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Home arrow Language & Literature arrow Occupying Space in American Literature and Culture: Static Heroes, Social Movements and Empowerment
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The Rerouted Camp in Calais and the Autoimmune Crisis

With absolute immunity, nothing would ever happen or arrive; we would no longer wait, await, or expect, no longer expect one another, or expect any event.

—Jacques Derrida, Rogues

These “crimes of hospitality” are an indication of what can be termed a dysfunctional system that suffers from an autoimmune disorder. “Autoimmunity” is a term used in the biomedical sciences to describe a phenomenon whereby a body’s immune system turns against its own cells, effectively destroying itself from within. The immune system protects the body against external threats, yet its efficacy hinges on its ability to differentiate between friend and enemy. In an autoimmunity crisis, however, an organism, “in a quasi-spontaneous and more than suicidal fashion” (Derrida 2005, 124), turns against its own cells, thus destroying itself from within (cf. Thomson 2005). Derrida has transposed this malfunctioning of the body onto the body politic of the democratic nation-state. In his analysis of autoimmunity, it is democracy that destroys itself from within. Thus Derrida inscribes the category of the autoimmune into the discourse of the aporia. For this autoimmune process is another internal contradiction that carries an undecidability, that is, an internal-external, nondialectizable antinomy (Derrida 2005, 35). The philosopher describes the autoimmune process within democracy as a “referral or deferral, a sending or putting off” that he thematizes under the term spacing, that is, “the becoming-space of time or the becoming-time of space.” When this postponement operates in space, “the autoimmune topology always dictates that democracy be sent off [renvoyer] elsewhere, that it be excluded or rejected, expelled under the pretext of protecting it on the inside by expelling, rejecting, or sending off to the outside the domestic enemies of democracy” (ibid., 35-36). When the postponement operates in time,

“autoimmunity also calls for putting off [renvoyer] until later the elections and the advent of democracy” (ibid., 36).

Welcome shows the workings of another form of spacing, for it rejects and excludes not by sending off to the outside those internal enemies of democracy, but by containing them in an internal exteriority. The migrants are seen in the movie walking the streets of Calais, yet they do not pertain to the same geography as the French citizens. They carry what in Michel de Certeau’s terms can be called “a migrational city” wherever they go, as well as their own coordinates of exception. They mark the tracing of a border at the same time that they are portable borders themselves, Tensabarriers of sorts that immediately create a conflict with law-abiding citizens. The question is: how can this invisible line be maintained effectively? How can spatial contiguity be prevented from turning into ideological proximity? “Between the democrat and the asocial voyou, the proximity [voisingage] remains ambiguous, the inseparability troubling,” Derrida cautions (2005, 64). The French citizens aiding the migrants have a disruptive effect, for they introduce disorder into the apartheid system and become themselves the rejected and ejected. Like the homeless, squatters and migrants are singled out as actual or virtual delinquents by the civilized, law-abiding citizens and by the police. “The police are watching everybody,” Simon’s wife tells him. And the police department’s detailed report is an instance of a body politic that can be described as a Panopticon. Autoimmunity brings the border within, and the space of the nation becomes striated with its own coordinates of exception. The camp that the officials want to avoid by any possible means is already within, within the polis, as the images of the police beating up migrants on the streets clearly show. At the same time, the movie carries out another form of thematization in time, as it quietly and subtly links this apartheid regime with the dark chapters of French history, as Simon’s former wife suggests.

 
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