The Aporias of Smuggling

Ray’s aporetic welcome to the immigrants points at a deeper contradiction in her smuggling operations, for she alienates the borders of the nationstate at the same time that she reinforces them. Smuggling thus comes under the discourse of the double bind and the aporia, under the internal contradiction of opening the boundaries as she redraws them. This undecidability underlies the third crossing. A couple of Pakistanis (referred to as “Pakis”) make up the cargo on Christmas Eve. Their nationality marks a change for Ray, who is immediately suspicious of them, claiming they might be the kind of people who blow themselves and everybody up. It is a border-patroller moment in which Ray plays both the role of coyote or handler and her opposite, the gatekeeper who tries to prevent those who look like terrorists from entering the perimeter of the country. The fact that they have a bag confirms Ray in her suspicions, and she flatly refuses to carry it inside the car. Although she initially relinquishes, she later stops in the middle of the river and tosses out the duffel bag, claiming it may contain nuclear power or poison gas. That is a crime, she reasons, she is not going to be responsible for. Having prevented what in her mind could be a terror attack, she calls home to let her kids know she is going to be late and admonishes her younger child, Ricky, to go to sleep. Unless he does so, she claims, Santa, who was flying over Canada at the moment, would not come to their home. Bringing Santa into the conversation in the midst of a smuggling operation is significant, for Santa, like Lila and Ray, carries his goods across countries without going through checkpoints. Unlike the two women, he has nothing to declare. From the point of view of border security, however, Santa, like Superman, is technically illegal.7

Upon delivering the two migrants to the usual location, both women find out from the couple that the bag contained a baby. Lila and Ray return to the river to retrieve the bag, which lies cold and seemingly inert. Under the coarse wrappings of the bundle the two women find a delicate red sari and a baby’s face. Even though Lila does not want to hold the baby, Ray admonishes her to keep it close to her heart and rub its feet. Reluctantly Lila performs the rituals of mothering that will revive not only the baby, but also her role as a responsible mother. When they are stopped by the state trooper outside Mohawk territory, Lila calms a hysterical Ray with reassuring words. Ray is pulled over not because of being suspected of an illegal activity, but because of a minor infraction that carries a conditional ticket. The trooper, however, does inquire what her relationship with Lila is. Automatically, Ray comes up with a story that fits the common sense of the border community: Lila is her babysitter. She takes care of her kids while she is at work. As Lila predicted, nothing happens because Ray is white. The color line, the line within the line, remains fully activated throughout the movie. By the time they reach the motel, and despite Lila’s fatalism, the baby is moving, and the two women, transfigured into slanted Santa Claus figures, deliver the baby to his mother in a distorted version of the fairy-tale story. Yet there is more to the episode, and Ray’s suspicions as to the contents of the duffel bag might be ultimately accurate. For the body, as Lefebvre has stated, “will not allow itself to be dismembered without a protest, nor to be divided into fragments. . . . The body, at the very heart of space and of the discourse of Power, is irreducible and subversive” (1976, 195). Just like Bartleby rescued his body from a “spatial dictatorship” of the office, the baby, as a body between the lines, redraws those very lines by refusing to be divided and by radically changing the production of relations across the line. Hence the baby becomes indeed more powerful than a bomb or poison gas. Its location on the frozen surface opens a crossroads in the movie, an articulation of life and death, of personal and interpersonal history that immediately engages Lila and Ray and transforms them into surrogate mothers in a geopolitically divided territory. It will prove, as Levinas claims, that any unit when apprehended or examined will fail to meet the requirements of sameness and will present itself as already related or influenced elsewhere (Touma- yan 2004, 31-32). For the first time in the smuggling operations, the body of the migrant is not a cargo, it is not sealed and closed, but morphs into relation and exchange with the outside world.

This inherent relation to the Other is at the heart of Emmanuel Levinas’s philosophy. The interpersonal vision of the self, the Being that frequently appears as the beginning or as the conclusion of philosophy, is the starting point in Levinas’s thought. “This coinciding in the same,” the philosopher argues, “where I would be an origin, or, through memory, a covering over of the origin, this presence, is, from the start, undone by the other” ([1974] 2009, 127). The “undoing” by the Other determines the articulation of an identity: “The other is in me in the midst of my very identification” (ibid., 125). The key aspect of this identification is “the impossibility of escaping responsibility” (ibid., 14) towards the Other. By recovering the baby and bringing it back to life, the two women exercise this responsibility towards the Other for the first time in the movie. For Levinas, relation presides over identity. The priority is both logical and chronological (Toumayan 2004, 32). Neither Ray nor Lila will become full subjects until they commit themselves to this Other outside themselves. One of the consequences of this premise is that their initial claims to an identity sutured to place do not stand, for identity is not understandable without relation. This relation to the exterior, this responsibility, for Levinas, “precedes essence” ([1974] 2009, 114). There are, in other words, no hermetic lines surrounding the subject. The border, both in terms of identity and territorial formation, is porous and “un-national.” The tight boundaries of the ontology and locality of Being are subordinated to ethics, unicity to relation (cf. Toumayan 2004, 30). Articulated in Totality and Infinity and evolved in Otherwise than Being, Levinas proposes the constitution of the subject as an identity through the relation to the Other. This is the relation that the baby activates and that will be gradually explored as the movie unfolds across un-national lines and the emphasis on subject and territory shifts to a relation of responsibility that predates identity formation. Responsibility “goes beyond what I may or may not have done to the Other or whatever acts I may or may not have committed, as if I were devoted to the other man before being devoted to myself” (Levinas [1986] 1998, 83). Thus Levinas dismantles the subject’s unicity or identity; rather it is established by way of a relation: “It is as though the unity and uniqueness of the ego were already the hold on itself of the gravity of the other” ([1974] 2009, 117). Through the exercise of this relation, the baby, the live cargo, is welcomed to the country through body contact and warmth. It is a real welcome to place, for the body is the ground zero of place. Thus the movie returns to the space of the body after the sojourn in the body-in-space.

 
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