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Monday, April 7, 2014

El abismo de las pasiones tristes

Ezequiel Adamovsky lanzó el otro día en Facebook una pregunta políticamente urgente: ¿Cómo explicar que no está bien linchar a un ser humano? En este texto canalizo una posible respuesta por el lado de los afectos movilizados por los linchamientos: las emociones intensas que les dieron vida. El entender la naturaleza del linchamiento como evento material que aparece, desaparece y deja heridas y muertos no pasa por variables abstractas históricas” o “sociales”, si bien ellas son el horno duro de la ecuación afectiva. Entender el abismo del linchamiento requiere zambullirse en su visceralidad de tipo animal: en la corporalidad violenta de multitudes que se formaron de forma inmediata con el objetivo específico de pegarle a una persona indefensa y desarmada con el objeto de matarla. Esta afectividad debe analizarse de manera etnográfica y geométrica: observando la intensidad, ritmo y niveles de negatividad creados entre cuerpos que comparten una pasión por matar a un ser humano inmovilizado, desarmado e indefenso. “La paliza al chorro” de “la gente (blanca) decente que está harta” es el malabarismo burgués-mediático para pasteurizar el horror de esa materialidad visceral violenta que tiene un enorme contenido racial y de clase, y cuyo motor son las emociones reactivas y tristes de cuerpos esclavos de su propia pasión.
Poseemos un documento etnográfico extraordinario sobre el intento de linchamiento que tuvo lugar en el corazón de la Argentina blanca y próspera, a dos cuadras del shopping Alto Palermo de Buenos Aires: la escalofriante serie de tweets escritos en caliente por Diego Grillo Truba, que describen con detalle el oscilar afectivo de una patota fuera de control, “sacadísima” en Charcas y Coronel Díaz. Diego vio el tumulto y se acercó a mirar. El torbellino de violencia que se había generado era tan intenso que la experiencia lo conmovió y lo llevó a invocar “el horror, el horror” de Apocalipsis Now, salvo que en este caso fue un viaje al corazón de las tinieblas de la la Argentina del siglo XXI, donde muchos se sienten rodeados de indios salvajes y claman una nueva oleada de terror civilizador. 
El pibe había sido capturado tras haber arrebatado una cartera. En torno a él, un agregado de cuerpos enfurecidos estaba pateándole la cabeza con pasión. El portero que lo inmovilizaba pasó a tratar de salvarle la vida. Pero la furia de las patadas era tal que pronto le dejaron al pibe la cabeza "deformada" y ensangrentada. La sangre chorreaba hasta el cordón de la vereda. Diego estaba paralizado pero que no le quedaba duda: lo querían matar. Lo iban a matar. Una débil disonancia surgía de un costado. Una mujer de mediana edad, conmocionada, pedía a los gritos que lo dejaran, “¡que lo van a matar!” Los golpeadores la putearon, descontrolados, “¡Usted debe ser la madre y lo quiere proteger, hija de puta!” Varios la amenazaron con cagarla a patadas. “A vos también te doy, hija de puta.” Diego escribió que “lo que más asustaba era que querían atacar a quienes trataban de frenarlos”. Esa multitud sacada era una usina de violencia lista para atacar a quien sintiera la menor compasión por ese chorro negro de mierda.

Cuando la noticia fue cubierta por La Nación, muchos lectores festejaron ese evento de horror y sangre como si Messi hubiera hecho un gol de Argentina en el mundial, celebrando el castigo al chorro hijo de puta igualmente “sacados”. Muchos reaccionaban de manera violenta contra quienes les decían que sólo un fascista podría celebrar un linchamiento. “Fascismo” es una palabra pesada y compleja, pero que conlleva una disposición afectiva específica, que los fascistas españoles e italianos de la década de 1930 articulaban en su entusiasta grito de guerra: “¡Viva la muerte!”. El fascismo celebra la muerte de seres humanos con pasión. Es por ello que los linchamientos expresan una disposición corporal con un núcleo reactivo con elementos moleculares proto-fascistas, o sea un fascismo rudimentario en formación y con poca articulación consciente o ideológica. Cuando algunos foristas de La Nación ponían comentarios razonables que enfatizaban lo brutal y horrible de lo que se le hizo a ese pibe, la mayoría respondía con una incontinencia verbal que vomitaba un “¡kirchneristas, zurdos de mierda, hijos de puta, garantistas amantes de los chorros y asesinos de mierda que nos roban y nos matan!” Lo que distingue a la actitud reactiva es la puteada-reflejo: el “!hijo de puta ‘concha de tu madre!” lanzado robóticamente como una negatividad mecánica y vacía, evidencia de la tristeza que lo condena a obsesionar sobre el objeto odiado.
 Ese remolino corporal había disuelto el raciocinio, el discurso, las ideologías. Algunos de los participantes quisieron darle un nombre a su emoción cruda, pre-discursiva. “¡Estamos hartos!” El hartazgo es un reflejo reactivo, que reacciona en este caso contra el auge de robos y crímenes en la ciudad y el país: el hecho de que la Argentina kirchnerista sigue reproduciendo la desigualdad de un capitalismo sin alma, emparchado con los recursos obtenidos por la destrucción sojera de los últimos bosques del norte indígena y mestizo. Los negros-chorros, por eso, acechan por doquier. Son como los malones que acechaban a la ciudad blanca desde el desierto y horrorizaban a Sarmiento, y lo inspiraron a escribir que el enemigo de la nación argentina es y será la barbarie india-mestiza.
El hartazgo de La Buenos Aires Blanca que se siente asediada por enjambres imparables de negros-chorros se basa en silenciar el otro hartazgo fundante de esta geografía de afectos fracturados. Como bien dice Ezequiel Adamovsky en un tweet: “Justifican linchamientos por ‘el hartazgo’. Se puede robar por hartazgo de no tener un peso? No? No todos tienes derecho al hartazgo parece”. Este hartazgo popular, el de “no tener un peso”, también genera en ocasiones pasiones violentas y tristes, donde hombres y mujeres de clase media caen víctimas, a veces mortales, de la desdicha proletaria y su desafío molecular a la propiedad privada. Las pasiones de la gente de clase media que se descontroló cerca del shopping son la reacción ciega, desesperada, contra esta deriva de violencias populares, haciendo de la lucha de clases un combate cuerpo a cuerpo, en las calles, regido por la lógica militar amigo contra enemigo. La gran diferencia, aquella que nos acercan a la verdad geométrica de este evento triste, es que cerca del Alto Palermo la causa del sufrimiento y malestar que domina el presente argentino fue atribuida a sus víctimas, reducidas a chorros de mierda desprovistos de humanidad. Como diría mi colega Pablo Semán, las geografías argentinas están cada vez más marcadas por el abismo de la desigualdad, que es también un abismo afectivo.
