When visiting for the second time the Chateau de Chenonceau (Indre et Loire, France) last week, I could not help but notice an important aspect of the chateau’s history in the sum of information given by the brochure. Usually known as part of the “Chateaux de la Loire,” all built during the 16th century in the region of Tours, Chenonceau has the particularity of bridging the Cher river, which has been implementing the demarcation line between occupied and free France between July 1940 and November 1942. During this period, France was effectively separated into two parts (see map below), one occupied by the Nazis including the cities of Paris, Lille, Nantes, and Bordeaux, as well as the two third of the resources of the country, and the other called “free” whose government based in Vichy has been instrumental in their collaboration with the Nazis, including in the massive arrests of the Jewish population that was subsequently deported to the extermination camps. Despite this collaboration, the French resistance had less trouble organizing in the ‘Free Zone’ and people susceptible to be arrested by the Gestapo were able to find a relative shelter South of the demarcation line.
What is interesting in giving talks is the potentiality of a dialogue with the people who are kind enough to come listen and often question the formulation if not the founding of one’s argument. I was lucky enough to do a few of these talks during this last year and could not help but notice the recurrence of a similar question. Such a recurrence can only be due to my failure to articulate my ideas in a clear manner, and that is what I would like to fix in this article.
Talking repeatedly of the intrinsic violence of architecture, this recurrent question always insists on the exaggerated use of the term violence, and almost always invokes the idea of a primitive shelter as fundamentally proving that “not all architectures are violent.” Beyond the debate about whether or not the example of the shelter qualifies as a sort of romanticized rousseauist original architecture – along the same lines than the idea of a “human nature” – I would like to argue that this same example of the primitive shelter develops the same violence than any other architecture.
“The primitive shelter protects us from the rain, the wind, the snow, how is it violent?” I am being asked. Its violence does not come from its function (protection) but from the necessary exclusion it triggers while accomplishing it. In other words, when you create the shelter, you create the process determining who gets to benefit of it, and who does not. Even in the case of an open-shelter like the ones we often see in the mountains, the process of exclusivity operates through a critical number of bodies that can be located ‘under the shelter’s protection.’ In this specific example, one could argue that the logic “first here, first served” is a legitimate one, but beyond the fact that this logic is the same that feeds nationalist discourse at a broader scale, the question of legitimacy of the way the exclusivity is determined is irrelevant for the purpose of this argument; what remains is the fact that this exclusionary process is necessarily operative when we consider architecture.
Above: Original master plan of Brasilia by Lúcio Costa (1957)
Below: Map of Algiers’s Casbah with its streets’ names
I recently had the chance to visit Brazil’s capital city, Brasilia, in order to record a conversation with anthropologist Antonadia Borges (stay tuned on Archipelago) at the University of Brasilia. Interested by the quasi-simultaneity of the Brazilian change of capital from Rio de Janeiro to Brasilia (1960) subsequent to the construction of the city from scratch, and the beginning of the military dictatorship (1964), I wanted to ask her about the ways that the design of the city may have allowed the dictatorial regime to thrive. In this regard, we can distinguish three scales of control facilitated by the creation of the new city of Brasilia:
– at a territorial level, removing the government from the largest cities prevented from a confrontation between its members and a substantial part of the country’s population
– at an urban level, the novelty of the city allowed the authorities to dispose of the city in the way that they saw fit, thus removing large parts of the working class from it, despite their active participation to its construction
– at a suppressive level, the controlled master plan of the city, designed by Lúcio Costa, allowed the military and police forces to stranglehold the urban space and the potential insurrections that could potentially occur in it.
