Cosmopolitcs : Emily Apter
Cosmopolitics / Emily Apter
In 2015 the news network Al-Jazeera removed the term “migrant” from its coverage and proposed in its place “refugee,” to refer to persons in transit, specifically, those fleeing from regions of war, ethnic cleansing, religious persecution, economic and environmental catastrophe. Al-Jazeera’s action recognizes that the lexicology of migration is fraught with linguistic racism, the politics of exclusion and imperial violence, all themes of Étienne Balibar’s formative work on cosmopolitics. Balibar’s broadside, Europe, crise et fin?, articulates the urgent need to reinvent political concepts and minoritized names. “Political categories,” he affirms, “need to be changed; the old ones have changed in meaning: notions of ‘migration,’ borders, territory, population, cannot be used as before (as we’ve seen already with terms like money, citizenship, work).”2 For Balibar, righting the language of migration (in the sense of putting it back on political course, restoring political rights to those whose language is treated as suspect or whose claims remain unlanguaged in any tongue), belongs to a larger project of rethinking what Europe is as a territory of cosmopolitical right (defined in Kant, as Balibar reminds us, as a universal system of juridical norms and a “meta-political point of view based on the idea of a moral destination of humankind, according to which the ultimate moral end or purposefulness of reason will transcend the simple sphere of positive law”), and beyond that, of translating “Europe” by means of a political philology of statelessness, detention zones, camps, settlements, and unsettled existence.3 Balibar’s earlier interventions in debates around border politics and cosmopolitanism were of course crucial to orienting these concerns.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, pursuant to and following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the post-Maastricht moment in which the ascendant prospect of a “United States of Europe” within a globally networked neoliberal economy prompted appeals for a different order of philosophical politics (from Jacques Derrida, Jean-Luc Nancy, Balibar and others), there was an efflorescence of cosmopolitan theory, buoyed by Derrida’s writings on unconditional hospitality and forgiveness, by Balibar’s seminal book Droit de cité: Culture et politique en démocratie (1998) and by the collective volume Cosmopolitics: Thinking and Feeling Beyond the Nation (1998), edited by Bruce Robbins and Pheng Cheah (which included Balibar’s indispensable essay “The Borders of Europe”). This body of writing, though hardly uniform in purview, built on the premise that cosmopolitanism could no longer rely on Enlightenment notions of freedom, reason, autonomy, individual interest, and national self-sovereignty. Nor could it leave unquestioned statutes of human rights protected by universal declarations, international treaties, universalist models of international civil society, world trade agreements, and free-markets issuing from a Kantian ideal of mutually respecting federated nations equilibrated in perpetual peace. The cultural model of cosmopolitanism was, for these thinkers, equally obsolete, resting as it did on what I would be tempted to call a detachment theory of the subject divested of the primordial claims of ontological nationalism, as well as on a pre-comprehended notion of the human and the cultivation of the old humanisms within the disciplinary humanities.
Robbin’s and Cheah’s Cosmopolitics departed from the premise that, since Goethe’s time, worldliness and ramified notions of cultural belonging and identification were predicated on a concept of the human as that which overcomes the limitations of immediate existence. The human derived from the universal feeling of sympathy (Kant), from the intrinsic value of communication (translatability), and from the belief in a common cultural compact. The editors critiqued this humanist tradition from the standpoint of “actually existing practices of cosmopolitanism,” characterized by “fragility of collectivity”; “long-distance nationalism” (Benedict Anderson); “Trojan nationalisms” (Arjun Appadurai); and conflictual identity politics in the place of a “gallery of virtuous, eligible identities.”4 For Cheah, cosmopolitics was deputized to take on capitalist cosmopolitanism by pointing to “mass-based emancipatory forms of global consciousness, or actually existing imagined political world communities.”5
By the mid-2000s cosmopolitan theory had all but vanished in the shift from critiques of the humanist human to theories of “planetarity” aligned with translative encounters and non-Eurocentric ecological movements (Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak), “slow violence” (Rob Nixon), and an “indigenous alter-anthropology,” inclusive of “Amazonian cosmopolitics,” and comprising interspecies perspectivism, ontological multinaturalism, and cannibal alterity (Eduardo Vivieros de Castro).6 In an interview referencing his book Inhuman Conditions: On Cosmopolitanism and Human Rights (2006), even Cheah would take aim at cosmopolitanism, pointing out how its most recent iterations were compromising human rights by implicating them in global NGOs and the biopolitical management of human capital and resources. He maintained that the human was embedded in a language of right that was itself a juridical translation that obfuscated the impact of biopolitical technologies on bordered subjectivities.
