Still from The Knick by Steven Soderbergh (2014)
The Hospital as a Laboratory: The Production of Medical Knowledge Through the Bodies, originally written for L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui 405 Therapeutic Architecture (March 2015)
In one of the lectures he gave in Rio de Janeiro in 1974, Michel Foucault describes how the paradigm of the hospital as an institution radically shifted in the 18th century. During the centuries preceding this change, the hospital was “a place where one comes to die,” or, to be more precise, an internment place where the poors comes to die and from where the diseases that killed them could escape. For Foucault, the 18th century is the time of all changes since all institutions (hospital, prison, government, education, etc.) start to base themselves on a mode of sovereignty no longer centered on the binary opposition of life and death, but, rather, on the management of life and its attributes. This new mode of sovereignty that is applied onto its subjects’ lives is what Foucault named “biopolitics.”
As institutions change, their architecture also does. The hospital thus becomes a place where one comes to be cared and cured and the architectural environment of bodies participates to such an endeavor. This place is now considered as “a mechanism to cure, and of which the pathological affects it causes must be corrected.” This implies an hygienist architecture within which sick bodies can be easily administered.
This article aims to be in the continuity of the recent one about the Suez Canal and the geopolitics of submarine Internet cables, as well as a contribution to my first attempts articulating a few ideas around the idea of what I would like to call, “the politics of narrowness.” that I recently started by presenting an essay about the “political geographies of the corridor” at the University of British Columbia a few days ago. In this regard, the following text constitutes more a general approach of the international legislation that organizes passages in the geopolitical typology of straits, in this case the Strait of Hormuz between Iran and Oman, than a specific statement about the region about which my ignorance is large. The choice for the Strait of Hormuz is however, not innocent insofar that it is the object of great scrutiny both by world economic powers for its crucial characteristics in the transportation of oil, and by the local governments, in particular Iran, that look at the presence of numerous Western warships in the Persian Gulf as a potential threat to their sovereignty.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), in its third version, conceived in 1982 and implemented in 1994, constitutes the legal frame of the maritime passages in straits of the world. An historical change this piece of legislation allowed was the substantial extension of territorial waters, from 3 to 12 nautical miles from a given country’s coasts. The direct consequence of such territorial offset can be found in the incidental nationalization of straits such as Gibraltar, Malacca and Hormuz. The latter being only 21 nautical miles wide, the separation of Iranian and Oman territorial waters is established at equidistance of the two facing coasts, thus leaving no passage in international waters. As Nilufer Oral explains in an article for the American Society of International Law, the right to passage in straits as defined by UNCLOS III constitutes “the exercise in accordance with this Part of the freedom of navigation and overflight solely for the purpose of continuous and expeditious transit of the strait between one part of the high seas or an exclusive economic zone and another part of the high seas or an exclusive economic zone” (article 38). UNCLOS III has never been signed nor ratified by the United States that do not recognize the extension of territorial waters as implemented in 1994. Iran signed the treatise but did not ratify it, in order to apply its provisions only to the legislation parties. Regarding non-signatories like the United States, it claims to apply the former piece of legislation organizing navigation in straits, the 1958 Geneva Convention on the Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone. The latter authorizes a coastal nation to apprehend ships in their territorial waters if their passage is perceived as “non-innocent,” that is, if a threat to the regional peace can be proved to be affected through their presence.
Originally published as “Invisible and Scrutinized Bodies,” in Andrea Pavoni (ed), Lo Squaderno 35 (March 2015)
The following text will attempt to demonstrate that both processes that aim at making bodies either invisible or, on the contrary, hyper-visible operates through the same mechanisms of a productive politics of visibility. The brief of this issue evokes “homeless, illegal workers, gipsy communities, early-morning cleaners, graffiti writers… and let’s not forget urban foxes, cave spiders, mice, contagious germs,” as examples of human and non-human bodies incarnating the “urban invisibles” that gives it its title. These bodies are invisible insofar that they constitute what is perceived as absolute otherness. This argument of a social invisibility is the one dramatically described by Ralph Ellison in his Invisible Man (1952): the protagonist is an African American man writing his autobiography from the depths of a New York basement, describing his invisibility for the White bodies surrounding him. The novel opens with this paragraph:
I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids – and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me … When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination – indeed, everything and anything except me.1
Middle East Telecommunication Map (TeleGeography 2015)
On June 18, 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte’s French army lost the major battle of Waterloo in Belgium against a coalition gathering the United Kingdom, Prussia and the Netherlands. As Alexandre Laumonnier describes in 6: The Rise of the Machines (Zones Sensibles, 2013, see past article), the moment immediately following the battle can be seen as an early instance of predatory stock exchange strategy. London-based banker Nathan Rothschild owned an important part of the United Kingdom’s debt engaged in the war. He was the first person to receive the information about the outcome of the battle thanks to his trained pigeons — the French optical telegraph could not work in that day’s fog — and, used this information to spread the rumor that Napoleon had won the battle (thus preventing the UK to honor its debt) while selling his shares of the debt. Everyone else followed his example and the debt quickly collapsed to its lowest price. Rotschild then bought the entire debt back and realized an added value twenty times more than the original investment. Laumonnier uses this example at the end of his book to describe a previous instance of what he examines throughout his essay: the current predatory algorithms at work each micro-seconds of Wall Street’s functioning. Behind the software construction of this algorithms, there is its actual infrastructure made of optic fibers for which a difference of an inch between two servers can have tremendous consequences in the speed of information: this is why the American stock exchange’s infrastructure is no longer in actual Wall Street but, rather, in a gigantic warehouse of New Jersey where numerous servers are hosting the fight to gain micro-seconds of speed to access and send information, immediately translating into capital.
Downtown street in Cairo / Photograph by Léopold Lambert (February 2015)
While I was recently spending some time in Beirut and Cairo, one of the things that stroke me is the difficulty to represent these cities through photography. Of course, this is always true when one visits a new city; photographs tend to correspond more to the confirmation of the vision one had before visiting it than to a fair representation. In the case of Beirut, that could materialize through a focus on its ruins from the war and thus the repetition of a representative cliché, rather than showing the profusion of unaesthetic luxury towers. But the exercise is even more difficult because of the regular denial of representation enforced by private security forces or the army itself. An important part of the city reaches an important degree of militarization that materialize through the multitude of road obstacles, gates, concrete walls (often painted like the Lebanese flag), defensive kiosks, trained dog houses, road checkpoints, and other militaristic apparatuses, none of which are easy to photograph, since their very function is to survey public space and its bodies’ behaviors.
Mahalaxmi Dhobighat (open-air laundry district) in Mumbai / Photo by Léopold Lambert (2009)
Text originally written in French for my monthly “carte blanche” in Tracés Magazine (Switzerland) November 21, 2014
Architectures without architects have rarely been so popular among…architects. From Rio de Janeiro’s favelas to Caracas’s Torre David, without forgetting the historical example of Hong Kong’s Kowloon Walled City, we can currently see an important amount of researches and projects targeting iconic architectures whose immanent construction never necessitated an architect’s intervention.
Like for every political problem, we are facing simultaneously a question of positioning, and one of production. This fascination for the “architecture without architects” – I am using Bernard Rudofsky’s 1964 exhibition’s terms here – almost always exercise itself from outside the object it attempts to describe. Such positioning is however not problematic by definition, but it can become as such when we romanticize the other through a mythical narrative dramatizing what separates us from this otherness. An experience of reality lived from within these architectures would easily dissipate most parts of this mythical narrative. Nevertheless, this experience is often prevented by the myth itself that tends to criminalize populations living in them.
This article is the third dedicated to Palestine in the form of a cartographic, photographic and textual account of my recent trip there. This particular one can be complemented with one of the five “fragments of the Apartheid landscape” discussed on Archipelago with Alex Shams. The question of the largest city of the West Bank, Hebron (563,000 inhabitants in its extended area), has been already brilliantly addressed by Raja Shehadeh for the thirteenth Funambulist Paper in October 2011. This present article will therefore not repeat Raja’s words, but rather complement the map presented above and the keyed photographs included below.
