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imaginary lines Arrow vol 5 no 2 contents
About borderlands volume 5 number 2, 2006


Redrawing the 'Imaginary Lines': Exceptional Space in an Exceptional Time

Jason Adams
University of Hawaii



1. Shortly before the 'real' state of emergency that occurred with Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, which was not immediately declared even after it occurred, two state governors in the American Southwest declared a preemptive 'state of emergency' of their own.   The difference was that in the latter, the action was ostensibly intended to stem the flow of migrant bodies from 'outside' into the territorialities over which they presided 'inside', so as to maintain the illusion of an unambiguous polity. In doing so, they released millions of dollars of federal monies to their aid, which was then used to impress upon local municipalities the 'need' to govern their jurisdictions in line with the policy of the state in which they operated, while also setting the stage for HR-4437, the draconian anti-immigration bill supported by Republicans. Opportunistic events of this order are certainly nothing new - they build on the considerable hysteria that has persistently recurred in the United States over migration from Mexico into the Southwestern border-states, which in the past has led lawmakers to such lengths as California's 'Proposition 187' (Shapiro, 1997). Like the more recent bills, 'Proposition 187' essentially denied migrants the right to basic human services such as healthcare and education, while effectively turning public servants of all kinds into border patrol agents and infinitely pluralizing the locality of the 'border' itself.

2. Until recently, the events of September 11 2001 had meant that such hysteria did not need to be 'inspired', for it had always already been at the forefront of the American public consciousness. Hence the only minimal opposition to the declaration of a 'state of emergency' like the one enacted by New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and Arizona Governor Janet Napalitano in Summer 2005. Under these emergency powers, the two governors set the stage for the wave of anti-immigrant sentiment over the course of the next year, as well as the unprecedented convergence of Latinos and other immigrants of both documented and undocumented status (Campo-Flores, 2006: 30). By attempting to force local city governments to abide by their command to stop the 'dangerous criminal activities' they imagined taking place in these political zones of indistinction - which from the vertical point of view, are essentially ungovernable - the two governors attempted to replace what was really contingency with the veneer of necessity. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger also backed this move, even suggesting that he not only proudly supports such extralegal paramilitary 'citizen' groups as the Minutemen, but also that he would consider doing the same in his own state, thereby positing again the 'necessity' of emergency powers. In order to fully understand the political developments that unfolded with the 'Day Without Immigrants' actions (ranging from boycotts to marches to strikes) nearly a year later, however, what is most interesting about these moves is the way that the bordertowns themselves reacted to the sudden hysteria. An article from the Los Angeles Times illuminates the perspective of one small town on the Arizona/Mexico border with particular force:

On the front lines in Douglas, senior government leaders, federal agents and many residents are hard-pressed to identify the emergency conditions. Borane said the city of 15,000 was in generally good shape and had learned to live with the annoyances that accompanied the flow over the border. Crime has been dropping, and the city hasn't recorded a homicide in a couple of years, Police Chief Charles E. Austin said. Women in town say the streets are safe to walk at night. Though the city's downtown has faded and some stores are vacant, huge new retail outlets are adding employment and a tax base. The city, which is 90% Latino, is far more dependent on trade with its sister city, Agua Prieta, than the rest of Arizona, Borane said. Local civic institutions appear sound. Douglas' public school system - most of whose graduates go on to college - is easily handling enrollment, which until this year had been declining. "It is not an emergency or a crisis," school district Supt. Gail Zamar said. "I just don't see it." Douglas defies the conventional wisdom that towns all along the border have been overwhelmed by illegal immigration and are falling apart. Many here say border problems are being exaggerated by politicians, interest groups and the media (Vartabedian, 2005).

3. If the bordertowns themselves see no cause for alarm, perhaps the rhetoric of 'emergency' is not only being directed at immigrants themselves, but is instead part of a much larger political agenda that happens to require such a discourse, one whose primary directive is to render a 'community without identity' impossible. Indeed, in the contemporary epoch of global deterritorialization (defined most succinctly as the triumph of time over space), the defining lines of the 'citizen', the 'immigrant' and the 'indigenous' are becoming increasingly indiscernible. And when the experience of statelessness - described by Hannah Arendt in the aftermath of the Second World War as the harbinger of the totalitarian (Arendt, 1973) - begins to spread to worldwide dimensions, it is not only the end that was the object of her attention that becomes possible, but also that of a politics that is 'without end'.

4. Today, particularly in the United States, the status of the 'stateless person' has become increasingly ambiguous, in a manner that it is both similar and dissimilar to those categories of bare life stripped of their legal status within the 'exceptional space' of the Nazi Lebensraum. The fact that one can suddenly be stripped of his or her citizenship status under the rubric of 'enemy combatant' (as occurred with Jose Padilla) does not mean that this is taking place on anything like the scale that it did in Arendt's time. However, the ontological shift does infinitely raise the stakes of any body encountering border police and the spaces they patrol throughout the United States, just as it had for exiles such as Walter Benjamin, in his fatal attempt at escaping Vichy France in 1940. Furthermore, particularly in the face of such developments as those pursued by Richardson and Napalitano, as well as the rise of 'unofficial' forms of border control (from the Minutemen to social service providers to public school teachers), the expansion of the stateless figure of the Homo Sacer is rendered 'justifiable', and actually becomes more widespread than ever. While this paradox has not gone undiscussed, I will argue here that much of what has been considered - especially with regard to contemporary geopolitical transformations - remains conceptually vague and theoretically inadequate. For instance, according to one theory advanced by Peter Andreas, today it is primarily along a post-national, macroregional border that the stateless persons of the world converge in the attempt to transgress the 'Wall Around the West' (Andreas, 2000). While this theory correctly imagines the erection of a new partition, it does so as one that somehow continues to function in a binary manner, separating the 'rich areas' of the world from the 'poor areas', as though political territory could still be defined in primarily spatial terms, bound unambiguously by the eastern and southern borders of the European Union and the southern border of the United States. As powerful as this mapping of contemporary territoriality certainly is, the way in which it continues to think of borders as the 'edge' of an internally homogenous power is still rather misleading. This is because in our time - as the unprecedented immigration demonstrations (over one million in Los Angeles alone) make clear - the perimeter itself is being internalized, externalized and globalized, not so much in the actuality of space as such, but rather in the virtuality of time. This means that 'borders' now exist both inside and outside of the territory, as well as along the outer limits of its purported domain. We can recognize these temporal partitions as such because the figure of 'the border', much like that of the Homo Sacer, represents not only the official separation of national populations, but also the apotheosis of the organized domination of the State, that mystical 'zone of indiscernibility' in which the police function is somehow unrestrained by democratic mandate. The recent announcement that even American citizens will need passports in order to return to their own country is only the latest evidence of the shifts that are occurring in this regard.

