Focus: Listening out for the Voiceless
A reader's response to Efe's Levent article: The Year of the Voiceless
Where to start? After reading Efe’s article entitled ‘The Year of the Voiceless’ I felt compelled to respond. I must first congratulate Efe on the Guardian-esque style of his penmanship, it must not be easy to appear both sanctimonious and completely unconstructive in a second language, but you’ve done an excellent job of it. What annoyed me most is that the article rested on the deliberate misconstruing of the words of other people in an attempt, no doubt, to court controversy, which makes his comments about cheating at chess amusing if not worryingly self-delusional.
First I’d like to start with the binary opposition of Voicelessness vs Voice that the series of articles play on. This notion carries with it a narrative that what is heard is the oppressing voice of authority or the lies of the aggressor and the voiceless represent what should be heard, the victim, the truth. I disagree with the narrative this binary view of things produces, as it conceals from view the complexity of the idea of ideological truth, and the paradoxical idea that speaking for the voiceless somehow gives them a voice. The resultant effect is just to prioritize one ideological narrative over another, causing those who could originally speak to be silenced and throwing up another arbitrary narrative as “the truth”.
Moving on to Efe Levent’s article in particular, I think the conflation of two separate notions are somewhat ironic given the author’s own status as a non-practicing “cultural” Muslim: he somehow confuses criticism of rule by religious law (essentially theocracy) – whether those rules come from Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism or elsewhere – with an attack on the existence of the Islamic religion. The former is what many of the figures he attacks in his article address (including an author that Efe criticizes as a “drama queen” for having received death threats on the basis of writing a novel that many who attack him probably never read, and which Efe himself admits to never bothering to read). The problem with any non-secular form of government as the history of Europe can well attest to, is that religious laws differ from secular laws, in that they have a sacred or divine backing to the morality they outline, which undermines any challenge to them or debate of them. Regardless of the joy that the painful death of Christopher Hitchens seems to arouse in Efe, it does not change the fact that disagreeing with the tenets of someone else’s religion or the sacred moralism the religion outlines is not racism. The “four horsemen” Efe refers to do not attack Islam exclusively, and have often stated their opinions with regard to Christianity also. Efe fails to acknowledge that multiculturalism has to be more than just “tolerance” or turning a blind eye to religious practices as long as they conform to the law in any country, rather it involves intercultural dialogue and the ability to scale cultural barriers which is simply not happening in contemporary Europe, and is resulting in conflict.
The very structure of Efe’s article is culturally divisive and unconstructive, whilst pretending the opposite. Echoing the oversimplification inherent in the very notion of “voicelessness” versus “voice”, he picks from the sea of voices in the West (a contrived concept in itself) one voice that is suitably extreme as to be an easy dueling partner or simply just misconstrues that voice. I'd like to end with a few questions to the author: What would make the world better in his opinion? Do you want democratically elected theocracies in the middle east? Do you want criticism of China's neo-colonialism in Africa and its internet censorship to stop? If anyone fits into your generalization of aggressor (white, Western, descendent of colonists, not a plumber) should they no longer offer up opinions? Do you agree that someone should be threatened with death for writing a novel?
Illustration by Bendu
Efe Levent is an icon of Shida Park, the heart of the student area in Taipei and a place of unexpected encounters and events near the eRenlai headquarters. This tall, long-haired, metal-head student of anthropology hails from Ankara originally and while finishing his PhD at Jiao Tung Normal University in Hsinchu, he has also been contributing to our magazine and is a regular visitor to our office. After many coffees and a couple of other stimulating drinks, we finally decided to tighten our ties to each other as Efe offered to take charge of one of our monthly focuses. For this, he brought in his finest team of writers, i.e. three other exchange students sent by the University of Paris VII. Being Turkish, Haitian or French students in Taiwan and having widely varying topics of research such as political history, the philosophical concept of emancipation and even the Marquis de Sade, it was not obvious to find a common subject to develop together. Like a challenge or even a kind of “gibe” to their own situation in Taiwan, we asked them if they would be inspired by voicelessness and disenfranchisement. And they answered the call very enthusiastically coming up with five pieces aiming at remapping these two concepts in a multicultural and contemporary context.
First Efe tries to debunk the myths that the Western media, using its frequently overpowering voice, perpetuates about the Middle and Far East; He also brings us a documentary which tries to renegotiate the cultural relation between East and West by examining the mundane reality of everyday interaction in two industries, namely the food and music industry; Jean-Claude Noël attempts to wrest the true voice of Sade from misinterpretation; Francklin Benjamin analyses the legal process by which the French government essentially disenfranchised the Roma people living there; and finally Julien Quelennec displaces disenfranchisement from the usual interpretation of the "deprivation of rights", using "Occupy Wall Street"movement and the film Punishment Park as examples.
Painting by Bendu
Despite their status as French citizens, Roma (or Roms) from France, living upon French territory since the fifteenth century, are still subject to special treatments from state authorities. These treatments, converted in institutional practices, are contrary to the equalitarian Republican spirit. They pose both a political (by inventing different classes of French citizens) and an ethical problem (since they institutionalized inequality) and create therefore a "state of normalized exception." Such a state of exception, based on exclusion, constitutes a form of state racism. But the execution of this racist regime is not possible without creating and transforming the “Other” into a dangerous enemy. But questioning of this order requires political capacity to claim his share and his place in the community.
Who are the Roma? The Roma, also known as Gypsies or “Gens de voyage” is a population living in Europe for about seven centuries. Originated from India, they arrived in Europe by crossing the Bosphorus in the fourteenth century, fleeing raids and famines. First stayed in Persia (now Syria), they reached Turkey afterwards, which was their last stop before Europe. From Turkish, they dispersed to countries of northern, eastern and Western Europe, including France. The Romani language that they speak is close to popular Indian language, such as Punjabi or Indi. Their way of life, characterized by constant travel; their attachments to their culture provoke suspicion. Experiencing systematized state control in the nineteenth and twentieth century, the anti-Roma feeling have been amplified and hardened in France from 2002 in the context of reelection of the right to power, searching to obtain the vote of the conservative trend of the population.
It is clear that, considering the extent of the debate on immigration in France for the past fifteen years, the Roma are not the only one targeted by arbitrary actions of various rightwing governments. Untimely and unfounded statements, combining the issues of insecurity, crime and immigration have become daily refrains. One of the most recent statements marking the spirits are those made by the French Interior Minister, Claude Guéant, threatening to remove the French nationality to parents (and kick them out whether they are or not born in France) whose children had assaulted agents of public order or harm their person. It is therefore clear that this is a much broader debate, going beyond the case of the Roma. Treating of the Roma is not because they are in themselves an exception, but because they represent a very different case from others, in the sense that, contrary to what one can think, “Les Roms de France” are French “since often many generations”, as any other French, with, as outline above, have a long historical past with France. But more important, they are basically European and a consequence, in the context of the European Union, either they are from France or from Romania for example, are free to move inside the European Union, knowing that this union is first of all an economic space. So any unionist can go through the union looking for opportunities. But the question that we are asking here is how explaining that some French citizens can be considered as foreigners-from-inside or as holding temporary citizenship? And what are the categories to interpret such a situation in the context of the Republic? It becomes that the Roma are hence for us what we could methodologically call a case.
