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Paris, unknown

April 23, 2017 — Leave a comment

Over the next few days, I will be in Paris with good ol’ friend Ross Domoney, working on a brief series of video dispatches from the stressed streets of the French capital:

Paris, unknown.

Glare at your TV screen, flick through your feeds, blink at your flashing updates and you will soon immerse yourself in what is meant to be an election like no other, an election that is supposed to determine the future of France and even Europe as we’ve known it so far.

Keep it at that, and you could easily believe the election is fought at the TV studios, between the four gladiators fighting for the soul of the Republic. But out in the city things are, as always, more complicated. In the days leading up to, and following the election, we ask urbanites about their fears and their hopes. As the country grips itself for the mother of all battles, we delve into the city’s streets and its metro carriages to brush out its psyche.

Sunset at Ile de la Cité, April 21, 2017So here we are. France, from all places: the visceral land of hope for rebellion across our old continent, the mythical mecca of the 1968 uprising, the formidable, always hopeful page-turner―in the Arts, in Politics, in all The Stuff That Matters―has come to this sorry state, a mimic of political life that is not. On the screens, the feeds and the updates, four candidates battle it out for the ultimate Republic-trophy: an archetypal fascist, a caricature of a corrupt politician, an “independent” savior of the kind that has flourished in the ever-growing detachment of politics and the everyday, and a seemingly refreshed old-cut leftist who promises not to make a Tsipras of himself. Back in Athens, we had followed these words in some astonishment, wondering what the man himself might think of becoming synonymous to retreat and betrayal, a name equating subservience and defeat. Over here, under the glaring Parisian sun, the distance from Athens puts it all under perspective―a peripheral capital that battled it out but lost, the first victim in liberal democracy’s war on itself. For some time now, liberal democracy has moved the war from its peripheries, to its semi-peripheries, now bringing it squarely back to its own heartland.

So here we go. On the eve of the trip some person in uniform is shot dead at Champs Élysées: a death as full of symbolism as it can possibly be, and as devoid of any actual meaning. Lone wolf assaults on the symbolic guards of the Republic have become a symbol of the Republic itself. This morning, more persons in uniform, of the khaki variety this time, stand guard at the airport, arriving passengers filtering through their cordon, and are any photos allowed? Why of course not, the essence of the security theater includes the self-awareness of its need to stay both highly visible and creepily disguised: imposing, but never quite immersing itself in the everyday life of a city that, against, despite and beyond the politics of fear and division keeps marching on.

Limbs-in-limbo

April 5, 2017 — Leave a comment

If there is one thing that is striking about everyday life in Trump’s times, is that at the surface of it, nothing has changed. Why of course, you would cry in protest―what do you expect to see, craters in the pavements opening up, lava firing away, the now unsalvageable populace now screaming away in panic?

No, of course not. The same kind of rhetoric has come up, after all, time and time again, in Greece at the peak of its own crisis―the usual “why are your cafeterias still full” moronic line of argument. I did not expect to see this kind of spectacle. But what is striking in the brief time between Trump’s swearing in and the present moment―only sixty-odd days, mind, but at this moment in history this is something of an eternity―is how most people seem to have switched from being shell-shocked, to denial. I think that is what it is, denial: not complacency (which would require a full admission of what is going on) nor, exactly, resignation―well hopefully not, plus it must surely be way too early for that. Denial: a creeping sense that what is happening isn’t real and that, if one were to try and ignore it it might, it might just go away. In my talks with friends, comrades, strangers, the same recurring thing comes up: surely Trump will be impeached, it is only a matter of time, look at all those Russia links, plus―this one is new―they don’t seem to be letting his administration pass anything through, anyway. So, goes the inadvertent conclusion, all one has to do is wait for the fruit to ripen and fall off the tree: a question of when, not if.

This is what the people say when they speak. But the bodies, as they move through the city, tell much of a different story. They are masses-in-limbo, no longer expecting, not waiting for the next phase, but knowingly trapped in an in-between that will certainly not end any time soon. For no matter what happens in the highest echelons of power, the credits to legitimate, liberal democracy have rolled already―whether the audience decides to leave the cinema or not doesn’t make much of a difference to this fact. Whatever happens “next” is of no significance importance. The bodies know, and they in turn radiate through their shiftlessness, that life as we had known it so far is gone.

They know that what is to follow is a long limbo, an in-between that becomes our here-and-now, certain in its uncertainty, unexpectedly reassuring in its bleakness. Why rush? The place is here, and the time is now―and we’ll be here and now for some while.

He orders

April 4, 2017 — Leave a comment

He orders a taxi. Before, the mundane act would require him to pick up some kind of a handset, to physically dial a number, to talk to an operator, perhaps even to get a call back before waiting for his pickup to arrive. Now, at an instant, the vehicle is requested, ordered, confirmed and traced as it makes its way, inch-by-inch, toward his position on the map. He orders a luggage service that will seamlessly take the burden off his shifting suitcases around the city before hopping onto his next flight. He orders food delivery, he orders clothes, he orders, he orders, he orders. Every click, a minuscule dot added to the matrix reweaving the city into a grid whose apparent chaos crystallizes into a new kind of order that forms up in dazzling speed. It’s not just his order: this new universe is also soon-to-be complete. Continue Reading…

Johnny B.

January 8, 2017 — Leave a comment

I read John Berger―no. I read over John Berger. No, not even that, not quite. I slowly scan through the pages and investigate his words, returning to favourite passages and devouring new ones. I try to find what it is that makes these such a pleasure to read. I come to realise it is not the use of words alone―aberrant, disconcertingly, urgent and mute. No, it is not the use of the beautiful words. For all the joy I derive from encountering these, there is something in the mastery of their use, something in the way in which they have been moulded, crafted, slowly taken over. There is something in these words that radiates, in glaring lucidity, how they have travelled from afar to land onto the page, and how they have done so slowly. Slow: this great, unreachable luxury of a time that devours and diminishes; a time of so much action yet so little interaction where, from skimming through a text to skirmishing with the police, there is never the depth, never quite the prolonged quality that will turn the fleetingness of an ever-nonsensical moment into the substance of a coherent present.


Against the electric-like shock and violence of the current, Berger was the grounding: a serene reminder to stop if we are to ferociously act in any meaningful way. I pause. I find myself unable to put together any further thoughts. I listen to one of the last recordings, I suspect perhaps even the last one; an audio-recorded interview with a frail John Berger calling in from a Parisian suburb somewhere. A broken voice that pauses longer than the usual. I quickly travel back to a long Greek summer evening, back home, when I had the pleasure of taking a similar call myself. A request for a written interview turned down in the most humble of ways. “In transcribing an interview”, you tell me, “there is so much that is lost”. Pause. “There are the gestures”. Another pause. “There is the significance of the pauses, of the silences”. The sturdiness of a sonorous voice wrapped in a fleeting French accent: “Do you see?” I do see. A text, then? A text it will be.


A text that was―as always―not like most. I read it over. There is something in these seemingly fragmented notes that brings together the hard-to-remove packaging of modern-day commodities, the calculated rigidity of modern work, the Goulag, undocumented Mexicans in the States, and a young girl learning how to swim in a municipal indoor swimming pool. The images are jotted down in a stream of consciousness; separate but not fragmented, they come together to sketch out the great mystery of experiencing freedom in our prison-like world. Their prose, weaving fragments into a constant, has the serenity of playing punk music and the viciousness of painting a portrait. Their energy smells nothing of an auditorium. It reminds me of the scent of a favourite basement, where friends come together every now and then to enjoy the rawness of an improvised gig.


Friends tell me a sense of loss is near-irrational for someone your age. Of this I am not sure. I have now stood enough on this planet as it orbits around the sun to have witnessed what might very well be, statistically speaking (if this is even a fathomable quality), my fair share of loss. From the utterly unexpected―the loss of a dear childhood friend―to what would, I imagine, count as the “expected”: the departure of those up in the genealogical line. What is rational, anticipated or logical in the timing of our loss? There is of course the calculation of biology, the linearity of life, its trajectory, the timing of its end. But what remains of life when you break these linearities and trajectories apart? The timing becomes irrelevant. It would never be too soon or too late to say goodbye. Still, there is something deeply poetic in losing you at this moment of utter absence of meaning, when time whizzes so agonizingly fast, leaving us struck, frozen.


In the days passed since your passing, Athens has descended into a paralysing cold; vehicles coming to near-halt on its roads, passers-by evaporating from its pavements. Our freezing city might be trying to freeze time. I think it might even be trying to say goodbye.


Punk painter of words, prophet of the present: so long, so beautifully long, Johnny B._

via OpenDemocracy

Trump is the logical culmination of a culture: the narrator of a democratic apparatus that has come to conceal itself behind the mother of all TV shows: the US Presidency.”

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President Barack Obama and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras at Maximos Mansion in Athens, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Press Association. All rights reserved.

Yesterday, as I began to write these lines, Air Force One was descending on Athens’ airport, bringing the US President to our city: not the delirious orange-haired one, but the One Still There Even Though Most Of US Have Forgotten He Is Actually Still In Charge. Obama, the liberal darling of so many inside and beyond the US border, is the president under whose watch 2.5 million people were deported – more than any other US president in history and directly comparable to the “2-3 million” pledged by Trump.

Under Obama, the US has continued and excelled in its business-as-usual war, carnage and destruction the world over. But admittedly, under his watch this hell was now delivered with some impeccable puns, flawless speeches, making us feel warm inside and a sense of humility we can all relate to. Right?

A superstar, a great showman of a President? Check. But Trump is also those exact same things – perhaps in many ways more skilful than the Great Man himself: Trump read into the anguish of millions and tapped into it before the liberal elite had time to utter “let us respect and uphold the values of the US constitution”, or some gibberish of that kind.

Trump is the logical culmination of a culture that commenced with Obama: a complete and utter reliance upon the single showman (and yes, it will be a man) as the narrator of a democratic apparatus that has come to conceal itself behind the mother of all TV shows: the US Presidency. Continue Reading…

via Verso Books

There was a time when the world felt like an ocean of normality, bar your occasional pocket of carnage and destruction: I am talking way, way back in early 2016. Up until that time the Greek territory was hailed or vilified (depending on how you would see it) as one of these unruly exceptions, an impressive outlier that would grip so many to the point of coming to experience it first-hand. Upon descending in Athens, these far-flung visitors would invariably comment on how eerily peaceful it all was: cars were still driving up and down streets strikingly devoid of any enormous craters spitting out lava or fire. Despite the crisis, people were still walking around peacefully, not running nor screaming in agony. The fact that the signature Athenian cafés and bars were still in their place would become the object of scorn, something of a proof that the crisis was not much more than a bloated exaggeration on the side of us unruly Southerners who had it too good to let things change now.

Roads, pavements and street lamps (minus the odd defunct one, it must be told) were also still there: an impressive feat for those who had been caught in the swarm of the apocalyptic-talk, seemingly believing an austerity package (or three) ought to create, right there and then, an enormous rupture in the ground that would instantly swarm the screaming thousands, syphon them in and spit them out into a new urban streetscape of endlessly burning cars, knocked-down buildings, vacant lots and the smell of sulphur only just overshadowing the roar coming from the tilting ground as the next legal package was being voted in parliament: you get the picture. Continue Reading…

via society and space. Part of the forum “Governing mobility through European Hotspot Centres.”

 

On a quiet spring morning on the promenade of the port of Mytilene, on the Greek island of Lesbos, a strange sight caught our attention: flying high on a mast just inside the port gates were two peculiarly selected flags, the French and the Finnish. Perhaps something of a random choice, maybe even a computer error picking up the two EU member-states starting with an “F”, we joked at that time. But a few hours later, during our meeting with the European Commission’s representative on the island as part of our research on the migration crisis, the record was put painstakingly straight: far from a mistake, this was a strategic choice ahead of the visits of the French and the Finnish ambassadors to Greece to the island that week.

The Office of the Commission stationed in Mytilene was tasked with presenting these two state representatives with a pristine image of the hotspot on the island: the image of some seemingly unhindered and seamless operation of the hotspot, along with all of its ancillary mechanisms. Like salespeople charged with selling a future car model, or real estate agents promoting an apartment through a brochure while construction is still taking place, the Mytilene-stationed officials have been commissioned with convincing EU member-state representatives of the efficiency of the hotspot while the mechanism itself is still under construction. Continue Reading…

via OpenDemocracy

Nice’s promenade follows on a long string of attacks against the dense and the banal: against the overlooked ordinary that comprises our daily existence.

Once again there will be an influx of notes of sorrow, by now customary calls for unity in face of the terror gripping our cities, our streets: the spaces of our public, convivial existence.

But there is already something not-quite-right about the prime sentiment that grips some of us this morning as we skim through the endless videos of Nice’s howling urban beach-front stampede. The feeling that the city’s screaming agony is on the verge of becoming as commonplace as the street lights and the wide avenues on which it unfolds: an inseparable, however unwelcome, by-product of urban life.