5. Beginning from the recent immigration upheavals, I argue here that the border is the most visible instantiation of 'exceptional space', those primarily temporal zones that exist both inside and outside of the official territory simultaneously, and within which sovereign power may reign totally, violently and without question. My primary concerns, then, will be first to trace the genealogy of the tradition within political theory that has proposed that the modern state apparatus can be understood as an institution of 'organized domination' that illegitimately claims a monopoly of violence within a political territory. And second to trace the relationship that this institution continues to hold with the contemporary transformation of migration discourse in the United States and the counterdiscourse being forged by 'migrants' and 'non-migrants' alike after HR-4437. Rather than proceeding in the conventional manner from the classical sociologist Max Weber, however, I will harken back further to the writings of the Christian anarchist and novelist Leo Tolstoy, whose work Weber greatly admired and read extensively. Indeed, I argue that it is the tremendous force of Tolstoy's work that ultimately provides the political-theoretical backdrop from which almost all subsequent elaborations of the violent foundations of State territoriality proceed. This can be seen not only in the interwar writings of Max Weber, Carl Schmitt and Walter Benjamin, which like much of contemporary writing on border politics, could still assume that the borders of sovereign power were 'reigned in' by the monopoly on violence it enforced, but also in to the postwar reformulations of Jacques Derrida and Giorgio Agamben, for whom this sequestered spatialization of sovereign violence no longer spoke to the conditions of an increasingly temporal world, and in which 'new borders' were emerging that would extend the state of emergency to every corner of the globe. In other words, while keeping one foot in the present political order, this essay will venture with the other to challenge some of the conceptual and theoretical vagaries that continue to impoverish our understanding of the police function of the border, considering instead the multiple potentialities wrought by 'statelessness' (both in this world and the one 'yet to come'). More specifically, it will bring the Tolstoyian understanding of sovereign power as an apparatus of organized violence into dialogue with the most challenging critical-theoretical and poststructuralist formulations that have followed in its wake, in the hopes of illuminating the transformation of the violent foundation of political territory from spatial exception to temporal norm, emphasizing how this stresses the importance of a 'nonviolent violence' like that exemplified by the May 1, 2006 'General Strike' of migrant laborers.

Violence of the Spatial: Relocating the US/Mexican Border

6. The celebrated Orson Welles film Touch of Evil (1958) became famous by way of its opening scene, primarily because it is still the longest continuous tracking shot in Hollywood history, nearly fifty years later. However, there is a secondary significance to this scene that is often overlooked, and which I suggest clearly exemplifies the violence of exceptional space; specifically that, during the scene, an automobile carrying a wealthy developer explodes whilst crossing the border from Mexico to the United States . Furthermore, the audience is exposed to the event through the narrative of a 'hybrid' love affair; the Mexican narcotics officer Mike Vargas' American girlfriend says to him, "do you realize this is the very first time we've been together in my country", and he replies smartly, "do you realize I haven't kissed you in over an hour", at the very moment their lips touch the car explodes, producing a shock to thought that exposes the radical ambiguity that both space and time have acquired in the late modern period. As though their cross-'racial' or cross-'national' kiss had itself been the catalyst (rather than the carbomb), a complicated chain of events is set off, in which it becomes especially unclear whose jurisdiction the event 'actually' occurred within. Soon enough, Vargas rises to the fore, acting in defense of a national of his country who has been accused of the crime, only to find himself face-to-face with the heavy-set American sheriff Hank Quinlan, who is determined to thwart his efforts. Between the two of them, a lengthy dispute arises as to which ought to legitimately handle the case, eventually leading Quinlan to plant evidence on the accused, who appears to the 'camera consciousness' (Deleuze, 1992) to be innocent. Ironically, Welles seems to imply, it is often those who take the discourse of law and order most seriously who are most willing to bend unbendable rules, particularly in order to reinforce the authority of that order, if and when it is ever brought into question. It is, then, the peculiar 'exceptionality' of the borderspace that not only renders unclear which sovereign retains ultimate authority - in which, however, and for that very reason, both nevertheless possess an almost total control - but that allows for the event and everything following from it to occur. In particular, Quinlan's act of implicating someone in the crime of planting the carbomb (for which he has no preexisting evidence) effectively functions as the inverse of the fact that such an intense act of violence can occur on the border itself, the ultimate status of which cannot finally be decided upon in any 'objective' manner. Much like the bewilderment expressed by residents and even the magistrates of Douglas, Arizona, in response to their governor's overzealous declaration of a 'state of emergency', Vargas is forced into a position in which he must react to Quinlan's 'paranoid fascism' about the intentions of incoming Mexicans, just as Richardson and Napalitano are able to claim the 'necessity' of declaring a state of emergency, through a decisionist political epistemology.

7. How can we understand this ambiguity and violence that come into such sharp relief in the exceptional space of the border, in a manner that illuminates the ultimate indiscernibility of 'citizen' and 'non-citizen' lives? The truth implied by the narrative structure of Touch of Evil - that whether American or Mexican, 'government is violence' - is typically ascribed by political theorists rather univocally to the figure of Max Weber, as though the idea had never really been thought before he laid out his formulation of it in the early 20th century essay Politics as a Vocation. However what such assumptions ignore - aside from the fact that, as Schopenhauer (2003) might have asserted, marginalized people have known this intuitively for millennia - is that this conception had actually emerged first in the late 19 th century, in the writings of the distinguished novelist and anarchist political theorist Leo Tolstoy, who held that the authority of the state rested on the legalized violence of the military and its affiliated institutions. Tracing the history of this emergence, Tolstoy argued that:

The more complex and the larger societies become, and especially the more often conquest becomes the cause of the amalgamation of people into a state, the more often individuals strive to attain their own aims at the public expense, and the more often it becomes necessary to restrain these insubordinate individuals by recourse to authority, that is, to violence. The champions of the social conception of life usually try to connect the idea of authority, that is, of violence, with the idea of moral influence, but this connection is quite impossible. The effect of moral influence on a man is to change his desires and to bend them in the direction of the duty required of him. The man who is controlled by moral influence acts in accordance with his own desires. Authority, in the sense in which the word is ordinarily understood, is a means of forcing a man to act in opposition to his desires. The man who submits to authority does not do as he chooses but as he is obliged by authority. Nothing can oblige a man to do what he does not choose except physical force, or the threat of it, that is - deprivation of freedom, blows, imprisonment, or threats - easily carried out - of such punishments. This is what authority consists of and always has consisted of. In spite of the unceasing efforts of those who happen to be in authority to conceal this and attribute some other significance to it, authority has always meant for man the cord, the chain with which he is bound and fettered, or the knout with which he is to be flogged, or the ax with which he is to have hands, ears, nose, or head cut off, or at the very least, the threat of these terrors. So it was under Nero and Ghenghis Khan, and so it is today, even under the most liberal government in the Republics of the United States or of France. If men submit to authority, it is only because they are liable to these punishments in case of non-submission. All state obligations, payment of taxes, fulfillment of state duties, and submission to punishments, exile, fines, etc., to which people appear to submit voluntarily, are always based on bodily violence or the threat of it (Tolstoy, 1990: 98).

8. It was against this spatialized background that Tolstoy argued against patriotism as being essentially the ritualized legitimation of the organized violence of the State, whether this consisted of the 'good' patriotism - which was, perhaps something like that which the Los Angeles Times article suggests might prevail in Douglas, Arizona (one ostensibly more concerned with the benefit of one's 'own people' as opposed to the suppression of the other) - or the 'bad' variety which was described as being primarily engaged with the projects of imperialism and patriotism and much less with that of self-determination as such. As he saw it, what these approaches to political belonging ignored was not only the way in which the spirit of the 'people' became impoverished in the process, but also the possibility of 'the brotherly union of all the peoples', which could be used to level the 'peculiarities' of customs, creeds and languages through which the organized violence of the national State maintained its force (Tolstoy, 1990). While conceding that such cultural markers had once been necessary to the functioning of human societies in the times in which rather simple organizational forms predominated, Tolstoy's position, in our time of overwhelmingly violent nation-states - insofar as it posits a political ontology of 'peoples' in an uncritical manner - also runs the danger of feeding into contemporary anti-immigrant discourse. And yet, as I will show, for Tolstoy it is first and foremost upon the patriotic idea that all arbitrary power is based. Therefore, if the organized domination of the State was to be overcome, patriotism, or the violent reification of 'imaginary' national space, would be the first thing that would need to be challenged. But, as he also noted, with the increasing globalization of economy, science and technology, rather than patriotism being undermined and replaced with the 'brotherly union' of statelessness, "this harmful and antiquated feeling not only continues to exist, but burns more and more fiercely" (1990: 81). As a result, Tolstoy has argued that at the same time that the State began to engage in international warfare in order to extend the reach of its organized domination, the whole technoscientific communications apparatus is thrown into motion so as to administer to the thoughts and perceptions of the 'citizens' of both nations and even entire regions, pushing them either in the direction of frenetic patriotism or what Walter Mignolo calls 'Occidentalism' (2000). This temporalization of sovereign violence is accomplished in such a way that "not only those who are obliged to kill or be killed desire slaughter and rejoice in murder, but all the people of Europe and America, living peaceably in their homes exposed to no danger, are, at each war thanks to easy means of communication and to the press - in the position of the spectators in a Roman circus, and, like them, delight in the slaughter and raise the bloodthirsty cry, 'police verso'" (Tolstoy, 1990: 83).

9. Here, then, we get a taste of the temporalization of borders in the space of modern technology. For Tolstoy though the violent foundation of the spatialized State and its relationship to patriotism was made most clear in the practice of conscription, through which it could legitimately control the bodies of its citizens to such an extent that it could even require them to both end the lives of others and to end their own lives in the name of the country. Beginning in Germany at the end of the 19 th century and quickly spreading throughout the rest of Europe, Tolstoy held that it was this deadly combination that allowed for the success of the various colonial adventures, leading to an 'anarchy' of states in which "all Governments stand with their claws out and showing their teeth, and only waiting for someone to be in trouble, or become weak, in order to tear him to pieces with as little risk as possible" (83). Tolstoy recognized, however, that the nation-state was not the only form of territoriality to be based upon the monopoly of violence. Even the celebrated multinational 'peace' conferences (such as that at the Hague), can finally be observed to be nothing less than state propaganda occasions through which populations are convinced that an 'end to violence' really is the common goal sought by what are, in fact, instruments of organized domination (Shapiro, 2004: 202). For Tolstoy, then, an end to violence could never be achieved so long as the State - or any other form of violence-based territoriality - continued to exist, because these could not make any truly legitimate claims to 'peace'. As he put it, "governments, to have a reason for existing, must defend their peoples from other people's attack. But not one people wishes to attack, or does attack, another. And therefore Governments, far from wishing for peace, excite the anger of other nations against themselves. And having excited other people's anger against themselves, and stirred up the patriotism of their own people, each Government then assures its people that it is in danger and must be defended" (Tolstoy, 1990: 85). Thus he held that the first accomplishment of any serious movement toward a more peaceful world must necessarily be the ending of "those instruments of violence which are called Governments" (88), an objective to be accomplished first through the raising of popular awareness of the means through which patriotic complicity is brought about, and then by an active withdrawal of popular support. In the place of the State - which he says arose in the first place through the attainment of a monopoly of violence over and above all other social groups - Tolstoy argues that the more peaceful forms of relating which predominated in the previous alternative of 'statelessness' would 'reemerge'. In his words: "the abolition of Governments will merely rid us of all unnecessary organization which we have inherited from the past, all organization for the commission of violence and for its justification [such that] the absence of the brutal power of Government, which is needed only for its own support, will facilitate a juster and more reasonable social organization, needing no violence" (90).

