Tag Archives: immigration

Global Pizza?

The Google Doodle reminds us that the Pizza Margherita of cheese, tomatoes, and basil remains the If the “most popular topping variation” in Neapolitan style pizza, and indeed tat the universally accessible status of the pizza in fact had a local origin. The balance between the global significance that pizza has gained as a sign of satisfaction confirmed by how a Google Doodle of a circular pizza was divided by a pizza wheel, its slices grabbed as soon as they were cut from a basil-laden pie of melted mozzarella cheese. The doodle, as if product tested by Google, was both local but global, a recognizable sight and site of comfort that as clickbait triggered Pavlovian associations in one’s mouth, even as cut slices vanished off the screen, the taste of a tangy warm pizza sauce eerily triggering sense-baed responses even if no melted cheese was in one’s mouth. And so it was the only response to the global reach of Google, and something of an inevitable sign of pizza’s new global reach as food of specific provenance, that the margherita pie became, in the midst of its growing consumption of take out in the pandemic, a pleasant graphic interface that attracted heightened attention if not some joy.

In an era of sheltering in place, the social and most demotic of street foods was presented on our screens as a hope of good cheer, if not pizza and beer. The GIF was a year-end gift of a tiring year, one we wouldn’t have, we hoped, to repeat, but feared we might,–even if we wanted to think that, the first Pfitzer COVID vaccine having been approved by a few months previous, we were emerging, even. if we suspected the virus continued even after issuance of bivalent boosters. Would the pizza, the warm pizza emerging from the oven, offer needed meaning, and a surrogate for sociability, in lettering made of bubbling cheese set atop a rich tomato-based foundation?

Google Doodle GIF, December 6, 2021

But for many who lived behind screens, the arrival of pizza was a promised respite of comfort in the day. Long before the increased currency of pizza delivery in the current pandemic, pizza was the classic to-go food, born for the street: the global server reminded us that the comforts of the pizza has been recognized for its origins in Naples, home of the ancient and timeless festival of gluttonous festival of the Piedigrotta, whose ancient Roman fertility festival is preserved in the eating of roast meat, wine, and cheese–as well as pizza! If “Piedigrotta” now lends its name not only to local festival but pizzerie across the peninsula, the Google Doodle invited us in the midst of winter to ponder the pizza’s unmistakable comfort, a comfort nourished over the pandemic that even in a cartoon rendering of the slices that disappear quickly as soon as they are virtually cut, or indeed before we “cut” the pie by a virtual wheel, placed in proximity to a brightly colored avatar to “celebrate pizza” on our screens, in an intimate act of feeding ourselves, cutting slices from a wooden sheet covered with tasty toppings.

Cutting into the pizza we could almost imagine as fresh from the oven, mozzarella melted, was almost sure to stimulate a Pavlovian reaction of salivation, as anticipation for the melted mozzarella dripped into umami seas of tomato paste. The undeniable umami of pizza is translated as comfort, instant gratification of melted cheese and tangy tomato sauce. As its status as a food of urban resistance and survival under duress has dulled, what was the cheap city snack, hardly a meal, became the food of choice for creating a sense of domestic contentment even as global insecurity and fear grows.

I saw the remaking of pizza, something now of a barometer of urban sociability and gemütlichkeit, has gained a mobility that seems, so long as on a paddle that resembles being fresh from the oven, the pleasure of being an edible mad lib of its own, infinitely personalized, and the lovely luxury of cheap eats. The availability of pizza even in the pandemic a way of finding some contentment in a comfort food, a respite from the visually eerily similar coronavirus that so dominated our minds, with spikes and not toppings, that it seemed to augr a new era or period of humanity, and had made us scour the internet for historical precedents. Was not the pizza also affording a tie to a material, comforting human past?

The diffusion of pizza in frozen form, ready delivery, and instant gratification even before the pandemic. The conferral of a status of intangibility as a global heritage–and a global heritage site in Naples, site where the Margherita is the preferred pizza, transformed this most material of food craft to local arts amidst a globalization of pizza so unprecedented to blur cultural boundaries and render the world’s surface as flat as a pizza pie, as pizza, once described as a food of sailors in the port of Naples who made pizza marinara the classic to-go food before disembarking on Mediterranean travels. Yet it was in the New World, in the immigrant communities in New York and Staten Island, and after the Great Depression, when many Italian-American family matriarchs regularly cut off part of the dough prepared for bread-making to provide the basis for pizzas, that pizza emerged. If with origins as a special family treat, garnished with leftover tomato sauce, the rise of economic immigrant prosperity introduced at the first parlors that life blood of culinary preparation, anchovies, pecorino romano, and sliced mozzarella, to meld in a pre-heated oven, a magical transformation of melted cheese unlike the magic filler of bread.

The expansion of chains of pizza parlors, pizza cutters, pizza toppings, and pizza sauce, grew on both coasts of America, first in prosperous immigrant centers, but soon in Depression era America. Even though current pizza shops per capita are greatest in northeastern states New Jersey, Delaware, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, parsing pizzerie per capita by state “density” somewhat misleadingly skews the spatial distribution from those dense urban hot-spots of pizza ovens like New York or Chicago–true hotspots, of course. Among the oldest pizzerie are found in New Jersey, dating back to 1912 and 1917, if the oldest shop still functioning resides in New York City; the expansion of the stores in economic downturn reflected the birth site of a transplanted food set to Americanize, with a pizzeria opening in San Francisco in 1935, as well as Boston, New Haven, and, outside New Jersey, that early site of Italian American immigrants’ upward mobility. (It may be New Jersey afforded beefsteak tomatoes perfect for saucing, an agrarian epicenter of prepared foods, intensified by the truckloads of fresh tomatoes that arrived at Campbell Soup’s Camden factory, that had a role–true story–in making Campbell’s Tomato Soup the favorite lunch of the young Andrew Warhola in Philadelphia, who by 1968 silk-screened the label of its can to make it a visual icon of twentieth-century American art.). But the emergence of “Pizza alla napolitana” in an American cookbook printed in Boston by 1936 cemented its place in the home-cooking repertoire, mandating hand-stretched dough, smoked mozzarella, and dried oregano, but advising readers they can skimp as dough “can be purchased in any Italian bake shop.”

Density per capita of Pizzerie in Northeastern United States/ Estately (2016)

This is perhaps to speak nothing of quality. The mobility of pizza seems to have everything to do with the license to eat, as much as its readiness of preparation. But perhaps because of the market driven expansion of pizza globally, the placement of pizza as a cultural artifact becomes problematic, if not entirely lost to memory, and removed from place. The pizza became a classic immigrant food in the United States and American cities from New York to other east coast metropoles, its warmness transforming the crowded tables or expanded family-style restaurants to an expansive immigrant sense of home, as the arrival of rotating wheels, akin to lazy Susans, those elegant dining trays dating from the eighteenth century in mahogany wood, were diffused in mass eating booths of the 1950s and 1960s, offered a model for the rotating ovens bearing the circular pizza by ball bearings able to withstand the 500°F heat needed to create the perfect setting for the pizza crust’s rise, and the transformation of the raw layers of a pizza to meld together in an umami taste. The melding of pizza seems to be able to be made wherever there is an oven–wherever one can impart a blast of needed heat for the alchemy of pizza dough that distinguished it from bread–that the place of pizza is difficult to establish, and the place of pizza in memory difficult to separate from an actual map.

The certification of the local roots of spinning and stretching was restored to Neapolitan pizzaiuoli in 2017–not five years ago–after being petitioned to throw its international weight behind the local certification of provenance. The attempt to push back on the globalization of what they insisted was not a national but a “native” food, demanding to be seen and recognized as born nowhere else but Naples, and from DOC ingredients often reserved for classy wines, suggested a desperate defense of the prestige of the local amidst an age of globalization, a defense that in the midst of a global pandemic only grew.

The announcement led to a collective skeptical raising of eyebrows worldwide. Despite the need to protect endangered cultural goods, might it be compromised to apply the modifier “intangible” to one of the most pedestrian of hand-held foods, the treasured urban delight of those opting out of multi-course meals, long conveyed in “to-go” in cardboard containers if not readily grasped in one hand for easy eating, as a folded slice for added convenience, newspaper-style? If globalization has produced an untold range of appropriations of “variations” of the pizza qua pie, the UNESCO certification seemed a reminder that allowed future variations to proliferation, but also to anchor the mobile food–famously mapped in proximities to subway stations in New York, as if to prove this was the basic food on the go–in a site of origin as a sit-down food. To be sure, the pizza was a bit of a celebration of the long-denigrated southern identity,

The sense of accessibility of pizza was altered as the combinatorial nature of the pie created a sense of plentitude from a shifting cast of characters of local resources and add ons. The simple combination of fresh tomatoes, fresh basil leaves, and tangy mozzarella cheese was reduced in the Doodle to a holy trinity–“cheese, tomatoes, basil”–and not the globally available substitutes or processed cheese long used in American pizza flourishing in the post-war period across the processed mozzarella-rich midwest.

Google Doodle GIF, Dec 6 2021

Rather, a rather recherché fresh basil, perhaps familiar in Silicon Valley, was but one of the many “topping variations” on hand. Promoting the ease of translation seemed one of the major tasks that Google–or Alphabet–made to its users, as if the letters might be as legible as in a bowl of minestrone, reconfigured to result in the same meaning in any tongue.

“Pizza” was a bit of a universal signifier, by the new millennium, universally recognizable from Holland to Brazil to Croatia to Russia, to Japan, Korea, to Turkish, to Vietnamese. Its global presence that didn’t demand translation, not even from Google Translate: but the local origin Google gave the ubiquitous “pizza” only confirmed the ease of drawing relations between any space on the globe in the age of globalization. The optional add-ons from pineapple to bacon to chicken pieces betrayed its global appeal, apart from slightly more particular local salumi or meatballs. The pie, seemingly created to promote gastro-intestinal challenges with quasi-operatic bravado, might be seen as corruptions or appropriations and claims of ownership, given the near-universality of pizza’s umami appeal, and the sprezzatura of the pizzaiolo able to fashion a pizza’s surface with a fistful of olives, mushrooms, or oregano, if not green onions, squid, baby clams, red peppers, garlic, even nettles or pine nuts.

