Purple Magazine
— F/W 2016 issue 26

Anti-Column

the camps

text by JOHN JEFFERSON SELVE

 

In recent years, the concept of the “camp” has become a philosophical cliché. Before going any further, though, we should recall its importance in the thought of the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben. Since 1997, in books ranging from Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life to The Use of Bodies [published this year], Agamben has renewed our approach to contemporary politics in the wake of Michel Foucault and his concept of biopolitics. What is a camp? It’s the place where the power structure is revealed to be sovereign power: that is, where a decision made by sovereign power to affect life is carried out. Camps stem from a state of exception, from the proscription of society in its ontological limits. These limits tend nonetheless to melt away, and in melting to generalize the structure of the exception. For an example, we need look no further than France, the world’s sixth richest country, which has unabashedly allowed the establishment of a camp for war refugees in Calais — a camp, moreover, that it has quickly come to call “the Jungle.” This speaks volumes of France’s post-colonial repressions, but that is another story…“Form,” wrote Victor Hugo, “is the rise of depths to the surface.” The paradigm for the surface of our present societies is the form of the camp. Camps have arisen on our planet like scarcely repressed impulses, and to them we banish the Other. Be it a European refugee camp, like Greece’s Idomeni, or something born of the Frontex program, the camp establishes an enclosure, so that we need neither see nor deal with the Other, with the man who has been sacriced by Power’s decree, the man whom Agamben calls Homo sacer [sacred man or accursed man]. We seek to see nothing and to protect ourselves.

Let us note in passing that the over securitized condominiums and rich family residential zones now proliferating in many parts of the world are like the negative version, the luxurious ip side, of the modern camp. There we see the principle of hyper-concentrated wealth in action. The writer J. G. Ballard ably described the rise — no longer symbolic, but quite real — of the phenomenon. A perfect example is Cologny, Switzerland, an enclave for billionaires, where Russian oligarchs and London traders alike converge to isolate and protect themselves from the outside, necessarily hostile world.

As the philosopher Achille Mbembe rightfully says, “If we are to live exposed to one another, we must acknowledge that part of our ‘identity’ originates in our vulnerability.” Old Europe, for instance, having grown weary, prefers now to erect camps to hide the fact that it no longer represents the world, that it no longer communicates with the world (except in welcoming the world’s tourists). Europe’s illusory universalism in terms of identity and its “human rights,” as glorious as they are abstract, have missed their mark, whereas its isolation from and break with the world are everywhere in evidence, even in its capital cities. Consider the gulfs between these city centers and their suburbs (another kind of camp), or between individual neighborhoods, as in Paris, where differences and oppositions are coming to a head. We have no further need to erect walls. Now we incorporate them. To each his camp, we might say. We have assimilated the idea in an almost cognitive way.

On top of this, moreover, there is the Western security enclosure related to terrorism. As we all can sense, we are in the clutches of a permanent protective regime, which is shutting us into an ever more restrictive camp of multiple checkpoints. This is what the thinker Paul Virilio calls “the administration of fear.” We are in need of countermeasures. To continue to pursue his way of life, Western man must, with not inconsiderable irony, submit to controls that look more and more like the treatment meted out to Homo sacer. Biometrics, full-body scans at the airport, systematic searches, inclusion in police les. These days, we feel the absolute power of the permanent state of exception whenever we take a plane — or, in time, a train — or go to a nightclub because we are stripped then and there of part of our liberty. The attack on the Bataclan concert hall in Paris, and now the atrocious American tragedy of the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, will only put cruel reality into sharper relief. A venue for the liberty and expression of culture and bodies, if it hopes to survive, will have to transform itself into a locus of control and entrenchment, complete with surveillance cameras and metal detectors. An arsenal’s worth of security measures, equal parts legitimate and paranoid, will see deployment. And this, in turn, will put up new barriers, erect new fortied camps, to alienate us in the name of security and so-called liberty.

[Table of contents]

F/W 2016 issue 26

Table of contents

purple NEWS

purple BEST of the SEASON

purple INTERVIEW

purple FASHON WOMEN

purple FASHION MEN

purple DOCUMENT

purple BEAUTY

purple ARCHITECTURE

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purple NIGHT

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