TransAct 18

Zurückgewiesen: The Scope of the Global Discourse

When I lived in the former Soviet Union all the world seemed to me as far as I could travel. Any travelling was limited within the limits of the Soviet borders. The Soviet person travelled by metaphorical means, as far as the imagination goes. After perestroika the borders were opened and travelling developed from metaphor to symbol: the visa. In 1991, I went to Berlin. It was my first trip beyond the Soviet borders. At Schönefeld airport the immigration office sent me back from the border. I did not even have enough time to go into Berlin. Later I emigrated to Great Britain where I live currently and continued to travel with my old Soviet passport. Since I have received a British citizen's passport I travel more easily but the immigration office still often stops me to check if I am a "correct" person. Lately each time I cross the border. Although I can travel more easily, it doesn't prevent the routine established by the immigration policy which keeps asylum seekers and refugees at bay and continues to strengthen the control of immigration. The emergence of the anti-immigration party in Austrian government, the problematic immigration policy in other parts of Europe and the recent Kosovo crisis, the war in Chechnya, among others, have very clearly posed some urgent questions.

In today's world, which is so often understood globally one always faces the question: where is the limit of the global: if borders are still defining these limits how does globalisation influence our habits? In the global twilight this question produces anxiety and an enormous number of questions. I would like to try to find some answers by questioning one particular aspect: the place of the individual within the global through the triangle made by the migrational paradigm: identification through identity documents (passport), subjectivisation through temporal fixity (visa) and the socially symbolic act (narrative). By individual, I mean one of the configurations of the Self. It is also one of the configurations of identity and subjectivities in the formation of the cultural sphere in the global discourse.

Does the existence of the Other depend on the Self or is it the Self which creates the Other? To see how superficial the discourse of otherness is, it is interesting to see the superficiality of selfhood. Both, the Self and the Other are polarities of the same ideological construction. The process of "othering" selfhood through personalisation and individualism is fixed and identified in identification documents. So there is no simple Self or simple Other, there are instead configurations of both as represented by cultural discourse. Each stage framed by political discourse depends upon its subject which is exercised in the area of subjective expression such as art, for example. Art becomes a means of subjective expression on the one hand and the means of subjectivisation on the other. In this very sense, art itself can be understood as a vector of power.

The self is ideologically coded or constructed and it is always exposed as a fiction. That is why Foucault, the critic of ideology has stated: I wrote nothing, but fictions! I, or the Self, is the fiction which is made habit in everyday life. As Deleuze and Guattari put it following the phenomenological fiction: "I is the habit". I is the habit of not wanting to become the Other. In conditions of unequal exchange, otherness is often 'translated', through the exhibition complex (not Oedipus). In the manner which Foucault speaks of discourse (there is nothing but discourse) or Derrida speaks of text (there is nothing outside of text) or Stuart Hall speaks of culture (every social practice has a cultural dimension) we can speak of the other within the understanding of exhibition(ism) as a phenomena. The otherness made accessible through the transparency of the exhibition. And the exhibition understood here in terms of exhibitionism, as well as exhibiting, making visible. The exhibition is also the place of the alienation of one's subjectivity, as far as it becomes the subject for seeing, understanding, etc. One's subjectivity is appropriated by another. To undermine the vision with that of visuality, which is not defined by the ocular but by the ideological, takes one behind this Eurocentric belief in seeing as believing. In other words what you see is what you get, because what you see is what you believe. For Robinson Crusoe the most striking thing about Friday was Friday's fast 'growth' in terms of education. Because for Robinson, as it was for Defoe, there was no conscious experience of the other before Friday was discovered by his master. For Robinson Crusoe, Friday's adult birthday is the moment he 'finds' Friday, namely on Friday. The rest of the time is only grasped by Robinson as he watches Friday 'grow'.

