Maps, cracks & geographical imaginations: The Princess of No-Man’s Land

A couple of days ago, while driving home from the train station, my attention was grabbed by two words – a name – broadcast over the car radio courtesy of BBC Radio 5 Live. This wasn’t the name of a person, but of a place that has long interested me, and which, at least in part, inspired me a few years ago to begin thinking about contemporary No Man’s Lands. It is certainly not a name one commonly hears on national radio within the UK, an absence that made its on air occurrence all the more intriguing.

The name in question is Bir Tawil – Arabic for ‘tall well’ – an 800 square mile trapezoid-shaped tract of land wedged in between the southern borders of the Arab Republic of Egypt and the northern border of the Republic of the Sudan.

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Corpography in No-Man’s Land

From its first entrance into the English language, designating a mass burial site for 14th century victims of the Black Death, no-man’s lands exhibit an often violent encounter between bodies and the materiality of the earth. So much so, that a distinction is no longer possible.

In his 1922 essay The Battle as Inner Experience, Ernst Jünger describes how the Fronterlebnis – life on the edges of no-man’s land – dissolves the boundary between body and space, transforming the soldier into an integral part of a frontline ecology: “There, the individual is like a raging storm, the tossing sea and the rearing thunder. He has melted into everything”. Continue reading