Monthly Archives: September 2016

Finding Aleppo in a War-Torn World

The deep frustration at being able to map the Syrian civil war around Aleppo–combining the actual inability to map the factions in the conflict, and the actual unmappability of the deeply unsettling destabilization of civil society in the five-year civil war which is waged by outside actors, as much as by the Syrian government–has sapped confidence in the ability to negotiate a cease-fire or indeed to find a civil solution to a conflict that has both created an ongoing flow of refugees and destroyed civil society in the region, as well as an equilibrium of power.  And the more we are frustrated in being unable to map the conflict and its descent into inhumane violence, the more violent it has become and the farther removed from being able to exist again as a country.




Any theater of war is extremely difficult to endow with coherence in a map–one speaks of the “fog of war” to describe the clouded experience in the confusion of military conflicts.  But the difficulty of gaining purchase on the extent of the destruction of the ancient city of Aleppo that is particularly troubling–and troublingly matched by the difficulty of mapping or imagining the targeting of the city and Aleppo’s inhabitants and the refugees who have left the city.  The failure to describe, document, or respond to the costs in the sustained aerial bombardment in recent months seems an abdication of ethical responsibility before such escalated destruction that almost fails to acknowledge its scope.  The terror of aerial strikes against civilians have led to the targeted destruction of schools and hospitals in the rebel-occupied regions of the city hard to imagine, as a besieged city is isolated from the world.  While we don’t have access to the maps and plans that were used during the sustained engagement of rebel forces in Aleppo, and have rather watched screen-shots of the diminishing areas of the region “held” by “rebel forces” over months, those very images distance us from the human rights tragedies that is occurring on the ground with the dismantling of public health care and social institutions, as if extending so many false possibilities of the tenuous grasp over territory of opposition groups.  With unclear data on suffering, deaths, refugees or destroyed buildings in the encircled city, we map territory as the clearest index of the balance of war, but ignore the scale or scope of its ongoing bombardment and destruction, as the country has not only “gone dark”–



–but the city destroyed under unimaginable sustained assault.




News wire sources have tried to “map” the extent of those lines areas held in the heavily bombed city, to be sure, in recent months.  But the absence of clear lines of jurisdiction or control of a battle that is increasingly waged from a move–but shown as if it were a land war–echoes the military divisions of cities in ways that seem incommensurate with the suffering or mischaracterization of the actors of the war, and the lack of limits with which the Assad regime has enlisted foreign help to destroy its former cultural capital and economic hub, as if trying to efface the opposition that it has for so long successfully tarred by their association to ISIS and the Islamic State–and as a media blitz has tried to portray the battle in Aleppo as a fight against ISIS rather than a defining moment in the escalation of military forces against one’s own people by Bashar al-Assad.

Even though the aerial attacks on Aleppo began as early as July 2012, the escalation of attacks by Russian bombers that began to target buildings and humanitarian supplies with intensity from July 2016.  While we were in the midst of the farce of our recent American Presidential election, we have watched maps of the Syrian conflict at an odd remove, depicting the city the city as a multi-colored sectored region, as if a point of stasis in slippy map of sovereignty, as much as a focal point where five different forces seem to lock horns.  The disservice of these opaque colors seem to erase and to be done such a deep disservice with Microsoft Paint.  And as we do so, we can only fail in an attempt to chart the intensification of suffering that is only like to increase in coming months, as the shrinking green lands held by rebel forces have depicted the so-called “situation in Syria” in increasingly disembodied fashion.


syria97410fps.gifThomas Van Linge/Newsweek/@arabthomness


As we watch the layers of colors, trying to map the levels of conflict from an empyrean remove that has echoed the official policy of not putting “boots on the ground,” we fail to account for the destruction of houses, massive departures of residents, targeting of humanitarian assistance and destroyed infrastructure and human services in the city.  The layers with which we discriminate a war-torn city set to conceal terrifying human costs in the rather terrifying palette of pastels in its curious camouflage, as if to hold out hope for an amicable solution, but to erase the destruction of civilian lives, hospitals, residences, or food and needs supplies that tried to arrive in the light green rebel-held areas of the city that suggest an island around the Citadel of Aleppo.


Rif_Aleppo2.svg.pngNovember 1, 2016/Kami888


For the limited information about Aleppo’s continued destruction by aerial attacks as well as bombardments makes the extent of the human costs its destruction increasingly difficult to render with coherence.  This absence of this coherence perhaps leadt some twenty-nine million to be struck by viewing the dazed five-year old Omran Daqneesh and the tragically bloodstained face from which he gazes somewhat stoically and looks at his bloodied hand–as if dazed to be transported from the scenario of violence in which he lived to what seems a setting of sanitized medical care, his blood-stained face contrasting to the clean orange cushions of an emergency ambulance.  The transferal of Omran from the battlefield like context of Aleppo to the emergency health care vehicle show him dazed not only at his change of context, but almost in shock of being in a controlled ambulance in which he sits, if a sign of hope, is also emblematic of the inability or difficulty to bridge the controlled context of medical and clinical care of the Emergency Medical Services and the rubble of the besieged city, almost the negative image of a controlled environment:  the image circulated by Aleppo Media Centre was emblematic of the dissonance between the emergency services and the onslaught of bombs where civilians are targeted daily amidst the rubble of the besieged city, so that the dazed look of poor Omran seems a substitute for our own helpless bewilderment at the war crime of the sustained aerial bombing of Aleppo’s buildings, health care providers, hospitals, and inhabitants.


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If the image is manipulative–and difficult to include in yet another post on Aleppo–its power seems to derive from the failure we feel between inability of the child who touches his hand to his head, to take stock of his head injury as he tries to process the loss of his family, after being carried by an emergency worker into the new setting of an ambulance.   The image was so poignant it was shared so widely all over the world on Facebook, as we searched collectively for an emblem of good, of one child rescued from the violence of Aleppo–as nine million Facebook users tried to transcend the broken windows, destroyed buildings, and slim hopes for the survival of Aleppo’s citizens, increasingly targeted in inhumane ways to which we are so unable to respond.

For if there is a lack of any coherent purchase on the city’s destruction on such an unprecedented scale of its bombardment, even for the Syrian Civil War, the saving of one child after his family was lost allowed the survival of a child to exist in the blood-streaked face of the five-year-old Omran Daqneesh that circulated globally on social media seemed finally to locate a “face of the Syrian Civil War” against the city’s dire destruction.  Indeed, the actual improvised settings of health care in eastern Aleppo–


624143740-graphic-content-wounded-syrians-are-seen-on-a-table-in_1-jpg-crop-promo-xlarge2Thaer Mohammed/AFP/Getty Images


–continued as bombs continued to strike the neighborhoods and where the living and dead lay beside one another in emergency rooms that lacked adequate medical supplies.  The absence of medical assistance or facilities, even as Bashar al Assad rejects the last proposal proposed by the United Nations for a local truce that recognized any claims to separate sovereignty of rebel forces, if it was not armed, arguing that it was a violation of “national sovereignty,” seems to have invited an endgame of increased military raids, as the “area held by rebel forces” has shrunk in recent days to a small region curving around the medieval fortified Citadel, sandwiched between advancing regime forces.




The garishly bloodied face of Omran, the sole survivor of an air strike on his family home in Aleppo’s rebel -held territories, seemed a ghost, but served as a respite from images of the dead, and his transport to an ambulance from the horror of Aleppo seemed a promise of the future.  The image posted by the Aleppo Media Center provided little orientation to the actual struggle, but the apparent shock of the contrast of Omram’s evident transport, his face and T-shirt covered in dirt and blood, to safety offered more than a reprieve from image of dead children:  seated in an ambulance, fingering his bloodied head, his place provided a bizarre juxtaposition of a world of safety and medical supplies who had moved from the bombing of his family’s building in a war-torn city we can barely map.  The arrival of the child into a setting of Western safety almost seemed an image of the precareity of saving a child out of its destruction, and preserved an odd ability of hope even as airstrikes would soon hit four hospitals in east Aleppo, and continue to target civilians.

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Filed under Aleppo, data overlays, human rights, Syrian Civil War, Syrian Free Army

Bombed Out Landscapes over Time

The scars of ethanol-fueled V-2 rockets that speedily struck wartime London seventy years ago are a good place to start to map the systematic bombing of civilian spaces.  As if mapping the liquid-fueled fantasies of destruction of Wernher von Braun, the V-1 and later V-2 bombs silent arrival created a topography of death that transformed the city, as they exposed civilians to new levels of fear.  The tabulation of local damages in the Bomb Damage Maps recently published are chilling as an attempt to register, in wartime London, the progress and degree of local damages the city endured in purples, violets, oranges, and light blue on London’s familiar plan, as much as the resistance of a British culture of grim-faced exactitude to the horrific episode of wartime destruction, oddly antiquated and removed but poignant as an attempt to come to terms with the radically changing cityscape during the air raids and London blitz.




In ways that seemed to try to contain the violence of the bombs that killed over 9,000 by a coloring the sites that were hit by the daily assessment of bomb damages, Bomb Damage Charts tried to porcess the daily destruction that took the toll of 9,000 in what Germans portrayed as revenge for allied bombers suggest an English tabulation of the ethanol-fueled violence, called as retribution for allied bombing of German cities, that revealed fingerprints of the fantasy of Wernher von Braun seem to be an attempt to Thomas Pynchon began Gravity’s Rainbow by suggesting the sudden arrival of an ethanol-fueled V-2 rocket that struck the zero Greenwich meridian, in a volley of ballistic missiles whose targeted strikes and explosions brought to life something like a new world, and a terrible one at that.  “A rocket has suddenly struck.  A terrific blast quite close . . . :  the entire fabric of the air, the time, is changed–the casement window blown inward, rebounding with a wood squeak to slam again as all the house still shudders.”   The impact of the V-2 striking the zero meridian punctuates time, and crossing a zero threshold of how we register external stimuli in wartime and seems to mark a new threshold in the violence of military engagement and to push the envelope in the sudden deaths of wartime.

Can the Bomb Damage Charts be seen as a successful, or a fatally flawed, attempt to invest a sense of normalcy onto the destruction of the city’s built landscape?  Looking at the recently released hand-colored detail used to render the extent of building destruction caused by rockets and aerial raids in the  London Bomb Damage Maps created in wartime London–maps that tracked the progress and degree of local damages the city endured over two years in real time–one is encouraged to re-read Pynchon at a distance.  Indeed, the striking maps of bomb damage that the city endured offer so concrete a register for coming to terms with the unthinkable sudden strikes on a city–


Bombed out london from St Pauls






–as if to convert the extent of bomb damage to a means one’s mind might comprehend.  The presence of the map of bomb strikes in London, as much as damages, provide an enigma that Gravity’s Rainbow invites the reader to puzzle as Slothrop’s superiors try to discern an apparent logic in its distribution–“Pointsman, do you want to hear something really paranoid?  . . . Have you consulted a map of London lately?  All this great me-teo-ric plague of V-weapons  . . .”  “They’re falling in a Poisson distribution.” . . .  “But have you ever thought of why?”   The presence of the map Slothrop hung with joint personal satisfaction and obliviousness above his desk that shows his sexual adventure in wartime London provide a pretense to investigate his idiosyncratic Pavlovian response to the strikes, leading military intelligence to wonder whether Slothrop might be”able to predict when a rocket will fall at a particular place” or even considering that the hapless Slothrop is, rather than clairvoyant, in fact endowed with a psychokinesis by which “the force of his mind [is] causing the rockets to drop where they do,” using electric signals that manipulate the rockets’ guidance systems by his mind; the “map Slothrop’s been keeping on his girls” haunts the experts in London, since they fall in exactly the same distribution as the rocket strikes in the London Blitz.

