Mar 29, 2015

Appropriation through Pollution | In search of missing pieces

This is a continuation of the last post Appropriation of Public(s). Since I ended it with a quote from Michel Serres's Malfeasance: Appropriation through Pollution?, I thought it appropriate to use his words (once again) to make my (multitudes of) point(s). 
I started my meditation yesterday by saying that pollution and dirt were taking possession of streets and places, of roads and the sky - in short, of the world and objects. I will end it tomorrow by suddenly discovering strange dirtiness of my soul and the numerous owners of my mind and my language. Now I see that my subjectivity is just as possessed as the collective and the objective. (Serres, p. 59-60)
All text below is from the book, and the excerpts I've chosen (my emphasis) will (hopefully) move the concept and agency of public(s) from the scale of the body to that of the specie(s), from its property to its habitat - the “natural” of the anthropocene.
The public territory stretched as a planetary morass. So, next time you ask about public space - think big!! ☺☻☺☻☺☻☺☻☺☻

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How do the living inhabit a place? How do they establish it, recognize it? 2

From tribe to homeland, from the rustic farm to cities, and from these to nations. The latter sometimes revere the tomb of an unknown soldier, not so much to remember the horrors of war, as the inscriptions claim - it would be better to forget those - but to bow before the vile remains that sanction the urban or national appropriation of the soil. [R]omulus built the eternal city on the corpse of his brother.

Millions of young people, whose remains rest in military cemeteries, in the shadow of bronze statues erected for the foul glory of the very people (were they clueless or criminal?) who sacrificed them, marked with their blood, their corpses the nation's property. Born on the soil of their nation, they died on it and for it, and now they sleep in it. 7

With reference to sites that are outside the body, our language says “here lies” for the place where our ancestors rest. The here of the “here lies” did not in fact designate the funeral site; on the contrary, it signaled that there is no place other than the site rooted in those bodies. The site does not indicate death; death indicates the site, and often its limits. This is another inevitable link. 9/10

Exposed to space, our strength emerges from our weaknesses that lie in those places from which they spring forth. The primary need: to live here. To inhabit, to have; how to describe the strength of the link that unites them? He who lacks a “here” where he can lie down does not have the strength to stand up for very long. 11

What happens when this nest, this place, is gone? The person whose pecuniary resources are dwindling is called poor; the famished deprived even of bread are indigent; those who roam without a roof, without a place, are miserable. Human misery marks the limit of possible life. Those who have a place have. Those who have no place have nothing, strictly speaking. Do they still exist? They have fallen below the level of animals.

Necessary for survival, the act of appropriation seems to me to have an animal origin that is ethological, bodily, physiological, organic, vital ... and not to originate in some convention or positive right. I sense there a collection of urine, blood, excretions, rotting corpses ... . Its foundation comes from the body, alive or dead. I see those actions, behaviors, postures as sufficiently vital and common to all living beings to call them natural. Here natural right precedes positive or conventional right. 12

Rousseau is wrong when he writes, “The first who after enclosing a piece of land thought of saying ‘This is mine’ and found people to believe him was the real founder of civil society.” Describing an imaginary act, he proposes a conventional foundation of property right. A few centuries before him, Livy, in the first book of his Roman History, might have said it more concretely: “The first, Romulus, who having enclosed a piece of land by plowing a furrow around Rome, and thought of saying ‘this is mine,’ found no one to believe him, but on the contrary found a twin brother, a rival, a competitor, someone with the same desire ... and opposed him.” [...] Romulus therefore killed Remus, who had turned up so conveniently, and hastened to bury him under the walls of the city, which made him its founder, owner, master, and king. The bloody remains of his crime polluted the earth he thus appropriated, according to what I have just called the natural or living law. Romulus remained faithful to the wolves that reared him. Although from a historical perspective it is just as wrong as Rousseau's tale, the Latin historian's account expresses an anthropological truth that refers to bestial customs described in ethology; these customs are still obvious to the passer-by on streets full of dog piss. 13

Most of the rituals performed in antiquity, throughout what was called, erroneously or out of ignorance, the inhabited world, revered the gods pertaining to the cult of ancestors. [...] Sacred was the name of the Earth that they walked on, haunted, and cultivated; sacred because it contained the historical remains of descendants buried there. The cultivated Earth, the pagus, from the tilled plot of land, owned by the descendants of the ancestors buried there, was the origin of the pagan religion, as the term itself indicates. The domestic altars bring into the household the remnants of the dead and the gods of the pagus [...] On the heels of the first murder come religions14/5

“The first who enclosed a piece of land,” the word lustrare is used specifically; it means to travel all over a place, go around its periphery, circle it, inspect it. The same word for closure also means to clean, to purify. This purification occurs through sacrifice; is this bloodshed used to clean, or to soil? 16

After urine, blood. And after blood, we have ashes. After nature, after the paganism of the pagus, we have polytheism. 17

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Here is the first example of a softening. A conversion (to Christianity). There will be nothing sacred, only what is holy. Nothing dirty is left, only what is clean and proper. At the altar as at the hotel? There is no more property?