Lúcio Costa and the main architect of Brasilia, Oscar Niemeyer, are well-known for their leftist political agenda — Niemeyer was a member of the Brasilian Communist Party and even its President in the 1990s — difficult to combine with the governing of the dictatorship. In this regard Niemeyer quit his functions at the University of Brasilia in 1965 and exiled himself to France in 1966 — his projects will however continue to be built in Brasilia. The responsibility of the political control exercised by the dictatorship as described above is therefore difficult to solely attribute to the urban designer and the architect. Nevertheless, it is fundamental to note that a city emerging from a homogeneous masterplan complemented with the ubiquitous designs of one architect and the landscape design of one other designer (Roberto Burle Marx), however talented and ‘well-intentioned’ they might be, is more or less consciously ‘dreaming’ of a military intervention to implement the designed plans. In other words, there is necessarily a degree of dictatorship in all design materialized into the realities of bodies. The scale of a body being relatively unalterable, we could make the hypothesis that this degree carries a proportional influence to the scale of the design, i.e. an entire city conceived according to one design will be more susceptible to develop a higher degree of violence than one sole building for instance. New cities like Le Havre (reconstructed, Auguste Perret, France, 1949), Brasilia (Lúcio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer, Brazil, 1960), Chandigarh (Le Corbusier, India, 1966), or more recently Masdar (Norman Foster, UAE, 2006), all materialize the political scheme of a unique design, against which only the slow entropy created by erosion, human behaviors, and multiple politics, is able to resist.
Typical entrances to upper social class housing buildings in São Paulo (all photographs by Léopold Lambert)
I am finishing a trip in Latin America (Mexico City, Santiago, Buenos Aires, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Brasilia) to record a series of conversations for Archipelago. Having experienced these cities for the first time, I received many advice from locals — in English, Spanish, and Portuguese — to be “careful” about where I was going, when I was going there, how I was going there, and how I should behave or not behave once there. Whether these advice were fully corresponding to a reality or not is not mine to say since it would pretend that I know better, which of course I do not. What I am interested to examine here is how these discursive prevention adds a form of additional layer on the city that modify behaviors within it, and ultimately modify its physicality by crystallizing fear into architecture.
The new public square of Fawwar refugee camp
Photograph by Adam Ferguson for the New York Times
A few days ago, the New York Times exceptionally published an interesting article about Palestine entitled “Refugees Reshape Their Camp at the Risk of Feeling at Home” (Michael Kimmelman, Sept 6, 2014). This article describes the dialogue between the Palestinian refugees living in the camp of Fawwar near Hebron and architects Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti, well known on this blog to be the founders (with Eyal Weizman) of Decolonizing Architecture — something that the NYT failed to introduce, probably considering that it was too “political.” The object of this dialogue was the project to design and build a public square in the refugee camp. I have been introducing the architectural dilemma that constitutes the idea of improvement of a refugee camp a few times, but never dedicated an entire article to it; this built public square provides the paradigmatic conditions to do so.
The architectural dilemma of the refugee camp consists in the idea that everything about the camp should express its temporariness. This question starts to intervene when a camp has been existing for a few years, and one would easily understand that it becomes particularly problematic when the camps are almost 70 years old like in the case of the Palestinian camps in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon (see the summary map). In their case, the problem is not that the safe conditions are not gathered for their population to return on their land, but rather that the sovereign authority (namely the State of Israel) on the land of return categorically refutes this right, while simultaneously granting it to the religious group it strategically attempts to represent. The expressed temporariness of the camp is therefore even more crucial as it shows the determination of its inhabitants to return one day on their land — on their family’s land in most cases since most refugees are born in exile. We can thus perceive the problematic characteristics of a spatial improvement project like the public square of Fawwar, and the subsequent debate that occurred when this idea was triggered.
Two screenshots from the website of “Colony 1209″ in Bushwick (New York)
Last month, one more of these outrages with little investigative depth (see past article for another one) occurred on the internet and in New York newspapers: the new Upper West Side (New York) development of One Riverside Park, currently being built in the continuity of the infamous Trump Towers along the Hudson River, is going to implement segregated entrances for its wealthy residents and its lower-income ones. Many development projects like this one integrate publicly subsidized rent-stabilized units in exchange for tax breaks from the city of New York; however, in an effort not to mix its two resident populations, these buildings implement a strict segregation in its semi-private spaces. It is the very logic of luxury to provide the exclusivity of the service it provides: prohibitive prices do not simply relate to an expensive cost to produce the luxury product (food, objects, cars or architecture), they also integrate a large part that corresponds to nothing else than the guarantee that only a few people are able to afford it. The social violence here is manifest, since the price of luxury contains its strategic prohibition to most people. The door attributed to lower-income residents — One Riverside Park is very far to be the only case of such a practice — corresponds to the same violence that segregates populations based on their social status.