But even when considering the extent of damage of London neighborhoods, so clearly antiquated are the maps to remind one of the extent we’ve continued to cross further thresholds in the continued onslaught of bombs in the London Blitz impinge on the zero threshold of Lt.  Slothrop’s consciousness in war-time London while he is stationed in the city with allied intelligence–at the same time as the new degree of bomb warfare raise the threshold of acceptable violence for the world.  For the first section of Gravity’s Rainbow, “Beyond the Zero,” describes the intersection of Slothrop’s unprecedented premonition of the arrival of V-2 rockets that enter the perceptual threshold of the military man and the new threshold of violence in war-torn Europe.  Whereas Pynchon explored the threshold of attention of the arrival of bombs across the landscape of war torn London for Lt. Tyrone Slothrop, the graphic response to the punctuation of space registered in the meticulously colored maps of bomb damage.  The maps force us to consider to the thresholds of violence and attention that the scale and violence of subsequent bombing raids have almost mercilessly continued to cross–providing a chilling record of the reaction to their sequence in historical “real” time.

The painstaking hand-colored detail used to render the scale of local destruction that the city suffered appear to provide a record of coming to terms with the “new normalcy” of wartime attacks by aerial bombers and, from 1941, the scourge of V-2 rockets, as much as they reveal the scale of the destruction of local buildings in an apparently objective way.

2004Bomb Damage Maps/London Metropolitan Archives/City of London Police

We map place to know where things lie but when we map bomb strikes, we map an erasure of place, tracing the outlines of how space was once occupied by place.  Maps might try to take stock of the devastation of bombings and air raids–but they can only hint at the scope of what occurs on the ground, and the varieties of maps made to understand the impact of the early ballistic missiles that arrived in London’s Blitz give their viewers an inescapable premonition of the scale of the increasingly prevalent maps made since World War II.  The attempt to comprehend the blasts of rockets from drones, the maps of the London Home Office, despite their antiquated hand-drawn format, are unavoidable premonitions of later data maps that tally the scale of strikes against sites, from Afghanistan, Waziristan, and Pakistan, or the bunker buster or cluster bombs that demolished Aleppo, in their failure to describe the violence they try to process.  Even as we fail to fully map the consequences of their destructiveness or understand the threshold each event has surpassed, the Bomb Damage Maps remind us of the impossibility to comprehend the scale of local devastation.

Gravity’s Rainbow begins with the strike of one of the V-2 rockets that hit London in scattershot plots from 1944 in “sudden demolitions form the sky,” from the arrival of V-2 impact at Greenwich, 000 longitude–the zero meridian.  The location immediately raises the question of whether their arrival can be mapped to reveal of any notion of causality.  Despite attempts to find some causality in their pattern, the proposition that “Things only happen” as we accommodate to their occurrence increasingly seem evident.  For despite any attempts to parse their distribution by Poisson distributions, the arrival of V-2 rockets lack causation.  Where the “meteoric plague of V-weapons” hit across London was a subject of increasing professional concern, as the smoldering craters from which ragged smoke curled in the London landscape–and which Pynchon so chillingly evokes–provided paranoid interpretations as their distribution was tried to be understood as something created by human agency, dumped on civilians in a way intelligence seeks to try to grasp in Pychon’s elegant–and sadly increasingly quite timely and timeless–novel.  The destruction of their sudden arrival is emblematic of a new order of terror–a new threshold of terror that is shattered by the scale of bombing targeted civilian populations in World War II, and shattered the era that preceded it in ways that can never be clearly mapped or given logical structure, try as hard as we may.  Slothrop’s map suggests an uncanny mapping of eros and thanatos, mapping the “sexual Other, whom he symbolizes on his map, most significantly, as a star, that anal-sadistic emblem of classroom success with permeates elementary education in America,” Dr. Treacle has it, that so spooks his superiors.

Pynchon confessed to have been quite consumed when consulting period-specific Baedecker guides found in Cornell University’s bookstore for research on novels.  As a young author, he systematically “looting the Baedeker for “all the details of a time and place I had ever been too, right down to the details of the diplomatic corps” in a story set in Egypt–so “Could Willy Sutton rob a safe?”–for atmospheric passages in stories–as well as no doubt maps.  And his account of a map of the threshold of bombed out wartime London becomes the centerpiece of an extended interrogation on human agency and contingency, as well as destruction psychic and physical:  the patterns of Slothrop’s sexual conquests in London map, in an uncanny way, “match up square for square” with the sites of bomb-strikes, and immediately direct collective attention to the mechanics of such apparent skills precognition:  once photographed and projected over the actual statistical maps of bomb strikes, “girl stars and rocket strike circles [are] demonstrated to coincide,” in ways that provide the invitation to try to understand the mechanics of the effects that the substance that triggers poor Tyrone’s apparent reflexive stimulation that the arrival of V-2 rockets somehow provokes, “as quickly as two days, or as slowly as ten” from the strike, and “with a mean [time-]lag of about 4 1/2 days.”

The eery embodied precognition triggered in Slothrop’s penis before the arrival of each V-2 rocket–an arrival that impacts his mind because of Pavlovian conditioning, trace the psychological landscape of these early ballistic bombs, itself pushed past subjects’ zero threshold in wartime London.  It probably doesn’t bear saying that they map a threshold we have continued to traverse.  If used to spin further apocalyptic narratives haunted by “our common nightmare The Bomb” that Pynchon described as haunting his fiction and so much else, the maps provide something like a palimpsest of these fears.  Long before searching for reactions before “this slow escalation of hopelessness and terror in the few ways open to us,” the record of a titration-like destruction of the cityscape that the Bomb Damage Maps reveal provide an amazing contemporary, if quite cartographically removed and antiquated, Baedeker to trace the expanding mental landscape comparable to Pynchon’s account of Slothrop’s attempts to grasp the shifting landscape of the Blitz.


Bombed out london from St Pauls

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Filed under aerial bombardment, bombing raids, Gravity's Rainbow, London Blitz, Vietnam War, war crimes

Hostile Homelands: Excavating Jerusalem’s Pasts

The Israeli Separation Barrier that increasingly divides Jerusalem remaps relations of Palestinians and the Israeli state in an increasingly provocative and fraught ways within the Holy City, by openly redefining an individual relation to it as a place.  Organized by a network of checkpoints, ID controls, and incursions into land that was once Palestinian, some fifty years after the unification of the city in the Israeli state was defined by the 1967 war, the sheer concrete wall built to unilaterally and definitively remap the region continues to the remap–and mishap–the relation of the state to the country’s inhabitants.

The explicit purpose of the Separation Barrier was indeed to replace earlier maps of the city.  The hope to ensure “[The barrier] gives order to space” and in giving a new order to the region of Jerusalem, as one of Ariel Sharon’s most senior advisor on the Wall’s construction put it,  was to reshape how “people relate to places” in a region where human relation to place is not only very sedimented but particularly strong as it has been contested for so long.  Is purpose is to erase history.  This intent to force people’s relation to place was echoed in the reduction of Palestinian lands by almost a tenth and the apparatus of surveillance and oversight that constrain Palestinian presence and movement in the city to demote their motion to non-citizens excluded from the state.  The treatment of residents as nationless refugees by the wall creates a new existential relation to place not visible on a map, and that prominently orients their relation to place.  Mr Mani, a novel about one family’s relation to the settled space of Jerusalem, offers a deep history of the collective relation of the Jewish people to the place that has been so forcefully remapped as a center of the Jewish nation.

Yet he excavation of past precedents for the wall and the bounding the nation provide a way to historicize how the affective and emotional relation to place has led the Israeli state to redefine the relation of residents to place, and what led to the remapping of place in ways that exclude the threatening nature of “open space.”  For the bounding of place haunt the state’s past and indeed its foundation, creating, the genealogy of attitudes to place in A.B. Yehoshua’s Mr. Mani suggests, a deep guilt in the redefining of people to places that needs to be excavated, and isnot tenable for the region’s future.  The perspective of such a place seems among the most urgent forms of resistance to acceptance of the Separation Boundary as a new mapping of space.  The book is an invitation to map the place of the individual in this remapping of space, and indeed to excavate the trauma that the author places at the roots of so forceful and deeply melancholic remapping of the individual’s relation to place.


1.  The fencing or bounding off of land within the Israeli state with the creation of a monumental boundary wall–or Separation Boundary–created a new monument in the Holy Land and city of Jerusalem, as if a precedent that would erase the authority of earlier maps within the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, but call for a deeper historical unpacking of the remapping of Palestinian lands.

The Israeli occupation of Palestine might be dated from 1948 or 1967 as a compromising of human rights, before the 2005 building of the barrier’s construction as an “anti-terrorist fence.”  But the lack of recognition of Palestinians during the occupation impels a deep remapping of the historical privileging of Israel’s presence in Jerusalem, over a far more extensive time; indeed the state-settlement of the Holy City might be imagined more evident as a stratigraphy of the collective mapping of the Holy City whose ruins have provided a logic for the settlement of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.  What Palestinian author Ala Hlehel described the expansion of settlements in “occupied lands” as displaying “colonial features under the cover of the Torah narrative” in which what he terms the “occupation machine” of borders, surveillance apparatus, security arrangements that constrain geographic movement, and abridge rights “functions to exhaust those who are subject to it”:   in the dynamic that exhausts all inhabitants, Hlehel argued, that increasingly the question of agency is obscured:  “the wheels are so interlocked, . . . so tightly wound, integrated, and coherent that it is hard to distinguish its beginning from its end,” in an area where the deep symbolic and psychic ties to the ruins of biblical civilization create a new sense of rights of their occupation.

The attachment to the geography of ruins is not only one of a continued past, but an active present, that long exercised a potentially compromising relation to the present across time.  Whereas Sigmund Freud took the historical layers in Rome as a figure to imagine the layering of time in individual memory–as he put it in Civilization and its Discontents, to imagine the “mental life” as the contemporaneous layering of an individual’s pasts in ways that might be made evident by an analogous excavation of their lost traces, the inhabitation of Jerusalem by Jews are based on rebuilding ruins.  If Freud trusted the continued presence of the past in mental life allowed the past be “brought to light” through careful study and internalization of maps of the city, the basis of claims of state-sanctioned settlements on what are deemed “significant archeological sites” whose residents can be expelled suggest the paradoxes of building borders on ruins might lead one to see the occupation of Jerusalem as a rebuilding of a collective memory of the Jewish nation in borders that never existed among its “perpetual ruins” of the place.

The current danger of naturalizing boundaries of occupation that have existed over fifty years and restating claims to ownership of land around the holy city once seen as international proceeds from a new mapping of access to lands based on a narrative relation to  rights to the ruins of a land.  The special relation of Jews to the ruins of itself creates a uniquely compromised relation of Palestinians to the present of the city, depriving themselves of their present or indeed the passage of time, as it keeps time in check:  if “Jews are better than Palestinians at living in ruins,” as Hlehel provocatively wrote in 2017, this is because the relation of the ruins is both so vitally present in their map of place, and because the ruins constitute a present that obscures the presence of other presents in particularly painful ways.  Hlehel’s point is polemic:  for is not the notion of “ruins,” “ruined dwellings,” “waste places” and “ruined cities” of Israel are translated from the Old Testament; the question of returning to rebuild old “ruins” or places as communities “gathered out of the peoples” and “brought forth from nations” were a guiding fiction in the collective imaginary that compelled the region’s rebuilding and settlement in recent times.  If the promise of rebuilding the חָרְבָּה or “perpetual ruins” and ruined places of Israel described by Isaiah and Ezekiel 38:7-16 suggested a survival of places that are preserved for those returning from exile, central to the restoral of a community in Israel and Palestine.

