Are you [Checkpoint] Charlie?

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[Thinking/Work in Progress]

The history of Fortress Europe; A checkpoint.

The checkpoint functions not only to control the flow of migrants, illicit goods, and insurgents/terrorists, but also to divide continuous lands and to reproduce politically and legally encoded distinctions between “us” and “them”. Thus performing sovereignty, the checkpoint appears to be symptomatic of fears of catastrophe, whether economic, political, or social, in various national and global context. [Karim Mattar and David Fieni, “The Global Checkpoint: ‘Rights’ of Passage, Performances of Sovereignty”]

Checkpoint Charlie By Nancy Wong (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

On this basis, no wonder Israel considers itself part of Europe; it shares with it the fascination with a mobile checkpoint that at once constitutes its borders and gives the (false) appearance that whatever is inside this border is free to roam, homogeneous:

The discontinuous lines of fences, ditches, concrete walls and high-tech sensors–referred to by the Israeli government as the “seam-line obstacle,” by the general Israeli public as the “separation fence,” and by those Israelis and Palestinians opposing it as the Wall or sometimes as the “Apartheid Wall”–are only the most visible mediatized barriers built in a frenzy of fortification construction that has pockmarked the entire West Bank since the beginning of the Oslo Process in 1993, with the aim of separating Palestinians from Israelis at every opportunity.

When one checkpoint is removed, another checkpoint is being fortified as a strategy of expanding the homogeneous territory of the state. The endless plight of refugees trying to get beyond the checkpoints, most of the times not even reaching it, is a continuation of the statist logic of zoning, bordering, and enforcing embargoes; a logic whose limits are easily strained and shown to be meek and weak by Khaled Jarrar:

In 2007 and 2009, Khaled Jarrar, an artist from Jenin, installed At The Checkpoint, a project consisting of photographs ofeveryday life in Palestine arrayed on the fences of the Huwarra and Qalandia checkpoints in the occupied West Bank. Making explicit references to “Checkpoint Charlie”, Jarrar drew a contrast between checkpoints that have become defunct or repurposed as tourist sites and those, like the ones in occupied terrotires and border-zones, that remains actively militarized, surveillant tunrstiles of human triage.

The rituals of being checked at the border; of not having permission to cross the line; and of risking subjection to interrogation, harassment, and incarceration were taken up in a subsequent work called Live and Work in Palestine… Using the logo of the Palestinian sunbird, Jarrar fashioned a “State of Palestine” passport seal (in English, Arabic and Hebrew). He proceeded to invite people at the Ramallah Central Bus Station to have their passports stamped… The project’s riskiness was enhanced in September 2011 in the weeks leading up to the Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations when a number of travelers who opted for the stamp (among them ten Israeli citizens) were detained at Israel’s airports. [Emily Apter Against World Literature]

Sovereignty is immanently and momentarily blighted: if the checkpoint had enforced the border of a state, then a stateless checkpoint undermines this authority to write the law and draw the line.

Žižek with a “State of Palestine” stamp.

The Refugee

In 1943, Hannah Ardent writes an essay called “We Refugees” “in order to propose this condition as the paradigm of a new historical consciousness” (Agamben “We Refugees” 114). The refugee arises as the (a)political person that undermines the very treatises and legal-political categories that the world of nations is built upon, the rights of man: “the refugee is the sole category in which it is possible today to perceive the forms and limits of a political community to come… to reconstruct our political philosophy beginning with this unique figure” (Agamben 114). The refugee then “throws into crisis the original fiction of sovereignty” (Agamben “We Refugees” 117). The refugee lurks in a liminal position, between object and subject—the refugee is the abject whose existence is a threat to the foundations of the nation-state. Exactly for this reason, however, the refugee is the only person who can hold the banner of political hope, of a democracy-to-come. As a Syrian refugee by the name of Sami Hallisso says,

We can’t wait till the war is over; we have to start from now to build a society that lives in dignity and independence. There’s an opportunity for something to be that is not the regime and not Daesh,” says Hallisso, using the Arabic shorthand for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). “We don’t see ourselves as only an emergency response. We will return. (Malek)

The refugee emerges from the liminal space as the figure to which recent Arab tragedy points towards, the political figure for alternative political realities, puncturing and undermining standing understandings of sovereignty. The refugee does not wait, but lives, and in doing so, lives differently.

And for all that, to be “Charlie”, even fleetingly, is to give credence to a paranoid criminal sovereignty…

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Kanz

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“Is not hospitality an interruption of the self?” Jacques Derrida, Adieu, p. 51.

ruben ireland sleep

April 5, 2009 – Beirut

The dreamy eyes had widened with ferocious excitement at the news of being accepted as a future student in the École Normale Supérieure de Paris. The family enjoyed a frenzy of jubilation. The daughter of a handicapped father and struggling mother had carved her way to one of the most prestigious universities in Europe.

“Derrida; Balibar; Foucault; Sartre; Bourdieu; Weil.” Kanz, the star daughter, screamed, her family around her in a wobbly circle, the unity of a promise fulfilled and a new promise being made bringing them together. Her mother cried; the news too strong for her to process with the same re-stricted attitude of her normal days.

“You’ll go there, you’ll be free. You be who you want to be and make us proud.”

There was no mention of what she wanted to major in. Nothing mattered except the departure with a promise; the commitment to a decision of being greater than her predecessors, of being as great as her potential allowed her to be.

April 11, 2011 – Beirut.

Kanz’s brother woke up and immediately called his sister in France. But no one answered. He woke his mother, who grudgingly told him to leave her alone. But he insisted that she should wake, so he bellowed.

“Mama! You have to wake up. It’s April 11! Mama. Kanz is in France and today is April 11.”

His mother’s eyes widened as if an ocular nerve had been pricked. Panicking, she got out of bed, at a loss and tried to call Kanz. But to no avail. No one answered.

“What do you want me to do now? Just worry? What do you want me to do?” she screamed at her young son who responded with a blank face and a shrug.

She turned on the television. There was no mention of anything happening in France, but a hysterical maternal hunch was laid heavy on her heart; Kanz is going to be in trouble. Kanz needs her. Kanz wants to be held tight.

April 11, 2011 – Paris

Dusk. Kanz, twenty-two, locked herself in the bathroom and sat in the water-full bathtub. She sat there, on her naked bottom, her feet close to her chest and hugging her knees with her thin white arms. The water submerged half her body, her breasts half floating atop the still water. This stillness permeated throughout the whole apartment. She made herself an enactment of a still-born foetus because she knew that the day would mark her as a stranger, born anew, demanding her, forcing her to obtain a new identity.

Three years ago, she had left Beirut with a baggage full of promises. The promise of a glorious and strong return.

She opened her legs and let her hair sink in the shallow depth of the bathtub. It started spreading, hair by hair, widening, opening up like a mushroom explosion under slow motion. She passed her fingers through it to see if it’s still strong, still thick, still solid enough to hide her if she needed it to do so.

The sun rose and the smell of bread emanated from the many bakeries surrounding her apartment. She gazed haplessly on the covers of the bed. The French sound of civilization slowly entered the room. The passing cars, the rapid French ranting, the high heels, the clatter of shopping carts, the music from street performers; and then the phone rang. She stared at the red light going on and off rapidly as the ringing echoed throughout the still room: another French sound which she did not want to respond to. She stared at the ceiling and imagined the course of her day: people staring at her, people thinking that she’s a criminal by birth, by indoctrination, by force, by root and stem. On the arm-chair next to the phone, she saw how the world outside finally found its way to the core of her private life.

The phone rang. Again, she did not answer.

The hour of departure had neared and she knew that she had to get dressed. Facing it will only make it go away, that monster of reality. She saw pictures which contained her now lost object of safety. A flux of memories rushed confusingly in her head, mixing with each other, all of them containing this object which she thought would be with her until the end.

The first days in university; the night-time walking and stares; the fear of losing it all. And fear made flesh. She lost her source of confidence.

April 5, 2009 – Beirut

After a lengthy time of celebration, cake eaten and pastries served, the father called his daughter from his room. He lay in bed like an old sage. Kanz sat on the tip of his bed, still smiling, and he looked at her, her big black eyes glaring at him.

“I’ve raised you the best way I could,” he began talking, his voice struggling to articulate his thoughts. “And I’ve never forced you to do anything.”

She nodded.

“And I do not want to start forcing you to do anything now. But I want you to know that if the time comes when you have to part with what you think constitutes you, you feel free to do it.”

She nodded.