Hebron is the only city in the West Bank whose center is not fully under the control of the Palestinian Authority (Area A). A provision in the 1993 Oslo Accords divided the city in two parts, adding to the surrounding Area C another zone under full Israeli control in the very center of the old city. This area is called H2, in opposition to H1 that covers the Western part of the city and that is under the Palestinian Authority control. The reason for such a urban partition is that about 850 Israeli settlers are effectively living in the old city, sometimes directly above Palestinian houses. The city is sacred both for Islam and Judaism, since Abraham and his wife Sarah are believed to be buried in the Cave of the Patriarchs, under the Al-Ibrahimi Mosque where, in 1994, an American settler, Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Palestinians in prayer and wounded 125 others. The mosque is only accessible through checkpoints for Palestinians (see close-up map and photograph 11) as part of a urban complex where settlers can freely navigate and where most areas are strictly prohibited to Palestinians.
“The Two Faces of Ramallah” / Download the map in high resolution (7.8 MB) (license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 4.0)
I stayed in Ramallah a few weeks ago and was thus able to observe the amount of buildings that have been or are being built since my last two visits in Palestine (2008 and 2010). The argument that I would like to make throughout this text is that these recent developments are symptomatic of a chasm between, on the one hand, the Palestinian authority and the emergence of a bourgeoisie within the Palestinian society and, on the other hand, the rest of the Palestinian population and the refugees in particular. This chasm is particularly visible when experiencing the urbanism of Ramallah and a division we can generalize in defining it as separating the Northern-Western hilly part of the city from the Southern-Eastern one that will be the topic of the following article.
As the map intends to show, the Southern-Eastern part of the city is directly confronted to the occupation. Qalandiya checkpoint is the military passage that Palestinians with permits use the most to go to Jerusalem. The Area A corridor along which the most Southern part of the city is built — this includes the refugee camp of Qalandiya — and that extends to the checkpoint is also the only route to the Southern cities of the West Bank (Bethlehem, Hebron, Jericho). The regular traffic jams along this road reminds us of the impossibility for the city to be relieved from this congestion between the apartheid wall and the limits of Area C, where the Israeli army exercises full control. Furthermore, when using this unique axis of communication, one cannot ignore the view to the Israeli settlements of Psagot (see photograph 14) and Kochav Ya’Akov (see photograph 15). Similarly in the North-East, Area C in general and the Israeli settlement of Beit El and its military basis in particular, constitute a solid barrier preventing the city to develop. These parts of the city, like every other Palestinian cities have no choice but to be visually and empirically confronted to the occupation on a daily basis.
Map of the Israeli settlements cluster between Bethlehem and Hebron / Download it here in high resolution (8.4 MB) (license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 4.0)
I came back yesterday from three weeks spent in the Levant (Beirut, Palestine, and Amman) and Egypt (Cairo) both for the purpose of Archipelago and to deepen/complexity my vision of militarized cities/architecture. It should thus result in a series of articles that begins today. This first article allows me both to release one new map, as well as to associate my writings to the conversation I had with Dror Etkes, founder of the organization Kerem Navot, which monitors the Israeli settlements’ activity in the West Bank.
The reference to the biblical character Navot (aka Naboth) in the name of Dror’s NGO is far from innocent. As he explains himself in the podcast, in the Book of Kings, Navot is the owner of a vineyard situated near the Royal Palace of King Ach’av (aka Ahab). The later coverts this land and offers Navot to buy it from him. Navot refuses as he inherited the vineyard from his ancestors. When Queen Jezebel sees the King so upset not to be able to acquire the land, she promises her husband to take the matter in her hands. She then organizes a mock trial where Navot is accused to have cursed God and the King, which result in his execution. The ownership of executed men’s land returning to the King, the latter thus acquire the desired vineyard.
Beyond the essence of the land takeover this story introduces (and that draws a parallel to the situation Dror describes through his work), we have to insist on the legal process engaged by Jezebel to obtain the land. The King does not merely slaughter Navot to steal his vineyard, a legal narrative has to be invented to claim a legitimacy to this takeover. Such a weaponization of law has been continuously at work in the West Bank since its occupation by the Israeli army in 1967, as Ra’anan Alexandrowicz’s film, The Law in these Parts (2012) particularly illustrates (see past article about it). For instance, we can evoke the Ottoman Mawat (waste) law that returns the ownership of a given land to the Sultan — in contemporary cases, the Israeli army — when the latter has not been cultivated for three years in areas sufficiently far from a village not to be able to hear its roosters. The reactivation of this law by the Israeli army allowed to expropriate a tremendous amount of hectares from their Palestinian owners, especially because, often, the agriculture of a land is prevented by the means of occupation themselves.