Cheah underscored how countries in the global south, as part of the effort to attract capital investment, essentially subcontracted their citizens to countries abroad. In the name of developing their capacities as human resources through education and professional training, they ended up outsourcing their bodies for cheap labor. Cheah’s insight—that the language of cosmopolitan right produces forms of labor injustice—may hardly be a revelation, but it reinforced the need, already well articulated by Balibar, to revive cosmopolitics as a term accountable to the fallout of economized existence, and to the necessity for a language of rights to have rights capable of doubling down on the politics of the global south within Europe. Cosmopolitics in this ascription would curtail the baggy “cosmopolitanism” set loose in the 1980s (identified by Robbins and Paolo Lemos Horta in their introduction to Cosmopolitanisms), with “a plural descriptive understanding” comprising “any one of many possible modes of life, thought, and sensibility that are produced when commitments and loyalties are multiple and overlapping, no one of them necessarily trumping the others,”8 by aligning itself with “a cosmopolitanism of the poor” (Silviano Santiago),9 associated with “nonelite collectivities that had cosmopolitanism thrust upon them by traumatic histories of dislocation and dispossession.”10
In a more recent piece titled “From Cosmopolitanism to Cosmopolitics,” Balibar extends the cosmopolitical remit to a “philological model of political space” contoured by a “phenomenology of the border.”11 Here translation proves paramount, for the move entails attending to the specific idiomaticities of border language (noting where translation is impossible and where it contributes to structural cultural inequality), and working the interactivity of language multiplicities. Translation, as Balibar marks it, and as we know from his manifold contributions to theorizing in untranslatables (particularly his entries to Barbara Cassin’s Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon and his subtle dilations on the reciprocal transferences of conscience/consciousness in Identity and Difference: John Locke & the Invention of Consciousness), is no ancillary quilting point of politics and philosophy, but a praxis essential to political theory. As a medium of linguistic exchange and a mediator of “cultural determinations and institutional power relations,” translation lies at the crux of Balibarian cosmopolitics.12 Cosmopolitics is translation insofar as it effects the de-predication of universalism (casting the universal as an effect of the languages and idioms in which it self-enunciates), and insofar as its politics are flush with acts of translating; of translating the language of emigration and “disfruted” citizenship; occupation and real estate; territorial and philosophical borders.13
Balibar’s “re-righting” and rewriting of the construct “Europe” never allows us to forget the a priori of the refugee’s thereness within Europe. Accounting for thereness (an affront to what Condorcet, as Balibar notes, termed “adunation,” referring to a people’s unitary self-image, protectively shielded against the prospect of “foreign” arrivals), is crucial to his project of reinventing the idea of the border as a cosmopolitical concept.15 To available models of world-wideness (Jean-Luc Nancy’s phenomenological coordinates for a “regard au loin,” a gaze trained on infinite horizons and the contemplative expanse of transfinite worlds), jurisdictional circumference, continental identity, integrity of perimeter, or the imaginary of a partitioned territory within a larger global cartography, Balibar adds “Europe” as the name for a border that misrecognizes itself, fails to see the “thereness” of who is there within actually existing cosmopolitanisms.16 For Balibar, the stakes of this misrecognition are high: either Europe will remake itself by revolutionizing its territorial nomos or Europe will destroy itself in denying reality and staying fixated on fetishes of the past. Europe, he argues, may think it possesses integral borders, but in this it is wrong. In fact, Europe is little more than a complex of overlapping borderlands, displaceable boundaries, and disparate modes of governance. In “The Borders of Europe,” Balibar coined the synthetic expression “the European triple point,” harking back to la voie romaine and the transnational map of papal sovereignty in medieval Europe, creating territories of “conflictual cultural overlaps in and through the identification of the religious and the symbolic.”17 Now, these “conflictual cultural overlaps” have produced (in the place of the papacy) transversal forms of supranational sovereign power characterized by militarized borders—the policing of everyday life—and modes of governance in which the state of exception is permanent, effectively unexceptional.
Balibar emphasizes that Europe as such corresponds, technically speaking, to no unique territorial identification: the EU coincides neither with the Council of Europe (which includes Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the Balkan states), nor with NATO (which includes the US, Norway, and Turkey, and which is charged with protecting European territory), nor with the Schengen (which includes Switzerland but not the UK), nor with the Eurozone (which still includes Greece but not the UK, Sweden, or Poland).18 As there will never be congruent delimitation, Europe is simply not definable as a discrete territory.
Undermined as a univocal, absolute idea by the lack of a stable definition of inside and outside, European as a cosmopolitan ideal is further undone by the effects of an inherited vocabulary of colonial cartography; a skein of words bearing myriad forms of violence sanitized by bureaucratic usage or admin-speak. Let us think of these words as active, personifiable technicians of dominance: terms like “outremer” (overseas), “non-European,” or “indigènes” (natives), which, since the colonial period, maintain their traction as terms of recolonization applied to Europe’s internal boundaries.19 “North” and “South” are similarly violent markers. As Balibar notes, there are increasingly shifting lines of global south and global north within smaller and smaller states of Europe, each unit improvised (almost like theatrical scaffolding) by the construction of walls erected not in the hope of arresting the influx of displaced people, but of redirecting it elsewhere.20
The architect Léopold Lambert documented the remapping of Fortress Schengen, materialized through ad hoc barbed wire fencing along the border between Slovenia and Croatia (the latter a member of the E.U. but not the Schengen countries). Lambert tracks the strange effects of small doors and apertures erupting inside townscapes and along riverbanks. He zeroes in “on the small Croatian town of Bregana, in the direct vicinity of the highway custom station between Ljubljana and Zagreb, [that] extends a small part of its urbanity in Slovenia, on the other side of the thin river sharing the same name.”21 Noting that the river border has been substituted by a small fence on a single street, Lambert discerns that “this street happens to be on the separation between Fortress Schengen (a 4 million square-kilometer area) and . . . the rest of the world. . . . The smallness of the door (Fortress Schengen’s back door) accommodated in the fence not only attests to the past domesticity of this street but also reinforces the absurdity of the wall’s spectacle.”22
The proliferation of micro-borders, captured in images of fences running right up against kitchen gardens and the back doors of local homes, or in obscured views of the militarized border that serve nonetheless, as projected virtual borders or battlements of rumored borders, underscore the extent to which borders may be fabricated from immaterial material but are no less politically functional for it. Fences and gates rezone Europe in ways that are only further rezoned by the attitudinal de-Europeanizing of European countries by other European countries. As Balibar reminds us, for France, the global south is Italy, for Britain it is France, for Germany it is Hungary, and for Hungary, it is Serbia, Macedonia, Greece, and Turkey. Who stops whom in this case? Who serves as border-guard for whom?23 It is always a matter of that other state, the one treated as more to the south or the east. The point here is that in place of a border, there is rebordering in real time, inclusive of those intangible “atmospheric walls” (as Sarah Ahmed defined them) produced by differential modes of existence across regions of economic and technological inequality.
Brushing each other, yet divided, there are those who live in planes, airports, shopping centers, and conference halls, and those who go by foot or truck, holding children and belongings (thereby instantiating what Balibar in “The Borders of Europe” calls “the empirico-transcendental question of luggage”), and those who navigate the seas on creaky boats and leaking container-barges.24 This state of affairs describes an inverted cosmopolitanism because it inverts our understanding of the relation between fixed territories and flux populations.25 It is a condition characteristic of the post-Westphalian world in which cosmopolitan right and international law can no longer assume a one-to-one correspondence between legitimate states and sovereign nations. In the face of the newly arrived, Balibar asks, what is Europe? What is Europe hobbled by identitarian insecurity, galloping nationalism, and the destitution of the idea of itself set against the backdrop of a generalized condition of civil war?26 What will be left of Europe in the wake of the migrant state of exception, which propels it back into old internecine conflicts and forces it to abandon the ideological fiction of a common European project?27 To avoid the path of becoming a space of “managed inhospitality” (to borrow the category of a special issue of Zone Books on “Europe at a Crossroads”28), Europe must re-become Europe; detranslating itself, so to speak, as in the “New Keywords of ‘the Crisis’ in and of ‘Europe’” proposed by Martina Tazzioli and Nicholas De Genova, where the stated aim is “to effectively ‘hijack’ the dominant discourse superintending how we speak and think about the conjunctures of ‘Europe’ and ‘crisis.’”29
To effect the de- or re-translation of Europe essential to a cosmopolitics worthy of the name, one must recover the emancipatory force of its etymons—demos, ipseity, hospites, sens communis, peuple, maidan, Gastrecht (the right of residence), refuge—along with placeholders for the articulation of persons currently lacking in statehood, the so-called virtual Europeans. Where, in We, the People of Europe? Reflections on Transnational Citizenship, Balibar echoed Umberto Eco in designating “translation” the name for the “language of Europe,” conceived as “the concrete metalanguage made up of all the equivalences and all the attempts to overcome the ‘untranslatable’ between idioms,” and an “unevenly developed practice.” In Europe, crise et fin? he points to the urgency of positioning Europe as a site for retranslating the language of rights and obligations: droit, loi, liberties, privileges, the right to . . . 30 The predicates for this glossary subtract from Europe’s crisis now, a crisis precipitated by the loss of a constitutional tradition of “conflictual” and “expansive” democracy; by the Schengen (whose accords fail to extend to refugees); by the delusion that wars (in Syria, Afghanistan, Africa) are not also Europe’s wars; by the illusion that austerity politics could be imposed without effecting the demise of European consensus over democratic values and economic policies; and by the belief that Europe can call itself democratic while employing discriminatory and violent techniques of population control.31
Balibar does not focus on Turkey in Europe, crise et fin? but it arguably serves as a potent mediator of “untranslatable” or “de-translated” Europe for a sum of reasons: (1) Turkey has played and continues to play a historically critical role in the fate of Europe, especially the Europe of anti-austerity movements or Brexit-style secessionism; (2) it typifies the cynical bartering of refugees as a medium or language of political chantage built on preexisting categories of targeted minorities (the Kurds, the Armenians); (3) it is a mobile counter in the fallout of Middle East politics within Europe (the displaced iterations of the Israeli-Palestine conflict and the Sunni/Shia proxy wars); and (4) it reveals the contradictions and aporias underpinning the language of cosmopolitics and exilic destination. This last harks back to Turkey in the 1930s, when Erich Auerbach, along with other German and Austrian professors forced to flee after the institution of the Nuremberg laws, found themselves conscripted for a Kemalist project to de-Ottomanize Turkish education. By helping to invent and diffuse an order of vernacular Öffentlichkeit these exiled Europeans made internal exiles of a prior generation; the irony was not lost on them. And one could say that Turkey remains a singular “translation zone,” mediating fractious Europe/non-Europe modes of mutual un-understanding (Unverständlichkeit), operating diplomatically, if contentiously, as an east-west bivalve; and “translating,” in a loose sense, not only what Europe currently is (Fortress Europe) but also what it can no longer become (a zone of cosmopolitan hospitality, open borders, perpetual peace).
The dialectics of mimesis, carrying faint but distinct echoes of the title of Auerbach’s celebrated magnum opus of literary criticism Mimesis: On the Representation of Western Reality (composed between 1942 and 1945) structures the defeat of the cosmopolitical paradigm (“L’Europe en panne,” in a state of breakdown, as Balibar will put it).32 According to this scenario, Turkey is ambivalently cast as both a refugee sanctuary (an estimated three million Syrians), and a place of brute repression that subjects its own citizens to internment and military abuse. Reciprocally, Europe emerges as a region of political dysfunction, unable to deal with the sans-papiers within the shifting borders of its self-sovereignty even as it clings to the myth of itself as a beacon of universal human rights. Europe and Turkey, caught between aggressive if uneven policing and both in a defensive crouch toward radicalized religious factions, are in this sense joined at the hip; both unable to translate themselves as îles de refuge or conduits of safe harbor. Both may be seen as in the grip of resurgent Orientalisms (as postcolonial readers have consistently underscored, Edward Said, Azade Seyhan, Aamir Mufti, Kader Konuk, Nergis Ertürk, Efe Cakmak among them), that exploit the tenuousness of secular humanism in a non-Euro context even as they sustain fictions of a Euro-Turkey.33
Balibar’s Europe, crise et fin? brings out the structurally mimetic and destabilized Euro/non-Euro relation not so much in light of the non-equivalence between Ottoman and Muslim cultural heritage and Judeo-Christian cosmopolitanism, which has preoccupied scholars from Leo Spitzer and Erich Auerbach to writers like Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, Nâzim Hikmet, and Orhan Pamuk, but more in terms of the identification of Europe with non-sites that spell the negation of Europe: ports of exit and entry (Calais, Lesbos, Malta, Catania); routes (Somalia to Tangier, Istanbul to Algeciras, Yemen to Djibouti, Syria to Greece, Albania to Germany, Tripoli to towns in the west Balkans, Algiers to Spain); straits (Gibralter, Bosphorus, Messina).