“Open up and experience everything. Never hold back. The phoenix burns itself so that it’s born anew. And we should do the same. You’re going there to shine. And no doubt you’ll say a lot of goodbyes along the way, to people with lovely faces and strangers with curious gazes.”

She nodded again. He coughed.

“But the seasonal road ahead is only lit by our sight, and even though at some moments we might be blind, there’s always insight to find. The best thing I can tell you to do is to never look back. Be young and willing. Burn every bridge and don’t write back. Freedom is having nothing to lose. Don’t get attached to something that can be easily taken away from you.”

She got up and went outside.

Four months later, she packed her bags and travelled to Paris with everything to lose, the burden of a promise and the weight of a decision pushing her down to earth in a humility felt only by a slave in front of a master. But her father’s words echoed in the back of her head. Somehow, she felt safe.

And she could not, would not fail them.

April 11, 2011 – Paris

The phone rang for a third time, and this time she got up. Her dry body trotted heavily to the phone.

“Hello.”

“Hi Kanz. Are you alright?” Her mom breathed heavily.

“Yes. I’m alright. I haven’t went outside anymore.”

“How does it feel?”

“It feels like freedom.”

“Freedom?” a strong tone of confusion with a spice of betrayal marked her mother’s surprised question. “You feel free?”

“I have nothing to lose anymore.”

“What? Don’t say that. You still have everything to live for. Don’t forget what you want to do.”

“But. I can’t do it anymore.”

“It’s not the end of the world. You can do it. You can cope it.”

“I have no one here, not anymore. As of today I’m alone.” A pause, a silence fuelling an ominous feeling of suspension. “I have to go.”

“Just do what you have to do Kanz. Remain calm.”

“Ok. Bye.”

She hung up. Three years ago, it was an easy decision to go out, full of the confidence to be what she wanted to be. Now, the life outside made it impossible to do so. It has been explained to her as the price of independence.

And she looked at her burqa and found all the independence she wanted ghostly written on it.

It had been explained to her as the price of equality.

And she looked at her burqa and found all the equality she wanted emanating from it.

It had been explained to her as the price of freedom.

And she looked deep inside and knew that the freedom the world outside promised her is one that conditions her to be unaware of her origins. And she rejected freedom if it asked to be unaware of her origins, like being born from an egg thrown in the woods.

So she got up, wore the burqa and stepped out of the house. She walked down the street knowing that rapid French words are going to target her; that police whistles are going to sound at her sight. And she walked until that which was meant to happen occurred, the noose of French hospitality tightened on her neck, suffocating the spirit that had promised a family that she’ll do well; that she’ll do her best.

French words, and police whistles. Eyes glaring. She didn’t like the noose that she was hanging from. She went back to her apartment with a fine for wearing what she wanted to wear. She could not, would not accept the way she was accepted. She called her mother and told her that she’s coming back home.

Sergei Bizyaev defects

In Memoriam

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We are the plaything of memory.

My memory is a masquerade of historicism; A façade which designs events with superfluous lavish words and a timeline as intermitted as loving relationships. A simple subject-verb-object would do most of the times, but with ignorant use I sprinkle adjectives and adverbs to make my memory seem as unrealistic as a teenager’s wet dream.

I am the truth.

A voice, rough and screechy.

I am the truth.

I am emptied. I am darkness. In Memoriam and any sense of Self is gone.

Ahlan. The voice, from a past, a memory. Ahlan. The voice, the orator of departure. I am the Truth. The truth is in the past. The past is in the darkness. The darkness reduces me to oneness, and I am timeless and formless. I am nameless.

In one sweet moment you’ll be home. Just come give me a kiss.

That voice, from my past, my memory. Mammon.

Precious.

My old way. The low way. It is the only truth I have known. Should I cross the line?

Cross! Transgress! Break the Limit!

I am as good as dead. The orator of departure lures me. Why has he come?

I am the Truth, the only Truth in darkness.

My voice, in the present. An event. And I depart.

But I go round and round and Mammon laughs. My old ways are circular. And he speaks as he gives me a lecherous kiss.

I am the orator of departure, and I speak only of departure. So excuse my sudden departure, but it comes at a right time. Listen to the world shouting. A cacophony of angry voices, driven by a demonic will-to-power. Each culture, each nation, each country, each city, each individual is trying to give meaning to the world, and these meanings fight each other, producing that ever defining, albeit negative, factor: difference. But is there meaning? Is there purpose?