El abismo creado en Charcas y Coronel Díaz tenía un centro de gravedad: el chorro. Su cuerpo era el planeta que atraía la violencia de la constelación creada a su alrededor. El pibe era un objeto temido y poderoso, que les demandaba, como un imán, que su violencia civilizadora y purificadora del espacio convergiera sobre él. Los tweets de Diego, no obstante, describen un momento surrealista en el que la muchedumbre pareció reconocer su cobardía: el hecho de que le pegaban sólo porque el pibe estaba paralizado, indefenso y abrumado en su soledad. Uno de los tipos propuso, en una pausa entre golpe y golpe, que en realidad se turnaran, como para que fuera un “uno a uno,” un choque corporal menos desigual. Varios asintieron y entonces empezaron “a darle”, esta vez, de a uno por vez, aparentemente conformes con ese gesto de paridad inexistente. Qué manera notable de reconocer lo triste, cobarde y pequeño burgués de su descontrol. Pero que manera notable, también, de reconocer que en algo los afectaba esa saña ciega contra ese centro de gravedad del que eran prisioneros.
           Nietzsche hablaba de la mentalidad esclava para nombrar a los afectos desprovistos de vitalidad: aquellos que están esclavizados al objeto contra el cual reaccionan de manera visceral. Siglos antes, Baruch Spinoza le dio a ese reflejo visceral e inconsciente de sí mismo un nombre apropiado: las pasiones tristes, que son tristes justamente porque no son libres y debilitan las pasiones creadoras: el disfrute, el placer y la alegría. La filosofía de los afectos de Spinoza, una geométrica metódica de cómo los cuerpos se afectan mutuamente, fue en parte producto de una experiencia personal que lo impactó: el linchamiento en 1672 de los hermanos Johan y Cornellis de Witt, figuras prominentes de la política holandesa del siglo XVII. Una muchedumbre capturó a los hermanos cuando estaban indefensos y los asesinó de manera sangrienta y encarnizada. La multitud desmembró los cadáveres y exhibió sus fragmentos de carne, huesos y sangre en público, celebrándolos como trofeos. La negatividad visceral era tal que la violencia continuó aún después de su muerte, cuando la esclavitud ciega de esas pasiones perdidas siguió magnetizada al fetiche-objeto convertido en cadáver, al que no podía dejar de atacar y odiar. Es por ello que la filosofía de Spinoza, cultivada con un ojo en aquel linchamiento, nos da elementos para entender esta nueva oleada de pasiones tristes que recorre la Argentina del presente.  
La violencia de las pasiones tristes no es cualquier violencia. Es una violencia encarnizada. Es una violencia que rompe ese freno intuitivo que han encontrado los estudios sobre las experiencias emocionales de soldados en combate: que es más difícil matar a alguien cara a cara, viéndole su rostro, que a la distancia. En el evento del linchamiento, esa barrera se diluye. El encarnizamiento de la violencia reactiva no conmueve al asesino, pues éste está convencido, a nivel pre-discursivo, que lo que mata es una criatura peligrosa que no es plenamente humana. Esta es la matriz de las grandes masacres en la historia. Todo genocidio es un gesto ontológico que afirma que los cuerpos a ser destruidos son diferentes, y lo serán siempre, en su ser profundo. En el linchamiento se recrea esa microfísica primaria del afecto genocida. Los relatos en los tweets escritos por Diego resuenan con la experiencia de ex-combatientes de Vietnam que relatan en el documental Winter Soldier, con lujo de detalles, cómo masacraban civiles vietnamitas sin sentir nada porque estaban convencidos que eran criaturas salvajes que merecían morir. Lo que une el linchamiento con el combatiente sin receptividad empática es que esta es una reactividad, aún así, empapada de afectos, pero con el giro triste de aquellos a quienes la generación de muerte y violencia les genera un perverso placer. “¡Viva la muerte!”. Esta es la satisfacción de darle al chorro o al gook vietnamita una violencia merecida

                 Cuando los tweets del linchamiento cerca de Alto Palermo tuvieron una difusión viral, a Diego le llovieron tweets puteándolo de arriba abajo por haber expresado horror frente a ese abismo de barbarie civilizatoria. Varios le recriminaban, a las puteadas, que se había referido al chorro hijo de puta como un “pibe.” Pablo respondió con entereza ética que así lo había descripto porque así lo vio: como un pibe. En Rosario, David Moreira, de 18 años, otro pibe, había sido asesinado unos días antes en similares circunstancias porque la muchedumbre lo vio sólo como un chorro hijo de puta. Los apasionados tristes que festejan el asesinato de David y el intento de linchamiento en Palermo son una verdadera legión en los foros de La Nación. Aparecen en masa y con su verborragia iracunda y proporción de votos positivos prácticamente copan el bastión mediático del clasismo racista de la vieja elite argentina. Su argumento es notablemente transparente en su objetivo deshumanizante: que el chorro no debe ser visto como un humano herido y ensangrentado y en Rosario asesinado. Putean como enloquecidos a quienes lo llaman “un pibe”. El negar el status de “pibe” a un humano adolecente que robó es declarar públicamente que ese cuerpo-rata debe ser liquidado como si fuera un animal, sin remordimientos, por más que no haya matado a nadie. El acto del hurto sin uso de armas transformó a ese adolescente tal vez harto de su vida precaria en una sustancia inmutable que lo definiría en su totalidad ontológica: un chorro que no merece vivir porque es un negro de mierda. El “a esos negros de mierda hay que matarlos a todos”, tan común en el léxico cotidiano de ciertos sectores argentinos, no es por ende una metáfora inocente o exagerada: es la fuerza visceral que en ciertas circunstancias sí asesina pibes vistos como negros de mierda.