Translation Zones: Strait/Streit
A cosmopolitics of the border, tasked with translating zones of peril and traumatic detachment, brings us to a new functioning of “strait” as a term of charged conjugation, one resulting in a heterotopia of treacherous passage, liquid border, sieve of human triage, legislative and facultative conflict, and protean site of affect in translation, to mention just a few of its proliferating referents. One might start with the colloquial sense of “being in dire straits” conjoined with that of a body of water fraught with distress and the names for fear in every language. Hailing from the Old French estreit, strait, where it denotes difficulty, defile, narrow stricture, isthmus or narrow passage of water, it extends into the Modern French étroit, (from Latin strictus), and comes to subsume a range of concepts associated with tightness and close-fittingness. The cognate in Middle English, streit, meaning narrow or strict, moves on a parallel track toward the German Streit, signifying conflict, quarrel, dispute, fight, as in Kant’s Der Streit der Fakultäten [The Conflict of the Faculties] (1798). Here, one could say, a philosophical border politics of the “streit/strait” stands behind its contemporary traction as function of the cosmopolitical lexicon.
Kant wrote the work after being censored by Frederick William II, King of Prussia for his treatise Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone. As has been many times noted, Kant’s defense of the “lower” faculty of philosophy (lower with respect to the “higher” faculties: Theology, Law, and Medicine) was hardly a challenge to the right of government to sanction the doctrines that should be taught. While Kant endorsed state control over education, he believed that a government’s interests were best served by a philosophical faculty accorded full power to reconcile the tenets of ecclesiastical faith with reasoned moral law. The ability of the lower philosophical faculty to derive normative moral principles from a priori rather than empirical or mystical orders of experience, together with its philosophical techniques for rationalizing theological precepts, were grounds for ensuring its disciplinary autonomy. This position of course was unacceptable to the theology faculty that relied on forms of historical criticism deferential to the principle of divine revelation. A turf battle was inevitable and Kant lost. In this context, Conflict of the Faculties must be read as a pushback document; a vindication of the right to philosophy, and the right of philosophy to self-legislate, to embed itself within the university while preserving its outlier status.
Kant coded der Streit within the political “strait” of the university, associating it with the jockeying for power between the upper and lower faculties. This historical context of pitched internecine institutional battles and struggles for subregional constitutional authority add philosophic substance to routine identifications of the “strait” as the space between Scylla and Charybdis, associated with clichés signifying “choosing between two evils” or finding oneself “between a rock and a hard place.” Scylla and Charybdis, the mythical sea monsters of Greek mythology situated on opposing sides of the Strait of Messina (between Sicily and the Italian mainland), respectively named the treacherous rock shoal on the Italian side and the churning whirlpool off Sicily’s coast. Their proximity foretold the zero-sum logic of navigating hazard; avoiding Charybdis meant passing too close to Scylla and vice versa. Famously, in Homer, Odysseus must choose between monsters: he opts for skirting Scylla and losing only a few sailors over sacrificing his entire ship in the whirlpool.
The strait became a favored trope of political caricature from the eighteenth century on. In James Gillray’s Britannia between Scylla and Charybdis (3 June 1793), “William Pitt helms the ship Constitution, containing an alarmed Britannia, between the rock of democracy (with the liberty cap on its summit) and the whirlpool of arbitrary power (in the shape of an inverted crown), to the distant haven of liberty.” John Tenniel’s caricature for Punchmagazine (1863), shows Prime Minister Lord Palmerston steering the British ship of state between Scylla (depicted as a craggy rock with the face of a grim-visaged Abraham Lincoln), and Charybdis, (depicted as a whirlpool whose foam and froth assume the guise of Jefferson Davis). A shield emblazoned “Neutrality” hangs on the ship’s thwarts, referring to how Palmerston avoided taking sides in the American Civil War. The American satirical magazine Puck also used the myth in a caricature dated November 26, of 1884, in which the unmarried President-elect Grover Cleveland rows desperately between two snarling monsters, one captioned “Mother-in-law” and the other, “Office Seekers.”
