* The complete essay is published in the book Ankersentrum (surviving in the ruinous ruin).
The return of the wolves is not without its history. The human’s relationship with the wolf oscillates between fascination and competition, expressed in various myths, figures and stories. The myth of the werewolf—the metamorphosis of a human being into a bloodthirsty wolf(man)—is infused with fear and fascination. From the 13th to the 17th century, this belief is so strong in Europe that alleged werewolves are burned at the stake in the course of witch-hunts.
The history of the expulsion of wolves runs parallel to the emergence of sovereign states and the idea of citizenship. It can be recounted on the basis of a series of divisions and distinctions, for example between wilderness and domestication, man and nature, being settled and freedom of movement, or possession and possessionlessness.
The links between the figure of the wolf and that of the Friedlos, the bandit who belongs to no community, are revealed by Giorgio Agamben in Homo sacer: he equates the “bandit’s liminal status” with the wolf-man or werewolf, half animal, half human. Like homo sacer, who according to Roman law cannot be sacrificed, but may be killed without fear of punishment, he stands on the threshold between nature and culture; he exists in both worlds at the same time, but belongs to neither. According to Agamben, this borderline position between phýsis (i.e. nature or the real world) and nómos (i.e. human and divine law), and the power inherent in these two worlds, not only characterises the conditions before the introduction of law, preceding civil rights and the social contract. Rather, the violence that freely disposes of the “bare life” of the exile, homo sacer, with no form of criminal liability, is a continual prerequisite for the “authentically political,” and remains a constitutive element of the sovereign state.
This essential link between violence and the state manifests itself most clearly in a state of emergency. In a moment of danger, such as an interstate conflict or civil war, to which Thomas Hobbes’ anthropological formula “homo homini lupus est” (man is a wolf to men) historically refers, sovereign power unmasks itself as fundamentally violent. The most extreme escalation of this power, which is based on violence, takes place in the extraterritorial space of the camp.
The paradox of simultaneous exclusion and inclusion, inherent in both communities and states, was recognised by Roland Barthes in the factthat the excluded individual is enclosed within them without losing his status of exclusion.Even more so, he is integrated as a disintegrated individual. This implies that the “moment” of the state of emergency can be extended, becoming perpetuated within the system. Integrated exclusion provides the legitimation for the use of violence, which can be activated again and again.
In his essay Grammaire africaine, Barthes investigates the rhetoric of the French colonial rulers in Algeria and Morocco, speaking of an “axiomatic use of language” that attributes certain characteristics to the native population, devalues local social structures and naturalises colonial power structures. The meaning of words are literally turned into their opposite in order to legitimise foreign rule. This combination of attribution, heteronomy and masking is also found in political rhetoric today. When, for example, armed conflict is described as the pacification of unrest, when the victims of violence are pronounced suspects, when “initial reception centres,” which make community building almost impossible, are referred to as community accommodation, or when migrants and the helpers who show solidarity with them are criminalised. In the name of Willkommenskultur (welcoming culture), migrants are referred to as “guests,” and are then told where, when and how to be guests. They are asked for their names only in order to be registered, identified and categorised. This rhetoric invents deceptive expressions such as Duldung (tolerance) or AnkER centre, the effects of which are felt by migrants before they understand them, before they learn that they are neither guests nor welcome.
Processes of migration today affect more than 250 million people worldwide. The movement of migrants, says Avery F. Gordon, mirrors “border control rendered by its objective effects on the person who never moves alone.” The person who never moves alone has lived in the “provisional” extraterritory of refugee camps for decades, sat hunched together with hundreds of others in an overcrowded dinghy on the open sea, inhabited an “initial reception centre” in a confined space with others, existed without civil rights (as an estimated number), worked in fields and factories with no rights over his own body, which is degraded to a tool, under the worst conditions imaginable. Being disintegrated, he or she is integrated into the logic of exploitation of neoliberal economies and national politics.
Does this person, with whom the “universal subject,” who is free to travel the world, shares so little (believes he shares so little and is willing to share so little) show us the meaning of sociality? The person who, with a history of centuries of subjugation, has internalised the fact that the exploitation of natural resources and the destruction of social structures in favour of the greatest possible accumulation of capital are ruinous concepts, producing a crisis that does not permit differentiation—for instance between human and human, between human and nature, between animate and inanimate existence, hunter and hunted—a crisis that knows no outside, no way back?
The knowledge of the ruinous circumstances caused by the “universal subject” of modernity along with globalised capital through the plundering of natural, social and ideational resources is neither a secret, nor is it new. And as long as this knowledge is not activated, its bearers, who behave passively in face of these conditions, perpetuating them or enduring them without contradiction, are accomplices to the plundering.
But how can this knowledge be activated? Perhaps through the figure of the witness, who embodies committed perception and presence in the sense of “being-with”? For André Lepecki, the aesthetic and political quality of testimony lies in the “active relation to the future historicity of the event.” It would seem even more urgent to reveal the full impact of the continuity and complexity of the “event,” the plundering, and to make it more understandable, more palpable. For example through the concept of “elsewhere within here” (Trinh T. Minh-ha ), meant neither in a purely temporal nor in a purely spatial sense, which repeatedly recognises the ecological, social, cultural, economic and political connections of the plundering and demands that these connections be actively challenged.
Finally: would a radical form of hospitality be conceivable, renouncing the role of the “eternal host” (who, acting on an impulse of well-meaning humanism, invites everyone and speaks for everyone and then tells his guests where to sit and how to behave)? This hospitality would stand for a direct connectedness in which there are—in Roland Barthes’ words—“only direct addresses, presences, no images, absences.” It would be an invitation to exchange traditional and internalised aesthetic concepts of the not so “universal” subject for experiences of “being in common” and “becoming with,” in order to interpret seeing, hearing, speaking in continually new ways. The gathering, at which everyone would be guests and hosts at the same time, would be an unrestrainedly joyful event—remaining silent, listening, shouting, dancing, howling together—an expression of mutual responsibility. To use the words of bell hooks, the aesthetic would then be “more than a philosophy or theory of art and beauty; it is a way of inhabiting space, a particular location, a way of looking and becoming.”
This kind of aesthetic possesses the socio-poetic power of transformation.
1 Giorgio Agamben, Homo
Sacer. Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Stanford, CA: Stanford University
Press, 1998, p. 63.
2 Agamben, p. 64.
3 Cf. Roland Barthes, Lecture at the Collège de France, Session March 16, 1977, in: How to Live Together. Novelistic Simulations of Some Everyday Spaces, New York: Columbia University Press, 2012, p. 81.
4 Roland Barthes, “Grammaire africaine,” in: Mythologies, Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1957.
5 Cf. Avery F. Gordon’s presentation “Migration—Talking Migration” on the occasion of 100 Years of Now on 24 March 2017 at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin (https://www.hkw.de/en/app/mediathek/video/55799).
6 André Lepecki, Singularities: Dance in the Age of Performance, New York/London: Routledge, 2016, p. 180.
7 Barthes, Lecture at the Collège de France, Session March 30, 1977, in: How to Live Together, p. 101.
8 bell hooks, Belonging: A Culture of Place, New York/London: Routledge, 2009, p. 122.