La ironía, claro está, es que este bloqueo afectivo acentuaba las facetas animales de la muchedumbre de clase media que se había transformado en una jauría enardecida. Otro tweet notable de Diego, dice, cual si él fuera un antropólogo observando una tribu extraña, salvaje: “Era como ver animales. En los gestos no había restos humanos. Uno de los que lo pateaba hasta tenía un hilo de baba colgando de la boca”. Estos cuerpos vaciados de empatía humana son los que Clarín, La Nación y el sobre todo el PRO humanizan y celebran como “la gente”: el eufemismo humanizado que nombra una cierta normalidad de clase que excluye al chorro. La gente que le teme al salvajismo de los negros abrazó con pasión ese mismo salvajismo. Éste es el reflejo imitativo e inconsciente que genera una alteridad ontologizada, y que Michael Taussig examina con destreza en varios libros: el dialéctica entre imitación y alteridad en el gesto del hombre civilizado que, imitando el salvajismo que él le atribuye al salvaje-indio, castiga de manera salvaje y cruel a seres humanos que él fetichiza como indios peligrosos.
Pero la intensidad del evento del linchamiento es tal que su temporalidad es inestable y por momentos se acelera o desacelera, y crea afectos inesperados pero reveladores. Otro momento notable en la descripción etnográficamente densa que nos llegan en los tweets. “De repente uno de los que pateaba se apartó para tomar aire. Se sentó en el cordón de la vereda. Tenía unos 30/35 años. Me le acerco y le apoyo la mano en la espalda. ‘Ya está, flaco, basta, ya está.’ La animalidad de ese cuerpo enardecido de repente se disipó. Diego sintió pena por él. La descompresión creada por el acto de alejarse del imán que lo había absorbido generó una ebullición de distinto tipo, la expresión más humana de la tristeza. El flaco sentado en el cordón, el que le habían afanado la cartera a la mujer, se empieza a agarrar la cabeza y a llorar. El pibe alza la cabeza. Tenía los ojos llenos de lágrimas. Me dice ‘le afanó la cartera a mi mujer, el hijo de puta’”. El llanto del marido que fue aterrorizado por el hurto marca la revelación del núcleo triste de su pasión violenta. Pero no es claro si lloraba porque ese hijo de puta le robó la cartera a su mujer, o porque él mismo lo molió a patadas y el chorro quedó, como un pibe, sangrando, inconsciente, indefenso. Tal vez fue la tristeza del reconocimiento tangencial de que acababa de salir de un abismo alocado y sin fondo. El llanto que genera reconocerse a sí mismo perdido en el vacío: la sensación de vértigo que lo obliga a parar de pegarle al hijo de puta, alejarse, sentarse y llorar agarrándose la cabeza. 
Los ritmos siguieron fluctuando. En un momento extraño apareció de entre la turba un tipo que hizo un comentario de tipo racional, como si quisiera, por fin, poner freno a esas pasiones violentas. Les dice a los otros. No lo maten, no vale la pena. Si por mí fuera le vacío una 9mm en la cabeza. Pero ya está, no vale la pena”. El lo mataría con un arma de fuego, no a las patadas, sino reventándole la tapa de los sesos de un balazo, tipo ejecución, como en la dictadura o en la época de la conquista del desierto. Pero matarlo, en realidad (aunque él quiere hacerlo) “no vale la pena”. Nueva confusión de afectos. No es claro si “no vale la pena” porque ese hijo de puta es una basura sin valor, o porque tenemos que aceptar que aunque no nos guste, los putos jueces garantistas de mierda capaz que nos quieren juzgar y joder, como si este chorro fuera humano y todo, con “derechos”. La puta que los parió. El “no vale la pena matarlo” marca el reconocimiento de que estaban a punto de cometer lo que, sin ambigüedad alguna, es el asesinato de un pibe con el agravamiento de ensañamiento y alevosía.
Todo terminó cuando, finalmente, llegó la policía. Los que más habían pegado fueron los primeros en irse, o, mejor dicho, en escapar. Tal vez sintieron miedo de que los agarraran. Era la admisión tácita de que el chorro, después de todo, era un pibe. El torbellino se disolvió, dejando como producto el cuerpo ensangrentado, que fue llevado al hospital. Hay un tweet que muestra que esa jauría humana apareció, por un lado, de la nada, en el sentido que en un momento su presencia era inexistente. Pero esa masa sacada, claro está, no apareció de la nada: se formó por la rápida agregación y afectación mutua de personas de clase media “comunes y corrientes” que en otro momento uno pensaría que son amables, tranquilos. “La gente”. Esta transformación de “la gente” de la Buenos Aires normal en vectores indiferentes al dolor que inflige su violencia es lo que Hanna Arendt llamó “la banalidad del mal”. “A ver si se entiende: eran tipos normales, como ustedes o como yo. Y estaban dispuestos a matarlo. Estoy seguro de que cualquiera de los que patearon al pibe, en otra situación, uno les habla y parecen gente, buena gente”.
