Book Event: The Figure of the Migrant: Seeing Like a Migrant (Mezzadra)

SANDRO MEZZADRA teaches political theory at the University of Bologna and is adjunct fellow at the Institute for Culture and Society of the University of Western Sydney. He is currently visiting research fellow at the Humboldt University, Berlin (BIM – Berliner Institut für empirische Migrations – und Integrationsforschung; October 1, 2015 – July 31, 2016). In the last decade his work has centered particularly on the relations between globalization, migration and citizenship as well as on postcolonial theory and criticism. He is an active participant in the “post-workerist” debates and one of the founders of the website Euronomade . With Brett Neilson he is the author of Border as Method, or, the Multiplication of Labor (Duke University Press, 2013).

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Thomas Nail has written an ambitious and timely book. “The twenty-first century,” he writes, “will be the century of the migrant” (p. 1). Needless to say, migration is not something new. Nail himself demonstrates this point, bringing us back to the very beginning of human history in his attempt to forge a political concept of the figure of the migrant. Both the development of political and legal formations of power and territory and the structure of economic modes of production bear the constitutive traces of migration and of the attempts to tame, rule, valorize, and even block it. This is particularly true for modern capitalism. “Without the migration of surplus population to new markets,” Nail contends, “from the rural country to the city, from city to city, from country to country (what Marx calls the ‘floating population’), capitalist accumulation would not be possible at all” (p. 88). Nevertheless there is a need to stress that migration takes on today new characteristics and raises new challenges. This has not merely to do with the increasing percentage of migrants as a share of the total population. Beyond the sheer data of statistics, a set of qualitative transformations of migration over the last decades have turned it – despite or maybe due to the often tragic materiality of specific migratory experiences – into a kind of iconic symbol and seismograph of our global predicament. Both its turbulent geography and pace and the underlying changing patterns of mobility make migration relevant not merely for the plights, pains, and joy of “migrants,” but also for understanding crucial and broader conflicts and transformations that are reshaping labor and culture, politics and society across diverse geographical scales.

Strategically altering the title of a famous book by James C. Scott, Brett Neilson and I point therefore in Border as Method (Duke University Press, 2013, p. 166) to the need to develop a new theoretical and political attitude, nicely encapsulated by the phrase “seeing like a migrant.” This shows that I am more than sympathetic with the basic aim of Thomas Nail’s The Figure of the Migrant. I particularly share his emphasis on the need to move beyond any conceptualization of migration from the point of view of “stasis” and “the states,” which means from the assumption of “place-bound membership” as primary and of “the movement back and forth between social points” as secondary (p. 3). This kind of epistemic primacy of stasis has shaped migration studies not merely in its mainstream but also in several “critical” variants, as is increasingly acknowledged and stressed by a new generation of politically engaged scholars and activists (see for instance the collective text ‘New Keywords: Migration and Borders’, in Cultural Studies, 29 (2015), 1: 55-87). Once this primacy is called into question and the point of view of movement is taken a new “continent” becomes visible and old notions and concepts take on a new shape.

“What would it mean,” Nail asks, “to rethink political theory based on the figure of the migrant rather than on citizenship?” (p. 17). To put it very shortly, this means first of all to shed light on the constitutive role played by movement within the material constitution of any political concept, including of course the one of citizenship. This is a point that Nail demonstrates in effective ways in many parts of his book. A good instance is the concept of territory, which has been at the center of a kind of renaissance in recent years. Nail does something more than disentangling the notion of territory from its close association with the sovereign space of the modern state (a move that has been for instance performed by such scholars as Saskia Sassen and Stuart Elden). He rather insists on the fact that “before there is anything like territory, there is movement.” Movement, he adds, “creates territory,” which is unconceivable without “a process of territorialization” (p. 42). This means that territory itself, usually presented as the epitome of fixity, becomes mobile, it is traversed and constituted by vectors of movement and by the workings of regimes of mobility control that make it always potentially a field of struggle and not a “given.”

