Readers
Borders
8 essays
Compiled by e-flux journal editors

The virus has made a mockery of national borders, while simultaneously reinforcing them. It has circulated freely from country to country, even as governments have closed their borders to the circulation of people, leaving many migrants, travelers, and expats stranded in a terrifying limbo. Covid-19 fortifies not only the borders between countries, but also the borders within them—the borders dividing rich from poor, old from young, sick from well. The texts below from the e-flux journal archive ruminate on the violence and contradictions of borders—the metaphorical kind, and the all-too-concrete. At the same time, they hold out hope for a kind of borderless cosmopolitanism—one where culture, ideas, and bodies flow freely and without fear.

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Elizabeth A. Povinelli
Horizons and Frontiers, Late Liberal Territoriality, and Toxic Habitats
Originally published in April 2018

Two imaginaries of space have played a crucial role in the emergence of liberalism and its diasporic imperial and colonial forms, and have grounded its disavowal of its own ongoing violence. On the one hand is the horizon and on the other is the frontier. These two spatial imaginaries have provided the conditions in which liberalism—in both its emergent form and its contemporary late form—has dodged accusations that its truth is best understood from a long history and ongoing set of violent extractions, abandonments, and erasures of other forms of existence, and have enabled liberalism to deny what it must eventually accept as its own violence.

Hito Steyerl
Duty-Free Art
Originally published in March 2015

This is a file published in 2012 by WikiLeaks. It forms part of WikiLeaks’s Syria files database. The file is called “316787_Vision Presentation—Oct 30 2010 Eng.pptx,” in PowerPoint format, dated October 2010. It details Syrian First Lady Asma al-Assad’s plans for the future of Syria’s museums. Her foundation aims to establish a network of museums to promote Syria’s economic and social development and strengthen national identity and cultural pride. The French Louvre is listed as a partner in developing this plan. Both the Louvre and the Guggenheim Bilbao are named as role models for a redesigned National Museum in Damascus.

Jonas Staal
To Make a World, Part I: Ultranationalism and the Art of the Stateless State
Originally published in September 2014

There doesn’t seem to be a worse moment than the present to defend the project of stateless internationalism. The recent European elections of May 2014 showed the growing influence of ultranationalist parties on the political establishment; in terms of representation in the European Parliament, ultranationalist parties became the largest parties in France (National Front), Denmark (Danish People’s Party), and the United Kingdom (United Kingdom Independence Party), while gaining substantial ground in Austria (Freedom Party of Austria) and Sweden (Swedish Democrats), and remaining relatively stable in the Netherlands (Freedom Party). They suffered heavy losses in Belgium (Flemish Interest), but this was due to the success of a slightly more moderate and competing nationalist party (New Flemish Alliance). The next step for these ultranationalist parties has been to seek alliances and prepare to deliver the final blow to the supra-nationalist managerial project of the European Union. Their challenge is to convince EU parliamentarians from seven or more different countries to unite in order to, as Le Pen has said, make the EU “disappear and be replaced by a Europe of nations that are free and sovereign.”

iLiana Fokianaki
Narcissistic Authoritarian Statism, Part 2: Slow/Fast Violence
Originally published in March 2020

In 2004, artist Abdel Karim Khalil organized an exhibition in a small Baghdad neighborhood. It was a group exhibition of artists from the area who felt the need to position themselves against what was occurring in the city. Khalil’s sculptural installation A Man from Abu Ghraib (2004) is a set of realistic marble figures depicting torture: a visual documentation of a historical moment that disrupted and destroyed a society and a people and initiated a new wave of exiles and refugees. It is one of the rare examples of artistic practice that manages to directly confront eso- and exo-violence, in both its slow and fast forms. The work unearths the violence imposed by the Iraqis and the Americans equally in instantaneous bursts of fast violence during the Gulf Wars, but also throughout the interim periods, during the rise of ISIS and through today.

María Iñigo Clavo
Modernity vs. Epistemodiversity
Originally published in May 2016

It is a hallmark of postcolonial theory to question selective, self-flattering accounts of European modernity. Postcolonial theorists from both Europe and the rest of the world have illustrated how ideals of emancipation, equality, freedom, and scientific and industrial development were only possible through their opposites: colonial exploitation, inequality, slavery, torture, and suffering in the Global South. That’s why, during the 1990s, theorists felt it was necessary to insist that coloniality was the other face of modernity, the “dark side of the renaissance,” as Walter Mignolo famously put it.

Metahaven
Captives of the Cloud, Part III: All Tomorrow’s Clouds
Originally published in December 2013
Raqs Media Collective
Now and Elsewhere
Originally published in January 2010

We would like to begin by taking a sentence from the formulation of the problem that set the ball rolling for this lecture series. In speaking of the “hesitation in developing any kind of comprehensive strategy” for understanding precisely what it is that we call contemporary art today (in the wake of the last twenty years of contemporary art activity), the introduction to the series speaks of its having “assumed a fully mature form—and yet it still somehow refuses to be historicized as such.”

Gregg Bordowitz
Eclipse
Originally published in January 2011

Each day a required task remains undone
And the mind can’t know what isn’t finished

So, the soul continues to feel alone
Unable to picture its own wishes

The eyes glaze over news from Washington
Vacations collect painted shells on sills

Getting out of bed demands volition
pills

I have nothing to make, no gallery
Yet I persist in calling myself art

Not the maker but the thing itself. Fear
Of the unstructured and unopposed—life

An interminable question—what if?
Poised where one thing ends and another starts

How attached I am to vague discontent
Here now the quality of obscurity

Remoteness of touch, blurred appearances
What this substance called fear-of-being is

A future of one’s own, without consent
Subject to fantasy, unhappiness

Nothing but the hollow empty feeling
Thinking of a chore more common than rent

A flaw no less appealing than money
O, the near rhyme of its proximity

It being something that cannot be told
Held like perplexity, as value

Phony, counterfeit, yet somehow principled
Reportage is such a nice word for it

I live in a fever dream astounded
Chewing on food without taste’s amusement

Listening to the sound of teeth touching
Wondering how the current is ground meat

It’s all a matter of my defenses
Reduced to hidden corners, crouching down

Off-kilter supported by meeting walls
The comfort of geometric limits

*

I am finished with the life of the mind
The life itself cured me of that ailment

One many revolutions of a wheel
Invisible hamster-like progressions

The length of time remains fruitlessly still
Marching to war against dull wrung senses

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