Many guest writers essays these days! In today’s text, Joanne Pouzenc, who is a Berlin-based architect and the organizer of post-capitalist architecture competitions at CollageLab (along with Philine Schneider), offers us a contemplation of the waiting body and the forces in which it find itself entangled. As she points out, there is a strong relation of power between the waiting body and the body that can end that wait. I recently had a close look at this strange relationship that can quickly turn to irrational love or hate when applying for a visa. While my situation was a privileged one for many reasons, the “act of waiting” is best incarnated by the asylum seeker, whose fate is determined administratively (and subjectively), and whose body is condemned to wait sometimes for years to know whether its body will be authorized to remain on this territory or not. Nevertheless, as Joanne points out, the act of waiting is also breaking with the productivity system, and thus allows a relationship to the otherness (also waiting) that would not be possible otherwise.
The act of waiting
by Joanne Pouzenc
After a few years of existence, Twitter has already acquired a certain mythology that gives it the ability to start revolutions among other arguable characteristics. Without caricaturing what Twitter can do or cannot do, we can however acknowledge how it is currently used as a platform of questions around the various ostracist mechanisms of our societies (racism, misogyny, homophobia etc.). In this matter, I particularly recommend the read of the text “In Defense of Twitter Feminism” written by tireless Suey Park and David J. Leonard who develop the urban metaphor of the internet as a city, where Twitter and its accessibility constitute a non-gentrified district where thinkers who embody a dominant position in the relations of power has to renounce to the “privilege of comfort.”
A good example of Twitter becoming a platform to ask important questions can be seen through the recent development of a conversation around the hashtag #SAFEDANSLARUE (safe in the street) that describes the gendered violence that female bodies have to face in the public space, in particular when walking alone at night. First of all, it is important to consider that whether an aggression occurs or not, fear is fully integrated to this violence. This fear is not the fear that is daily cultivated by various stories recounted by the (bad) media and that eventually gives votes to the populist securitarian political parties. The question of the fear felt by a female body when walking alone at night does not call for more police presence — one element of the phallocratic society involves the police not taking seriously victims of gendered aggressions — but is rather the production of a deeply anchored misogyny in the social interactions of the bodies.
Image by Alexander Schneider for Neon Dance featuring Jennifer Essex.
The second volume of The Funambulist Papers (see here for the first one) will be dedicated to questions surrounding the body. As regular readers might have already noticed, there have been already a few approaches to these questions in the past essays of this series, and there will continue to be more. Today’s guest, Adrienne Hart, is particularly competent to talk about bodies as she uses them as primary matter of her art: choreography. In 2003, she founded the Neon Dance company and created several shows since then. In her text “A Sensing Body | A Networked Mind,” she approach the body through a rather unusual take on this platform, the “cartesian dualism” between body and mind, although this is only to reassemble them in the production of dance.
A Sensing Body | A Networked Mind
by Adrienne Hart
Geological analyses of coastal soil to establish the coast line location (courtesy of Daniel Fernández Pascual)
Daniel Fernández Pascual is no ordinary architect. His online platform, Deconcrete, is a cabinet of architectural curiosities, an inventory of structures that find their peculiarity not so much through their form, but rather through their ambiguous legal properties. His academic status of PhD candidate at Goldsmiths University of London and his participation to the fascinating collective Forensic Architecture could make us think of him as a scholar. However, he also talks about territories, culture and economics through another activity at which he excels and that he sometimes publically perform, cooking. As he writes himself, “food shapes markets, and markets shape flows of capital, and capital shapes territories, futures and speculation; but also because territories shape governmentality, and governmentality shapes sovereignty, and sovereignty ultimately constructs living space.” (The Funambulist Papers Volume 1, Punctum Books, 2013.)
The Funambulist now has 3,000 followers on facebook (as well as, 1,200 followers on wordpress and 1,700 on twitter)! Thank you very much for following the blog, as well as Archipelago its new podcast platform. The Funambulist started in January 2011, based on the archives of boiteaoutils and it has provided me since then with great encounters with talented people around the world. Thank you very much for being part of it.
