translated books in English, about which we might want to observe the difficulty to translate the language — Glissant was talking about translation as an emerging art in itself — that Betsy Wings brilliantly managed to translate from French to English:
Still from the film Coriolanus by Ralph Fiennes (2011)
Before being a historical figure, Caius Marcius Coriolanus is a legendary one. He, as an actual person was a Roman general who lived in the fifth century before Christ. What belongs to history and what belongs to the myth about him remains unclear today. The following text will therefore address his (hi)story without the doubts and precautions that a historian would need to systematically indicate when addressing this same story.
Coriolanus’s story is brought to us by the 1608 play written by William Shakespeare. General Caius Marcius earn his name of Coriolanus by his glorious victory against the Volscian city of Corioli. Strengthen by this success, he is encouraged to run for Consul of Rome. Despite an apparent support from both the Senate and the Plebe, he has to face riots from the latter. He finally publicly expresses his despise of democratic processes and exiled himself when he is condemned as a traitor. Later, he joins his former Volscian enemies and marches towards Rome. He remains insensitive to every request of his formers friends (including his own wife), but finally accepts a peace treatise after being won over by his manipulative mother. Peace is signed between the Romans and the Volscians but Coriolanus is assassinated by the latter for his treason.
Still of the video What the Drone Saw by artist Omer Fast, a former U.S. Army drone operator / Source: The Guardian
This article is the first one but very unlikely to be the last one about Grégoire Chamayou‘s Drone Theory. The latter is the name of a book (Théorie du drone) that has not been translated in English yet, and that is published by the same French publisher I am regularly referring to on this blog, La Fabrique. As a complement to his activity of philosopher, Chamayou is also the editor of this excellent series of books ZONES (published by La Découverte) that are available in open access online in addition of existing in printed version. Before publishing Théorie du drone (La Fabrique, 2013), Chamayou had written Les corps vils : Expérimenter sur les êtres humains aux XVIIIe et XIXe siècles (Vile Bodies: Experiments on Human Beings in 18th and 19th Centuries) (La Découverte, 2008) and Les chasses à l’homme (La Fabrique, 2010) published by Princeton University Press in 2012 under the name Manhunts: A Philosophical History.
This last book can be said to prepare Chamayou’s philosophical terrain to examine the specific problem of the military drone. Through it, he detects the same logic of the hunter and the prey, the absence of lethal risk for the first one and the reduction of the second one as a vulnerable running body. Like in hunting, strategies of encrypting and decrypting trajectories have to be developed respectively by the prey and the hunter to achieve their purpose: survival for one, absolute domination for the other. One thing that is particular to the current U.S. Army/C.I.A. strategy in their so-called “surgical operations” around the globe is that drones operate in countries that are not at war with the United States: Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia in addition of Afghanistan and Iraq. These extra-legal raids are therefore ignoring the very idea of national borders (and nationalities) to prefer to it, a more global interpretation of the battlefield extended to the whole world. Yet, it is inexact to state that the whole world is a battlefield as it would include the body of the drone operator, who is absolutely protected from the risk of death where (s)he is. In this regard, Chamayou describes one of the historical origin of the drone as a reaction to its exact opposite: the kamikaze plane of the Japanese Army during the Second World War. Borders are therefore ignored but the battlefield is embodied by the body of the prey around which is constituted “an autonomous zone of temporary killing.” This body, wherever it will go, will therefore bring with it the virtualization of a battlefield that will quasi-inevitably actualize itself when the hunter will have decrypted its trajectory.
The guest writers series is now named “The Funambulist Papers” in preparation of the first volume of the same name (more about that soon). The 42nd episode of this series is offered by Philippe Theophanidis, writer/editor of Aphelis and currently working on his dissertation in communication at the University of Montreal. His paper, entitled “Caught in the Cloud: The Biopolitics of Tear Gas Warfare,” is a philosophical, biological and political examination of the specific counter-insurrectional weapon that tear gas constitutes. The latter has been extensively used against the occupiers of Gezi Park in Istanbul (see past article 01 and 02) and in other Turkish city during the recent massive social movement against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s conservative discourse and policies. Philippe therefore starts by describing a randomly targeted attack by the Istanbul police as it can be seen in an online video as particularly expressive of the arguments he is trying to make in relation to the contemporary biopolitical regimes. He points out that tear gas is a biopolitical par excellence as it does not unfolds its violence on the bodies without the latter’s consent. Of course, if one has to breath and therefore the refusal to inhale the toxic gas quickly reaches a point of inevitability, yet this ultimate acceptation of the gas’s effects is perceived as a form of surrender to the weaponized changes of the atmospheric conditions. The fact that tear gas carries tears in its very name and effects is also (coincidentally or not) illustrative of how it affects our body in the register of emotions (and therefore of life), rather than in the plain violence of the pre-modern executioner axe (to insist on the difference between pre-modernity and biopolitics as it is made by Foucault).