We should however not see this segregated entrances as the only architectural symptom of this violence. In another article about One Riverside Park, Pedro Hernández (see his Funambulist Paper) reminds us of another architectural invention that prevented the servants of a bourgeois or aristocratic house from remaining in the ‘noble’ parts of the building: the corridor (see also the conversation I had with Ann Laura Stoler about it in a colonial context). Corridors indeed allowed to organize the servants’ work in the house through a distributing space that was the least noble place of the house because of its narrowness and, often, its absence of window. Such characteristics also applied to the servants’ dwelling within the house itself — on can think of the well-known “chambre de bonne” (maid’s bedroom) under the Parisian roofs — but the corridor was particular in its inventive intersticiality in the architectural plan: it is as if the corridor was a space contained within the walls, allowing the discreet invisibility required to service. The space within the wall, the “thickness of the line,” also carries an ambiguous legal regime as I have been writing regularly in the past. The point that I would like to convey all along this article is that the social segregation depicted here could not be possible without these architectural inventions. This is not to say that social segregation is fundamentally architectural but, rather, that many of its means of implementation could simply not exist without architecture.
Last Friday, the Liberian government has announced that it was lifting the quarantine that was enforced on the West Point neighborhood in Monrovia. For ten days, the 70,000 inhabitants of this poor neighborhood were split from the rest of the city, and left in the fear of a potential contamination by the Ebola virus. Some of these inhabitants tried to break the police blockade surrounding the neighborhood but they were received with teargas and live ammunition that led to the death of a 15-year old boy named Shakie Kamara. Viral diseases particularly feeds the fear for otherness as it allows fantasies of contamination between bodies in an invisible realm. When such an antagonism is paired with an already existing one, directed towards the lowest social class of a given population, the segregation that emerges from it can be radical, as it is in West Point.
I already quoted extensively Michel Foucault’s course at the Collège de France about quarantine (in Abnormals) in an article dedicated to the 2013 manhunt of suspected terrorist Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in Boston (see also the article in The Funambulist Pamphlets dedicated to Foucault and Legal Theory). This situation had put entire neighborhoods of the American city into quarantine for a day, enabling the SWAT police squads to search every house one by one. This event resonated well with Foucault’s descriptions of a quarantined town in which the plague had been contracted, and the administrative and policed “quadrillage” (partitioning/policing) of the city implemented in order to contain the disease and manage the life of the city’s population. This type of urban crisis organization constituted for Foucault a new paradigm of meticulous administration of the territory — it is part of the shift towards biopolitics — rather than the former paradigm of exclusion of its sicked bodies like in the case of leprosy. As I have been writing often, the quarantined city and its “quadrillage” also materializes the weaponized characteristics of an architecture considered as ‘benign’ as a house: the walls that used to enforce private property now enforcing the temporary imprisonment of its inhabitants.
Before resettling in Europe in September, I will be on the roads of Latin America to record a few conversations for Archipelago. In this context, I am honored to participate to the following upcoming conversations with different local friends’ organizations. I hope to be able to meet some of you there:
- Tuesday, August 26 (7:30pm): MEXICO CITY: A Conversation with Arquine organized by Andrea Griborio, Alejandro Hernandez, and Pedro Hernandez Nostromez
Address: Culiacian No.123, Anexo, er piso, Colonia Hipodromo Condesa, Ciudad de Mexico
- Friday, August 29 (7pm): SANTIAGO DE CHILE: “Writing as an Architect Against the Occupation of the Palestinian Territories,” at Teatro Diana, organized by Architects Without Architecture (Francisco Diaz and Jose Abasolo)
Address: Arturo Prat No435, Santiago
- Thursday, September 11 (6:30pm): RIO DE JANEIRO: “No Escape from the Body: The Corporeal Politics of the Cloth, the Wall, and the Street,” at Studio-X Rio de Janeiro, organized by Pedro Rivera and Raul Correa-Smith
Address: Praça Tiradentes, 48, Rio de Janeiro
Ernst Neufert, Architects’ Data (1936)
This new Funambulist Paper is written by friend Sofia Lemos, public programmer and researcher based in London, and with whom I have been sharing great interest for the relationships developed between the human body and the norm, as well as the violence that result from this encounter. In the following text, she establishes a short genealogy of the norm being recognized and constructed through a scientific approach to be later used as a standard on which to define space and architecture. Interested readers can make Sofia’s text dialog with a text I wrote in the past, entitled “Transgressing the Idealized Normative Body.” Her text is more anchored within a historical genesis of the normative process in the context of design, but we both see in Ernst Neufert’s work, the paroxysm of such practice that constructs a normative body to be used as an paradoxically ideal — it is a paradox since ideal and norm commonly appear as antithetic — to design space around it. The violence that results from this process is then proportional to the degree of difference that the considered body has vis-a-vis this normative invented body.