This politics of the uncertain middle, of danger in the suspension of an outcome associated with the imagery of the strait (however satirical it might be), is given full thrush as a Balibarian figure of “inverted cosmopolitanism” in the work of two contemporary artists, Antoni Muntadas and Yto Barrada. Muntadas’ video, Jauf/Miedo (2007), investigates how words for the affect of fear and words describing the perilous physical journey across the Strait of Gibralter become geophilosophically intertwined. Enabling the speakers, in the very fact of their speech, to affirm the right to have rights in and through their own languages, the work’s medium is built up from interviews conducted in Arabic, Spanish, English, and French. Part therapeutic session, part official inquiry into the relationship between sovereign inhospitality and translational violence, Jauf/Miedo presents the strait as a utopic landscape luring the touristic gaze that turns into a deadly corridor of fears, harboring human traffickers and piratical economies.34
In Yto Barrada’s The Strait Project: A Life Full of Holes’ (1998–2004), the “holes” in question hark back to the mythic void that opened up when Hercules separated Europe from Africa and reference, analogically, the treacherous deserts that separate Mexico and the US. As Kristin M. Jones notes:
In Le Détroit—Avenue d’Espagne (The Strait—Spanish Avenue, 2000), there is an associative fusion of street and strait. The street, whose very name “Avenue d’Espagne” evokes Europe, is mesmerizing in its emptiness and resemblance to a rushing river. The vantage of this image communicates disembodiment, ungrounding, spatial insecurity and perceptual disorientation. In his essay “Life Full of Holes,” T.J. Demos notes that “Berrada represents the Strait “less as vivid geography than as zone of imagination and desire, one split between the would-be émigré’s longing for escape . . . and expatriate homesickness, gazing back with irrepressible memories of an intimately familiar place irrevocably lost.”36 For Demos, the work calls up Giorgio Agamben’s dictum (in Means Without Ends): “Rights are attributed to the human being only to the degree to which he or she is the immediately vanishing presupposition . . . of the citizen.”37
Where in Muntadas’ work the strait’s imaginary is built up from discrepant orders of affect among the terms jauf/miedo/peur/fear, in Barrada’s it belongs to a greater infrastructure of political vanishing points and barred representation. In both cases, the strait is a gate: a liquid gateway to another world, a stricture or blockade, and a trial; one that tests persistence in the face of failure. This is precisely the irony contained in the famous Biblical line of Matthew 7:14 (King James): “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Werner Hamacher seems to have embedded this Biblical portent of the strait in his idea of philology, which he characterized as a “question detained at the border, the drawbridge, the portico, that does not enter its interior and does not know its law.”38
For Geoffrey Bennington, extending border discourse to philosophy rather than philology, “frontier” is the premier philosopheme not only of a form of politics—the “end of history,” the “end of ends,” the endlessnessness of post-Kantian teleology—but also of the concept of the concept as such. In Frontiers: Kant, Hegel, Frege, Wittgenstein, precursor to the more recent Kant on the Frontier: Philosophy, Politics and the End of the Earth, “frontier” in his ascription redounds to Derrida’s
Bennington is alluding here to Frege’s assertion that “The law of the excluded middle is really just another form of the requirement that the concept should have a sharp boundary.” The law of the excluded middle (either a proposition is true, or its negation is true, no third way being admissible), much like Aristotle’s law of non-contradiction (holding that where one proposition is the negation of the other, one must be true, and the other false), reveals the extent to which cosmopolitics qua “border politics” encompasses the larger stakes of conceptual possibility. In this picture, every name for “border” becomes a place-holder for an excluded middle that makes possible conceptualization as such.
And yet, this abstracted landscape of pure thought in no way precludes the frontier from signifying materially, from delineating the stakes of politics on the ground. As Bennington reminds us, the frontier is also a stone, a marker, a way of staking claim or possession to a piece of territory. And when that stone is rubble, rubbish, or rabble it may take on the character of an unsettled settlement, the leftover of a neighborhood that has otherwise been transformed by gentrification or urban redevelopment, or that persists as a remnant or ruin of a town after it has been strafed or broken up by an occupying force. From Balibar’s reflections on the crisis of inverted cosmopolitanism amid the fluxus of European borders, passing through the conflict zone of the “strait,” we move inexorably to settlement politics in the Middle East.
In Pastoral in Palestine, a personal chronicle written in 2011, Neil Hertz works the slippages among “rubbish, rubble, and rabble,” drawing out the social and architectural syntax of retaining walls and other urban morphologies that bespeak the “gravitational pull that has to be constantly counteracted,” recalling for Hertz what the poet Robert Lowell called “‘the downward glide and bias of existence.’”40 The book is an observation of Palestinian ways of survival in the Occupied Territories, and a stock-taking of the encroachment of extremist settlers on Arab neighborhoods. Hertz prompts us to interrogate fully—to translate—the ambiguous meanings accruing to the term “settlement,” as concept, as literally “grounded” principle of the territorial claim, and as a set of differential typologies of living on according to conditions of provisionality, exclusion, and survival. Even the word “pastoral,” a term borrowed from William Empson’s Some Versions of Pastoral, is drawn away from its gentle associations with natural settings, the georgics of shepherds, and Romantic lake district poets, and into the vortex of Arab-Israeli settlement politics. Teaching at Al-Quds University in the Occupied territories under the auspices of the University and Bard College, and directly inspired by the local topography of neighborhoods, building sites, and landscapes encountered daily, Hertz undertakes a census of the signage of settlement. In a formerly middle-class Palestinian neighborhood of West Jerusalem, advertisements (in English) boasting “Arab-style” rustication on the facades becomes a marketing tool of Israeli real estate developers (“fossilized forms of biblical authenticity,” Arab style without the Arabs), aimed at Jewish clients from North America and Europe.41 Hertz includes within “pastoral” the violent renaming of contested spaces: the “Seam” harks back to the “Green Line,” so named because it was traced in 1947 by a wide green crayon. Now a six-lane highway connecting Jerusalem to the settlements, the Green Line has been euphemistically rebranded as “Peace Way;” the urban thoroughfare thus remakes the “seam” as an ethnic unifier that, as Hertz sees it, unthreads and excludes Palestinian life from the “urban web.”42 A “settlement” means something specific in the Occupied Territories. It is first and foremost, a religious “colony,” a colonizing populace whose mission is to reclaim “the Biblical Heartland of Israel” according to their literature.43 Occupation is made possible by means of preferential rules-of-engagement on the part of the Israeli police force. As Hertz remarks on one of his photos of a settlement in the eastern part of Jerusalem where Palestinians once lived, it is not a matter of inserting single dwellings in a Palestinian neighborhood, but of implanting entire gated communities into Arab areas of Jerusalem.44
Philology of the Settlement
If, as Derrida argued and Bennington reconfirms, it is “the indecision of the frontier between the philosophical and the poetical that most provokes philosophy to think,” we might imagine Balibar’s frontières-mondes as cosmopolitical aporias that inaugurate a translingual rethinking of what a settlement is by means of acts of political philology.45 Consider in this regard Ozen Nergis Dolcerocca’s commentary on the term “settlement” in Turkish, which underscores the politics of linguistic cosmopolitics:
The differences between “camp” and “settlement” in Turkish, hinging on temporal duration, give out onto the larger cosmopolitical problems of duration, endurance, and traumatically intertwined, yet morally incommensurate histories of “the camps.”