The theoretical framework and the conceptual language employed by Nail in his attempt to rethink political theory from the angle of the figure of the migrant and the primacy of movement is predicated upon a kind of generalization of the analysis of the “so-called primitive accumulation” famously presented by Marx at the end of Capital, volume 1. His “kinopolitics” takes the interplay of social expulsion (“the qualitative transformation of deprivation in status, resulting in, or as a result of, extensive movement”, p. 35) and social expansion (“the process of opening up that allows something to pass through”, p. 36) as an overarching scheme that allows him to cut through human history in order to single out four instantiations of the figure of the migrant across time and space. The “nomad,” the “barbarian,” the “vagabond,” and the “proletariat” are in Nail’s analysis both characters that take shape at the peculiar “junction” between expansion and expulsion that dominates specific ages and forms of a historical morphology that continues to produce its effects in the present. They embody the action of particular devices of “kinopower” – shortly put, once again: territorial, political, legal, and economic – whose action continues to play crucial roles in the production of the figure of the migrant. “Contemporary migration,” Nail explicitly contends, “is a mixture of all of these” (p. 37).

As far as I am concerned I would stress even more than Nail does the specificity of the experience of migration under modern capitalism, underscoring and investigating the ways in which what he calls the “elastic force” of capital produces a new assemblage and orchestration of territorial, political, and legal devices that target mobile subjects once they are transformed into “bearers” of the absolutely peculiar commodity called labor power. But more important here is to stress once more the effect of opening that Nail’s “kinopolitical” approach produces. Once movement is privileged the subjectivity of migrants emerges as a creative force, which breaks free of the conceptual language of inclusion and exclusion (see p. 29) and the related emphasis on “integration.” The dialectic of expansion and expulsion is rather continually interrupted by the “pedetic force” of the migrant – as Nail calls the forms of kinetic power and counter-power invented by nomads, barbarians, vagabonds, and proletarians. The rich archive of historical instances of this “pedetic force” that composes the third part of The Figure of the Migrant – ranging from nomadic raids to slave revolts, from heretic rebellions of the vagabond to proletarian strikes – is one of the most fascinating contributions made by the book. And it can be read as a contribution to what Michel Foucault would call a “history of the present,” since these forms of struggle and counter-power also continue to reproduce themselves in the present, as Nail shows for instance in his analysis of the Mexico-U.S. migration in the fourth and last part of his work. Even more importantly, from a conceptual angle, the emphasis on the “pedetic force” of the migrant destabilizes any possible reading of migration based upon the primacy of expulsion (which can be somehow suggested even by some passages of the book) and posits migration itself as a field of tensions and a battleground.

Stressing that the theory of migration he offers in the book “is a specifically political and historical one,” Nail contends that there is “no theory of the migrant ‘as such’,” “no general ontology of the migrant” (p. 15). Although his use of general, and eventually transhistorical categories as “expansion” and “expulsion” may at times bear the risk of such an “ontologization” of migration, one must acknowledge that Nail has been able to navigate and manage this risk in a successful way. The balance between the take on specific historic experiences, conceptual analysis, and a political pressure to understand the stakes and conflicts of contemporary migration is in general a distinctive feature of the book. I also find Nail’s emphasis on the figure of the migrant welcome and productive, particularly once the symbolic and seismographic relevance of migration in our time is taken into account. “As a figure,” he writes, “the migrant refers both to empirical migrants in the world and a more abstract social relation. It is irreducible to either” (p. 16). In other worlds, it refers to the diverse and complex set of processes, structures, and forms that circumscribe and enable subjective experiences of migration, which are in turn characterized – at least potentially – by the power and counter-power (by the “pedetic force”, in Nail’s terms) to challenge and subvert the field within which they take shape.

I repeat that The Figure of the Migrant is a timely and welcome intervention in a time characterized by unprecedented conflicts and tensions revolving around mobility. A critical remark, by way of conclusion, has to do precisely with the way in which Thomas Nail, particularly at the end of the book, locates his work within the more general “mobility turn” that is for instance promoted by the journal Mobilities. To be sure, I am convinced that there is much to be learned by placing migration within broader forms and experiences of mobility, and particularly by investigating the shifting and blurring boundaries between such experiences. And nevertheless I am also convinced that it is eventually confusing (both from a political and from a theoretical point of view) to speak of a general “spectrum of migration, from global tourist to undocumented labor” (p. 235), as well as to include in such spectrum such heterogeneous figures as “tourists, commuters, diplomats, business travelers, explorers, messengers, and state functionaries” (p. 238). What characterizes the “figure of the migrant” is, to pick up again Nail’s words, an “abstract social relation” that connects the action of specific devices of domination and exploitation to specific forms of movement and “unruly” mobile subjects. Stressing the link between the “figure of the migrant” and these devices of domination and exploitation, which take particularly violent forms in the present, does not imply to exclude from any consideration and investigation experiences of more privileged mobility and even migration. But it brings me to give epistemic as well as political primacy to those migrants whose movements and struggles are part and parcel of the complex, conflict-ridden and torn formation of the figure of the “proletariat” at the global level.