I try to organize the archive of the blog as well as possible, but there are more than a thousand articles existing. Here is a small selection of one archived article by category written in the past four years (most of them can be found in the past and upcoming Funambulist Pamphlets published by Punctum Books):
Today’s guest writer is Gastón Gordillo, professor in anthropology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, to whom we owe the great work on Space and Politics, as well as a forthcoming book, Rubble (Duke University Press, 2014) about the narrative power contained in the figure of the ruin. In the following text, entitled “Nazi Architecture as Affective Weapon,” Gastón uses Third Reich main architect Albert Speer’s memoirs to examine Adolf Hitler’s relationship with architecture, and to which extent this relationship may have influenced his political and military strategies — Gastón goes as far as writing that the competition between Berlin’s projected People’s Hall and Moscow’s Palace of the Soviets might have had a weight in the creation of the Nazi Russian front in 1941. The text also describes Hitler’s admiration for the Baron Haussmann’s transformation — or as I often write, weaponization — of Paris. Although Gastón’s essay focuses on the monumentality and the aesthetics that such a transformation created, it would be hard to believe that Hitler was not also recognizing to the Hausmannian city a genius sense of militarized urbanism. As the text points out, Hitler expressed his regret not to be an architect. When we think of his insatiable will for power, we should start wondering about the relations that architects have with questions of power in the transcendental control they exercise through their design at all scales.
Nazi Architecture as Affective Weapon
by Gastón Gordillo
Excerpt of the book “Let’s Take Back our Space”: ‘Female’ and ‘Male’ Body Language as a Result of Patriarchal Structures by Marianne Wex (Frauenliteraturverlag Hermine Fees, 1979).
Regular readers of the Funambulist will have probably noticed the recent recurrence of articles dedicated to questions of body. This finds an explanation in the nature of my current research for an upcoming book that French publisher D-Fiction was kind enough to propose as a project. This book will explore the political relationships a body develops with design (more on that soon).
For once, this article will be more graphic than discursive since the visual power unfolded by German artist Marianne Wex‘s 1979 book, “Let’s Take Back our Space”: ‘Female’ and ‘Male’ Body Language as a Result of Patriarchal Structures, speaks for itself. I also recommend reading Andi Zeisler’s 2012 article for Bitch Magazine about Wex’s work. In the late 1970s, Wex took more than 6,000 photographs of bodies in the street and established an inventory based on the context in which the photographs have been taken and dividing men from women on each side of a virtual line that cuts the totality of the book into two parts. The contrast between genders is graphically striking between the comfortable positions of the male body that clearly attempts to occupy as much space as it is physically possible, while female bodies, on the contrary, — particularly in the presence of male counterparts as Wex points out — adopt positions that minimizes their occupation. Understood in the logic of a unique occupation for each body that exists (the scheme of the radical-necessity of occupying one and only space at a given moment, and that this space can be occupied only by one body at a time), Wex’s photographs provides us with a clear demonstration that the male body adopts a colonial attitude in the optimization of the space it can physically occupy — and therefore prevents another body to occupy it too — whereas the female body adopts a self-restraining attitude in its reduction to the minimum of space that it can physically occupy.
In terms of visibility, and if we go back to the image of the body as a topological surface (see past article), we can also say that the female bodies on these numerous photographs present a surface folded in such a way that minimizes its appearance, while male bodies, on the contrary expands this surface in a maximization of the visible area — Wex notes that the only time she saw an iconography with female bodies adopting the same positions, it was always addressed to a male audience and a sexual objectification of the female body. A brief look at these recent photographs in Swedish collective transportation (referred in Zeisler’s article) is enough to understand it. As the title of this book implies, Wex attributes such a dichotomy of body language to Western societies’ patriarchal structures that captures a body and places it within normative processes early on in life.
Exemplary photograph on Diane Torr’s “Man for a Day” workshop’s website
The principle of the drag king consists for a body recognized normatively as a woman to embody archetypical male characteristics to experience society from the point of view of a body closer to the norm. This transformation involves a change in fashion, accessories, facial hair, haircut, but also in the very behavior and posture of the body. Workshops proposing to female bodies to embody a male one exist in different versions. The “Man for a Day” workshop created by artist Diane Torr have been organized in many cities of the world, allowing many female bodies to experience the unusual absence of scrutiny on their body, as well as the freedom to behave more confidently. It is introduced by Torr herself as such:
Maybe during a lifetime of observing men in your neighborhood, on the subway, in the office, in cars, in your home, etc., you have a curiosity about how men “get away” with certain behaviors that would be considered undesirable or socially unacceptable in women. You might want to experience the transformation from female to male as a way to intercept your so-called “normal” behavior as a woman, and discover new responses. (http://dianetorr.com/workshops/man-for-a-day-workshop/)
Still from the film Roots of Love by Harjant Gill (2011)
This article follows the previous one about the hijab as a complex cultural wearable object. This time, a similar complexity is examined in another wearable object: the turban, wore by men in Sikhism. Similarly than for the hijab, this piece of garment establishes a clear separation of genders within the religious community, but even more importantly, it allows its members to “be counted” within a society that counts members of other communities (Sikhs represent 60% of the Punjab population, and only 2% of the population in India). In order to explore this complexity materialized into a long piece of fabric folded numerous times around one’s head, we should look at Harjant Gill‘s short film Roots of Love (2011).