          El principio de una ética que aspira a no ser esclava de las pasiones tristes se revela en esos momentos de gran intensidad donde se crea una disyuntiva, o lo que Badiou llama "un punto": una bifurcación donde se abren dos caminos: en este caso, por un lado la reacción ciega y descontrolada que apunta a la violencia punitiva y al linchamiento; por el otro, la decisión-convicción, como gesto de control y libertad, de no matar ni imponer sufrimiento corporal a un cuerpo indefenso. Esto vale tanto para un pibe que robó como para el más cruel de los torturadores y asesinos de la ESMA. El ataque cobarde en Palermo y su celebración mundialista en los foros de La Nación, así como su predecible defensa por parte del PRO, expresan el núcleo duro de lo que he estado pensando como La Argentina Blanca: no la Argentina de gente de piel blanca sino la Argentina que aspira a ser blanca y europea, sin negros de mierda, y que está harta de comprobar que el país nunca será del todo blanco porque hay demasiados negros, pobres y chorros, millones, por todos lados. El canto de guerra de La Argentina Blanca es (cuántas veces lo hemos oído): "a esos negros de mierda hay que matarlos a todos". Este deseo de purificar a la Argentina con violencia nunca fue una mera abstracción, sino que ha alimentado las grandes masacres de la historia nacional; y los últimos días contribuyó a inspirar a varios ataques de gran violencia por parte de muchedumbres apasionadas, en el retorno de esas pasiones tristes que, como en aquel linchamiento en 1672, entristecieron a Spinoza.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Oceanic Void

This is an excerpt (the first few pages) of my essay "The Oceanic Void: The Eternal Becoming of Liquid Space," forthcoming in the volume Deleuze and the Schizoanalisis of Spatial Power, edited by Ronnen Benarie (under review by Continnum). This is my most Deleuzian piece yet, and a future chapter in my book in progress (tentatively entitled) Opaque Planet: Outline of a Theory of Terrain

The main protagonist in the search for the missing Malaysian Airlines plane has been the elusive and intensely mobile oceanic space that satellites, planes, and ships have been meticulously scrutinizing in search for the plane’s debris, thus far to no avail. For four weeks, the surveillance technology that is often very precise in locating objects anywhere on the planet has been struggling to pierce through the opacity of this huge mass of water that, in permanently moving, recurrently makes itself unreadable. This is a vast liquid space whose ambient thickness and intensity is in a permanent state of becoming: folding, shifting, arching, twisting; always in motion, always displacing its volume across vast distances, always indifferent to the life forms enveloped by its mobile flows. Ten days after the plane's disappearance, satellites pinpointed on the oceanic surface relatively large objects, over twenty meters long, that looked like debris from the plane. One day, however, the debris seemed to be here; the next day, it seems to be five hundred kilometers away. Always on the move, the ocean carries anything floating on it elsewhere, particularly in the turbulent waters of the southern Indian ocean. A few days later, satellites and planes detected hundreds of smaller objects scattered over wide areas. But when finally reached by ships, these objects turned out to be part of the vast amounts of ordinary debris drifting in oceanic space, the surplus of the imperial forms of connectivity that thousands of ships loaded with commodities leave behind in the oceanic void, turned into the most decisive channel of global capitalism. The global panopticum has been disoriented by this mobile, textured, multi-layered spatiality of the ocean, which makes itself even more opaque by getting entangled with the detritus of globalization. So many transnational and imperial resources have been put in the search that debris from the plane may eventually be found. Had the plane fallen on firm land, however, the global panopticum of satelites and drones that control the atmosphere, and therefore look at the planet from high above, would have already located the debris. But the plane fell into a liquid vortex that swallows up most of the heavy objects that fall into it. This is liquid matter that, because of its physical properties, lets the force of gravity pull those objects down toward a dark abyss that the naked human body confronts as a physical environment devoid of solid ground and breathable air: the oceanic void.
We know that the ocean covers two thirds of the planet’s surface. But what type of space is the ocean? One way to begin answering this question is to look at those areas where the spatiality of the ocean meets that of islands and continents. The material counterpoint between both types of spaces is apparent and seemingly self-evident. On the one hand, the beaches, mountains, or human-made buildings that define the coastline and emerge from above the oceanic surface constitute the type of spaces where the vast majority of humans are born, live, and die. These geographies are defined by a multiplicity of textures and forms but share the solid spatiality that has sustained humans as land creatures adapted over millions of years to breath, eat, move, and reproduce on firm land in direct contact with the atmosphere. On the other hand, beyond the coastline, the body confronts a qualitatively different space: fluid, mobile, liquid. This is a space whose multiplicity is subsumed to the physical properties of water: an incompressible fluid that is permanently in motion because its molecules can move relative to each other, adapting to the shape of its container, the Earth’s surface, and to the forces of the atmosphere. Shorelines, in short, are among the most dramatic thresholds in human experiences of space: the point where the consistency and materiality of space abruptly changes and the body faces the beginning of a liquid world with flows, rhythms, and properties that are not those of land. But "coastlines," Steve Mentz reminds me, is not the right name the entanglement between these two spatial ecologies, which I prefer to see as material sets, inseparable from each other yet distinct and singular. I would add: the material name for this threshold is edge. Coastlines are those areas where space folds to reveal the edge of a truly immense liquid void, planetary in scope and nature. As I argue in Rubble, one of the most extraordinary sections in Badiou's book on Deleuze, The Clamor of Being, involves his discussion of the intense private exchanges that they had over several years through personal letters. One concept stood out in my reading of Badiou: one that he and Deleuze approved of as part of their shared constellation: "on the edge of the void." Badiou says that Deleuze interpreted the edge of the void as the intersection between the territory and the process of deterritorialization, the dissolution of the territory in the event. On the edge of the oceanic void, the dissolving vector of deterritorialization is the event of the ungrounding created by a liquid world.   
Humans have long navigated and used oceanic space with high degrees of expertise and sophistication. Many feel at home there, at ease in that liquid, untameable world. But they do so as land creatures whose anatomy and physiology have evolved to move and breathe on firm ground. The liquid space of the ocean can very quickly envelop and asphyxiate the human bodies that venture in it without flotation devices. It is in this precise physical sense that the human body confronts the ocean as a void: as liquid matter that does not halt the pull of gravity toward the heart of the planet the way firm land does and that, in sinking the body in a fluid devoid of breathable air, negates and interrupts land-based forms of mobility and territoriality. This liquid space, in short, imposes on humans a challenging spatiality that can be socially used but cannot be fully controlled, for it follows its own, powerful rhythms. These rhythms are created by forces mobilized by a planet in motion: by the rotation of the Earth around its axis and around the sun, by the cyclical exposure of the ocean and the atmosphere to the heat of the sun, by the gravity of the moon, as well as by the friction between tectonic plates, which occasionally shake the depths of the ocean to create tsunamis. This vortex is far from being empty: it is inhabited by a pure multiplicity of intensities in motion and by a large biomass. But the ocean is a void in the physical sense of the term, simply because alone in the ocean we drown in an instant, bringing to light what we tend two take for granted: our bodily ontology as land creatures who breath air. 