10. In order to grasp the peculiarity of American border politics, however, one must not neglect the negativity of the theological dimension, which Tolstoy's analysis tends to circumvent insofar as the radicality of Christianity is always already assumed, rather than left open. In this respect, Max Weber's arguments can become useful, in both convergent and divergent ways. For instance, his argument that the State can be defined most succinctly as a "human community that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory" (Weber, 1946: 78) concurs to a remarkable degree with Tolstoy's. Yet unlike Tolstoy, who recognized the temporal and global potentialities of organized violence, Weber emphasized the spatiality of the State's territorializations, since as he held, it was only within its patrolled borders that its monopolized, organized, legitimized violence could hold its full force (78). Indeed it was for this reason that he described the concept of the political as being not so much about 'freedom' and 'good government', but rather about the instrumental drive for access to the 'organized domination' of the national-territorial State. And as the disjunctive response to the 'state of emergency' declared by Richardson and Napalitano suggests, this process is never simply accepted en total by the 'population', but is also legitimized in three other ways. First through the appeal for respect of tradition; then through the appeal to the rule of law; and finally through the exaltation of charismatic personality. For instance, with regards to the latter point, Bush's drawling Texas accent and swaggering gait is effectively superimposed upon Richardson's and Napalitano's earlier 'state of emergency' through the 'space' of mass liberal democracy that was consolidated through radio, newspapers and other territorializing media, as well as through the ability of elected representatives to stir up emotion through this apparatus in a kind of "dictatorship resting on the exploitation of mass emotionality" (107). But while Weber never spoke of the violence of the regional or the global as did Tolstoy, he did emphasize that it was the specifically Protestant creed that obedience to sovereign power could not be trumped by religious affiliations that lead to a situation in which "it is the specific means of legitimate violence as such in the hands of human associations which determines the peculiarity of all ethical problems of politics" (124). The Weberian rejoinder to Tolstoy, then, allows for the possibility of an emancipatory moment within the theological, but also reminds us of the continuing power of the positing of Mexicans and other Latin Americans as not only a 'racial' other, but also a specifically Catholic other, in a nation that still holds to its Anglo-Saxon foundation.  

11. Though Weber wrote in the service of the Weimar Republic, while Carl Schmitt wrote primarily for National Socialist Germany, both proposed a largely spatialized model of territory. The latter in particular, insisted that the concept of the specifically national State always presupposes the concept of the political, which presupposes the distinction assumed by the 'patriotic' question of who is to be considered friend and who is to be considered enemy. Indeed, Schmitt described liberal democracies as being marked by the fundamental contradiction that, since the State is so heavily interpolated within the national civil society it makes possible, what is considered 'political' is typically limited only to affairs of State as such, while what is considered 'civil' - in other words, the vast majority of phenomena in everyday life - is not. This results in a strange situation whereby the State is popularly understood as representing the 'national will' of the whole of national civil society, yet precisely for this reason is not allowed to take action on its own behalf. With the result that the State becomes that much more powerful, because it is forced to conceal the violent activities it engages in, in order to ensure its own spatial continuity. Quinlan's Mexican scapegoat in Touch of Evil, then, can be usefully understood as the cinematic precursor to the 'Jose Padillas' that increasingly populate the contemporary decisionist political order.

12. The most outstanding of these state-preserving attempts to circumvent contingency is the defining of who is to be considered the 'public enemy', who can then be 'legitimately' subjected to violence. As Schmitt explains, this is because "only the actual participants can correctly recognize, understand, and judge the concrete situation and settle the extreme case of conflict. Each participant is in a position to judge whether the adversary intends to negate his opponent's way of life and therefore must be repulsed or fought in order to preserve one's own form of existence" (Schmitt, 1996). This is why he emphasizes that violence is the primary foundation upon which spatialized sovereign power relies, since it is this constant potentiality - this possibility of the sudden and violent distinction of what is to be considered bios and what is to be considered zoe - that presupposes the concept of the political in the first place. Much like Tolstoy on the question of conscription, Schmitt proclaims that "the friend, enemy and combat concepts receive their real meaning precisely because they refer to the real possibility of physical killing. War follows from enmity. War is the existential negation of the enemy...[and] as an ever present possibility it is the leading presupposition which determines in a characteristic way human action and thinking and thereby creates a specifically political behavior" (34). It is thus from the question of violence and the political that Schmitt proceeds to define what he means by the 'state of exception', which is that what is most important to really understanding the character of the spatiality inscribed through State violence is to pay attention not so much to the norm but rather to the exception. The latter, he says, always threatens to replace the norm, given the necessary circumstances:

What always matters is the possibility of the extreme case taking place, the real war, and the decision whether this situation has or has not arrived. That the extreme case appears to be the exception does not negate its decisive character but confirms it all the more. To the extent that wars today have decreased in number and frequency, they have proportionately increased in ferocity. War is still today the most extreme possibility. One can say that the exceptional case has an especially decisive meaning which exposes the core of the matter. For only in real combat is revealed the most extreme consequence of the political grouping of friend and enemy (Schmitt, 1996: 35).

13. If Tolstoy helps us think violence, Weber theology and Schmitt subjectivity, how then might this tripartite reborderization be resisted? Like that of these three, the work of Walter Benjamin also suggests the primacy of violence in the constitution of political spatiality - in, that is to say, the constitution of sovereign power as modern territorial State. It also provides, however, an extended meditation on the question of 'overcoming'. Indeed, he considers in some detail the arguments of Georges Sorel, who held that the decline of sovereign power, and thus of organized violence in general, was inevitable with the arrival of the weapon of the proletarian general strike. Benjamin pointed out though that "labor will always appeal to its right to strike, and the State will call this appeal an abuse, since the right to strike was not 'so intended' and take emergency measures" (Benjamin, 1979). Conversely, in the case of the 'Day Without Immigrants', which turned out millions of bodies in Chicago and Los Angeles alone, the situation was basically reversed: the declaration of a 'state of emergency' was precisely what lead to the 'General Strike'. This is an effect that is undoubtedly related to the triumph of time over space in the postwar years. Benjamin's argument was that the State's reaction reveals the instrumentality of the violence at the core of sovereign space as well as how this differs immensely from the proletarian general strike, which Benjamin insists is not really violent in any meaningful sense (as Judith Butler (2006) has suggested, if anything, it is a 'nonviolent violence'). Not only is the massive withdrawal of labor power not within that horizon, but its purpose is no longer lawmaking or law-preserving. Instead, its concern is the abolition of sovereign power itself, in order to bring about a 'new statelessness' - one that has nothing to do with the 'statelessness' warned of by Arendt (Ranciere, 2004). In the place of the violent authorization, then, Benjamin suggests that what would emerge instead would be new forms of 'nonviolent agreement' based upon the similar kinds found throughout everyday life. Indeed, one might say that this was the most important achievement of his essay "Critique of Violence". Thus we can see how Benjamin, while retaining his problematic spatiality, essentially inverts Schmitt's formulation, which as we saw above, holds that it is the exceptional case of war rather than the norm of peace that reveals the foundation of sovereign power. For Benjamin, rather, it is the exceptional case of the proletarian general strike that reveals the foundation of capitalist modernity (Benjamin, 1979: 297).