The pain of its settlement and violence of defending its boundaries as signs of belonging were long omitted from this map   Indeed, the recent project of building a “security fence” by the Israeli state–a term Ariel Sharon adopted in the sense of using its archaic meaning as a means of protection, and a barrier–sbelie the deeply divisive effects of such a Separation Barrier on Palestinian.  Indeed, continued description by the Israeli Prime Minister of a “security fence” during 2003 was adopted by many Israelis concealed the effects of such a Separation Boundary or Apartheid Wall as if to cleanse it of its values as a militarized marker–although the Wall remaps the territory, of an eight-meter high sheer wall surmounted by wire fences, cyclone fencing, and electronic sensors with deep ditches on either side, and punctuated by watchtowers and firing posts, effectively remapping habitation of the land and the rights or mobility of Palestinians.  Terms as a “fence,” “wall” or “barrier” omit questions of the unfairness of unilaterally remapping of Israel’s boundaries, and illegal remapping of rights of inhabitation and movement, as the word “security” justifies a need for its existence that justifies its illegality.  (American media from CNN to Fox to AP to Washington Post to even the BBC adopted a similar set of locutions of a “security fence” or “separation wall” to downplay its civil rights offenses, as OSS Archivium noted, as a rewriting of territorial boundaries with the effect of confiscating long-inhabited lands.)  The painful neglect to map–or recognize–inhabitants is examined as a theme of tortured relation to the land of Mani men who witnessed the remapping of the nation, and provide a narrative that resists and questions the finality of this map.


32Avi Ohayon / Israeli National Photo Collection, 2003


In assembling isolated testimonies that recount attitudes to boundaries built around the nation or community of Jews in what has become Israel, the triumphant narrative of resettlement is not only undermined, but examined as rooted in a traumatic relation to place that turns a blind spot to the existence of inhabitants of place.  The collective memory of ruins is recuperated by being situated historically in Yehoshua’s novel, in ways that the bulk of this post turns.


2.  The particular pain of this relation to space–and to the boundaries of a new space of settlement in the area of Jerusalem and its Old City–have long animated settlement before the foundation of the Israeli state by members of the Jewish nation.  The problem of remapping the city as a national capital raises deep questions of the preservation of received narratives of the site of Jerusalem as a place, and the telling of stories about its settlement and the narratives of its settlement.  Remapping the unity of Jerusalem was long presented as a defensive act by the Jewish state:  but it is a gambit to retain the centrality of the city to the Israeli state, and remains a mapping that obscures and erase the presence of Palestinians in the region.  Rather than map the occupation of the region, or the refusal to recognize Palestinian presence, the collective remapping of Jerusalem was elaborated in collective memory most evident in its non-dramatic moments, however, but sedimented in its remapping, in a time when increasing numbers of Palestinians are born into the occupation, potentially naturalizing a situation in which a majority of Israelis are born into rule over areas of the city occupied by Palestinians, and accept their legal claims to settle ancient lands.

In deeply historical ways that have sedimented a map relating the Jewish people to the city, the ahistorical relation to place emerges in the photograph that accentuates the  remove of the anonymous hilltop observer from his homeland:  his very identity seems blurred by the prominent presence  of the wall, even as his presence embodies the steep difficulties in mapping or envisioning “Israel” as a sovereign state within Jerusalem, in the manner it is being constantly remapped, as the complexity of cartographical overlays of the city’s post-1967 transformations have made clear, which obscure the life stories of its residents.  Balancing the individual attachment of place–and the story of the individual–within the collective remapping of the city that has inflicted a regime on many of the region’s residents that they are regularly legally excluded from.

The persistence of the deep attachment to the unity of Israel–and to how the defense of its borders as a confirmation and embodiment of Jewish identity–extends across generations may be realized through maps, of which the exclusionary border of the Separation Barrier is perhaps the culmination; but it can only be fully excavated by the individual nature of the transmission from the diaspora in the deep psychic attachment to the land, by the way that the story about the territory is narrated by individuals in time.

The excavation of testimonies within this collective past is the subject of Israeli progressive novelist A.B. Yehoshua imagined in the testimonies from five generations of settlers of Israel that compose the five books of the 1980s novel Mr Mani, a fictive if almost archival version that juxtaposes individual testimonies of the Mani across five generations, to reveal how although each is rooted in distinct historical periods of global change, and notions of the ‘State of Israel,’ the deep affinities connecting them suggest the blindspots and pain in insisting to translate the Jewish nation into a bounded land.   In moving across epochs, and untangling the migration story of Mani men, Yehoshua skillfully historicizes the arrival of Jews in Israel, on the one hand, and raises questions about the settlement of lands that have been defined as the uniting of ruins or sites of collective memory within the borders of the Jewish nation Israel, and the defense of these boundaries that were for the first time aggressively defended in the Lebanon War:  the overwhelming impact of these stories is to suggest the extent to which the individual narratives of these men of an old Jerusalem family describe a fraught, rather than a natural relation to place, unpacking the hidden stories of settlement in ways that respond to the questions raised by the aggressive defense of the boundaries of the new nation-state in the 1980 war.  The book begins in the words of a woman speaks to her mother as she describes her relation to the Mani who serves in the Lebanon War of 1982 that led to the military advance of the army to Beirut, and his father, uncovers and excavates layers of a stratigraphy of a collective relation to place, in individual testimonies that–while not Palestinian or including Jerusalem’s inhabitants–map the persistent problems of insistently remapping Israel’s presence in the city and in its boundaries.