The term for camp in common currency in Arabic, Mintaqat al-I’tiqal (منطقة لإعتقال), is approximatively translated according to Hannah Deutscher as “district of arrests.”
Deutscher brings into relief conceptual amphibolies of police restraint (physical arrests), and philosophic reason, consistent with Balibar’s amphibolies of “ground” (mapped and materially sited) and “ideality” (border Imaginaries, the question of “being” a border).48 Rich associative valences are also drawn out of the word for “settlement” in Arabic— mustawtana, مستوطنة —a noun drawn from Form X of the verb wa-ta-na, وطن, meaning to dwell/live/reside/stay in a place.” Hans Wehr’s modern dictionary offers an etymological juxtaposition rich in geopolitical implications; a link between mustawtana (colony) and mustawtana zira’iya, (agricultural settlement or kibbutz).
Noting the heated debates among Wikipedia Hebrew editors about the proper word for Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories, Adi Ophir parses its political usages exegetically and historically:
Ophir sets in motion a chain of untranslatables, each word appositionally activated with reference to a situated politics and governed by relations of non-equivalence. The chain highlights yeshuv (settlement), Nakhala (inherited land possessed by right of divine claim); Palestinian kfar (village) Israeli kibbutz (literally ‘cooperative arrangement’), and hityashvut (new settlements in the Occupied Territories). Ophir alerts us to how semantic shifts of emphasis among “wandering,” “standing still,” “sitting down,” and makeshift “sojourning” condition how we read the contextual politics of settlement/unsettlement. He notes that in the Bible the verb yashav, usually meaning to dwell, “is often opposed to travel, going from one place to another, or wandering. When one stops walking one is described not as standing but as sitting/dwelling. The native peoples of Canaan are said to dwell/sit in the land.” Ophir distinguishes, in the interstices of the opposition between wandering and staying, the Hebrew term khana, חנה, (camp). The noun for camp is makhane, מחנה, the overnight place of stay for the traveling tribe or army. In Modern Hebrew, detention camp, like concentration camp, labor camp, practice camp (in sport) or the death (or annihilation) camp are all makhae. The term does not connote dwelling in a Heideggerian sense, but designates, rather, “a site for temporary stay.” Ophir’s languaging of yashav and makhane arguably approach them to Derridean mouvance, meaning not simply “the fact of moving or of moving oneself or of being moved,” but also a state of being that is between active and passive, that is in-différance in Derrida’s sense of being in-between differing and deferral, beyond the sensible and the intelligible.50 Though wary of over-philosophizing regional politics, Ophir nonetheless draws out critical etymologies to clarify dimensions of the settlement conflicts in Israel-Palestine, exposing ways in which the language of entitlement to land—the right to occupy or the conditions of dwelling somewhere—are forensically “grounded” in historical etymologies.
Ophir will have recourse to Agamben’s “zones of indistinction” and “states of exception” to hone the distinction between “camp” and “zone of detention” in Hebrew:
Ophir’s attention to philosophical and theological nuances in situ of zone, dwelling, camp, settlement, is consonant with the broader Balibarian project of a cosmopolitical philology. It is at the border, or in those spaces of the frontières-monde that compel, as Balibar insists, “a confrontation with the impossible limit of an autodetermination, a Selbstbestimmung of thought. It implies an effort to conceptualize the line on which we think, the condition of possibility or the ‘hidden art’ of distributions and delimitations.”51
Cosmopolitics in its Balibarian usage, traces the history of how the philosophico-juridical discourse of sovereign right to a territory legitimates the violence of border policing and foretells the blocked or impossible translation of universal citizenship and cosmopolitan compossibility. It points up the problem that “philosophizing in languages” (Cassin) poses to the institution of philosophy, such that philosophies of gnomically articulated truth may no longer comfortably position themselves above the fray of linguistic contingencies, but find themselves subject to différance, to discrepant orders of grammar and diction, and to the dictates of ontological nationalism. It denotes a political philology encompassing the solemn, tremulous theology of the “strait (underwriting all treacherous maritime passages by immigrants),” the raced and ethnocidal nominalisms of “refugee,” “camp,” “detention zone,” “rabble,” and “settlement,” as well as First World categorizations, such as “beneficiary,” recently unmoored as the solid signature of the privileged metropolitan by Bruce Robbins, who repurposes it to designate “something between a recognition of global economic injustice and a denunciation of it.”52 Cosmopolitics acts as a clarion call for a new material grounding of what is free and unfree in any neoliberal accounting of “free speech.” And perhaps, at the farthest reach, it may be taken to designate the sublation of inverted cosmopolitanism by a global politics of real estate. Here I would propose the rather unorthodox gesture of putting Balibar’s political philology of the border (including internal and psychic borders, as addressed by Ann Stoler in this edition of Political Concepts), into dialogue with Fredric Jameson’s contention that “today, all politics is about real estate.” For Jameson, the charged philology of real estate cuts across the deal-making of global finance capital, the refugee crisis, and the “postmodern” geopolitics of unsettlement and occupation.