Violence of the Temporal: From 'Citizen' to Denizen

14. Before revisiting our discussion of border politics, it will be necessary to consider the Derrida/Agamben rejoinder to the more spatially-oriented thinkers of the early twentieth century, a rejoinder that I consider also incorporates many of the key critical elements found originally in the work of Tolstoy. Partially because of the problematic spatialized elements within the Weberian, Schmittian and Benjaminian formulations of the constitution of the political in the founding and preserving acts of violence, and partially because of the increasing degree to which the 'national' welfare state has finally degraded to the level of a 'spectral' warfare state, these question have recently returned to the forefront of critical political discussion. Derrida, for instance, argues in an almost anarchist fashion that "the authority of laws rests only on the credit that is granted to them. One believes in it; that is their only foundation" (1992: 240). Further, that "since the origin of authority, the founding or grounding, the positing of the law cannot by definition rest on anything but themselves, [that] they are themselves a violence without ground" (242). This, however, does not entail an argument calling for the abolition of sovereign power, a point he insists is necessary for thinkers in our time to comprehend before trying to grasp the real meaning of Benjamin's Critique of Violence. Furthermore, rather than taking this discovery to mean that even law is deconstructible, he argues like Tolstoy that what this means is that its code is opened to contestation from all sides, which is to say that the law itself is opened up to justice, that is to say, to deconstruction (243). If there is a desire to advance politically in any meaningful sense then, Derrida suggests that we must not only embrace the primacy of justice over law, but we must also be willing to take a decisively radical political stance. Indeed, as he puts it, "nothing seems less outdated to me today than the emancipatory ideal. One cannot attempt to disqualify it today, whether crudely or with sophistication, without at least some thoughtlessness and without forming the worst is also necessary to re-elaborate, without renouncing, the concept of emancipation, enfranchisement, or liberation while taking into account the strange structures we have been describing" (258).

15. At the same time though, in his reading of Benjamin's text, Derrida argues that it is mistaken in its embrace of the 'divine' project of annihilating not only the mythical violence of the law itself but also liberal notions of 'justice' and 'human rights', which he claims finally brings it uncomfortably close to the logic of the 'final solution'. Indeed, he argues that "this 'revolutionary' essay (revolutionary in a sense that is at once Marxist and messianic) belongs, in 1921, to the great antiparliamentary and anti-' Aufklarung ' wave upon which Nazism will have, as it were, surfaced and even 'surfed' in the 1920s and the beginning of the 1930's" (259). Thus we could say that for Derrida, Benjamin's critique of State violence finally returns to precisely the same logic that he sought to undermine with his 'revolutionary' pontifications. It does not 'annihilate the law' but, in its very affirmation of revolutionary violence, merely creates a new one in the ashes of the old. It does not undermine the mystical foundation of authority, but only mystifies the authority of its own refoundation. But does not the suggestion that authority has no legitimate foundation, that it is merely a 'violence without ground', also suggest a basically 'antiparliamentary' ethos? While Derrida seeks to problematize the 'pure' separation of founding violence and preserving violence that is the ongoing project of the modern territorial state - arguing that here too we discover a 'differential contamination' through which law as such can be questioned from the foundation of justice - he is at least open to the danger that he notes in Benjamin, insofar as he allows for a model of the political that does not exclude the 'state of emergency'. His similar point that just as the State permits the right to strike to organized labor, it also permits the right to war to the military - which can be seen as one instance in which the separation of founding violence and preserving violence become blurred temporally, since the form that it takes 'within the law' is often indistinguishable from those forms of violence that are considered to be 'outside the law' - only further suggests the validity of an antiparliamentary spirit:

on the one hand, it appears easier to criticize the violence that founds since it cannot be justified by any preexisting legality and so appears savage. But on the other hand, and this reversal makes the whole worth of this reflection, it is more difficult, more illegitimate to criticize this same founding violence since one cannot summon it to appear before the institution of any preexisting law: it does not recognize existing law in the moment that it founds another. Between the two limits of this contradiction, there is the question of this ungraspable revolutionary instant, of this exceptional decision which belongs to no historical, temporal continuum but in which the foundation of a new law nevertheless plays, if one can say so, on something from an anterior law that it extends, radicalizes, deforms, metaphorizes or metonymizes - this figure here taking the names of war or general strike (Derrida, 1992: 274).

16. Thus he argues that Benjamin does not sufficiently recognize the double-bind's functioning as a 'spectral mixture' of founding violence and preserving violence, a functioning found, for instance, in the figure of the police, whose technologies of surveillance come to haunt the whole of everyday life (both inside and outside of the territorial State), and whose practice involves not only the enforcement of the law but its continual invention and reinvention as such. Bringing to mind Agamben's critique of the state of exception, to which we will turn shortly, Derrida argues furthermore that the police "intervene whenever the legal situation is unclear to guarantee security - which is to say, these days, nearly all the time. The police are the force of law, they have force of law, the power of the law...where there are police, which is to say everywhere and even here, one can no longer discern between two types of violence - preserving and founding" (277). This is what he calls 'the paradox of iterability' that is not only found in the example of the police, but throughout the State as such, as we discovered above. It consists of the fact that the original event is never singularly contained within itself but must be repeated ad infinitum simply to count. Derrida points out particularly that, in contrast to earlier monarchical forms of government where the police were kept within particular limits since the 'police essence' was not hidden, in modern liberal democracies this is kept under wraps. Thus the police become ever more dominant as a result of the unrestrained violence which they employ through hypermodern technologies such as 'necessary electronic chips', 'installation of invisible microphones', 'intrusion into computer networks', etc. As Derrida writes, "the police become hallucinatory and spectral because they haunt everything; they are everywhere, even there where they are not, in their Fort-Dasein , upon which one can always call" (284).

