“Response: Re-Thinking Borderline Ecologies: A Literary Ethics of Exposure.” Edited by Christopher Schliephake. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books. 2017.
In June 2005, Francis Alӱs walked through Jerusalem carrying a can filled with green paint. Through a small hole, paint dripped onto the street in a continuously trickling stream, marking out the so-called ‘Green Line.’ This border goes back to the history of the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, and was part of the armistice, drawn in green colour on a map. Since then it has been altered and shifted considerably, with severe consequences for the people living on either side. I am interested in how Alӱs’ line, which transposes the abstraction of the original map into the materiality of natural and lived spaces, exposes the concept of the borderline itself to be a constantly re-negotiated space. It is a human struggle of dominion, control and repression, but Alӱs’ version of the ‘Green Line’ does more than mark separation; it is also itself the object of the elements, as rocky terrain dishevels its linearity before the first rainfall washes it away, to ultimately leave nothing more than an undefined, unseparated space. It therefore exposes the coexistences of non-anthropocentric and anthropocentric forces, and opens the borderline into a poetic meta-space in which the ontology, politics, and ethics of this logic of separation relate both to the people who are subjected to the power of the border, and to the terrain through which it is carved. The ecology of this line, therefore, is one of domination and subversion in an interplay of politics, poetics, and material, agentic nature.
I am starting my response to articles on ancient literatures with this contemporary art project because the undulated green border daws attention to impulses of separation, “paths” through the wilderness and towards moral superiority (Vittoria Prencipe), a sense of “separation from the environment” (Thomas Sharkie and Marguerite Johnson), a “record of domination and exclusion” (Richard Hutchins) which, I believe, are at the heart of these readings. I thus respond a notion which Christopher Schliephake, in his introduction to this volume, demonstrates to be one of the conceptual bridges connecting antiquity to modern environmental thinking: that notions of order are a pivotal component in attitudes towards nature in the ancient world. Studies on the impact of militarized borderlines on ecosystems (see, for instance, Sadowski-Smith 2013) are just one contemporary example of the continuing prevalence of this topic in ecocritical thought, but the texts at hand here, because of their historically distinct perspective, offer a way of response in which nature seems not to have been quite as radically externalized yet; to use Della Dora’s distinction (2016, 4), the process of commodifying nature into ‘landscape’ is still much more contested, and when she analyses habits of perception in order to differentiate between the modern, Western, linear perspectivity, and Byzantian alternatives, then this draws attention to the extent to which such frameworks of positioning the self in relation to nature, to respond or to ‘order’ it an epistemological, ethical and ontological sense, are historically and culturally conditioned.