Friday, November 11, 2016

Checkpoint 16

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?”