17. Yet even if it is true that Benjamin lacks ethical refinement in his conception of divine violence, it is also true that Derrida's qualified defense of 'law' lacks the radical critique of State power found in the writings of the former. In any case, the temporalization of sovereign violence as 'spectral mixture' only points up the need for such radicality (Thurschwell, 2005). Agamben on the other hand, while taking due note of Derrida's important findings and observations - particularly his case that founding violence and preserving violence cannot be separated in an increasingly temporalized world - continues to find conceptual validity in Benjamin and even seeks to extend some of his best arguments into the new territory of an era in which the state of emergency has ceased to inhabit the status of the spatial exception and has become the temporal norm instead. According to Agamben, this shift was particularly clear after September 11, 2001 in the way that 'security' so quickly overtook discipline and law (the other two major instruments of government) in the years that followed. As he observed shortly into the fray, "while disciplinary power isolates and closes off territories, measures of security lead to an opening and globalization; while the law wants to prevent and prescribe, security wants to intervene in ongoing processes to direct them. In a word, discipline wants to produce order, while security wants to guide disorder" (2002). Agamben's point in this assertion is essentially that as the traditional function of the State has begun to fall away with the coalescence of a global 'neoliberal consensus', security has become its primary activity, its most outstanding basis of legitimation, and thus the most outstanding rationalization of the 'spectral mixture' of police violence, founding and preserving at once. When security becomes the focus of the State, in other words, spectacular acts of terrorism become functional rather than dysfunctional, and 'worldwide civil war' becomes the violent dance of complicity within which we are all forced to move, as Tolstoy had warned long ago. This is, of course, how the state of emergency moves from exception to norm, because once the complicit circle of security and terror has been set into motion, 'post-national constellations' (e.g. Habermas, 2003; Linklater, 2000) of violence attain the authorization to work towards the production of emergencies so as to legitimate this increasingly mystical foundation. Thus the need for a Benjaminian concept of 'nonviolent violence', with which something more than just 'radical reform' could become imaginable. Without one, the anxiety expressed by Derrida may be well founded.

18. Here we can return to the question of border politics, for it was against this background of securitization that Agamben cancelled a series of courses he planned to teach in the United States in early 2004. The cause he cited was the advent of the US VISIT program, which would require the fingerprinting of all foreign visitors to 'The Homeland', a process he described succinctly as "biopolitical tattooing" (2004). In taking this action, he hoped to inspire a wave of refusals by other Europeans of these instrumental techniques through which the citizens of supposedly 'friendly' liberal democratic states could be so easily transformed into enemies, and through which the spatial exception could become the temporal norm. His earlier warning that the world was quickly moving toward a deadly complicity of security and terror was thus confirmed with the arrival of this "new biopolitical era" in which "electronic filing of finger and retina prints, subcutaneous tattooing, as well as other practices of the same type" (2004) increasingly demonstrate Benjamin's insight that governmental practices reserved for the most oppressed are eventually generalized to the entire population (including academic 'stars'). The new era begins first with the suddenly changed relationship to the visiting citizens of friendly states, then extends to the degradation of the status of so-called 'citizens' themselves, in the form of biometric identification cards and other surveillance technologies. Thus, politics "no longer has anything to do with free and active participation in the public sphere, but concerns the enrollment and the filing away of the most private and incommunicable aspect of subjectivity...the body's biological life" (2004). In removing his own body from the 'exceptional space' of the American security state, Agamben confirms his observation from one decade prior, that the political paradigm of the West is no longer to be discovered in the city-state of Athens but is instead located in the concentration camp of Auschwitz. This is demonstrated especially in the parallelism emerging today between the political tattooing of ineligible bodies at Auschwitz and the 'biopolitical tattooing' now required by the US VISIT Program, as well in as the new RFID passport requirement for 'citizens' to enter 'the Homeland'. Just as Nazi Germany employed the American IBM corporation's pre-computer 'Hollerith Machine' to quickly sort through millions of numbered punchcards, most of which eventually corresponded with the tattoos inscribed on the bodies of camp internees (in order to industrialize the production of millions of deaths), today the same computer corporations are working with the Department of Homeland Security and the European Union to digitize the life-signs of the entire world population through the creation of a universal passport standard, creating the necessary conditions for any number of new totalitarian potentialities yet to come (Lee, 2006; Black, 2001). As the recent experience of Mexican and other Latin American populations in the United States attests, as much in the narrative structure governing Touch of Evil as in the rise of developments such as the LAPD's SkySeer program (which like new identification technologies, individualizes surveillance to an extent unseen before), the spatiality that once characterized the border has given way to a temporality in which the border becomes internalized and externalized, both inside and outside the national space, such that all space that was once 'normal', has now become 'exceptional' (Bowes, 2006).

Conclusion: So, what is 'Statelessness'?

19. This essay began with the current 'immigration crisis' and the disjuncture between Governors Richardson's and Napalitano's declarations of a 'state of emergency', a propos the bewilderment of bordertowns like Douglas, Arizona to that hyperbole. The point was to demonstrate through a series of political vignettes from the past couple of years, that it is within the exceptional space of the border that the violent foundation of the modern State apparatus is revealed most visibly. Additionally, I sought to show that it is with its reinscription in time, achieved through the perpetual acceleration of transportation and communication technologies, that this violence becomes generalized throughout the world, thus bringing forth a new form of territoriality. As we saw in examples ranging from HR-4437 through the LAPD's SkySeer program, this 'global territoriality' is one that paradoxically produces statelessness as extensively as possible, so as to render ever-increasingly numerous bodies ineligible for protection through so-called 'human rights' laws, including especially those that guarantee access to basic services and that prevent limitless surveillance. However, contra Arendt, and along with Agamben and (in a slightly different manner) Ranciere, I would like to contradict the notion that this necessarily means that either this trajectory or the 'radical liberal' one that leads towards the reinvention of 'citizenship' and 'sovereignty' are the only ones available in our time. Especially since it is this very process that often produces the desire for a 'new statelessness' in which community would no longer depend upon identity and politics would no longer depend upon violence. While Leo Tolstoy and Giorgio Agamben are probably the two thinkers who have thought through the implications of such processes the most productively, insofar as they each consider the condition of statelessness produced by the hyperinflation of xenophobia and securitization in a technological age, as well as the ensuing possibility of a more emancipated society capable of existing without the State apparatus, both suffer from considerable conceptual problems in the worlds 'to come' that they imagine, which can be amended by a similar respect for the manner in which contemporary art is also a form of 'thinking'. For Tolstoy, 'utopian ideals' were not mere fantasies, but were actually constant potentialities, since " the abolition of Governments will merely rid us of all unnecessary organization which we have inherited from the past, all organization for the commission of violence and for its justification [such that] the absence of the brutal power of Government, which is needed only for its own support, will facilitate a juster and more reasonable social organization" (1990, 145). The problem here, is that in Tolstoy's vision, such a process of social transformation would always involve a return to a simpler, more homogenous, more small-scale type of society, which would then be loosely federated with others of equal simplicity, homogeneity and scale, as what he termed a 'brotherly union of all the peoples'. This would occur in a manner that seems to suggest a return to everyone's 'proper place', thus revealing a paradoxical complicity with contemporary anti-immigrant sentiment, despite the antipatriotic rhetoric.

20. Strangely enough, then, while he sought to undermine the territorial violence inspired by modern technological patriotism, Tolstoy's formula paradoxically relies upon the demand that society never become 'too complex', since this will 'inevitably' lead to the rise of the State once again. However, the question then arises, if it is complexity itself that is being rejected in the name of moving beyond the homogenizing tendencies of political identity, perhaps it is also differences that are being dismissed at one and the same time, for as he describes it the imagined 'brotherly union' will ultimately sweep away all the 'peculiarities' of customs, creeds and languages. William Connolly's critique of another Christian anarchist (Paul Virilio) on the 'ambiguity of speed' speaks volumes here, insofar as he argues that rather than the only alternative being a 'slowing down', in fact there are 'multiple speeds', some of which may well be emancipatory in ways that are not immediately obvious, and which for that very reason tend to become occluded in an overly pessimistic reading of the potentiality of the present. As he explains, "my that Virilio allows the military paradigm to overwhelm all other modalities and experiences of speed. Virilio remains transfixed by a model of politics insufficiently attuned to the positive role of speed in intrastate democracy and cross-state cosmopolitanism. He underplays the positive role speed can play in ventilating dogmatic identities in the domains of religion, sensuality, ethnicity, gender and nationality. And he remains so sunk in the memory of the territorial nation as the place of democratic deliberation that he too quickly dismisses productive possibilities (I do not say probabilities) of cosmopolitanism in the late-modern time" (Connolly, 2002: 177).

21. This is in rather stark contrast with Agamben's work on the Homo Sacer , which suggests that because any such attempt to reterritorialize identity in either a locality or a sovereign state will simply reproduce the inequalities that were sought to be overcome in a new form, a more radical ontological pluralism would be needed. And yet, for Connolly again, although this writing is some of the most important for attaining a critical understanding of what sovereignty amounts to in late modernity (much like Virilio's on speed and locality), ultimately it denies the 'complexity of sovereignty', while offering no graspable examples of how one might move beyond. As he explains, "if Agamben is right, the emergence of biopolitics plunges the paradox of sovereignty beyond constitutional disputes into the very logic of the Nazi Holocaust. It is because he finds this logic so compelling and disastrous that Agamben insists that it must be overcome entirely...nowhere in his book however, is a way out of the logic actually disclosed. The response of Hannah Arendt - to pull the state out of biopolitics - is considered and appropriately rejected as unviable. But nothing else is offered to replace it" (2004: 26). While Connolly's point is well stated, there is another book in which Agamben does pursue such questions, beginning from the 'whatever-being' that he says will be the first figure of the 'Coming Community', a statelessness which requires at its most fundamental point that form of being which cannot be reduced to either a universal or a particular, but is always understood as an ungeneralizeable singularity that exists beyond the confines of identity. One "which is neither particular nor general, neither individual nor generic" (Agamben, 1993: 107). Like those undocumented immigrants who are without status in the United States, but choose to remain nevertheless (and to flood the streets of the nation's cities, asserting that fact) the whatever-being of Agamben's formulation is a Deleuzean 'monadic nomad' that exists between and outside of the State's arbitrary categorizations, and thus takes a line of flight from the coding processes in which identities are imposed on bodies as machines of control (Deleuze, 1992). For Agamben, such a being is demonstrated most eloquently in the figure of the refugee, who is "perhaps the only thinkable figure for the people of our which one may see...[both] the forms and limits of a coming political community" (2000: 16). His vision is powerful and resonant in our time because even though the figure of the whatever-being is not dominant politically, it is certainly ascendant and will only become more so with the continuing extension of globalization, securitization and temporalization, a tripartite imperative that demands the denationalization of bodies. Herein lies the paradox then. It is precisely in a world in which the general movement of societies is toward "a single planetary bourgeoisie...which is the form in which humanity is moving toward its own destruction" (1993: 65), that a form of community that does not create a 'population' out of its inhabitants becomes possible for the first time. According to Agamben this community of singularities will not likely emerge through a completely peaceful evolution as envisioned by Tolstoy, but rather by "a struggle between the state and the non-state (humanity) [which will be] mediated not by any condition of belonging, nor by the simple absence of conditions, but by belonging itself" (85). Taking the deterritorialization process well beyond sovereignty's intentions, Agamben argues that today, "what the state cannot tolerate in any way, is that the singularities form a community without affirming an identity...wherever these singularities demonstrate their being in common...sooner or later the tanks will appear" (87).

'Mexican US Border' , Lewis Watts. Photograph courtesy of the artist.


22. It is in this sense (that of a community without identity as an affront to the logic of territory), that we might read Lewis Watts' photograph depicting the absurdity - from the Mexican point of view - of a large metal boundary receding into the sea. The oceanic enframing of the border effectively renders the 'impenetrability' of the border entirely penetrable, while also suggesting the possibility of a more open notion of political subjectivity. By interrogating the image through what Roland Barthes called the 'punctum', the unintended element which escapes the 'studium' (that is, the code of the author), the consumer becomes a producer of meaning also, taking a line of flight beyond the perceptible of the photograph itself, to the 'third meaning' (Barthes, 1982). In this case, however, the most productive path towards this comes from a productive reading of Watts' own description of his work. His web page describes his pieces as:

an aesthetic response to the evidence of history and contemporary experience found in African-American communities. I have documented ways that people consciously and unconsciously personalize their living spaces, institutions and places of business and the sense of improvisation that leaves traces of experience in the landscape. Coming from my own experience, I have compared and contrasted the connection between the rural south and urban north and west; customs and objects that were brought and adapted during the great migration in the mid 20th. Century (Call, 2006).