Balibarian cosmopolitics, crossed with Jameson’s structural model of a postmodern politics of real estate, brings focus to translational praxis addressed to those made stateless by war, unlanded by comprador economies of development, taxed by terrestrial spoliation wrought by the extractive industries, and afflicted by what Balibar has characterized as “the equivocity of the category of the stranger and its tendencial reduction to the figure of the enemy.”54 Within the broad parameters of what I have construed as Balibarian cosmopolitics, the philology of disfruted estates is imbricated in a political ontology of being-bordered, a mode of existence qualified by Balibar as “an internal, quasi-transcendental condition of possibility for the definition of the citizen and the community of citizens . . . [a] Zwischenraum of political action and contestation, where the right to have rights becomes formulated.”55 Cosmopolitics in this ascription is not so much a keyword amenable to any singular definition or geotopic Weltanshauung as it is a function of a distinctive form of philosophic politics; at once translational and phenomenological, at once a mode of production particular to site-specific material borders defined by quarantine and exclusion, and a question of the citizen subject as a right or claim affirmed in the face of capitalism’s powers of eminent domain, territorial reset, and incursion.
Emily Apter is Silver Professor of French and Comparative Literature at New York University.
Published on January 15, 2018
1. Barry Malone, “Why Al Jazeera will not say Mediterranean ‘migrants’,” Al Jazeera, August 20, 2015, http://www.aljazeera.com/blogs/editors-blog/2015/08/al-jazeera-mediterranean-migrants-150820082226309.html↩
2. Étienne Balibar, Europe, crise et fin? (Paris: Broché, 2016), p. 144; my translation.↩
3. See Etienne Balibar, “Citizenship of the World Revisited,” in Routledge Handbook of Cosmopolitanism Studies, ed. Gerard Delanty (New York: Routledge, 2012), p. 295. In this important essay, Balibar raises a number of intractable problems: the quandary that arises when it becomes clear that cosmopolitics lends itself just as easily (if not more easily) to empire and capitalist markets as it does to the sway of the multitude; the ideal of civic or republican principle infused in global citizenship remains institutionally resistant to definition; the limitations on instituting the political inhering in Kant and Marx: “Although Kant’s cosmopolitical right appears as a dialectical overcoming of the traditional distinction between civil society and political community, itself rooted in the “Roman” opposition between public and private realms, and Marx’s proletarian internationalism as its disqualification, both leave obscure and uncertain the question of how to institute the political outside the State, beyond the State as institution” (ibid., p. 298).↩
4. See Bruce Robbins, “Introduction, Part I: Actually Existing Cosmopolitanism,” in Pheng Cheah and Bruce Robbins, eds., Cosmopolitics: Thinking and Feeling Beyond the Nation (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998), pp. 10–12.↩
5. Pheng Cheah, “Introduction Part II: The Cosmopolitical—Today,” in Cosmopolitics: Thinking and Feeling Beyond the Nation, p 32.↩
6.Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, “Cannibal Metaphysics. Amerindian Perspectivism,” Radical Philosophy 182 (November/December 2013), p. 21.↩
7. Peng Cheah, “Interview with Peng Cheah on Cosmopolitanism, Nationalism and Human Rights,” interview by Yuk Hui, Theory, Culture and Society (March 17, 2011) www.theoryculturesociety.org/interview-with-pheng-cheah-on-cosmopolitanism-nationalism-and-human-rights/↩
8. Bruce Robbins and Paulo Lemos Horta, “Introduction,” Cosmopolitanisms, ed. Bruce Robbins and Paulo Lemos Horta (New York: New York University Press, 2017), p. 3.↩
9. See Silviano Santiago, “The Cosmopolitanism of the Poor,” trans. Magdalena Edwards and Paulo Lemos Horta, in Cosmopolitanisms, pp. 21–39.↩
10. Robbins and Lemos Horta, “Introduction,” p. 3.↩
11. The heading is borrowed from the title of a lecture by Étienne Balibar delivered at the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, Birkbeck College, University of London, Nov. 6, 2007, “From Cosmopolitanism to Cosmopolitics.” A revised version was given at the Center for Ideas and Society, University of California, Riverside, Jan. 23, 2008. Balibar was kind enough to share a typescript of the lecture and to allow permission to quote.↩
12. Balibar, “From Cosmopolitanism to Cosmopolitics.”↩
13. In a talk, “A New Querelle of Universals,” (a condensed, English version of a chapter of Des universels: Essais et conférences [Paris: Editions Galilée, 2016], Balibar explains how any attempt to think the concept of the universal gives way to a translational problematic involving the contradictions that arise from any “saying” of universalism in a specific language or idiom: “My latent idea is that the universal is not really a concept or an idea, but it is always the correlative effect of an enunciation that, in given conditions, either asserts the differences or denies them (or even prohibits them), therefore leading to a conflictual modality of internal contestation of itself. But enunciations are always made in a specific language—an idiom—and idioms exist only in the form of a multiplicity of languages that are never isolated from one another, but continuously interacting, therefore inducing transformations within one another. “Translation” is the general name for this interaction, which as we know takes a number of different forms, involving cultural determinations and institutional power relations.”↩
14. Balibar, Europe, crise et fin, p. 142.↩
