A Tale of Two (More) Crises: Migration and Bioterrorism during the Pandemic

The journal Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism has just published a blog post I wrote here.

Image credit: Steve Hillebrand, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Licensed under CC0 for Public Domain Dedication.

The current pandemic is another crisis being turned against immigrants. Five years after the terrorist attacks on Paris in November 2015 migrants are again being treated as terrorists. This time they are being treated as bioterrorists. Bioterrorism refers to the intentional release of toxic biological agents and migrants are being treated as if their bodies were intentional biological weapons when they are not. This is part of the ongoing characterization of migrants as “invading armies” sweeping the media these days.

Migrants are being denied entry to apply for asylum along the southern border of the United states. This violates national and international immigration law, yet it’s happening anyway in the name of a national health emergency. Donald Trump has temporarily suspended immigration law claiming that immigration is bioterrorism even though the Center for Disease Control has publicly said that asylum seekers pose no health risk.

Asylum seekers have been arriving at cities such as Tijuana and Brownsville by the thousands between 2018 and 2021, fleeing political, climate, and drug cartel violence in Central America. The reason for their pooling pattern of motion is that president Trump instituted a border program called “Remain in Mexico,” where migrants have to wait in Mexico while officials process their asylum cases. This process can take years. So far, only a tiny percentage of migrants out of the 47,000 in the program have been granted asylum since 2018.

As I write this, 10,000 migrants are waiting in Tijuana. Most are relieved that Joe Biden was elected President and that the “Remain in Mexico” will end soon. Some migrants can work and pay for housing in Tijuana while they wait. Still, others without resources live in tent cities with limited access to clean drinking water, electricity, toilets, food, and education. Drug cartels are also taking advantage of this pooling of bodies by kidnapping, extorting, raping, and murdering them.

The concentration of bodies in the border zone is polluting the environment and creating a health hazard. When there are heavy rains in Tijuana, they flood the migrant encampments, and the shallow sewage systems overflow everywhere. These camps are literally pools of water and waste that are endangering migrants. There is no drainage of water and no drainage of movement of migrants out of the camps. They have nowhere to go. Some may take their chances in crossing the border. Others may get sucked into the deportation industrial current. However, most stay and wait in squalor, depending upon aid organizations from the US to survive.

Migrants in camps outside Tijuana are not static. They circulate among the town and back and forth to the border regularly to check on their case status and see if border officials call them for an asylum interview. The border’s architecture pools them and circulates them in a small region like a flow of water pools and spirals into an eddy when it hits a barrier.

Read on. Read my sister article on migration and terrorism here.

Favorite Writing Music of 2020

Happy 2021! These are my favorite albums to write to that came out in 2020. This year I decided not to narrow the list to 10, but the first 10 on this list were my favorite. There was a lot of good writing music this year, but these are only the albums I listened to the most. I listen only to instrumental music when I write and find that it helps me focus. I hope it helps you too.

Silver Ladders, Mary Lattimore

Alone II, Lambert

Roped In, North Americans

Places II, The Tin Box

Surrender, Dmitry Evgrafov

Six Songs for Invisible Gardens, Green-House

The Letdown, William Ryan Fritch 

Scattered on the Wind, Sophie Hutchings

Tycho, Simulcast 

Hill, Flower, Fog, Emily Sprague

Past palms, Vernal

Slow Machines, Michael Grigoni 

Green, Hiroshi Yoshimura

Spring Inside, Valotihkuu

Field Works: Ultrasonic 

Soon This May All Be Sea, Ben McElroy

By the Ash Tree, Slow Meadow

Be, Jogging House

2020 Summer Single Series, Moderna

Volutes, Snowdrops

Midday, Max Ananyev

Pilgrimage, X.Y.R

Instrumentals, Adrianne Lenker

Ficciones Del Tropico, Molero

Tripping with Nils Frahm, Nils Frahm

Home Diaries 28, Ben McElroy

Infinity, oDDling

What are the Migrant Arts?

Thirty years ago, there were fifteen border walls around the world. Now, there are seventy walls and over one billion national and international migrants. International migrants alone may even double in the next forty years due to global warming. It is not surprising that we have also seen the rise of an increasingly powerful global climate-security market designed to profit from and sustain these crises over the past two decades. The construction of walls and fences to block rising sea levels and incoming people has become one of the world’s fastest-growing industries, alongside migrant detention and deportation. Economists project it to reach $742 billion by 2023. This increase in human migration and borders has been a defining feature of the 21st century so far.