How might this reference to the migration of black people from the South to the North after the Civil War be understood to inflect this particular representation of the US/Mexican border, and what might it tell us about the emergence of an 'exceptional space' that might be (made) open to the potentiality of a 'new statelessness'? For starters, one is immediately reminded of the concentrated populations of African-Americans in the ghettoes of Los Angeles and many other large Western cities, which was as much a result of the Great Migration to which Watts refers, as that which moved to cities like Chicago and New York. Their presence there today stands as testimony to the collective will to survive, much like that of Latin American migrants moving northward in search of higher wages. The interculturality of the image then, suggests that any attempt to 'calm the waters' is bound to fail. Instead, a politics of potentiality is what is called for. A stance of 'negation' would perhaps argue 'we didn't cross the border, the border crossed us', thus looking to the past and seeking revenge for it. Similarly, but in reverse fashion, 'affirmation' would posit instead that 'the border crossed us, but thus we willed it', leading to a position of reimagining 'America' (to affirm the fact that Latinos have become the largest 'minority'). But what if what is needed instead is to take a step back from both in time and space, so as to consider all of the variables as such? Going back to the period just a couple of centuries ago in which capitalism, colonialism and industrialism began displacing the indigenous lifeworlds, and in which slavery laid the economic foundation upon which the nation became the most powerful on earth, perhaps what we might read into Watts' ' Mexican US Border ', is the positing of a border of violence that might well have been and might well still become otherwise, a 'frontier' which, in the Indian model, was a place of negotiation amongst disparate groups (Cronon, 1992).

23. By way of Watt's photography and its implications for contemporary migration politics, then, we can see that a stark contrast has emerged between two thinkers who at first glance might have appeared relatively similar, along with the suggestion of a limitation in each. While Tolstoy imagines a return to the homogeneity of the simple, Agamben embraces the potentiality of the multiple, in such a way that could - both locally and globally at once - incorporate the former's critique of the violence of political territory as well the hysteria of patriotism as such, without succumbing to the logic of 'identity'. Tolstoy cannot fathom this because he assumes as pregiven that once society reached a certain level of complexity, the inevitable consequence is always 'the amalgamation of the people into a state'. As such he allows for the possibility that the border will simply emerge in a new form, while homogenous identities will remain such. While they would both certainly agree that even under the most liberal governments authority inevitably rests on the monopoly of violence within a given territory, Agamben obviously has the advantage afforded by his location in time and space. Briefly, he is able to see what the passage of the events of the last two centuries have resulted in, such that the question of how to bring forth a 'brotherly union of all peoples' beyond the old parochialisms that always inscribe patriotism over and above every difference, could never be asked without considering the related question, 'what is a people?' beforehand. Once this question is considered, it becomes clear why such conceptions would become problematic, since the term always denotes both the enfranchised and the disenfranchised simultaneously, with the implication that any attempt to use it as though it only contained a singular, undifferentiated meaning was bound to lead to political frustration. As Agamben explains, this is ultimately because:

the constitution of the human species into a body politic comes into being through a fundamental split and that in the concept of people we can easily recognize the conceptual pair identified earlier as the defining category of the original political structure: naked life (people) and political existence (People), exclusion and inclusion, zoe and bios. Hence the contradictions and aporias that such a concept creates every time that it is invoked and brought into play on the political stage. It is what always already is, as well as what has yet to be realized; it is the pure source of identity and yet it has to redefine and purify itself continuously according to exclusion, language, blood, and territory. (2000: 32).

24. This struggle that has been identified between the 'two peoples' then, is one that ultimately confounds Tolstoy's simplistic call for a 'brotherly union' at precisely the same time that it reinforces his early critique of patriotism as an inherently limited horizon of political possibility. Similarly, Watts' ' Mexican US Border ' implies a potentiality that is yet to come, that Agamben's affirmation of 'singularity' without any qualifications (i.e., to allow for at least some form of particularity, that is to say, identity without essence) also eludes. Deleuze's 'nomadic monad' is perhaps closer to the meaning I am reading into Watts' photograph; "as an individual unit, each monad includes the whole series: hence it covers the entire world, but does not express it without expressing more clearly a small region of the world" (1992, 25).

25. Perhaps after reading Agamben through Watts then, we can return in a critical manner to the work of Benjamin in order to gain some currency on how transformation might become possible without either reinscribing the logic of identity or completely denying it in the process. It was, after all, in his Critique of Violence that the parallel between the exceptional case of military law and strike law was first identified in significant detail. And, it was out of this identification that he argued that the 'divine violence' of the proletarian general strike would finally bring to an end the 'mythic violence' of the State and its appropriated war machine. Yet because this conception would seem to potentially excuse most forms of violence that might emerge in the process of achieving the desired ends of this 'new statelessness', we cannot entirely dismiss Tolstoy's critique of the use of violent means for non-violent ends, nor can we completely toss aside Derrida's observation that much of what Benjamin argued in this regard could reverse upon itself. The 'General Strike' can be usefully defined as the deliberate and massive withdrawal of routinized participation in the reproduction of everyday life, and therefore should not be forgotten or cast off as outdated talk of 'emancipation' either, as the 'Day Without Immigrants' actions showed in exemplary manner. However, perhaps the main problem with the concept today is not the method, but the unit of measure. That is, just as the 'People' became a problem for Tolstoy, so too does the rather particular category of 'proletarian' employed as an adjective in Benjamin's conception. More specifically, in both Tolstoy's use of the term 'people' and Benjamin's use of the term 'proletarian', a particular group of people is articulated such that it stands in for a universal, which is in turn reduced to the logic of identity. The result of this is that a general strike will only mean the rule of this particularity over all the other singularities that they subsume in the process (as suggested by Derrida), or that only a subset will stand in for that particularity. But what if the myth of the 'general strike' was reimagined not as one of identity, but rather one of ontological difference, of singularities; in other words, a generalized refusal of participation by humanity as such? In that case, the new statelessness imagined by the people subsumed under the People , might actually become thinkable, and the radical potentiality locked within that which links Tolstoy to Douglas to Agamben to Watts can be released.


Jason Adams is a PhD Candidate in Political Science at the University of Hawai'i in Honolulu, Hawai'i and in Media and Communication at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland. His dissertation will consist of a genealogy of the modern citizen-subject, interrogated through the government of sense perception, with an emphasis on the United States.


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