“(…) the refugees, bring home distant noises of war and the stench of gutted homes and scorched villages that cannot but remind the settled (…) how deceptive the security of their settlement may be”.
Zygmunt Bauman: Wasted Lives (2004)
The globalization of capital and the planetary weave of digital information are currently generating the effect of a unique reality, a reality of sorts, without an outside that is inhabited by all of us humans beings (“global”, “planetary”, “worldly” are frequent terms nowadays). But considering the fact that globalized economy has taken down national borders, the opposite image would be realistic, that is, that only the outside has been left: reality might have come about in a vast exterior the size of the planet. In any case, it is paradoxical that, for the circulation of human beings and their bodily existences, borders have not only been maintained but have multiplied. How can we understand that?
It seems undeniable that today in the world the ethos of universal inclusion is being progressively imposed, as an inheritance of Illustrated Humanism. Nevertheless, the dynamics of inequality that, in a regime of generalized competition seem inherent to global capitalism, casts “out” millions of human beings permanently. In effect, even though Integrated World Capitalism, using Félix Guattari’s expression, lacks objectively an outside (because it has conquered all the exploitable surface of the planet, incorporating the development of subjectivity to the processes of production and consumption), there is some sort of deterritorialized exteriority in which “embodied subjectivities” whose condition of subjects has been inhibited are. With great difficulty these individuals recognize themselves as a part of the reality in which they inhabit and everyday struggle to maintain this condition. But the instability of this situation threatens to draw them back to their bodies, crushing the subjective density of their hope, of their projects, of their expectations, imprisoning them in the everyday of survival. This is precisely what being cornered in your own body is like, when every dimension of future is cancelled.
In the theory of colonialism developed by Frantz Fanon more than half a century ago, he affirmed the absolute opposition of the settler and colonized people, an opposition ingrained in an ontological order of existence. In effect, Fanon said that the colonized world is a world split in two. This idea expresses the essence of his theory of violence: the settler and colonized people don’t live in the same world, but it isn’t like there are “two worlds”, because they exist in the same reality, in which both spaces are structurally and violently related. “The zone where the natives live is not complementary to the zone inhabited by the settlers. The two zones are opposed, but not in the service of a higher unity.” In this sense, you could say that colonialism is a no-world, because the amount of violence practiced to maintain the relations of power is such that the order is maintained by the annihilation of the colonized people’s conscience, as they are not able to subjectify as natural (as world) a reality sustained in the suffering of their bodies. Some aspects of this phenomenology of pain developed by Fanon may be applied to the reality of the present world, economically and informatically globalized. In the case of forced migration, these people didn’t live in a world they freely decided to abandon, in a certain way they found themselves already in a no-world; they had been already expelled because of war, droughts, racial and religious persecutions or absolute impossibility of entering a work market. The outside is where the migrants are, absolute exteriority is happening there where a human being is being driven inside his or her body as their only place, their body as savage exteriority. Thus, the “undocumented” migrant carries the exterior, the wasteland, within himself.
Today capitalism constitutes the world order, and it works! The point is that it requires the entire planet to work, an extreme condition from which it is impossible to judge if, regarding each case of the particular conditions of human existence, it works “well” or “bad”, because in a sense its measure is not human anymore. What’s impressive is precisely that the reality of the world has come to be only one, diverse, unfair violent, beautiful, heroic, and miserable and, it is from this spiral that reality becomes unimaginable while borders proliferate everywhere as the outside multiplies itself. As Bauman points out: “typically modern processes such as order-building and economic progress take place everywhere and so everywhere ‘human waste’ is produced and turned out in ever rising quantities.” As a consequence, thousands of human beings struggle desperately to reach the zones where reality “works”, successful territories in a way within the frame of global economy. The search for work and, in general, the basic conditions of existence, pushes these people towards the planet. Therefore, borders emerge and multiply themselves.
The notion of border has been naturalized in the western imaginary as a limit that fixes both visually and administratively the separation between the same and the other, as a place for control of human displacement between interior and exterior. The border is therefore associated with the image of high walls, police control, security systems and protection against any sort of danger menacing the body and the mind. We know that the border doesn’t have to necessarily be a line, because it belongs to a territory where several reference systems and cultural parameters touch, confront and superimpose themselves. Considering this, the border would be, above all, a contact zone that enables intercultural and multicultural relations. The notion of “mutable line” that lends its title to Máximo Corvalán-Pincheira’s exhibition, references the always relative character of this border between the same and the other, us and them. Nevertheless, concrete and day-to-day experience of the border imposes a rude difference between interior/exterior (never between “interiors”), in which someone wishes to enter the world from a place that constitutes the outside in more than one sense. In that sense, borders giving visas, marking the difference between the inside and the outside, are projected way beyond the border crossings. Borders in a globalized world are not built on hatred, but on a desperate indifference; the other, the stranger that wants to enter is not an enemy, but someone whose existence is not important to “the settled”.
In the “civilized” zones one can feel the catastrophe reproduced everywhere, a feeling of uncertainty undermining our trust in neon and concrete on top of which our situation is built. Thus, racism prints an origin stain on the other’s body, hiding the fear that stalks the regime of establishment. Staring at the face of the subject whose intimacy coincides with the limits of private property, the body of the other exhibits its lack, its condition of need and the disturbing urgency of its situation, as a threat. The other brought its body, he comes from the wasteland and it’s the living prove that the outside exists and is everywhere; there is no doubt, migrants constitute a negative portrait of globalization.
The existence of the wall –real or imagined- is also the expression of the fear of losing the horizon of a supposed identitary reference (social, cultural, racial) that allows to identification of “us” and “them”. It seems inherent to the action of marginalizing the one who “doesn’t belong here”, to assume that he not only has its place elsewhere, but also that his way of feeling and thinking is identified with a territory that he can’t leave, even though one finds him walking far from its place of origin. He is judged as someone submerged in the fatality of appetite and desire, and that’s why he is perceived as someone closer to nature. This “us” that plays its citizenship card is bothered even by the ways in which the foreign, the migrants, express their joy and organize their pleasures. It is about nature itself as “identity” rooted in what is simply common; where the supposed weight of the territory of origin (landscape, habits, “ancestral” tales) deprives the other of the very possibility of experience and new knowledge, given that he could never abandon its place.
The act of crossing the border draws a direction not only in space, but also in time, because that act usually has the character of the irreversible. There is no continuity of sense between the history that’s left behind and the uncertain future that this act of survival creates. But, while in the middle off the journey, the yearned new start is not yet real; the journey is not yet the beginning because it is precisely what is looked for, the possibility of inaugurating other time and finally being able to start. Navigating on frail ships, crossing barbed wired territories on foot, hidden on trucks, detained and isolated on bus stations or airports, undocumented migrants lack citizenship, they don’t reside anywhere; in the age of universal equality they aren’t subjects of rights. Selling anything on the corners, packed in inhospitable places, waiting in long lines for the papers that will legalize their stay, migrants haven’t finished their journey. As Bauman says, refugees are literally out of the law as such.
Then, the question arises: are they subjects of their own experience? The wasteland is a painful trial both physical and moral, and it would be appropriate to ask in which conditions it could be considered an experience, because this implies the subjectification of the experience, its incorporation as the memory of someone who is able to tell his story.
Can the subordinate speak? Spivak asked himself in a famous article written in 1988. It’s necessary to reflect critically on the fact that we can access the factual conditions of the suffering on the voice of those experiencing it. Precisely because said “immediacy” is an effect that invisibilizes the operation by which someone is allowed to speak of a concrete reality that denies him as a subject, as if we expected to hear a voice coming from the body, from the wasteland. Spivak questions what he calls the “benevolent First World appropriation and reinscription of the Third World as an Other.” The intellectual that speaks in the name of those fighting for their lives is only representing himself; nevertheless, allowing someone to speak could serve the paradoxical purpose of listening to someone that has no voice, this is, listening to the voice of a non-subject. Behind this apparently horizontal and dialogical gesture, lies the risk of exerting the subject/object hierarchy that reduces the immigrant to the condition of a resource against the philosophical criticism of the western subject.
The subversion of that naïve epistemic violence implies, above all, questioning the representation of the other as someone that requires assistance to arrive at the condition of subject, or celebrated as some sort of cultural ambassador of the “difference”. What we see and hear in Máximo Corvalán-Pincheira’s “Trazo mutable” is the way in which these people have elaborated pain, staying, even in the middle of their journey, not only between things, but also and above all, in the sphere of sense.