Two days ago, around 900 people died at sea.
They were victims of… what, exactly? Fleeing from where, exactly?
- Structural poverty
- Political chaos
- Histories of colonialism
- Histories of submission
- The way in which global capital does and does not enter territories
- The 20th century
- The 21st century
- No future
It was put to me, by a haughty German artist in his 70s, wearer of a haughty moustache, that the flow of migrant desire from the Middle East and Africa towards Europe is proof that Europe is still, in the symbolic imagination, a superior place, a horizon of aspiration. And that any thesis that diagnoses the ‘end of the West’ should reconsider it in light of migrants’ flights.
I could not wait to exit this conversation.
His diagnosis is too simple.
I do not wish to poeticise what is, in the simplest of human terms, an ongoing tragedy of epic proportions. But, there is something about what is happening, what has been happening, for over a decade now, where the borders between continents and countries have become ever porous, as if to shame the insistence of the Nation State idea into coping with its reality.
When Gericault painted the Raft of the Medusa and displayed it in Paris in 1819, it was to shame the political authorities that allowed slavery to persist, and to shame the consciousness of his own people into ensuring this diabolical trade of humans would come to a definitive end. It took an image to crystallise a condition. An image to arouse empathy. Images can possess the ethics we have yet to enact.
What of the images we see today of boats crammed with bodies, old and young, having paid their escape fee to a new kind of trader? What of the image of boats tipping, wrecking, bodies overboard, crashing into rocks? Corpses floating on the surface of the sea, specks of spirit? The many thousands that will never be found and identified.
It’s a kind of geology. Human bodies, in all their desperation, redrawing the lines between here and elsewhere, us and them, us and us, them and the others.
There’s something about the laws of entropy. That energy has to remain constant even if that means taking different forms. Travelling to different places with less… entropy.
We move everything today. In shipping containers, across kevlar coated cables at the bottom of the ocean bed, over wireless signals, on the backs of starved donkeys.
We move money through telephone lines.
We are moved. We are unmoved.
We also seem helpless against this geological shift of human pressure, maybe more or less helpless than how we feel about the ruination of the planet by those shipping containers, kevlar coated cables, wireless signals. The starved donkey is blameless. For once.
It is difficult to visualise the vast forces that are being effected by us or upon us.
This is one of those visualisations. A comprehension.
‘I enter Europe or I die,’ said one traveller.
‘I die in order to enter Europe,’ is what happens instead.