An update on the Spirit of 9/12

A sit-in on the House floor initially seems like the most un-Hillary thing conceivable — a point that was only underscored when Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren put in an appearance. Yet at least one of the measures they’re fighting for fits in perfectly with the call to return to “the spirit of 9/12” in the wake of the Orlando attack. Liberals once would have protested against dystopian Bush-era measures like the no-fly list, and now they’re nonviolently resisting in order to expand their scope.

This bill is the perfect distillation of the signature Clinton gesture: the “pivot.” The term has become a cliche meaning “move on to the next topic,” must as “deconstruction” means “close analysis” in popular usage. But the popular reception misses an important element — maintaining a foothold in one issue in order to swing your policy-leg (or whatever) onto an adjacent one. In this case, Democrats are “pivoting” from anti-terrorism into the vicinity of something like gun control. The result is a centrist pre-compromise that concedes the terms of debate to the “guns don’t kill people, people [specifically Muslim terrorists] kill people” crowd. A spoon full of racism makes the gun control go down.

Except it won’t, and everyone knows it. They are fighting to have an on-the-record vote. And the only purpose behind that can be that they are then able to tar their opponents with that vote in campaign ads. It’s a symbolic gesture to enable a symbolic gesture that they can use to show that they “fought for” a good policy (again, a symbolic gesture — “fighting for” is a substitute for winning, the political equivalent of a participation trophy).

Except it’s not even a good policy. Maybe with 20/20 hindsight it would have prevented this one individual massacre. Maybe he would have just found another way to get guns. I don’t know. But in the hypothetical situation where it miraculously passes, they’re setting themselves up for a big fall when the next attack happens — because suddenly the debate wouldn’t be about those mean Republicans in the NRA’s pocket, it would be about how the Democrats made big promises about gun control legislation but it didn’t work.

We’ve all heard of 11-dimensional chess — this is 11-dimensional idiocy. And again, it’s very much a return to the spirit of 9/12, where the Democrats’ brilliant plan was, “Hey, what if we took this illegitimate president whose brother stole the election for him and gave him literally everything he wants?”

The North Korea of Neoliberalism

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To assume that the United Kingdom would leave the European Union in order to escape from neoliberalism is as naive and misleading as assuming that North Korea has historically kept its distance from the USSR and China as a way of escaping Communism. In both cases, we are dealing with a power that maintains an antagonistic and ambiguous relationship to its natural allies as a way of intensifying and purifying the ideological and disciplinary structure that unites them.

North Korea wanted the purest Communism, the truest instance of “socialism in one country.” The Juche ideology of “self-reliance” or “self-assertion” was of course delusional — as a small, out-of-the-way country, North Korea was always heavily reliant on trade and subsidies — but it has remained improbably powerful even up to this day. The comprehensive ideological apparatus and isolationism of North Korea has thus allowed its spectacularly unproductive economic system to endure far beyond the “classical” Communism of which it presents itself as the purest form.

Especially if Brexit succeeds, I could see a similar future for the United Kingdom as the North Korea of neoliberalism: British society organized as a vast, and startlingly unproductive, work-camp, governed by empty nationalistic slogans and rote pageantry. Even if and when neoliberalism is superceded, the UK would continue down its own unique path of self-punishment, scapegoating foreign interference until the last Secretary of State for Business, Innovation, and Skills works the last handicapped cancer patient to death.

Book Event: The Figure of the Migrant: Provocations in Consideration of…(Cisney)

VERNON W. CISNEY is Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Gettysburg College. He is the author of Derrida’s Voice and Phenomenon: An Edinburgh Philosophical Guide (Edinburgh University Press, 2014); as well as Deleuze and Derrida: Difference and the Power of the Negative (Edinburgh University Press, forthcoming, 2016). He is also the editor of Biopower: Foucault and Beyond (University of Chicago Press, 2016, with Nicolae Morar); The Way of Nature and the Way of Grace: Philosophical Footholds on Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life (Northwestern University Press, 2016, with Jonathan Beever); and Between Foucault and Derrida (Edinburgh University Press, forthcoming, 2016, with Yubraj Aryal, Nicolae Morar, and Christopher Penfield). Finally, he has recently co-edited and co-translated, with Daniel W. Smith and Nicolae Morar, Pierre Klossowski’s Living Currency, followed by Sade and Fourier (Bloomsbury, forthcoming, 2017).

