Our Borders, Our Selves

FRANCESWhat makes a border in 2016? And how is it, on an earth supposedly flattened by free markets and liberal values, that the walls around us seem higher than ever before?

From the big-data border of the EU to Donald Trump’s (proposed) Great Wall, the fences of our world are increasingly patrolled, scanned, militarized, surveilled, droned, and fortified. It’s less neoliberalism than neofeudalism. “This medieval modernism is born of a fatal resolve to keep the outsider out,” our guest, Frances Stonor Saunders, writes in the London Review of Books.

In her borders essay, Saunders is meditating on the relationship between identity, migration, and political power. “We construct borders,” she writes, “to fortify our sense of who we are; and we cross them in search of who we might become. They are philosophies of space, credibility contests, latitudes of neurosis, signatures to the social contract, soothing containments, scars.”

This week we’re doing something a little new, in partnership with our friends at the LRB, presenting Saunders’s piece, “Where on Earth Are You?”, recorded in front of a live audience at the British Museum. You can subscribe to the excellent London Review Podcasts here.

Guest List
Frances Stonor Saunders
British journalist, historian, and author of the books The Cultural Cold War and The Woman Who Shot Mussolini.

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  • Potter

    This required a deep listen because Saunders tends to go on with pregnant sentences. Saunders seems to be pointing her finger at nationalism itself:the forming of nation states which came with firmer borders and members/citizens within coalescing defending against outsiders. Ultimately, for me, it’s about what we humans have been tending towards in varying speeds: what we do to ourselves when the better angels of our nature are not operating or when we are being manipulated by the powerful with fear. What leader today is thinking about the long run or history, where we have come from, where we are going? Closer to home, it relates also to Trump’s support: the amazing numbers,so disappointing,so revealing.

    You mention the great migration of black people south to north, to Chicago, and how it changed us. Coincidentally I am reading John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”. The “okies” (not only from Oklahoma by a long shot) heading to California the promised land. Many were chased out by the dust bowl of the 1930’s and what were the beginnings of big agricultural interests ruining the land, the farm family culture. The migrants, forced west, (Steinbeck description and dialogue is wonderful) were needed, so they thought, in that great “paradise” California. They found temporary labor,were often abused by those folks who got there before them, those who had established and had made it for themselves. Being a citizen of the USA was one thing,becoming a citizen of California another.