Forgive me for always surprising you. I just did not feel obliged to work according to your structured meta-narrative of how I should be, and in the case of surprises, of how I shouldn’t be. Your knowledge of me does not create me. I am my own creator. I jump off the peak instead of trotting miserably down the mountainside. I bend my knees and embrace freefall. In mid-air you never miss the ground. I surprised you while tried to wake you up. The awakening needs violence because you are stubborn, and you stubbornly stood in front of me whenever you felt lacking. You handcuffed your own hands and boiled your mind so that nothing could have touched it without experiencing your hotheadedness. You met me with ready-made attitudes. I stood like a riddle already cracked before I spoke. Ever since, you have filtered my words according to the algorithm which you think can decipher me; as you did so, you only saw the pre-conceived image you had of me, the dead portrait hung in your museum, without a voice. You felt superior as you stared at me, as if my existence was contingent with your pleased eye; as if I was only for you and because of you. So excuse me for suddenly departing. I had to before I became cemented as the prototype you think I am and make me to be.

The world was once a curious little thing. At some odd point, the questions of curiosity became a quest of passion, and the world personified stood in front of me as a silent person, yet telling me, confirming that it was a person I desired. On this quest I realized that the world personified (for clarity, a she) is a shore never to be known, an abyss never to end. But at the same time I felt Vertigo, a fear of falling coupled with a strange desire. I could never tell if I’d fall away from me.

But let her forgive my departure. She gave me no truth and I could not trust her as she suddenly proclaimed interest then took it away. I loved her. Let her forgive my departure. She wanted me only because I hated to let her down; but I needed someone to fight for me, to bolster my existence and respect my mind. She saw what she wanted to see, she loved what she wanted to love, but she never really saw or loved the rest of me. I love the world, but the hurt turned to hatred and when she took a wrong turn around the sun, I had to depart.

You have to depart. I only talk from your memory. I am part of you.

Texts have connections to the physical realm; Maybe forgetfulness should be an adaptive measure for preventing pain. But who said that evolution is something other than mere useless mutation.

We are the plaything of memory. Without memory there would be no guilt. Any act arising out of guilt becomes a duty. A deontological presence lacks passion. Mammon gives me a lecherous kiss again and holds me dearly. The gates of my hellish past open and welcome me with their bright orange light. But I see Nyx. She is terror made flesh: sublime and ethereal. She stands like a mother standing above her child’s cradle and looks at me with ostensible love.

I am the plaything of memory. And I am the architect which builds on it and designs it. But for now let me go to Nyx who can give me a dream independent of my reality, a dream of her own words, a fantasy of her own mind, a trace of darkness from her memories. A dream which permits me to be without being in the world.

Mammon departs. the truth is that there is no Truth, but there is a way forward; I am not stuck in the same circle.

Memory & Forgetfulness

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Departure:

I have my bag packed. I can hear the shower water pouring, accumulating in the bath tub. I look at the empty apartment. The vacant couch, the piles of books towering half way to the ceiling, the temple of CDs and DVDs. These objects don’t make me want to remember the past week. These objects are not laden with the traffic of memories. They hold nothing. They are just a bundle without a substance.

The sound of pouring water stops. I know I cannot leave without saying goodbye to the only person I’ve seen for a week. I wait for her to come out but she never does, as if she paused time when she closed the faucet. As I stand outside the bathroom door, for the first time in a week I feel like a stranger in this apartment, in her home. It is not a place I belong to. I entered this place so full of hope. I thought that the road had finally gotten me home after prolonged seasons of winter in which nature was painted with different shades of the dullest grey. But it was a spark of euphoria; now time has halted for me to make the decision, to choose if I want to step back onto that ragged stale road of constant wandering; that road of loss and confusion; that road without identity which I loathe.

The silence in the bathroom becomes the silence of still-time, and I become afraid of her stillness; deathlike silence reigns. The knob does not screech as I turn it. The door does not squeak as I open it.

Vapour. Haze.  Steam rises from the hot water in the bathtub and sheathes the mirrors and the walls with blurry droplets. I do not enter, but I can see her lying, floating on the surface of the water in the bathtub. Her body is still and her breasts emerge like waves caught in a photograph. Her hair sticks to her body like leeches sucking off the rotten blood flowing in her veins. But she’d have to be drained completely if she hopes of being toxin-free, to be saved. Her eyes are closed, giving her the solemn image of a statue, battling time and winning eternity.