To continue this reflection after the reading of Philippe’s text, you can consult The Funambulist Papers 29 written by Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos about “The Funambulist Atmosphere,” as well as one of my most recent articles that I wrote after having a conversation with Philippe about the organization of death in biopolitics, “Thanatopolitics: Managing the Acceleration/Deceleration of the Death Process.”
Caught in the cloud: the biopolitics of tear gas warfare ///
By Philippe theophanidis
It took me about a month to digest watching Joshua Oppenheimer‘s documentary The Act of Killing that was recently released in the United States and that constitutes as much a film about Indonesian history as a historical film about Indonesia as I will illustrate in this article. It took me all that time to write about it and I still feel a pain in my stomach as I am writing, because this film explores the dark depth of humanity and of a human system in ways that have been rarely examined.
The film is a 2-hour long editing from more than a thousand of hours of footage that Oppenheimer filmed for the last nine years in Indonesia. What the film shows is the testimony of several Indonesian “gangsters,” re-enacting dramatically the mass killings that they have been perpetuating in 1965 during the dictatorship-backed purge of several hundreds of thousands of people that were accurately or not suspected to be communists. Along the film, the re-enactment goes from a ‘simple’ reconstitution of the killings on the site where they were committed, to the greatly dramatic reconstitution in various forms of Hollywood and local cinema orchestrated directly by the perpetrators themselves (Oppenheimer let them free to choose the form they wanted). The surreal result of such scenes oscillates between the surrealism of Bunuel, the aesthetics of Thomas De Quincey’s On Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts (1827) and the insupportable procedural precision of the Marquis de Sade.
Kinkaku-Ji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion) / 25th year of the Shōwa Era (1950)
Beauty sometimes reaches level of intensity that can lead to pure pathology. The Jerusalem syndrome, for example, is experienced every year by pilgrims visiting the holy city. Overwhelmed by their emotions when experiencing the old city, their pathology is characterized by hallucinations, paranoia, continuous declamation of holy texts as well as other symptoms. It is interesting to see that there is an inverse syndrome, experienced by a few Japanese people visiting Paris when they discover the extent of the discrepancy between what they were imagining the city to be, and what it really is. The Stendhal Syndrome, on the other hand, comes from the pathology experienced by French author Henri Beyle a.k.a. Stendhal when he was visiting Florence for the first time in 1817. Overwhelmed by the intensity of the works of art he was able to see almost simultaneously, he is said to have almost fainted and had hallucinations. This pathology, since then clinically recognized, kept his name since then.
The novel The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, written by Yukio Mishima in 1956 is a classic of 20th century Japanese literature. Its plot is inspired by events that occurred six years earlier when the 500-year old Golden Pavilion in Kyoto had been burnt down (see photograph above) by a young Buddhist monk. Mishima depicts a similar young monk, Mizoguchi, who develops a fascination for the Golden Pavilion as he is following his religious training. All along the book, Mizoguchi elaborates an interpretation of beauty that considers it as the main existential problem of one’s life:
The fourth volume of The Funambulist Pamphlets that gathers and edits past articles of the blog about Legal Theory, is now officially published by Punctum Books in collaboration with the Center for Transformative Media at Parsons The New School. You can either download the book as a PDF for free or order it online for the price of $7.00 or €6.00. Next volume to be published will be dedicated to Occupy Wall Street. Click here to see the other volumes of The Funambulist Pamphlets.