Some historical elements will help us to understand more. The presence in France long time ago of the Roma does not main that they were or are accepted as “total” citizens. The 1895’s law is one the most important expression of this antipathy. In effect, from this period, large censuses were organized to determine the Roms populations in France. The project was clear: It concerns “all the nomads, gypsies and vagrants". The 1908’s and 1912’s laws "relating to the regulation of movement of nomads” followed afterwards. They settled the difference between “Normal French”, sedentary and “abnormal French”, nomad. In the same vein, the 1913 decree even states in its Article 8 that every nomad must obtain an
"Anthropometric notebook with the names and surnames and nicknames on which the nomad is known [...]. It must also receive reports indicating that including anthropometric waist, the bust, the size, length and width of the head, the diameter bizygomatic, the length of the right ear, the length of middle finger and the left atrium of the left elbow, the left foot, eye color, etc. "
Cover of a 1936’s anthropometric book.
Beyond the dimension of control and disciplining expressed by the various Acts, what resorting at first sight is the aspect of racialization, highlighting the difference between "Us" and "Them". Furthermore, this difference aims to stress an anomalous dimension of the ‘Other’. Such a separation is in the same time a creation: the ‘Other’ is created and submitted to himself as his own truth that he cannot ignore. Furthermore, this creation is participating in logic of hegemony and devotes the denial of the Other’s differences. Because the fact that the Roma are ‘nomads’ and not correspond to what authorities call ‘Normal’, because the fact that they refuse to subject to the universal hegemonic order, they are rejected outside the “society”. According to Balibar, this procedure consists in:
"Transforming those affected by it in" enemy from within", and to ensure that, fantasy, otherness we project on them is perceived as their work and responsibility or their indelible blemish. Bodies and body marks the differences [...] have continued to inform the representation of the differences."
The idea is to transform the exclusion into self-exclusion. Thus, based on these historical events, this case it reveals contradictions and a mythological dimension of the political and ideological debates. That bring us, to the necessity not only to revise what one might call a certain idea of France but more fundamentally the concepts of political philosophy, such as citizenship, Republic, nation, Race, community, etc. In other words, what we are asking is how fundamentally we could define the Idea of Republic from this case? What is community? Who make part of it and how defining the criteria of this participation? The political condition of the community is it historical or metaphysical?
Indeed, the idea of France that we are talking about here, is that has fueled a historical and collective imaginary, according to which France history is strongly linked to that of the revolution and the defense of human rights. France has never ceased to identify itself with this imaginary of law, justice and equality making of itself the place where movements for social emancipation were inspired. In any case, one of the levers of official positions of France under which human rights violations are crimes against humanity. But it must be noted that this discourse, setting itself up in hegemonic doxa without connection to any historical reality. It is simply an effort to subsume what Jacques Rancière calls the politics into the police logics. By claiming that France is the incarnation of rights Men, the concept of “Men” remains ambiguous and problematic, since it never has the same meaning depends on who is concerned. Marx had already outlined the abstract aspect of this concept of Men which is, in his view, purely ideological. Hence there is a need, in taking account a historical reality, to deconstruct this myth, because, as noted Ranciere, ““the Rights of Man are the rights of those who have not the rights that they have and have the right that they have not”. The paradox becomes obvious: how to link these ideas of Rights to that of repression, exclusion or social marginalization?
Moreover, we can go further with this idea of France, in stressing on the Republican narrative. The Republic, by definition, knows only citizens, without any discrimination. Hence membership in the city is determined by the legal possibility to prove his citizenship and therefore grants rights and requires respect for republican values. In other words, the republic cannot differentiate between citizens. Saying so, the Republican Tale eliminates two difficulties: i) it forbids thinking the community in terms of communautarism; ii) it forbids directing the debate towards specific consideration and presenting a guaranteed homogenous society. This false equalitarian spirit hides at least one thing: enforcing the invisibility of the invisible. Unlike this hint of incarnation of law and of equality, historically and currently, what exists is widespread stigma, and institutionalized exclusion.
It is therefore possible, from what has been said, to draw a preliminary conclusion: the problem is not that Roma are not French citizens. Most of them are since several generations. But it is that they are citizens of another type, or let us say a sub-category of citizens, which is the subject of “special “treatments and specific jurisdiction because of their differences. In this case, one will agree that we are any more neither in the idea that France would be the embodiment of law and equality, or the embodiment of the Republic regime, but we face what E. Wallenstein points out as a “Xenophobia”, i.e., “The ejection of the ‘Barbarian’ from the physical locus of the community, the society, the in-group- death being the extreme version of ejection”.
The hypothesis we support here can be reformulated as such: the ideas of republic and citizenship become a fiction serving as alibi for the establishment of an exclusive democracy. They highlight a rationality which the very idea of equality is the consummate expression of inequality. In other words, inequality is verified each time should be specified between whom and whom there is equality. The state rationality’s is based on a report between inclusion/exclusion, between those who are inside and those who are outside. Such is what we call with Jacques Rancière a form of state racism.
So there would be two ideological discourses in one ensuring the effectiveness of racism: the the Republican tale and the idea of the Nation-state which, according to Balibar, "has a normative mode of association of the individual to the collectivity with for its opposite side an exclusion to social recognition or status as a citizen in the full sense" to some members of the community.
Thus, we can henceforth affirm that the Roma face to a state racism. But the racism in question here is not racism like the others. It is more subtle and complicated than that that has established, by comparison, the hierarchy between races in the ninetieth century or the subtle discourses about civilizing the savages, but which was, in truth, the pass of the colonizer. Of course, in between, the distance is almost negligible (let us noted that even while the organized massacres of racial cleansing in the early twentieth century are the result of racist theories developed in Europe in the nineteenth century). Despite this genetic relationship, it is clear that we are witnessing a new form of racism, which can be seen as the result of the inability to repeat the Nazi racism and fascism of World War II context in particular. This form of "neo-racism" or a ”racism after the races":
"The forms of institutional racism that characterized colonial imperialism as well as fascist or based on segregation and apartheid are dismantled, but only if racism no longer exist in the functioning of institutions, and more generally in social relations. This is [a] complexity of racism after the races that we should clarify”.
It would exist therefore, several kind of racism. But let consider the difference establishes by Jacques Rancière, between two current forms of racism: a popular racism, says "from below" and a state racism that is a passion "from above". Indeed, state racism is organized, controlled, structured, managed through technical provisions and distribution of place or space, allowing precise identification, as Michel Foucault would say, to frame a given population. How the Roma situation can be identified with such a state?
Let us refer one again, for the sake of demonstration, to some other historical moments in the relation of the Roma with the French state. In total, between 1895 and 1913, more than a dozen proposal law, prefectural decrees were adopted for the Roma’s frame. During a meeting of October 29, 1907, the intervention of Ferdinand David, Republican congressman from Haute-Savoie, who vehemently attacked the nomads and is particularly suspicious of the "gypsies" foreigners, convinced that these people, identified by "a sign of race," are dangerous, ignorant, uneducated, and against whom he wishes the government to take action much more aggressively:
"There are two kinds of nomads, he stated: foreigners and the French. Foreigners me particular concern because it is mainly those devastated areas of the East and also those of the South [...]. There are some French, called "roulottiers" and deal with many colleagues in these departments. They are often as harmful as foreign nomads. Why do we pursue these people? Because they have no home, no civil status, because they do not work, because they are theft and robbery, and I expect that it rises here to defend anyone. […] When a stranger wandering in the hands of the judge, if asked where are her children, where he married, where he buried his dead, he replied that he had buried his own on the street or somewhere in a field that his children were born in his trailer, in a locality which he has forgotten the name, and that, For his country, he came into the world somewhere, too, in an unknown location that has not preserved the memory.”
These attempts to contain the Roma will have their effect. In 1969 another law was adopted, requiring them to bring for travel within France, a “circulation card." The anomy does not lie in the fact that this obligation to bring this card has been made, but it is the fact that the obligation is made to a specific and restricted category of French citizens in particular, though the 1951’s Genova agreement, which France is a signatory, provides for free movement of persons within the limits of the law, as an expression of freedom. It stipulates in Article 13: "Everyone has the right to move freely and choose his residence within the borders of a state. 2) Everyone has the right to leave any country including his own, and to return to his country."
Furthermore, the question of attribution of ID card the Roma, which could be appear as a simple fact, constitutes in itself a scandal. Indeed, an ID card, with one’s passport, is juridical proof of membership of any individual to his state. The only requirement for obtaining it is to prove that one pertain to the state which disposes itself mean to identify his members. But what we learned in the Roma’s case is that special conditions for the ID award have been established. Not eligible for an ID card than those with evidence of settlement. The CEDIS’ report states that "Many of the Gypsies in the south of France have ID because they live in fixed housing." (We will not raise here the problem of access to housing for French in general, even for the Roma which, clearly, is more than difficult). But what we want to outline, is the particular nature of these measures.
For example, the 1969’s decree concerning the Roma sets the number of Roma that each municipality should receive. This number does not exceed 3%, though this percentage is not applied to any other ethnic minority in French. Without exaggerating, we are not far from a trick to hide an unnamed apartheid that Balibar was talking about earlier:
“In other words, [it’s like] there would be danger of social imbalance or when too many electoral French Gypsies live in the same municipality. The implication is outrageous. It is estimated that would be detrimental influence that one population may suffer due to the existence of a strong minority of fellow gypsies in it.”
To be complete on this aspect, we could also discuss the various laws called “Loi Besson I, Loi Besson II”, more recent, adopted in 2000, requiring to municipalities to provide access to these populations to non-occupied lands for their settlement. These laws remain till now dead letters! But in the same time, any other institution intervened to promote their application. Two contradictory juridical approaches then: when laws are against the Roma, they are applied, when they offer some possibility, they are not applied. At the end, we reach the same result as any other racist disposition: elimination. The difference here is that, contrary to some other kind of elimination, like the final solution, it more subtle and supposed to last. Such are the caracteristics of “Internal Exclusion”, i.e.:
"A phenomenon whose formal characteristic is that “the excluded“ cannot be accepted neither really accepted nor effectively eliminated, or simply driven into an outdoor area to that of the community. [...] This model of internal exclusion, characterized by an inner contradiction that generates double-edged policy of integration and repression, of "positive discrimination" but also stigma, covers two heterogeneous logic, we must understand both the difference in principle and combined effects in practice: first a logic of commodification of the individual in the capitalism market; on the other hand the logic of racialization that derives from the “essentialist” representation of historical communities whose intolerance of the other that it projects or identify within themselves exacerbated in a fantasy of purity, homogeneity and unity ....".
The question remains that before such an exclusive order, how a political response can be given? What could be the political counterpart to put the racist state before his truth? Or else, what is the political action that could accomplish to reveal the fictional aspect of the hegemonic discourse of rights?
It is quite clear that such an intervention cannot be originated from the state side, because its logic, as we specified it before, is that of the police, that means: identifying and placing. These political interventions are possible only if they from the bottom as the capacity of the dominated to claim their place and their rights of the common. But such a process supposes that the dominated subjects transform themselves in political one, i.e. contesting the fact that they are only “Sans-Part”, and claiming their part and proceed, as a consequence, to what Rancière calls a “Partage du Sensible”. Politics is the name of this need: i. e. fulfill the gap between the egalitarian logic and his denial, or, more precisely, ‘breaking’ with all dominant logic justifying the Arkhè, hence emancipation.
It seems that long time ago, the Roma are aware that if they want to modify their situation, it is not worth waiting some help from any state institution, since they are the incarnation of the racist state logic. The creation, in France, of several resistance organizations, such as La voix des Roms, Association Rencontre Tsiganes, Le collectif contre la Xénophobie, is one step towards this contestation and the struggle for equality conducted by the Roma. But the violence of the adversary remains intact, despite denunciations.
Let’s relate one example of this violence: On 24th October the Maison des Roms in the 20th arrondissement of Paris – a warehouse owned by the Mairie de Paris which has been squatted for almost a year by around 100 Roma including children and elderly people – was burned down after a firebomb attack. Fortunately there were no fatalities; one passer-by was taken to hospital. The attack came two days after a demonstration in the neighborhoods where some demonstrators proclaimed “we are going to burn everything!” Le Collectif contre la xénophobie has denounced the attack and demanded that the authorities make every effort to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice.
In sum, it would be idealistic to think such state racism will be over soon. There is any reason to it to stop. We learn enough historical lessons to know that that teleological destiny of history remains a Marxist illusion. But what we do think is that the movement of resistance, without which emancipation is not possible, is more than important. The United States history, in the context of the civil movement, remains, in my view, a probing example. Several decades of political struggle for rights putted an end, at least symbolically, to a hegemonic discourse of the supremacy of the whites and devoted the black civil rights. Obviously, that doesn’t that the racist question is over in USS, but that teach us that emancipation is constant struggle.
Agamben, Giorgio, 2003, L’Etat d’Exception, Seuil, Paris.
Balibar, Etienne, 1991, Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities, Ed. Verso, London. New York.
Balibar, Etienne, 2010, La proposition de L’Egaliberté, Ed. Seuil, Paris.
Bulletin officiel du ministère de l’intérieur, février 1913, p. 79-82.
Filhol, Emmanuel, 2007, « La loi de 1912 sur la circulation des « nomades » (Tsiganes) en France », Revue européenne des migrations internationales, vol. 23, n°2, 2007, mis en ligne le 1 octobre 2010.
Ranciere, Jacques, 1995, La Mésentente : Politique et Philosophie, Ed. Galilée, Paris.
Rancière, Jacques, 2009, Et tant pis pour les Gens Fatigues, Ed. Amsterdam, Paris.
Rancière, Jacques, 2004, ‘Who is the Subject of the Rights of Man?’, South Atlantic Quarterly, vol. 103, no. 2–3, pp. 307–9
 I want to emphasize that there is a difference France between "Roma de France" and "Roma en France." The first refers to the Roma of French nationality and therefore are assumed to have the same rights and duties that ensure the laws and the French constitution vis-à-vis its citizens, the second term "Roma de France" means the Roma immigrated in France, coming from both countries within the European Union (such as Romania, for example) or European countries not part of the union. The fact is that there is also an institutional confusion between two categories when speaking of Roma. I would note also that I will address in this paper that the first case, taking into account the contradictions related to their status as French. For more details on this difference, we can refer to the document published by CEDIS, a reseach group on Roma entitled: “Roma de France, Roma en France: Le peuple du Voyage”. That's what Cecile KOVA is trying to discuss in a paper entitled "The 'Roma' do not exist", "there are no Roma. Only people Spanish, French, Hungarian, Romanian, Swedish, etc. who happen to have a culture, traditions, special requests - like everyone else, is not it? The Roma are not primarily the Roma, as the hammer ambient discourse, they are primarily inhabitants of a country that is their country they are citizens, even if they are denied citizenship. The arrest of the title [...] is detached, as it is serious, because it evokes a historical process, unfortunately, already known: stigmatize a category of the population to better deprive of political rights and make it hateful to others, until the stigma of the next categorization». cf.: http://blogs.mediapart.fr/edition/les-invites-de-mediapart/article/130910/lesroms-n-existent-pas.
 See Giorgio Abemben, L’état exception, Ed. Du Seuil, 2003.
 We do not here go into complicated semantic debates on the different ways of naming Roma. Indeed, this population is the subject of different names: Roma, Gypsies; Gens de voyage, etc. Each designation has a special semantics connotation, sometimes degrading. For convenience, I will stick to the Roma, judged as neutral by some well-known specialists (such as Jean Pierre Dacheux for example).
 Balibar makes the following interesting remark: “The figure is quite different when anti-immigrant racism achieves a maximum of identification between class situation and ethnic origin (…). Racism combines this identification with a deliberate confusion of an atomistic social functions: thus the them of invasion’ of French society by North Africans or of immigration being responsible for unemployment are connected with that of the money of the oil sheikhs who are buying up ‘our’ business, ‘our’ housing stock or ‘our seaside resorts. And this partly explains why the Algerians, Tunisians or Moroccans have to be referred to generically as ‘Arab’.” Cf. E. Balibar, Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities, Ed. Verso, 1991, p. 206.
 At the occasion of the world day of the Roma, Amnesty International was calling to the French government that the Roma are citizens as any other citizens and as a consequence, must be treated as such. Cf. http://www.amnesty.fr/AI-en-action/Discriminations/Discriminations/Actualites/France-Europe-Roms-citoyens-comme-les-autres-2335.
 See the repport of CEDIS, a research group on the Roma: “Roms de France, Roms en France: les gens du voyage”, p. 22.
 Bulletin officiel du ministère de l’intérieur, février 1913, p. 79-82.
 E. Balibar, La proposition de l’Egaliberte, Essais Politique, Ed. Presse Universitaire de France, 2010, p. 248-250.
 Recently, I mean last month, French parliament adopted a controversial law condemning the Armenian massacre by Turkish during the Ottoman Empire in 1915 and 1916.
 The police logic, which is also the state logic subjected; the political logic emancipate. See J. Rancière, La Mesentente: Politique et philosophie.
 Jacques Rancière, ‘Who is the Subject of the Rights of Man?’, South Atlantic Quarterly, vol. 103, no. 2–3, pp. 307–9.
 E. Wallenstein, « The Ideological tension of Capitalism: Universal versus Racism and Sexism », in Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities, trans. Into English by Chris Turner, Ed. Verso, 1991, p. 33.
 This hypothesis could also apply to other population groups in France based around immigration. This is what Eric FASSIN explains in his paper published on the MediaPart’s website entitled "Why the Roma?”: “Roma, Muslims, but also "young immigrants", black or "mixed marriages" are the signifiers of the same variables meant floating, and it is precisely the heterogeneous character of the list is the developer. What do they have in common? Clearly, nothing - except that both groups are available, if one may say, for the current political rhetoric of stigma. What symbolic properties, not social, Roma do they share with these diverse groups? The answer will tell us nothing about the causes of this phobia; however, it will inform the operation. It will include, not why, but how Roma are caught in the government rhetoric. The hypothesis we would like to develop here is that all these groups are stigmatized on the border between "them" and "us" - neither inside nor outside, or rather both. The "problem" is that they simultaneously one foot in and one foot out.” cf.: http://blogs.mediapart.fr/blog/eric-fassin/120910/pourquoi-les-roms.
 The concept of nation-state is a European concept, which emerged especially during the French Revolution, and refers to the sovereignty of a people sharing the same territory and cultural heritage. It implies at the same time, a certain cultural homogeneity. Western liberal democracies have been based initially on the idea of nation-state that peoples have the right to dispose of themselves. It should be emphasized that this idea of nation-state, to which I do not, today is a form of archaic, when the wild globalization in full swing and pushes the limits of liberal democracy by introducing, in particular Europe, technocrats. However, for political reasons, people continue to exhibit this card every time it comes to social stigmatization of minorities of all kinds.
 E. Balibar, La proposition de l’Egaliberté, PUF, 2010, p. 246.
 But this problem of community that we will not discuss here, is also a complicated problematic. From these different maltreatment that the Roma are object( but not only), we can deduce a kind of exclusive community or, that is the same approach, an effort to “eliminate” those who refuse to submit themselves the community. It is the reason why that for Rancière, it is always question of one community against another.
 We also emphasize that the Roma have been in the context of World War II, eliminated in Nazi camps or internment in France. But this historical sequence has rarely been related by historians. The year 2010 was dedicated to the memory of the internment of Gypsies in France during World War II. In France, many Gypsy families (about six thousand men, women, elderly, and children) were interned in camps run by the French administration. This happened between 1940 and 1946. Gathered in the fall of 1940, in quarries and abandoned castles, the internees experienced soon after the camps more structured, administered by the prefectures and monitored by police, as in Pessac (Gironde), Moisdon-la-Rivière (Loire-Atlantique), and Poitiers (Vienne). Ends of 1941, Gypsies were grouped in regional camps: Montreuil-Bellay (Maineet-Loire), Mulsanne (Sarthe), Jargeau (Loiret), Saint-Maurice-aux-Riches-Hommes (Yonne). Cold, hunger, lack of hygiene overcame the most fragile. Gypsies expelled from Alsace-Lorraine in the summer of 1940 were interned in camps in Argeles-sur-Mer, Barcarès and Rivesaltes. In May 1942, the Vichy government created to Saliers (Bouches-du-Rhone), a camp for Tsiganes1. He welcomed the fall of 1942 Gypsies of Rivesaltes. In the Hautes-Pyrenees, the camp welcomed Lannemezan mostly foreign Gypsies.
 Balibar , La proposition de l’Egaliberte, p. 241.
 “I would like to offer some reflexions on the concept of "state racism" setting the agenda for our meeting. These reflections are opposed to a widespread interpretation of recent actions by our government, since the law on the veil to the expulsions of Roma. This interpretation sees an opportunistic attitude to exploit the themes of racism and xenophobia for electoral purposes. This so-called critical and renewed the assumption that racism is a popular passion, the reaction frightened and irrational reactionary layers of the population, unable to adapt to the new mobile world and cosmopolitan. The state is accused of failing in its principle by being complacent with regard to these populations. But it is thus strengthened its position as representative of rationality against irrationality popular.
That provision of play adopted by the critical "left” is exactly the same on behalf of which the right has implemented over the last twenty years a number of racist laws and decrees. All these measures have been taken on behalf of the same argument: there are problems of crime and nuisances caused by illegal immigrants and that might provoke racism if we do not put good order. You should therefore submit these offenders and nuisances to the universality of the law so they do not create racial unrest.
It's a game that is played on the left and right, [...] is to oppose the popular passions universalist logic of the rational State, that is to say to give racist policies of state patent anti-racism. It is time to take the argument upside down and mark the solidarity between the "rationality" that controls the state and that other measures, the accomplice-adversary convenient as it is given as a foil, popular passion. In fact, this is not the government acting under the pressure of racism in response to popular passions of the so-called populist far right. This is the reason of State which maintains that other to whom he entrusts the imaginary management of its real legislation”. cf. Jacques Rancière, “Le racisme: une passion d’en haut”, http://www.mediapart.fr/node/92825.
 Emmanuel Filhol, « La loi de 1912 sur la circulation des « nomades » (Tsiganes) en France », Revue européenne des migrations internationales, vol. 23, n°2, 2007, mis en ligne le 1 octobre 2010. http://remi.revues.org/ index4179.html
 research group on the Roma: “Roms de France, Roms en France: les gens du voyage”.
 Idem, p. 26.
 Idem, p. p. 27
 Attempts were made by applying a small number of municipalities have some sympathy for the Roma. The application relates in particular to the Besson Act II, forcing municipalities to address the problem of housing for Roma, as part of a comprehensive plan for social housing. But progress is still insignificant. But at the same time, no instance of control has occurred to force reluctant to obey.
 “Without constraint of the state, municipalities have refused to open up spaces to "Attract" the Roma, whom are all French till now, but considered as undesirable by the majority of people”. CEDIS, 2010, p. 28.
 E. Balibar, La proposition de l’Egaliberté, Essais Politique, Ed. Presse Universitaire de France, 2010, p. 244.
 J. Rancière, Et Tant pis pour les Gens Fatigués, “Politique et Esthétique”, Ed. Amsterdam, 2009, p. 463. See twentyonemiles: migrant struggles and resistance in Belgium, France and Switzerland website: http://twentyonemiles.wordpress.com/
This is a two part documentary about how cultural understanding is forged on a day to day basis between models of civilisation that were considered to be fundamentaly incompatible. The aim is to make a case for ending caricaturised notions of 'the other' rooted voicelessness and disenfranchisement.
One of the great advantages of looking at 2011 from Taiwan is that writing an article reviewing the year of the rabbit is still a legitimate endeavour in the month of February. Although, it has to be said, even in the less fortunate parts of the world, where New Year is celebrated only once, 2011 will resist being shelved away as ‘soo last year’ well into March or even April.
The fortunate coincidence that the yearly celebration cycle, gives a second chance for commentators who were too busy to write in December, is not the only interesting aspect of looking at the world from Taiwan.
Those of us who have a certain familiarity with this island, understand quite well that we are living in a geographic region that is ill understood and whose voice often goes unheard. In fact, Taiwan is exceptional in its conduciveness to misunderstanding. Its unique relationship with China lies at the core of this bewilderment. The extent to which Taiwan is part of China and the extent to which it is an independent nation are both endless sources of confusion.
China itself induces a state of intellectual disarray on most Western observers. In the words of sinologist Francois Billeter: “China is more and more present in the world. But at the same time it is absent. We don’t hear its voice.” Taiwan, thanks to its complicated relationship with this already mystifying civilization, starts off on the race for global attention on the wrong foot. The fact that the island nation is largely unrecognized in international diplomacy does not help it to make its voice heard.
It is for this reason that those of us dwelling in Taiwan have an even more significant understanding of the developments around the world in the past year. Because 2011 has been the year in which those who seemed forever doomed to silence finally gained a voice. So many actors whom most never even knew existed appeared on the world stage, that we can make an exception in renaming the year of the rabbit the year of the voiceless.
Let us first look at what has arguably been the most significant social movement, namely the Arab Spring. Since time immemorial, occidental observers have scornfully assumed that non-autocratic forms of governance are fundamentally incompatible with the Muslim population of the region. Dismissing the rather obvious fact, that the majority of the ruthless dictators in the region, were granted power by the benevolent might of the neo-colonial powers.
Today the same commentators are screaming bloody murder at the election of the Muslim Brotherhood as the main party in Egypt. With the confidence of medieval clergymen who claimed that the Earth is flat, they declare that Muslims are incapable of establishing political regimes based on fair representation. Again, ignoring the fact that the Brotherhood have expressed their intention to operate within the democratic framework.
The ‘Manifesto Against Islamist Totalitarianism’ signed by leading intellectuals, among whom Salman Rushdie (Europe's favourite drama queen) is one, states the alleged impossibility of reconciling Islam and Democracy in a language that Shaggy himself (from the 90’s) would have described as ‘bombastic, very fantastic’. This is the first line: “After having overcome Fascism, Nazism, and Stalinism, the world now faces a new totalitarian global threat: Islamism.” It continues, two very short paragraphs later with the following words: “Like all totalitarianisms, Islamism is nurtured by fears and frustrations.” If the fine art of writing a manifesto, was subject to strict rules, like that of a game of chess, invoking the ghost of Fascism, Nazism and Stalinism on the opening move, then accusing your opponent of nurturing ‘fears and frustrations’, would be the equivalent of running your Knight diagonally across the board while simultaneously declaring your opponent’s pieces as your own and calling checkmate!
2011 saw the passing of one such man. A man who has achieved immortality thanks to his superhuman ability to talk out of his ass and yet refuse the possibility of miracles. Christopher Hitchens and the rest of his costumed tag team who cheerfully made appearances as ‘The Four Horsemen of Atheism’ are chiefly responsible for re-interpreting racism to apply exclusively to Muslims. His chum Richard Dawkins (who’s fighting name is ‘the Dalek’ due to the irritating quality of his voice) has recently croaked in praise of the British Prime Minister, David Cameron. For the latter’s speech condemning multiculturalism that ‘coincided’ with a racist rally organised by the English Defence League.
Speaking of Islamophobia, 2011 has also seen an explosion of white supremacist violence. Norway was struck by Anders Breivik’s assault. Whilst in Germany an extreme right wing terrorist organisation was finally exposed after going on a rampage of 10 murders including a policewoman, 14 bank robberies and two nail bomb attacks between 2000 and 2007. What is stunning is that both catastrophes were coloured by the tendency of the European public and commentators to suspect Muslims. Recall, if you will, how the first day of reporting on the Oslo massacre was largely guided by fact free conjecture. It was not until the very last minute when Breivik was finally captured, that self declared terrorist experts have dropped all talk of al Qaida and picked up the question of right wing terrorism. Similarly in Germany racist terrorists were not picked up on, because for ten long years German intelligence had simply assumed that the murders were committed by the Turkish mafia.
Muslim and Chinese civilisations seem to be causing a tremendous degree of worry for the ex-colonial powers. Those who consider themselves to be the custodians of all that is good and just are making some very loud noises about the decline of the West. They claim, the cherished values of equality, liberty, fraternity are being eroded by the demographic rise of Islam and the economic rise of China. They claim, the members of these civilizational models are intrinsically incapable of understanding Western values and are likely to impose authoritarian systems on the free world.
There is a dangerous isolationist tendency in these apocalyptic visions. The suggestion is that Western civilisation should start digging its trenches and building its fortresses to resist the coming tide. The tragi-comic aspect of this line of thinking manifests itself more fully when it comes to sexual politics. A little known aspect of Breivik’s manifesto is it’s accusation of feminism for the demographic decline of his master race. “The female manipulation of males has been institutionalised during the last decades and is a partial cause of the feminisation of men in Europe,” he writes, possibly while scraping semen stains off his trousers with a commando knife. The argument is that, women empowered by feminism refuse to be bossed around by their men into producing enough babies to rescue the ubermensch from demographic extermination.
Of course we can discard the ramblings of a deranged man who has insisted that he should be treated by Japanese psychiatrists for reasons known to him alone. However similar versions of this concern manifest themselves in different guises, even in the writings of respectable thinkers. Umberto Eco for instance has recently hopped into the cacophony of voices that attempt to suggest ways out of the ‘European crisis’. In a very recent interview for the Italian newspaper La Stampa, Eco throws modesty to the wind and presents his credentials, by declaring that he is “speaking as someone who doesn’t understand anything about the economy”. According to Eco’s uniquely qualified opinion it is the Erasmus programme, which will prove the salvation of Europe’s cultural heritage. And here is why:
I call it a sexual revolution: a young Catalan man meets a Flemish girl – they fall in love, they get married and they become European, as do their children. The Erasmus idea should be compulsory – not just for students, but also for taxi drivers, plumbers and other workers. By this, I mean they need to spend time in other countries within the European Union; they should integrate.
I would like to urge the very few readers who have resiliently read my ramblings thus far to chase the image of a handful of Welsh plumbers prowling the gloomy housing estates of Warsaw in cold winter nights, preying on the nubile to ‘become European’ with, out of their minds. Although the image may well be hilarious, it is not as pressing as the question of to what extent young Arabs, Chinese or Caribbean people are allowed to participate in this so called sexual revolution. I may be a somewhat old fashioned sort of chap, who is not entirely familiar with the latest developments in the sexual revolution scene. But the last time I checked a sexual revolution does not imply an ethnic limitation, however broad it may be. More importantly it does not insist that the act of ‘becoming European’ is to be engaged in within wedlock or that it should have a reproductive purpose. My outdated idea of sexual revolution, is a state of affairs in which anyone can choose to ‘become European’ with anyone, regardless not only of their race, but also of their gender and orientation.
Yes, 2011 was a year in which people stood up to be heard. But it was also a year in which certain members of a civilisation which considers itself to be in perpetual decline have stooped to ridiculous lows to avoid hearing these new voices and engage with them. We must remember time and time again that what makes the human condition special is not just the universal attributes that runs through us like a long thread, it is also about the things that make us different.
In his book The Interpretation of Cultures, Clifford Geertz explains how the evolution of the human mind has happened alongside the development of culture. Contrary to common belief, our ancestors have not developed language and other means of socialisation once their brain had fully evolved. Instead, he explains: “human cortical expansion has followed, not preceded, ‘the beginning’ of culture.”
Eco perhaps had it right in one aspect. That the fate of Europe or any other culture in fact, lies not so much in the grand decisions made by its cream and crust but more in the daily practices of its plumbers and taxi drivers. It is up to them to open their eyes and ears to new cultures and engage with them in the spirit of mutual exchange. Without expecting them to abandon what makes them and their cultures unique. Because expecting them to do so would imply forcing them into becoming, in the words of Geertz: “unworkable monstrosities”.
Faithful to the Middle Eastern tradition (though I don’t presume to be a religious observer) of giving the last word to one’s elders I wish to conclude this piece with a quote from Philosopher Gilbert Ryle, which is also quoted in full in the above mentioned work by Geertz.
“The statement “the mind is its own place”, as theorists might construe it, is not true, for the mind is not even a metaphorical “place.” On the contrary, the chessboard, the platform, the scholar’s desk, the judge’s bench, the lorry-driver’s seat, the studio and the football field are among its places. These are where people work and play stupidly, or intelligently. “Mind” is not the name of another person, working or frolicking behind an impenetrable screen; it is not the name of another place where work is done or games are played; and it is not the name of another tool with which work is done, or another appliance with which games are played.”
Illustration by Bendu
Two examples to think about disenfranchisement’s relation to the space
The objective of this article is to displace the interpretation of disenfranchisement as « deprivation of rights » from the strict legal perspective in which it is most of the time included. The space of the Law, or as it is usually called, the “state of right”, refers to the subordination of a certain space to the order of Law. It is opposed to the “lawless zones” which are confined to the margins. We have to keep in mind that this space is an abstraction. It is the product of a strict juridical perspective on society and it only has a partial and limited relation to the concrete space-time in which we are living and thinking. The problem is that it descends from a mythological conception of the Law, a mythology embedded in religion. It is quite difficult to get rid of it, and we will see how the myth of enfranchisement is often haunting the disenfranchisement itself. The first judgment was the punishment of Adam and Eve : their fall from the Garden of Eden, the archetypal enfranchised space. Our state of disenfranchisement and our quest for salvation would be the result of the top-down power of God. Nowadays, the Law has replaced this form of power and its social function. My idea would be to see how we could separate the problem of disenfranchisement from this form of thinking, in order to understand how the relations of power could be modified other than by using the Law. Taking a spatial point of view is a way to interpret power relations outside of the presupposed distinction between the legal and the illegal. The disenfranchisement in space would in that sense mean a form of closure, of confinement, of reduction, a tendency which needs to be opposed by something else than a simple right. The enfranchisement could be compared to a certain sense of orientation, or to the transformation of a relation of power involved in a movement (action), a perception( extension), or an affection( intensity). In any case, it is always relative and partial. It constitutes a critique of the presupposition of a possible absolute freedom which is entangled in the illusory perception of an absolutely enfranchised space.
We'll use two examples : firstly, the space of the camp inspired by the movie Punishment Park by Peter Watkins ; secondly, the proposition of the economist F. Lordon to close the stock market.
Punishment Park is a kind of documentary-fiction. It deals with the situation in the United States at the beginning of the 70's : a state of high tension within society. It seems to me that although it is made as a documentary, the film shows by itself that it is fictionalized if you pay close attention to the way it is made. In fact, Watkins sets up a game of truths with the spectator, inserting different levels of truths in the movie, and provoking different reactions towards what you are watching and listening. We are following two groups of young people arrested for being active in protests against the order and the authority of the State. They are conscientious objectors, civic activists, feminists, anarchists, or to sum up in the language of that time : hippies and communists. Watkins imagines that the McCarran Internal Security Act would be executed by Nixon, because of the protests growing in the society, especially relative to the war in Vietnam. This act of Emergency really exists and is therefore present in “real” life. Watkins is not completely imagining things. He just envisions what is the process in which US is actually carried out, and what could happen if Nixon would declare this state of exception. What is interesting to us is that this fictional power reveals many aspects of the actual mechanisms of power : the limit of disciplinary power, and the terror initiated by the State when this limit is reached. It creates the camp : a park in the desert, a game for life and death organized by the military power. Notice that the defendants haven't committed any crimes. From the starting point, we are in a space coextensive with the Law, but which is not subordinated to it : the desert as a playing field for the cops and soldiers. Half of the movie consists of the pseudo-trial of a group of young people under a military tent. It is an enclosed space where the only ones comfortably seated are the honest people who compose the jury. We are watching Law in action : the power giving itself the image of legality and legitimacy, illustrated by a big picture of Nixon who appears as a kind of iconic figure. Beyond this narrow space is the desert, the open space highly symbolic for the American mind : the stage of a different and maybe more fundamental power, beyond the Law. We are obviously coming back to a picture of the wild West. In the desert, we follow another group which has just been sent for 3 days in Punishment Park by a similar mock trial. Here we face other conditions, and a different set of rules. The punishment consists in traversing around 80km of desert to reach an American flag, a symbol of victory, or should we rather say, salvation.