This fiction of the self/other is given an identity by authorities. The visa in a traveller's passport identifies the symbolic Self, the carrier of the passport. The visa is an interesting result of symbolisation which became the centrality of the production of symbols as the basis chain of discourse, which produces both temporary fixity and the excess which destabilises it. The excess destabilises temporary fixity in an ideological moment of becoming the Other. It is time which is "othering" by gathering. Border crossing is at the same time the crossing over of this time. Borders are the symbolisation of boundaries in geopolitical division. By residing over political identity, the visa stamps its power via immaterial structures, like metaphors and symbols. Receiving the status of the commodity value through the visa, political identity becomes materially defined. Symbolisation starts to become the driving force in such a way. It asserts its meaning (the meaning of the symbolic form) through legitimacy in identity documents. As an example of this kind of symbolisation, one may recall a recent event in Germany. Three German officials gave presents to a girl of Turkish descent born three hours into the new millennium. She was chosen as the symbol of a new law, granting citizenship to children born in Germany to foreign parents. The infant received a teddy bear, a baby's dummy and a copy of Germany's constitution. 

Borders are the point of Walter Benjamin's suicide, the point where conflict starts and freedom ends. But borders are also spaces of articulation. Stuart Hall thinks of boundaries not so much of the crossing of them, as of the dissolution responsibility of the boundaries themselves. Crossing these boundaries also enables their partial breakdown and repositioning. With their recomposition there appear new boundaries which cut across the old ones. To understand otherness in terms of becoming a spectacular post-colonial subject for critique, and in terms of ambivalence to undermine this spectacular approach. Crossing the border, like Michel de Certeau's walking is the space of enunciation. Crossing is also a category of time, a temporal activity. Borders arrest this temporality, legitimising it and while crossing the border one realises that the entire architecture of living is rooted in the temporal. As Fanon puts it: "Every human problem must be considered from the standpoint of time". Border-crossers are all migrants, and the place of being is this very temporal space: the border. While moving on through the border one discovers an existence through the terrain of migration and migration becomes a space of enunciation. In this epistemological inquiry into crossing, one bears in mind the articulation of power within this enunciative space.

There is a strong connection between the invention of writing, geography and art and migration. Since migration has been controlled by ideological constructs it has turned into art. One becomes an artist, lives in art, because one cannot live migrating in reality. The migrant experience is always about optimism which sees the world as always changing. Can art still produce the political recognition of migrations? In the symbolised global world, this question is not simply a political or ideological or geopolitical question, it is an artistic, philosophical question and is disseminated in other areas of the symbolic process. Imaginative, such as artistic and philosophical ideas are projects appropriated by political power.

The problem is of course in the ambiguity of art itself, which hides the invisible links linking power with culture through the symbolic. It is also the space where the symbolic plays the role of reversibility. There is a particular dialectic of evolution through exclusions. There is an exclusion even through the inclusion of what was earlier ignored. For example, the recent discourse on postmodernism consisting of the critique of modernity's oppressivity through it's exclusivity did itself exclude and suspend the critical dimension of artwork. What makes art still work is however the style, resembling critical art, through which an imaginary escape is made. Because of the delay of formerly critical art and its introduction after suspension of the critical, it still has its second life, or a comedy stage. History happens twice, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce, as Marx used to say. The evasion of political relevance is what paves the way to the market for an artwork. However, in today's art world there is a discourse on otherness, Third World art, the art of migrations. The notion of migration has become ubiquitous in the art world. In the discursive space that was opened by the problematisation of globalisation there are three, among many, reflective notions: one of which is the concept of the global city, dealing with the complete urbanisation of life, the second is multiculturalism. If both these issues are completely new, migration, the third notion, is interesting in its oldness. Another interesting thing about migration is its prominence in 1990s culture which has confused our lives by demonstrating the relation between old and new, tradition and innovation. An understanding of these issues is important for us to be able to be critical. The inclusion of 'old' issues within a 'new' context stresses the ideological nature of both the old and the new. I see in the history of migrations the emergence of new geographies. Migrations have marked the end of the social form within which colonialism strengthened its position with feudalism. Migration ends the link to the land of the feudalistic regime, the stable existence of colonialism. Migration is the end of feudalism which is understood as an end to colonialism. In reality, it starts a new relationship or a new colonialism based on 'land speculation' understood in terms of time, or spatio-temporality.

