Archive for May, 2008

On Porous Sovereignty and Walled Democracy

Conceptual metaphors seem to take up most of my time lately. I am not really sure I am moving in the right direction but this is definitely something that I want to explore. And when done with that all I still need to do is to connect it to the visual part and that’s it, I got a methodology. Only if it were so simple!

“Porous Sovereignty, Walled Democracy” was the title of a very interesting lecture delivered by Wendy Brown, at Stockholm University (Sweden) . The main argument was, in my understanding, that the less sovereign the states become nowadays, the more prone to walling themselves they seem. Besides the rather peculiar choice among all means of demarcation, she noted that the wall worked not as much as an effective deterrent, as more of a symbolic divide.

Wendy Brown’s slides of walls and wires, and her talk about demonstrative walling and sheer materiality of the concrete they are made of reminded me of something slightly more familiar, something that was bound to be discussed a lot in those countries that came in contact with the Ottoman Empire.

The image, or metaphor if one wishes to call it so, that came into my mind was that of such a walled democracy as an Ottoman harem. The word harem entered English language through Turkish that borrowed it in turn from Arabic. The original Arab word حريم ḥarīm meant forbidden. Forbidden it was indeed the part of the household destined for the safekeeping, or rather safe imprisoning, of the women for their so-proclaimed master. But the Ottoman harem was not only a golden cage for the women, but rather a universe in itself, including the women’s progenies, servants and slaves, and eunuchs; a universe however separated from the outside world by a wall. This (de-)limited universe had its own rules, its own system of discipline and containment, and even educated the future in enforcing and reenacting it, and thus perpetuating the harem as an individualized universe.

The act of ownership of the sovereign was inscribed through the existence of the aforesaid walls, and the numerous servants, slaves, and eunuchs were serving as guardians of the master’s exclusive proprietorship over the women captive behind those very walls. But at the same time, the harem was one piece of a bigger societal ensamble, and the walls helped to compartmentalize this society in apparently autonomous islands that institutionalized patriarchal domination.

In my reading, these neo-autarkist manifestations of walling the demos, which were discussed by Wendy Brown, appear to be deeply gendered, and in fact try to render the citizenry to a very patriarchal sub-positioning. At the same time, the border patrols of the self-organized vigilantes and the various defensive groups are but eunuchs that attempt to appropriate some phallic attributes that are not there, thus the insecurity and violence accompanying it. Yet, this contained universe they try to wall off is dependent on outer processes and forces and the aforesaid walling is an expression of vulnerability and violence.

The question is, in my view, where is the Sovereign, the Patriarch that demands such actions or non-actions from its subjects? Now, when the King is no more, who or what has taken the empty place?

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Friday, May 16th, 2008 Research No Comments