In this essay, I argue that Deleuze provides us concepts that are particularly important to examine the liquid spatiality of oceanic space, such as becoming, fold, multiplicity, intensity, singularity, difference, repetition, eternal return, virtual, actual, and smooth and striated space. It is especially in the analysis of the repetitive, rhythmical, and ever-fluid spatiality of the ocean that Deleuze’s philosophy reveals its power to illuminate our understanding of space in its immanence, independently of human appropriations but also in relation to them. My analysis is in dialogue with authors like John Protevi and Levi Bryant, who also draw on Deleuze to think the material becoming and gravitational forces of non-human made objects and forces. And as Protevi argues, the becoming of water is particularly amenable to Deleuze's philosophy (Life, War, Earth, p. 45). Yet my analysis also goes beyond Deleuze because it puts him in dialogue with Alain Badiou by subsuming the becoming of oceanic space to a figure of negativity such as the void. This may seem like a counterintuitive move, given Deleuze’s well-known hostility toward the negative and his public disagreements with Badiou. Yet I see their thinking as creatively entangled in multiple ways, and for starters I understand the void not as a figure of spatial emptiness but rather, drawing from Badiou, as a figure of pure multiplicity: that is, a multiplicity that is non-representable. The ocean’s spatiality forms an immense void not because it is empty but, on the contrary, because it is a positive presence that is a productive and disruptive multiplicity of intensities, singularities, and rhythms: a vortex that voids (interrupts, negates, disrupts) the spatiality of human mobility on firm land.
            My analysis of oceanic space draws from recent efforts in the humanities to examine geo-physical forces in terms of their own materiality and rhythms, without reducing them to their social appropriations by human societies. The literature on “the social construction of nature” played an important role in undermining the dualism between society and nature and in showing that society is not external to “nature.” Yet this perspective often reduces “nature” to the passive, malleable background upon which active, human-centered forces operate. Phillip Steinberg’s The Social Construction of the Ocean is the best book devoted to analyzing the geography of the oceans. Steinberg shows with great detail and sophistication how human societies have made use of and conceptualized the ocean in different historical periods and in different parts of the world. He demonstrates that far from being a space “empty” of sociality, the ocean has been socialized at multiple levels and is a crucial component of global currents of trade and relations of territorial power. And while the book does not examine how the liquid nature of oceanic space escapes human coding, Steinberg leaves the door open for a non-constructivist view of the ocean when he writes, at the end of his book, that this remains an important and pending question: that in being “a space of nature,” some crucial dimensions of oceanic space are not reducible to their social uses, most notably the fact that “the sea never stops moving” (p. 210)
           In his essay, I take this ever-mobile nature of oceanic space as my starting point. This is also a dimension that Steinberg's most recent work on oceanic spatiality is exploring (as the conversation we have in the comments below make clear). But I prefer to view the ocean not as a space of nature but as a spatial set within the terrain of planet Earth. As several authors have noted, the notion of nature is too loaded with transcendental connotations to be salvaged as a useful analytic concept, even if we add the usual disclaimers about the need to overcome the society-nature dualism. This problem is clear in the very idea that the ocean is a “natural space,” for this implies that places made by humans are not natural, thereby reintroducing the distinction between society and nature that is publicly disavowed. Terrain is the absolute temporal materialization of what we abstract as "nature." Seas, mountains, roads, rivers, cities, farms, bridges, forests: they are the type of singularities that envelope our ever-fleeting bodies as part of the terrain of planet Earth. As I have argued here, I see terrain as involving all existing, three-dimensional material forms (human made or not) that are constitutive of space as we know it: that is, the tangible space of this world. 
           This analysis of the ocean as a spatial set within the terrain implies a materialist, object-oriented, and affective lens but more importantly a geometric eye and perception. This is why a theory of terrain demands a Spinozian sensibility built in critical dialogue with the two last philosophical titans of the world: Deleuze and Badiou. The starting principle of a theory of terrain is that of its pure material multiplicity. This means that the materiality of the terrain is not homogenous, but the opposite. Spinoza argued that the body is made up of hard, soft, and liquid elements: bones, flesh, and blood. Likewise, the planetary terrain is defined by a multiplicity of physical densities and textures, involving hard, soft, gaseous, and liquid elements engaging in different degrees of temperature. The ocean is certainly the largest expression of liquid space on Earth. Comprising over two-thirds of the surface of the planet, the oceanic void has been one of the most powerful and determining spatial forces in human history. Its most defining feature is that, for the human body, it creates the generalized ungrounding we call drowning. The history of imperial and capitalist expansion into the totality of the planet has revolved, to a great extent, around technological efforts to counter this ungrounding created by the eternal, ever-mobile becoming of liquid space. 



Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Opaque Planet

Airplanes are not supposed to disappear into thin air in 2014. We live on a planet subjected to the most sophisticated networks of surveillance, mapping, and tracking that have ever existed, in which every corner of the globe is scanned by satellite, radar, or drone-based mechanisms of visualization, detection, and location. And yet, for the past ten days, the world media has been puzzled by what seemed unthinkable: that no one knows where a boeing 777 flying from Malaysia to Beijing is. Twenty-six nations, including the United States and China, have been searching for traces of the plane over a huge area stretching from the Himalayas to the southern Indian ocean, to no avail. The inability to locate the plane or its traces has triggered all sorts of debates and speculations, from geographical discussions of the overlapping territorialities mobilized by the search to popular references to the TV series Lost, the Bermuda Triangle, or alien abductions. Yet what these debates take for granted is that the disappearance of the plane, and its resulting human tragedy, is also a story about the profound opacity of planet Earth: the fact that the multiplicity, vastness, and textures of the global terrain often elude human coding.
The fascination with, and fetishization of, technologies of global location and surveillance often makes us forget that, for all their sophistication, we live on a planet riddled with opaque zones that will always erode the power of human-made systems of orientation, for the simple fact that no such system (contrary to what the NSA seems to believe) will ever manage to create an all-seeing God. This opacity is intrinsic to the textured, three-dimensional materiality of the surface of the planet, and is especially marked in the liquid vastness of the ocean. I’ve been interested in the concept of terrain for quite some time, which I’ve tentatively analyzed here as the manifestation of the pure multiplicity of space in its immanence: that is, of the tangible space of this world. This non-representable multiplicity ranges from the verticality of mountains to the striated density of cities to the ever-mobile, liquid space of the ocean the plane probably fell into. This is why the disappearance of flight MH 370 is both a tragedy and a story about the all-too human limits of satellites, radars, drones, and Google Earth to master the spatiality of the planet: a reminder that the Earth will always confront our bodies as an immense, often haunting void.