Thank you to Eileen Joy, Anna Kłosowska, Ed Keller, Lucy Finchett-Maddock, Costas Douzinas, Gilbert Leung, David Garcia, Santiago Cirugeda & Chaska Katz.
Official page of The Funambulist Pamphlets Volume 04: LEGAL THEORY on Punctum Books’ website.
Index of the Book
Introduction: The Law Turned Into Walls
01/ Architecture and the Law: An Epistolary Exchange With Dr. Lucy Finchett-Maddock
02/ Remus Has to Die
03/ Trapped in the Border’s Thickness
04/ Absurdity and Greatness of the Law: The Siege of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London
05/ The Space Beyond the Walls: Defensive “A-legal” Sanctuaries
06/ The Reasons for Disobeying a Law
07/ Political Geography of the Gaza Strip: A Territory of Experiments for the State of Israel
08/ Palestine: What Does the International Legislation Say
09/ In Praise of the Essence of the American Second Amendment: The Importance of Self-Contradiction in a System
10/ Power, Violence, Law by Costas Douzinas
11/ Fortress London: Missiles on Your Roof
12/ Short Digression About the Future of Drones (After Seeing One at JFK)
13/ Quadrillage: Urban Plague Quarantine & Retro-Medieval Boston
14/ Historical Map of Quarantine
15/ Collision, Sexuality and Resistance
16/ The Spatial Issues at Stake in Occupy Wall Street: Considering the Privately Owned Public Spaces
17/ Strategies for Subversive Urban Occupation by Recetas Urbanas
18/ Is Housing a Human Right? Considering the “Take Back the Land” Manifesto
19/ Center for Urban Pedagogy
I am in complete disagreement with American libertarian politicians like Ron Paul and his son, Senator of Kentucky Rand Paul as far as interior policies are concerned. However, one needs to acknowledge the consistency of their political system, a sort of anarchist free-market in which supposedly social justice comes from the self-regulation of the system. This kind of thinking leads, of course, to the conservation of the current American healthcare system that nevertheless constitutes the most blatant example of capitalism’s indifference for any form of social justice. To be just, the libertarian pure capitalist system should make all human ‘start from scratch’ with egalitarian conditions of life, a sort of capitalist kibbutz in which children would be separated from their parents at their birth to be given the fair chance to take their place in the meritocracy. It goes without saying that such structure would not be to the Libertarians’ taste and therefore their system fails in consistency only when they want it to appear as just. The current American healthcare system that treats extremely differently the wealthy and the poor and that provides life-long debts, is what we could call a crime against society as a new legal definition.
It would be too simple however to state that countries like Canada, Japan or the European Union have found a perfect healthcare system. In this regard, it is interesting to look at the 1983 conversation entitled “The Risks of Security” (“Un système fini face à une demande infinie” in its original French version) in which Michel Foucault answers the questions of Robert Bono, general secretary of the union CFDT (Democratic French Confederations of the Workers) that was part of the Administration Council of the French social security back then. It is incidentally interesting to see that in the early 1980′s in France during the beginning of the first left president François Mitterand, a conversation about an important topic like healthcare between one of the main representatives of the country’s unions and a philosopher like Foucault could occur. It is also to Foucault’s credit in this conversation not to remain in the abstraction of a disincarnated philosophy but, on the contrary, to speak of problems concretely and even proposing a few ideas to the risk of loosing credibility.
J.H. Griffin under the heat lamps / Photograph by Don Rutledge (1959)
Sometimes, books find you more than the opposite. This was the case for Black Like Me (1961), a book that I found in a messy fantastic little bookstore of Montreal last week. Its title (Dans la peau d’un Noir in its French translated version) caught my eye and it took me only a few hours to finish this incredible document about the racial segregation in the South of the United States in the late 1950′s. This book, written like a personal journal, recounts the peculiar experiment of its author John Howard Griffin who, for a few weeks in 1959, transformed himself from a white body to a black one to experience the segregation ‘from the inside.’ He indeed undertook a medical treatment to darken his skin and therefore appear in the public as a black man. This transformation of a body into another was necessary as the book illustrates how there cannot be any inter-racial understanding without an actual embodiment of its implications.
It is crucial to understand that Griffin’s transformation cannot be considered like a disguise. Although he might have thought of this experiment this way, he realizes on the first day as a black man: