Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Desiring walls - LSE events podcast review

There is indeed a paradox. In a world that is ever so more connected and globalized and in which nation-states are surrendering sovereignty either out of decision or of necessity and in a world where the threats are coming from ever so tinier intruders, electronic or physical, there is a new trend. The trend is for nations to build walls on their borders. Most profoundly known examples are the American wall on the border with Mexico and the Israeli wall (or fence) that is to shut off Israel proper from the occupied territories.

Professor Wendy Brown lectured at the London School of Economics and was recorded for the LSE Events podcast under the title Desiring Walls. Brown borrows from discourse analysis, psychoanalysis, and feminist theory in an effort to understand the deeper reasons why these nations desire to build walls around their territory. Her approach assumes a certain nationwide pathology and although I can agree there is a wider sense of crisis on issues of national sovereignty, identity and security there are two major problems I see, which she either ignores or chooses to set aside in order to sketch the pathology.

She seems well aware there is a generic problem with using wide sweeping theories such as psychoanalysis, because they have a tendency of being irrefutable. Once the desire for walls is defined as a pathology, the various traits of the walls, the decision-making around them and the discussion become part of the same pathology and can never serve to show there is no pathology. She alludes to that in her speech, but wants to set that aside as well for the sake of gaining understanding.

However, what serves as a prerequisite in her thinking is that those walls that the US, Israel and other countries decided to build are desired at all. From up close here in Israel, for one, I can say that the wall (or fence as people prefer to call it) is not something anybody, let alone the whole nation, particularly desired, but rather a product of political compromise between available options, diplomatic and political restraints. That sovereignty is crumbling, that national security is scrambling to deal with modern threats we knew without applying Freud to the soul of the nation. It seems to me the pathology describes little more than what we already knew and sheds no light whatsoever on what can be done otherwise than building walls.

There are some indicators Brown has a more sophisticated analysis in mind, but what becomes clear from the reactions in the audience one can hear on the podcast, what the listeners takes away from this talk is merely that the walls are pathetic and the nations who build them are sick. Usually the LSE events carry more quality. Although, as an observation of how eager the public jumps to this conclusion the podcast is very instructive.

More LSE Events:
The Post-American World,
Reparing Failed States,
Europe and the Middle East,
Nuts and bolts of empire,
Islam and Europe - LSE podcast review.

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