Hana Tajima, a designer that creates apparels that include hijab for some of them, and not for some others (courtesy of the artist)
In 2004, the French government presided by Jacques Chirac designed a law that obtained one of the largest majority of his administration in Parliament (494 votes for, 36 votes against). This piece of legislation was forbidding any sign or cloth that manifests “ostensibly” the religion to which the body wearing it belong at school. French politicians all spoke together when they say that it was not specifically subjecting Muslim young women’s hijab but also all other religious signs — they also say that “discreet” Christian crosses were tolerated! The debate that occurred through this law — again, not in Parliament that was not far from unanimity — revealed an intelligentsia in France that used the sacred secularity (oxymoron used purposely!) as a flag and targeted every one who disagreed as “anti-feminist.” Now the fact that these people proclaim themselves feminist while forcing some women to unveil can appear paradoxical. The refusal to integrate any complexity to their way of thinking reveals that their arguments were more based on the visceral islamophobia that currently animates the Western world, rather than a true will to understand what lies in this piece of fabric.
The first mental operation that a reflection on a object like the hijab is consists precisely in starting from its objective characteristics: it is a designed object, a piece of clothe that can be wore just like a hat, a cap or a hood. In a cold day like the one New Yorkers just lived (sorry for the geocentrism!), almost all the bodies you see in the street are wearing something on their head, thus minimizing the surface of bare skin that is accessible to cold air. Let’s insist on the fact that the hijab, as a piece of clothe, does not hurt physically the body in any way. Now, let’s intensify this object by attributing it a religious value, that means, a group of people who form of community through their common faith choose a set of rules for their community. One of these rules can consist in the recognition of two genders within — I insist on “within” — this community and determine an appropriate apparel or dressing code for each of these genders. In the case that each body concerned by these rules is willing to accept them for his/her own way of living, it seems difficult for someone from outside the community to have a problem with it. After all, I do not remember hearing any criticisms about the way Christian nuns dress within their own community. Now you have a religion called Islam that the Western intelligentsia and politics do not to even make the effort to learn about the different communities that this religion regroups and that are sufficiently different that some of them are sometimes at war with each other.
Last Friday, Beatriz Preciado (see the several past articles) wrote a column in French newspaper Libération calling for a “strike of the uterus” in Spain in reaction to the law that will soon be voted (and likely approved) by the Spanish government to limit the right to abortion to only extreme cases. I translated this text at the end of this article but I would like to talk about it first. Although Preciado does not talk about it as Libération’s readers might have been slightly puzzled by this depth of theory — it used to be a good newspaper — she certainly attributes this return to the legislation before 1985 to a dimension of what she calls the “pharmacopornographic society.” Generated from Michel Foucault’s “society of control,” the pharmacopornographic society corresponds to a biopolotical mode of governmentality in which the sexuality of its bodies is controlled through the capitalist production of drugs and spectacle.
The Spanish legislation is a Church-backed act of colonialism on the female body as it considers the uterus as a strict organ of reproduction of bodies to form the manpower and consumers of tomorrow. Higher social classes will have indeed not too much trouble receiving an abortion abroad, while the lower social classes won’t have this luxury and will have to go through extremely risky clandestine methods that used to be exercised before the struggled pieces of legislation legalizing abortion. As usual in contemporary colonialism, the communication made around it insists on a supposed protection of what is under attack. Thus, this new law is entitled “Law on the Protection of the Conceived Life and Rights of Pregnant Woman,” as if the rights of the pregnant woman had been enhanced. Similarly the hypocrisy expressed through this law is blatant when one discovers that there is two cases of legal abortion, when endangering of the pregnant woman’s life and in the specificity of rape, that both anticipate different terms to accomplish the abortion: respectively twenty-two weeks and twelve weeks. The very existence of these two cases proves the Spanish government’s demagogy since a human life could not possibly be the object of legal calculations of this kind if the fetus was indeed recognized as a full human subject of rights.