One commonplace feature replacing another: for all their diversity in tactics the recent string of attacks in France all locked on one very specific target, urban density.

Bataclan, Stade de France, the Nice Promenade: all spaces of public gathering, of the get-together that has made life in our cities stimulating and even enjoyable in face of and despite the adversity that plays out in the international political arena. Everyday spaces where we can come meet and shelter one another underneath the dark clouds looming over a Europe that is becoming more reactionary and inward by the day.

Back in November I reflected on November’s attacks in Paris fearing for a three-fold attack on the urban spirit across European soil: EU-wide introversion, the deployment of the army in urban terrain, and our own – largely voluntary – abstaining from the joy of the unexpected that comes with letting go of control, and opening up to the possibility of encounter. Continue Reading…

via versobooks

With contributions from Étienne Balibar, William Davies, Akwugo Emejulu, John R. Gillingham, Peter Hallward, Laleh Khalili, Stathis Kouvelakis, Sam Kriss, Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi, Lara Pawson, Salvage Editors, Wail Qasim, Wolfgang Streeck, Antonis Vradis

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The Brexit Crisis: A Verso Report

Verso blog

Pretty much exactly one year ago, me and a group of friends found ourselves in a remote village in the countryside of the Peloponnese, watching with awe and some admitted excitement as Alexis Tsipras was announcing a surprise referendum on something whose wording didn’t quite help one understand what it was about. Yet most of us took this as a veiled suggestion, a hint at questioning Greece’s place in the euro (and potentially the EU), and voted accordingly. This is where the similarities with Britain’s turbulent moment lie: the majority of the Greek population, just like the British one yesterday, did bite the bullet and voted against both what the status quo had paternally asked for, against what was perceived to be its own self-interest.

But this is also pretty much where the similarities end. The Brexit vote was led by nationalism and racism, as we saw: the fictitious “migrant influx” into the UK elevated to a major national calamity that has to be avoided by any cost. We chilled as we watched the Nazi-reminiscent propaganda and gasped at the frivolous way in which the dominant discourse sank into a vile anti-foreigner rant. In this sense there is, of course, nothing to immediately celebrate about yesterday’s vote. The most reactionary side has won. But what was the other side ever about? Why did the progressive voices of Britain―and much of Europe as a whole―largely uncritically align themselves with the likes of David Cameron, Martin Schulz and all those Heroes of the People? Continue Reading…

By the way

March 28, 2016 — Leave a comment

(For S.)

A good friend I have not crossed paths with in eight years. The realisation strikes us hard yet at that moment we sweep it under the sheer excitement for our reunion. Nearly, or perhaps exactly, one-tenth of an entire lifetime. This is how much we’ve been apart and somehow, in this mind-numbingly distorted world of ours, this seems natural, even expected. And how are you? Or maybe who are you, who is it you’ve become between these thousands of days, what kind of life-changing experiences have you encountered time and time again, what is it that remains of that old self of yours, what remains of my own? And what of the time in-between, who have you been in all those interim moments? I meet you one-and-a-half – no, surely it is two continents apart from where we saw each other last. Some thousands of kilometres, this is what this nifty little online tool tells me. I am supposed to know how to read it well, they call me a geographer now, see. We glance at each other in the silence imposed by the formality of the moment, of what the event in which we partake calls for.

We only allow our life to grow in the fringes. Squashed between the formalities, obscured by obligations, hindered by the ever-present, ever-pressing, ever-growing pressure to produce, to move on, to move ahead. Our moments of genuine coexistence have become a bracket,  a fleeting by the way.

By the way. And it is by this way that representation wins over the tangible, that spectacle takes on the lived, that unending emergency triumphs against the course of a lifetime. Not, of course, with any colossal bang. This would be too obvious, too easily identifiable and then surmountable for those of us who should, after all, know better. No, it’s not with a bang. Representation seeps through and into our spaces of intimacy, it requires realism, it asks for restriction, boundaries and feasibility, tight deadlines and uninterrupted focus, personal growth and development goals, it thrives off the times you now need to take care of yourself and look to do what is good for you. It lives for the moment when that, after all, is what everyone else is doing too. Slowly it creeps into your own sense of yourself. Before you know it the tables are turned and you begin to recognise yourself only within those margins, in the silent, fleeting moments, the by the way diversions from and against the mundaneness of the otherwise unhindered spectacle-subject.

And how are you, by the way?