Before the pandemic, pizza’s diffusion was paralleled by the rise of the art of pizza-making as a visible sign if not tool of gentrification, and distinction, far from the Italian-American import of past or the frozen pizza that I was apprenticed to prepare with a thread of olive oil across its still-frozen surface to add elusive freshness. The recent rebirth of pizza as artisanal food that was prepared by a consummate chef–marketed to home cooks by Wolfgang Puck as an “Italian favorite” that in 1991 nailed the coffin on the “watershed decade” of 1974-1984 starting from Jeremiah Towers’ embrace of “gourmet pizza” of 1974 promised yeast-based crusts adorned with fresh toppings, reflected the return of wood-fired stone ovens. The recent hipster slice, evoking early gas ovens, recoups the pizza’s Italian-American origins to promise a nostalgic specificity, down to the glistening rings of pepperoni, as if to champion the pizza’s authenticity–even if this pizza was born in the era of mobile food consumption, whose promise of mobility indeed prepared for the food’s globalization. From the return. of pizza to artisanal roots as a home-made dish of something other than gas or electric ovens, the pizza as a rite of barbeque and a heat-blasted melding of cheese and tomatoes, the attraction to the dish became in demand to pin on a place, if only to distinguish it from its global appeal, and to create “pins” for, least the dish circulate as a disk on the frictionless world, situating it on a map with more precision than ancient mosaics of the brick oven.

Removing Bread from an Oven. Mosaic (1st half 3rd CE) from a Seasonal Cycle of Farming, from Saint Romain-en-Gal, France.

But this pizza, one must remind readers, if one wants to find its “birth certificate” among Italian-American communities, was itself of course a hybrid breed apart, made not for an eat-in restaurant but for eat-out delivery in a restless world. The easy materialization of pizza from go-to ingredients led to the proliferation of “local” pizzas not only in Oakland, where I live–“Chicago” style; “Detroit” pizza, as if on an auto grill; Roman pizza; Neapolitan style; California pizza; slow food pizza, most very unlike the Margherita–each of which seemed variations on the umami of melted cheese and hearty tomato, with the addition, in the most American versions, of the rich and richly non-“Italian” pepperoni slices atop “New York” and “Detroit” slices, using beef pepperoni of midwestern German-American immigrants, to approximate the more finely sliced prosciutto of Italian forbears, profiting from the ready supply of cheap meat in ethnic neighborhoods, in a culinary improvisation of the New World. Personally, it was the addition of rings of pineapple in “Hawai’ian style” pizza, profiting from the rings that Dole Co. canned supplies at the ready, that suggested a globalization of what seemed local variaties.

New York Pizza Pie

Detroit-style pepperoni pizza resting on a cutting board

Detroit-Style Pizza

–or the recent hybrids of bespoke slices with actual or faux artisanal–or retro–toppings, that increasingly seem to approximate “Italian” styles of pizza, inflected by global tourism. The days when I babysat for the grandchildren of a noted Italian historian, who ran a center of study from a villa outside Florence, might let me in on the secret that in Italy, pizza was “truly horrible” were long past. The high-style pizza of more fresh-tasting ingredients not only drew less from the canned tomatoes, but suggested a sense of a refreshening of American pizza tastes, recuperating a distinctly European feel that might be more easily paired with a rich or a crisp red wine.

Gourmet “New York” Style with Artisanal Blend

Pollara Pizzeria/Berkeley, CA

It was as if the pizza was a sign of globalization in that had spread from New York, in my imagination, but migrated globally in ways that any city could appropriate and imprint with its own stamp, to be exchanged in any site as a lingua franca of the street, perhaps furthered by the easy bake oven that once served as an incubator of english muffin pizzas in the not distant past that had already appropriated the pizza to a food easy to cook “under adult supervision” even for the eight-and-over crowd. Did the development of the oven lie at the heart, as it were, of the transformation of the pizza slice?

Unlike shops for single slices to national franchises, the audience for the ‘craft’ pizza in tonier urban areas, promising the restoration of an artisan like practice as pizza has joined the broad category of craft foods, nurtured in the capacious definition of “whenever a skilled person makes something using their hands, that’s craft.” Within this broad umbrella, one must place not only the rise of gentrified pizzeria and hand-thrown crusts, but the recent decision by UNESCO to affirm the dough thrown by Neapolitan pizzaiuoli as an intangible heritage of humanity, as Google reminds us, is in ways the final arbiter of the global: global recognition that the primary comfort food of globalization began from local roots, and from a glorious tricolore of simplicity–cheese, tomatoes, and basil–which is the hidden standard in the global currency of pizza-making, and, by coincidence, echoes the colors of the national flag it was long proclaimed in a rebus.

1. Situating or mapping the “art” of pizza-making obscured the ubiquity pizza had gained of providing a sense of plenty or satiety, at low overhead; the food industry had helped remove pizza-making from the place of growing tomatoes, whose historic hearth of the pizza oven had been reproduced first in the 1940s in America, but iconically lingered as an designation of the fresh-baked, if not an atavistic survival in the food industry. The push-back of the local origins of pizza-making as an art, and a traditional one, transcends the currents of Italian out-migration, but seeks to affirm a touchstone of global craft and cuisine.

The survival of the aura of the hearth disguised its ready mobility, across oceans and indeed to any site, to be sure, affording temperatures far higher than a baking oven, conjured usually in brick, if developed as a site for warming up slices that tasted fresh, and for defrosting disks of frozen dough; the diffusion of pizza globally had threatened a sense of alienation, and the rapid recession of any sense of pizza as a local food in the mirror of global memory. If Walter Benjamin was so intrigued by Naples’ relation to food to suggest that families in the million residents of the city saved money for the yearly Piedigrotta festival with the dedication with which Germans would buy life insurance policies, or against accidents, the consumption of pizza provides more than a restorative ritual but a sense of communing with deep traditions, and indeed affirming national ties. And so nineteenth century admirers of Italy turned to the pizza, with a sense of recognition, to celebrate the sprezzatura and elegance of the food produced at high temperatures and the satisfaction that it brought as a genius specific to the place.

We can already see some continuity in the certification with the pride of place pizza-making occupied a place of prominence in Francesco de Bourcardo’s lavishly printed work of Neapolitan customs of 1857 that, several years before his far more ascetic cousin from Basel, Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt, canonized the univeral man and corpus of Renaissance art as a product of a new individualistic political geography of city states of “Italy,” a region he contrasted to the mass culture of mid-nineteenth century Europe. And yet, the mass appeal of pizza has provided the taste that perhaps won out in the end, a victory of southern Italian tastes whose blend of rustic tomatoes and hearty spices lie far from the connoisseurship the trained observer would be able to study its art or to “detect the modern political spirit of Europe,” or the foods of Renato Guttoso or Elizabeth David, but a populism the Swiss art historian was less interested to include in his account of a Renaissance.

The status pizza holds as a cultural monument to culinary immigration or as a crowd-pleaser endures. And it will endure: the improvised pies long seen as a sign of bravado in conditions of duress at southern sea ports, the satisfaction of a simple pasto for those on the run without time for a full meal service, was difficult to see as a cultural monument by many, but a street food that migrated a tavola in the twentieth century. In ways, the elevation of the pizza-maker as a monument of Italian cooking, and of Italian culture, rewrote not only the global currency of pizza, but the restored pizza to pride of place among national monuments of a sort that Francesco de Bourcard, unlike his cousin, was able to appreciate. The Swiss cultural historian whose work had channelled the idea of a Renaissance to scholarship, the Basel patrician Jacob Burckhardt, had condensed from three moths in central and northern Italy in 1838, studiously avoiding the south, with a diligence continued in returns below the Alps in his long life as a historian and public figure, as well as an intellectual; Naples remained conspicuous by its absence from the fierce passions he aw in the cradle of modernity, effecting art–sculpture and painting, and architecture–in an ennoblement of mind prominently associated with kultur or cultural formation, a transcendent effect of the subjectivity of the universal man.”

It was not that the uomo universale, overcoming the constraints of place, time and nation, did not eat; universality was imagined to tap a vein of inspiration far removed from the material world. In contrast, his fellow Basilean Francesco de Bourcard willingly indulged in the pastries, food, and varieties of sweets available in his adopted city. De Bourcard, if a northern gourmand by family lineage, celebrated the Neapolitan theater as a true ex-pat gone native: among the customs that catalogued in encyclopedic fashion, the trusty pizzaiuolo braving the cold in his warming capotto was almost a counterpart to the Renaissance Man. The pizza seller was poised, stolidly, offering to use a sharpened knife above a stack of freshly baked pies. No doubt de Bourcard himself readily indulged in piazza, and even esteemed erudite Neapolitans as Giambattista Vico partook.

Although the Swiss emigre Francesco had in fact been born in Naples, he was no immigrant. If cast as from a distinct non-native elite, he hardly occupied the margins of Neapolitan society as the grandson of the Marshall of the Spanish King in Naples. But seeking to define himself as a local, or boost his adopted home to deserved status, he poured his journalistic efforts into this work of local history, following Vico much more than Jacob’s esteemed teacher, Ranke. If Jacob Bucrkhardt’s work was known for its collation of photographs of artworks in its later editions, Francesco refused to spare cost or attention to a work he saw as “useful in its literary expression, beautiful in artistic appearance, or the luxury of its binding.” What Benedetto Croce saw as a neglected if authoritative work of local cultural history that promoted the local color of a city Jacob B. had rather unconscionably omitted, with deep effects on the cultural imagination and tourist trade, and did so in striking colors that were designed to stimulate interest by aquatints.

Francesco de Bourcard had crafted a compendious and colorfully illustrated catalogue of local professions after the maxim of a model of Jacob’s cultural history–the dictum of independence of the Florentine historian and second chancellor Niccolò Machiavelli, “scrivete i vostri costumi, se volete la vostra storia.” He affirmed a return to local color, which was emblematized by pizza. Did Croce’s attention recognize how de Bourcard seeks to engage, consciously or unconsciously, Jakob’s conviction of the contribution of northern cities as the sources of transcendental art with an aesthetic purchase that could not be rooted in space or time, but belonged to the global civilization and seemed the ursprung of the modern? Jacob Burckhardt’s Civilization was famously unkind to Naples, and Francesco inverted the very claims of historical modernity by the historical validity of custom; he didn’t need to cite Giambattista Vico’s identity of what humans made and historical truth–the “factum” was the “verum”–and among the factum included the baked, in his own affirmation of pizza-making, long before Glenn Adamson wrote, as a craft.

F. Pallizzi, “Pizzaiuolo ambulante” in Usi e costumi di Napoli e contorni descritti e dipinti (1853-1866, 2 vol.)

The “world-spirit” that historian Jacob Burckhardt detected in the political independence of city life was confined for the most part to Northern Italy, perhaps replicating the prejudices of Italians he encountered in Milan, Florence, and Ravenna, not to mention Geneva. But his focus on the northern “city states” h a deep if less known counterpart in the local flourishing of Neapolitan culture even under Spanish dominance of the Bourbon monarchs, who Francesco de Bourcard’s uncle had so proudly served as a military officer. The Neapolitan pizzauolo provided a prominent place in the hundred color watercolored lithographs of the book of “colore locale,” but also a hinge from the city that hinted its ties to a globalized world that lay at the intersection with global trade.

If the image was local, it featured food salesmen hawking “fichi d’India” (prickly pears), juicy fibrous fruits native to Mexico now grown across Sicily and Catania, and peanuts (“nocelle americane“). Such local trades placed Naples at the center of a network of global food trade, if not an early globalization, the first testimonies to pizza being tied to the sailors who devoured it without cheese–marinara, or with anchovies–at Naples’ Mediterranean port, where the early arrival of cultivated tomatoes–even if naturalist Costanzo Felice admitted, in a terse confession of a work of alleged objectivity, that the yellow and red fruit are “to my taste, look much better than they taste” [al mio gusto, è pui’ presto bello che buono]; tomato sauce was first elevated to a recipe book for modern cooking in the 1690s in Naples, alla Spagnuola–Spanish style. The tomatoes that would become regulated to protect regional growth guaranteed as “DOC”–“denominazione di origine controllata e garantita“–in the region were imports.

Yet pizza became a pre-eminently Neapolitan food by the mid-nineteenth century, as vineyards of tomatoes dominated the Vesuvian plain. The ambulatory “pizza -man” was soon replaced at the cusp of modernity in a newly motorized form in postwar Naples as navigating the local streets atop a motorino

aucharbon on Twitter: "Pizzaiolo ambulante motorizzato della Pizzeria Salvo  di S.Giorgio a Cremano, Italy 1940s… "

–but was perhaps, we fear, only a prototype of an ever-widening scope of delivery–recently rolled out in drone delivery–in the ever-expanding space of fast-furious commercial transactions where all sold melts to air, unmanned drones being the ultimate sublimation of the urban face-to-face gemeinschaft, in a widening scope of delivery whose IS interfaces provide new records of fresh delivery places pizza in a cash nexus of the increased uncertainty and agitation of social relations, stretched so thin to be alienated from proprietary recipes let alone any sense of the local, as the pizza was accepted, embraced, and reprocessed within first the American and then the global food-industry, with the translation and transformation of the pizza to a food of machine-cut vegetables linked by the glue of processed cheese, that has shifted the “arts” of pizza-making to a Taylorist assembly line of food prep, removed from the kitchen or hearth, but assembled by folks working in what might be rather mechanized unskilled jobs.

The globalization of the prepared food is dissolved in money relations in markets expanding on the smooth surface by promising geolocated drops of customized orders of comfort food, fresh from the oven, the interfaces of unmanned drones guarantee to break record delivery times of piping hot “artisan” pies. The drone-delivery services, improbably named after the fossilized non-flying bird, in 2015 promised a new frontier of franchising unmanned pizza delivery systems, its software capturing the contradictions of globalized personal pie.

Drone Pizza Delivery/Business Insider

2. The global and domestic popularity of pizza has been greatly accentuated during the recent pandemic and the expansion of order-in foods to counteract isolation and working from home. But integrated delivery platforms and food preparation assembly-lines of multi-nationals dilute all proprietary relations to pizza promising global access: in modern riff on bread and circuses, is this proof the market met contentment in a promise of umami satisfaction? The unmanned drones, leaving the not-so-Italian-anyway Dodo Pizza’s Syktyvkar shop in northwestern Russia, have set record delivery times across Eurasia, breaking a frontier of “local” pizza delivery and redefining ‘pie in the sky; pizza is an apt business model to engineer incentivized IS interfaces far removed from the face-to-face, in a profaning of the local.

The praise Croce reserved for the “magnificence” of Francesco de Bourcard’s elegantly illustrated tomes responded to the omission of Naples from the other Burckhardt’s near-omission of Naples from his own richly illustrated study of book on Renaissance civilization, in which the cultural historian whose shadow must have laid across de Bourcard’s life had expanded his popular Cicerone–a work on the geography of Renaissance art that would later be used to track a sense of cultural expression–“Der kunst aber will ewig sein“–that emphasized values of universality and everlasting endurance in its common ideals and forms of expression. The centrality of “costumi” radically shifted from the written records on which Burckhardt devoted so many hours in Basel’s library to privilege the sense of the fleeting as uncovering the local meaning and truths that Burckhardt believed he could assemble from historical fragments sense of Italy. The city-states of the Renaissance were intellectually severed from food, for Burckhardt, who sought a higher form of kultur in their eager exit from medieval corporatism and individual freedom in the floating of a treasured sense of individuality that wafted far above the material in the enjoyment of artworks able to communicate passionate intensity and “open a world of intense feeling, beauty, strength, and happiness”–as a second level of creation, akin to the theological creation, a tradition of tranquil transcendence removed from the messiness of. the material marketplace. If Jakob had, at the start of his career, left Basel to work as the Parisian correspondent for the Basler Zeitung, in the 1840s, before pursuing the study of history, that may have left a deep imprint on his aesthetic tastes, in his attack on the salon as arbiter of aesthetic tastes, de Boucard developed his sense as a native information of Naples in his much longer journalistic career for the Corriere del Mattino. The later enterprise to include a hundred watercolor vignettes within the urban compendium was an ethnography of the local, rooted in the city, even if the sales of pizza have since spread not only elsewhere in Italy, but across the globe, to the extent that pizza might constitute a universal food of globalization.

The prominence of pizza as a signifier of imaginative invention, from the simplest of local produce, cultivation, pressing of oil, and milled flour, remediated the absence of attention to the pizza at its site of ‘birth,’ against the growing global currency of the pizza as a heavily subsidized and engineered food “product,” using part-skim shredded mozzarella devised in America, mass-produced tomato puree posing as a “vegetable” in school lunches, and assembly of frozen pies at a fraction of cost. The redesign of frozen pizzas as a global commodity, blurring borders, seems to affirm the absence of the local and the growth of a global flattening of sorts across borders or local foods, the food of the global that leads local cognoscenti to reveal sophistication in prizing redoubts where pizza is still hand made.

For in this context, as frozen pizza totaled a full tenth of all frozen food sales in the United States by 2010, topping $3.2 billion, a share forecast to surpass $20 billion by 2025, the non-local pizza shipped, sold, and favored across the world that has subtracted fantasy or creativity from our collective culinary horizons has brought us to remap the pizza within the Italian peninsula, and to champion the tradition of blending tomato sauce on bread as a birthplace of a global food. For the expanding consumption of pizza seemed to have proved that the world was indeed flat, delivered not only from a flat box, but reducing the globe to a pie chart of slices of global revenue, less inspired by invention than the marketing strategies that had allowed profits to grow along global “regions,” stripped of much local variation in fresh foods or fantasy of the arranging freshly cooked ingredients on a pie.

Placing pizza-making as an Intangible Cultural Heritage in Naples may provoke whimsical smiles from Americans habituated to pizza as a go-to to-go food arriving in large cardboard boxes. And in the context of the globalization of pizza as a food delivered to markets worldwide, the reclaiming of a stolen identity comes late in the game indeed, akin to the restoration of the wealth and prosperity actively transferred from Palermo and Naples to Turin after their invasion joined them to the Kingdom of Victor Emanuele in 1860–recasting of the violence and backwardness, violence, and immorality of the south framed during Italy’s unification. Recognizing the local contribution of pizza-making, Italians were reminded, as an Intangible Cultural Heritage in the shadow of its globalization was a national affair, rebuking the food’s global ubiquity, and pinning this most consumed food to one place on the map.

The nation got behind what was a point of local pride for the 3,000 pizzaiuoli who had declared themselves part of the “True Pizza-Makers of Naples” (Pizzaiuoli Veraci di Napoli) in local terms, as if longstanding lack of recognition remedied–affirming the global organization’s role and importance in defending pizza-making as an institution of truly global export of global import.

The Ten Best Pizzerias in Naples, Italy- possibly the best pizza in the  world

Yet the economic need to assert the centrality of the city of Naples as a sort of fons et origo for the orgy of global consumption of pizza is above all a reaction to the extent to which global consumption has transformed pizza-making as an art; while pizza is questionably able to inculcate moral virtue, the virtue of preserving the traditions of pizza making as an art was what UNESCO affirmed: not the ingredients but transmission of a pie made by the “hands, heart and soul of the pizzaiuolo,” in the words of one Neapolitan, as an alchemical stretching and turning of dough as much as its garnishing with cheese, arising from humble beginnings of feeding that morphed to satisfying a demand for the readiness whose reach, feed by food delivery apps during the global pandemic.

Has not the globalization of pizza perforce only further displaced it from its geographic origins or the locally produced foods it once expressed, so that the multiple origins of different varieties of pizza are now entertained, and the economic need to affirm the cultural capital of pizza in the depressed south becomes a real demand for the local food industry in a city whose appeals in part revolves on the perfection of pizza that is ordered in its pizzerie and restaurants? The demand to identify pizza as a patrimony of humanity responded to the remaking of pizza, long after the food’s outmigration from the Campagna or region of Naples, to affirm the artisanal traditions of pizza-making as a local tradition. The acknowledgement of pizza-making as a local craft that belonged to humanity–rather than a globalized food able to move, as if frictionlessly, across the globe, on networks of food-distribution by -engineering–claimed a sense of meaning as if pizza demanded reclaiming as a form of Intellectual Property, as if this would boost the lagging economy of the mezzogiorno, and canonically affirm the patrimony of pizza as a local good, now that it had gained global popularity as able to be discovered anywhere on the map.

The range of comments that tourists of Anglophone persuasions now bring to Neapolitan pizzas even as they make pilgrimages of quasi-spiritual zeal–“You can’t pick really it up”; “Can’t they just make it crisper?”–provokes frequent back-and forth from the locals who don’t understand the reluctance of visitors to use silverware, or to order a personal pie, but the entitled ownership of the pizza as American–or a recognized version of what was an Italian-American food–has become almost a cultural tussle over expectations about what is called a pizza, and what one wants to find in a pie: a meal, or a rush of super-refined flour coated with a dispersion of cheese and healthy toppings, often assembled in industrial terms en masse.

The taste that had become associated with the local For the pizza was long ago elevated as a new sign of the local, a slow food that had origins in the eighteenth century, if not long earlier, as a from of making meaning, whose preparation was privileged as a sign of the local customs if not moral economy of bread–if the copiously illustrated 1832 treatise on Neapolitan gesture preferred describing the gluttony of Neapolitans for food foregrounded roasted “Indian corn,” alluringly sold from boiling cauldrons for a soldo, and mimed for barter by the ear by female street vendors, or the macaroni eaters devouring platefuls of pasta removed directly from cauldrons of water, suspending six pounds pasta “twisting and writing . . . as if they were descending from heaven” above their open throats “in the correct perpendicular position,” that entered the open esophagus without an interval between mouthfuls, pizza was not featured as so gesturally rich. Pizza was less theatrically eaten, but the absence of the dance of selling pizza reserved to ambulatory vendors, by balancing cylindrical coal stoves on their heads with shelves that warmed round bread boasting the appetizing nature of the tomatoes Europe had largely disdained as inedible led the Neapolitan by adoption, Francesco de Bourcard, to describe the variety of pizzas sold on Naples’s streets by 1853 as nonetheless a central part of everyday Neapolitan life. The Swiss patrician transplant from Basel’s patrician families was not slumming when he boasted his adopted city to sell pizzas from tomatoes increasingly used for cooking, garlic, oil, and oregano, in varieties as well as anchovies, lard, grated cheese, and basil, or thinly sliced mozzarella, prosciutto, or clams, whose base was not only tomato–a resilience and some sprezzatura predating pizza rossa or preparing a rich tomato base. Tossing pizza dough demanded skill, was less a gestural dialogue, and indeed far less a transatlantic import than a remaking of the meaning and preparation of pizza as a pie.

The distance of these appetizing pies marketed in the pizza chains and stores that dot New York streets are not only different from the pies made in Italy (or born in Naples), but a food that celebrate the upscale indulgence pizza continues to provide as a gigantic confection of pleasurable indulgence, even with the illusion of healthy vegetables.

3. The distance of such upscale chains from Neapolitan pizzas is of course not only geographic, but suggests a new land of pizza, as much as a new pizza for a New World of food consumption. The Basel patrician transplant Francesco de Bourcard, who loved his adopted city of Naples, respected by local historians, including Croce, for his fluency with local manners–no doubt in contrast with the uncle who had idolized northern Italy as a sight of the transmission of a vital classical heritage of civic independence, by tapping into the street life and customs of Naples to fill a copious catalogue of encomiastic character that speaks tot he modern pizza lover in unique ways. The prominent place Bourcard gave to the popularity of pizza-making is one of the first references to a custom Vico may himself have appreciated and knew well, even if it fell beneath Jacob’s wide ranging purview–for Francesco, the streets of Naples offered an important alternative to Basel’s library. In keeping with its focus on the customs of his adopted city of Napes, the younger de Bourcard quite prominently featured a pizza seller as central part of Naples’ fabric and local economy, broadcasting the figure of the pizzaiuolo to a lettered tradition that prefigured the inclusion of pizza-sellers among the images of street scenes that were widely sold in nineteenth century Naples to portray the repertory of urban profession so distinctive to the south, long before pizza was widely consumed outside the Campania, and before many Europeans ate tomatoes or viewed the nightshades as an edible fruit.

Francesco Pallizzi, in de Bourcard, Usi e costumi di Napoli e contorni descritti e dipinti (1853), Vol. II British Library

The inexpensive production of tomatoes on the volcanic plains of Campania may have allowed them to produce a satisfactory meal or tasty treat. The third generation of Swiss Burckhardts residing in Naples, since his grandfather Emmanuele (1744-1820) had arrived in service to Ferdinand IV, founding a line of Burckhardts never to return to the old Basel manse, would have despaired at the apparent provincialism with which Jacob looked down his nose at Norman Italy in his account of “rediscovery” of classical culture and modern politics. For Jacob Burckhardt, the inhabitants of Naples remained in another age, “destitute of will” and stuck in Spanish ways, less economically or commercially adroit, without elegance of movement, and diminished by criminality and impiety arising from the “cheapness of human life”: Francesco’s celebration of the democracy of everyday Naples as if a rapprochement of Naples to cultural history, if not Renaissance art, citing the three variety of Neapolitan pizza, as a cicerone of the local than connoisseur of”high” art Jacob saw as fundamental to an individual’s cultural formation.

The place of pizza as a cultural monument was in other words long contested, and up for debate. Francesco de Bourcard did not praise pizza was as a democratic food of sailors who preferred marinara, but a sense of deep democracy comes through in his discussion of the pizzaiuolo who serves this peasant bread as the needed snack for working Neapolitans, even if he hawked his wares with few gestures. Is the pizza man who hawks several varieties of pizza a figure of modernity avant la lettre? De Bourcard’s pizza-man is wistfully rooted in place with no ken of coming global appeal: a ruddy pizzaiuolo hawks wares on the side of the street, almost a tragic figure offering slices of pizza and calzone by a gas lamp, well-insulated in a cappotto, not surrounded by crowds. Behind his wooden table from which he sold pizza, his apparent melancholy stands in sharp contrast and is unlike the remaking of pizza as a global commodity, at the intersection of food markets and space, driven by the comfort food or the pleasures offered by a marginal trade. De Boucard elevated the cultural figure of the pizza maker on Neapolitan streets, as part of the local social fabric of Naples, in a book on “customs” of Naples and Neapolitans echoing Vico in its insistence on telling the history of the usi e costumi. Perhaps the theatricality of the pizza-maker who spins, throws, and tosses dough was so concealed in its gestures that they hardly bore revealing as a social type.

The resulting urban anthropology of the city that his removed cousin, the historian Jacob Burckhardt, conspicuously omitted from his study of the Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy–or indeed cited Naples often in his panoramic purview of the arts and sciences in Die Cultur. While the streets of Naples that the local erudite de Bourcard sketched as populated by pizzaiuoli and other merchants were eviscerated in the 1880s, in large part by public health fears of cholera, by Italy’s first monarch, as if the preference for pizza by his consort, Queen Margherita, compensated for emptying the city’s hold heart–vico delle Campane, vico Rotto San Carlo, vico Sant’Antonio Abate–that were replaced by large boulevards by the 1890s, destroying many of the houses of pizzeria founded since 1850. The pizza was a form of one’s orientation to Naples’ streets, and street life, after all, sold by vendors who carried coal ovens wrapped in balanced under coils of wet towels; pizza was a local variation on Mediterranean round bread. The prized pizza was heir to the bread all Roman subjects were all entitled, a democratic food of Naples unlike those Romans graded breads by social rank, from the panis civilis to which all citizens, panis plebeius of plebs and panis sordidus of slaves, to the panis palatius of the Caesars; pizza was a step above the panis gradilis distributed for free on the steps of Rome’s Coliseum.

Even without cheese, pizza was as sort of social glue, a food of the piazza, its making no doubt as important as the collective nature of its consumption, and the common street scene of pizza-sellers eagerly hawking their edible wares and freshly baked foods, still warm from the oven. Was pizza the glue of a silent social compact, born of a sense of the dignity of the consumption of local foods, long before it was sold in multiple variations for upscale Americans at Whole Foods, trying to address consumers seeking the low-calorie satisfying dinner fix?

Perhaps no gestures were required for the Neapolitan hawking pizza to passersby for ready consumption in the 1830s was sold as one of the picturesque “street-views” of professions in Naples, in a precursor to the pizza slice, chef’s hat, and long white apron, occupying a clear social role held in an urban environment–and conducting a quintessential face-to-face encounter on a Neapolitan street promising a populist mini-meal, prepared with pride even if served on a improvised wooden stand.

As the most democratic form of food, the spread of pizza seemed a sort of social equivalence, and a social glue even if the binding agent is shredded low-fat mozzarella coated with vegetable oil. Pizza has become far flatter as pizza chains have gained increasing profits, artisanal shops claiming an imaginary pedigree of the local and the fresh, or promising a reduced sense of fresh, as if the pie has come to be a platform of tomatoey tang from the oven provides a basis to promote savoring freshness in a world already inundated with fast food, an industry that runs on recognizability of flavors and tastes.

The open-mouthed winsome pizzaiuolo seeking customers hardly suggests a high art, but as a food of transience, for those on the run, before the back door of a bakery, emerged from an unseen kitchen, ready to cut slices on his wooden plank from freshly cooked calzoni to all passersby, an egalitarian food in a city of pretensions to upper class elegance in the early nineteenth century, in an unintentionally mournful image that seems, when viewed through the lens of history, to be read as a cry for pizza’s lost soul given the current remove of pizza not only from history but from localized production.

Neapolitan “Venditore di Pizza” with Apron, Gaetano Dura 1825

It is hard to tell what the distinctively garbed yellow vested pizzaiolo is serving up, but it is definitely by slice–“New York” style–and ready for quick consumption, probably ferried right out of the oven lying behind the door before which he stands, hawking his wears as loudly as his choker allows without loosing decorum. I’d venture it was bearing anchovy fillets and onions, two conspicuous toppings, and it doesn’t seem to show any of the distinctive tomato sauce that we most always tie to pizza today. The important thing is that it is hot, fresh from the oven, and good.

