Iain Chambers
A Line in the Sand
For the phenomena that interest me are precisely those that blur these bound-
aries, cross them, and make their historical artifi ce appear, also their violence,
meaning the relations of force that are concentrated there and actually capi-
talize themselves there interminably. —jacques derrida, Monolingualism
of the Other; or, The Prosthesis of Origin
ack in the days of modern nation building and the accompanying
of empire, many lines were drawn in the sand. Invariably
straight as a die, oblivious of the social and natural ecologies on the
ground, frontiers, borders, and distinctions were drawn up on maps
in the Foreign Offi ces and State Departments of London, Paris, Ber-
lin, and Washington. Much of today’s world is witness to the physical
and cultural violence of these abstract divisions unilaterally estab-
lished in distant metropoles. Look at the map. Once out of Eu rope
and the Northern Hemi sphere, the modern invention of nation and
border is mirrored in straight lines running all over Africa and the
Middle East (in Asia older inheritances often deviated that logic).
This, too, was the case with the frontier established in Southern Cali-
fornia drawn between the United States and Mexico. It runs between
the confl uence of the Gila and Colorado rivers and the Pacifi c, and
was established after Mexico’s defeat and the subsequent treaty of
Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. The treaty registered the appropriation
of 1.36 million square kilometers of territory by the aggressive north-
ern, slave- owning, imperial neighbor. While the U.S. Army occupied
Mexico City, La Intervención Norteamericana led to the incorpora-
tion of what is today the southwestern United States: New Mexico,
Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, California.
Acts of violence, invariably sanctifi ed by “law,” establish a place,
give it a name, and sanctify its authority. In all of these cases, the
colonial cut has produced a postcolonial wound. While the Euro-
American “winners” who wrote the history of these events (Walter
Benjamin) remain self- assured in their po liti cal and cultural authority
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