15. Condorcet’s signature concept is hailed as an astonishing term for the reaction-formation of popular self-identity in the face of newly arrived strangers, see Étienne Balibar, Europe, Constitution, frontière (Bègles: Editions du Passant, 2005). p. 102.↩
16. Jean-Luc Nancy, “Euryopa: Le regard au loin,” (1994) in Cahiers de l’Europe 2 (Spring/Summer 1997), pp. 82–94. See chapters by Georges Van Den Abbele, “Lost Horizons and Uncommon Grounds: For a Poetics of Finitude in the Work of Jean-Luc Nancy,” and by Rodolphe Gasché, “Alongside the Horizon,” both in On Jean-Luc Nancy: The Sense of Philosophy (New York: Routledge, 1997), pp. 19–31 and pp. 140–156, respectively. See also, Rodolphe Gasché, Europe, or the Infinite Task: A Study of the Philosophical Concept (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009), and Samuel Weber, “Europe and Its Others: Some Preliminary Reflections on the Relation of Reflexivity and Violence in Rodolphe Gasché’s Europe, or the Infinite Task.” CR: The New Centennial Review 8:3 (Winter 2008), pp. 71–83.↩
17. Etienne Balibar, “The Borders of Europe,” in Cosmopolitics: Thinking and Feeling Beyond the Nation, p. 223.↩
18. Balibar, Europe, crise et fin, p. 146.↩
19. Balibar, Europe, crise et fin?, p. 147.↩
20. Balibar, Europe, crise et fin?, p. 149–51.↩
21. Leopold Lambert, “Fortress Schengen: Report of the Wall as a Spectacular Rumor,” The Funambulist, Feb. 26, 2016, https://thefunambulist.net/architectural-projects/fortress-schengen-report-of-the-wall-as-a-spectacular-rumor (accessed 11/28/17).↩
22. Lambert, “Fortress Schengen: Report of the Wall as a Spectacular Rumor.”↩
23. Europe, crise et fin? p. 150.↩
24. Étienne Balibar, “The Borders of Europe,” in Cosmopolitics: Thinking and Feeling Beyond the Nation, p. 219.↩
25. Balibar, Europe, crise et fin?, p 151–2.↩
26. Balibar, Europe, crise et fin?, p 160.↩
27. Balibar, Europe, crise et fin?, p 170.↩
28. “Europe at a Crossroads,” ed. Michel Feher, William Callison, Milad Odabaei, Aurélie Windels, Zone Books: Near Futures 1 (March 2016).↩
29. Martina Tazzioli and Nicholas De Genova, “Europe/Crisis: Introducing New Keywords of ‘The Crisis’ in and of ‘Europe,’” in “Europe at the Crossroads,” Zone Books: Near Futures, http://nearfuturesonline.org/europecrisis-new-keywords-of-crisis-in-and-of-europe/#europe-crisis.↩
30. Etienne Balibar, We, the People of Europe? Reflections on Transnational Citizenship trans. James Swenson (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), pp. 177, 178.↩
31. In We, the People of Europe? Balibar discusses the concepts of “conflictual democracy” (where “heterogeneous constitutional principles are combined . . . contributing to a revival of the old notion of the ‘mixed constitution,’” and “expansive democracy” (a Gramscian notion referring to a politics that “remains open to the integration of new elements into the ‘common part’ of mankind, and there can be no ‘end of history’”) (p. 224).↩
32. Etienne Balibar, Europe, Constitution, frontière op. cit. See Chapter II, “L’Europe en panne?,” pp. 25–47.↩
33. For the discussion of how secularism is instrumentalized in these conflicts, see Stathis Gourgouris, “Crisis and the Ill Logic of Fortress Europe,” Uppsala Rhetorical Studies, pp. 40–41.↩
34. If I make the case here for attending to the particular valences of the strait as a geotopic translation zone of peril, trauma and border crossing, it is clear that much of what is ascribed to the strait is to extendable to ocean crossings by emigrants the world over. In the ever-growing series of art projects dealing with refugee crossings, I would signal Manthia Diawara’s An Opera of the World (2017), a documentary “chaos-opera” based on Bintou Were, A Sahel Opera, which premiered in Bamako, Mali in 2007. I would also signal Richard Mosse’s Incoming (exhibited at the Barbicon’s Curve Gallery in London in Feb. 2017), a remarkable large-scale, three-channel video that sutures footage of refugees on boats or idling in camps like Calais’ “Jungle” and uses a thermal military camera to hologrammatic effect; the spectral bodies, like photographic negatives, capture the flux and presence of visitants traveling across and trying to survive the seas and ports of Europe.↩
36. T.J. Demos, “A Life Full of Holes” in Grey Room 24 (2006), p. 74.↩
37. Giorgio Agamben as cited in Demos, “A Life Full of Holes,” p. 74.↩
38. Werner Hamacher, Minima Philologica, trans. Catherine Diehl and Jason Groves (New York: Fordham, 2015), p. 120n.↩
39. Geoffrey Bennington, Frontiers: Kant, Hegel, Frege, Wittgenstein (Copyright Geoffrey Bennington, 2008), pp. 4–5.↩
40. Neil Hertz, Pastoral in Palestine (Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2013), pp. 12–13.↩
41. Hertz, Pastoral in Palestine, pp. 70–71.↩
42. Hertz, Pastoral in Palestine, p. 96.↩
43. Hertz, Pastoral in Palestine, p. 98.↩
44. Hertz, Pastoral in Palestine, p. 101.↩
45. Geoffrey Bennington, Kant on the Frontier (New York: Fordham University Press, 2017), p. xxvi.↩
46. Ozen Nergis Dolcerocca, email exchange, June 17, 2017.↩
47. Hannah Deutscher email exchange, June 17, 2017.↩
48. Balibar, “The Borders of Europe,” in Cosmopolitics: Thinking and Feeling Beyond the Nation, p. 217.↩
49. The following quotations are from an email exchange with Adi Ophir (June 15, 2017).↩
50. Jacques Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1982), p. 9.↩
51. Balibar, “The Borders of Europe,” p. 216.↩
52. Bruce Robbins, The Beneficiary (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017), p. 6.↩
53. Fredric Jameson, An American Utopia: Dual Power and the Universal Army, ed. Slavoj Žižek (New York: Verso, 2016), p. 13.↩
54. Balibar, “From Cosmopolitanism to Cosmopolitics.”↩
55. Balibar, “From Cosmopolitanism to Cosmopolitics.”↩