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I am delighted to be part of the conversation surrounding this important work. Thomas Nail’s The Figure of the Migrant is one of those rare works that is at once timely and timeless. It is timely in the sense that the figure of the migrant has become a ubiquitous and undeniable reality of our time. As I write this at the end of spring 2016, the number of Syrian citizens displaced by civil war since 2011 has climbed to roughly 13.5 million; the United States is in the middle of its most racially charged presidential election of my lifetime (with one of the top party candidates running on a popular platform of draconian deportation of undocumented laborers and the severe restriction of immigration); the populations of Central Pacific island nations are being displaced in record numbers due to the effects of global climate change; and within the past week, several small boats carrying refugees from Libya have capsized off the coast of Italy, resulting in over one thousand deaths.[1] These are but a few examples. As Nail notes, “At the turn of the century, there were more regional and international migrants than ever before in recorded history. Today, there are over 1 billion migrants” (1).

But the work is also timeless in the sense that Nail attempts to rigorously formulate nothing less than a social and political ontology, one that is comprehensive and that takes movement as its basis and point of departure. Rather than starting from the presupposition of social order and stasis, and conceptualizing movement as a secondary passage between different pre-existing social orders, Nail attempts to formulate a political concept of movement as primary, a “kinopolitics,” as he calls it. This is not for the sake of cleverness, but rather because to do otherwise—to think the figure of the migrant from the perspective of citizenship, as one who is no longer a citizen—is, in fact, to miss the figure of the migrant. If the “essence” of the migrant lies in its movement, then it must be thought on the basis of movement, and movement must be thought in itself. But once we venture down the path of conceptualizing movement on its own terms (and not as a deficiency or lack of stasis), it radically alters our conceptions of stasis as well. As Bergson recognized, and as Nail cites, “If movement is not everything, it is nothing” (13).[2] The social order, then, every social order, on Nail’s account, is reconceptualized on the basis of three primary kinopolitical concepts—flows, junctions, and circulations.

Flows are fluxes, processes, and continua, all the way down. Despite its etymological relations to “stasis,” the “state” is not the stoppage of flows, but rather, the agency of their harnessing and redirection. There are flows of oceans and rivers, climate and culture, vegetation and animals, populations and sicknesses, “food, money, blood, and air” (25). The purpose of the social order, then, is to bring these flows into vortical self-relations, to loop them back onto themselves and in so doing, to augment and intensify them. These loopings of “relative stability” are what Nail refers to as “junctions” (28), the loci of “perceived stasis” (27) in the sea of continuous flows. The house, for example, is a territorial junction that organizes the familial flows of a particular group of people. These junctions are further organized and mobilized by their connectedness within the “circulation,” the network of junctions (29). A particular neighborhood, for example, can be conceived as a circulation that brings into relation the familial flows of individual households. Nail writes that the “city is a political junction” (28), but if I understand him correctly, the city is also a circulation, one that relates together the house junction with the educational junction with the religious institutional junction with the industrial junction with the police junction and so on. And in their own way, each of these junctions might in turn be thought of as a circulation (the factory, for instance, relates production with distribution; production relates different junctions of departments and different stages, etc.)

The final concept of Nail’s ontology that I will briefly address is the concept of “expansion by expulsion,” the “social logic by which some members of society are dispossessed of their status so that social power can be expanded elsewhere” (37). A given circulation consists of what he calls “limit” and “non-limit” junctions. Limit junctions are those that are either points of entry into or exit out of the circulation. A circulation initially expands by drawing in more forces and flows, entering more into circulation. But eventually, this expansion by incorporation will reach its tipping point, the limit at which it can no longer sustain its own growth. When this point is reached, expansion can only continue by expelling surplus resources. For example, a factory provides a particular commodity to the market; as the demand for that commodity grows, the factory’s production grows as well, and the factory hires more laborers to meet the demand. Eventually, the market is saturated with this particular commodity, at which point the continued expansion of the factory’s profits relies upon the laying off of laborers. By paying fewer workers for the same amount of work, (along with the attendant reductions in insurance and social security expenditures), the company continues to increase its profits, even after the market is saturated with its commodities. (Nail provides numerous illuminating analyses of unemployment in his work). The factory thus expands by expelling. Likewise, a given political order grows its economy by the use of a vast, mobile body of underpaid and mistreated laborers, who become expendable the moment that particular mode of economic growth has reached its limit.