However, alongside the spread of global borders and security markets is also an incredible proliferation of “the migrant arts.” As I understand them, the migrant arts include art made by migrants or about migration, or both. Migrants have produced works of art on cell phones, on canvas, in stories, or assemblies of objects carried on their journeys. They have documented their journeys in collaboration with others, and many of these artworks have traveled as “migrant artworks” through curatorial networks, the Internet, and museum circuits. Such museums, thus, have operated as relay systems for circulating migrant art around the world.


However, the process of migration is exceptionally uneven and highly ambiguous. This because societies marginalize migrants and exiles to varying degrees along axes of race, class, and gender. The migrant arts have, thus, given birth to great joy, freedom, beauty, novel expression alongside great sadness, trauma, loss, and untimely death. We should not romanticize or exile the migrant arts. Nor should we merely pity those forced to leave their homes or homelands.1 Their situations are far too complex for either.


No generalizations about “the migrant arts” can capture the extreme and uneven diversity of the situation of migrants’ today or in history. Migrants have gone by many names throughout history. They have been called “nomads,” “barbarians,” “vagabonds,” and “proletarians.” Today, the United Nations simply calls them “migrants.” Whatever their names and motives, migrants have also been great inventors of new artistic and social forms, though they have often suffered terribly.2 The explosion of the migrant arts today foregrounds a unique social and aesthetic experience of ambiguity. Creativity and hope mixed with profound sadness and loss.


The migrant arts are the result of a dialectic between political borders and aesthetic orders. The more social borders there are, the more they tend to leak with new experiences of mobility. It is a common misconception that borders stop movement. Borders are not static barriers, and they cannot stop human movement. Rather, they tend to proliferate it, although in mostly destructive ways. Borders are continually shifting, being skirted around, eroded, burrowed
through and under, and rebuilt. For example, the U.S./Mexico border can funnel people into the middle of the desert, trap them inside the U.S., drive them under it, above it, or through it, and can even kill them. Borders can inspire countless works of art and stories, but can never stop people from moving.


How many times can a false idea like borders stopping movement cause death and destruction before we see what is going on? How many exceptions to the rule of “stopping movement” have to emerge before it’s time to find a new rule? I think the migrant arts can help us see what is going on. The more barriers there are, the more differences and aesthetic hybrids multiply under the constraints. The migrant arts can help show us all the ways that one can move and how these ways can be experienced dierently. They may not always be liberating or joyful, but at least they show us what migration is about in all its complexity and singularity whereas borders, however, do not.

One can think of how a single leak in a pipe begins to multiply the more duct tape one put’s on. At first, the water seems to slow down, but then it begins to drip out several sides of the tape at once. Taping only redirects the flows but does not stop them. Alternatively, think about the dialectic between Internet advertising and ad-blocking software. Each new ad wants to control your movement and direct you to its source, and each new version of ad-removal software intends to let you move as you wish. The more new kinds of ads there are, the more new kinds of ad-evading software there is. The attempt to control your browsing through ads does not reduce dierences but multiplies evasion techniques and ad techniques. Similarly, think about how each new law or increased enforcement strategy increases the number of criminals and ways of avoiding detection. The point is the same: attempts to block mobility only diversify it, although often with terrible consequences.

Read the rest here.

Writing Migration

War refugees on their way to Germany from Hungary.

The journal Konturen has just published a special issue on “Writing Migration,” which looks wonderful. You can read it free online here. I have an article in the issue as well. Thank you to Jeffrey Librett for organizing and editing this!

Konturen, Vol 11 (2020)

Writing Migration

This issue edited by Jeffrey S. Librett with Ahmad Nadalizadeh as assistant editor.

“Writing migration”: our title comprises a mixture of heterogeneous terms, like a mixed metaphor, insofar as movement of peoples seems so concrete, as movement of living, breathing subjective spirits, while writing remains abstract; the former so alive, the latter—the letter–so dead. Or so we usually think, even without having to think it. We know that migration experiences can be written down, but we think of the migration and the writing as two fundamentally different types of experiences, two quite different types of thing. Our point of departure in the organization of this special issue was—in contrast to these overly simple conventions—a curiosity about the ways in which the two structurally intersect: writing migrates, and migration writes.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Writing Migration: Points of Departure and Arrival in History and ReasonJeffrey S LibrettHTML PDF1-10

Articles

Herder’s Ideas for a Philosophy of Human History (1784-1791), or: the Anthropological De-struction of “Africa”Amadou Oury BaHTML PDF11-28
Migration’s Alienations: Bertolt Brecht’s Mother CourageDorothee Ostmeier, Michael Malek NajjarHTML PDF29-51
“We Can Do It” [Wir schaffen das]—Creative Impulses Through Migration (a Report from September 2017, with an Afterword on the Situation Today)Sabine SchollHTML PDF52-62
A Staged Migration to Europe: Ozdamar’s Perikizi and Transgenerational TraumaJocelyn AskinHTML PDF63-82
The Impossibility of Return: Güney Dal and the Exilic ConditionMert Bahadir ReisoğluHTML PDF83-99
“More Than a Trip”: Memory, Mobility, and Space in Un Franco, 14 Pesetas (2004)Araceli Masterson-AlgarHTML PDF100-127
Brown Eyed Boy: Narrating Internalized Oppression and Misogynoir in Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s Everything I Don’t RememberBenjamin Mier-CruzHTML PDF128-151
Borders, Migrants, and WritingThomas NailHTML PDF152-173

Review Essays

Manlio Graziano, What is a Border? Stanford Briefs, 2018.Joscha KlueppelHTML PDF174-180

Moving Borders

Crossing the Border While Disabled | by Kenny Fries | How We Get To Next

Here is a video of my keynote lecture “Moving Borders” from B/Ordering Cultures. B/ORDERING CULTURES: EVERYDAY LIFE, POLITICS, AESTHETICS 6th Annual Conference of the Kulturwissenschaftliche Gesellschaft, e.V. European University Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder) 8 — 10 October 2020. Thanks to Maria Klessmann and the others who invited me and helped organize the event and edit the video.

Theory of the Earth (Stanford University Press, 2021)

We need a new philosophy of the earth. Geological time used to refer to slow and gradual processes, but today we are watching land sink into the sea and forests transform into deserts. We can even see the creation of new geological strata made of plastic, chicken bones, and other waste that could remain in the fossil record for millennia or longer. Crafting a philosophy of geology that rewrites natural and human history from the broader perspective of movement, Thomas Nail provides a new materialist, kinetic ethics of the earth that speaks to this moment.

Climate change and other ecological disruptions challenge us to reconsider the deep history of minerals, atmosphere, plants, and animals and to take a more process-oriented perspective that sees humanity as part of the larger cosmic and terrestrial drama of mobility and flow. Building on his earlier work on the philosophy of movement, Nail argues that we should shift our biocentric emphasis from conservation to expenditure, flux, and planetary diversity. Theory of the Earth urges us to rethink our ethical relationship to one another, the planet, and the cosmos at large.

Read the Introduction here.

Pre-Order here and here. Out early 2021.

Theory of the Earth (Stanford University Press, 2021)

We need a new philosophy of the earth. Geological time used to refer to slow and gradual processes, but today we are watching land sink into the sea and forests transform into deserts. We can even see the creation of new geological strata made of plastic, chicken bones, and other waste that could remain in the fossil record for millennia or longer. Crafting a philosophy of geology that rewrites natural and human history from the broader perspective of movement, Thomas Nail provides a new materialist, kinetic ethics of the earth that speaks to this moment.

Climate change and other ecological disruptions challenge us to reconsider the deep history of minerals, atmosphere, plants, and animals and to take a more process-oriented perspective that sees humanity as part of the larger cosmic and terrestrial drama of mobility and flow. Building on his earlier work on the philosophy of movement, Nail argues that we should shift our biocentric emphasis from conservation to expenditure, flux, and planetary diversity. Theory of the Earth urges us to rethink our ethical relationship to one another, the planet, and the cosmos at large.

Read the Introduction here.

Pre-Order here and here. Out early 2021.

No Borders

No Borders Post Nationalism at ArtsLink Assembly on Thursday 5 November 2020. Here are two events from the recent ArtsLink Assembly. the first is a conversation with Nandita Sharma about her excellent book Home Rule and the second is a panel and discussion on no borders with Alex Sager. Thanks to everyone who organized and participated in this event.

These lectures were part of larger conference on Radical Hospitality.

ARTSLINK ASSEMBLY 2020: RADICAL HOSPITALITY. October 12 – November 13, 2020

Lucretius: Our Contemporary (Video Lecture at University of Warwick)

Judith with the Head of Holofernes - Sandro Botticelli (Italian,  b.1444-1445, d.1510) — Google Arts & Culture

Here is the video recording of a lecture I recently gave at University of Warwick as part of The Center for Post-Kantian European Philosophy.

University of Warwick, 3 November 2020