Events in Modern Languages & Cultures
Bodies, Texts, Nations Research Group: Debarati Sanyal (Berkeley) Poetics of Detention: Framing the Refugee ‘Crisis’
Co-sponsored by the French Seminar Series
This talk considers recent media representations of illegalized migrants through the tropes of bare life, racialized swarms, and disembodied data. How do such representations of the European refugee ‘crisis’ challenge historical paradigms of racialized violence such as slavery, the Holocaust and colonialism? With the assistance of technologies of surveillance and control such as biometrics (fingerprint databanks, retinal scans, bone density tests) humanitarian and securitarian optics converge to produce asylum seekers as expropriated bodies and risky personhoods who are detained for their protection. My talk suggests that aesthetic figures may be more useful than historical paradigms to understand the operations of migrant detention at Europe’s borders. I will discuss two documentary shorts on detention that give experimental form to the transformation of refugees into readable bodies. How does the mediation of personhood and embodiment by the technology of detention put pressure on the representational mandates of humanitarianism and human rights? How can experimental visual works help reimagine personhood, rights and agency, from within the conditions of detention, as tactical forms of emergence, disappearance, or persistence?
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