Sunday, February 2, 2014

Nazi Architecture as Affective Weapon

I wrote this essay as a guest writer for one of my favourite blogs, The Funambulist by Léopold Lambert. Thanks to Léopold for the invitation to contribute to his series The Funambulist Papers.   

One of Adolf Hitler’s most cherished dreams was to build the largest monument ever created. With the guidance of “the chief architect of the Reich” Albert Speer, he planned to remake Berlin around what he saw as the future core of the Germanic empire: the People’s Hall (Volkshalle), a dome that was to be 290 meters (950 feet) high and able to accommodate 180,000 people. Hitler was so “obsessed” with his gigantic dome, Speer wrote, that he was “deeply irked” when he learned that the Soviet Union had begun constructing an even larger building in Moscow: The Palace of the Soviets. This palace was to be 495 meters (1,624 feet) high and was to be crowned with a huge statue of Lenin. Hitler was furious, for he felt “cheated of the glory of building the tallest monumental structure in the world.” When Hitler ordered the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Speer realized that “Moscow’s rival building” had preyed on Hitler’s mind “more than he had been willing to admit.” As the German armies advanced toward Moscow, Hitler said: “Now this will be the end of their building once and for all” (155).
            Speer’s memoirs Inside the Third Reich, published in 1969 after he served a twenty-year sentence for his role in the Nazi hierarchy, often reads like a self-critical, melancholic confession haunted by guilt. This self-criticism should be taken with a grain of salt, for Speer is notably silent about the genocide of the European Jews (which he claimed he was unaware of at his trial in Nuremberg) and about his own use of slave labor as Minister of Armaments (a topic he touches upon only in passing). The text is nonetheless an extraordinary document about the core of the Nazi machinery and about Hitler’s bodily, spatial, and architectural sensibilities. The book reveals, in particular, that Hitler viewed in monumental architecture a way of creating in the body a disarming state of awe. Hitler was convinced that monumental buildings were powerful weapons, and assumed that political supremacy depended (as his desire to crush the Palace of the Soviets illustrates) on erecting structures that would dazzle and intimidate multitudes, inhibiting their bodily disposition to act critically and assertively. Efforts to cultivate reverence through monumental buildings have certainly existed for millennia. But Speer’s account reveals the political intricacies of the affective dimensions of monumentality, and the fact that these live on in one of the most distinctive affective weapons of capitalism: skyscrapers.
Speer shows that architecture was not only central to the Nazi project but also, and perhaps most notably, Hitler’s true passion in life, the only topic that made him joyful and exuberant. Hitler would regularly exclaim, “How much I would have loved to be an architect!” Hitler’s architectural projects went back to the 1920s, when he drew sketches of the Berlin he would rebuild as the capital of a Germanic empire so powerful that its monuments would eclipse in size and splendor those of Rome. In Mein Kampf, he in fact complained that the architecture of German cities lacked monumentality and grandeur. When Hitler met Speer, he was dazzled by how the latter proposed to give material form to his spatial megalomania. The son of a respected architect, Speer became not only “the chief architect” of the Reich but also one of the most trusted members of Hitler’s inner circle, and eventually the Minister of Armaments of the Reich until the fall of Berlin. Hitler expressed a quasi-religious devotion for Speer, whom he admired as the most brilliant architect who had ever lived. As an aide to Hitler once told Speer, “Do you know who you are? You’re Hitler’s unrequited love!” (133).
For Hitler and Speer, architecture was not simply the art of giving form to space; it was the art of creating power through monumental spatial forms. Critical architects such as Eyal Weizman and Leópold Lambert have shown how the manipulation of spatial forms has profound political implications in the control of mobility and visibility and in the deployment of violence. The Wall of Separation and the myriad checkpoints built by Israel on Palestinian land (brilliantly examined by Weizman and Lambert) are primary examples of this militarization of architecture. This is why Lambert argues that these are weaponized forms of architecture. Walls and other architectural striations are nonetheless weaponized in a distinctive way, as apparatuses of kinetic capture: that is, as material assemblages that control and channel the movement of bodies in space. The control of mobility via the architectural capture of mobility was certainly central to the spatiality of Nazi Germany, as the confinement of the European Jews within walled ghettos and death camps illustrates. Hitler and Speer, however, were intellectually disinterested in this type of weaponized architecture, which they relegated to lesser functionaries. They were interested, rather, in an architecture weaponized as an apparatus of affective capture designed to create what geographer Ben Anderson calls affective atmospheres: spatial environments that exert pre-discursive, not-fully conscious pressures on the body. All architectural forms create affective atmospheres in addition to organizing movement and my distinction between apparatuses of kinetic and affective capture is purely heuristic, and not meant to create a dichotomy or typology. Yet what Speer reveals in Inside the Third Reich is that the main purpose of Hitler’s monumental architecture was to inculcate affective intensities on the bodies contemplating it, capturing their gaze and attention.   
           The key principle of this affective atmosphere was sheer size. Under the motto “always the biggest,” Hitler wanted to build at a scale previously unseen in the history of empires. As Hitler put it to Speer’s wife, “Your husband is going to erect buildings for me such as have not been created for four thousand years” (58). Speer admitted that this challenge of messianic proportions “intoxicated” him. In 1936, he published a piece entitled The Führer’s Buildings in which he hailed Hitler’s “brilliance” for conceiving buildings of such a scale that they would last “for eternity.” Taking this principle to heart, Speer engaged on a race to surpass the monumental architecture of prior and rival empires. “I found Hitler’s excitement rising whenever I could show him that at least in size we had ‘beaten’ the other great buildings of history” (69).
For Hitler and Speer, Nazi Germany’s main architectonic competitors were the Roman, French, and U.S. empires. The People’s Hall (“the greatest assembly hall in the world ever conceived up to that time” and defined by “dimensions of an inflationary sort”) was intended to surpass not only the Roman Pantheon (its inspiration) but also the capitol in Washington DC, which “would have been contained many times in such a mass.” The Nuremberg stadium was to surpass the Circus Maximus in Rome and be able to accommodate 400,000 spectators (68). In Hamburg, a massive skyscraper would compete with the Empire State Building in New York. The new railroad station of Berlin was designed to surpass New York’s Grand Central Station and Berlin’s Arch of Triumph would have been much bigger than the one commissioned by Napoleon in Paris. Berlin’s main boulevard was to be longer and grander than the Parisian boulevards. Speer explains that “the idea” behind his architecture was straightforward: that people “would be overwhelmed, or rather stunned, by the urban scene and thus the power of the Reich” (134-135). The idea, in short, was to inculcate in the body what Spinoza called negative affects: that is, affects that decrease the body’s capacity for action by overwhelming it, stunning it, numbing it, making it malleable and, in short, politically passive.