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Mapping Bannon’s Ban

American President Donald Trump claimed that his attempt to prevent visitors from seven countries entering the United States preserved Americans’ safety against what was crudely mapped as “Islamic terror” to “keep our country safe.”  Trump has made no bones as a candidate in calling for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims” as among his most important priorities if elected President.  The map the he has asked the nation to draw about who can enter the country–purportedly because they are “terrorist-prone” nations–a bizarre shorthand for countries unable to protect the United States from terrorism–as if this would guarantee greater safety within the United States.  For as the Department of Homeland Security  affirmed a need to thwart terrorist or criminal infiltration by foreign nationals, citing the porous borders of a country possessing “the world’s most generous immigration system” that has been “repeatedly exploited by malicious actors,” and located the dangers of terror threats from outside the country as a subject for national concern, provoking anxiety by its demonization of other states as national threats.  And even though the eagerly anticipated “ban” lacks “any credible national security rationale” as governmental policy, given the problem of linking the radicalization of any foreign-born terrorist or extremists were only radicalized or identified as terrorists after having become Americans, country of citizenship seems an extremely poor prognostic or indicator of who is to be considered a national danger.

Such eager mapping of threats from lands unable to police emigration to the United States oddly recall Cold War fears of “globally coordinated propaganda program” Communist Parties posing “unremitting use of propaganda as an instrument for the propagation of Marxist-Leninist ideology” once affirmed with omniscience in works as Worldwide Communist Propaganda Activities.  Much as such works invited fears for the scale and scope of Communist propaganda “in all parts of the world,” however, the executive order focusses on our own borders and the borders of selective countries in the new “Middle East” of the post-9/11 era. The imagined mandate to guard our borders in the new administration has created a new eagerness to map danger definitively, out of deep frustration at the difficulty with which non-state actors could be mapped.  While allegedly targeting nations whose citizens are mostly of Muslim faith, the ban conceals its lack of foundations and unsubstantiated half-truths.

The renewal of the ban against all citizens of six countries–altered slightly from the first version of the ban in hopes it would successfully pass judicial review, claims to prevent “foreign terrorist entry” without necessary proof of the links.  The ban seems intended to inspire fear in a far more broad geography, as much as it provides a refined tool based on separate knowledge.  Most importantly, perhaps, it is rigidly two-dimensional, ignoring the fact that terrorist organizations no longer respect national frontiers, and misconstruing the threat of non-state actors.  How could such a map of fixed frontiers come to be presented a plausible or considered response to a terrorist threats from non-state actors?




1. The travel ba focus on “Islamic majority states” was raised immediately after it was unveiled and discourse on the ban and its legality dominated the television broadcasting and online news.  The suspicions opened by the arrival from Wall Street Journal editor-in-chief Gerard Baker that his writers drop the term “‘seven majority-Muslim countries'” due to its “very loaded” nature prompted a quick evaluation of the relation of religion to the ban that the Trump administration chose at its opening salvo in redirecting the United States presidency in the Trump era.  Baker’s requested his paper’s editors to acknowledge the limited value of the phrase as grounds to drop “exclusive use” of the phrase to refer to the executive order on immigration, as if to whitewash the clear manner in which it mapped terrorist threats; Baker soon claimed he allegedly intended “no ban on the phrase ‘Muslim-majority country’” before considerable opposition among his staff writers–but rather only to question its descriptive value. Yet given evidence that Trump sought a legal basis for implementing a ‘Muslim Ban’ and the assertion of Trump’s adviser Stephen Miller that the revised language of the ban might achieve the “same basic policy outcome” of excluding Muslim immigrants from entering the country.  But curtailing of the macro “Muslim majority” concealed the blatant targeting of Muslims by the ban, which incriminated the citizens of seven countries by association, without evidence of ties to known terror groups.

The devaluation of the language of religious targeting in Baker’s bald-faced plea–“Can we stop saying ‘seven majority Muslim countries’? It’s very loaded”–seemed design to disguise a lack of appreciation for national religious diversity in the United States. “The reason they’ve been chosen is not because they’re majority Muslim but because they’re on the list of countRies [sic] Obama identified as countries of concern,” Baker opined, hoping it would be “less loaded to say ‘seven countries the US has designated as being states that pose significant or elevated risks of terrorism,'” but obscuring the targeting and replicating Trump’s own justification of the ban–even as other news media characterized the order as a “Muslim ban,” and as directed to all residents of Muslim-Majority countries.  The reluctance to clarify the scope of the executive order on immigration seems to have disguised the United States’ government’s reluctance to recognize the nation’s religious plurality, and unconstitutionality of grouping one faith, race, creed, or other group as possessing lesser rights.

It is necessary to excavate the sort of oppositions used to justify this imagined geography and the very steep claims about who can enter and cross our national frontiers.  To understand the dangers that this two-dimensional map propugns, it is important to examine the doctrines that it seeks to vindicate.  For irrespective of its alleged origins, the map that intended to ban entrance of those nations accused without proof of being terrorists or from “terror-prone” nations.   The “Executive Order Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” defended as a legal extension of the President’s “rightful authority to keep our people safe,” purported to respond to a crisis in national security.  The recent expansion of this mandate to “keep our people safe” against alleged immanent threats has focused on the right to bring laptops on planes without storing them in their baggage, forcing visitors form some nations to buy a computer from a Best Buy vending machine of the sort located in airport kiosks from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, on the grounds that this would lend greater security to the nation.


2.  Its sense of urgency should not obscure the ability to excavate the simplified binaries that  justify its imagined geography.  For the ban uses broad brushstrokes to define who can enter and cross our national frontiers that seek to control discourse on terrorist danger as only a map is able to do.  To understand the dangers that this two-dimensional map proposes, one must begin from examining the unstated doctrines that it seeks to vindicate:  irrespective of its alleged origins, the map that intended to ban entrance of those nations accused without proof of being terrorists or from “terror-prone” nations.   The “Executive Order Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” defended as a legal extension of the President’s “rightful authority to keep our people safe,” purported to respond to a crisis in national security.  The recent expansion of this mandate to “keep our people safe” against alleged immanent threats has focused on the right to bring laptops on planes without storing them in their baggage, on the largeely unsubstantiated grounds that this would lend greater security to the nation.

The lack of compunction to attend to the religious plurality of the United States citizens bizarrely date such a purported Ban, which reveals a spatial imaginary that run against Constitutional norms.  In ways that recall exclusionary laws based on race or national origin from the early twentieth century legal system, or racial quotas Congress enacted in 1965, the ban raises constitutional questions with a moral outrage compounded as many of the nations cited–Syria; Sudan; Somalia; Iran–are sites from refugees fleeing Westward or transit countries, according to Human Rights Watch, or transit sites, as Libya.  The addition to that list of a nation, Yemen, whose citizens were intensively bombed by the United States Navy Seals and United States Marine drones in a blitz of greater intensity than recent years suggests particular recklessness in bringing instability to a region’s citizens while banning its refugees.  Even in a continued war against non-state actors as al Qaeda or AQAP–al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula–the map of Trump’s long-promised “Islamic Ban” holds sovereign boundaries trump human rights or humanitarian needs.

The ban as it is mapped defines “terror-prone regions” identified by the United States will only feed and recycle narratives of western persecution  that can only perpetuate the urgency of calls for Jihad.  Insisting national responsibility preventing admission of national citizens of these beleaguered nations placed a premium on protecting United States sovereignty and creates a mental map that removes the United States for responsibility of military actions, unproductively and unwarrantedly demonizing the nations as a seat of terrorist activity, and over-riding pressing issues of human rights tied to a global refugee crisis.  But the mapping of a ban on “Foreign Terrorist Entry” into the United States seems to be something of a dramaturgical device to allege an imagined geography of where the “bad guys” live–even a retrograde 2-D map, hopelessly antiquated in an age of data maps of flows, trafficking, and population growth, provides a reductive way to imagine averting an impending threat of terror–and not to contain a foreign threat of non-state actors who don’t live in clearly defined bounds or have citizenship.  Despite an absolute lack of proof or evidence of exclusion save probable religion–or insufficient vetting practices in foreign countries–seems to make a threat real to the United States and to magnify that threat for an audience, oblivious to its real effects.

For whereas once threats of terror were imagined as residing within the United States from radicalized regions where anti-war protests had occurred,  focussed on Northern California, Los Angeles, Chicago, and the northeastern seaboard and elite universities–and a geography of home-grown guerrilla acts undermining governmental authority and destabilizing the state by local actions designed to inspire a revolutionary “state of mind,” which the map both reduced to the nation’s margins of politicized enclaves, but presented as an indigenous danger of cumulatively destabilizing society, inspired by the proposition of entirely homegrown agitation against the status quo:



Guerilla acts of Sabotage and Terrorism in US


Unlike the notion of terrorism as a tactic in campaigns of subversion and interference modeled after a revolutionary movement within the nation, the executive order located demons of terror outside the United States, if lying in terrifying proximity to its borders.  The external threats call for ensuring that “those entering this country will not harm the American people after entering, and that they do not bear malicious intent toward the United States and its people” fabricate magnified dangers by mapping its location abroad.


2.  The Trump administration has asserted a need for immediate protection of the nation, although none were ever provided in the executive order.  The  arrogance of the travel ban appears to make due on heatrical campaign promises for “a complete and total ban” on Muslims entering the United States without justification on any legitimate objective grounds.  Such a map of “foreign terrorists” was most probably made for Trump’s supporters, without much thought about its international consequences or audience, incredible as this might sound, to create a sense of identity and have the appearance of taking clear action against America’s enemies.  The assertion that “we only want to admit people into our country who will support our country, and love–deeply–our people” suggested not only a logic of America First, but seemed to speak only to his home base, and talking less as a Presidential leader than an ideologue who sought to defend the security of national boundaries for Americans as if they were under attack.  Such a verbal and conceptual map in other words does immense work in asserting the right of the state to separate friends from enemies, and demonize the members of nations that it asserts to be tied to or unable to vet the arrival of terrorists.

The map sent many scrambling to find a basis in geographical logic, and indeed to remap the effects of the ban, if only to process its effects better.




But the broad scope of the ban which seems as if it will have the greatest effect in alienating other nations and undermining our foreign policy, as it perpetuates a belief in an opposition between Islam and the United States that is both alarming and disorienting.  The defense was made without justifying the claims that he made for the links of their citizens to terror–save the quite cryptic warning that “our enemies often use our own freedoms and generosity against us”–presumes that the greatest risks not only come from outside our nation, but are rooted in foreign Islamic states, even as we have been engaged for the past decade in a struggle against non-state actors.  In contrast to such ungratefulness, Trump had repeatedly promised in his campaign to end definitively all “immigration from terror-prone regions, where vetting cannot safely occur,” after he had been criticized for calling during the election for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” until they could “figure out what is going on.”