The result of the layered narrative aims to excavate a collective memory inherent in Jerusalem’s divided quarters, as if by analogy to Freud’s adoption of a the coexistence of multiple epochs of time in Rome provided a metaphor and powerful figure for individual memory, that speaks to the construction of the Separation Barrier.  The place of Jerusalem in collective memory of the Mani–and the trauma of the collective memory of Jerusalem’s occupation–becomes historically excavated from the time of the diaspora in Mr Mani, however, as if to offer a vantage point outside the received history of how Jerusalem has been remapped, and was remapped at individual historical moments as 1948, 1967, and 1980, less in terms of the narrative of the violence inflicted on Palestinians, to be sure, than as a problem of sustaining the transmitted remapping of a human relation to place.  If literary questioning of the abilities for this remapping seem at the heart of Mr Mani, posing the question if indeed a single figure committed themselves to repeatedly mipmapping the relation of his family to the city,–and the human difficulties or possibilities of sustaining and indeed even envisioning such a tortured relation to place.

Although the Israeli Defense Forces who advanced to the Western Wall with hopes to “unify” Jerusalem fifty years ago, when the control of East Jerusalem was ended with the expansion of municipal boundaries of the city.  Despite hopes for a peaceful unification of the long divided city, the expansion of the Israeli state to the holiest of Jewish places never fulfilled the image of a restoration of peace or end to the exile of a diaspora– as hoped by Israeli Defense Forces who advanced to its base in 1967.  In a territorial drive that increased the territory of Israel by a third, the expansion of newly annexed lands raised questions of the problem of mapping the idea of a Jewish nation onto fixed bounds, now embodied in the fraught construction of the Separation Barrier that ostensibly seeks defensively to monitor the entry and exit of Palestinians from the largest city in Israel, but reveals the depth conflict between mapping a Jewish city and a democratic one that demand excavation as much as the monuments of the city.

The recent expansion of settlements along the West Bank that the ‘unification’ of Jerusalem rampaged the city.  The wall made Jerusalem into the epicenter of an expansion of territorial expansion and the remapping of the state, even if it once had no clear part of the state.  Yet the presence of the Separation Boundary must not be accepted as the definitive remapping of the state and of the relation between the state and Palestinians that it asserts.  Expansion of settler communities on hilltop villages are is mapped below by the dark blue dots of settler communities–areas in light blue of settler-run municipalities and hilltop outposts, that have dramatically revised the boundaries where Israel administers law–and lighter tan areas where it administers security–that have so prominently made boundary crossing part of present-day Israeli life in ways that suggest a collective remapping of their occupation of the West Bank.


Jerusalem:Epicenter.pngEconomist: Boundaries and Jurisdiction of Israeli State after 1967 War/B’Tselsem


Each chapter of Mr Mani focusses both on the repeated history, almost compulsive, of boundary-crossing, by which a transmitted notion of the Jewish nation was preserved in the territories of other states.  The translation of a people long crossing boundaries preceded the sovereign boundaries of their notional nation as a state, Yehoshua claims, as if to understand the difference of the recent assertion of new territorial bounds by the Israel.  The ambitious scope of the novel is nothing less than an attempt to excavate the transition of a notion of a Jewish nation to the mapping of a state in which the presence of Palestinian settlers or non-Jewish presence has remained problematic from the start, but begins from the creation of Jewish-majority regions of Israel by the bounding of its borderlines, and the excision of Palestinian populations for the legal and demographic consolidation of West Bank in which almost 400,000 Israelis now live, including East Jerusalem, through the collective problem of the remapping the Jewish people in a territorial boundaries as a sovereign state, assembling the historically fragmented sections of the ancient city in an image of  the lost integrity of the Jewish nation.

For Yehoshua imagines moments of this remapping as moments of re-enacting the longstanding almost obsessive compulsion to remap the Israeli nation as a state within the Mani family, and unveiling the dark origins of this remapping before the Israeli state and before Zionism, in the attempts to retell and remap the spiritual relation to the land, as if using individual testimony to suggest the possibilities of remapping as mismappings that stripped Palestinians of rights.  If the Separation Barrier is emblematic of the walls that increasingly divide human populations in the world, unpacking the received histories of the state’s relation to the city reminds one of the impossibility of preserving the integrity of Jerusalem within an Israeli state, if that state undermines the possibility of a democratic and inclusive map, rather than one mapping boundaries that create lower-class citizens.  The assembly of the fragmented pasts of Jerusalem are imagined to have had a very much longer prehistory in the Israeli historical novel, which while beginning from the present–or from the realization that the Jewish state is invading another country and bombarding the inhabitants of neighboring county, during the offensive advance into Lebanon in the devastating 1982 war.  Fragments of progressively temporally receding dialogues with Mani men across five books examine the drives of the Mani to define their selves against Jerusalem to different degrees, examining in microcosm a collective transmission of ideals of settlement that extend to the family’s first ties to eighteenth-century city; each stands as a fragmentary half of a dialogue, but in an almost explicitly cartographic symbolism, their totality across time helps to survey the relations that the male members of the Mani family have to the city of Jerusalem.


3.  In order to underline the repeated and recursive return to boundaries and boundary making that defined the relation of Jews to the land of Israel, before the founding of the state, Yehoshua seeks to appreciate the difference in the new relation of the Jewish state to boundaries–a relation quite distance from the relation to boundaries of the Jewish nation.  For Yehoshua offers partial perspectives on the intensity of their ties to Jerusalem and the ongoing difficulties of defining a relation to the inhabitants of the sacred city from a family that has long lived in the diaspora, intent to identify itself with the city’s mythic past, less in terms of annexation than the constant rewriting of their relation to the map.

