Circling the Alien. Camp Logic in Austerlitz, Citizen 13660, and Lunar Braceros 2125-2148

The time now is small, mobile, portable. . . . In the shift from ancient territorial power to modern biopower, virtual boundlessness in globalization is widely praised as the overcoming of frontiers. The globe is evoked in terms of both a closely-knit village, and a new, disho- mogeneous metropolis. Yet, the talk on the world political page is all about closing down, curtailing movements, reinforcing borders, building new fences, installing more checkpoints, fortifying security zones, setting up gated communities, and worse, sealing an entire nation into restricted areas.

—Trinh T. Minh-ha, Elsewhere, within Here

The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the “state of emergency” in which we live is not exception but the rule.

—Walter Benjamin, Illuminations

[We] are so dazzled by power and prestige as to forget our essential fragility: willingly or not we come to terms with power, forgetting that we are all in the ghetto, that the ghetto is walled in, that outside the ghetto reign the lords of death and that close by the train is waiting.

—Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved

“How will our century go down in history? Will it be under the name of the ‘Age of Camps’?” wonders Zygmunt Bauman. That is an actual possibility, for if the twentieth century represents the acme of modernity, that same modernity has proved to perfect “fast and efficient killing, scientifically designed and administered genocide” (Bauman [1995] 2001, 267). The camps, Bauman cautions, are unequivocally a modern creation, “an invention possible only thanks to the accomplishments modernity is proud of more than of anything else—to rationality, technology, science” (ibid., 268).1 In fact the twentieth century seemed to welcome the heritage of colonial societies in order to fashion a more efficient form of political administration, population management, warfare, and coerced labor that would crystallize in concentration camps (cf. Gilroy 2000, 60). For Bauman, the

Nazi death camps and the Soviet gulag exemplify the apogee of these perfected forms of massive killing. Paul Gilroy and Giorgio Agamben, for their part, reroute the concept of the camp in time and space. For Gilroy, “the ubiquity of the camp in our mediascape conveys the routinization of the exceptional and our habituation to it” (2000, 93). This routinization takes center stage in Agamben’s Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, which the philosopher concludes with a striking sentence: “Today it is not the city but rather the camp that is the fundamental biopolitical paradigm of the west” ([1995] 1998, 181). Although Agamben would later qualify his words as a “philosophical thesis,” his argument draws our attention to the places where and the moments when the state of exception is the rule (Fas- sin 2005, 377), instead of being just an exception or emergency. Repeatedly, national or international emergencies tend to transform the gathering up of “undesirable” subjects (ibid., 379) into a practical and routine solution.2 If the anagram of the city traditionally comprised the cross and the circle, the idea of the camp reduces the city to the tight secured circle and creates new circles within: new fences, more checkpoints, security zones, gated communities. The “smallness” of time that Minh-ha talks about, like the concept of time compression, correlates with spatial seclusion. The Invisible Cities Italo Calvino wrote about in the 1970s seem to correlate with a symmetrical systematization, invisible camps, in the 2000s.

Stemming from Gilroy’s and Agamben’s exploration and extension of the concept of the camp, this chapter examines three examples that inflect the periodic need to enclose the alien Other in bordered and policed geographies away from the alleged healthy national imaginary (Kandiyoti 2009, 41). It explores the intimate link between place, experience, and subjectivity within the inhospitable premises of different detention camps. W. G. Sebald’s Austerlitz sets the tone for the repeatedness of incarceration and camp logic that punctuated the geography of Europe during World War II; Mine Okubo’s Citizen 13660 dissects the oxymoronic juxtaposition of the word “citizen” and a number, for the latter automatically transforms the alleged citizen into its opposite, into what Agamben describes as homo sacer. Finally, Rosaura Sanchez and Beatrice Pita’s science fiction novella, Lunar Braceros 2125-2148, projects the camp into the realm of science fiction. The three instances will hopefully demonstrate how, to use Gilroy’s apt phrase, we find ourselves between camps, between the “epiphanies of catastrophic modernity” and the camps that “are being prepared” as we speak. In terms of time, this “betweenness” casts the camps into a disquieting gerund. The threading of past and future camps creates a conceptual overlapping that allows us to look at these instances of massive incarceration relationally. As we do so, “betweenness” activates one of the potentially disruptive characteristics of the spatial: “precisely its juxtaposition, its happenstance arrangement-in-relation-to-each-other, of previously unconnected narratives/temporalities; its openness and its condition of always being made” (Massey 2005, 39). The alignment of the (in)visible geography of Nazi camps that striated Europe, the internment camps that proliferated in the American West, and science fiction reservations allows us to arrange previously unconnected narratives and temporalities that resituate the camp as relational and unfinished, always morphing into new forms of barbed wire. The three examples further allow us to illustrate a double articulation of place (cf. Tuan 1975, 152), for while Austerlitz, Citizen 13660, and Lunar Braceros are about the strong visceral feelings that are productive of and produced by place, the sites they implicate are points in a spatial system, a hypermap of incarceration, that is open and in progress.

 
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