The park represents the economical technology the power uses to suppress the insurgents. It doesn't require heavy structures, because it is made to be temporary. It doesn't leave any trace or record of its existence behind, even though there are English and German journalists present. As the film progresses, they will actually interfere with the game and get progressively involved on the side of the protesters, and so Watkins is definitively showing that there has to be a moment where you are forced to choose a side and can't merely stand in the middle. The desert is open and allows the protesters relative autonomy of movement. The purpose of the punishment is to test the capacity of resistance of their bodies, not really to correct their ideas, which is specifically justified by the fact that they chose to be there, and so their freedom is ultimately respected. It is also a way to show the different tactics you can have when you enter the game of the military forces : either to enter in a direct confrontation and refuse the rules of the game, or to follow them by escaping the hunt of the cops and hope to reach the flag. In both cases we face the exercise of power on body reduced to a relation of force : dying by resistance, or by exhaustion. It seems to me that one of Watkins's purposes was to make visible a real mechanism of power through the military operation within the American land. The fiction enables the implementation of these mechanisms in a space-time which overflows the narrow frame of the juridical perspective. The disenfranchised space of the desert makes visible the reduction to the “bare life” of these people deemed to have contested authority. It is reinforced by the hostile natural environment in which it is taking place. It echoes deeply the mythical self-representation of United States history. Thus, Watkins shows us how disenfranchisement is ultimately the product of an inscription of the power relations on a body, on its perceptions and affections as much as its thoughts. But it also includes, by means of the desert, the deeply incorporated representations on which power rests. It is true that he films an exceptional situation which didn't actually happen, but it doesn't mean that the mechanisms themselves were not in place and functioning within the American society of that time. He shows us how a system of repression is reinforced by the performance of a camp organization. It doesn't mean that he grasped all the dimensions of the camp form, but it could help us to understand how this kind of spatial organization so recurrent in today's world manifests in the form of power which cannot be explained or totally understood from the strict juridical point of view.
The second example I want to consider came to my mind after the apparition of the movement “occupy wall street”. It seemed to me that, in this central place of power, what could be disturbing was not so much the slogans like “we are the 99%” but the occupation itself, the fact that these people stay in a place where they are not supposed to be, debating with people they are not supposed to meet. Moreover, there is a kind of general sympathy for this movement, and their protests are often respected because they are accepted as legitimate. It is converted through the media into a certain visibility : a place and a presence in the public space. However, I wonder to what extent the occupation has a real impact on the power of the stock market. These protests emerged after a huge financial crisis. The “neoliberal” economy should have died from this last crisis and yet, it has never had so much power as it has now. It is somehow beautiful how from the worst situation, financial powers grasped the best for themselves. The main point of the counter-movement “occupy Wall Street” is to put the citizens back at the center of the economy. But in order to do this, shouldn't we rather close Wall Street and not only gently occupy it ? I know that for many people this assertion will seem naïve, unrealistic, or even stupid. Some will affirm that it won't change much, because the transactions are in fact so dematerialized that the operations will only be done from another place. So Wall Street is just an empty symbol, the place itself is only a shadow of another space : the stock market. It is a strange feeling that we get when we face this virtual and yet so powerful reality. It has boggled the mind of many a person. I would say on the contrary that it is only a powerful illusion, a new translation of the mythological absolute enfranchised space in the realm of economy. It is why the proposition to close the stock market is not so absurd. It has the advantage to shed light on the relation of this myth to the operation of what is usually call the “real” economy, the place where disenfranchisement is most obviously taking place.
I borrow the proposition to close the stock market from Frederic Lordon, a french political economist. To justify the assertion that the closure would be beneficial not only politically, but also economically speaking, he draws on the distinction between two dimensions in the world of finance. First, there is the speculative finance, the one which is creating bubbles, buying-selling “toxic” derivative products, the place where the crisis is directly coming from, but which remains despite its mistakes and its irrational mode of existence. It is not this dimension of finance that he is directly targeting when he speaks about closing the stock market. He points out the second dimension : the shareholders funds, where the stockmarket represent the owners. We can easily understand how theses two dimensions are mixed up when we look at the banks or the insurance companies, that is to say at the institutional investors which are operating in both. So they are related, but while we spend most of the debates discussing about the responsibility of the so-called closed world of the speculative finance, Lordon invites us to see why this point of view is embedded in an unseen overthrow of the original function of the stock market, which is to finance business. In short, now it is ruled in such a way that it is business which finances the stock market. We won't elaborate on this reversal which is mostly but not only the result of the deregulation of the market which occurred in the 80's and 90's. What is interesting to us here is that the possibility of the closure of the stock market asserts the material existence of the economical center of decisions ; it shows that the relations of power and their modification are a spatial issue as much as and maybe more than an ideological question ; and it puts an end to the dichotomy between a real economy on one side and a speculative one on the other. This last distinction is actually useful for the people in command, because it maintains the misconception of a system which works by itself, the justification of a global irresponsibility, and so the resignation of those who could look for other possibilities. Now, coming back to the occupation of Wall Street, we see that by itself it doesn't fundamentally transform the rules of the game. It is not in Wall street that the disenfranchisement is the issue. By comparison, there is something much more powerful in the occupation of a factory, because it is there that the stock market imposes its rules, in the name of over-profitability and dividends. Closing Wall Street is the next step, not in a spirit of destructive nihilism of the “evil” stock market, but because it is one condition for the re-opening of a multitude of other spaces : in factories, in companies, but also in other and maybe new public spaces. The actual trend of the economical system is to depoliticize as many spaces as possible, in order to only let us watch passively the foul public arena occupied by politicians. To close the stock market is to redefine politics as a property of most of the space where we live and think : the fact that they are common spaces. To occupy the symbolic place of power is an idea which needs somehow to be pushed a bit further if you want to really disturb the routine of a space in which the agents believe to live in an other reality, and to be unreachable.
The two examples would certainly have merited being developed further. In a way, I only hinted at the question of disenfranchisement in space, indicating how it enables us to think about power differently than when we limit our scope to the perspective of the juridical rights. The examples deal with two different situations, but it seems that in both cases, what is ultimately at stake is to question our sense of “reality”, in order to perceive its complexity and its pre-construction. If generally speaking, to be disenfranchised means to be deprived of power, to perceive and conceive the space in which power relations are implemented is certainly as important than to know your rights in it, at least because sometimes it could show that the latter are powerless. This is often the case in camps of punishment but also of retention, as well as in the world of Wall Street. If I may justify the choice of these two examples, I would say that I chose the camp because it is a form close to the prison, but which works a bit differently, especially when it articulates disenfranchisement with a facet of respect of freedom and/or humanity. As to Wall Street, it seems to me that it opens up the question of the virtual spaces, and it raises doubts about their so-called enfranchised nature. Now, is there a link between Punishment Park and the stock market ? Perhaps, to use the words of a character in Punishment Park, in the fact that there are places and times where the honorable things to do is to act as a criminal. That is what becomes possible when you distance yourself from the legal/illegal dichotomy, but also when the absolute forms of enfranchisement vanish.