By recasting settlements as neighborhoods, appropriating land within East Jerusalem and beyond as “state lands,” and expanding jurisdictional lines as annexed to the municipal entity, the cartographic erasure of occupants of regions formerly inhabited, but which have lost all signs of previous inhabitation in the spread of over the settlements dispersed beyond Jerusalem on the West Bank, and policed by soldiers protecting settlers who have moved there, by prioritizing the rights of Jewish settlement, is excavated beneath the metropole within what seems a pained relation to the restoration of Jewish presence in a region that the boundary wall circumscribes.


Jerusalem bselem.pgnAnnexed landsB’tselem (2002)


Tensions between the Jewish nation and the state that acts as aggressively to guard borders as any nation arose in 1982–when Yehoshua’s novel was written and begins, when the mission of defending northern boundaries led to the aggressive occupation of Lebanon, conspicuously redefining Israeli forces to the land as occupying powers.  The claims for such borders are effectively excavated in the city of Jerusalem across the five sections of an imagined genealogy uncover a complexly fraught relation of the family to the settlement of a space long inhabited by others, and the conceit of the demand to remap their own habitation of Jerusalem’s space stands figurally as a topos and exemplary case for the fraught difficulties of defining an individual relation to the land, as if to provide in microcosm the psychic understory and foundations for the repeatedly shifting boundaries of Jewish settlement that, not only since 1967, but long before, were imposed upon inhabitants of the land.

This is a story not only of maps, but of the fraught personal problems that lie beneath the torturous mapping of a “unified” sovereign space as if it was based on precedents or natural rights.  The tortured red line of the Separation Barrier that snakes past the earlier frontier of 1967 and seems planned to include more recent hilltop settlements offers a boundary that defines as permanent the place of new incursions into Palestinian lands, increasingly difficult to accept as having any legal precedent.  By examining the testimony about different periods of mapping and remapping these boundaries, Yehoshua’s novel serves to destabilize their unavoidable nature, and to open new spaces for narrating their creation.


1967 borders.pngEconomist/B’Tselem


West J.png

Annexed landsB’Tselem


The desperate sense of exclusion in the contemporary AP photograph is itself an odd artifact of a nation that long mapped the land of Israel from the pain perspective of exile:  for the attempt to The sense of Palestinian exile was captured in the iconic photograph captured the blurred face of a Palestinian, as if rendered out of focus as if by the sheer concrete of the boundary and white houses of Jerusalem, the city from which he seems psychologically and physically remote.  In ways that raise questions of how to map the relation of the historical homeland of the city to its inhabitants, the hilltop man seems excised from the city; the focus on the sheer concrete wall seems to blur his relation to place, now circumscribed by a wall, denoted in red below and punctuated with checkpoints, remaps one’s sense of a once-continuous place.


Btselem/Separation Barrier


4.  The haunted nature of that inhabitation exists jointly in a historical record and in a difficult to map deeply psychological relation to place and a symbolic–as well as an objective or actual–space.  Tropes of redemption and return were the central motifs of metaphorically mapping the Jewish nation in the past, and the territorial claims of Israel in Jerusalem are particularly difficult to disentangle from this eschatological geography of  the Jewish people.  Yet telling a story about the difficulties of settlement–and the pain of settling Jerusalem–is a narrative that has been too often masked or repressed, and the retelling of  the experience of such settlement is peeled away in the post-modern pentateuch of five different discussions with the male members of a fictional old Jerusalem family assembles a fragmentary narrative of expiation to a relation to space.

The fragmented stories of the Mani family assemble ties to place by moving  backwards to a state of exile or diaspora across five historical periods, excavating an arc of Palestine’s almost compulsive settlement in order to assemble the mysterious psychology of Mani men and their tortured narratives about their relation to place, often encountered as if in different neighborhoods or zones of the historical city, that suggests psychological paradoxes of the depth of attachment to a city already inhabited by others.  The historical arc cannot be reduced to a snapshot, as it unpacks a web of claims to boundaries and their crossing and assertion across the city in five historical periods, extending back to the early nineteenth century, but it may recover a sense of original sin to the land whose depth may lie at the deepest base of the Separation Barrier that creates the most painful remapping of the city–and painful confining of its inhabitants–today.  The powerful narratives told in the diaspora of the Jewish nation cast the tragedy of exile of a nation–galut–as preparing for the possibility of a future redemptive return remains difficult to square with the continued pain that is cost by the removal of Palestinian residents from land.

Mr Mani unpacks and rewrites what might be seen as a received narrative of triumphal return, to a problematic occupation never clearly mapped in relation to the area’s occupants.  In many ways, the Separation Barrier concretizes this pain, and is emblematic of the painful difficulty to create and defend the frontiers of Israel as a sovereign nation that the Israeli army who police this frontier–known as the Israeli Defense Force, or IDF–daily provide for many of the city’s residents.  If the Separation Barrier  is the he problems of excavating the pain of this resettlement and defense of lands in which one has a necessarily pained relation, embodied in the creation of the sort of boundaries that the Jewish people long crossed, but which now divides the city from its western half along a quite tortured path.


Btselem/Separation Barrier


In ways, the definitive remapping of Israeli territory in the Separation Barrier is the culmination of a history of remapping long hostile homelands as the basis for a state, and may sadly reveal the contradictions of asserting statehood.  Coex’s color photograph invites us to imagine the perspective of a blurred and unnamed Palestinian posed on a hilltop just bond the Separation Barrier that Israel has built in order  separate the nation from the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and from Israel.  His despair at physical exclusion from Jerusalem seems staged in order to emphasize exclusion:  the impression of exclusion inverts the topos of exile that was long cultivated in the diaspora, an image of exile cultivated by the Jewish people from the time of Jews’ 1492 expulsion from Spain, in a narrative long predating Israel, and nourished in Salonika, Lublin, and Catalonia.  But the galuth is deeply interior, a state of mind of exile defined by a remove more than empirically mapped, the photograph evokes the exile of the Palestinian from his homeland.  It documents the rooted nature of an existential condition in place, transmitted over time with spiritual dimensions, in mapping the attempts to manage the intense subjective pain of exile more than measure an actual distance from a lost land.