Expansion by expulsion provides the logic that undergirds the phenomenon of migratory movement. Nail then articulates the specific movements and forces of this logic, before articulating four specific figures of the migrant, against the backdrops of four specific modes of social order—the nomad, the barbarian, the vagabond, and the proletariat. Finally, Nail applies his rigorous taxonomy to migration in its contemporary form, more specifically to the issue of Mexico-United States relations, “the single largest flow of migrants in the contemporary world” (180). Nail’s work is therefore, in proper Foucauldian spirit, “a philosophical history of the present,” just as he claims (4). But it is more than this. If the figure of the migrant is the figure of movement, and if movement is the basic condition of social order, then The Figure of the Migrant attempts an insightful and indispensable ontology of social order as such.

What I offer are thus not criticisms, so much as they are provocations to further thinking—two, to be precise—intended as invitations to discussion. Each of these provocations extends beyond the limits of Nail’s work specifically, and as such, he is by no means obliged to respond to any of them.

1. I hope that Nail will forgive me for this question, as he is no doubt tired of addressing it. In Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari write, “In short, the general theory of society is a generalized theory of flows; it is in terms of the latter that one must consider the relationship of social production to desiring-production, the variations of this relationship in each case, and the limits of this relationship in the capitalist system.”[3] To my lights, no contemporary political philosophers have done more to conceptualize the political and economic spheres on the basis of flows as have Deleuze and Guattari. In reading Nail’s work, I was struck by the rigor and originality with which he formulated a complex taxonomy on the basis of what I perceived to be the inspiration of this Deleuzian-Guattarian insight. This is not to say that I read Nail’s work as simply Deleuzian-Guattarian anymore than it makes sense to say that Deleuze’s thought is simply Nietzschean, or Lucretian, or Bergsonian, or Humean, or Spinozist. Nail clearly formulates his own ontology, founded on his own set of questions and concerns, illuminated by a set of problems and concerns that were likely nowhere near as salient in 1970s France as they are globally today. All the same, Nail’s work seemed to bear the indelible marks of Deleuze and Guattari’s understanding of society as flow.

I was thus surprised to read Nail’s observation, in an interview with Critical Theory, that Deleuze and Guattari “wrongly follow the typical definition of the migrant as a figure that simply moves between two pre-established fixed points.”[4] In one way, Nail is undoubtedly correct, in that Deleuze and Guattari do explicitly write, “The nomad is not at all the same as the migrant; for the migrant goes principally from one point to another, even if the second point is uncertain, unforeseen, or not well localized.”[5] But it seems there is more to say about the matter; and I wonder if Nail’s dispute might come down, after all, to a difference of semantics, or if there is indeed a deeper philosophical difference. For instance, elsewhere in A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari speak of migration as synonymous with movement (as does Nail), as when they write of Spinoza, “The modes are everything that come to pass: waves and vibrations, migrations, thresholds and gradients”[6] and there are numerous other examples where “migration” for Deleuze and Guattari is synonymous with movement and becoming, and “a becoming lacks a subject distinct from itself; but also that it has no term, since its term in turn exists only as taken up in another becoming of which it is the subject, and which coexists, forms a block, with the first.”[7] Might it be possible, then, that when Deleuze and Guattari speak of the “migrant” as distinct from the “nomad,” they are simply using the term in a different technical sense than is Nail—distinguishing “one who moves from one territory to another” from “one who is characterized as such by movement”? Is Nail’s a terminological rejection, or a philosophical one?

2: The name of Giorgio Agamben is conspicuously absent from Nail’s account. Unless I am mistaken, Agamben’s name appears only once, in endnote #4 of Chapter 6, a citation of The Kingdom and the Glory. I am interested, however, in the intersections of Nail’s work with Agamben’s 1995 work, Homo Sacer. The conspicuousness of Agamben’s absence derives from the fact that both Agamben and Nail offer broad characterizations of the political figure of modernity. For Agamben, it is “the camp,” while for Nail, it is the figure of the migrant.

Agamben’s analysis is rooted in what he calls, following a lead from Carl Schmitt, the “paradox of sovereignty,” which “consists in the fact the sovereign is, at the same time, outside and inside the juridical order.”[8] The sovereign is, by law, able to suspend the rule of law whenever circumstances are extreme enough to demand it. The sovereign adjudicates on the state of exception, an exclusion maintained in relationship to the juridical order as the excluded. When the state of exception becomes no longer the exception, but the order of the day, Agamben argues, the camp emerges, as a potentially indefinite zone of indeterminacy. As Agamben argues, if the essence of the camp consists in the materialization of the state of exception and in the subsequent creation of a space in which bare life and the juridical rule enter into a threshold of indistinction, then we must admit that we find ourselves virtually in the presence of a camp every time such a structure is created”[9] and given the massive surge of the migrant in the past century, “the bare life that more and more can no longer be inscribed in that order [the juridical order of the nation-state],”[10] the camp “is the new biopolitical nomos of the planet.”[11]

There are, therefore, numerous thematic intersections between Agamben’s work and Nail’s, and I wonder if Nail has given any thought to these intersections. My own initial impression is that, by Nail’s account, Agamben’s analysis would remain mired in what Deleuze and Guattari would call the “molar” conceptions of the sovereign and the nation-state. The modern entrenchment of the camp, after all, is rooted in the growing rupture, (on Agamben’s account), between bare life and the nation-state. This would seem to suggest a primacy of the social order, and a secondariness of the migrant—the very logical order that Nail’s analysis attempts to reverse. Indeed, on Nail’s account while it is no doubt the case that the figure of the migrant is the figure of political modernity, it is also true “that the figure of the migrant has always been the true motive force of social history” (7). Is it possible then that Nail’s account amounts to an inversion of Agamben’s?

[1] “More Than 1,000 Migrants Feared Dead at Sea in Past Week,” The Wall Street Journal, May 31, 2016, accessed May 31, 2016,  http://www.wsj.com/articles/united-nations-says-880-killed-in-mediterranean-over-last-week-1464693559.

[2] This quote is from Henri Bergson, The Creative Mind, trans. Mabelle L. Andison (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 2007), 121.

[3] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane (Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press, 1983), 262.

[4] “The Figure of the Migrant: An Interview with Thomas Nail,” Critical Theory, December 1, 2015, accessed May 31, 2016, http://www.critical-theory.com/the-figure-of-the-migrant-an-interview-with-thomas-nail/.

[5] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi, (Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 380.

[6] Ibid., 153.

[7] Ibid., 238.

[8] Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998), 15.

[9] Ibid., 174.

[10] Ibid., 175.

[11] Ibid., 176.

The Figure of the Migrant – A Roundtable in PhaenEx

I encourage readers to check out the latest issue of PhaenEx: Journal of Existential and Phenomenological Theory and Culture. This issue also includes a roundtable that I curated on Thomas Nail‘s The Figure of the Migrant.

This international ensemble of scholars–Robin Celikates, Daniella Trimboli, Sandro Mezzadra, Todd May, Ladelle McWhorter, Andrew Dilts, and Adriana Novoa–discuss Thomas Nail’s The Figure of the Migrant (Stanford UP, 2015). These scholars represent various disciplines within the academy and divergent methodologies. One thing we share in common, though, is the opinion that the migrant needs to occupy a more significant place within our political theory and policy. Nail’s book is one of kinopolitics, that is, a politics of movement. It provides a kind of theory of social motion. According to Nail, the book offers a remedy to problems in how the migrant is typically theorized, namely that (a) the migrant is understood as a derivative figure in contrast to the stable denizen and (b) the migrant is discussed through the lens of the state. His remedial maneuver mobilizes the potential to understand the figure of the migrant by placing the migrant in the primary position, by offering a political philosophy of the migrant.
AUFS will host a book event featuring more expanded commentaries by these same authors. Vern Cisney will also join us with some of his own reflections on the book. Please join in the conversation by participating in the comments section. The event will begin shortly.

“America is already great”

Nothing could more vividly illustrate the fact that Hillary Clinton is the candidate of the status quo than her pathetic rejoinder to Trump’s “Make America great again” slogan: “America is already great.” The system is fine, we just need a competent and experienced manager to oversee it — and Hillary is certainly competent and experienced at doing the kinds of things the US generally does, both domestically and abroad.

From this perspective, her invocation of the “spirit of 9/12” — which, to satisfy the internet’s demands that every single piece of online writing be completely standalone and not presuppose any familiarity with the author’s views or previous writings whatsoever, I should have more roundly denounced in yesterday’s post as utterly obscene and frightening and contrary to all my political instincts, which were initially forged in total, unqualified revulsion and horror at the crimes of Bush and Cheney — shows just how much the state of emergency in which we live has become the norm.

Under Obama, you could almost forget that the War on Terror was going on, but though he preferred drone strikes to ground troops, he was still pursuing the bipartisan foreign policy of restoring chaos in the Middle East. But neoconservatism with a human face is apparently not good enough for her. Plausible deniability is not good enough for her. She wants the fear, the panic, the uncertainty, the pliability of a public openly at war — an endless war to no rational end.

Am I going to vote for her? Yes, because — unimaginably — Trump could very well be worse. Even if he drops out and they replace him with a “normal” Republican, that would still be worse (on domestic policy, if not on foreign policy). But all that can be said for this particular status quo is that at least we know what it is. It’s not an alternative to chaos, but a slightly more managed and familiar chaos. It will destroy lives, but destroy them predictably — whereas no one can be sure which lives Trump will destroy, only that he will destroy as many as he can.

This is the end result of Clinton-style triangulation: the lesser evil is openly and indisputably evil. The devil we know is very clearly the devil. And we should choose it because there is no hope, because there is no alternative and no other option. The Democratic Party doesn’t know how to do democracy, only democracy as blackmail. And meanwhile the guy who was supposed to be our savior is devoting nearly all his energy to tinkering with the primary process.

Our only hope is that Clinton continues Obama’s halting steps on climate change, so that the planet remains livable for future generations to enjoy the benefits of endless war, market competition, and deficit reduction — forever.

The Spirit of 9/12

The katechōn has spoken: in response to the Orlando attacks, Hillary Clinton believes we need to return to “the spirit of 9/12.” I’m glad she gave us a day to reflect, because the spirit of 9/11, as I remember it, was one of confusion and even awkwardness. On the morning of 9/11, my roommate said, “They bombed the World Trade Center!” From his wording, it sounded similar to the attempted, much smaller attack a few years previous. I got ready and went to do some software training, and during the session, there was definitely an air of… “Should we actually be doing this? I guess we already are?” I arrived in class, and it was decided — apparently on the spur of the moment — that classes would be cancelled. It was as though no one knew they were living through a world-historical event. We make fun of George W. Bush for reading “My Pet Goat” while the attack was occuring, but we were all like that.

For me, the spirit of 9/12 is the dawning horror of realizing, not only what has just happened, but what the US was going to do for revenge. It was my senior year at the very conservative Olivet Nazarene University, and I felt pretty alone in my concerns. I very distinctly remember a group of students crowded around Craig Keen — a professor I would come to treasure, but of whom I was very suspicious precisely because he was popular among Olivet kids — more or less begging him to say something that made sense and wasn’t arbitrarily cruel. I don’t remember what he said, but he met those basic requirements, which was a rare thing in those days.

The thing with 9/11 is that it really did feel like it came out of nowhere. Yes, I know that the short-lived X-Files spin-off The Lone Gunmen virtually predicted 9/11 and, difficult as it is to believe, the iconic War on Terror show 24 actually started prior to 9/11. Maybe it was percolating in our collective unconscious, but it was genuinely shocking. And that’s why this current tragedy can’t and won’t be a new 9/11 — because it’s all too common. It’s a theme and variation of the standard mass shooting, of which there have been hundreds. We all feel pain and anger and even shame about this, but not the shock of someone turning a plane into a suicide bomb. No one woke up on 9/11 and thought, “Oh God, this again?”

Almost everything the US did in response to 9/11 was unforgivable, but in one single respect, we did the right thing: we did exactly what was necessary to prevent another attack like that. Now it is physically impossible to do what the 9/11 terrorists did. Assuming the regulations remain the same, a 9/11-style attack will never happen again. I have my doubts that we will enjoy the same results this time, and not only because politicians are cowardly or corrupt. Box cutters and easy access to the cockpit were not a deeply embedded part of American culture. No one’s sense of belonging and identity hinged on being able to wait in line for the bathroom at the front of the plane.

UPDATE: It has been brought to my attention that this post may be interpreted as being too soft on the horrible crimes the US committed in the wake of 9/11. It may surprise those readers to learn that this is not the first and only thing I have ever written. See, for example, this recent piece on George W. Bush.

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