The eleventh volume of The Funambulist Pamphlets that gathers and edits past articles of the blog about cinema 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 constitute an appendix to the book Weaponized Architecture. Click here to see the other volumes of The Funambulist Pamphlets.
Thank you to Eileen Joy, Anna Kłosowska, Ed Keller, Gastón Gordillo, Philippe Theophanidis, Felicia Yong, and Hiroko Nakatani
Index of the Book:
Introduction: The Cinema Papers
01/ La Haine: Banlieue and Police
02/ Paris Is Burning: Gender, Sexuality and Race’s Performativity
03/ Coriolanus: State of Exception
04/ World War Z: The Zombie Is a Human You Have the Right to Kill
05/ The Act of Killing: What Constitutes the Act of Killing?
06/ Hunger: The Body at War
07/ The Diary of an Unknown Soldier & The Forgotten Faces: Two Films by Peter Watkins
08/ La Commune (Paris, 1871): Democratic Cinematographic Construction
09/ Sleep Dealer: Separating the Body and its Labor Production
10/ Even the Rain: What Kind of Leftist Do We Want to Be?
11/ Dogtooth: Emancipation from a Sadian Patriarchal World
12/ The Exterminating Angel: We Must Become Claustrophobic Architects
13/ Un Chien Andalou: Dream as True Horror
14/ The Trial: The Kafkaian Immanent Labyrinth as Postmortem Dream
15/ Enter the Void: Post-Mortem Wandering
16/ Holy Motors: Phenomenological Introspection
17/ The Turin Horse: Entropy of Mind and Matter
18/ Red Desert: Corrupted Materials
19/ Gravity: An Ode to Gravity
20/ Pina: The Weight of the Body Dancing
21/ Wings of Desire: Der Erzähler (the Storyteller)
22/ Akira Kurosawa: Applied Spinozism
23/ Spike Lee: The Dolly Shot as Inexorability of Immanence
Inside the Mediterranean boat “Blue Sky M” (December 2014) / Source: Mediapart
As we currently receive the most tragic news from off shore Lampedusa, with the probable death of over 300 migrants whose boats sank in the agitated Mediterranean waters (some others died of the cold), all we seem to experience on the comfortable shore, is a disarming sense of familiarity. Once again, the Mediterranean Abyss swallowed dozens of bodies during their attempted crossing to reach the European shores. As I did in the past, I use the term of abyss as a resonance of Édouard Glissant’s concept of abyss (gouffre) to describe the historical genocide of the slave ships, whose crossing of the Atlantic Ocean killed hundreds of thousands of African bodies that were then thrown overboard into the depths of the sea. Nothing can historically compare to the slave trade and its degree of extreme persistent violence; however the Mediterranean abyss and its deadly overpopulated boats remind us of a time that we naively defined as over. Through their spatial configuration (and therefore their design), the slave ships reached a degree of overpopulation in an arrangement of bodies that compared to the storage of a non-human cargo. This degree of cruelty does not need to be equaled in order to reach the status of overpopulated space, and the smuggling Mediterranean boats most certainly reach it. In this regard, I would like to question to what correspond the notion of overpopulation in design, and what are its politics.
If we take a step back and examine coldly to what the adjective “overpopulated” refer, regardless of whether we are talking about an enthusiastic rock concert or one of these deadly Mediterranean boats, we find ourselves with the obvious: a space is overpopulated when it does not provide the conditions necessary to host a certain amount of bodies. If we continue with the obvious, bodies are material, which means that they cannot spatially overlap each other, as we often experience in a crowded subway! In strict physical terms, a space cannot be overpopulated, it can simply be populated to the maximum of its capacity. Bodily surfaces and their surrounding architecture (whatever it is) are thus in continuous contact. However, bodies (humans and non-humans) are living entities and they spatially end beyond the commonly definition of their limits (the skin for instance), insofar that they require an atmosphere of breathability in order to maintain their vital functions. We should not think of this atmosphere as fundamentally other to bodies, and this is how we can speak of an overpopulated space: it consists in a space where the vitality of bodies (the bios) has been disregarded in order to only attach importance to their physical occupancy. Body atmospheres can then shrink to their minimum, which concludes in the death of these bodies.
Joyous Machines by Michael Landy and Jean Tinguely (1963)
I am currently traveling for the purpose of Archipelago and did not find the appropriate time to write so far, so before some fresh texts here is a small editorial I wrote for the Italian journal Tourette:
TECHNOCRATS VS. LUDDITES ///
The machine is a vessel of our fantasies. When we think about it, an entire mechanical imaginary is invoked and, with it, the manifestation of our fascination and fear. The image we have of the machine is so rich and ambiguous, that we would probably gain from going back to what it really is, beyond the mechanical aesthetics to which we associate it.
A machine is essentially an apparatus that allows the production of an output through a successive series of steps, each one triggered by the previous one. This is why a machine is always conceived in the inverse order of its function. In other words, in order to conceive a machine, we start from the final product and retrospectively create the steps that lead to it.
Les Halles de Baltard et le Paris perdu. Jour by François Schuiten, 2012 © Schuiten / Casterman
A PALIMPSEST CALLED PARIS: FRANCOIS SCHUITEN AND BENOIT PEETERS’S URBAN FICTIONS
Written for DAMN Magazine 48 (January 2015)
Originally a palimpsest was a parchment scraped numerous times to allow new layers of scriptures to be inscribed into its surface. The erasure was however never total, and archeologists consider such a document for its multiple layers of history gathered into one object. This notion of palimpsest can be perceived at the core of the vision proposed by François Schuiten and Benoit Peeters in their exhibition “Revoir Paris” at the Paris Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine (November 20, 2014 – March 9, 2015). In it, the two graphic novelists mix speculative projects for Paris from the mid-19th century to our era, with their own literary work that proposes visions of an imaginary Paris.
One could think of a classic categorization of these visions from the past of the 19th century to the future of science fiction. The entire exhibition is however conjugated to the future anterior (future antérieur) tense, in other words, visions of the future coming from the past. This is how we can admire many 19thcentury etchings and newspaper articles depicting a delirious future where zeppelins would land on top of medieval buildings such as Notre Dame or the Saint Jacques Tower, where metropolitain trains would circulate on three-story bridges across the city, where entire boulevards would be covered by gigantic cast-iron roof structures, etc. The exhibition also features projects that were, in fact, built, such as the great Hausmannian transformations of the city, as well as the successive World Expos (1855, 1878, 1889, 1900) that took place in it. These projects, ‘despite’ their actualization, can be also considered as speculative in the radicalism they embodied for the time in which they were implemented.
In the recent days, two similar incidents were reported around the presidential residencies of France and the United States. On January 16, a small drone has been seen flying above the Élysée (French presidential palace), revealing a breach in the security of the complex, only two months after photographs of President Hollande inside the gardens were published, leaving the presidential staff clueless about whether these photos had been taken by a drone or not (the magazine denied using one). Two days ago, a similar incident occurred this time in the vicinity of the White House in Washington DC, when a 2×2-foot commercial drone crashed in its gardens. The spectacle of the American news channels exacerbated this almost non-event (it was candidly piloted by a drunk government worker) to the point that CNN anchor Wolf Pritzker suggested to set up the equivalent of the Israeli automatic rocket launcher so-called “Iron Dome” in the White House Complex! However, what these two incidents reveal, beyond the irony of the ‘droner-became-droned,’ is the banalization of drones in the civil realm leading to new legislation regulating their use.
Line 1 by Niyaz Azadikhah (2010)
This 62nd Funambulist Paper is the last one of the second series dedicated to political and philosophical questions about the body, and the second volume that collects it should be published in March by Punctum Books. The following text, “Gender and the Production of Islamic Urban Space,” is written by the wonderful editor of Ajam Media Collective, Alex Shams. This text is part of a broader research he has been conducting for the last few years about gender politics in Iranian cities both before and after the 1979 revolution. This text finds its audio complement in the conversation Alex and I recently had for Archipelago. The Iranian urban space, like every other public space, inevitably influences the various body politics — whether it has been intentionally designed/built for it or not — that, in turn, influences back the organization of this space. This interesting reciprocity is the object of Alex’s work.