5.  In contrast to the image of protracted suffering that the photograph evokes and seems to condense, insight comes through the expansive if imagined historical reconstruction of an Jerusalem family, told in chronological reverse as if to excavate the tortured ties of the Sephardic Mani family that were encountered across five generations from when they first came to Jerusalem, in Mr Maniwhose disjointed narrative maps an interior torture of its own of the pain of not only exile but return.  The pain is perhaps most compelling in contrast to the renewal of a Palestinian exile–not only against the 1948 trauma of the geographical displacement,  or Nakbah–النكبة–but present in the earliest settlement of Palestine and individual pain that seems the remainder establishing Israel’s frontiers as if in recognition of a guilt of the claims to the land.  Yehoshua delineates the scale of this mental pain through one-sided conversations with or about the actions of these resolute Mani men in their crossing of boundaries, to map the compulsive drive to define the borders of the Jewish nation as a state echoed in the contradictions of the Separation Barrier  today as a new stage and emblem of the historical occupation of the region.

In the five testimonies that the reader discovers and indeed assembles from earlier generations to piece a story together of the men that came to inhabit Jerusalem–and who seem to have naturalized their relation to place in ways that have remapped the city’s region–Mr Mani exposes the pain of galuth as coexisting with the earliest stages of the settlement of the Holy Land, far more strongly than the possibilities of redemption that were transmitted from the diaspora to the first Zionist congresses.  For from the earliest settlers of this Holy Land, the tenacity of the tie to a region or place, without acknowledging its inhabitants, created a deep unease, of deplacing and removing its residents, as much as inflicting despair.  The formal similarity to the image of the pensive figure Rodin’s Thinker seems to be unavoidably recalled in the photograph of the man squatting across from the Separation Barrier, but rather than evoke timeless remove in a manner abstracted from place, the unnamed man perched before the international city of Jerusalem seems defined by his despair in relation to the city, now hidden behind sheer concrete walls by the Israeli state, as he contemplates his remove from his rocky perch and the exile that it captures.


coex-httpsframasphere-orgtagsemployeeThomas Coex/New York Times

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The Arid Region of the United States and its Afterlife: Beyond the 100th Meridian

The map may not be the territory.  But it powerfully orients relation to the territory–and to the presence of water in the land, as well as the land itself.  Indeed, the mapping of how the “Arid Region” of the United States could be settled by John Wesley Powell created as the second Director of the United States Geological Survey, a post he held from 1881–1894, but which he had first expansively described in 1878.  The United States Congress followed Powell’s recommendation to consolidate the western surveys into the new U.S. Geological Survey, and he long sought to create a map capturing the fragile water ecology of the American West.  The completion of his classic report on the region first suggested a new relation to the distribution of water in the region in ways that would best serve all of its residents, and in his later map, he tried to articulate so clear a relation to the region’s future settlement.  Powell’s view on the need for systematic irrigation of the region stands in almost polemic relation to the place that the western states held in the spatial imaginary of the Homesteading Era:  indeed, his insistence that led to the charge to undertake a systematic irrigation survey of lands in the public domain of the wester United States in 1888, long a topic for which he had agitated, and his map of the region reflected a demand to integrate a topographic survey, hydrographic survey, and engineering survey of the region.  Perhaps the map offered a new sense of the territory, if “territory” includes the waterways that would be able to adequately irrigate all open lands.


Arid Region of US


For the reception of Major John Wesley Powell’s attempt to map what he called the “Arid Region of the United States” reveals both he difficulty in mapping the relation of water to the land, and the appeal that a piece of paper might gain over time.  The detailed map provided something of a ground plan and register of how the arid region might be best inhabited, and of the relation to the land and landwater of a region’s inhabitants.  And it provides an early recognition of problems of water management and distribution in the western states–captured in its naming simply as the “Arid Region” as if to set it apart from the plentiful water in other regions–that later eras began to appreciate in ways that Powell’s contemporaries were less able to see in his ambitious attempt to reorganize the management of its regions around its multiple inland watersheds that he had hoped to canalize.  For Powell’s ambitious 1890 remapping of lands west of the 100° meridian in the United States tried to encompass their unique aridity and to pose a solution for its future inhabitants with special attention to its drainage districts–as discreet riverine watersheds.


Arid Lands ReservationsArid Region of the United States (1890); detail


The best practices that motivated Powell’s map as a basis to orient the government to the land’s groundwater.  The distinctive scarcity of water in the western states became evident in a time of sustained drought, giving unexpected currency to how Powell’s map reoriented readers to the “Arid Region of the United States.”  The brightly colored map to which the explorer, geographer, and anthropologist not only dedicated an extreme amount of attention in his later life, and of which he became something of an evangelist, suggests a early recognition of the scarcity of water and its management, in an era when there is a specter of considerable anger around poor practices of water management in much of the western states, tempered by an expectation that groundwater would be available for farming and irrigation.

The rivers in the United States are quite widely distributed, leaving much of the western plateaux at a distance from riverine waterways–


Western Rivers.pngTim Sinott


–and the image of Virgin Land so deeply ingrained across that regions settlement that its unique character of low rainfall and widely dispersed water sources was erased in the spatial imaginary which replaced the detailed map Powell of the administration of groundwater in the western states that Powell had created with his surveying team as a guide to the region that he knew so well, and which he sought to communicate when he became second director of the United States Geographical Surveys (1881–1894).  The governmental office did not give him authority to organize , but to create a new map that might better organize the nation to the lesser rainwater in what was known as the Great American Desert.  For Powell attempted to re-orient homesteaders to the imperative of western migration through the map, by organizing water administration and the future prospect for canalization in order to grow prospects for the irrigation of the region and its future farmlands that have considerable ethical power to speak to us today.

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Filed under climatology, data visualization, drought, environmental stewardship, water management