Royal Air Force Nimrod XV230 named after the biblical character of Nimrod
The forty-sixth Funambulist Papers comes from one of the most important current thinkers in political geography: Stuart Elden who is the author of five books, as well as the editor of seven others (see the photo) including the very useful Space, Knowledge and Power: Foucault and Geography (Ashgate, 2007.). In the following text he interprets and critique the notion of territory — he recently wrote a book entitled The Birth of Territory (University of Chicago Press, 2013.) — in the philosophical-historical work of Grégoire Chamayou, and more specifically in the book Manhunts (Princeton University Press, 2012.). The reader is invited to also consult the two articles dedicated to Chamayou on The Funambulist: “The Body as a Terrain of Experiments: Medicine and Vile Bodies” and “The Body of the Prey is the Battlefield.” The three books written by Chamayou, Vile Bodies, Manhunts and Drone Theory are indeed centered on the question of body and the “genealogy” — to use Michel Foucault’s terminology — of the mechanisms of power that surrounds it. Stuart’s text helps us to place this body within a legal and physical territory where these mechanisms operate.
The Funambulist Papers 46 /// Chamayou’s Manhunts: From Territory to Space?
by Stuart Elden
This brief article discusses Grégoire Chamayou’s Manhunts, a powerful account of human inhumanity, the tracking down and killing of other humans. As he says in his second paragraph:
The 1991 documentary Paris Is Burning by Jennie Livingston shows an important aspect of African-American and Latino gay and transgender life in New York in the 1980s: the balls. Organized in Harlem, these balls consist in competitions to judge which body can perform in the “realest” manner, something for which it is not recognized by society. For example, a ball jury would determine which one of the two dark and gay bodies can perform the best as rich heterosexual white body. Similarly, transgenders are judged on their ability to perform as “real” — term used by the jury itself — women.
Fashion is an important component of balls. Some contestants create their own clothes, others struggle to gather enough money to purchase remarkable clothing in relation to the category for which they compete. In this matter, a brief inventory of these categories says much about the variety of the social labels performed: “pretty girl,” “high fashion winter sportswear,” “luscious body,” “schoolboy schoolgirl,” “town and country,” “businessman of the 80′s,” “high fashion Parisian,” “butch queen,” “military,” “high fashion eveningwear…” The balls also invented a new dance at the crossroad of homage and parody of fashion magazines like Vogue: they called it “voguing.” This dance consists in the fast succession of poses systematically adopted by models when being photographed for fashion magazines.
In a quote I used in a past article, Judith Butler describes gender as an act, a repeated performance accomplished in the public realm as a recognizable semiotics:
When I first went to Chandigarh in 2009, I reasonably visited the main buildings designed by Le Corbusier, troubling the urban grid only by the rather conventional tour of Nek Chand’s rock garden. When I came back last month however, I got the opportunity to explore Burail, one of the few villages of Chandigarh, thanks to my former colleague in Mumbai, Mayank Ojha who dedicated his undergraduate thesis research to it and from whom I owe the following information. Situated in the city’s Sector 45, Before the construction of the capital city of both Indian Punjab and Haryana in the 1950′s following the partition of India and Pakistan — Lahore being the capital of Pakistani Punjab — Burail was a village that could not do much against the eminent domain that expropriate its agricultural land. The farmers managed to organize however to obtain the right to keep the political autonomy on the village’s land itself within the limits of the “red tape.”
With time, the village became an intense place of economic production where people of Chandigarh go for products they do not find in the rest of the city (car mechanical parts, household electrical equipment, fresh vegetables…) and where migrants from outside the city can find shelter. Such an economic activity without urban codification led the village to grow significantly in density to become a built mass where the sky is often framed narrowly by the various vertical extension brought to older buildings. The labyrinthine aspect of the small streets inside Burail contrasts with the square properties of its limits that create a form of inhabited wall as an interface between the inside and the outside.
Madeline Gins with Joke Post at the recent opening of the Biotopological Scale-Juggling Escalator on December 20, 2013 (photo by Momoyo Homma)
This is not an obituary.
Since yesterday morning Madeline Gins is no longer fighting against death; she finally embraced its entropic forces and her body will soon disperse in the “bioscleave,” a word Arakawa and her invented to describe the unfathomable forces at work in the material word. This platform is not an appropriate place for emotions, not even for those felt for a dear friend and inspirational mentor. This is why, I would rather celebrate the joy that was named Madeline Gins by, once again, writing about her work instead. Punctuating death is still to misinterpret it into an event; it was at work all-along, life — and what a life! — was the creativity resisting it.
Before exploring Gins’s writings, and since no poetic text — probably no text for that matter — could not possibly be considered the same way depending on the way it is read, I would like to give you the opportunity to hear her words through her voice directly as I recently recorded her, reading what she calls “the Reversible Destiny Declaration” :
I am very happy to announce that Archipelago (the-archipelago.net) is now an operational podcast platform, functioning in parallel with the Funambulist that got a new design for the occasion. As of today, Archipelago will release two new podcasts every week. The three starting podcasts are conversations that I had with architect David Garcia, gender and women studies professor Mimi Thi Nguyen and legal theorist Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos (see below).