THE FUNAMBULIST PAPERS 62 /// Urban Space and the Production of Gender in Modern Iran
by Alex Shams
“You did not understand me Monsieur Nicolas…since yesterday the cartographic center is under the army’s tutelage, something that should have never stopped in the past.” All illustrations from François Schuiten & Benoit Peeters, La frontière invisible, Paris: Casteman, 2004.
The graphic novel The Invisible Frontier by François Schuiten and Benoit Peeters (2004) introduces a narrative, particularly useful in order to understand the militaristic essence of cartography. The main character, De Cremer, is a young cartographer working in a gigantic dome hosting a large-scale model of the country, Sodrovnia. The idea of a world contained within a dome reminds the one depicted in Peter Weir’s Truman Show (1998) and its suggestion of each world’s self-sufficiency — we never really perceived the limits of the dome from inside throughout the book to one exception that will be described below. More importantly however, the cartographic function of this reduced world seems to envision Lewis Carroll‘s concept of a “mile to a mile” map as he describes in Sylvie and Bruno Concluded (1893):
Maps created for the purpose of this article / Download them here in high resolution (11 MB)
(license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 4.0)
In the wake of the recent attacks against journalists and people shopping at a kosher supermarket in Paris, a few people have told me that they expected me to write something here to share my opinion. Given that so many people (in France particularly) have written their own, almost always with great certainty — it is surprising to see so much certainty in a situation symptomatic of so many problems — I decline to give my own account here, and prefer to address things through a less direct and more structural approach. In order to do so, I drew two new maps in the continuity of the ones presented in the 2014 article “The Banlieue Archipelago: Cartographic Inventory of the Cités Around Paris.” The two original maps intended to index 95 cités (large public housing complexes in the suburbs) where 12% of the considered area’s population live in what we could call, a deny of “the right to the city.” The goal of the two new maps consists simultaneously in a complexification of the exclusionary logic at work, as well as the construction of another imaginary in the manner we tend to see Paris. Because of this necessary change of imaginary, I will consistently call “Paris” what is normally considered as the “Parisian region” and specify “the Paris municipality” (what we usually simply call “Paris) when needed.
In the past (see the previous article for instance), I have been repeatedly writing that the “boulevard périphérique” (highway ring) that surrounds Paris constitutes the contemporary equivalent of the city’s fortress walls that used to be situated at the same place. The particularity of Paris is that the Parisian municipality only exists within these walls (see past article for photos), which has for consequences to substantially increase the centralized characteristics of the city in a country already far too centralized. The map introducing a visualization of the wealth disparity in Paris by municipalities helps us to complexities the useful, yet too simplistic vision of Fortress Paris: the map shows clearly that the wealthy municipalities of the West (the wealthiest being named on the map) do not stop at the périphérique, buried for most of it in this area but, instead, have good connection to the wealthiest districts of the Paris municipality (6th, 7th, 8th, and 16th arrondissement). On the contrary, the périphérique marks a strong limit between the poorest municipalities of the North (again, the most extreme ones are named on the map) and the Paris municipality. We can note however that the three poorest districts of the municipality (18th, 19th, and 20th arrondissements), despite their growing gentrification, extend this territory of precariousness. We might therefore want to associate them to a vision of the precarious Paris.
Canyon Cities (Detroit, Oakland, Paris) by Léopold Lambert (2015) / Download them here in high resolution (license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 4.0)
In a recent article entitled “Power Is Logistic: Let’s Shut Down Everything“, I was evoking The Invisible Committee‘s argument according to which sovereign power was now exercised through infrastructure. We were then evoking the various fluxes of bodies, goods and capitals as the vital fluid of a political-economic sovereignty; what we did not examine back then, nevertheless, was the ability for infrastructure, while facilitating some means of communications, to greatly prevents movement in the ‘perpendicularity’ of its axes. Urban highways are thus exemplary of how the infrastructural means of maximizing a movement between the city and its suburbs, simultaneously minimize the movement internal to the same city. Urban populations, in particular the lowest social classes that do not necessarily own a car, find themselves deprived from their “right to the city,” trapped by these axes of segregation cutting the urban fabric like canyons. Whether the municipal intentions were (and still are) to actually segregate these populations through this infrastructure or not, is irrelevant, since the latter’s effects are well-known, and the absence of decision to this matter make mayors and their teams politically responsible for them.