What kind of project then is possible within the space opened up by the new geographies, at the very point of crossing the limits of constitution itself as defined by the nation-state? Does the liberal pluralism of the nation-state answer this question? Why do political theories like Chantal Mouffe's, for example, find their escape in Carl Schmitt's friend/enemy dichotomy? Because the discourse on multiculturalism and pluralism and cultural diversity is often considered from a Eurocentric position, these questions can never find a positive answer. It is rather regressive modernisation (Stuart Hall) which wants to deal with the new according to the old. It is not possible to speak of pluralism from the limited vocabulary of Eurocentrism. Because it is understood in terms of time and geographical discontinuity the new geographies, the global arena of otherness, produce signs of excess which cannot be reduced to rational discourse of Eurocentric citizenship. Because these new geographies are producing new subjectivities, which have been made invisible within the spatiality of disciplinary society (Toni Negri). Pluralism then is a new sign, the excess producing a multi-vocal approach, the new form of visa which allows pluralism itself to be solved from multiplied, plural positions. These positions are posing the cultural, as well as the geographical, question. That question is: where does Earth end and the territory of culture produced by migration start? The world is reversible. What is socially peripheral is symbolically central. Because the world is in reverse there is no division between the centre and the margin, but there are instead reversible, shifting and changing positions. The world is often like a pendulum which is in the position of changing. This kind of reversibility challenges the notion of cultural centres and corresponds to margins with greater authority. This challenge is made through articulation. Articulation enables a certain manner of representation of what has been repressed, which leads to manifestation. This kind of manifestation always emerges from the position of the marginalised. Looking at articulation and the articulate as the instrument within which the conflicting claims of the cultural and social are mediated, arbitrated, or resolved in a discourse, we begin to comprehend both the appeal of the articulated and the grounds for refusing it. If cultural events are represented in a non-articulate form, what kind of reality is it that offers itself, or is conceived to offer itself, to come into existence? What would a non-articulate representation of cultural reality look like?

There are many things and events which are not articulated or not even considered as a question or a problem in many aspects of reality. These are what have been left out, repressed and are in constant motion, returning and re-articulating. In these areas, no closure happens, although often they seem to have ended, but in reality there is no conclusion made, they are just terminated at a certain point or interrupted. Certain re-articulation is possible even in areas where closure has happened, where a conclusion is made, because conclusions open the perspective for new discourse. In this very sense, there is no closure, but reversibility. This reversibility produces cultural interdependence. Cultural interdependence is a possibility for the manifestation of what is returning as the formerly repressed. This return is never the same, and it is not expression, but constituency. Rediscovering the meaning beyond the purely ideological is possible through connotation, which according to Barthes is the purveying of imaginary and stereotypical idealities. The articulation of these connotations emerging from the migrant landscapes would allow us to rediscover the new relationship between our desires and the ground this relationship builds for constituency.

The "contact zone" or linguistics of contact announced by M.L. Pratt evokes the cultural sphere of new subjectivities. This sphere is regulated by politics on the one hand and has left a powerful space for unfinished dialogues, open conversations and mutations of these subjectivities on the other. The "contact zone" itself is understood by M.L. Pratt as the space opened for the co-presence of subjects previously disconnected across geographical and cultural disjunctures whose trajectories now intersect. These trajectories are described as migrations and they are products of the cultural imagination of migrants. Maybe the metaphorical means by which people are imprisoned within the limits of borders as with former Soviet people and many people from countries in the four corners of the planet should receive its legitimacy today? Maybe the metaphor and the imagination which have allowed the universal capital to invade the world space throughout the extension of the knowledge industry and artistic exchange can also allow those people who imagine being travellers all their life long to actually become travellers in world space. Their imaginations and those metaphors have beautifully opened up the space for migration. Perhaps these metaphors should also allow migrants to move across global space without being arrested within the limited and stamped zones of Home Office activity.

(01 February, 2000)