All podcasts are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License as a contribution to open-access since Archipelago’s ambition is to propose alternative modes of transmissions of knowledge than the universitarian one.
This ambition authorizes a broad editorial line that could be summarized as the impossibility to find a neutrality in any form of design, whether the latter creates an architecture or a law, a film or a painting.
Once again, a big thank you to all the contributors to the crowdfunding campaign who provided a starting operating budget for the platform.
I wish you an excellent sonic year!
Saartjie Baartman (1789-1815), often known by her colonial nickname, the “Hottentot Venus,” is the tragic figure of the colonized body par excellence. During her short existence, and even after, her body has been the fetish of sadism — one can think of Sade’s Justine — in its spectacular, racist and colonialist aspects. The film Black Venus (2010) by Tunisian French director Abdellatif Kechiche is particularly helpful to explore the tragic chronology of Baartman’s life (after 1810), and I therefore recommend its viewing.
Until 1810, Baartman was a slave in an Afrikaner farm in South Africa. She is then brought to London where she becomes the object of a freak show for the particularity of her body’s morphology. Her hips and buttocks are indeed hypertrophied and her genitals bulging. Kechiche’s film dramatizes the spectacularity of her presentation to the (paying) spectators: she is displayed like a wild and dangerous animal that each is invited to touch as a challenge to his/her fear. She is then moved in Paris where she becomes the subject of scientific paintings insisting on her body’s morphology presented as one of the remain of prehistoric human bodies. Her genitalia being a particular object of attention for scientists, she is repeatedly offered money to display it to an academic audience. She is finally subjected to prostitution in private parties at first, then in a brothel and dies of an unknown disease (perhaps small pox or syphilis) in 1815. The tragic story that objectifies her body is however not over as it is dissected and placed into formalin by a French anatomist and zoologist that uses his research to attempt to demonstrate in front of the French National Academy of Medicine (see the still of Kechiche’s film above) a racist theory of evolution for which black bodies are considered as pre-humans. The mold created on her corpse will be exhibited by the prestigious Musée de l’Homme in Paris until 1974, and it is only in 2002 that the demands from the Khoïkhoï (racistly called “Hottentot” by the Afrikaners), supported by the post-Apartheid South African government, will be met by the French government in order to send back Baartman’s remains to be buried on her native land.
I am happy to open the 2014 series of article by sharing the rich content of the book The Gift of Freedom: War, Debt, and Other Refugee Passages written by Funambulist friend Mimi Thi Nguyen who I quoted many times recently, mostly for her work about the relationship between fashion and politics (listen to the Archipelago podcast we recorded together). This time, however, I would like to insist on the precise reading that Mimi does of the imperialist mechanisms through the invention of a political-philosophical concept, “the gift of freedom.” This gift, ‘offered’ — often through devastating wars — by the imperialist governments of the United States and post-colonialism Europe to nations that are craving for freedom according to the imperialist narrative, is defined by Mimi as “an assemblage of liberal political philosophies, regimes of representation, and structures of enforcement that measure and manufacture freedom and its others” (p12). She further insists on the production of nonrefundable debt that such a gift produces, as well as the manifestation of racial ideologies that are at work in the actions and discourses operating around it.
Race and the Education of Desire (Duke University Press, 1995) by Ann Laura Stoler constitutes an articulation of Michel Foucault‘s 1976-1984 History of Sexuality with the knowledge gathered by post-colonial studies. As Stoler recognizes herself in the book’s epilogue, we always ‘blame’ Foucault for not having make his work exhaustive (see my own past blame!), but it belongs to us to construct works after his own. In the specific case of this book, Stoler starts by considering what Foucault has written and said about colonialism and racism, which is not as prominent in his work as other notions have been (like pasteurism or governmentality).
The essence of Foucault’s work on sexuality is that we tend too often to have a reading of the normative processes at work in sex based on the idea that sexuality is being repressed. This reading can be partially explained by the importance of Sigmund Freud’s work that favors such interpretation. Foucault, on the other hand, sees in sexuality a biopolitical governmentality at work and the expression of various relationships of power as recalls Stoler in the beginning of her book:
We have seen many times how the State of Israel and its army manage to maintain the status quo of the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as the incarceration of the Gaza strip, through the spectacle of sparing the “international” opinion (understand the opinion of countries that could actually do something against these conditions). In order to do so, the I.D.F. provides a simulacrum of submission to the international legislation (see past article “Law as a Colonial Weapon“), which disguise military practices that violate this legislation.