This Holy Land, no longer sacred but holy, we will no longer tread on, no longer work it either by hand or by plough. We will barely inhabit it because it no longer lies here; it takes place somewhere else, far away.  18

Our very earth has been desecrated, or rather secularized; in other words it has become ordinary, analogous to any other, plunged into a homogeneous and isotropic space. Lying before us passively, the earth has even become objectified ... objectifiable. Hence our sciences will be able someday to study it, observe it, and measure it.

A very few of us will get to know this Holy Land, only after a long pilgrimage. [...] What is more, this so-called Holy Land no longer harbors any remains of the one who was raised from the dead, leaving his tomb empty, containing neither corpse nor mummy; even better, he is the one whose Ascension - or Assumption in the feminine - we celebrate but whose departure leaves nothing behind on earth. [R]eligion based on the life of a person leaving no trace whatsoever that would allow us to infer a history19

Called holy before, this Earth now also loses its sacredness because it contains no more remains [...] no signs of appropriation any more. It is finally cleansed, finally dis-appropriated, de-territorialized. [T]here is no longer any marked place.

The holy land no longer even lies in the Holy Land; it can no longer even be found on earth, henceforth referred to as “here below.” Like a dispossessed traveler, wandering and roaming, a transient pilgrim, a tenant, our being is not there; it does not come from there, does not go there, but only passes through.

Here are the new answers to the four classic questions concerning place: neither ubi, nor quo, nor unde, but qua. We now have a new spatial, religious, or anthropological foundation for tenancy. No longer is there a here or appropriation; we live as transients or tenants, deprived of a fixed abode.

We can call this the first end of property; it is abstract, theoretical, virtual, whatever you want. 20

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Proudhon's famous words: Property is theft! 25

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We are dealing here with what characterizes both the god and the city. Henceforth, monuments to the dead will celebrate the shame of the massacre of innocent children by unspeakably cruel fathers, which I call the murder of the sons. They will found the property, now definitely public and collective, of a city, and on a larger scale the nation. The increasing volume of trash or excretions - urine, blood, corpses ... - that still are bodily or physiological excretions, marks the extension of appropriated space - nest, farm, city, country - and also the increase in the number of subjects of appropriation - individual, family, nation.

For the rhythm of this increase to stop and then suddenly to change into a vertical spurt engulfing the planer and humanity, it had to go from cemeteries or bodily excretions, subjective or human, to more objective trash: sewage farms, public dumps ... in big cities, industrial waste that is less biodegradable, or world-objects in the world. We have now arrived. 35

These objects we exclude or throw away once they have become useless emanate from us in new ways today to mark our territories. We know how to make waste machines. 38

Nothing in these adventures, though, seems relate to energy questions - in short, to the hard sciences. The main issue appears to concern the behaviors of appropriation of the species in question if they were to multiply. 39

We question our responsibility only when it comes to relations between physical quantities. The question is, What do we really want when we dirty the world? 40

A factory empties its effluents into a nearby river, diffuses them in the atmosphere, or transports them to a remote mangrove swamp; of course nobody sees that this means appropriation of the place. Who doesn't understand that no one can drink the water, breathe the air, or get close to such an area? These spaces are better protected than by walls, locks, or bolts. Those who leave horrifying traces and marks do not appropriate places by haunting them but by excluding everybody else.

Clearly, we have to meditate on the function of the border. Even linear and abstract, in other words infinitely fine, this dividing line strangely consists of three layers. The first is on the inside and protects the inhabitant with its softness; the exterior one threatens possible invaders with its hardness. The layer in the middle is riddled with pores, passages, portals, and porosities through which, often by semiconduction, a living being or a thing enters, is locked in, leaves, transits, attacks, or waits hopelessly. The prepositions in, for, to, from describe the first layer; out of and against the third strip; between and through the intermediary one. To defend, protect, forbid, or let through: this is the three-fold way in which a border functions. 43

This reveals an act of appropriation. 

Pollution grows with the production and consumption of goods, and therefore with the number of rich people with profusely overflowing garbage cans (hard) and overwhelming loudspeakers (soft). The parallel growth of property, money and waste show their commonality; money and waste define one as an owner.