If you enjoy as much as me reading papers by Mimi Thi Nguyen (see our two conversations for Archipelago in 2013 and 2014), this 61st Funambulist Paper (and penultimate of the second series) will be my new year’s gift to you! Entitled “Profiling Surfaces,” this essay uses ideas she developed on Threadbared (co-edited with Minh-Ha Pham) for base and constructs from there an argument about why racism cannot be examined through the bareness of bodies. As Mimi argues, clothing (and, we might add, the designed environment in general), is not a mere ornamental surface that would hide a ‘true body': it is a layering of “epidermic surfaces” (see past article), subjected to the essentializing gaze of the norm, together with the other aspects of the public body’s incarnation. Her forthcoming essay “The Hoodie as Sign, Screen, Expectation, and Force,” in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society (Spring 2015) will expand this argument.
THE FUNAMBULIST PAPERS 61 /// Profiling Surfaces
By Mimi Thi Nguyen
In June 2010, the New York Times published a feature provocatively titled, “The War is Fake, the Clothing Real,” about David Tabbert, a fashion-conscious costumer for a company that clothes play-acting Afghan or Iraqi insurgents and civilians in war games staged for the United States armed forces. “Though Mr. Tabbert, 28, personally prefers G-star denim and concert tees, he was on the hunt for 150 dishdashas, the ankle-length garments worn by men in Iraq and elsewhere in the Arab world. In July, actors will wear them in a simulated Iraqi village, posing as townspeople, clerics and insurgents at a National Guard training ground in the Midwest.” Of his initial hesitation to accept the job, Tabbert notes that while he was not pro-war, “I looked at what we were doing as a positive way to train the soldiers, in light of the fact that they are being deployed anyway.” In educating his eye to create usable profiles, Tabbert studies images on the Internet — “to determine, for example, the exact embroidery on the epaulet of an opposition leader’s military uniform” — and trains others to do the same, thereby teaching soldiers to distinguish between “bad” and “good” Afghans or Iraqis (or et cetera) by their cover.
Vicissitudes by Jason deCaires Taylor in Grenada (2013)
Discovering the underwater sculptures of Guyanese English artist Jason deCaires Taylor, in particular, Vicissitudes (2013) in the Caribbean Sea, made me want to write an extension to the two articles “The Slave Ship Is Architecture” (March 23, 2014), and “The Mediterranean Abyss” (July 1, 2014), about the notion of abyss in regards to the slave trade. Although deCaires Taylor himself does not explicitly claim the imaginary of the Atlantic cross by slave ships in his work, it seems impossible not to think about the two-million African bodies that died in the Atlantic Ocean during the three centuries of the slave trade, when we experience the expressive power of his underwater sculptures, in particular when they are situated in the Caribbean.
In the previous article about the slave ship, I had already quoted passages describing the ships’ atrocious hold by C.L.R. James in The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (Random House, 1989), as well as the abyss (gouffre) of the ocean by Édouard Glissant and Patrick Chamoiseau in L’intraitable beauté du monde (The Unassailable Beauty of the World, Galaade, 2009). Glissant links these two dimensions together by considering the slave ship’s hold as the first abyss (le premier gouffre) in The Poetic of Relation‘s (University of Michigan Press, 1997) first chapter “The Open Boat” (La barque ouverte):
What is terrifying partakes of the abyss, three times linked to the unknown. First, the time you fell into the belly of the boat. For, in your poetic vision, a boat has no belly; a boat does not swallow up, does not devour; a boat is steered by open skies. Yet, the belly of this boat dissolves you, precipitates you into a nonworld from which you cry out. This boat is a womb, a womb abyss. It generates the clamor of your protests; it also produces all the coming unanimity. Although you are not alone in this suffering, you share in the unknown with others whom you have yet to know. This boat is you womb, a matrix, and yet it expels you. This boat: pregnant with as many dead as living under sentence of death. (Édouard Glissant, Poetics of the Relation, trans. Betsy Wing, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997, 6.)