veröffentlicht am 22. August 2016 von prpstn
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The bor­der wit­hin

Tra­c­ing our spa­tial limi­ta­ti­ons

»The one who is annoyed by a rat he
can­not catch, burns down his house«

– Paul Valéry –

›What bor­ders make‹, is the ques­tion from which this essay ari­ses. ›What bor­ders makes‹, is its adjunct through which I will ans­wer. Put­ting side by side what appears to be even, it shows that these two phra­ses point into dis­pa­rate direc­tions. Allu­des the for­mer to the func­tio­na­lity of bor­ders, the lat­ter wants to give rea­son. Undoub­tedly, the bor­der can be unders­tood – she is full of pur­pose, but few know how to nar­rate her birth. Our ima­gi­na­ti­ons of bor­ders are inher­ently frag­men­tary, covert with fears of loss and dis­sol­ved in the alle­ged impe­ra­ti­ves of the pre­sent. »The dignity of the bor­der is unim­peacha­ble«, is heard where sel­fish­ness drowns the achie­ve­ments of a paled Europe amid plau­dit – an old sua­sion sho­w­ing its new colors. The bor­der is one of the last sanc­tua­ries of our ero­ded moder­nity. Her right to exist is wal­led and dis­mant­led at the same time. And from one day to the next her pre­sence became the con­di­tio sine qua non of all those who, fac­ing »the other« and what it might mean for us, feel per­so­nally menaced.
Fle­eing fli­cke­ring children’s eyes on our screens and their mani­fest destiny in our time­li­nes, mir­ror what some of us belie­ved bygone: We are the people who, in our wish of bound­less free­dom, won’t over­come our own bor­ders.
This essay will depict how we lost our capa­city to ques­tion the bor­der. The bor­der is func­tio­nal. She assua­ges our deeply ingrai­ned and all too human cra­ving for dis­tance, reveals a sel­dom unders­tood appe­tence for remo­ten­ess, exclu­si­ven­ess, and inviola­bi­lity – we believe our­sel­ves free bet­ween bor­ders and are adrift without. Our addic­tion to them and their failure through us inform our time. Cor­rec­tion is nee­ded.


AT HOME. Our clo­sest bor­ders are given by the span of per­spec­tive when wal­king through the streets of our cities. Faca­des, trees, squa­res, ephe­me­ral ban­ners and scaf­folds, the urban mar­gins our view and relea­ses us rou­ti­nely – enac­ting hori­zons. All bet­ween us ›here‹ and the unfa­mi­liar ›there‹, where our eye is sud­denly brea­king, appears toucha­ble – all bey­ond unre­acha­ble. Amid buil­dings whose true dimen­si­ons remain enig­ma­tic for the most, authentic per­spec­tives and with them we, their people, are cla­shing. Our life in the city tells us what it means to encoun­ter. She con­den­ses our social rela­ti­ons­hips. She com­pels us to pro­pinquity where we want to remain on our own.
Now­here else is the fric­tion of the public and the pri­vate so sen­si­ble, now­here are bor­ders so mundane and yet necessary. The urban bor­der tra­ces the expan­sion of our socie­ties. For her we are cros­sers who, in the wee hours, swim with the stream of those pas­sing by and, once the sun star­ted set­ting, recur­rently seek refuge in a seclu­sion we refer to as »home«. Our life at home is sacred, embo­dy­ing a pri­vacy that must be defen­ded. Home is where we uphold an undi­vi­ded power of dis­po­sal. A place where we are what we could never be out­s­ide: for us.
The archi­tec­ture of our urban space is eit­her »con­sciously for­med« or a mere collec­tion of »for­t­ui­tous crea­tion«, notes Sieg­fried Kra­kauer.[1] For every deli­be­ra­tely sket­ched blue­print there are count­less of whom we have little know­ledge and yet they are shaping the human space. They resem­ble the intui­tive, the unscru­ti­ni­zed, the sub­li­mi­nal; ima­ging our will to dis­tance media­ted by walls, doors, win­dows and fen­ces – our urban bor­ders.