This principle was embodied in one of Speer’s first major projects: the Nuremberg parade grounds built for the 1934 Nazi Party Congress, immortalized by Leni Riefenstahl’s propaganda film Triumph of the Will. The monumentality of the classicist architecture of the stadium designed by Speer was inseparable from the militarized discipline of the thousands of troops and Nazi cadres portrayed in the film, forming a solid, geometrical bodily assemblage united in its allegiance to The Fuhrer. If there’s a political ontology inculcated by the affective atmosphere of this architectonic setting it is that of Being-as-One: one people, one nation, one Reich, which Hitler highlighted in his speech in that place, appealing to the “unity” and “obedience” of the German people.
Hitler’s and Speer’s attempt to reach transcendence through monumentality reached such levels that they sought to numb the body even if those buildings were in ruins. The ruins of the Roman empire, which Hitler admired as “imperishable symbols of power,” became the inspiration of what Speer articulated as his “theory of ruins.” His “theory” was that the buildings of the new Berlin should be made of stone and brick (rather than steel and concrete) so that “in a thousand years” their ruins would look imposing, like those of Rome. Hitler, in particular, assumed that Nazi power would endure in those ruins because of their fetish power to continue being an apparatus of affective capture. “Hitler liked to say that the purpose of his building was to transmit its time and its spirit to posterity. Ultimately, all that remained to remind men of the great epochs of history was their monumental architecture, he would philosophize” (55).
            These architectonic fantasies had a notable spatial core: a thirty-meter long, three-dimensional model of the new, monumentalized Berlin that was represented in extreme detail and was dominated by The People’s Hall, the boulevard, and the Arch of Triumph. This miniature “model city” was “Hitler’s favorite project.” Hitler would spend hours observing the details of the model from many different angles, bowing down “to take measure of the different effect.” He wanted to feel how those buildings would affect, for instance, “a traveler emerging from the south station.” He was trying to feel in his own body, in sum, the affective atmosphere that would be created by his architecture once it was built. “These were the rare times when he relinquished his usual stiffness. In no other situation, did I see him so lively, so spontaneous, so relaxed” (133). Obsessed with architecture as an affective weapon, Hitler was oblivious to urban spatiality. “His passion for building for eternity left him without a spark of interest in traffic arrangement, residential areas, and parks” (77-79). Speer was also blind to living spaces, he admitted in retrospect, and noted that his designs were “lifeless and regimented” and lacked “a sense of proportion” (134). When he showed the model city to his father, he was taken aback when the latter (also an architect) simply said, “You’ve all gone completely crazy” (133).
          The works for the radical refashioning of Berlin began in 1937 but were halted when the war began in September 1939. When in June 1940 Nazi Germany defeated France, Hitler and Speer promptly visited Paris, which together with Rome was the other city they sought to surpass. Hitler admired Haussmann and his aggressive remaking of Paris in the mid-1800s, which had created the city as a bourgeois spectacle (“He regarded Haussmann as the greatest city planner in history, but hoped that I would surpass him,” 75). They stayed in Paris for only three hours, but visited most of its famous monuments. Hitler wanted to immerse himself in the atmosphere created by Paris’ architecture, and he said, visibly moved, “It was the dream of my life to be permitted to see Paris. I cannot say how happy I am to have that dream fulfilled today.” Paris affected Hitler at a deeper level; it reawakened his passion for a monumentalized Berlin. The same evening he told Speer, “Draw up a decree in my name ordering full-scale resumption of work on the Berlin buildings. … Wasn’t Paris beautiful? But Berlin must be made far more beautiful.” His order was to proceed with the construction plans “with maximum urgency” (173).
Speer was perplexed by the order, given its huge cost amid an ongoing war on multiple fronts. Hitler dismissed these concerns; he was only worried about the potentially negative impact on German public opinion, so the decree was to be kept secret and the works were to be “camouflaged” under other rubrics. Why Hitler’s “urgency”? The way he worded the decree is revealing. Hitler wrote: “I regard the accomplishment of these supremely vital constructive tasks for the Reich as the greatest step in the preservation of our victory.” Accordingly, the decree was officially named: “Decree for the preservation of our victory” (173). For Hitler, in other words, the main way to safeguard the military victories of 1939-1940 was through the construction of imposing buildings. Monumental architecture was for him the most powerful and decisive of all weapons, supremely vital, in fact, to military victory. This is also why Hitler sought to destroy the monumental architecture of his enemies: not only the Palace of the Soviets in Moscow but also the skyscrapers of New York City. As Speer reveals in his second memoires, Spandau: The Secret Diaries (1976), Hitler ordered the development of long-range bombers that could reach New York and destroy its famed skyscrapers, which he saw as key to the global power and prestige of the United States. The program to build these bombers was eventually cancelled, but Speer noted that Hitler fantasized about turning the skyscrapers of New York “into gigantic, burning torches” (87).
            When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Stalin interrupted the construction of the Palace of the Soviets and ordered that its steel frames were used to build fortifications and other defenses (construction never resumed). Hitler, in contrast, insisted on continuing with the works in Berlin, which by then employed 35,000 workers. In July 1941, a month into the Russian campaign, Speer failed to convince Hitler to stop construction. “He would not hear of any restrictions and refused to divert the material and labor for his private buildings to war industries anymore.” In September 1941, when the advance in Russia was stalling, “Hitler ordered sizable increases in our contracts for granite purchases from Sweden, Norway, and Finland for my big Berlin and Nuremberg buildings.” On November 29, 1941, Hitler dismissed once again Speer’s concerns, and said bluntly, “I am not going to let the war keep me from accomplishing my plans.” By early December, the German army was facing a catastrophe in Russia due to the winter weather and the destruction of railroad lines. Speer told Hitler that most of the workers employed in Berlin should be urgently assigned to repair railroads in Russia. “Incredibly, it was two weeks before Hitler could bring himself to authorize this. On December 27, 1941, he at last issued the order” (185). Hitler’s prolonged refusal to divert manpower and resources from the massive buildings in Berlin confirms that he indeed saw them as the powerful fetishes that would “preserve” his early victories. Ironically, this obsession undermined German military might in the early months of the Russian campaign and may have contributed to its long-term defeat. If there was a body enthralled by the atmospheres created by monumental architecture it was that of Hitler himself. By May 1945, Berlin and Nazi Germany had been reduced to rubble.
