Remnants of No-Man’s Land

At this week’s Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers in Chicago, we will be convening a session titled ‘Remnants of No-Man’s Lands’. We are delighted to be joined by Derek Gregory, Najeeb Jan, Paolo Giaccaria and Claudio Minca for what promises to be a superb collection of intellectual interrogations of no-man’s lands, past and present.

The session will focus on the lingering effects of no-man’s lands. Their impact, we argue, was never fully confined by the time and space of the battles: it lingered on the bodies of soldiers, in contaminated ecologies and in the radically altered post-war intellectual landscape. The violence that is unleashed in the no-man’s land and the destruction it wrought does not result in emptiness, in a terra nullius, but in excess that can never be fully contained.

The session will take place Thursday, 23 April 2015, from 10:00 AM – 11:40 AM in Gold Coast, Hyatt, West Tower, Bronze Level.

Alasdair and I will be further developing some theoretical explorations of no-man’s land, and offering some insights into the work we’ve been doing in Cyprus and Jerusalem.

Here are the abstracts of the papers that will be presented:

Nazi No-Man’s-Land and the spatialities of the Ban

Claudio Minca, Wageningen University & Paolo Giaccaria, University of Torino

Our paper focuses on how Nazi spatial theories and policies contributed to produce No-Man’s-Land in the occupied territories through a specific set of geographical imaginations and of related interventions. In particular, we read this production of No-Man’s-Land through the lenses of the ‘structure of the ban’, following Agamben’s work on this concept. We claim that the spatial implementation of the structure of the ban on the part of the Nazis required the endless reproduction of No-Man’s-Land(s), conceived as both dumping spaces for the racial purification of occupied territories and genuine geographical laboratories for the Nazi biopolitical machinery. We develop this argument with reference to the Kresy, the vast borderland in-between nowadays Poland, Ukraine and Belarus. The Kresy was not originally a No-Man’s-Land, but rather a region traditionally inhabited by a mix of diverse peoples, ethnicities, cultures, economies, and where Eastern Judaism had a centennial history. However, in the Nazi spatial Weltanschauung, the Kresy was the epitome of racial degeneration, the region where the Volksdeutsche were exposed to contamination and degradation. The Kresy was accordingly re-conceptualized as an expanded No-Man’s-Land of sorts, to become the object of massive destructive practices including deportation, mass shooting, and extermination, but also a borderless ‘natural’ landscape appreciated by some Nazi high ranks for its forests and especially its marshes.

Journeys From No Man’s Land, 1914-1918

Derek Gregory, University of British Columbia

During the First World War on the Western Front a central logistical preoccupation of military planners was the deployment of troops to the front line and the evacuation of casualties from the battlefield. These priorities were closely connected – the aim was to provide medical treatment as close to the site of the wound as possible so that troops could be returned expeditiously to the line – but they also often confounded one another as hospital trains headed for the coast were shunted into sidings to allow troop trains to move up. In this presentation I address three questions. First, what it was possible to know about the ‘lie of the land’, particularly in the deadly spaces between the front-line trenches? Here I focus on the connections between aerial reconnaissance, night patrols and trench maps. A second question concerns the arrangements made in advance of major offensives – the disposition of stretcher bearers and aid posts, field ambulances and casualty clearing stations – and the ways in which these visible geometries of the medical-military machine affected the sensibilities of soldiers waiting to go ‘over the top’. Finally, how did the wounded apprehend and navigate No Man’s Land, and how did they make what Emily Mayhew calls their precarious journeys away from the fighting?

What IS IS? The Meta-Colonial and the Excess of Political Islam

Najeeb A Jan, University of Colorado

This paper seeks to undertake a heretical reading of the Tali-ban and ISIS; spectral phenomenon which disclose, in an exemplary fashion, the paradox of sovereignty. Born in the post-apocalyptic wreckage of US-Soviet imperial rivalry in Afghanistan, and spawned by secretive intelligence agencies, both the Taliban and ISIS, almost globally, evoke a simultaneous sense of the reviled and the revolting. Eminently torturable and bombable, the very ‘excessive’ nature of these groups simultaneously grounds both global revulsion and the biopolitical logics for the “War on Terror.” This paper seeks to show how the emergence of the ISIS phenomenon — and by extension, much of the global radical jihadist movement — cannot be understood through reference to Islamist ideology as such, but instead might be more usefully situated on a metacolonial horizon. Part of the labor of thinking that the paper seeks to undertake, is to explicate the meta-colonial as a way of supplementing the predominantly representational and temporal modality of postcolonial critique, with a spatial and affective political ontology. Contrary then to the Taliban’s own self-regard as agents for the enforcement of divine government and the left/liberal consensus of the Taliban as figures outside of time, this paper will seek to disclose the Taliban as an exemplary site of modernity. Exemplary not merely in the sense of the modern as the material and temporal condition of possibility, but rather as a signature of modernity’s ontological excess.

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