Our cra­ving for dis­tance explains why Dutch hou­ses are often build with large win­dows fac­ing the street and allo­wing the look inside whilst elsew­here win­dows are per­man­ently cur­tai­ned, always anxious to cover the pri­vate.
Bey­ond wan­ted trans­pa­rency every look against pri­vacy reso­na­tes what our time has cal­led voy­eu­rism. Not just since we hope for delight by the nudity of two people desi­ring each other, but because we’ve taken from them what we know is pri­vate – even for us. We saw and remai­ned unseen. Our gaze strikes but is vola­tile, almost unnoti­ce­able and almost unprova­ble.
Thus, as far as we are try­ing to iso­late our­sel­ves from spec­ta­tors we show vul­nera­bi­lity and expose which dis­tance suf­fices to shel­ter. Few cou­ples need the gaze of others. For the majo­rity »get­ting caught« in pri­vate action is shame, not lust.
In Lower Man­hat­tan the pho­to­gra­pher Arne Sven­son has cap­tu­red what we’re all used to: People behind their win­dows in their pri­vate encla­ves, sepa­ra­ted by the cubist forms of con­tem­porary archi­tec­ture – puz­zling and world-forgotten, some close, some dis­tant, but all endea­ring and thea­tri­cal at once.[2] In his pic­tures, those who do not sense the alien eye behave dif­fer­ently – live invi­si­bly.
In the urban space the urban bor­der pro­ves our desire to dis­tance. She lets us decide when we want to be visi­ble and when toucha­ble. Her oppo­site is the pan­op­tic world in which we are sen­ten­ced to abso­lute visual dis­po­sa­bi­lity. A state, where sub­jects are rever­sed to objects, nor­ma­li­zed by invol­un­tary never-ending inspec­tion. Eagerly we thank our bor­ders. They avert what would other­wise be our destiny: a future as publi­ci­zed per­sons.[3]


BORDERLINESThe pla­ces to which we belong as per­sons, social humans, taught us that no bor­der just exists. None of them is natu­ral. The moun­tain which divi­des his plains and the tiny rivu­let that cuts its way through the val­ley, they are morally unpol­luted. The bor­ders we set are nor­ma­tive. That means: They exe­cute a norm, an orde­ring prin­ci­ple, car­ry­ing a notion of rights through mem­bership. And always do they grow along those whose lives they will finally split. Sym­bo­li­zing the break and the act of brea­king. They may be morally inte­ger or inde­fen­si­ble. The inten­tion behind the bor­der is always fading. What remains and what mat­ters are its shape and its res­ha­ping. We ima­gine her, first, by terms of secu­rity and, later, secu­ri­tiza­t­ion – always unco­ver­ing cul­tu­ral dis­taste. And yet, we repea­tedly fail to con­ceive her tota­lity.
At the foot of the Chi­nese or along the for­mer Ber­lin Wall her length is an attri­bute of first and fore­most tou­ris­tic value, descri­bing the size of the space they are enclo­sing. But there is more to say: Who is get­ting entrance to the rooms she embra­ces? Does she exclude, allo­wing only those access who obey to her norm? Or is her nature sym­bo­lic, does she merely admi­nis­ters the ana­tomy of her rooms, revea­ling where the one ends and the other begins? To what degree and by which means does she deter and defend? Which way does one have to go to cover the 14,300 meters broad Strait of Gibral­tar to reach Europe? Which legal con­di­ti­ons are impo­sed where the bor­der beco­mes an obst­a­cle to those who seek to cross her? Whom do we have to pay, how far do we have to go, what do we have to leave behind, to enter what the bor­der limits?
The nature of the bor­der, the very moment when we feel her, roots in the dis­tance she effects. At first merely phy­si­cal, as some­thing which is deep, which is thick, the bor­der as a fron­tier, ent­ailing the area that sur­ro­unds her. Impo­sing a dis­tance on us as cros­sers which is sel­dom linear. Dis­tance in the fol­lo­wing sense exceeds its phy­sic dimen­si­ons. Dis­tance, then, is the effort that a bor­der demands from their cros­sers, which lets the world behind the wall appear close to us even though she has always been bey­ond our reach.

