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Same chalk, different wall

June 17, 2010

S/S has a new design, a new job and a (possibly) new pace. The new design is based on a need for visual clarity: I don’t have empirical evidence but based on my own two human eyes, black on white is the clearest and most efficient way to read chunks of text. I’m also stepping halfheartedly into that pesky swampland of blog organization called categorization—I hope this doesn’t become an exercise in bureaucratic, OCD-type filing.

The new job arose when an editor of an emerging magazine saw the blog and offered me writing room. The enterprise is still in its wee stages but based on a description that sounded worthwhile, I accepted. It’ll be like a residency that offshoots from this little home. I’ll be writing on much the same topics thematically, with seedlings planted on S/S for good measure.

I haven’t expanded on this before but it’s my belief that every graduate student—every student of life, really—should have a blog. Even with the titanic rise of micro-blogging services like Twitter and the death of traditional, long-format weblogging, longer prose still has its legitimate place for serious (OK, semi-serious) thought. One never knows how these little seedlings will grow if nourished and pruned, even if their caretaker is harvesting life’s other fruits and occasionally becomes neglectful. Joan Didion once said she wrote in order to figure out what she was thinking. Everyone who is a genuine searcher and competently literate should train themselves to write regularly to a public audience. (‘Audience’ is shorthand for investigating what and how you think instead of walking around with a foggy idea cloud.)

This isn’t some sanctimonious high-horse speech: I don’t write nearly as often as I think about writing. I feel badly about it, but out of duty only to my own responsibility to think clearly, not to an amorphous virtual space. Hop on any blog and two out of three will begin with the author apologizing for not bothering to write much anymore. The only person one should apologize to is oneself, for not bothering to clearly think through vast summits of information that pile our way and respond to them appropriately, based on one’s orientation, conscience and aesthetic styling.

Speaking of same differences: I’ve been thinking obsessively about walls, perhaps the oldest political technology known to humankind. They are instantly recognizable, stigmatized and usually hated by the populations they contain, yet they are ancient when compared to surveillance cameras, sniper guards and other technologies of the state.

The monograph I’m working on (which arose out of this little teeny home base) is based on just this question: how do states that build walls within their territories and among their population (i.e. not as boundary lines with other sovereign states) challenge or inactivate their own security projects? How can you claim sovereignty over a population (through citizenship-based or occupation-based or even separation-based statehood) yet go to incredible lengths to partition your own territory? States that do this often mask their annexation endeavors—aka claiming and stealing land—but the walled security project is an important distraction from this reality. In other words, when it comes to state sovereignty and border-making, the writing is in fact not on the wall. We have to be judicious with our thinking and go beyond the usual friend-enemy framework and poke border wall geographies at their root: Why are they there? What do they tell us about the state? Who do they benefit? At what cost?

[Related: ‘New/Now’: The political economy of blogging]

Top: Boston. Art by Banksy [Visual Therapy]
Bottom: Bethlehem. Art by Conor Harrington [conorsaysboom]

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