Global statistics show that owners who have acquired or rapidly increased their wealth pollute more than the poor, and the rich pollute more than the destitute, the dominating more than the dominated - in other words, those who own rather than those who have nothing. 45

What is more, the rich readily discharge waste [...] where the very poorest live.

The more wealth a man or a collectivity amasses, the more noise they make, soft but also hard; the louder the noise and the racket, the further their visual and acoustic productions or excrements will spread, the more hard power they have. Their images, smells, and voices reach far. The hard engenders the soft, which engenders the hard. The global invasion has begun. 46/7

Hence there is growth in space. [...] For wealth to pollute, it must spread, but how and by what mechanism and circulation? Through money. Just as some animals mark their nest with their urine, some humans like to spread the image of their face in space. 50

Imperious images and letters force us to read, while the pleading things of the world are begging our senses for meaning. The latter asks; the former command.

Those who no longer see them can dirty them even more. 51

First the landscape then the world. Just as imperiously, a coin is easier to see, read, and decipher than the object it buys. The coin hides the object's view and kills it. The symbol nullifies the thing. Signs express and suppress the world.

Just as the images and vivid colors of billboards prevent us from seeing the landscape, steal and occupy it, seize, repress, and kill it, parasitic noise prevents us from speaking to and hearing our neighbor, thereby monopolizing communication.

Today the noises of appropriation travel beyond any limit because the pole is mobile or virtual and can move all over the world.

Spatial expansion is becoming total. 52

The giant garbage dumps of the cities mark the collectivity's appropriation of the nature surrounding the cities. As we never cease to dirty our surroundings, we (who we?) appropriate them without noticing it. Don't we actually admit as much when we say environment? That which surrounds man makes him into the center. We never stop calling him “owner.” At the limits of growth, pollution is the sign of the world's appropriation by the species53

Described in its rapid rhythm, the very growth of appropriation itself becomes what is properly human. To be sure, animals appropriate their shelter with their dirt, but it is done physiologically and locally. Homo appropriates the global physical world by his hard garbage and, as we shall see, the global human world by soft garbage.

They pollute the here and the there. They are here. They lie here! Silence, a discreet tenant by contrast, is only a momentary lull. 54

All species have vanished and we remain alone in the world, among ourselves. In that global arc, haunted only by our species, some political waste remains - the public in publicity - and nature is perishing under “culture.” 70

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[B]y generalizing or globalizing dirt and so erasing the borders where polluting starts or stops, and hence appropriation, the right to property suddenly reaches an intolerable threshold and becomes literally unbearable. We must therefore rethink this right, meaning go beyond its present status where it still resembles animal behaviors. One more step must be taken on the difficult road toward hominization. 71

Kant defined the Beautiful as disinterested. I propose dis-appropriated, relieved of filth. [...] Nothing hides better than the waste generated by property. If I were to remove it, I would unveil the world's beauty. [...] To uncover: to dispossess73

I am inviting you to measure the enormity of the effort needed to uncover, not only to clean up the waste but also to flush out the formats of those fine strategies. [...] What would happen if, in our desperation, we were to remove this immense and dense layer?

What lies underneath? First of all, beauty. 75

That which cannot belong to anyone? The Beautiful, Nothing? The Void? God? 76

We now resemble the historic hero or the man-god as our lives unfold like this. In a new space and along another time span, a new phase of hominization is starting77

The question is. How can we live in today's new world? Hard humans inhabited a hard earth long ago. They wanted to own it in order to inhabit it; their language said this by using the same verb. Soft hominescents now inhabit a space that we will need to render soft enough to survive, subject to the new condition of having to struggle against its appropriation by the invasion of the soft. This is today's leasing task.

It can happen that energy is changed into a sign, the latter combining with it, or vice versa. Appropriation behaviors start, culturally speaking, with a murder - Romulus kills Remus to seize Rome - or at least with a burial; the ancestors of the owners sleep under the earth of the pagus. 78

Pushed to the limit, after exhausting the number of its occurrences, acts of appropriation will inevitably lead to the end of property79

The disappearance of spatial limits announces the end of legal limits.

The fusion of borders marks the end of the war of all against all, that is, of all nations against nations. Another war, one that had no legal standing in the past, is emerging before us and taking an entirely new form.

Here it is, suddenly present, menacing, global, formidable, and more powerful than all our combined forces. Necessary for our survival and that of our children. [...] It is raising the covering. It is rejecting our rejections. It is freeing itself from the chains of maps and networks. It is expelling our properties. [...] Careful: Will it get rid of the species that thought it owned it? 82/3

[T]his struggle against pollution exactly mirrors the hominization process.

We still live - are we still living?  - half animals, half men, like fetishes. 85

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This ain't no place for a hero to call home. (The Heavy, Short Change Hero)


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