dimanche 9 mai 2010

# Processes of smoothing and striation of space in urban warfare

I very recently wrote a short essay about the three notions of space conceptualized by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in their Treatise of Nomadology (in A Thousand Plateaus): the Striated, the Smooth and the Holey. The following text is only a part of this essay. It tries to articulate three historical examples already approached on boiteaoutils: Blanqui and his manual of urban modifications for the XIXth century French revolutions, the Casbah's guerrilla for the Algerian Independence in the 50's and the capture of the War Machine by the Israeli State.

The act of striating space is fundamentally inherent to the birth of agriculture and therefore to property. Indeed, agriculture is the first act that brings value to the land and by this very fact is asking for a parcelization of it. Agriculture is also what brings a population to become sedentary and therefore to aggregate knowledge in the research of new tools. This process of innovation is called progress and is the base of the construction of a civilization. Architecture embodies the striation and thus defines the limits of the land. Property is thus claimed and history of war can begin. This narrative is perfectly expressed by the myth of the creation of Rome. Romulus established the limits of the city by digging a trench (or building a wall depending on the version) and when his brother Remus leaped across it, Romulus killed him.

Architecture thus creates an inside extracted from an outside and whose property is being claimed by people or institutions. Lines of property are being virtually traced and architecture materializes them into violent devices actively controlling the bodies. The wall is quintessential and paradigmatic in this regard and is operating at every scale, from the domestic wall of an apartment to the United States’ border with Mexico via various scales of gated communities. The original city limit from Romulus however disappeared during the XIXth century to let the city diffuse and spread into a quasi total ambient milieu.

The following paragraph will try to elaborate about how the urban Warfield became a territory submitted to processes of striation and smoothing since the XIXth century. The first one implies Paris’ situation between the first and the end of the second Empire. In fact, this fifty six years period of time of French history would have seen three revolutions occurring starting from the Parisian urban fabric. As both theoretician and practician of urban insurrection, Auguste Blanqui makes the link between the two revolutions of 1830 and 1848, the Paris’ Commune in 1871 and urban modification in a conflict situation. In fact, he was fully part of the two revolutions and without being actually present during the Paris Commune –he was imprisoned- he was then considered as an icon of the resistance against the governmental forces. In 1866, he writes a small manual entitled: Esquisse de la marche a suivre dans une prise d’armes a Paris which establishes an extremely precise protocol of modification of the Warfield in order to optimize it for the weak –yet victorious- camp of asymmetrical urban conflict:

This labor done, one put the two lateral barricades in communication by piercing the thick walls that separate houses situated on the defense’s front. The same operation is being executed simultaneously, in the houses on the two sides of the barricaded street until its extremity, then backwards, on the right and on the left, along the parallel street, on the defense’s front and on the back. Openings have to be practiced on the first [ndt: first floor in Europe is second floor in US] and last floor in order to obtain two ways; work is being achieved in the same way in the four directions. All the houses’ blocks belonging to the barricaded streets should be pierced in their perimeter, in a way that fighters are able to enter or exit by the backward parallel street, out of sight and out of reach from the enemy.”
”The interior of the blocks generally consists in courtyards and gardens. One could open communications between those spaces, usually separated by weak walls. It should be even compulsory on the bridges whose importance and specific situations expose them to the most serious attacks.
It would be therefore useful to organize companies of non-fighters workers, masons, carpenters, etc. in order to jointly achieve work with the infantry.
When, on the defense’s front, a house is more particularly being threatened, one demolished the ground floor’s staircase and one achieves opening in the various rooms’ floor of the first [second] floor in order to shoot the potential soldiers who would invade the ground floor to apply some bombs. Boiling water can also play an important role in this circumstance. If the attack embraces an important extent of the front, one cuts the staircases and pierces the floors in all the exposed houses. As a general rule, when the time and the other defense works more urgent allow it, one should destroy the ground floor’ staircase in every block’s houses except in the one the less exposed.

