There has been a recent outcry on the Internet after the wide spreading of a series of photographs showing metallic/concrete spikes on stone thresholds, planters and other surfaces that could potentially be used by homeless people in order to sleep. Judging the motivations of people who have been part of this outcry is not my place here; however one cannot help but to notice the hyper-punctuality of this kind of conversations on the Internet that, too often, restraint themselves to 140 characters of indignation with no subsequent political traction. The very fact that many people seem to have just discovered this anti-homeless material device for the first time in these coming weeks is telling of the triviality with which they consider the public space of the cities in which they live. The problem here is not as much the evanescence of this outcry — after all, it could have sensitized a few people — but, rather, the way it embodies one more proof that a wrongly asked question can implicitly legitimize that against which the question had been asked. In other words, by targeting the spikes, rather than homelessness itself, this outcry is considering the fact that our societies count a multitude of homeless people as granted.
When children, we are being told that there is no such thing as a “stupid question,” and that there are only “stupid answers.” This would be too easy if it was true. I would actually argue that only questions can be stupid and answers are only as pertinent as the questions that triggered them. I wrote a few weeks ago about the deceptive question “what should we do with the European immigration problem” that the xenophobic movements have succeeded to have moderate parties systematically answered forgetting that there may not be any “immigration problem” to begin with. I also recently discussed with Derek Gregory about the deceptive questions that legitimatize American drone attacks: “can the US Army assassinate an American citizen without due trial?” or “can the Obama administration release the procedure used in the context of this kind of attacks?” All these questions are asked in the belief that they will help prevent what they actually implicitly legitimize (xenophobia, drone assassinations, homelessness, etc.) by bringing the point of attention to an effect of the problem, and not the cause of it.
French soldier in 1916 / Bibliothèque Nationale de France
The following article is based on the reading of Peter Sloterdijk‘s Terror from the Air (Semiotext(e), 2007), as well as the inspiration provided on this blog by Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos and Philippe Theophanidis in their respective Funambulist Papers, “The Funambulist Atmosphere“ (July 2012) and “Caught in the Cloud: The Biopolitics of Tear Gas Warfare” (August 2013), which both refer to Sloterdijk’s book. The latter introduces a short history of chemical terrorism and its implications for our perception of the atmosphere in which our bodies are embedded and interact. Although Sloterdijk insists on the 20th-century mutation of warfare from a symmetrical scheme to an asymmetrical one, which therefore develop terrorist activity, he however attributes the birth of “atmoterror” to the gas attacks created by the German army during the First World War, i.e. a war between two symmetrical armies. “Terror operates on a level beyond the naïve exchange of armed blows between regular troops; it involves replacing these classical forms of battle with assaults on the environmental conditions of the enemy’s life,” he writes. This definition can resonate with the context of the First World War, since both armies had reached such a degree of immobility in their tranches, that something like “life conditions” and the daily rhythm they imply, can apply to it.
The lightning-fast development of military breathing apparatuses (in the vernacular: linen gas masks) shows that troops were having to adapt to a situation in which human respiration was assuming a direct role in the events of war. (Peter Sloterdijk, Terror from the Air, trans. Amy Patton and Steve Corcoran, Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2009, 19.
Panzer by Nik Nowak (2011)
This article is relatively premature as I will soon read Steve Goodman’s Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear (MIT Press, 2012), as well as Hillel Schwartz’s Making Noise: From Babel to the Big Bang and Beyond (Zone Books, 2011); yet I felt the need to already construct an inventory of weaponized designs that mobilize a dimension of affect we tend to forget when dealing with topics such as the militarization of urban space: sound. Every time I write about sound used as weapon, I go back to the biblical example of the battle of Jericho (see past article) that describes the fortress walls of the city being destroyed by the trumpets of the Hebrews. Whether this story actually occurred this way or not, we should keep from it the idea that sound is not any less material than a wall or a body. The experience we have of sound is commonly accepted as immaterial, as if sound was a superimposed reality onto the realm of physicality. Sound constitutes however material waves that we usually perceive through the vibration of our ear drum, but the experience of low frequencies — the bass system at a James Blake concert for example — can also be done through the entire body as the vibrations are more intense.
Such a capacity to affect bodies could not possibly not be weaponized in various forms. An example already quoted on the Funambulist was the US Army siege on the Vatican Embassy where ex-dictator of Panama, Manuel Noriega took refuge when the Americans invaded the country in 1989 (see past article about sieges on embassies). The tactic used by the US Army consisted in surrounding the embassy with a powerful sound system, and play loud music through it until Noriega surrendered from exhaustion. Such example constitutes a sonic torture at large scale that was re-applied later at a more individualized scale in the various detention centers of the so-called “war on terror” in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay: detainees would be kept in a room while continuously suffering from extremely loud music.
Still from Hunger (2008) by Steve McQueen
In 1976, the British government withdrew the status of political prisoner to every detainees who had been imprisoned for having taken part in the Northern Irish conflict. On March 5, 1981, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech in Belfast stating the following:
There is no such thing as political murder, political bombing or political violence. There is only criminal murder, criminal bombing and criminal violence. We will not compromise on this. There will be no political status.
The refusal to attribute this status to prisoners forces them to wear a uniform, do some prison work, and prevent them from association with other prisoners but more importantly, it denies the very essence of each convict’s action accomplished within the frame of an ethical collective narrative, and not for individual opportunist purpose. The point of the following article is to show how the Republican prisoners’ bodies constituted the unique site of both resistance in torture in the actions that were undertook following this governmental decision. In order to do so, I will use screenshots that I made from Steve McQueen’s film, Hunger (2008), about which it is not question here to make a critique. Some of the following images, although recounting historical events are fictitious but are quite graphic for some of them; I therefore recommend cautiousness to sensitive persons. I add to this film, two more references: the well-documented website Prisons Memory Archive, as well as the three radio broadcasts that “La Fabrique de l’Histoire” released last week about Northern Ireland (France Culture).
Baseball field in Maryland as filmed by a drone /// Project by Tomas Van Houtryve
The latest conversation I released for Archipelago was recorded on May 9, 2014 with Derek Gregory at the Peter Wall Institute (University of British Columbia) where he is one of the two distinguished professors. I take the opportunity here to synthesize the main points we discussed, as well as to attempt to develop my own reflection under their influence. The topic of this conversation, as well as Derek’s extended and precise expertise, is the so-called “war on terror” that the United States and their military allies have been executing since the end of 2001. This war, more than any others, necessities the mobilization of all disciplines (geography, anthropology, architecture, medicine, law, etc.), and their weaponization to serve the functions of war. Approaching them in such a way might already be misleading as these disciplines might very well be inherently weaponized as Derek recalls in the conversation: “geography is mostly used to make war” (Yves Lacoste).
Derek distinguishes three spaces that need to be produced in order for this war to operate. “The space of the target” constitutes in the geographical and technological allowance to physically target bodies or objects. “The space of exception” manufactures spatial and temporal situations where bodies are stripped from their legal rights. “The space of the enemy” consists in the intervention in the imaginaries of the populations that fund this war, i.e. the production of a status of definite and absolute otherness to the bodies attacked. Without these three spaces, the war cannot function, as we sporadically observe when one of them tends to momentarily fail. For the purposes of this article, we will look at each of them individually.
The ninth volume of The Funambulist Pamphlets that gathers and edits past articles of the blog about Science Fiction 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 literature. Click here to see the other volumes of The Funambulist Pamphlets.
I have to say that science fiction is a domain that I have not address for a relatively long time and when looking at the index, I cannot help but notice the strong influence of a specific type of science fiction written by Western male authors. I will try to diversify this vision in my future writings and, in the meantime, offer the Archipelago conversation I had with Sophia Azeb about the power of imagination — that includes a science fiction literature — for the Palestinian struggle. (see also this list on tor.com)
Thank you to Eileen Joy, Anna Kłosowska, Ed Keller, Martin Byrne, Marc-Antoine Mathieu, Raja Shehadeh, Iker Gil, and Koldo Lus Arana.
Index of the Book
Introduction: When James Graham Ballard meets Philip K. Dick, what do they talk about?
01/ Science Fiction as an Inventor of Dilemmas: From Utopia to Apocalypse by Peter Paik
02/ 2037 by Raja Shehadeh
03/ Collision, Sexuality and Resistance
04/ Ballardian Landscapes: Desacralizing Thaumaturgic Modernity
05/ The Fouled Beauty of James Graham Ballard
06/ Letter to James Graham Ballard / April 14th 2009
07/ Psychotropic Houses by James Graham Ballard
08/ The Brutal Art of Enki Bilal
09/ The work of Philip K. Dick: Between Paranoia and Schizophrenia
10/ The Funambulist Papers 03 / Transcendent Delusion or; The Dangerous Free Spaces of Phillip K. Dick by Martin Byrne
11/ Untitled Narrative #002 (Feral Garage) by Martin Byrne
12/ Labyrinths and Other Metaphysical Constructions: Interview with Marc-Antoine Mathieu
13/ Overpopulated Cities / The Concentration City, Billennium, L’Origine & Soylent Green
14/ Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
15/ Never Let Me Go by Mark Romanek
16/ The Declamatory Porcelain Architectures of Serge Brussolo
Letter of the Nazi administration concerning the “Endlösung der Judenfrage” (final solution to the Jewish question), 1942
It probably seems strange to be fighting against the notion of “solution.” After all, isn’t it what we must seek for each problem that infuriates us? “To each problem, a solution” is an idiom with which we have been continuously familiarized, and in the various architectural juries I attend, we hear either from the students or from their instructors a will to find the solution to the problem they tackled. I would like to argue that, beyond the simple terminology, the very principle of solution intervene in one of the most dangerous ways of thinking.
A few readers would have immediately associated the words “solution” and “final” in the title to the terminology used by the Nazi administration to talk about the Holocaust. “The final solution to the Jewish question” is not a horrifying euphemism, it is exactly what it claims to be: a solution, by definition final, to a problem defined as such by the Nazis. Here lies the first element of deconstruction of the notion of solution: the definition of a problem cannot be enunciated outside of an ideological context that produces the terms in which it is thought. Currently, in Europe, even socio-democrats talk about an “immigration problem,” which proves that the populist nationalist rights have won the “war of problems,” only differentiating themselves from the left-center parties for the radicality of their “solutions.” The xenophobic European ideology has spread so much that such an “immigration problem” is considered as granted and the terms in which it is posed almost never include the risks for migrants’ lives that result from the militarized defense of the European territory, nor does it recognize why Europe, through colonialism, carries a tremendous responsibility in the poor conditions of life that are fled by migrants.
Rainier Tower in Seattle by architect Minoru Yamasaki (1977)
/// Photograph by Léopold Lambert (May 2014)
Regular readers of The Funambulist will have noticed that I have been often referring to the term fortress in order to describe pieces of architecture I recently encountered. This word refers to the defensive qualities that each of these architectures presents through its physicality in the way it “organizes bodies in space” (that is still my definition for architecture). However, it does not address the political agenda that is enacted through these defensive characteristics. What I have been calling “proletarian fortresses” in the last few years to describe Burail (Chandigarh), Rue Eugene Sue’s Haussmannian social housings (Paris), the Kowloon Walled City (Hong Kong) or the Torre David (Caracas) are the counterpoints to other fortresses, more deliberate and optimal, that capitalist-ideological logic construct everywhere. Whether we refer to the U.S./Mexico border wall, the wall that Israel built in the West Bank, the current Western embassies, this building encountered in San Francisco that acts a paradigm of the architecture of gentrification, the militarized public space of downtown Oakland, or the building that I want to describe in this article, they all impose the social violence of filtration between bodies who have access to both sides of their walls and bodies on whom the violence of architecture is fully operating.
The Rainier Tower in Seattle was designed by Minoru Yamasaki in the 1970s, only a few years after New York’s World Trade Center that did not wait for 2001 to embody the totem of American capitalist ideology. It was built for the Rainier National Bank for its headquarters. The Rainier Tower is particularly striking for its twelve first floors splaying from the top down into a fully opaque brutal concrete base (see photographs below). Such an engineering prowess associated to a radical aesthetics certainly put the first visitor (that I was two weeks ago) in awe. The well-known aesthetics of the office tower is recognizable for the floors above the 12th floor of the building, thus reinforcing the radicality of the basis in its contrast. To some degree, we might want to think of this tower as the representation of the capitalist ideological architecture: a transparent aspect for the inaccessible mirage and a defensive bunker for what should be its interactive base.
In the first days of my recent trip to the U.S./Canadian West Coast trip for Archipelago, I drove to San Diego and went to see the infamous materialization of the border between the United States and Mexico. This wall is one of the many on the planet that “protect” the Globalized North from the “rest of the world,” From the Israeli wall in the West Bank to the Korean DMZ without forgetting the hyper policing of the Mediterranean and Australian seas, the Globalized North is making sure that the advantages that it claims offering to its citizens do not become accessible to other bodies, and that the optimization of movement only implement itself for goods and not for humans.
It is when looking at this violent architecture that one realizes its absurdity. On the Mexican side, people enjoy Tijuana beach while others, from a small surmounting platform look at the rare bodies that appear on the U.S. side above which military helicopters never stop to patrol. As visible on the following photographs, the U.S. side has been attributed the status of state park; cars can’t access it and one has to walk for a few miles to access to the border itself. Such status is of course not innocent and we can euphemismally suspect that the American authorities are more interested in being able to survey a treeless desert zone than to actually protect local fauna and animal species — the latter might however be affected by the separation of the territory.
Film still from Infiltrators (2013) by Khaled Jarrar: woman climbing Israeli Wall to enter East Jerusalem
Today is the annual day to commemorate the 1948 Nakba that led to the displacement of about 750,000 Palestinians from the land seized for the state of Israel. In the following text, Hanna Baumann describes the action of Palestinian people who do not have access to the land West of the separation barrier (see the newest infographic of Visualizing Palestine to understand who has access and who has not) and who transgress the physicality of the obstacles to “infiltrate” a territory on which they are considered as illegals by the Israeli authorities. The reasons for such a transgression appear to the outsider as trivial compared to the risks to which they are exposed. Because of this disproportion however, these acts of passage are truly resisting to the apartheid legislation since the essence of this legislation is to affect the aspects of daily lives. Hanna compares these “infiltrations” to the ones of “Urban Exploration” that usually populate the analyses of the city and its unknown spaces. Unknown to whom? is the question that Hanna asks. Exploration understood as we usually do is often a privileged activity that claim the discovery of sites that are lived by urban indigenous populations that do not seem to enter their narratives.
The Funambulist Papers 54 /// Bodies on the Line: Somatic Risks and Psychogeographies in Urban Exploration and Palestinian ‘Infiltration‘
by Hanna Baumann
Antony Gormley, Drawing from the series New York Drawings (1997-98)
The following text was written for a roundtable seminar entitled Design, Politics and the Question of Form organized yesterday at the department of design of the New School (New York) by Mahmoud Keshavarz (listen to our past conversation on Archipelago) in company of Clive Dilnot, Victoria Hattam, Orit Halpern, and Otto van Busch. Writing this text allowed me to formulate retrospectively in a somehow non-anthropocentric way, the basis of my forthcoming book, Topie Impitoyable (D-Fiction, 2014), and/or can be seen as a reformulation of Weaponized Architecture‘s thesis in a synthetic — and more material — manner:
Bodies/Objects, Design and Violence (May 2014) ///
The first axiom of the following text is that everything is material. What we call immateriality in our experience – in the experience of thinking for example – is simply a misunderstanding of the material agency of that we call “immaterial.” The second axiom consists in recognizing the impossibility for what we commonly define as “essence” to exist. There is no essential difference between a dog and a cat, nor is there between a molecule and a star. The differentiation between the various material assemblages that compose the world – that are the world – is strictly a differentiation of intensities, continuously varying and always unique.
From these two axioms, I am interested in deducting an ethics of objects and bodies – from what we just saw, we know that there is no essential difference between objects and bodies – that would ultimately proposes trajectories for the act of designing.