NORM, MEASURE OF ALL THINGS
By Sofia Lemos
Architectural practice and theoretical discourse has considered Ernst Neufert’s canonical Architects’ Data (1936) as a product the search for an optimal built environment based on accounts of a single normative body. In light of the increasing pervasiveness of bespoke biometric solutions and applications in architecture and design, this essay seeks to offer a different genealogy of the entanglement between architecture standards and statistical methods of measuring the social body. This essay draws a speculative history from the point when modern architecture ceases to account for, to become accountable for normalizing that body.
Norms, have long inhabited the architect’s toolset. Pertaining to the carpenter’s square or rule norma is first codified in the early nineteenth century as ‘standard, pattern, model’ as evidence of its common usage. Whereas the vernacular use of the noun ‘norm’ had to do with geometry, with ‘right angles’ and perpendicular lines, its adjectival derivation ‘normal’ is defined in 1828 in the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘constituting, conforming to, not deviating or differ from, the common type or standard.’ The emergence of the adjectival form of the noun is the first historical clue that suggests a symbolic shift that happened throughout the eighteenth century from the language of geometry to that of biological matter.
Map created by Léopold Lambert for The Funambulist (August 2014)
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In the two last months, much information was released (including on this platform) regarding the various issues that Palestinians have to face, the massacre occurring in Gaza being only one (particularly violent) aspect of these issues. Part of this information was very specific and, legitimately so, since part of the political struggle is also accomplished through the production of knowledge. However, it is always useful to take a step back, and supply synthetic information to people who might not have accessed (for whatever reason) to this introductory narrative. Moreover, the construction of this synthetic information informs the way we envision the future of the struggle, as I explain in my recent attempt to begin a “lexicon for a future Palestinian narrative” recently. In this regard, I felt that it was important to trace the map presented above in order to introduce the various historical and present embodying means of Israel’s state violence. In addition of ‘localizing’ them on the map, I will try to briefly expose them here, as well as linking them to past articles as reading complement (most of these issues are also introduced in Weaponized Architecture: The Impossibility of Innocence).
Two circular keys responds to each other on this map. The small dots populating the Israeli territory are pre-1948 Palestinian villages that have been evicted by the Israeli army, then destroyed, often to the very last stone in an act of erasure of Palestinian presence on the land. Such destruction denied Palestinians from what I came to call “the right to the ruin,” which would have allowed the narrative of the Nakba to be expressed through the visible abandonment of these structures. In this regard, the Israeli organization Zochrot has been instrumental in making an inventory of these villages and providing photographs of their forced absolute disappearance. The larger white dots of the map outside of the Israeli territory respond to these first dots: they are Palestinian refugee camps administrated by UNRWA and constructed to host those who had been evicted from the villages on what became Israeli territory in 1948. They are situated in Gaza (8 camps and currently 1,221,000 registered refugees), in the West Bank (19 camps and currently 741,000 registered refugees), in Jordan (10 camps and currently 2,035,000 registered refugees), Syria (13 camps and currently 499,000 registered refugees), and Lebanon (10 camps and currently 449,000 registered refugees). These camps constitute extremely dense urban fabric and rudimentary life conditions, as they are fundamentally thought to be temporary, despite the fact that most of their inhabitants lived their entire life within them. The right to return for 5.7 million Palestinians, like the one allowed for each Jewish person of the world by Israel, is one essential element of the Palestinian agenda, but it seems like it would be abandoned by the Palestinian authority in their negotiation for an independent state of Palestine, hence the will of many of us not to pursue this future.
The tenth volume of The Funambulist Pamphlets that gathers and edits past articles of the blog about literature 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 cinema. Click here to see the other volumes of The Funambulist Pamphlets.
Thank you to Eileen Joy, Anna Kłosowska, Ed Keller, Sophia Krimizi, Carla Leitão, Martin Byrne, Lucy Finchett-Maddock, Ethel Baraona Pohl, and Cesar Reyes.