In year 26 of uni­fied Ger­many we unders­tood that over­co­m­ing a dis­tance demands more than a flight ticket, more than money. Reco­gni­zing the bor­der via her dis­tance reframes liberty.
Free­dom is com­monly unders­tood as the amount of poten­ti­ally rea­liz­able oppor­tu­nities in liai­son with the qua­lity of their rea­liza­t­ion. A spa­tial con­cept of liberty might sug­gest that liberty is not just defi­ned via (I) the amount of acces­si­ble rooms and (II) the qua­lity of acces­sing them,[4] but equally by (III) the power to exclude others. I and II let us cross bor­ders. III equips us with the capa­city to hin­der others from cros­sing cer­tain, mostly our, bor­ders. That may seem unfa­mi­liar at first glance but is con­se­quent given our urban his­to­ries: Restric­ting liberty to pro­per­ties I and II would publi­cize our­sel­ves in a man­ner we fight to prevent in our ever­y­day world. The pri­vacy we assert in urba­nity func­tions as a meta­phor for the spe­cial sover­eig­nty we can only own and exer­cise in exclu­sive spaces. There we are for us, in exclu­si­ven­ess we can safely indulge in desi­res we can­not live elsew­here. Both, our exclu­sive rooms and the amount of acces­si­ble rooms upgrade our set of oppor­tu­nities – and, hence, give us ano­ther qua­lity of (nega­tive) free­dom.
But every spa­tial acqui­si­tion con­tra­dicts and even­tually dimi­nis­hes the spa­tial advan­tage of others. We say: »Our free­dom is the free­dom of others.« And mean: Exclu­sive rooms for­feit their value as soon as other can access them. Liberty, then, is gover­ned through a dialec­tic of spa­tial gains and los­ses. A mundane cycle, visi­ble in witn­essing migra­tion and sett­ling, segre­ga­tion and gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, ever­y­day racism and neigh­borly fence dis­agree­ments.
In this fashion, new bor­ders become esta­blis­hed, older ones updated or abolis­hed. Our socie­ties are drawn through bor­der­li­nes: Our capa­city to orga­nize space refers to a dis­sec­ted world in which the bor­ders we design expand and deli­mit free­dom – depen­ding on which side of the wall we’re living and about which rooms we’re spea­king.


THE FREE MANQUÉIn tra­c­ing our cra­ving for dis­tance, it appears that it is ans­we­red what bor­ders makes. But haven’t we done more than read­jus­ting the angle? Haven’t we done more than shif­ting our atten­tion to some­thing more gene­ral, dig­ging up our urban wis­hes to see where our bor­ders are roo­ting; without kno­wing if that what we found is the only source that nou­ris­hes them? In Plato’s Laws secu­rity pre­ce­des good for­tune and hig­her vir­tues. The Flo­ren­tine phi­lo­so­pher Nic­colò Machia­velli admo­nis­hes that »fort­res­ses are gene­rally more harm­ful than use­ful«.[5] Apart from the ratio­nal lon­ging to exclude others through the will to free­dom, a hazy anxiety is deep-seated in our sub­con­scious mind.
In what moder­nity left over for­got­ten claims became con­spi­cuous. People cram­ped bet­ween gro­wing cities and the idyll of the past, fea­ring what the young cen­tury might involve. They expe­ri­ence the inter­na­tio­na­liza­t­ion of their life-world, fear to fall vic­tim to a glo­bal E plu­ri­bus unum in which the many become increa­sin­gly import­ant and the few – who they iden­tify with (even when say speak dif­fer­ently) – lose their say. Ever­yw­here such people ima­gine their own societal dimi­nu­endo which, first, dam­pens and even­tually fades their fran­tic voices. They believe to be forced into an emo­tio­nal dia­spora (and force others too), embo­dy­ing the homo muni­tus, the one that ent­ren­ches him­self and pro­claims the bor­der as his prin­ci­pal vanis­hing point.[6] »Don’t built fen­ces around your set­t­le­ment«, war­ned the for­mer prime minis­ter of Israel Ariel Sharon his com­pa­tri­ots, »place the fen­ces around the Palestine« was his advice. His imme­diate suc­ces­sor Ehud Barak decla­red years later: »Israel is a villa in the jun­gle«. The con­queror of the jun­gle belie­ves to keep the jun­gle out. Truth is, the jun­gle con­quers him. The bor­der he pla­ces out of vul­nera­bi­lity is his own.