The still thought-image which she projects forces me to put down my bag and go to her. I walk into the sauna-like bathroom. Time is still paused; my moving body collides with the droplets. It seems as though I have dug my way with perseverance to get to her sober statue. I raise her head with my hand and I remove the leeches off of her body. She opens her eyes and I remember one week ago, the abominations we committed to fuel the fiery desire we shared for each other. I see the beginning through her eyes, and I sense no regret. Her wide black eyes give me comfort in their serene depths. I feel like a key that has found its door, a narrator that has found his voice. It’s all in the depth of her eyes in which I drown, and while drowning in her eyes she speaks to me; she tells me all I need to know, and I see all I need to see: moments not intended for me.

I stand up and leave her still body. I leave her as a still-image imprinted in my mind. A memory seeking continuity, an image seeking movement.

***

Return

Returning from a long absence, this alien world feels like a museum. I walk with fearful eyes through its halls and I stare at the portraits which look very familiar. It is the familiarity which frightens me. I left a vibrant city and have now returned to an unchanged city, a city of the dead, and I search for her, the one who I intentionally left as a still-image. I return to give her continuity and movement.

I make my way through the proverbial streets. People dress the same; people act the same, as if they had no tomorrow. The daunting reality of sameness wraps itself around me. My wandering is transformed into a fall. A heaviness pushes me down, but I persevere and channel my way through the immutable roads of this city. This is no labyrinth. I know where she is.

I revisit the image in my mind. I see her in the bathtub, her hair like leeches. I remove the leeches and graze my fingers on her flesh as if my fingers were magic limbs which close lacerations. Her breasts stand like still waves splashing on a shore. I let my hands surf on the waves and they reach the shore, the rough rug of sand which was my home.

I find myself at the door of her apartment.

I knock and the door opens. It does not screech. I step inside, the water is pouring down. Steam comes out of the bathroom and my desire is indelible. Relaxed, I step in the bathroom. I see her through the semi-transparent wall of steam, sitting in the bathtub, her head between her legs, and her arms trying to wrap themselves around her; she is in front of me now as she was when I left.

The water stops flowing; a bell tolls and time stops. Nothing moves anymore. The past is fixed and I find myself trapped in what my memory wants me to see. I find myself trapped in the past.

I left her as an image so that she could persist in my memory. When I left, I killed her. I froze her in time and did not allow her to move on, and now I’m faced with the conundrum of memory and forgetfulness. If I allow forgetfulness to creep through, I will seize to know her; she would become someone different; she would become a stranger. If I allow memory to persist, she’ll be unreal and as dead as a monument, as dead as the city which I have passed through.

I try to step forward. I cannot.

I try to back away. I cannot.

A decision has to be made. To forget and lose all, or to remember and wallow in decayed grave.

The distance between me and her hurts me, but I cannot stop staring. I have no idea how she’ll feel if I allow myself a tinge of forgetfulness. I have no idea how this still-image would move. Will she laugh and break the heaviness of my absence? Or will she move around in circles like a prey around its predator, examining and waiting to strike with guilt.

The answer is within reach and it’s a choice I’ve made a long time ago, before I left, when she whispered in my ear. She told me about a moment not intended for me, a moment not in my memory, a moment I am promised to witness upon my return.

The still image changes. She changes; her eyes brighten up; she shines and she looks at me. These eyes, they utter the truth in silence; art knows more than the mind can ever know for truth is found in the hidden places which art draws. The silent moving-image speaks: It is not okay to remember the way you did. I am alive. You left me with emptiness which did not allow me to laugh. The theatre of absence leaves us all wondering about our failing existence. You isolated me like a single frame of a long film. Your froze me in time and did not allow me to grow. And you thought you knew me. You left me without laughter and melancholy camped over me, and this city drained me with its stillness which you incurred.

I blush. I’m out of words.  She frightens me with her sudden strength, her sudden life, her sudden sublime beauty. Such beauty can only be reciprocated by a miracle which I cannot give. That moment which was not intended for me; her movement after stillness was that of a strike of guilt. I have returned to a city of the dead, but I do not know her anymore. She has changed. I never knew her. I have changed.

I turn my back on her and on the distance, hoping that the other end is closer.

My travelling lost me my only home.