Index of the Book
Introduction: Architectural Narratives
01/ By Revealing the Existence of Other Worlds, the Book is a Subversive Artifact
02/ Jack Kerouac: The Rooms, the Dioramas, the Maps by Sofia Krimizi
03/ Fernando Pessoa: Heteronyms by Carla Leitão
04/ Fyodor Dostoyevsky: The Tyranny of Logic, the Voice of Blood, and Inner Disharmony by Martin Byrne
05/ Antonin Artaud: Sacred Matter
06/ Van Gogh The Man Suicided by Society by Antonin Artaud
07/ “My Desire is Someone Else’s Fiction”
08/ Short Approach to the Notion of Commodity for William Burroughs and Karl Marx
09/ William Burroughs’s Interzone: The Space of the Suspended Law Contained in the Thickness of the Line
10/ Coriolanus and the State of Exception
11/ Destructive Beauty: The Stendhal/Mizoguchi Syndrome as Seen by Yukio Mishima
12/ The Faustian Pact of the Artist: Hell Screen by Ryunosuku Akutagawa
13/ Desexualizing Sade: Relations of Absolute Power on the Bodies from Sodom to Abu Grhaib
14/ The Precise Design of Torture in Kafka’s Penal Colony
15/ Minor Literature
16/ The Kafkaian Immanent Labyrinth as a Postmortem Dream
17/ Computational Labyrinth or Towards a Borgesian Architecture
18/ The Two Architectures of the Infinite Possible Worlds: Leibniz’s Pyramid & Borges’ Garden of Forking Paths
19/ George Orwell: The Post-Ideological Man
20/ Tower of Joy, Ulan Bator, April 1992
Maps of Gaza by the UN Office for Coordination of Human Affairs (August 2014) – Selected and Augmented with 200-meter radius circles for The Funambulist (August 15, 2014)
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When it comes to the Israeli enforced organization of space in the West Bank and Gaza, one can always turns towards the UN Office for Coordination of Human Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian territories and the regularly updated maps they provide coupled with a multitude of important data. OCHA just released a 120-page “Gaza Crisis Atlas” that superimposes recent satellite photographs of the Gaza strip and their analyses in terms of damage imposed by the Israeli army bombing/shelling of this last month. Each red dot on these documents represents a destroyed structure, and it does not take much time to realize the amplitude of the bombings’ impact on the ground as red dots populate each page of the ‘atlas.’ What the precision of OCHA’s mapping fails to represent however, is the fact that a bombing is not confined to the violent physical destruction of a localized building, it also corresponds to an atmospheric volume of impact that I will try to expose in this article. In order to visualize this ‘atmospheric’ impact, I selected four pages of the OCHA ‘atlas’ and augmented each ‘red dot’ with a 200-meter radius circular red area. What this means is that everyone who lives inside one of these red areas has been experiencing at least one (often more) bombing in her/his immediate proximity — we can probably all agree that 200 meters equals immediate proximity when it comes to war. These four maps were selected for their representative characteristics in that some areas of the Gaza strip have been so heavily and systematically bombed that their maps would have been fully red, while a few other areas were more sporadically bombed, in particular in the less densely populated zones where the former Israeli settlements were situated. One of the map is in the North of Gaza, two others in the middle area, and the last one is near Rafah in the South, in order to illustrate how the totality of the Gaza strip was heavily affected.
Guantanamo bay detainees, blindfolded, ear-muffed, gloved and hooded, awaiting processing (source: Wikileaks)
The 49th conversation I had for Archipelago was a conversation with A. Naomi Paik about her forthcoming book, Rightlessness, which examines the American production of rightless subjects through their incarceration into camps that function as legal fictions (read more on the podcast page). One of the three camps she considers as paradigmatic is Guantanamo Bay’s Camp Delta, where 149 detainees remain incarcerated without having received any due trial. Paik explains how such a camp can only exist once it has created a specific legal status that makes it function through a manufactured legality. In this regard, she attached a particular importance to the status of “enemy combatant” attributed to detainees for their kidnapping and incarceration to be enacted. This made me thought of this status of “enemy combatant” as operating through a legal illocution that I would like to examine here.
The term of illocution was spread through the writings of Judith Butler, who demonstrated that gender, as a social construction, was produced by perfomativity, and triggered by phrases like the one of the doctor at the birth of a baby: “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!”. Nevertheless, we have to go back to J. L. Austin and his 1962 book, How to Do Things with Words that Butler regularly quotes. The illocution consists in enacting the content of words when pronouncing them. The phrases mentioned above can illustrate well such a definition in the context of gender; in the judicial context that frames the content of this article, we can evoke the example given by Austin himself: “I sentence you to…” that enacts the sentence when pronounced by a judge in a court. The simultaneous nature of the pronunciation of the words with their enactment makes their cancellation difficult as the illocution carries a sense of definitiveness. This is particularly important for the argument presented in this article, since the listeners of the illocution are often incarnating the subject of its words and, therefore, of its enactment.
I started writing this article when the ceasefire in Gaza was still active and that, for the first time in 4 weeks, no one was killed for three days. As argued in a recent article, we need to put as much energy in critiquing the ordinary violence of the blockade on Gaza and the occupation in East Jerusalem and the West Bank than the one we have spent in our outrage to the recent massacre. The language we use for our political struggles informs the degree of resistance that it offers to the dominant narrative as Mimi Thi Nguyen have been arguing in the determining of figures of innocence (see past article and conversation on Archipelago). The Palestinian narrative for the future therefore needs to be carefully constructed depending on the vision at which it is aiming. Such prospects are always problematic, as they touch the delicate realms of “solutions,” which should be thought not as “ends of history,” but rather, within their own reconfiguration of relations of power. Since I already presented a speculative map of what the future of the region could (should?) be like, I would like to complement it now by proposing an inventory of terms we would need to use (i.e. the narrative we would need to convey) if we were to move towards such a future.
Maps created by Léopold Lambert for The Funambulist (August 3, 2014) /
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The horror continues to be perpetuated by the Israeli army in Gaza. I have to be honest, I write these articles and draw these maps as much by political urge as by cathartic necessity — hopefully, both can work together. This text attempts to work as a complement to Derek Gregory‘s recent article entitled “The Dead Zone” (Geographical Imaginations, August 2, 2014). It focuses on the recent 3000% increase of the “no-go zone’s” width that borders the Gaza strip, thus forcing close to 500,000 Palestinians to be displaced (source: UN OCHA)
The Israeli army, as we saw through the examples of land expropriation in the West Bank, and of the so-called “knock on roof” tactic in Gaza, is particularly fond of manufacturing legal fictions that provides a simulacrum of legitimacy to its action. The three zones that border its separation wall with the Gaza strip are exemplary of this strategy (see map 1): The 100 meter-wide “no-go zone,” enforced by remote controlled machine gun, is complemented by two offset areas (300 meter-wide and 1,000 meter-wide) that both include a certain amount of agricultural fields and, in certain cases, houses. The widest area, euphemistically called “risk zone,” sees several dozens of Palestinians get shot every year for simply being in it — a brief look at map 1 and 3 will expose the extents of Palestinian activity in this zone. On July 22, 2014, the Israeli army increased the width of the “no-go zone” from 100 meters to about 3,000 meters (see the July 23 OCHA map) reaching the central road of the Gaza strip and reducing the accessible Palestinian territory to 56% of its ‘normal’ area — as explained in the previous article, the term normal cannot possibly be neutral here.
Let’s be clear however: we would be profoundly mistaken if we were to think that this means that 56% of the Gaza strip constitutes a relatively safe place in comparison to the “no-go zone.” Since the maps created for the sake of this article focus on the Gaza city area, one can simply look at the inventory of material damage inflicted by the various bombs of the Israeli army in this part of the strip (source: UNITAR) to understand that absolutely no place is safe in Gaza. Nevertheless, it would be erroneous as well to think that the legal fictions created by the IDF have no effects on the Palestinian population: more than 1 person out of 4 has been displaced in the last four weeks whether evacuating this zone or finding themselves homeless from the bombing of their house.
Israeli soldiers stand guard as Palestinian couples participate in a protest against the Israeli barrier before their wedding in the village of Al-Masara. (West Bank, July 2009) (source)
This article was originally thought in the perspective of the 72-hour ceasefire in Gaza that finally lasted only for 2 hours yesterday. It wanted to ponder on the idea that things will go back to a certain degree of normality: we usually think of “going back to normal” as a genuinely good thing that we should wish for. In view of the horrific massacre that is still perpetuated by the Israeli army in Gaza, it would be hard not to think that such return to normality would be fundamentally good: families would no longer be shattered by the systematic death machine of the Israeli bombs and “life” would re-organize itself little by little in the Gaza strip. In many historical contexts, these observations would be legitimate despite the fact that they usually forget the ‘invisible’ part of the war’s aftermath: mourning and trauma. For Gaza (as well as for the West Bank and East Jerusalem), on the other hand, a return to normal is unacceptable.
As illustrated through a recent map, Gaza’s normality is inherently contingent to the Israeli militarized administration that manages the flux of all people, goods, food and energy through its blockade. No one will argue that the State of Israel shows any benevolence whatsoever for the Palestinians; this dependency therefore maintains a continuous state of siege, from which the normality that can emerge can only be perverted. The unique power plant in Gaza has been bombed this last week, triggering massive blackouts and preventing most of Gaza inhabitants from the use of light, water pumps, phones, etc. As Israeli bombs also destroy several bakeries and other food facilities (not to mention the impossibility of any agricultural activities in these conditions), food also became scarce, in particular for the 520,000 refugees living in the Gaza strip. All these aspects of daily needs won’t be “returning to normal” for a long time as they necessitate important works of reconstruction and re-organization.
The practice of normality is however a strong political weapon when everything around you is actively preventing this same normality to occur. We can think of one of the first scenes of Gilo Pontecorvo’s Battle of Algiers (1966) that dramatizes the wedding of two young militants celebrated by a FLN (National Liberation Front) officer during the Algerian struggle for independence. In many geographical and historical context, a wedding could be legitimately considered as a relatively conservative perpetuation of social norms; yet, in certain cases, the same celebration can materialize an act of resistance against colonial apparatuses that ensure that normality cannot be practiced. Similarly, the resilient function of schools (137 of them have been shelled in Gaza in the last three weeks) and religious buildings despite the siege constitutes a refusal to “let war win.”
Israeli police spraying Palestinian houses with “skunk” in East Jerusalem (July 24, 2014) via Mohamed El Dasha
As atrocious as is the Israeli massacre in Gaza, we should not forget to address the (current and continuous) situation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. As friend Rashid Khalidi explained yesterday in an article for the New Yorker, the siege on Gaza is not merely about what it claims to be (a “war” on Hamas): it is “a collective punishment” for the reunion of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, as well as a re-affirmation that Israel’s control on Palestinian territory should be absolute. Five days ago, massive Palestinian demonstrations in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have been suppressed with great violence by the Israeli police/army, killing seven people and injuring hundreds of others. After the violent suppression in East Jerusalem, the Israeli police implemented another form of collective punishment: the systematic and methodical spraying of “skunk” (pestilential water) on Palestinian houses and buildings. This militarized tactic certainly carries the problematic aspects of the water cannon in terms of suppressive arbitrariness (about which I wrote a few months ago), but it goes much further: it implements a collectivization of punishment after the events. In this regard, we cannot help but notice that both the collectivization of punishment, and its implementation in the ‘coldness’ of the aftermath correspond much more to a mobster logic than to one of a nation-state.
The fact that these despicable operations are accomplished methodically by the Israeli police excludes any exceptionalism associated to this practice; on the contrary, it tells us about the state-implemented racist imaginary that legitimizes such tactics. This imaginary is the same that currently makes many Palestinian Israelis afraid for their lives when being recognized as Arabs (by their appearance, their language, or their accent) by antagonist groups of Jewish Israelis.
The “skunk” that infiltrates Palestinian houses and stick to bodies and objects for a few days in its pestilence, carries clear similitude with the way one usually treats rats, insects and vermin: it attempts to make their targeted entities flee an area by developing an atmosphere unproper to their lives (perpetuated by breathing). Such tactic can only be used if there is a conscious or unconscious consideration for sprayed bodies and objects as fundamentally abject. As introduced in a past text, abjection is defined by matter being “out of place” (Mary Douglas, 1966) resulting for a body who considers (and attribute) abjection, to clean-up this same matter.