Pre­cisely where order is waning and iden­tity menaced one wants to be expli­cit in his bor­ders. Such a per­son hears the fun­da­men­ta­list seduc­tions – and fol­lows beti­mes.[7] They offer for what we crave the most: a good expla­na­tion. The com­for­t­ing fic­tion that we are safe.[8] But for the for­eign who stands at the tip of Morocco and alre­ady belie­ves to sense his future free­doms, the bor­der is a bar­rier he will con­quer. She chan­ges ways but sel­dom wis­hes.
With those who have good rea­sons to cross our bor­ders, we feel menaced by what they mean for us: a risk. The unk­nown seems int­an­gi­ble. Every bor­der against what we do not know is mate­ria­li­zed spe­cu­la­tion. We can­not cal­cu­late the dan­ger it con­ta­ins. Hence, it is insi­gni­fi­cant whe­ther we need our bor­ders. We could.
Espe­cially since we began to inter­na­lize the for­eign as equal, we know what he is capa­ble of since we are. The bor­ders we set in front of this sor­ro­w­ful back­ground are pal­lia­tive and preven­tion at once. With them we take from others what they might take from us: a future. We want to limit the thin­ka­ble through mini­mi­zing its poten­tial expres­si­ons. Cha­sed by the uncer­tain we believe the bor­der to be our long-lost hori­zon which turns our threa­ten­ing world into a reas­su­ring world pic­ture (again), wri­tes Hei­deg­ger.[9] »[A] living can be healthy, strong and fruit­ful only when boun­ded by a hori­zon«, wri­tes Nietz­sche.[10] That hori­zons can deceive, is what he with­holds kno­wingly.
We live under per­ma­nent threat to fetis­hize the bor­der. Defend her unwar­ran­tedly as a gua­ran­tee. Unboun­ded we believe our sel­ves free, sover­eign, untoucha­ble and are yet detai­ned. Mecha­nisms of defense tar­get impul­ses and affec­tive anxiety, not just mere ideas, notes Anna Freud.[11] In anxiety, liberty per­verts and is no lon­ger a posi­tive con­cept.

The bor­der is the necessary con­di­tion of the free, but she also molds the reso­nance space for all those who, with ever­y­thing that is impon­dera­ble to them, draw ano­ther line in their heads. »Our free­dom is the free­dom of others«, do we say and believe it. But free­dom grows only where we shor­ten dis­tance, where we look fart­her and live more than before. Free­dom wanes where bor­ders con­form to false rea­son, where man­kind drifts apart.


[1] Sieg­fried Kra­kauer. »Aus dem Fens­ter gese­hen«. Stra­ßen in Ber­lin und anderswo. Frank­furt am Main: Suhr­kamp, [1964] 2009. p. 53.

[2] Arne Sven­son. The Neigh­bours. New York: Julie Saul Gallery/D.A.P. Exclu­sive, 2014.

[3] Focault, Michel. Disci­pline and Punish: The Birth of the Pri­son. New York: Pan­theon, 1977; Jeremy Bent­ham. The Pan­op­ti­con Wri­tings. Miran Bozo­vic (ed.). Lon­don: Verso, 2010.

[4] The shor­ter the total dis­tance to cover, that means the smal­ler the effort that nee­ded to be under­ta­ken to access all acces­si­ble rooms Yn depar­ting from a cer­tain point X, the hig­her the qua­lity of access and, hence, the hig­her one’s liberty.

[5] Nic­colò Machia­velli. The Prince. Lon­don: Pen­guin, 2003.

[6] Lat. »mūniō«: fort­ify, secure, defend, pro­tect, shel­ter. A term deve­lo­ped by Greg Eghi­gian in: »Homo muni­tus«, in Paul Betts and Kathe­rine Pence (eds.). Socia­list Modern. East Ger­man Ever­y­day Cul­ture and Politics. Ann Arbor: Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan Press, 2008. p. 10.

[7] Navid Ker­mani. Wer ist Wir? Deutsch­land und seine Mus­lime. Mün­chen: C. H. Beck, 2009. p. 15.

[8] Wendy Brown. Wal­led Sta­tes, Waning Sover­eig­nity. New York: Zone Books, 2010.

[9] Mar­tin Hei­deg­ger. »Buil­ding Dwel­ling Thin­king«, in Poe­try, Lan­guage, Thought. New York: Har­per and Row, 1971. p. 154.

[10] Fried­rich Nietz­sche. “Uses and Dis­ad­van­ta­ges of His­tory in Life,” in Unti­mely Medi­ta­ti­ons. Cam­bridge: Cam­bridge Uni­ver­sity Press, 1983. p. 63.

[11] Anna Freud. The Ego and the Mecha­nisms of Defense. New York: Inter­na­tio­nal Uni­ver­sity Press, 1946. pp. 45 – 46.

Title pic­ture: A guard obser­ves the Ber­lin Wall.

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