But the targeted audience was always there, and few of his supporters were likely to have forgotten the earlier claims–and the origins of this geographical classification of national enemies terrifying that offers such a clear dichotomy along national lines.  While pushed to its logical conclusion, the ban on travel could be extended to the range of seventy-odd nations that include a ban against nations associated with terrorism or extremist activity–


totalcountriesensnaredintrumpproposals_ea1d4e4541c1a7fc9ec0d213f172e67e.nbcnews-ux-600-480Nick Kiray/NBC News


–but there is a danger in attributing any sense of logical coherence to Trump’s executive order in its claims or even in its intent.  The President’s increasing insistence on his ability to instate an “extreme vetting” process–which we do not yet fully understand–seems a bravado mapping of danger, with less eye to the consequences on the world or on how America will be seen by Middle Eastern nations, or in a court of law.  The map is more of a gesture, a provocation, and an assertion of American privilege that oddly ignores the proven pathways of the spread of terrorism or its sociological study.

But by using a broad generalization of foreign nations as not trustworthy in their ability to protect American interests to contain “foreign terrorists”–a coded generalization if there ever was one–Trump remapped the relation of the United States to much of the world in ways that will be difficult to change.  For in vastly expanding the category “foreign terrorists” to the citizens of a group of Muslim-majority nations, he conceals that few living in those countries are indeed terrorists–and suggests that he hardly cares.  The executive order claims to map a range of dangers present to our state not previously recognized in sufficient or honest ways, but maps those states in need as sites of national danger–an actual crisis in national security  he has somehow detected in his status as President–that conceal the very sort of non-state actors–from ISIS to al-Qaeda–that have targeted the United States in recent years.  By enacting a promised “complete and total ban” on the entry of Muslims from entering the nation sets a very dangerous precedent for excluding people from our shores.  The targeting of six nations almost exemplifies a form of retributive justice against nations exploited as seats of terrorist organizations, to foment a Manichean animosity between majority Muslim states and the United States–“you’re either with us, or you’re against us”–that hardly passes as a foreign  policy map.

Rather than respecting or prioritizing human rights, the identification of Islam with terrorist organizations seems the basis for excluding citizens and nationals of seven nations who might allow “foreign terrorist entry.”   The ban was quickly noted that the list of nations pointedly excluded those where Trump did or pursued business as a businessman and hotelier.  But while not acknowledging this distinction, it promotes a difference between “friend” and “enemy” as a remapping of threats to the nation along national lines, targeting nations not only as suspicious sites of radicalization, but by collectively prohibiting their residents and nationals from entry to the nation.  While it is striking that President Jimmy Carter had targeted similar states identified as the nations that “have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism” back in 1980–President Carter cited the long-unstable nations of  Iraq, Libya, South Yemen, and Syria, following then-recent legislation indicating their abilities “support acts of international terrorism.”  The near-identical mapping of terror does not exemplify an egregious instance of “mission creep,” but by blanketing of such foreign nationals as “inadmissible  aliens” without evidence save “protecting the homeland” suggests an unimaginable level of xenophobia–toxic to foreign relations, and to anyone interested in defending national security.  It may Israeli or Middle Eastern intelligence poorly mapped the spread of growing dangers.

But it echoes strikingly similar historical claims to defend national security interests have long disguised the targeting of groups, and have deep Cold War origins, long tied to preventing entrance of aliens with dangerous opinions, associations or beliefs.  It’s telling that attorneys generals in Hawai’i and California first challenged the revised executive order–where memories survives of notorious Presidential executive order 9006, which so divisively relocated over 110,000 Japanese Americans to remote areas, the Asian Exclusion Act, and late nineteenth-century Chinese Exclusion Act, which limited immigration, as the Act similarly selectively targets select Americans by blocking in unduly onerous ways overseas families of co-nationals from entering the country, and establishes a precedent for open intolerance of the targeting the Muslims as “foreign terrorists” in the absence of any proof.

The “map” by which Trump insists that “malevolent actors” in nations with problems of terrorism be kept out for reasons of national security mismaps terrorism, and posits a false distinction among nation states, but projects a terrorist identity onto states which  Trump’s supporters can take satisfaction in recognizing, and delivers on the promise that Trump had long ago made–in his very first televised advertisements to air on television–to his constituents.


trump-ban-on-muslimsfrom Donald Trump’s First Campaign Ad (2016)

Such claims have been transmuted, to members of a religion in ways that suggest a new twist on a geography of terror around Islam, and the Trump’s bogeyman of “Islamic terror.” Although high courts have rescinded the first version of the bill, the obstinance of Trump’s attempt to map dangers to America suggests a mindset frozen in an altogether antiquated notion of national enemies.  Much in the way that Cold War governments prevented Americans from travel abroad for reasons of “national security,” the rationale for allowing groups advocating or engaging in terrorist acts–including citizens of the countries mapped in red, as if to highlight their danger, below–extend to a menace of international terrorism now linked in extremely broad-brushed terms to the religion of Islam–albeit with the notable exceptions of those nations with which the Trump family has conducted business.




The targeting of such nations is almost an example of retributive justice for having been used as seats of terrorist organizations, but almost seek to foment a Manichean animosity between majority Muslim states and the United States, and identify Islam with terror–  “you’re either with us, or you’re against us“–that hardly passes as a foreign  policy map.  The map of the ban offers an argument from sovereignty that overrides one of human rights.


3.  It should escape no one that the Executive Order on Immigration parallels a contraction of  the provision of information from intelligence officials to the President that assigns filtering roles of new heights to Presidential advisors to create or fashion narratives:   for as advisers are charged to distill global conflicts to the dimensions of a page, double-spaced and with all relevant figures, such briefings at the President’s request give special prominence to reducing conflicts to the dimensions of a single map.   Distilled Daily Briefings are by no means fixed, and evolve to fit situations, varying in length considerably in recent years accordance to administrations’ styles.  But one might rightly worry about the shortened length by which recent PDB’s provide a means for the intelligence community to adequately inform a sitting President:  Trump’s President’s Daily Briefing reduce security threats around the entire globe to one page, including charts, assigning a prominent place to maps likely to distort images of the dangers of Islam and perpetuated preconceptions, as those which provide guidelines for Border Control.

In an increasingly illiberal state, where the government is seen less as a defender of rights than as protecting American interests, maps offer powerful roles of asserting the integrity of the nation-state against foreign dangers, even if the terrorist organizations that the United States has tired to contain are transnational in nature and character.  For maps offer particularly sensitive registers of preoccupations, and effective ways to embody fears.  They offer the power to create an immediate sense of territorial presence within a map serves well accentuate divides.  And the provision of a map to define how the Muslim Ban provides a from seven–or from six–countries is presented as a tool to “protect the American people” and “protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States” offers an image targeting countries who allegedly pose dangers to the United States, in ways that embody the notion.  “The majority of people convicted in our courts for terrorism-related offenses came from abroad,” the nation was seemed to capitalize on their poor notions of geography, as the President provided map of nations from which terrorists originate, strikingly targeting Muslim-majority nations “to protect the American people.”

Yet is the current ban, even if exempting visa holders from these nations, offers no means of considering rights of entry to the United States, classifying all foreigners from these nations as potential “foreign terrorists” free from any actual proof.


two bans.png


Is such an open expenditure of the capital of memories of some fifteen years past of 9/11 still enough to enforce this executive order on the nebulous grounds of national safety?  Even if Iraqi officials seem to have breathed a sigh of relief at being removed from Muslim Ban 2.0, the Manichean tendencies that underly both executive orders are feared to foster opposition to the United States in a politically unstable region, and deeply ignores the multi-national nature of terrorist groups that Trump seems to refuse to see as non-state actors, and omits the dangers posed by other countries known to house active terrorist cells.  In ways that aim to take our eyes off of the refugee crisis that is so prominently afflicting the world, Trump’s ban indeed turns attention from the stateless to the citizens of predominantly Muslim nation, limiting attention to displaced persons or refugees from countries whose social fabric is torn by civil wars, in the name of national self-interest, in an open attempt to remap the place of the United States in the world by protecting it from external chaos.

The map covered the absence of any clear basis for its geographical concentration,  asserting that these nations have “lost control” over battles against terrorism and force the United States to provide a “responsible . . . screening” of since people admitted from such countries “may belong to terrorist groups. ” Attorney General Jeff Sessions struggled to rationalize its indiscriminate range, as the nations “lost control” over terrorist groups or sponsored them.  The map made to describe the seven Muslim-majority nations whose citizens will be vetted before entering the United States.  As the original Ban immediately conjured a map by targeting seven nations, in ways that made its assertions a pressing reality, the insistence on the six-nation ban as a lawful and responsible extension of executive authority as a decision of national security, but asked the public only to trust the extensive information that the President has had access to before the decree, but listed to real reasons for its map.  The maps were employed, in a circular sort of logic, to offer evidence for the imperative to recognize the dangers that their citizens might pose to our national security as a way to keep our own borders safe.  The justification of the second iteration of the Ban that “each of these countries is a state sponsor of terrorism, has been significantly compromised by terrorist organizations, or contains active conflict zones” stays conveniently silent about the broad range of ongoing global conflicts in the same regions–

Conflict-Map-2015-480x270.jpgArmed Conflict Survey, 2015

–or the real index of terrorist threats, according to the Global Terrorism Index (GTI), compiled by the Institute for Economics and Peace

18855940_401.png Institute for Economics and Peace


–but give a comforting notion that we can in fact “map” terrorism in a responsible way, and that the previous administration failed to do so in a responsible way.  With instability only bound to increase in 2017, especially in the Middle East and north Africa, the focus on seven or six countries whose populace is predominantly Muslim seems a distraction from the range of recent terrorist attacks across a broad range of nations, many of which are theaters of war that have been bombed by the United States.

