Never has the world been so rich, and yet never has it been so out of joint. The gap between the remarkable accumulation of discoveries in technology and science in the fields of biology, neurology, reproduction, archaeology, climate, astronomy, and of evolution is growing—and also between the ferocity of financial capitalism and the difficulties faced by societies in resolving basic problems (access to clean water, to health, to food). We are simultaneously told that the current globalization will bring a world of happiness for all and that the planet cannot support what is presented as the desired way of life for all humanity.
The Promethean ideal of limitless growth and of “man’s” capacity to master all living organisms is with us today more than ever. The notion of “colonization” has contaminated political and economic vocabulary. Despite the twentieth-century struggles for decolonization, which should have contributed to a very careful and critical use of the notion, it has reappeared in governmental vocabularies. We again hear of the colonization of all parts of the planet or of other planets; its logic has become hegemonic. It is easy to trust in science and technology. In recent decades they have opened up new fields, comprehended areas that seemed impossible to explain, resolved problems that had remained unresolved for centuries. Who would not be excited and confident that humanity has a manifest destiny? Yet are not technology and science contaminated by Promethean thinking—promising that we, humans, will always be able to overcome the problems we create? Yet still, the sound of a rumor is disturbing the scenario, the sound of discontent, of anger and frustration, and of a desire for a post-Promethean way of life. At the entry of Chernobyl, an immense statue of a Prometheus now stands alone and forlorn. It is a monument to hubris and excess. The Promethean ideal has provided a frame for the economy, science, governance, and technology; it has even stimulated them, as philosopher François Flahault has written.2 As humans, we do not like to have limits. Modernity opened the world wide to us, yet the “mechanisms that explain the extraordinary of modern society and thus its thirst for energy are the same that explain its tendency toward self-destruction.”3
The current economic geography of exploitation and consumption is seeking to construct a seamless world “in which a continuum of locations is arrayed in a line from north to south and climate,” producing an “equilibrium” rather than a specialization of nations.4 This project, which links climate, demography, geography, and economy, ignores—thanks to the neat clarity of numbers and the fascination brought about by algebraic formulas—the materiality and immateriality of human lives, flesh, bones, language, dreams, hope, anger, joys and sorrows, conflicting passions and interests. In the world of numbers, the technologies of power erase the singularity of each life. Capital mobility and increasing freedom of trade suggest a model of a free place for everybody, whereas the freedom of the few rests on the immobility of the many.
The world of the “free” throws a veil on the world of the billions held in bondage. Gender, race, and class still constitute the nexus through which the global workforce is organized. The figures of the migrant and the refugee have become the figures upon which many of the problems of our age concentrate: new social inequalities, new wars, new forms of xenophobia and racism, new crisis. They flee wars, dictatorship, poverty, desertification, floods. They disturb a global order based on national sovereignty and established borders. Yet, it must be said that their status as “illegals” benefits both sending and receiving countries. They belong to the long history of the fabrication of precarious lives, of superfluous beings, and to the long history of the organization of a mobile, gendered, and fragile workforce on a global scale. The migrant and the refugee stand apart in a world of riches, where a new market has emerged for the increased number of millionaires; exclusive spas, hotels, private jet companies, specialized travel companies and shops, and golf courses dedicated to the rich are multiplying. Parties are once again magnificent, with the rich seeking to outdo one another in lavishness, pomp, and flaunting of wealth. Palaces and châteaux that had become mere museums have now been reclaimed for balls and banquets. Everything must be sumptuous—diamonds and gemstones, silk, satin, cars, tables, dinners, yachts . . . Far away, kept from entering the grounds of such lavish parties, young women and men stare at the sea and set out on flimsy boats, hoping to make the crossing that separates them from the bright lights of the cities. Their corpses litter the deserts of Africa, the coastlines of Europe, the mountains of Turkey, the waters of the Indian Ocean. New borders are being drawn to contain these pariahs, though wealth circulates freely.
The Charons of our neoliberal age are carrying not the souls of the dead across the Styx, but living human beings. Yet, they could cry, as the Charon of Dante’s Divine Comedy: “I come / To take you to the other shore across, / Into eternal darkness, there to dwell / In fierce heat and in ice.”5 Those who succeed in crossing the Styx are taken into the eternal darkness of the seas or into the fierce heat and ice of a life in the margins of society, in the shadows of society. The small boats sinking in the waters of Lampedusa and the kwasa kwasa6 sinking in the waters of Mayotte are the coffins of those who do not make the crossing. The ones who manage to reach the other side will camp at the gates of the rich cities. They will glimpse the beauty of gardens and palaces. But the poor, the vulnerable, are condemned to obscurity. “He is not disapproved, censured, or reproached; he is only not seen”, John Adams wrote.7 The lives of the oppressed are denied existence; their lives register when they die in mass—a state that is lamented by Soeuf Elbadawi of Comoros:
There are the dead and there are the dead.
Ours are more easily forgotten.
Because they were born on a forgotten shore of the world.
The world of the powerful has no pity for the People of the Dhow . . . How can I be a foreigner or an illegal in the country of my ancestors?8
What is needed to break the silence is what has always been needed, solidarity. In Tunis, in Algiers, in Dakar, in Mayotte, in Lampedusa, in Calais, and in other cities around the world, associations, artists, jurists, mayors, and scholars are mobilizing to help migrants and refugees. This is why states have been criminalizing solidarity with refugees and migrants. European laws against refugees and migrants have tightened. The projects Eurosur and Frontex have been reinforcing the regulations, protecting Fortress Europe. Italian fishermen who rush to save people in sinking boats are subjected to heavy fines;9 in France, in a 1991 interview, former president Giscard d’Estaing used the expression “immigration-invasion” and proposed to abolish the principle of jus soli whereby a child born in France is automatically a French citizen. Since then, Conservatives and the National Front have lobbied to replace jus soli with jus sanguinis. A 2005 law made it illegal to feed, house, or help the “sans papiers” (the law was repealed in January 2013).10 In 2013, Interior Minister Manuel Valls declared that Roma had “life customs which were extremely different from ours” and thus “had vocation to return to Romania or Bulgaria.”11 Fifteen thousand Roma suddenly became a threat to a nation of sixty-four million.
Although the transnational migrant has become the figure through whom fear and xenophobia are activated by political parties, migrants actually represent only 3 percent of the world total population. And only one third of this 3 percent comes to Europe, while the others move from south to south countries. Other states regulate migration as harshly as Europe. The figure of the migrant and the refugee challenges our certitude and comfort. “One day, I may become that person,” we think, and the sentiment translates either into fear or into empathy. Fear is manipulated by political parties and corporate media, and nowhere is this more glaring than in Europe, where the poor are encouraged to wage war on others living in poverty. The poor are always afraid to become the poorest or to be confused with the poorest. This legitimate fear is instrumentalized by such political parties and corporate media, which seek to racialize rights.
The reasons that European policies about migrants and refugees have been under scrutiny are twofold. On the one hand, Europe has represented itself as the land where human rights were invented, where inalienable principles about the individual were elaborated. On the other, Europe once dominated three quarters of the planet, subjugated peoples, instituted regimes of exclusion and racial discrimination, and pillaged the wealth of conquered countries. Indeed, Europe became “indefensible.”12 Colonization distilled a poison “into the veins of Europe and, slowly but surely, the continent proceeds towards savagery.”13 Europe must therefore enter the process of its own decolonization.
In the eighteenth century, Europe’s surpassing technology in weaponry, acumen to play on rivalry between indigenous groups, and ruthlessness allowed a shift in the cartography of power. Europe’s hegemony lasted until independence was achieved in the second half of the twentieth century, yet it never went without resistance, unexpected contacts and exchanges. Artists, writers, and scholars challenged Europe’s alleged superiority from the first moment of colonization. Their words and images constructed an alternative library. The long history of their critique culminated at the 1955 Bandung Conference. During this watershed event, leaders of the twenty-nine newly independent countries challenged the European cartography of power and provincialized Europe. As Richard Wright wrote:
The despised, the insulted, the hurt, the dispossessed—in short, the underdogs of the human race were meeting. Here were class and racial and religious consciousness on a global scale. Who had thought of organizing such a meeting? And what had these nations in common? Nothing, it seemed to me, but what their past relationship to the Western world had made them feel. This meeting of the rejected was in itself a kind of judgment upon that Western world!14
Africa and Asia reaffirmed their millenary connections interrupted by European colonialism and insisted on the role of culture in constructing a new world. Though Bandung was also pregnant with tension and contradiction, the final resolution mapped a multipolar world.15
Europe is no longer at the center of gravity. It has been further provincialized by reemerging powers in Asia, South America, and Africa, or so we are told. It might be interesting to ponder what has really been provincialized. European thought? Yes, to a certain extent, but certainly not European banks or the arms industry. European peoples? Perhaps. It depends on which social class we are observing. The poorest are trying to survive; they attempt to migrate to the richer countries of Europe, or to move to their former colonies which are now “emerging powers.”16 Should we rejoice? There is certainly an element of comprehensible schadenfreude. However, if we look at the global economic and social model, we may want to rein in our expression of joy. We observe the same Promethean model rooted in European thought at work in the world; and if the axis of power is moving toward Asia, then the accumulation of wealth still rests on forced labor, the organization of a mobile, gendered, and precarious workforce, and the production of goods for global consumption based on the principle of obsolescence. The world has embraced the ideal of limitless growth and of man’s capacity for mastering all living organisms.
Postcolonial states adopted the politics of growth of the West (with the full support of the Western left): industrialization, construction of huge infrastructures (roads or dams, “the new temples of India,” according to Nehru), urbanization, and production turned toward export. Nation-states are now following the European Bank, the IMF, and World Bank policies. The manipulation of nationalism, tribalism, or chauvinism that was connected to European colonialism is now common politics. Frantz Fanon’s lesson about the pitfalls of national consciousness has been forgotten. Fanon wrote that the battle against colonialism “does not run straight away along the lines of nationalism.”17 Otherwise, it will be an “empty shell, a crude and fragile travesty of what it might have been” and soon enough societies will “pass to ultra-nationalism, to chauvinism, and finally to racism.”18 The “new humanism” invoked by Frantz Fanon, Amílcar Cabral, Aimé Césaire, and others may then be neither “an emaciated universalism” nor a “walled segregation in the particular or dilution in the universal.”19
The mobilization of antiracist groups has made the criminalization of migrants more visible. But some of the borders where migrants are retained and sent back are not those we associate with Europe, and they remain invisible. In the Indian Ocean, the border between the French department of Mayotte and the Comoros Islands archipelago; in South America, the longest border of France with a foreign country, the border between French Guiana and Brazil; in the Atlantic, the coasts of the Canaries and the Azores; in the Caribbean, the coasts of Martinique, Guadeloupe, and St Martin.
Certainly, Europe is far from being the only continent to criminalize migrants. In Africa, in the last ten years, more than eight million Congolese left their country because of instability caused by armed conflict; so, too, did Sudanese, and many people in the north of Mali with the Touareg group, the Al-Shabab in Somalia, and so on. They have fled to African countries where they experience discrimination and xenophobia. In Asia, female and male migrants are deprived of rights.20 Moments of international celebration—Olympic Games, the World Cup—are built upon the brutal exploitation of internal or external migrants. Rape, torture, humiliation belong to the structure of power. In South Africa, incidences of xenophobic violence are increasing, and migrants and refugees speak of constant police harassment.21
The contradiction between a capital’s need for a mobile workforce and a state’s need for defending its borders against the “invasion” of refugees and migrants is always worked out to the benefit of the neoliberal economy. In fact, “it is a transnational division of labor that is shaped simultaneously by global capitalism and systems of gender inequality in both sending and receiving countries of migration.”22 In many countries, the racialization of the growing industry of care has led to a global trade in women, which “has proven immensely profitable to sending countries’ governments and entrepreneurs, and highly ‘economical’ to the governments that recruit them and the elite who employ them.”23 The majority of migrant women are held in “conditions of debt bondage.”24
The broken lives, broken bones, and broken hopes of refugees and migrants have built an immense library of the intangible and of testimonies about the cruelty and brutality of the economy of predation. Recovering their voices and their words has long been the work of those who want to keep their existence alive. The world of migrants and precarious lives is caught between opposite “trends of ‘denationalization’ of economics and ‘renationalization’ of politics in the new global economy,” which results in their conflicted incorporation as workers whose rights are denied and as rejected citizens of receiving nations.25 The current situation of female migrants reveals clearly the perpetuation of the racialization of the workforce. The new technologies of control (e-governance, biometric identification) contribute to diffusing the microphysics of power that reinforces the process of racialization.
Ya l-babur, ya mon amour
Kharrejni men la misère
oh boat, my love
take me out of misery
(rim-k) going far away
in my country I feel humiliated
I’m tired and I’m fed up
(rim-k) that’s right.26
Among the great cemeteries of the world where disposable and superfluous people are buried, oceans and seas have occupied a special place. Throughout history, they have received the bodies of women, children, and men dead without a sepulture, their flesh food for the fish, their names lost forever. Oceans and seas are the liquid memorials of a forgotten humanity, victim to predatory economy.
When was human life transformed into a good to be trafficked and sold, bought and killed, according to the caprice of its owners? It seems that human society has long been familiar with enslavement. The fabrication of precarious and fragile lives has a long history. The World Heritage list of monuments details monuments built by forced labor, whose foundations rest on the crushed bones of thousands of slaves. The world has been crisscrossed by the routes of the slave trade: the Silk Road, the Road of Cotton, Tobacco, Coffee, Sugar, and Spices. During the “Axial Age” (Karl Jaspers), armies needed to be paid in coins, mines were needed for producing coins to pay mercenaries, slaves to working in the mines, wars for capturing slaves.27 But slavery was not racialized, was not “Africanized.” It was between the sixteenth and the nineteenth centuries, during the colonial slave trade, that being a slave and being black became synonymous. The invention of blackness as a cultural and social status went along with the invention of whiteness.
It started when capitalism had to resolve a conundrum: how to reconcile the immobility of land and labor versus the need for mobility (bringing goods to consumers and seeking to lower the cost of transportation). The immobility of labor was partly resolved through the organization of a mobile workforce on a global scale, which was gradually racialized and gendered. African women, children, and men were enslaved and sent to lands chosen to produce the goods (coffee, sugar, tobacco, cotton, . . .) needed by a growing class of customers. The history of a racialized and gendered mobility has long been a history of murder and exile.
The Atlantic became a vast cemetery for the bodies of millions of enslaved Africans. Their last sight was the view of a vast expanse of water, the ocean their sepulture. On the other side of the African continent, the Indian Ocean also swallowed the bodies of enslaved Africans and Malagasy. Though one could think that a rationalized approach would have sought to bring down the loss of women and men as merchandise, their disposability was part and parcel of the economic system. In the wealthy port cities of Liverpool, Bristol, and Nantes, slave traders were careful to recover their loss using the same claims as those used for manufactured goods. The predatory economy of colonial slavery rested on a logic in which bodies were accounted for along with donkeys and furniture and losses were covered by insurance. When, in 1819, thirty slaves were thrown overboard from the French boat called Rodeur, “a ground was laid for a claim on the underwriters, by whom the cargo had been insured, and who are said to have allowed the claim, and made good the value of the slaves thus destroyed.”28
The cost of transport of disposable people is today absorbed by the victims themselves, an advantage for both sending and receiving countries. As I have said, the need for a mobile workforce and the laws against “illegal migrants” are not contradictory. Both lead to precarious and fragile lives, so that migrants and refugees remain dependent. The process of creolization that was at work in the plantations—the “seasoning” of new slaves by creolized slaves, that is, teaching them how to work, how to act with other slaves or their owner, how to speak—and which was borne by slaves is still at work today. Migrant communities bear the burden of labor market functions (recruitment, training).29 They teach new migrants how to circulate in the city, where to go, and what to do and not do. According to Nathalie M’Dela-Mounier:
Sirens have changed since Homeric times, those who intone their lugubrious cantos have dark skin and braided hair stuck on their skull, brown seaweeds that they tear away by handfuls.30
The Mediterranean Sea and parts of the Indian Ocean are the liquid cemeteries of our neoliberal age. Women and men tell the story of a departure at night, of their dealings with the smuggler, of a boat carrying too many people, of babies and small children forced into silence so their cries do not attract the police, of men or women jettisoned to relieve the boat, of the lack of drinking water, of the fear and the stress, of the boat capsizing, of the panic, of the fishermen who try to save the shipwrecked or those who continue their route deaf to their cries, of those who drown, of the search by the authorities, of the floating cadavers, of the cadavers found later in the fishermen’s nets . . .31 The small gestures of empathy, charging for free the battery of a cell phone, offering clothes, coffee, arms . . .
In the public dump of Lampedusa, a small island in the Mediterranean, closer to Africa than Europe, lies at the moment a small amount of boats, while more than 200 ships have [sic] been burned in September 2010. Someone burned all these boats, canceling de-facto the biggest contemporary evidence of the immigration phenomenon in the Mediterranean, in Lampedusa, and in Europe in general. It is still not possible to rescue nor to buy some of these boats: so they lie abandoned, waiting for destruction, under Lampedusa sun.32
Hundreds of women, children, and men have died since 1988 in the waters of continental Europe. “As things stand we are just building a cemetery within our Mediterranean sea,” said the Mayor of Malta when a boat carrying more than two hundred migrants capsized on October 11, 2013.33 The images of overloaded boats strike our imagination.34 They evoke exodus, women and men fleeing terror, misery, torture seeking refuge, hoping that a feeling of common humanity will prevail. Yet, as we look at their visages, as we contemplate their gaze, realizing that they have seen and endured terrible things, we know that the reception is becoming increasingly hostile. The ten to thirty thousand arrivals in Lampedusa each year constitute an invasion for panicking Europe. The “cost” of migrants and refugees is always presented as the proof that they are a heavy burden on societies. We are told daily that they do not want to integrate, they have different values, they lie to authorities, they are not deserving of empathy, they are not thankful enough, they should force their own government to resolve their problems of poverty, lack of health facilities, lack of jobs . . . Nothing is said of the asymmetry of power, of the routes of inequalities.
Studies show that it is the more educated who try to migrate. The journey tests their intelligence, their resourcefulness, their resilience, and their courage. We should admire their bravery and temerity. They go over mountains, survive in hostile countries, reconstitute communities. Their stories should be taught in school as lessons of indomitable courage and hope. We must listen to their incredible journeys, their tales of woe, their humor, their songs. Upon their arrival, the survivors are housed in terrible conditions; in Lampedusa, they are often a thousand in a place built for 250.
Details of the crossing are few. A survivor of the journey between Anjouan and Mayotte tells that a smuggler will leave Anjouan once he has collected 1,500 euros. The price per person is thus around 100 euros, and boats built to carry eight persons will transport between twenty to forty. During his own crossing, the narrator counted twenty-five passengers, two pilots, luggage, and two hundred liters of oil.35 Though many dead are not accounted for, the estimate in the waters of Mayotte is 150 dead per year, mostly women and children who cannot swim.
We must be careful with the term “migrant” or “refugee,” for it tends to subsume under a unified category a myriad of experiences, and it is necessary to remind ourselves that we are speaking both of the experience of one woman, one child, one man, with their own singularity, their private thoughts and dreams, and of a collective experience. Migrants and refugees often do not want to be considered passive victims. During the Lampedusa Festival held each year, their words can be heard breaking the clichés about their reasons to migrate, which are diverse and complex.36
The people and artists of Lampedusa have elaborated different answers to the increasingly hostile Italian and European laws. Contemplating the wrecks that have caused a cemetery of small boats to accumulate in the middle of their city, Giacomo Sferlazzo of the local Askavusa association suggested creating a Museum of Immigrants with his friends. Scraping together the 400 euros in monthly rent among themselves, they found a small place. They collected eight hundred objects on the beach and in the “boat cemetery.” Others are items that less fortunate refugees were carrying with them when they died. The objects are displayed on wooden boards. They are what “the refugees have lost or left behind: a comb, a pot, an ashtray, a telephone book, a mirror, a single sneaker, Korans and Bibles.”37 They also “have a folder full of photographs they have collected. The pictures are washed out from the salt water and yellowed by the sun; only the outlines of faces are still recognizable. Here, a woman smiles shyly into the camera; there, a group of young, confident men flash victory signs.” “The pictures are still beautiful,” says D’Ancona, another founder of the museum. “They’re memories of lost lives.”38 “These aren’t just objects. They’re clues that tell us something about people’s dreams.”39
Yo pa renmen Ayisyen, men yo renmen konpa
yo pa renmen Ayisyen, men yo renmen Ti Payis.40
The “creative destruction” which recognizes change as the one constant in capitalism has become the centerpiece for modern thinking on how economies evolve.41 In June 2013, The New York Times reported that
China is pushing ahead with a sweeping plan to move 250 million rural residents into newly constructed towns and cities over the next dozen years [. . .] The ultimate goal of the government’s modernization plan is to fully integrate 70 percent of the country’s population, or roughly 900 million people, into city living by 2025 [. . .] The country’s new prime minister, Li Keqiang, indicated at his inaugural news conference in March that urbanization was one of his top priorities.42
The Chinese government declared that its plan was necessary if China wanted to keep its rate of economic growth: “‘If half of China’s population starts consuming, growth is inevitable,’ said Li Xiangyang, vice director of the Institute of World Economics and Politics, part of a government research institute. ‘Right now they are living in rural areas where they do not consume.’”43
Chinese technocrats have adopted an ideology that links production, consumerism, and growth: if more citizens lived in cities, consumption would rise, and raising consumption is considered the key to creating a sustainable economy over the long term because exports and investment-led growth are faltering. Already around twenty million Chinese are moving to cities every year. It has been the greatest shift in human history, with 150 million moving so far from rural to urban settings.44 According to China’s Development Research Center, an additional three to four hundred million people—more than the entire population of the United States—are expected to move from the countryside to cities over the next thirty years, causing China’s urban population to rise from 47 to 75 percent. The Chinese government has absorbed the old lesson of capital well, that wealth rests on the capacity to organize a mobile workforce kept in a precarious state. Indeed, as Kam Wing Chan has shown, “the success of ‘Made in China’ is inextricably meshed with the story of migrant workers toiling for subsistence wages to produce for exports.”45 The 155 million rural migrant workers have been, he said, the “backbone of China’s export industry since the 1990s”.46 And more women and children are now participating in migration to cities.
This formidable and unsurpassed plan of internal migration in a single country adheres to the Promethean ideal. However, this Promethean feat is not rooted in “Chinese” thought. Europe gave it birth. To European philosopher Immanuel Kant, the sublime elevates “the strength of our soul above its usual level,” allowing us “to discover within ourselves a capacity for resistance of quite another kind, which gives us courage to measure ourselves against the apparent all-powerfulness of nature.”47 The expression “the apparent all-powerfulness of nature” says it all about the refusal to admit the interdependency between human beings and nature. The European idea that man is a natural colonizer, who has received the Earth to tame and colonize at will, contaminated modernity.
To Europeans, the colonization of the world meant bringing progress to unenlightened peoples. Nature was either untouched and virginal, to be preserved without the presence of indigenous peoples unable to appreciate fully the aesthetics of Nature, or savage and in need of being tamed. Nothing would stop progress, neither humans nor nature. The history of colonization was the history of devastation of the environment on an unprecedented scale. This is not to say that before the arrival of Europeans in countries of the “South” there had been no projects which had required forced labor, had deeply affected the environment, and had led to famine, migration, or desertification. Certainly not. But environmental historians agree on the turning point operated by European colonization thanks to European discoveries in weaponry. Colonial environmental change started with colonial slavery.48 European colonial empires witnessed the greater exchange of plants, animals, and human beings across continents. Post-slavery colonization pursued these policies supported by new technologies in agriculture and transportation.
The Promethean ideal was adopted by the Soviet Union and the postcolonial world, dominated global policies during the Cold War, and has found a new life today. The Cold War (1945–89), which was so important in shaping priorities in the economy for decades (and whose legacies are still with us), led to similar policies around the world, influenced by a belief in technocratic solutions, by the links made between demography, agronomy, water management, and botany, by the control of the environment, and by space technology. “The Cold War was the twentieth century’s longest war, fought extensively on a global scale across a range of environments.”49 It was in the Soviet Union that these policies and practices led “to environmental degradation on a scale that may be exceeded only by current practices in China”.50
The Soviet Union fully embraced Promethean thinking. Stalin invited writers to become the “engineers of the soul.” Literature was meant to service industrialization and identify those who resisted, the “enemies of the people”.51 Though nothing would resist the will of the people, for “Soviet rivers they do flow / Wherever the Bolsheviks want them to go”, said a popular song, and deserts would be “liquidated.”52
These policies, whether in the North, South, West, or East, have had similar consequences: reinforcing the power of science and technology (and hence of business) over politics. They have perpetuated a form of killing that has become “commonplace: one that is undertaken through degrading environmental conditions to affect quality of water, hygiene, nutrition and healthcare”.53
If Ghosts Could Speak
In Nostalgia de la luz (Nostalgia for the Light, 2010), the Chilean filmmaker Patricio Guzmán traveled to the Atacama Desert. In the vast lunar landscape, high altitude and dry climate made it the ideal site for a huge new observatory opened in 1977. Astronomers could start to peer deep into the cosmos in search of answers concerning the origins of life. Nearby lay the remnants of the Chacabuco Mine prisons, the concentration camps instituted by General Pinochet for political opponents. Bodies were buried in secret mass graves in the desert. For years, wives and sisters of the disappeared have sifted through the sand searching for body parts of loved ones, dumped unceremoniously by Pinochet’s regime. They will continue their daunting task in the colossal desert, they said to Guzmán, until death overtakes them. One interviewee suggested that Chile needs an observatory that can look at its own landscape, find the missing bodies, so as to uncover and root out all its unresolved agony. The contrast between the infinite faraway (galaxies of dying stars) and the infinite fragments (bits and pieces of bones mixed with desert sand) forcefully evokes the power of the human imagination and the need for mourning, for giving the dead the sepultures they deserve. The women’s search for a memory of a memory is poignant. It finds an echo in the certitude of a Tunisian mother convinced that her son did not die in a shipwreck, but rather that he has succeeded in reaching Europe but cannot call her. She worries for him, she imagines his loneliness, she prays for him.54
Wandering souls and ghosts are haunting our planet. If they could speak, the words of those fabricated as disposable and superfluous would tear the veil of hypocrisy and reveal the cruelty and brutality of an economic system based on predation.
1 Derek Walcott, “The Sea is History,” Selected Poems (New York, 2007), p. 139.
2 François Flahault, Le crépuscule de Prométhée: Contribution à une histoire de la démesure humaine (Paris, 2008), p. 25. Translated from French into English by the author.
3 Jean-Pierre Dupuy, Retour de Tchernobyl: Journal d’un homme en colère (Paris, 2006), p. 99. Translated from French into English by the author.
4 Masahisa Fujita, Paul Krugman, and Anthony J. Venables, The Spatial Economy: Cities, Regions, and International Trade (Cambridge, MA, 2001), p. 309.
5 Dante Alighieri and Henry F. Cary, Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri, vol. 20: Harvard Classics (New York, 1909), p. 15.
6 “Small boat” in shi mahoré dialect.
7 Quoted by Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (New York et al., 2006), p. 59.
8 From the poem by Comorian writer Soeuf Elbadawi, “Un dhikri pour nos morts,” http://www.la1ere.fr/2013/04/23/un-dhikri-pour-nos-morts-le-drame-des-kwasa-kwasa-entre-les-comores-et-mayotte-30745.html (all webpages cited in this essay were accessed in November 2013).
9 On the Bossi-Fini law (2002), see, for example, the European Roma Rights Centre website, www.errc.org.
10 Léa Ticlette, “Sans-papiers: le délit de solidarité supprimé,” RFI, January 3, 2013, http://www.rfi.fr/france/20130102-papiers-promesse-tenue-le-delit-solidarite-est-supprime.
11 http://www.lemonde.fr/politique/article/2013/12/19/valls-et-les-roms-la-plainte-du-mrap-classee-sans-suite_4337736_823448.html; http://tempsreel.nouvelobs.com/societe/20130925.OBS8312/9-questions-sur-la-situation-des-roms-en-france.html; http://www.la-croix.com/Actualite/France/Roms-en-France-des-chiffres-inedits-2013-09-26-1026172.
12 Aimé Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism, trans. Joan Pinkham (1972; repr., New York, 2000), p. 32.
13 Ibid, p. 36.
14 Richard Wright, The Color Curtain (New York, 1956), p. 12.
15 See Modern History Sourcebook: Prime Minister Nehru: Speech to Bandung Conference Political Committee, 1955, http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1955nehru-bandung2.html.
16 The Portuguese to Brazil, Angola, Mozambique; the Spanish to South America. The French still have their overseas territories where they receive substantial financial, cultural, and social benefits and higher salaries than in France for the same job.
17 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Constance Farrington (London, 1990), p. 119.
18 Ibid., p. 165.
19 Letter from Aimé Césaire to Maurice Thorez, October 24, 1956, trans. Chike Jeffers.
20 See http://www.ilo.org/asia/whatwedo/publications/WCMS_BK_PB_64_EN/lang–en/index.htm; http://www.ilo.org/asia/whatwedo/publications/WCMS_170518/lang–en/index.htm; http://asiasociety.org/policy/social-issues/women-and-gender/visible-work-invisible-women; Mary C. Brinton, ed., Women’s Working Lives in East Asia (Stanford, 2001).
21 See the Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in South Africa (CoRMSA), http://www.cormsa.org.za.
22 Rhacel Salazar Parrenas, Servants of Globalization: Women, Migration, and Domestic Work (Stanford, 2001), p. 72.
23 Grace Chang, Disposable Domestics: Immigrant Women Workers in the Global Economy (Cambridge, MA, 2000), p. 151.
25 Ibid., quoting Saskia Sassen, p. 247.
26 “Partir loin,” written by Algerian rappers Reda Taliani and 113, whose first recording dates back to 2005. See http://fortresseurope.blogspot.de/2011/04/partir-loin-musique-cest-parti.html.