Those urban modifications that Blanqui advocates for are precisely applying processes of striating and smoothing the space . In fact, the construction of barricades with the paving stones of the street –Blanqui establishes very precise calculations about the necessary amount of them- adds another layer of striation of the city which encounters the normal function of it. On the other hand, the piercing of holes through the walls associated with the destruction of staircases tends to deny the physicality of architecture and thus smooth the urban space. With those processes, the city is assimilated to a giant assemblage of mono-matter mass that can be acted on and reconfigured according to the needs of the insurrection army. On the contrary it is interesting to observe that the additional layer of striation the State’s police applies on the city is not at all part of this scheme since its own barricades are pre-fabricated and owns no vernacular dimension whatsoever. The ability of the insurgents to act on this matter evoked above, and therefore to manipulate the Warfield in favor of their strategies probably has a lot to do with their victories in 1830 and 1848. On the other hand, the Paris Commune’s ultimate defeat against the Versaillais, was very likely influenced by the State’s modifications of this same Warfield for the last two decades by Napoleon III and his Baron Engineer Haussmann. In fact, the “renovation” of Paris between 1852 and 1870 into an urban apparatus both hygienic and militarized, helped Thiers’ cavalry and artillery to move very efficiently within Paris when the ultimate suppression of the Communards was effected.

A second example still concerns French history and the French State strategies of counter-insurrection. It occurs between 1954 and 1960 in Algier’s Casbah from where the first operations of the FLN were being organized. In this regard, Gille Pontecorvo’s 1966 film entitled The Battle of Algiers depicts in a pseudo-documentary way the guerrilla opposing the French paratroopers with the Algerian anti-colonialists within the labyrinthine Casbah. The chronology is important here. The typology of the Warfield is in a first period perfectly used by the Algerians who applies Deleuze and Guattari’s definition of speed as the absolute character of a body whose irreducible parts (atoms) occupy or fill a smooth space in the manner of a vortex, with the possibility of springing up at any point . Whoever accomplishes a mission for the FLN, strikes intensively then immediately disappear in the maze of the Casbah. However, some years later, by following the officer in charge of the counter insurrection Lieutenant-Colonel Mathieu’s strategies, the French paratroopers manages little by little to capture the War Machine’s principle by acting directly on the Casbah’s materiality and infiltrating the organization of the FLN. The final result is the absolute suppression of resistive forces in Algiers in 1960. Nevertheless, the resistance would have had last long enough to provoke a national mobilization that leads eventually to the Algerian independence in 1962.

A final example of urban striation and smoothing in a conflict situation would be the one studied by Israeli architect Eyal Weizman who daily attempts to establish a forensic analysis of the hyper militarized use of architecture by the Israeli State to oppress and control the Palestinian lives. In 2006, in an article entitled Lethal Theory , Weizman analyzes the Israeli General Aviv Kokhavi’s strategy during the siege of Nablus in 2002 in the West Bank. In fact, Kokhavi developed a theory of inverted geometry that consists for his division in avoiding to operate in Nablus’ refugee camp’s streets but rather to move through the wall of the dense urban fabric in order to surprise the Palestinian fighters. “Rather than submit to the authority of conventional spatial boundaries and logic, movement became constitutive of space. The three-dimensional progression through walls, ceilings, and floors across the urban balk reinterpreted, short-circuited, and recomposed both architectural and urban syntax .” From Auguste Blanqui to Aviv Kokhavi via Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, a capture of the War Machine has been operating by the State. It is not innocent that the State that succeeded this capture is a state who established war as its main contingency and its population as entirely composed of soldiers. The elaboration of the oppression towards the Palestinian led the Israeli Army to associate a striation of the space both by its walls, colonies and roads and to adopt a nomadic behavior, springing up from its border, infesting Palestinian land and folding itself back in its own territory. This coexistence of State and War Machine is probably achieved by to the status of the Jewish People who was involved in what Deleuze calls a common becoming due to a long persecution through ages and who eventually become a State. Thus was established a normatizing benchmark that internalizes some of its subjects and oppress the others.

- Blanqui, Auguste. Esquisse de la marche a suivre dans une prise d’armes a Paris. in MAINTENANT IL FAUT DES ARMES. Paris: La Fabrique, 2006. (unofficial English translation by Leopold Lambert)
- FLN: Front de Libération Nationale. Algerian organization leading the fight for independence
- Weizman, Eyal. HOLLOW LAND: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation. New York: Verso, 2007.

2 commentaires:

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