Navid Kermani’s Ausnahmezustände: Reisen in eine beunruhigte Welt (2013, in English approximately: State of Exception: Traveling in a Concerned World) is a travel narrative after the end of travel narratives. The core of the genre – the subjectivity of a writer traveling distant lands and mythologizing them for a culturally similar readership – is upended by, in Kermani’s terms, the condition of the world as it is today. Any feeling of novelty delivered from new global frontiers disappears in the wake of extreme universal precarity, and the promise of “look at this wonderful new world through my eyes” common to travel narratives, together with the relationship between the human being and the environment that this denotes, is replaced with something like “look what we’ve done”.
This reversal by Kermani is not only because of the un-shareability of his cultural subjectivity – being an Iranian/German this would be a somewhat specific audience – but because the object of his gaze equally occupies a shifting point of view. The definition of ‘state of exclusion’ as outlined by Agamben denotes precisely this: a temporary subversion of order, nominally justified by its maintenance. Like Australia’s torturous offshore detention centres, such measures were only ever meant to be temporary. Within cultural studies, there is increasing consensus that the ‘exception’ has become the rule – that displacement, authoritarianism and terrorism is evolving into the key defining point of the human condition, that rights are only ever temporary, and that governance is becoming less about servitude to the populace and increasingly a kind of enslavement via the creation of perpetual instability. For the travel writer, this fixed point of view– the writer as subject and exotic local as object - is subverted, replacing a fixed, stable subjectivity for both writer and object with a negation of both.
Checkpoint 16 not the first time actors Anders Carlsson and Judith van der Werff, and Vierte Welt’s Artistic Director Dirk Cieslak have worked with the text from Kermani, following 2013’s production of the same title, and in some ways this is a continuation of that work. Carlsson initially voices a monologue over some images about his initial meeting with a 13-year old Fadi, who lives in the Gaza Strip. He tells of his shadowing of Fadi, who’s routine was to sell olive plants at a market 6kms away to support his family, crossing a military checkpoint to do so. Fadi, we are told, had become the provider for his family at an early age, and had become as resourceful as he was cheeky – talking his way past the border guards, and learning English to attract foreigners like Carlsson. “I wanna be happy but it’s not so easy”, says Fadi, referring to life under the constant threat of military. The undeniable spectatorship undertaken by Carlsson leads him to certain questions, which he shares with us, such as “Die Frage ist nicht ‘Warum ein Israelischer Land?’, die Frage ist: “Warum so brutal ein Israelischer Land?” (The question is not ‘’why an Israeli state?”, the question is: “why an Israeli state so brutal?”). His own Europeanness becomes an indivisible wall between himself and Fadi, and as Fadi puts it somewhat bluntly: “how can it be that you and I are friends, and you can leave, and I am stuck here?”
The audience is abruptly turned 90 degrees, where we experience Judith van der Werff’s excerpt from Kermani’s text, before some brief interaction between the two actors, centred around the application of theatrical technique within the reality of human drama. Moving back to our original position, Carlsson takes the stage once again to deliver, in English language this time, a plea for the release of Fadi, who has now been detained in an Israeli prison on a 14 year sentence. The plea simply exposes the paradox of an artist filled with European guilt – reduced to the position of observer, unable to meaningfully intervene, he is left to merely state his case to an audience of Berliners.
For all its specificity, Checkpoint 16 effectively proposes a crisis of empathy universal to today’s context. As Carlsson himself states: I’m not the kind of artist to lock myself away in a studio doing strange finger movements to experience the truth’, and yet his attempts to connect with the subject inevitably have a tragic end. Contact with the other, for all its radical potential, is - in this perpetual state of exception - also something for which the individual pays a severe price. But Carlsson is quick to point out – his own European guilt is secondary to the predicament in which Fadi now finds himself. Having conspired for some action against the Israeli state with some friends, deciding he simply could not go on, Fadi finds out the room in which they were discussing their action has been bugged. As the oldest member of the group – he takes responsibility for these discussions, leading to the 14-year jail term. Carlsson’s link to his own actions is clear. If he didn’t cause this event, he certainly was not able to help. The question remains – what of this connection he made to this young boy, turned martyr? What is its meaning – politically, personally?
Checkpoint 16’s ability to ask these simple questions of radical humanism are the centre of its power. Indeed, the audience is left with not only the trauma of contact, but with a shared burden of responsibility for the fate of Fadi – and for what he symbolises: a casualty of the dehumanisation that is derivative of military conflict. The negation of both Carlsson and Fadi’s subjectivity is characteristic of the state of exception, denoting a collapse of meaning under global conditions of perpetual crisis.
It should be clear: the play is not an argument for or against this radical contact. It points accusingly at the systems of oppression under which such exchange is negated, for which we are all responsible.
German and English Language
WIth Anders Carlsson and Judith van der Werff
Staging by Dirk Cieslak
Dramaturgy by Annett Hardegen
Set by primavera*maas
Video by VierteWelt
Sound by Christoph Wirth
Friday 11/11 and 18/11, Saturday 12/11 and 19/118pm