“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.)
Today, I publish the 60th Funambulist Paper (23rd of the second series that will be published in the Second Volume by Punctum Books), written by Renisa Mawani (listen on Archipelago: “The Archive: Fragments and Forces of Indigeneity“). In “Bee Workers and the Expanding Edges of Capitalism,” she reminds us that questions of corporeal politics extend the human realm. Capitalist logic are also at work on the bees’ bodies and through their economic and military labor. Precariousness is very much part of the exploitative scheme here, the gradient extinction of bees species having tremendous consequences on entire ecosystems. Renisa proposes a Marxian reading of the bee labor, thus offering a new reading of the Capital for non-human considerations.
THE FUNAMBULIST PAPERS 60 /// Bee Workers and the Expanding Edges of Capitalism
By Renisa Mawani
Still of Only the Bad Sleep Well by Akira Kurosawa (1960)
HOMAGE TO GRAVITY: Architecture and the Body ///
An exhibition proposal for the 2013 Young Curator Program at the Canadian Center for Architecture (translated from original French)
My proposal is based on an axiom in the form of a definition of architecture. My intuition is that the latter is the discipline that organizes bodies in space. The various diagrams that we create as architects are as many compositions of lines of power that architecture’s materiality in its intrinsic violence on bodies enforces. The politician architect traces a line on a map, which result in the separation of a nation into two groups. The politician architect traces forming a closed square and a body finds itself prisoner of walls. The politician architect traces the lines of luxurious residential building and bodies are expelled from a territory on which they lived their entire life, while other bodies, corresponding to the societal dominant schemes are taking their place and unfold their mode of existence on the concerned territory.
Contemporary architecture, through the quasi-unanimity of its representatives, seems to ignore the relation it develops with the bodies. Modernism thought that it could “cure” them but by considering standardized bodies, it only contributed to substantially reinforce their normative characteristics. Strengthen by a post-modern cynicism, architecture now refuses to consider bodies in their multiple and complex anatomy and biology, in order to dedicate its effort to its cost and appearance.
Assistant state attorneys John Guy, left, and Bernie de la Rionda, right, display the hooded sweatshirt worn by Trayvon Martin the night he was shot by George Zimmerman. (Credit: AP)
The Speech of Things ///
Originally written for The New Inquiry (published on Nov. 25, 2014)
Ceci n’est pas une preuve. René Magritte’s painting of a pipe was not a pipe; similarly, the documents and objects used as court exhibits are not proofs as such, they necessitate taking part within an organized, consistent narrative in order to legally acquire the status of proof. The excellent book/exhibition Forensis: The Architecture of Public Truth (Sternberg Press, 2014) proposes this double-step process: determine and examine court exhibits, and construct a detailed narrative that can turn them into proofs.
Started in 2011, the research council Forensic Architecture, which finds its name and predicates in previous research by its director, Eyal Weizman, has been operating from the Center for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths University in London. Forensis constitutes the first major report of the council’s work through the means of an exhibition at HKW Berlin (March 15 – May 5, 2014), and of a book simultaneously published by Sternberg Press. The cases presented within it are broad; the examination of the use of white phosphorus during the so-called “Operation Cast Lead” by the Israeli army in Gaza (2008-2009), the maritime path of a Libyan migrant boat drifting helplessly in the Mediterranean Sea (2011), different cases of Israeli and U.S. drones’ so-called “targeted assassinations,” in Gaza and in Pakistan (2009-2012), and the represented spatial organization of two concentrations camps in ex-Yugoslavia (1941-1945) are only some of them.
Yesterday, on December 22, 2014, the blog ARCH2O published an outrageous article written by a former employee of Rotterdam/NY-based architecture office OMA. In this article entitled “What I Learned at OMA | 20 Tips for Being a Successful Architect,” one can read, among many comments legitimatizing exploitative work conditions, an apology of rape in the form of what is introduced as a joke: “As far as free time goes, keep this joke in mind: ‘If you know you cannot avoid the rape, relax and enjoy.’ At OMA, there will be ‘rape’ (metaphorically speaking), so relax, forget about free time and enjoy your work.”
The article has now been pulled out from ARCH2O website but stayed online for about a day. I do not intend to reveal who wrote this article, because I think that the problem is less the identity of the person who wrote it than the fact that this has been written and published online by a large-audience platform and, even more importantly, that this person has evidently never been confronted to conditions – including during the blog’s re-reading of his article – where such a supposed ‘joke’ would have been seen and described for what it is: an incitement to male supremacist violence towards other bodies, in particular (but not only), women.
Artwork by Mustafa al Hallaj (1938-2002)
The 59th Funambulist Paper, “Palestine Made Flesh” is the continuation of a fantastic conversation I had with Sophia Azeb in last April for Archipelago. Back then, we had called it the “No-State Solution,” following Sophia’s manifesto against State-based imaginaries for Palestine (whether one or two states), to favor instead the incarnation of this idea through Palestinian bodies. I had used the influence of such an idea, as well as similar others by Raja Shehadeh (2037), Sabine Réthoré (Mediterranean Without Borders), and Nora Akawi (“we need imaginative solutions“) in order to create a manifesto/map of the region where lines are no longer borders but roads. In the following text, Sophia makes a synthesis of her arguments and references about this “no-state solution.” Such arguments have been always relevant, but they particularly resonate these days when the Palestinian Authority is attempting to obtain the systematic recognition of a Palestinian State within the 1967 borders, which is not a good news, on the contrary of what it might appear (see past article).
THE FUNAMBULIST PAPERS 59 /// Palestine Made Flesh
By Sophia Azeb
The Black Lives Matter movement shutting down a highway (November 2014)
This article is the third and last ‘episode’ around The Invisible Committee‘s new book, To Our Friends (Semiotext(e) & La Fabrique, 2014). The first episode was dedicated to the production of insurrectionist and counter-insurrectionist narratives through the protesting bodies, the second consisted in a critique of what we did wrong with Occupy Wall Street in the Fall 2011; this third one will take for object the infrastructure as the modern paradigm of the exercise of power. The fourth chapter of To Our Friends is named “Power Is Logistic: Let’s Shut Down Everything!” after a graffiti spotted in Turin (2012). This chapter starts with the remark that when the social movements of these last three years entered parliaments in Lybia, Ukraine or Wisconsin, they found these sites empty of the power they were supposed to contain — the way The Invisible Committee uses the term of power as an attribute and not an exercise is admittedly problematic. It then indicates the Euro banknotes as illustrative of where this power had shifted (my translation):
What is on the Euro banknotes? No human figure, no emblem of a personal sovereignty, but bridges, aqueducts, arches — impersonal architectures with an empty core. Each European has a printed manifestation of the true current nature of power in his/her pocket. It can be expressed as such: power lives in the world’s infrastructure. The contemporary power is of architectural and impersonal nature. (The Invisible Committee, A nos amis, Paris: La Fabrique, 2014, 82-83.)
A bit further, TIC quotes French Marshall Hubert Lyautey (1854-1934) according to whom “a construction project is worth a battalion” in the context of the colonial management — himself having been involved in Algeria, Vietnam, Madagascar, and Morocco. To Our Friends does not intend to establish a genealogy of the argument of an infrastructural power, but this is something we can attempt to introduce here: the colonial era seems to embody adequately a first phase of this militarized strategy. Infrastructure in colonies simultaneously allowed to profoundly settle the colonizing population/army, and provided a simulacrum of legitimacy for colonial enterprise through the ‘progressive modernization’ of the concerned country. We could distinguish a second phase in the United States during the Cold War, which saw a modification in depth of the national territory to serve simultaneously military and capitalist interests — not that they could possibly be separated anyway. As I tried to synthesize in the article “From the Highway to the Pill: Counter-History of the American Suburbia” (April 2014), the spreading of the American population and industry on the national territory was as much an attempt to exponentially develop the car industry as a prevision of a Russian (nuclear or not) offensive: the latter was thought to be weaken by a decentralization of the country’s resources, while the highway system had been thought in accordance to military equipment and vehicles that could thus see its movement optimized (this photograph of NATO operation in West Germany is highly evocative of such a strategy). A third phase of evolution of this argument of “power through infrastructure” can be found in the rampant privatization of the latter. No later than this morning, I read a well documented article on Mediapart (in French) about how the French State has lost most of its control over the management of the country’s highway system — admittedly pristine but prohibitive to an entire part of the population by its fare — after the Chirac/Villepin administration sold it to private construction companies (Eiffage, Vinci, Abertis) in 2006.
Stills from the film Diary of an Unknown Soldier by Peter Watkins (1959) / See past article
The second series of The Funambulist Papers, dedicated to the bodies is almost over (four more texts soon forthcoming), and the book that collects its essays is currently being edited. Today, we have the chance to read a text written by Derek Gregory (see our past conversation on Archipelago) about the concept of corpography, which attempts to give a reading of the war based on bodily experience. The relation between the First World War’s soldiers and the mud (see Peter Watkins’s first and fascinating film above) is one instance, but Derek particularly insists on the sonic aspect of the war: the sound of the guns and the bombs being simultaneously terrifying as an affect (see the descriptions by Mohammed Omer about last summer’s bombing of Gaza as a Wagner dreadful symphony), but also producing a knowledge informing bodies about their relation to the various agents of death surrounding them. In a way that conforms to the rest of his work, Derek complexifies our imaginary of the war and, by attempting to inscribe it in our flesh, contributes to make it more unbearable.
THE FUNAMBULIST PAPERS 57 /// Corpographies: Making Sense of Modern War
By Derek Gregory
Still from the film Concerning Violence by Göran Olsson (2013)
This article intends to give a personal critique of the usual interpretation of violence in the work of Frantz Fanon, in particular in light of the recent film Concerning Violence by Swedish director Göran Olsson. However, I highly recommend to read friend Bhakti Shringarpure’s own article about the same topic on Warscapes (June 17, 2014) since I could not possibly pretend to articulate these ideas better than she did back then. My approach will nevertheless be slightly different, insofar that it will attempt to link this notion of violence with the various corporeal references made by Fanon in both L’an V de la revolution algérienne (A Dying Colonialism, 1959) and Les damnés de la terre (The Wretched of the Earth, 1961), and noted by David Macey in Frantz Fanon: A Biography (Picador, 2000).
Fanon is well known to have stated numerous times that violence constitutes a necessary phase of decolonization. The interpretation made of such a statement is often systematized through an imaginary of guerrilla warfare, terrorism, and targeted assassinations. Olsson’s movie does not escape from the rule and provides us with fascinating footage of decolonizing combats in several colonized countries such as Angola, Congo, Guinea Bissau, Liberia or Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). This systematized interpretation does not go against Fanon’s understanding of violence; however, it takes its complexity away from it, in a similar manner than Jean-Paul Sartre did in his preface to The Wretched of the Earth, where he writes “killing a European is killing two birds with one stone, eliminating in one go oppressor and oppressed: leaving one man dead and the other man free.” Accusing Sartre to write from a position of absolute comfort is too simplistic; after all he received several death threats for his position regarding the decolonization of Algeria; yet, the absoluteness of statements made by a metropolitan European reveals the theoretical position (s)he occupies, when a situation on the field like Fanon’s forces to develop a discourse adapted to each situation’s complexity. If we were to oppose Fanon’s decolonizing violence and Gandhi’s decolonizing non violence, we would fall into the trap of an exclusively semantic contradiction. The Indian National Congress Party’s non violence consisted in the strategic refusal to use arms in the independence struggle; yet, the numerous blows at the colonial economy orchestrated in the 1930s and 1940s through the salt march, the local manufacturing of clothes (see past article) and other various forms of disobedience against the colonial legislation incarnated a violence in the radical disruption of the colonial mechanisms. This strategy of violent “non-violence” was not chosen because the population of India had more friendly feelings towards the British colonizers, than the Algerian did towards the French, or the Guinean towards the Portuguese; it was chosen because it was the most effective decolonizing method — of course this is easy to state retrospectively.
This article is intended to continue a specific part of the research started with Weaponized Architecture: the consideration of a normative body when creating objects and architecture (see other articles at the end of this one). In order to do so, I would like to particularly examine the work of American industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss (1904-1972) in relation to the two malleable standardized bodies he invented and that he found fit to name Joe and Josephine (see scans of the chapter dedicated to them at the end of this article). These bodies are puppets whose threads linked to every part of their limbs are ubiquitous dimensions, each of them claiming to inform a reality.
A first degree of critique is fairly obvious: although these bodies attempt to be descriptive of as many bodies of a given society — I am however not aware of any non-Western example of such systematization — as possible, many others are not included within this standard, and will therefore be in position of discomfort when interacting with objects created based on this system: some will have to bend their heads to pass into a door, others will not reach the hanging handle in a subway car, examples are plethora and each of us have been experiencing it as children at the very least — remember how much effort was needed to climb up a stair!
A second level of this critique consists in affirming that these bodies ‘on paper’ do not actually find any incarnation. Their claim is to represent most bodies, but such a rationale implies a binary categorization between bodies that do conform to them, and bodies that do not. In reality, each body relates to these standard bodies through a specific degree of differentiation. Some bodies reach an extremely small degree of differentiation from these standards, some others incarnate a much higher one. Thinking in terms of degrees (intensities), rather than in terms of categories, allows us to examine the relationship of power between bodies, rather than separating them in two definite classes (the privileged that conforms to the standard and the unprivileged that does not). In other words, the power exercised by a body on another finds its actualization in a different degree of fitness to the environment they share. This means that the environment — whether built or not — and its multitude of ‘objects’ — whether designed or not — are that through which relationships of power are organized. Drawings of Joe and Josephine, as well as their other avatars (Le Corbusier’s Modulor, Ernst Neufert’s Architect’s Data, etc.), are thus creating systems that thoroughly contribute to this organization.
Pablo Picasso drawing with light / Photograph by Gjon Mili (1949)
The second series of The Funambulist Papers continues around the topic of bodies. Today, I am glad and honored to welcome Grégoire Chamayou to this ‘assignment,’ after his three books (Vile Bodies (2008), Manhunts (2010), and Theory of the Drone (2013)) were discussed on this blog. The fifty-seventh text of the series, “Patterns of Life: A Very Short History of Schematic Bodies,” is an illustrated essay about bodies’ movement traceability, using Michel Foucault’s historical and philosophical method of genealogy. From the scientific domains of archaeology and ethology that particularly focused on animal itineraries, the evolution of traceability technology shifted to the capitalist and military realms. While the traceability of gesture and movement was able to both optimize the working gesture, as well as the consumer’s approach to the commodity, Western armies engaged in the so-called “war on terror,” also found interest in establishing patterns of normative behaviors contrasting with their suspicious anomalies. Grégoire’s article provides one more proof that the very act of cartographying can never be politically neutral, since it produces a knowledge about a subject, and thus a relationship of power between the cartographer and this same subject.
THE FUNAMBULIST PAPERS 57 /// Patterns of Life: A Very Short History of Schematic Bodies
by Grégoire Chamayou
Protesters in Ukraine holding mirrors to show the police their own reflection / Photograph extracted from the lecture ““How to Dress up a Police?,” by Ethel Baraona Pohl at the seminar Missions and Missionaries at the Het Nieuwe Instituut (Rotterdam, Nov. 27, 2014)
This article starts on the bases of the lecture given by friend Ethel Baraona Pohl at the seminar Missions and Missionaries organized by Malkit Shoshan at the Het Nieuwe Instituut this last Thursday, as well as the conversation we had together subsequently for the need of Archipelago. Ethel’s lecture, entitled “How to Dress up a Police?,” particularly insisted on the sartorial aspect of the police along the 20th century, arguing that the process of militarization of the police of the world has substantially accelerated this last decade. Both through the lecture and the Archipelago conversation, she presented the economic logic at work behind this militarization process and the necessary production of a fearful environment associated to it. As she says, the use of the distributed weaponry to the police retroactively legitimates their purchase in the first place. We can also insist in the philosophical founding of such logic. The very fact that a given police owns anti-riot equipment (flash balls, tear gas, etc.) stigmatizes the speculative vision that a state develops, imagining in advance, an antagonism of crowds that fundamentally disagree with its policies. Such an anticipative vision certainly undermines the democratic claims that many of these same states pretend to embody.
The images we receive from Ferguson, MO illustrate the result of the United States’ martial policies, imported nationally after their international implementation. Many articles have been written about how equipment used by the US army in Iraq and Afghanistan finds its way back in the United States through its use by the police. Many things have been also said about the contrast between soldiers’ experience vis-a-vis this same equipment and the police officers’ irresponsible use of weaponry (aiming guns directly at bodies for instance), but insisting too much on this aspect of things might implicitly legitimize their use by the US army in the first place. Many things could also be said about the privatization and commodification of ‘security’ around the world, from the American Universities’ campuses — I am thinking of University of Chicago in particular — to the use of private contractors in wars (the American-UK war in Iraq being its paradigm).
A daily General Assembly at Occupy Wall Street (October 2011)
/ Photograph by Léopold Lambert
This second episode dedicated to The Invisible Committee‘s book, To Our Friends (Semiotext(e) & La Fabrique, 2014) will consist in a (too short) analyse of what we did wrong with Occupy Wall Street during the two months of occupation of Zuccotti Park in New York (September-November 2011). This is something we started to do a few months ago with Pamela Brown during our conversation for Archipelago (March 2014), examining how the discursive and behavioral mechanisms of racial domination never really dissipated within Occupy’s working groups. This examination is taken further by the analysis of the movement by the Invisible Committee, who simply affirms that things started to go wrong when occupy tried “to govern.”
The third chapter of To Our Friends finds its title (like every others) in a graffiti found across the world. This specific one, found in Mexico, writes “They want to force us to govern, we won’t yield to this provocation,” and defines as such the topic of the chapter. For the Invisible Committee, the paradigm of Occupy’s mistake can be seen in the attribution of a $29,000 budget to allow twenty of its members to fly to Egypt in order to help supervising the regularity of the Egyptian elections. Electing a parliament was however not the aspiration of Tahrir revolutionaries and the idea that it might have been, is a symptom of Western belief for representative democracy. The Invisible Committee goes further however, this is not a question antagonizing representative democracy against direct democracy like we attempted to practice it on Zuccotti Park; it antagonizes democracy as system altogether. Describing the various decisional general assemblies organized on a daily basis by movements like the Spanish Indignados or Occupy, the Invisible Committee writes the following unequivocal paragraph (my translation):
Massive demonstration on the Zócalo in Mexico City (Nov. 20, 2014)
As announced in the previous article, I will dedicate three ‘episodes’ to the new book written by The Invisible Committee, To Our Friends. The book is forthcoming in its English version at Semiotext(e) — its is already published by La Fabrique in French, its original version — and the idea of writing a few chapters about it before it does, like Derek Gregory did with his twelve articles about Grégoire Chamayou’s Theory of the Drone (also published by La Fabrique in its original version), seems potentially useful. In 2007, the Invisible Committee had published The Coming Insurrection (Semiotext(e), La Fabrique), which was ‘prophetizing’ the numerous revolts and revolutions that the world has, and continue to, experience since then. Making a critique of the book is not what I want to do here, but I however have to note the ‘freshness’ of the sharp critique the Invisible Committee makes of our world. Throughout it, “radicals” (for their competitive and moralistic sense of “who is the most radical”) and “pacifists” (for their acceptance of their defeat before even starting the struggle) are being as critiqued as the designers of the counter-insurrection, who, at least, embrace the means of their domination. The very informed critique of the way a movement like Occupy has evolved is extremely useful to me, for instance, and I will dedicate the second episode to this problem.
Today, I would like to link two distant paragraphs in the book for the symmetry they imply. Both consider the bodies gathered in the street and examine the two opposite forces (insurrectionist and counter-insurrectionist) that attempts to produce these bodies within their respective narrative. While the external narrative attempt to make these bodies appear as an antagonist to society — the notion of society as we understand it, is critiqued at length throughout the book — the immanent one attempts to produce an insurrectionist movement.
Excerpt from Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2012)
I am currently reading To Our Friends (La Fabrique, Semiotext(e), 2014) (by that I mean that I started it yesterday evening and will finish it today!), the ‘sequel’ of The Coming Insurrection (see 2009 article). Even though I was expecting no less from the Invisible Committee, I remain mesmerized by the sharp precision that it uses in its description of today’s political situation; but I will write more about that soon in a forthcoming article. In the meantime, I wanted to dedicate a text about a point spotted in the first chapter of the book. It indicated that, in 2012, the American Federal Health Institute, also known as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — note the precautionary plural of “centers,” already telling in its speculative emergency strategy — released a short comic book foreseeing a ‘zombie virus’ in the United States. Entitled Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic, this comic claims to consider zombies as an entertaining excuse to a generalized prevention program for (all?) the American population. We could ponder a moment on the necessity that Western governments seems to currently have to produce graphic novels in order to distillate their violent policies through an apparently benign medium (see the graphic novel developed by the Australian secretary of immigration to prevent Pakistani migrants to attempt moving into the country), and we could balance them with others, conceived against these very same policies like the one created by friend Tings Chak about Canadian migrant detention centers (see past article).
The argument I would like to make is however different here. As explained in a previous article entitled “The Zombie Is a Human You Have the Right to Kill” (July 2013), I was reflecting upon an article written by friend Gastón Gordillo (December 2012) about the imaginary provided by the film World War Z (Marc Forster, 2013) that was depicting such a ‘zombie pandemic.’ The argument that both Gastón for World War Z and the Invisible Committee for Preparedness 101 are making — and others have made in the past — is that beyond the biological contamination that the zombie carries, what is really at stake in this figure is political contamination, and the revolution that comes with it. In this regard, it cannot be innocent that the zombie is the Haitian creole figure of a dead slave whose soul never went back to Africa; the fear of the insurgent black body is still operative. Similarly, it cannot be innocent that in both World War Z, and Preparedness 101, the protagonists are middle class heteronormative white couples with kids (WWZ) or a dog (P101). By “cannot be innocent,” I do not mean these ‘creative’ decisions were necessarily made consciously, but rather that the imaginary that was used to produce these works is one that corresponds to the dominant normative narrative.
“In public space, no one can wear an outfit dissimulating the face. (“Law of October 11, 2010)”
We can no longer allow others to turn our mucous membranes, our skin, all our sensitive areas into occupied territory—territory controlled and regimented by others, to which we are forbidden access. (Félix Guattari, “To Have Done with the Massacre of the Body,” in Three Billion Perverts: Great Encyclopedia of Homosexuals, Recherches no. 12, 1973.)
In the passage above, Félix Guattari describes marginalized bodies as “occupied territory.” An occupied territory is characterized by its administration exercised by a foreign institution that regularly uses it coercive power to re-affirm its absolute control of surfaces that do not legitimately belongs to it. This description corresponds well to many instances where female bodies have been captured from their own decisive power, to be administrated by male policies and practices. The recent deaths of thirteen women in the province of Chhattisgarh (India) after having been surgically operated in the context of a governmental program of sterilization (accomplished in camps) reminds us of the corporeal effects that global demographic policies entail. These policies operate exclusively on female bodies in their systematic association to reproduction, when male bodies’ full sexuality seems to necessitate to be savaged.
Similarly the tests of virginity accomplished by the Egyptian police on female body as described in Scott Long‘s excellent article “Virginity Tests, Vile Bodies: Stories from Sisi’s Egypt” (Nov 11, 2014), take part in the administration of female bodies by male policies. Long describes the story of a young Egyptian woman who was accompanying her male friend to a police office last week. The police then searched her purse — thus making of another intimate surface, an occupied territory — found condoms and threatened her to charge her with prostitution. She was then forced to do a virginity test. The name of virginity tests does not merely express the corporeal violence they exercise. Although they may sound like blood tests or other medical procedures, they consist in reality in the subject’s stripping and in the direct examination of her vagina (by a female officer in this case). The capture of the female body is manifest here. This young woman was already at the police office and had no choice but to submit to this test: her body was scrutinized in its bareness and offered to the moral judgment of a patriarchal society.