The ambition of these lines is humble. They propose a return to Sade. Simply this! What a pretentious project one might say! Since Sade cannot be, let us say for over a quarter century, considered as a disenfranchised person. This is, essentially, the daring side of our project: to show that despite all the “noise” and because of this din itself, Sade is still a voice crying out in the wilderness. Obviously, he is not really mute or voiceless, but he is mostly ignored (silenced) even by the very people who claim to make him speak. Then, it will be for us to show by this example, the cacophony that may indicate a silence, that is to say an act of concealment. The apparent excess of voices hides necessarily the repression of others.
The 20th century might be described as Sade’s century. Sade is part of the very limited circle of cursed thinkers and writers, so he was, and somehow nowadays still is, part of the disenfranchised. Thus, it is during the last century—an action initiated in the previous one notably by Guillaume Apollinaire—, that the Divine Marquis was recognized (not without a certain hypocrisy still alive today)—that he has been recognized as a writer and was published in the collection La Pléiade of Gallimard’s Editions. However, as previously mentioned, this coming-out from the underworld of Sade and his work does not mean, in any case, an ascent to heaven. But just a move to purgatory. Moreover, the popularity of Sade is also an evidence of his silence, he became an excuse, a space for invention... He is used to broadcast the voice of others, notably of those who pretend to speak about him, whereas in fact they simply amplify their own voice. This does not matter ultimately, because, as St. Paul said about Christ's words, if someone recognizes it as a useful vehicle for their own ideas, it helps more or less to the diffusion of the work.
Indeed, the Sade whose authors usually praise is that of Juliette, the symbol and embodiment of their project. Thus, everyone can find a part of themself in this figure who is, in fact, not the voice of the voiceless, but rather that of the system. While her sister, Justine, on the other hand is the archetype of the disenfranchised—that the Divine Marquis wanted to highlight and which haunted him throughout his life to the point of writing multiple versions of the eponymous novel—, is ignored or reduced to silence.
Sade is the author of the voiceless, of which Justine is just one example. His so-called moderantism, in the midst of Terror during the Revolution, for which he was thrown into prison, escaping from death thanks to a miracle whose mystery still remains unknown, and his radical opposition to the death sentence and the defense of the right to life at the peril of his own, stand as testimony to this. He expressed elsewhere in a famous statement his attachment to life, to humanity. In a letter to his wife, dated February 20, 1781, we can read: “Yes, I am a libertine, I designed everything one can imagine in this genre, but I certainly did not do anything I designed and will probably never do.”
Juliette's voice is ubiquitous and dares to say anything, similar to the role she assigns to philosophy: “Philosophy must say everything,” as she exclaims one day in a macabre surge. A perverse pretension not a subversive one, because all cannot be said. A totalitarian claim, precisely because it pretends to reveal everything about the being both in terms of the genotype and the phenotype. This pretension ignores that there is “sayable” and “unsayable” to repeat Wittgenstein. This perverse will of no borders— has nothing to do with subversion which is Sade’s project, and the favorite protest weapon of all—, was only intended as “hailing” [arraisonner/Gestell] and thereby becomes “biopolitics”, i.e. a manner of policing life, then of speech, conscience, and casuistry...
Moreover, if subversion is Sisyphean—“a hundred times on the job”—, then perversion on the other hand conforms to chaos! It willingly confuses human values, the policing of life and political ambition—of a horde of wolves who think only to their selfish and egocentric happiness.
Nature has created man that he should do nothing but play upon the earth; it is its dearest law, it will always be that of my heart. Too bad for the victims, they are necessary, to destroy everything in the universe, without the profound laws of balance, it is only through crime that nature continues, and regains its rights removed by virtue. So, we obey it by indulging in evil; our resistance is the only crime it should never forgive us: oh! my friends, convince us of these principles; in their exercise are all sources of human happiness. (Sade, Histoire de Juliette, La Pléiade, p. 1257)
Willful refusal to speak is a sacred right. Which does not mean playing a mute but rather implies a silent speech, a protest. This refusal is also a dialogue, even under the guise of a monologue. This dialogue is in fact an apparent monologue because of its indoctrination and regimentation. Indeed, refusing to speak when someone is compelling one to do so, is a reclamation of one’s own voice and in this way one can regain one’s Promethean dignity. A refusal to speak is a speaking voice, while a voice forced to speak is still disenfranchised. Resistance constitutes the voluntary act of speaking. Auto-censorship... therefore reflects a political position. It is similar to the famous Stoic—antic—epokhē (ἐποχή). Suspension of judgment has never meant an absence of judgmental but a modulation of the “speakable” and its opposite.
And what if the escalation of the sayable and the visible in Sade was, in fact, the very absence of these? Sade’s work itself swarms with voicelessness. Those who are put forward, are not necessarily the ones that are highlighted. In describing the world as it appears, Sade does not say that we must accept it as such. For a long time it is the phenotype rather than the genotype that has been praised in Sade’s œuvre. The easier road to take!
Sade’s œuvre, obviously, is full of violence, the most violent violence, and the most socially unacceptable forms of violence. It is the literature of “evil”, both in the facts described but also in terms of what is inconceivable and unimaginable in this realm. However, the escalation of violence of any kind describes a world not of resignation but the opposite. It represents a silenced world, the one we want to prevent from being, from speaking, from becoming visible, from accepting and considering the voices of others (the victims) as speech rather than just noise.
In this particular art of writing and describing belonging to Sade, it is easy to see in the protagonists that occupy the front of the stage the heroes, or even the heralds of the author. However, it is not in the visible—which is in fact an illusion—neither in the usual hubbub that must be found the real heroes and heralds, but in the silence of those the hubbub prevents from expressing themselves. Thus, the work of Sade is a living picture of what constitute the effects of indoctrination and confinement. This is what symbolizes his love of castles, forests and dark places—a kind of hell. Accordingly, it reflects a particular anthropological notion, a tragic and pessimistic view of society and the politics that rule it. However, his writing is a call never to give up the right to defend one’s own rights, the right to be taken into account, against all odds, wherever you come from.
This society Sade criticizes is similar to the one which Rousseau denounces when he says: “Nature has created man free but everywhere he is in chains.” The author of Justine does not escape from this situation. His imprisonment had no other function than to make him shut up, to prevent him from speaking. To silence him, is not that of what police policy is so capable? Thus, there is no voicelessness without this evil strategy of considering or reducing as noise the voice of another. All issues concerning noise is political, since it is a conscious or unconscious denial of a right to consider someone or a group of people as part of a city—a right to isegoria. “The kingdom of God is forced and only the violent can take it by force.” The kingdom of God, this “City of God” is not an afterlife—distant from us. It is here. Here! But it cannot be conquered by divine providence, but rather only in battle—a permanent struggle. It is through positive violence that can be enacted within and without, it is not evil. No offense to Weber, but it is this violence that is legitimate!
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