The affective weaponization of monumental architecture by Nazi Germany is an extreme example of a spatial paradigm that is as old as empires. Speer’s and Hitler’s monumentality certainly has historically specific and distinctively fascist elements, such as its imitation of Roman and Greek classicism, its explicit celebration of state power, and its particularly delusional, fetishized megalomania. Yet many of its core architectural and affective principles live on in the present. This surfaces in one notable passage in which Speer sought to whitewash Nazi monumentality by referring to the monumentality of the present. After admitting the “chronic megalomania” of his architecture, he wrote that his designs “are not so excessive by present-day standards when skyscrapers and public buildings all over the world have reached similar proportions. Perhaps it was less their size than the way they violated the human scale that made them abnormal” (138, my emphasis). Speer appealed to a western audience’s familiarity with skyscrapers as normalized features of the modern world to retroactively present fascist megalomania as “not so excessive.” But in doing so, he actually brought to light that fascist megalomania is comparable to corporate forms of monumentality, and that both can be seen as equally “excessive” apparatuses of affective capture. When Speer argued that the “abnormality” of Nazi architecture was not its “size” but the way it “violated the human scale,” one can easily turn his play of words around and show that current monumentality is equally “abnormal” in its “violation” of “the human scale.” Isn’t the defining goal of monumentality to dwarf “the human scale” and present the body as miniscule? Haven’t skyscrapers surpassed in scale and “excess” anything Speer ever dreamed of?
Speer admits that Nazi monumentality was a “nouveau rich architecture of prestige” based on “pure spectacle” and “the urge to demonstrate one’s strength” (136, 69). He could as well be referring to the skyscrapers that currently define the skyline of New York, Shanghai, or Dubai. Hitler’s obsession to build “bigger” than other empires is easy to pathologize as the delusions of a “madman.” But the competitive zeal to build “bigger” has become a planetary phenomenon. That the tallest skyscrapers in the world are currently in the Persian Gulf and Asia simply replicates what the United States did in the early 1900s when it emerged as an imperial power: “the urge to demonstrate one’s strength.” The architectural face of the authoritarian capitalism of the twenty-first century is embodied in skyscrapers like the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which at 830 meters (2,722 feet) high seeks to dazzle the bodies contemplating it from the ground while, at the same time, erasing that its phallic structure was built by a quasi-enslaved labor force.
Bruno Latour and other object-oriented ontologists would probably explain the power of monumental buildings to affect the body as resulting from their existence as huge objects (or, in Latour’s words, as actants with agency). But affective atmospheres are not the outcome of objects alone; they are also a function of the disposition of bodies to be affected by them in a particular way. Not all human bodies, needless to say, are dazzled by monumental architecture and affectively captured by its presence. Huge buildings are certainly more readily noticed, but throughout history many people have disregarded the mandate to be intimidated by their scale. Hitler’s veneration of Roman ruins as transcendental emblems of power, for instance, overlooked that for over a thousand years people in Rome disregarded those ruins as unimpressive piles of rubble, to be readily recycled as construction materials or used as pasture fields.
            A notable example of the subversion of the awe-inducing atmosphere cultivated by monumentality took place in the Paris World Fair of 1937. It was there that the monumental architecture of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union competed with each other at close range, for their pavilions faced each other. The Soviet design consisted of two huge human figures standing on a pedestal and charging ahead, as if about to overran the Nazi building. Speer designed the German pavilion, and wrote that he was able to see in Paris a secret sketch of the Soviet monument “striding triumphantly toward the German pavilion.” He decided to erect an enormous counter-monument: a solid, cubic mass “which seemed to be checking this onslaught.” The monument was crowned with an eagle with a swastika in its claws looking on the Soviet sculpture from above, therefore asserting its superiority. Both buildings won the fair’s “gold medal” (81). This “tie” symbolized that Nazi and Soviet architects were committed to similar forms of monumentality, designed to impress. The fact that the bourgeois monumentality of the Eiffel Tower stood a few hundred meters behind, as an equally assertive emblem of power, also reveals that despite their ideological differences all these different monuments were designed as affective weapons intended to create a bodily state of respect.
This is why the true spatial confrontation at the Paris World Fair laid elsewhere, opposing these monuments to the small pavilion of the Spanish Republic, which was then going through a dramatic revolution and civil war. The Spanish pavilion was made up of a modest, two-story building that housed a painting whose affective power was to outlive that of the German and Soviet monuments: the Guernica by Pablo Picasso, which was commissioned for the fair. Capturing the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica by German warplanes fighting for Franco against the Spanish Republic, Picasso’s painting drew multitudes as an emblem of the destruction and suffering created by war and fascism. The atmosphere of fragmentation, multiplicity, bodily rupture, and negativity created by Picasso stood in opposition to the fantasy of wholeness and totality embodied by the Nazi and Soviet monuments. Whereas the German and Soviet pavilions exuded transcendence, the pavilion of the Spanish Republic exuded the immanence of rubble.
As I argue in Rubble, those who cherish monumentality are inherently hostile to rubble, for they are terrified of rubble’s voiding of positive space. Hitler’s and Speer’s celebration of grand “ruins,” it is worth noting, made them feel contempt for (and fear of) “mere rubble.” If monumental architecture stands for Being-as-One (The People’s Hall, The Palace of the Soviets, The Empire State Building, the Burj Khalifa), rubble stands for the opposite: the pure multiplicity of being and therefore, following Badiou’s ontology, the figure of the void. The Guernica’s affective power during the 1937 World Fair was its capacity to immerse the observer in a visual void that was as unsettling as it was generative. Its generative negativity revealed that the huge structures standing nearby were modern-day totems, monuments to hubris built to deflect the destruction that was constitutive of their materiality and that the destiny of all buildings, irrespective of their size, is to be reduced to the assertive nothingness of rubble.