Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Empty Signifier

Lauren Neal
MCM1201C: Imagined Networks
Blog Post #4 (totalitarian in its on-time-ness)

"But geography theory tells us that it really isn't possible to make things disappear, to render things nonexistent. Geography tells us that secrecy, in other words, is always bound to fail, and because secrecy is always bound to fail, perhaps counterintuitively, it tends to grows ever stronger" (Paglen, 16)

"Everybody has a body, nobody can escape from their body, and consequently all human activity--every form of individual and collective practice--is a situated practice and thereby geographical" (Paglen, 17)

This notion makes me return to Benedict Anderson's discussion of race and nation. While nations have been inscribed on the physical geography of the world, race has been inscribed on the physical landscape of the body. Both racism and nationalism have become embodied practices and, to some extent, internalized. Race is a perceptible, physical demarcation ascribed with some social/historical/emotional/intellectual values, though it is insidious and almost impossible to define precisely or to know its true content. It seems that black zones in the world have a similar inexplicable quality: like some racialized persons, these black spots are denied existence, denied a history, denied a place/voice in a supposedly equal and just global community.

"The black world has sculpted the United States in numerous ways. Creating secret geographies has meant erasing parts of the Constitution, creating blank spots in the law, institutionalizing dishonesty in the halls of government... and turning our own history into a state secret" (Paglen, 275)

Professor Chun noted that just pointing to the blank, or black, spots, on a map, is ineffective. Similarly, simply pointing to racial difference within a nation (particularly the United States) -- or, worse still, denying the significance or even the existence of racial difference, racial disparity, or race in general -- also works toward the process of re-sculpting the nation by means of erasure. As if the layers of sedimentary rock and tectonic plate movements of millennia, or the sediments of historical event which have been fundamental to the current situation of the community we acknowledge as the United States, can simply be excluded from a map and then we won't ask questions about what actually exists in that void. In this country, there are many who portend not to understand or be able to make any salient connections regarding racial disparity in education, the carceral system, etc., and this is correlative to the manner in which governments elide causality (in almost a cinematic fashion) and forge original narratives of relationships between the US and other places.

Why else could an event like 9/11 be such a catalyst/incentive for learning/education -- particularly in regard to the Middle East/Arab world? There were severe gaps in my own seventh grade historical knowledge, and the desire to create a link -- to develop a 'rational' causality for a national tragedy -- I had to shrink the black spots of my own mental map of the world. This geographical, cognitive function of reshading my mental map was inherently situated in my historical education. Thus, I consider the process of adding black spots to maps thoroughly neuro-historio-geographically reductive. Synapses lose connections, history loses its stories, maps lose their totality. Instead of calling attention to the ridiculousness with which we imagine ourselves as part of so many fabricated communities and/or networks, such elisions make the disavowal of our invention of various human ties even more adamant.

No comments: