Jadaliyya and the Arab Uprisings

Commentaries on the Arab uprisings are thick on the ground, but throughout the period Jadaliyya has been (and remains) an indispensable source.  Pluto have just published their first collection, which includes first-hand accounts with an unsurpassed geographical range and sharp analysis from an unrivalled list of contributors.  In London the book will be launched at SOAS next Monday (29 October) at 7 p.m. (G50, College Buildings).

As contemporary reflections, these writings capture the unfolding of revolutionary events as they happened and convey the uncertainties, hopes and disappointments of collective worlds being remade. As the work of scholars and activists with a rich knowledge of the region’s histories and political aspirations, the essays offer lasting insights into the forces shaping a new moment in world history.

— Timothy Mitchell, Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies, Columbia University

During the Arab uprisings, my first port of call every day was Jadaliyya to understand and interpret the events. The articles collected here are a very rare combination – scholarly but also accessible for a broad public. This book will be a much-treasured volume for undergraduate students, and its sophistication will also benefit postgraduates and academics. More importantly, an intelligent lay reader will also find the book immediately useful.

— Laleh Khalili, Senior Lecturer in Middle East Politics, SOAS, University of London


Jadaliyya: Archiving the Revolution – Roger Owen

Introduction – The Arab Uprisings: Unmaking of an Old Order?

Section I: Opening Articles

Impromptu: a word – Sinan Antoon

Preliminary historical observations on the Arab Revolutions of 2011- Rashid Khalidi

Awakening, cataclysm, or just a series of events?  Michael Hudson

Paradoxes of Arab Refo-lutions – Asef Bayat

The year of the citizen – Mouin Rabbani

Three powerfully wrong – and wrongly powerful – American Narratives About the Arab Spring – Jillian Schwedler, Joshua Stacher and Stacey Philbrick Yadav

Section II: Tunisia

The Tunisian Revolution:Initial Reflections – Mohammed Bamyeh

Tunisia’s Glorious Revolution – Noureddine Jebnoun

Let’s not forget about Tunisia – Nouri Gana

The Battle for Tunisia – Nouri Gana

Section III: Egypt

The Poetry of Revolt – Elliott Colla

Why Mubarak is out – Paul Amar

Egypt’s Revolution 2.0: The Facebook Factor – Linda Herrera

Egypt’s Three Revolutions – Omnia El Shakry

The architects of the Egyptian uprising – Saba Mahmood

The revolution against neoliberalism – Walter Armbrust

Egypt’s orderly transition: International Aid and the rush to structural adjustment – Adam Hanieh

Section IV: Libya

The Arabs in Africa – Callie Maidhof

Tribes of Libya as the third front  – Jamila Benkato

Solidarity and intervention in Libya – Asli Ü Bali and Ziad Abu-Rish

Section V: Bahrain

Let’s Talk About Sect – Tahiyya Lulu

Distortions of dialogue – Tahiyya Lulu

When petro-dictators unite – Rosie Bsheer and Ziad Abu-Rish

Section VI: Yemen

Yemen’s turn – an overview – Lara Aryani

How it Started in Yemen: From Tahrir to Taghyir – Nir Rosen

Saleh Defiant – Ziad Abu-Rish

Section VII: Syria

Why Syria Is Not Next . . . So Far – Bassam Haddad

Fear of arrest – Hani Sayed

Syrian Hope: A Journal – Amal Hanano

Section VIII: Regional Reverberations of the Arab Uprisings

The political status quo and protests in Jordan – Ziad Abu-Rish

Dissent and its discontents: protesting the Saudi state – Rosie Bsheer

The never-ending story: protests and constitutions in Morocco – Emanuela Dalmasso and Francesco Cavatorta

Emergencies and economics: Algeria and the politics of memory – Muriam Haleh Davis

Iraq and Its Tahrir Square – Zainab Saleh

Tahrir’s other sky – Noura Erikat and Sherene Seikaly

What is [the] Left? – Maya Mikdashi

Epilogue: Parting Thoughts Madawi Al- Rasheed

Emergency cinema

The Arab uprisings heightened interest in the politics of new social media, and much attention was directed at platforms like Twitter (which is emphatically not to say that any of this can be reduced to a ‘Twitter revolution‘).  Swirling around these discussions, breaking the 140-character limit of a tweet, was an insistently visual thematic, though this too was often limited to cellphone videos uploaded to YouTube and other sites (and then retransmitted by mainstream news media).  But there are other ways in which film/video can function as witness.

The use of film as witness is usually traced back to the International Military Tribunals in Nuremberg after the Second World War: see in particular Lawrence Douglas‘s classic The Memory of Judgment: Making law and history in the trials of the Holocaust (Yale University Press, 2001) – you can also read an early version of the key essay, ‘Film as Witness: Screening “Nazi Concentration Camps” before the Nuremberg Tribunal,’ in The Yale Law Journal,  105 (2) (1995) or access the book version (so far as I can see, without the accompanying images) online from Yale here.

Douglas’s thoughtful essay is, in a sense, framed by a remark that appears mid-way through it.  When reporter Ed Murrow described Buchenwald concentration camp in April 1945 he ended his broadcast by saying: ‘I pray you to believe what I have said about Buchenwald.  I have reported what I saw and heard, and only part of it.  For most of it, I have not words.’  When the prosecutors at Nuremberg elected to show a film compiled by former Hollywood director Lt Col George C. Stevens from black-and-white footage shot by Allied troops when they liberated the camps – Nazi Concentration Camps – they claimed , as one of them put it, that the film ‘represents in a brief and unforgettable form an explanation of what the words “concentration camp” imply.’  A horror, then, that transcended words – or, as Walter Benjamin confessed in a different context, ‘I have nothing to say, only to show’.

‘This use of film in a juridical setting was unprecedented’, Douglas notes, but it also raises a crucial question – ‘What exactly did the tribunal see when the prosecutors screened Nazi Concentration Camps?’ – that cannot be answered from the trial transcripts. These simply record:

[The film was then shown]

COL. STOREY: That concludes the presentation.

[The Tribunal adjourned until 30 November at 1000 hours]

The question is vital because it invites another: if images took the place of words that could not be found, then how was the tribunal ‘to submit unprecedented horror to principled legal judgments’ that necessarily returned to the verbal and textual?  Douglas’s pursuit of the question is what gives his essay such a compelling narrative force.  He shows in detail how even the visual faltered in the face of such horror: how the camera was confused, confounded, embarrassed – in a word, unsteadied.   He describes, too, how the film incorporates witnesses viewing the atrocities as a moment in its own witnessing: ordinary Germans being forced to view the exhumation of corpses, GIs and generals filing past dead bodies and emaciated survivors.  What these scenes do not  – cannot – do, Douglas concludes, is adjudicate responsibility:

‘Though the film provides a picture of a crime scene so extreme that its horrors have unsteadied the camera’s idiom of representation, it does not translate its images into a conventional vocabulary of wrongdoing.  Instead, the very extremity of the atrocity captured on film challenge sone to locate terms capable of naming and condemning these crimes.  How, then, was the prosecution able to assimilate evidence of unprecedented atrocity into a legal category of criminality?’

This is film as retrospective, but the questions about witnessing are no less difficult to answer when we turn to film shot ‘in the moment’ (and sometimes as a hideously staged moment of the horror). Helen Lennon carries the story forward from the Second World War tribunals to the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda in ‘A witness to atrocity: film as evidence in International War Crimes Tribunals’ in Toby Haggith and Joanna Newman (eds), The Holocaust and the moving image: representations in film and television since 1933 (Wallflower Press, 2005).   She discusses the need to interrogate, even ‘cross-examine’ the visual testimony, but she concludes with two questions that loop back to Nuremberg:

‘It is necessary to confront the question of what is not shown at these trials, asking: In what ways are these moving images directing our attention toward certain violations, and away from others? What is the law refusing to see when ‘[the film was then shown]’ and ‘[the videotape played]’?

These are still sharp questions, but it is possible to use documentary film in ways that are not evidentiary (in the legal sense) and which deliberately avoid showing ‘the horror’ – and yet still offer a powerful, critical perspective.  I’ve been watching the work of a remarkable group of Syrian film-makers – Abou Naddara (very roughly: “Man with glasses” or, since this is also slang, something like “Goggles”) – who use film both to document and to mobilize events in Syria through what they call ‘emergency cinema‘.   The group publishes a short film on the web every Friday here (also on Vimeo) and they are, of course, also on Facebook here.  These aren’t conventional documentaries, and they certainly aren’t the YouTube uploads that I imagine most of us have become (too?) familiar with: fuzzy, jerky, grainy shots of the fighting or the shelling.

Cécile Boëx interviews the group over at Books & Ideas here.  They explain that they were already  ‘lying in wait’ for the revolution:

‘… we took up the position of a sniper, lying in ambush behind apparently harmless short films distributed anonymously on the Internet in 2010. We were hoping to reach our public right under the censors’ nose. And our hopes seemed to be coming true, because a few months after our website went live, we had already found the means to produce two series of short documentary films that also had to be made more or less clandestinely. In short, we were already lying in wait when the revolution erupted in March 2011. We were even preparing another skirmish, strengthened by the public support we were beginning to receive. The question was not, therefore, whether or not we should get involved in the revolution, but rather how to do so, and what was the best approach to take. After a month of trial and error, we made what was to be our first very short weekly film, entitled The Infiltrators, a disparaging expression used by Bachar al-Assad to refer to the anti-regime demonstrators. The film portrayed an elderly Damascan artisan letting loose against the Assad regime in a monologue that showed the personal, deep-rooted resilience of the Syrian revolt.’

As these remarks imply, their primary audience is inside Syria, and their involvement in the revolution is directed, in large measure, at reaching those who support the Assad regime.

Despite the sniper imagery, their presentations do not treat violence as spectacle – usually they avoid its direct representation altogether.  In the interview they connect this to the conditions under which they are forced to work, but they also insist that these burdens produce a paradoxical freedom:

‘Our project is basically part of the tradition of original documentary cinema, as shown by most of our very short films offering sequences from people’s lives or extracts from interviews, which we choose to film with closeness and empathy. However, we are working in a state of emergency and are subject to constraints that may or may not be justified, including access to film sites, safety of those filmed, social developments or the state of the Internet connection. We can also say that we take pleasure in working in an emergency situation because we feel an unprecedented sense of freedom. And that feeling of freedom carries us from one register to another by happily blurring the boundaries, including the one that separates documentaries and fiction. Besides, that confusion is a general characteristic of our films (Everything Is Under Control Mr. PresidentMy name is MayThe Mufti Wants to…End of Broadcast). We make aesthetic and political choices that portray the way in which our reference points have been turned upside down by the revolution. It also conveys our pledge to represent our people’s enthusiasm by ensuring they are not reduced to stereotyped characters, places or formats.’

So this isn’t ‘film as witness’ in the sense discussed by Douglas and Lennon, and it’s profoundly critical of the way in which the mainstream media now demand ever more scenes of violence that violate the Syrian people all over again.  Here is a pointed example (the screen isn’t blank, and the video takes only two minutes – do watch it).

‘When there’s talk of a ceasefire, for example, they tell us “send us images of shots being fired.”‘

When I watch these short films – some of them so short that they may be visual tweets, I suppose, but they are all carefully composed – I don’t see a parade of heroes or victims, or any of the usual cartoon characters, but a studied indictment of the ways in which the visual and the violent can otherwise lock together: an insight that will be no surprise to readers of Paul Virilio‘s War and cinema (1984; Verso trans. 1989) or to followers of David Campbell who, among many other important contributions, underscores the close relationship between the gun and the camera. (What else did you think ‘shooting’ meant?)

For more on the films (and the tradition from which they derive) see Nehme Jameli here, and for brief reports that situated the project within the wider cultural politics of resistance in Syria see Donatella Della Ratta at al Jazeera here and Amélie Rives at Near East Quarterly here.

Storming the castle

More on the politics of the New Aesthetic – though he doesn’t put it like that – and on the materialities of the virtual (and what he does call ‘a new way of seeing’) in an exquisite essay from Andy Merrifield on Kafka, Occupy and the ‘Enigma of Revolt’.  

Andy’s point of departure is Franz Kafka‘s The Castle. This celebrated novel is itself an enigma: Kafka started work on the text in January 1922, it’s unclear whether he intended to finish it, and it famously ends in mid-sentence.  After Kafka’s death in 1924 his friend Max Brod edited and reworked it for publication.

Andy’s essay artfully draws out the spatial politics of K.’s attempt to breach the castle (remember that K. is described as a surveyor):

Where K. goes astray, and where his quest borders on the hopeless, is that he’s intent on struggling to access the castle’s occupants; he wants to penetrate the castle’s bureaucratic formalities and the “flawlessness” of its inner circle. K. struggles for a way in rather than a way out. Using all the Cartesian tools of a land surveyor, he confronts the castle on the castle’s own terms, on its own ostensible “rational” frame of reference. K.’s demands, consequently, are too restrictive and too unimportant, too conventional and too self-conscious. He wants to render the world of the castle intelligible as opposed to rendering it unacceptable.

Andy juxtaposes this with a radically different spatiality by moving from the occupants to Occupy, where

… if protagonists occupy space somewhere, these spaces of occupation are curiously new phenomena, too, neither rooted in place nor circulating in space, but rather an inseparable combination of the two, an insuperable unity that is redefining what a 21st-century public space might be, could be. Squares like Tahrir in Cairo or Zuccotti Park in Manhattan are urban public spaces not for reason of their pure concrete physicality, but because they are meeting places between virtual and physical worlds, between online and offline conversations, between online and offline encounters. That is why they are public: because they enable public discourses, public conversations to talk to each other, to meet each other, quite literally. They are public not because they are simply there, in the open, in a city center, but because these spaces are made public by people encountering one another there. The efficacy of these spaces for any global movement is defined by what is going on both inside and outside these spaces, by the here and the there, by what is taking place in them and how this taking place is greeted outside them, by the rest of the world, how it inspires the rest of the world, how it communicates with the rest of the world, how it becomes the rest of the world.

The politics of seeing and the New Aesthetic

The New Aesthetic began to create its public at the Really Interesting Group in May 2011 with this post from James Bridle:

For a while now, I’ve been collecting images and things that seem to approach a new aesthetic of the future, which sounds more portentous than I mean. What I mean is that we’ve got frustrated with the NASA extropianism space-future, the failure of jetpacks, and we need to see the technologies we actually have with a new wonder. Consider this a mood-board for unknown products.

(Some of these things might have appeared here, or nearby, before. They are not necessarily new new, but I want to put them together.)

For so long we’ve stared up at space in wonder, but with cheap satellite imagery and cameras on kites and RC helicopters, we’re looking at the ground with new eyes, to see structures and infrastructures…

The post digitally curated a series of images – a sort of wunder-camera (hah!) – and soon afterwards James’s first post appeared on tumblr as The New Aesthetic.  The site grew and grew, though not quite like Topsy, and this is is how he now explains his experimental project:

Since May 2011 I have been collecting material which points towards new ways of seeing the world, an echo of the society, technology, politics and people that co-produce them.  The New Aesthetic is not a movement, it is not a thing which can be done. It is a series of artefacts of the heterogeneous network, which recognises differences, the gaps in our overlapping but distant realities.

Bruce Sterling described James as ‘a Walter Benjamin critic in an “age of digital accumulation”’ carrying out ‘a valiant cut-and-paste campaign that looks sorta like traditional criticism, but is actually blogging and tumblring.’  His site is well worth a visit, not least to wander through the back catalogue of objets trouvés (or vues):

I say ‘objet’ deliberately: for Graham Harman fans, and even for those who aren’t, there are some remarkably interesting discussions that link the New Aesthetic to object-oriented ontology: see Ian Bogost, ‘The New Aesthetic needs to get weirder‘ (not as weird as the cutesy title suggests), Robert Jackson, ‘The banality of the new aesthetic‘ (a really helpful essay for other reasons too) and Greg Borenstein, ‘What it’s like to be a 21st century thing‘ (scroll down – much more there too).

I started to follow the blog while I was working on a contribution to a conference on the Arab Uprisings [‘the Arab Spring’] held in Lund earlier this year: I’d been puzzled at the polarizing debate about whether (in the case of Tahrir Square in Cairo which most interested me, but much more generally too) whether this was ‘a Twitter revolution’ or whether it depended on what Judith Butler called (in a vitally important essay on the politics of the street to which I’ll return in a later post) ‘Bodies in Alliance‘.  It seemed clear to me – and to her, as I discovered in a series of wonderfully helpful conversations when she visited Vancouver for the Wall Exchange in May) – that this was a false choice: that the activation of a digital public sphere was important, but so too, obviously, was the animation of a public space, and that the two were intimately – virtually and viscerally – entangled.

Here (in part) is what I wrote:

Writing from Cairo in March 2011, Brian Edwards recalled that when the Internet was blocked ‘the sense of being cut off from their sources of information led many back out on to the street, and especially to Tahrir.  With the Internet down, several told me, there was nowhere else to go but outdoors.’  The reverse was also true.  ‘The irony of the curfew is that it might succeed in getting people off the streets and out of downtown, but in doing so it delivers them back to the Internet… Many of my friends are on Facebook through the night, as are those I follow on Twitter, a steady stream of tweets and links.  Active public discussions and debates about the meanings of what is taking place during the day carry on in cyberspace long after curfew.’  

In the same essay Edwards reflects on the compression of meaning imposed by the 140-character limit of each tweet, and he suggests that the immediacy and urgency that this form implies – even imposes – ‘calls forth an immediate, almost unmediated response, point, counterpoint and so on.’This is a persuasive suggestion, I think, but that response is surely to be found not only virtually (from tweets in cyberspace) but also viscerally (from bodies in the streets).  When we see maps … showing tweets in Cairo, we need to recognize that that these are not merely symbols in cartographic space or even messages in cyberspace: they are also markers of a corporeal presence.

This matters because the urban space where ‘newness’ might enter the world does not pre-exist its performance.  Some writers examine what, following Henri Lefebvre and David Harvey, we might call the production of space, which would include the construction and re-development of Tahrir Square.  Others, also following in some part Lefebvre, prefer to emphasize spatial practices, which would include the rhythms and routines that compose everyday life for a myriad of people in Cairo.  But to emphasize the performance of space is to focus on the ways in which, as Judith Butler put it in direct reference to Tahrir Square, ‘the collective actions [of the crowd] collect the space itself, gather the pavement, and animate and organize the architecture.’  

So I started to wonder about the politics of the New Aesthetic – especially when I returned from Lund to resume my work on the techno-cultural gaze that has been my preoccupation for even longer: the surveillance platforms of remotely piloted aircraft (and killing machines) like the Predator and the Reaper.  (For a time the New Aesthetic was associated with the image of a pixellated Predator supported by balloons, ‘a bright cluster … tied to some huge, dark and lethal weight’, as Sterling put it).
And now I’ve found a revealing essay by Will Wiles on the New Aesthetic, ‘The machine gaze’, at aeon (from which I’ve also taken Sterling’s remark).  He begins with a remark that took me right back to Tahrir (though in fact he’s talking about digital media labs in east London): ‘It’s in these streets that the boundary between the digital and the physical is at its most porous — in the devices and the minds of a far-seeing local population who are among the first to understand that there might not be a boundary at all.’
So to the money question: ‘As the boundaries between digital and physical dissolve, can the New Aesthetic help us see things more clearly?’  Here is part of Wiles’s answer:

The virtual world is being integrated with the physical world and this seamlessness is presented as inherently good. No harm may be intended: it’s natural for a designer to want to smooth away the edges and conceal the joins. But in making these connections invisible and silent, the status quo is hard-wired into place, consent is bypassed and alternatives are deleted. This is, if you will, the New Anaesthetic. Instances of the New Aesthetic are often places where a glitch has exposed the underlying structure — the hardware and software. Or it is an oddity that has the unintended side effect of causing us to consider that structure. Part of a plane appearing in Google Maps makes us realise that we are looking at a mosaic of images taken by cameras far above us. We knew that already, right? Maybe we did. But a reminder may still be salutary.

This is political. The New Aesthetic was accused of being apolitical — fascinated by the oddities and wonders being thrown up by drones and surveillance cameras without thinking about the politics behind them. This is plain wrong: politics seeps from nearly every pore of the New Aesthetic. It was often hard to see, but that’s what Bridle wanted to expose.

The question is one of viewpoint. ‘As soon as you get CCTV, drones, satellite views and maps and all that kind of stuff,’ Bridle said, ‘you’re setting up an inherent inequality in how things are seen, and between the position of the viewer and the viewed. There are inherent power relations in that and technology makes them invisible. When you have a man in a watchtower, you look up at him, and that’s an obvious vision of power. When the man is in a bunker far away and you have just a little camera on a stalk … most people seem to be fine with that.’

The New Aesthetic is about seeing, then. And to see and be seen is to engage in those power relations.

More to come – watch this space….

Visual culture and battles for Algiers

My copy of Nicholas Mirzoeff‘s newly published Visual Culture Reader was waiting for me on my return from Cologne.  It’s the third edition of a classic resource, first compiled ten years ago, and it’s been comprehensively revised, with a number of specially commissioned essays.   You can download some of Nick’s own essays here, including discussions of Abu Ghraib and US counterinsurgency.




Chapter 1: “There are No Visual Media” W. J. T. Mitchell Chapter 2: “The (In)human condition: A Visual Essay” Ariella Azoulay Chapter 3: “Mapping Non-Conformity: Post-Bubble Urban Strategies” Teddy Cruz Chapter 4: “X-reality: Interview with the Virtual Cannibal” Beth Coleman Chapter 5: “On Software, or the Persistence of Visual Knowledge” Wendy Hui Kyong Chun Chapter 6: “Notes on the Photographic Image” Jacques Rancière Chapter 7: “Queer Faces: Photography and Subcultural Lives” J. Jack Halberstam Chapter 8: “Currents of Worldmaking in Contemporary Art” Terence E. Smith Chapter 9: “Sublimated with Mineral Fury: Prelim Notes on Sounding Pandemonium Asia” Sarat Maharaj Chapter 10: “The Sea and the Land: Biopower and Visuality after Katrina” Nicholas Mirzoeff


War and Violence

Chapter 11: “The Archaeology of Violence: The King’s Head” Zainab Bahrani Chapter 12: “The Actuarial Gaze: from 9-11 to Abu Ghraib” Allen Feldman Chapter 13: “American Military Imaginaries and Iraqi cities” Derek Gregory Chapter 14: “Zeroing In: Overheard Imagery, Infrastructure Ruins, and Datalands in Afghanistan and Iraq” Lisa Parks Chapter 15: “What Greg Roberts Saw: Visuality, Intelligibility, and Sovereignty – 36,000km Over the Equator.” Trevor Paglen Chapter 16: “Media and Martyrdom” Faisal Devji Chapter 17: “Live True Life or Die Trying” Naeem Mohaiemen Attention and Visualizing Economy Chapter 18: “Kino I, Kino World: Notes on the Cinematic Mode of Production” Jonathan L. Beller Chapter 19: “On Virtuosity” Paolo Virno Chapter 20: “Faking Globalization” Ackbar Abbas Chapter 21: “Creativity and the Problem of Free Labor” Andrew Ross Chapter 22: “It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism” Mark Fisher Chapter 23: “Do It Yourself Geo-Politics” Brian Holmes


Bodies and Minds

Chapter 24: “Optics” René Descartes Chapter 25: “Blindness and Visual Culture: An Eye-Witness Account” Georgina Kleege Chapter 26: “Reduplicative Desires” Carol Mavor Chapter 27: “The Persistence of Vision” Donna Haraway Chapter 28: “The body and/in representation” Amelia Jones Chapter 29: “Mami Wata: A Transoceanic Water Spirit of Global Modernity” Henry Drewal Histories and Memories Chapter 30: “The Mobilized and Virtual Gaze in Modernity: Flâneur/Flâneuse” Anne Friedberg Chapter 31: “Tourism and Sacred Ground: The Space of Ground Zero” Marita Sturken Chapter 32: “Maps, Mother/Goddesses and Martyrdom in Modern India” Sumathi Ramaswamy Chapter 33: “Museums in Late Democracies” Dipesh Chakrabarty Chapter 34: “The Fact of Blackness” Frantz Fanon Chapter 35: “The Case of Blackness” Fred Moten (Post/De/Neo)Colonial Visualities Chapter 36: “Orientalism and the Exhibitionary Order” Timothy Mitchell Chapter 37: “The Colonial Harem” Malek Alloula Chapter 38: “Vodun Art, Social History and the Slave Trade” Suzanne Preston Blier Chapter 39: “Between Cult and Culture: Bamiyan, Islamic Iconoclasm and the Museum,” Finbarr Barry Flood Chapter 40: “The Postcolonial Constellation: Contemporary Art in a State of Permanent Transition.” Okwui Enwezor Chapter 41: “Urban Warfare: Walking Through Walls” Eyal Weizman


Chapter 42: “U.S. Operating Systems at Midcentury: The Intertwining of Race and UNIX” Tara McPherson Chapter 43: “Rethinking the Digital Age” Faye Ginsburg Chapter 44: “The Unworkable Interface” Alex Galloway Chapter 45: “On the Superiority of the Analog” Brian Massumi Chapter 46: “Race 2.0: Neoliberal Colorblindness in the Age of Participatory Media” Lisa Nakamura Chapter 47: “Imagination, Multimodality and Embodied Interaction: A Discussion of Sound and Movement in Two Cases of Laboratory and Clinical Magnetic Resonance Imaging” Lisa Cartwright and Morana Alac

In human geography – and beyond – the go-to site for matters visual is Gillian Rose‘s visual/method/culture, and her excellent Visual methodologies: an introduction to researching with visual materials (Sage, 2011) is already in its third edition too.

But Nick’s work also speaks directly to geography (at least with a little g, which is the sort I prefer).  Readers probably already know his most recent book, The Right to Look: a counterhistory of visuality (Duke, 2011), but this summer he produced a remarkable ‘digital extension’ of one of its chapters in conjunction with the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture called “We are all children of Algeria”: visuality and countervisuality 1954-2011 that plays with the idea of what I suppose we could call ‘spatial stories’.

In a revealing interview Nick explains why he chose to use a new open access authoring platform – Scalar – rather than his blog:

Blogging is a format that expands how it’s possible to write and think in relation to the contemporary. It makes a form over time. Scalar allows me to share a wide range of North African and European cinema, newsreel footage, guerrilla documentary and photography with the reader in a way that is obviously not possible in print.  Unlike a blog, or at least one using an off-the shelf template, I have a great deal of freedom as to the look, layout and design of each “page,” which can vary from one to the next.  More than that, it allows me to explore a more complex form of narrative in which multiple threads (or “paths” as Scalar calls them) can be developed. This opens up a new set of possibilities for comparative and cross-cultural work that have only just begun to explore in digital humanities work but which I think are among its most fruitful possibilities.

Much to think about there for me: as I noted in a previous post on Targeting and technologies of history, I’m really drawn to the visual experimentations taking place at USC – like Vectors, which showcased some of Caren Kaplan‘s work and which was also involved in Nick’s collaboration.

In “We are all children of Algeria”, then, Nick uses the metaphor of the march to tell a story about revolution and decolonization in Algeria from the outbreak of the revolution in 1954, and to illuminate affinities and connections between the post-war revolutions and the Arab uprisings that began in December 2010.

There is a march! A demonstration as they say in England, a manifestation in French. The Arabic is مسيرة. What is it? It is a means to put our bodies in space, where they are not intended to be and to make a claim. It moves, it demonstrates, it shows: it is militant research…

It asks: how can we “see” Algeria, its decolonization and revolution? Following the lead of Frantz Fanon, it takes the point of view of the child, meaning both children as such, the colonized “child” of  the parent nation, and the “infant” revolution that emerged. 

The Zapatistas say that everything they do is “walking,” a journey that has no final destination. This walking is done here by means of text, media and to-camera videos. This format, allowing as it does for a set of intersecting and interfacing threads to compose the whole, is better suited to reclaiming and exploring these histories than the linear text-based narrative.

So it is both a story about Algeria as such and a way to understand the interface of decolonization and globalization. Whether or not you work “on” or about Algeria, there is an “Algeria” in your work, meaning that there is a place where the incomplete or failed processes of decolonization and the formation of independent developing-world nations intersect with the power of financial globalization. We need to occupy that place, not erase it.
And, yes, Pontecorvo’s Battle for Algiers has a pivotal place in the march (page 5 of the Main Route).