GLobal Alerts.png

The notion of “keeping our borders safe from terrorism” was the subtext of the map, which was itself a means to make the nation safe as “threats to our security evolve and change,” and the need to “keep terrorists from entering our country.”  For its argument foregrounds sovereignty and obscures human rights, leading us to ban refugees from the very same lands–Yemen–that we also bomb.

For the map in the header to this post focus attention on the dangers posed by populations of seven predominantly Muslim nations declared to pose to our nation’s safety that echo Trump’s own harping on “radical Islamic terrorist activities” in the course of the Presidential campaign.  By linking states with “terrorist groups” such as ISIS (Syria; Libya), al-Qaeda (Iran; Somalia), Hezbollah (Sudan; Syria), and AQAP (Yemen), that have “porous borders”–a term applied to both Libya, Sudan and Yemen, but also applies to Syria and Iran, whose governments are cast as “state sponsors” of terrorism–the executive orders reminds readers of our own borders, and their dangers of infiltration, as if terrorism is an entity outside of our nation.  That the states mentioned in the “ban” are among the poorest and most isolated in the region is hardly something for which to punish their citizens, or to use to create greater regional stability.  (The citation in Trump’s new executive order of the example of a “native of Somalia who had been brought to the United States as a child refugee and later became a naturalized United States citizen sentenced to thirty years [for] . . .  attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction as part of a plot to detonate a bomb at a crowded Christmas-tree-lighting ceremony” emphasizes the religious nature of this threats that warrant such a 90-day suspension of these nationals whose entrance could be judged “detrimental to the interests of the United States.”)

4.  It’s not coincidental that soon after we quite suddenly learned about President Trump’s decision to ban citizens or refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries before the executive order on immigration and refugees would released, or could be read, maps appeared on the nightly news–notably, on both FOX and CNN–that described the ban as a fait accompli, as if to deny the possibility of resistance to a travel prohibition that had been devised by members of the executive without consultation of law makers, Trump’s own Department of State, or the judiciary.   The map affirmed a spatial divide removed from judicial review. Indeed, framing the Muslim Ban in a map not that tacitly reminds us of the borders of our own nation, their protection, and the deep-lying threat of border control.  Although, of course, the collective mapping of nations whose citizens are classified en masse as threats to our national safety offers an illusion of national security, removed from the actual paths terrorists have taken in attacks plotted in the years since 9/11–


–or the removal of the prime theater of terrorist attacks from the United States since 9/11.  The specter of terror haunting the nation ignores the actual distribution of Al Qaeda affiliates cells or of ISIS, let alone the broad dissemination of terrorist causes on social media.


For in creating a false sense of containment, the Ban performs of a reassuring cartography of danger for Trump’s constituents, resting on an image of collective safety–rather than actual dangers.  The Ban rests on a conception of executive privilege nurtured in Trump’s cabinet that derived from an expanded sense of the scope of executive powers, but it may however provide an unprecedented remapping the international relations of the United States in the post-9/11 era; it immediately located dangers to the Republic outside its borders in what it maps as the Islamic world, that may draw more of its validity as much from the geopolitical vision of the American political scientist Samuel P. Huntington as it reflects current reality, and it offers an unclear map of where terror threats exist.  In the manner that many early modern printed maps placed monsters at what were seen as the borders of the inhabited world, the Islamic Ban maps “enemies of the state” on  the borders of Western Civilization–and on what it sees as the most unstable borders of the larger “Muslim world”–



–as much as those nations with ISIL affiliates, who have spread far beyond any country.


But by playing the issue as one of nations that are responsible for maintaining their own borders, Trump has cast the issue of terrorism as one of border security, in ways perhaps close to his liking, and which plays to his constituency’s ideas of defending America, but far removed from any sense of the international networks of terror, or of the communications among them.  Indeed, the six- or seven-nation map that has been proposed in the Muslim Ban and its lightly reworked second version, Ban 2.0, suggest that terrorism is an easily identifiable export, that respect state lines, while the range of fighters present in Syria and Iraq suggest the unprecedented global breadth that these conflicts have won, extending to Indonesia and Malaysia, through the wide-ranging propaganda machine of the Islamic State, which makes it irresponsibly outdated to think about sovereign divisions and lines as a way for “defending the nation.”

18980564_401Deutsche Welle/2016

Trump rolled out the proposal with a flourish in his visit to the Pentagon, no doubt relishing the photo op at a podium in the center of military power on which he had set his eyes.  No doubt this was intentended.  For Trump regards the Ban as a “border security” issue,  based on an idea of criminalizing border crossing that he sees as an act of defending national safety, as a promise made to the American people during his Presidential campaign.  As much as undertake to protect the nation from an actual threat, it created an image of danger that confirmed the deepest hunches of Trump, Bannon, and Miller.  For in  ways that set the stage for deporting illegal immigrants by thousands of newly-hired border agents, the massive remapping of who was legally allowed to enter the United States–together with the suspension of the rights of those applying for visas as tourists or workers, or for refugee status–eliminated the concept of according any rights for immigrants or refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries on the basis of the danger that they allegedly collectively constituted to the United States.  The rubric of “enhancing public safety within the interior United States” is based on a new way of mapping the power of government to collectively stigmatize and deny rights to a large section of the world, and separate the United States from previous human rights accords.

It has escaped the notice of few that the extra-governmental channels of communication Trump preferred as a candidate and is privileging in his attacks on the media indicates his preference for operating outside established channels–in ways which dangerously to appeal to the nation to explain the imminent vulnerabilities to the nation from afar.  Trump has regularly claimed to undertake “the most substantial border security measures in a generation to keep our nation and our tax dollars safe” in a speech made “directly to the American people,” as if outside a governmental apparatus or legislative review.  And while claiming to have begun “the most substantial border security measures in a generation to keep our nation and our tax dollars safe” in speeches made “directly to the american people with the media present, . . . because many of our reporters . . . will not tell you the truth,” he seems to relish the declaration of an expansion of policies to police entrance to the country, treating the nation as if an expensive nightclub or exclusive resort, where he can determine access by policies outside a governmental apparatus or legislative review.   Even after the unanimous questioning by an appellate court of the constitutionality of the executive order issued to bar both refugees and citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations, Trump insists he is still keeping every option open and on the verge this coming week of just filing a brand new order designed to leave more families in legal limbo and refugees safely outside of the United States.  The result has been to send waves of fear among refugees already in the Untied States about their future security, and among refugees in camps across the Middle East.  The new order–which exempts visa holders from the nations, as well as green card holders, and does not target Syrian refugees when processing visas–nonetheless is directed to the identical seven countries, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Libya, while retaining a policy of or capping the number of refugees granted citizenship or immigrant status, taking advantage of a linguistic slippage between the recognition of their refugee status and the designation as refugees of those fleeing their home countries.


While the revised Executive Order seems to restore the proposed ceiling of 50,000 refugees chosen in 1980 for those fleeing political chaos with “well-founded fears of persecution,” the new policy, unlike the Refugee Act of 1980, makes no attempt to provide a flexible mechanism to take account of growing global refugee problems even as it greatly exaggerates the dangers refugees admitted to America pose, and inspires fear in an increasingly vulnerable population of displaced peoples.




For Trump’s original Executive Order on Immigration rather openly blocks entry to the country in ways that reorient the relation of the United States to the world.  It disturbingly remaps our national policy of international humanitarianism, placing a premium on our relation to terrorist organizations:   at a stroke, and without consultation with our allies, it closes our borders to foreign entry to all visa holders or refugees in something more tantamount to a quarantine of the sort that Donald Trump advocated in response to the eruption of infections from Ebola than to a credible security measure.  The fear of attack is underscored in the order.


5.  The mapping of danger to the country is rooted in a promise to “keep you safe” that of course provokes fears and anxieties of dangers, as much as it responds to an actual cause.  And despite the stay on restraints of immigrations for those arriving from the seven countries whose residents are being denied visas by executive fiat, the drawing of borders under the guise of “extreme vetting,” and placing the dangers of future terrorist attacks on the “Homeland” in seven countries far removed from our shores, as if to give the nation a feeling of protection, even if our nation was never actually challenged by these nations or members of any nation state.

The result has already inspired fear and panic among many stranded overseas, and increase fear at home of alleged future attacks, that can only bolster executive authority in unneeded ways.


The genealogy of executive prerogatives to defend the borders and bounds of the nation demands to be examined.  Even while insisting on the need for speed, security, and unnamed dangers, the Trump administration continues to accuse the courts of having made an undue “political decision” in ways that ignore constitutional due process by asserting executive prerogative to redraw the map of respecting human rights and mapping the long unmapped terrorist threats to the nation to make them appear concrete.  For while the dangers of terrorist attack were never mapped with any clear precision for the the past fifteen years since the attacks of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, coordinated by members of the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda, Trump has misleadingly promised a clear remapping of the dangers that the nation faces, which he insists hat the nation and his supporters were long entitled to have, as if meeting the demand to remap the place of terrorism in an increasingly dangerous world.

The specter of civil rights violations of a ban on Muslims entering the United States had been similarly quite abruptly re-mapped the actual relation of the United States to the world, in ways that evoke the PATRIOT act, by preventing the entry of all non-US residents from these nations.  Much as the PATRIOT act led to the detention of Arab and Muslim suspects, even without evidence, the executive order that Trump issued banned all residents of these seven Muslim-majority nations.  The above map, which was quickly shown on both FOX and CNN alike to describe the regions identified as sites of potential Jihadi danger immediately oriented Americans to the danger of immigrants as if placing the country on a state of yellow alert.   There is some irony hile terrorist networks have rarely been mapped with precision–and are difficult to target even by drone strikes, the executive order goes far beyond the powers granted to immigration authorities to allow the “territoritorial integrity of the United States,” even as the territory of the United States is of course not actually under attack.


What sort of world do Trump and his close circle of advisors live–or imagine that they live?  “It is about keeping bad people (with bad intentions) out of the country,” Trump tried to clarify on February 1, as the weekend ended.   We’re all too often reminded that it was all about “preventing foreign terrorists from entering the United States,” as Trump insists, oblivious to the bluntness of a blanket targeting of everyone with a visa or citizenship from seven nations of Muslim majority–a blunt criteria indeed–often not associated with specific terrorist threats, and far fewer than Muslim-majority nations worldwide.  Of course, the pressing issue of the need to enact the ban seem to do a psychological jiu jitsu of placing terrorist threats abroad–rooting them in Islamic communities in foreign lands–despite a lack of attention to the radicalization of many citizens in the United States, making their vetting upon entry or reentry into the country difficult–confirmed by the recent conclusion that, in fact, “country of citizenship [alone] is unlikely to be a reliable indicator of potential terrorist activity.”  So what use is the map?