27 See David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years (Brooklyn, 2011).
28 James Walvin, The Zong: A Massacre, the Law and the End of Slavery (New Haven and London, 2011), p. 201.
29 See Zygmunt Bauman, Globalization: The Human Consequences (Cambridge, 1998); Pheng Cheah, Inhuman Conditions (Cambridge, MA, 2006); Chang 2000 (see note 23); Pun Ngai, Made in China: Women Factory Workers in a Global Workplace (Durham, NC, 2005); Parrenas 2001 (see note 22); Saskia Sassen, Globalization and Its Discontents: Essays on the New Mobility of People and Money (New York, 1998); and Saskia Sassen, Losing Control? Sovereignty in an Age of Globalization (New York, 1996).
30 Nathalie M’Dela Mounier, “Rivage Atlantique,” October 2013, www.africultures.com. Translated by the author into English from the original French: “Les sirènes ont changé depuis les temps homériques, celles qui entonnent leurs lugubres mélopées ont la peau sombre et les cheveux crépus, tressés-collés sur le crâne, algues brunes qu’elles s’arrachent par poignées.”
31 See, for example, “Immigration clandestine Naufrage d’un kwasa-kwasa,” http://mjamawe.skyrock.com/3148815472-Immigration-clandestine-Naufrage-d-un-kwasa-kwasa.html.
32 Askavusa, Museum of Immigration, Lampedusa, http://www.mariotrave.com/projects/civilians/2011/10/16/askavusa-lampedusa/.
33 “Migrant boat capsize leaves 27 dead in Mediterranean,” BBC News Europe, October 11, 2013, www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-24499890.
34 See the Askavusa blog, http://askavusa.blogspot.fr.
35 Eric Trannois, “La grande traversée: Anjouan Mayotte en kwassa-kwassa,” www.malango-mayotte.fr/immigration_clandestine/traversee.htm.
36 Lampedusa Festival, http://fr.scribd.com/doc/154299567/LampedusaInFestival2013-English.
37 Askavusa blog (see note 34). All quotes from this blog translated from French into English by the author.
39 Ibid. See also Charlotte Bonzonet, “Lampedusa, seule au monde,” Le Monde, 14 October 2013.
40 “They do not like Haitians but they like their music; they do not like Haitians but they like Ti Payis” (Haiti). Declaration by Admiralty, a singer from Guadeloupe, about anti-Haitian racism in Guadeloupe. See “La dispora haïtienne en Guadeloupe – comment l’aider?,” October 30, 2010, http://www.migrantsoutremer.org/La-dispora-haitienne-en-Guadeloupe.
41 A term coined by Joseph A. Schumpeter in his work entitled Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1942) to denote a “process of industrial mutation . . . that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.” See Joseph A. Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, 3rd ed. (1942; repr., New York, 2008), p. 83.
42 Ian Johnson, “China’s Great Uprooting: Moving 250 Million Into Cities,” June 15, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/16/world/asia/chinas-great-uprooting-moving-250-million-into-cities.html.
44 “Invisible and heavy shackles,” The Economist, May 6, 2010, http://www.economist.com/node/16058750. The author invited the Chinese government to “unleash the buying power of its people.” It seems that the 2013 decision is going in the direction of unleashing the buying power.
45 Kam Wing Chan, “Chinese Internal Migration,” in The Encyclopedia of Global Human Migration, ed. Immanuel Ness (Hoboken, NJ, 2013).
47 Immanuel Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, ed. Paul Guyer, trans. Paul Guyer and Eric Matthews (Cambridge, 2002), pp. 144–45.
48 See Joachim Radkau, Nature and Power: A Global History of the Environment (Cambridge, 2008); Alfred W. Crosby, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900–1900 (Cambridge, 2004).
49 J. R. McNeill and Corinna R. Under, eds., Environmental Histories of the Cold War (Cambridge, 2010), p. 225.
50 Ibid., p. 21.
51 In 1933, Maxim Gorki led a group of 120 writers to a visit to a gulag, more precisely to the camps built for forced laborers constructing the Bielomor Canal between Leningrad and the White Sea, which was 227 kilometers long.
52 See Frank Westerman, Engineers of the Soul: In the Footsteps of Stalin’s Writers (London, 2011), p. 111.
53 Eyal Weizman, The Least of All Possible Evils: Humanitarian Violence from Arendt to Gaza (London and Brooklyn, 2011), p. 86.
54 “Tunisie: les limbes des rapatriés,” http://fortresseurope.blogspot.fr.
Published in the Kader Attia Exhibition Catalogue : Repair. 5 Acts, 2013, at Kunst-Werke, Berlin