בית-منزل /// A Cartographic Manifesto Against Partitions and Borders
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Before starting this article, I would like to confess that I have been ready to write it for the last three weeks, and that I have been hesitating as the presentation of an imaginative prospect for the future of Palestine carries a part of obscenity when the people of Gaza have been living and continue to live in absolute terror for the last weeks, and when the people of the West Bank cannot demonstrate without fearing for their life. Let it be clear that the present text calls for no judicial forgiveness nor forgetfulness for the crimes that have been committed since 1947. What finally pushed me to write this article is my intuition that such a prospect is more frightening for the authors of these crimes, than it might be inappropriate for their victims. Furthermore, it does not present itself as a “solution” in the messianic sense of the “end of history” (see past article) that the usual rhetoric of one or two state solutions usually convey, it simply means to work in the realms of the imaginaries.
This present text, as well as the map associated to it, is inspired by five visions that have been already introduced on the Funambulist: Raja Shehadeh’s 2037: Le grand bouleversement (Galaade, 2011), Sophia Azeb’s “No-State Solution” (Archipelago, 2014), Sabine Réthoré’s map of a “Méditerranée sans frontières” (Borderless Mediterranean Sea, 2013), Nora Akawi‘s affirmed will of “extraordinary solutions for an extraordinary situation,” as well as the work of various thinkers and activists I met in the recent past, who dedicate all their efforts to fight for statutes and rights for the migrants of the world. I hope not to betray their inspiration with the following:
Evicted inhabitants of the Torre David / Photograph by Jorge Silva (July 2014)
Yesterday, I received an email from a well-known art/design publisher describing, as an introduction, the on-going eviction of the Torre David in Caracas, whose never achieved high-rise structure has been hosting 3,000 squatters for the last fifteen years. The architectural appropriation of a capitalist structure by a multitude of proletarian bodies provided a dramatic aesthetic fetishized by many architects (me included, see past article). The tower is now being evicted, stripping away its inhabitants from their years of efforts to make their community function and to construct a sense of home. Passed the introduction about the on-going eviction, this same publisher presented its award-winning book dedicated to the Torre David and ended its article with the following statement: “We would like to recommend the book for review, as it is becoming a historical document due to the most recent events.” As it happens, I do own a review copy of the book that the publisher was ‘recommending’ and, after having observed that it seemed to serve more the interests of its authors (and its readers) than the inhabitants of the tower themselves, I had refused to write an article about it. This, added to the inappropriate affirmation that this book is becoming “a historical document” while 3,000 people are forced into displacement, makes me wonder about the production of knowledge in which we take part.
The photograph above was taken on Wednesday, July 16, 2014, only a few seconds (if not fractions of seconds) before the four Palestinian kids were killed by an Israeli navy shell directed at them. For many of us, this murderous event culminates as the paradigm of the Israeli army’s war crimes in the on-going siege on Gaza. These four children are part of the 111 who got killed by the Israeli army these last two weeks according to today’s OCHA report. The assassination of children, whether deliberate or not, appears as absolutely unacceptable and touches us all deeply. I certainly do not want to argue the opposite. Yet, I would like to make us think about the fact that this massacre is far from being the first one in history against Palestinian children and the fact that they seem to repeat in all impunity would tend to tell us that we are arguing against it using a wrong way.
Let’s consider a hypothetic scenario: if we were offered the choice of saving every children of Gaza in exchange of the perpetuation of the siege, wouldn’t we all accept it? Here lies the fundamental problem of looking for innocence, it drives us to ask the questions that legitimize that against what they think they are fighting. Let’s consider this hypothetical choice again: what lies behind it is a transfer of responsibility. If you refuse it, you will become responsible for the death of children. This is what happened following the four kids’ murder described above: both Israel and the United States, regretted that children had to die but imputed the blame to Hamas for not having signed the (unilaterally designed) ceasefire the day before. “Hamas could have saved Gaza’s children but refused to do so” is the explicit rhetoric that comes out from the affirmation of this choice. Much of the Western press saw it this way and perpetuated the narrative of symmetry that has allowed the occupation to exist until now. The choice is however crooked in its very essence: the responsibility cannot be legitimately transferred. Despite its rhetoric, Israel does have the choice of whether or not continuing the bombing and raid on Gaza; the idea that it would have not such a choice, and therefore such a responsibility — invited by the title of the NY Times about the four murdered kids for example — brings us back to the absurd Kubrickian narratives of Doctor Strangelove and his “doomsday device.”