As much as focussing on the “bad apples” among all nations with a predominance of Muslim members–


–it may reflect the tendency of the Trump administration to rely on crude maps to try to understand and represent complex problems of global crises and events, for a President whose staff seems to be facing quite a steep on-the-job learning curve, adjusting their expectations and vitriol to policy making with some difficulty.  The recent revelation of Trump’s own preference for declarative maps within his daily intelligence briefings–a “single page, with lots of graphics and maps” according to one official familiar with his daily intelligence briefings–not only indicate the possibility that executive order may have indeed developed after consulting maps, but underscore the need to examine the silences that surround its blunt mapping of terrorism.  PDB’s provide distillations of diplomatic, intelligence, and military information, and could include interactive maps or video when President Obama received PDB’s on his iPad, even encouraging differing or dissenting opinions.  They demand disciplined attention as a medium, lest one is distracted by uncorroborated information or raw intelligence—or untrained in discriminating voices from different areas of expertise.

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Filed under Donald Trump, human rights, Immigration Ban, Islamic Ban, refugees

Mapping Migrants’ Deaths along National Divides

Mortality is mapped to gain a grasp of geographical distributions of illnesses over space.  The mapping of death helps to embody the pathways of disease, and allow us to see otherwise inapparent vectors of transmission, which have historically provided crucial ways to assign meanings to a disease’s effects and pathways.  In ways, the map manufactures and embodies the pathways of a disease’s infectious spread: the rise of deaths in the borderland between the United States and Mexico can only be mapped as a dereliction of national responsibility that charts an erosion of civil and moral codes.  The recent erosion of civil law and attacks on immigration law conceal a longstanding withdrawal of responsibility along the border, opening the way to creating the borderland as a military jurisdiction—rather of civil law.

We have long mapped diseases to grapple with their causation.  Even before the bacillus of a disease might be known or seen, the founder of modern epidemiology, John Snow, critiqued miasmatic theories of contagion by mapping the distribution with which cholera spread across London neighborhoods during the 1854 London epidemic, visualizing the disease as a social network of contagion by a dot map of neighborhood outbreaks that used a dot map to as proof that “nearly all the deaths had taken place within a short distance of the [Broad Street] pump” whose water was a vector of transmission.  The distribution of mortality around public fountains provided a basis to demonstrate vectors of contagion for Dr. Snow, and by mapping all deaths from cholera to have occurred in recent years in relation to one pump on Broad Street in relation to London’s thirteen city wells by a voronoi diagram.

By locating each and plotting the distribution of deaths from cholera in the city in relation to the significant incidence of deaths form cholera near specific street-pumps revealed a way to grasp infectious transmission from the Broad Street pump that embodied a new notion of contagious diseases that challenged miasmatic transmission—making for the first time a clear spatial argument about how disease existed and moved in an urban environment, and presented a second map, with clearly traced polygons to indicate routes of transmission to the local parish showing routes of walking by which the disease was transmitted—using the recent mapped deaths from cholera in London Edmund Cooper tabulated—


—in hopes to encourage a level of civic engage about the origins of cholera infections that had plagued Londoner’s for twenty eras in the city’s fabric.

The source of deadly infections that this famous data visualization revealed suggests the communication of fatalities by a clustering that indicated clear routes of the spatial communication of a viral infection, focused on a large subset of deaths in close vicinity to the Broad Street pump, even without bacteriological or microscopic evidence.

The exact distribution Snow organized contrast to the terrifying distributions of the deaths of migrants seeking passage across the border, which resists any extraction of an explanatory framework or conclusion, but raises questions about the inhumanity of the terrain we have created.



Dot maps of migrant deaths follow no such clear distribution, and has no sense of transmission form a single site.  It forces us to acknowledge the deep problems of the criminalization of immigration on the Mexican-US frontier by charging its human costs.  The sites of mortality from hunger and thirst are tragically dispersed over a far great undefined space, but embody the human costs of existing border policy, even a decade before Donald J. Trump used the management of the southwestern border as a campaign talking point to pole vault into public politics.

No similar diagrams can be drawn to elucidate the range of dead bodies discovered in the desert of migrants who were attempting transit into the United States for better homes: can one better explain their deaths b a virtual miasma of cruelty that fills the air of the border zone. Their deaths were caused by dehydration and starvation, as well as cold, but suggest nothing so much as a miasma of neglect. The distribution of deaths of migrants in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, adjacent Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Reserve, and O’Odham Reservation already illustrated a dereliction of national responsibilities.

The map is a deeply tragic reminder of the loss of life that is forgotten in the dry expanses of these deserts where the border, such as it is, lies, and the distinctly disturbing regime of a lack of interest or care for human fate that—even with the mortality of children in detention camps at the border—still can stretch incredulity at the evidence it offers of a large theater of cruelty.  They recall the denial of burial to the bodies of enemies in the ancient world, left as prey to dogs and vultures:   the Enlightenment jurist Giambattista Vico faced considerable difficulty explaining to his readers that there was a time when the bodies of anyone was left unburied in an earlier age in his Scienza Nuova, “an inhuman custom—so contrary to what the  writers on natural law of all people’s claim to have been practiced among any nation— . . . which [once] prevailed among the barbarous peoples of Ancient Greece,” described in Homer’s Iliad, and at which he marveled as “crude, coarse, wild, savage, volatile, unreasonable and unreasonably obstinate . . . and foolish unreasonable customs,” far removed from his own age and from the imagination of his readers, so “discordant” was it with our own civil age. Yet the unburied dead whose bodies have been located in states of extreme decomposition along this border zone reveal a discordant reminder of the return of such an inhuman custom on the borders—and within the borders—of what we consider is a region that is distinguished and administered by civil laws. Whether this region can be rightly considered a region of lawfulness or civility seems to be raised and put on the front burner by the discovery and attempted identification of the human remains discovered lying in the desert, often dramatically decomposed, of migrants’ bodies dating from the administration of George W. Bush.

If Vico could scarce imagine the barbarity of leaving bodies exposed to the elements even in war—and the spectacular cruelty of the dragging of the body of Hector around the perimeter of Troy three times—among those who “were held to have spread humanity across the world,” given the sheer physical disgust of leaving the body unburied, and given that “all gentle nations certainly concur that souls [of the unburied] remain restlessly on earth, wandering around their buried bodies,” from Guinea to Peru to Mexico to Virginia to New England to Siam, the readiness of Christians to leave the dead unburied by the border, if not intentionally, haunts the border region with its own inhumanity. The violence of this early heroic age was before the age of laws of nations, for Vico, and belonged to the age of “violent and impious men who dared to enter the cultivated fields [] in pursuit of the weak who had fled thither to escape them,” and belonged to “the vulgar customs of the barbarous Greece” of Homer’s day, and adequate burial in fact constituted one of the three institutions of human society—with marriage and religion—in ways that betray the huge remove of a heroic era, which incredibly lacked burial customs or rites, from our own.

Yet the abandonment of unburied bodies has returned in the no-man’s land of the US-Mexico borderland, where the abandoned bodies of would-be migrants fall between governing bodies and accepted customs.  Migrants that were stopped during the course of their attempts to reach a new life in the US were clustered at a distance from the border but reveal the amazing distances many undocumented migrants travel before they collapse, without food, and most often out thirst and dehydration–leaving them exposed as “prey to dogs and vultures” in the very horrifying ways that Vico was so horrified. The recent spatial distribution of such abandoned cadavers and corpses, left without any rites of burial, force the viewer to scrutinize its mute surface of dots against a deceptively pastel base map as if they might magically be able to glean or recuperate the silent, forever-lost stories of migrants who lost their lives attempting to cross the border, and the stories of whose travails and travels can never be told. The ends of their lives, reduced to the finality of a bright red circular dot in the data visualization, out of scale, arrests attention but is disarmingly and alarmingly flat, resistant to any further narrative or even identifiable name.  Over 2,000 dead migrants whose bodies were retrieved at a significant distance from the border suggest their desperation to make their way across the border by clandestine routes, and the extreme climactic difficulties that they face, with few adequate provisions for crossing deserts whose expanse they feel forced to travel to search for jobs–risking their lives to do so.  

Ex Voto painted to express thanks for successful crossing of the Rio Grande

If the many migrant deaths of those attempting to cross the border between the United States and Mexico are often expressed by crosses that are hung on sections of the fragmentary “border wall,”—

—the precise distribution of the dead in sites of their death is rarely preserved in public memory, and the archive of dead migrants who did not survive passage is rarely assembled as a geospatial record.

The number of the dead remains but a fraction of those who have actually died attempting to travel north, leaving detritus and lost objects in their wake that only beg deciphering as images.  For although their overlap suggest something like a clustering that might belong to an external infective agent, the alarming nature of the red points call attention to the human costs–and the anonymity of lives lost–that are the victims of the intense dangers of border-crossing that migrants accept and undergo, who we have forced to accept and risks of dehydration, heat stroke, hyperthermia, and starvation which have killed them.

GIS Mapping of Individual Deaths on Arizona Border

If the deaths of those attempting to cross the border will probably never be know with precision—and is often lost to oblivion—the recovery of human remains affords a grim picture of the actuality of recovering the dead, and the attempts to name, identify, commemorate and memorialize their fates as well as prevent the loss of their identities, despite the jarringly abstract geospatial symbology of this map, and the minuscule proportion of those remained that have been so far identified.

This project of memory and memorialization, echoing the imagery of northward passage in the famous Underground Railroad taken by fugitive slaves taught to recognize the handle of the Big Dipper to follow the North Star to find their path to freedom, “Follow the Drinking Gourd,” the symbol of the constellation has been adopted by the Humane Borders organization which has identified remains and sought to allow them offer needed geospatial assistance to migrants in their search to find a path north.


Filed under boundaries, data visualization, GIS, mortality maps, US Border Patrol, US-Mexico Border