These Borders Are Not Your Borders

Dear Person-Who-Put-Up-The-Alarming-Poster-Featured-Below,

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First, let me thank you for the opportunity to consider an issue of great importance: borders. I gather from the poster’s symbolism that the borders you are referring to with the statement “My Borders, My Choice” are the borders of the Australian nation (as opposed to the borders of your personal body, the latter of which would quite frankly make for a much more appealing poster). Luckily, I am happy to talk about national borders, too.

 

Via this poster, specifically via the statement “my borders”, you claim that you have a right to manage national borders because they are yours. I have taken a moment to look up the word “my” in the Oxford English Dictionary and it directed me to the definition of “mine”:

 

“Used with a possessive to emphasize that someone or something belongs or relates to the person mentioned.”

 

In accordance with this definition, when you write “My Borders” you are claiming that the geographical borders of this continent belong to you. Interestingly, this continent’s colonial invaders originated from England, like this definition. Even more interesting, this continent’s First Nations never ceded the land to the English colonial invaders. As such, the land, if we are to be technical, belongs to the former. Since the colonial invaders never made a transaction to possess the land, it seems the invaders and all subsequent generations actually undermine the definition of the word “my” that they themselves have invented every time they use the word in relation to the nation’s borders. I guess what I am getting at here is that these borders you refer to are an arbitrary demarcation enforced by a colonial imaginary and therefore cannot be possessed/in your belonging. I am also pointing to the fictive but self-authorising power that the English language enables through performativity. But let’s put this aside for the time being and get back to the more intimate claim that you are making, in particular, that these national borders somehow personally belong to you.

 

Exactly how have these borders come to belong to you? I gather you have not bought them at the supermarket, aisle 3: Aussie Arrogance? Are they included on the asset list of your bank statements? Do you declare them as income on your tax returns? (If not, you really should, since you’ve undoubtedly profited from this incorrect but nonetheless dominant belief that the borders are yours.)

 

Let’s assume that you believe you own these arbitrary borders through inheritance, a bit like how you might inherit a home. This is a logic that I can more easily follow: you were born in the home, your parents died and left you the home, the home now belongs to you, and you decide who comes in and out of its borders.

 

Naturally, when people from other homes want to come to your home you want to be able to choose whether or not to let them do so. Of course, I understand you would feel very upset if a burglar came into your home, unannounced, took your things, and destroyed your property. In line with this logic, am I right to assume that if your neighbour’s house burns down overnight, you would also be very upset when they run into your yard seeking safety from the fire, unannounced? After all, just because someone’s house is on fire doesn’t mean they can cross the borders of your home willy nilly! Your borders, your choice! And just because they didn’t have time to ask if it would be okay for them to stand on your front lawn and call 000—and then wait five years for you to respond with a YES or NO—that is not your fault!

 

Okay, yes, you’ve got me, I am being facetious. Of course, I don’t really believe that someone like you, so clearly proud of their home, their neighbourhood, and their nation would respond to your suddenly homeless neighbour like that. You would appreciate that sometimes “life happens” and consequently makes controlling the borders of your home a bit slipperier and less black-and-white than first envisioned. Plus, you’re not a monster, and you’re all about mateship! While you want to have fundamental control over the home you inherited, you would still allow for these minor misdemeanours to occur at your borders here and there, right?

 

The above home analogy works pretty well, although you might have picked up on a subtext where neighbours are refugees and burglars are all non-First Nations peoples, I’m not sure. Regardless, I’m afraid this home/nation borders’ logic really starts to fall apart for me when I think a little more about it—something I would encourage you to do also. For example, if one naturally owns the home they were born in, does that mean I can return to my first home and demand to live there? True, my parents did sell that home to other people, and these people have probably since sold it on to other people, but because the basis of this home/nation borders’ logic begins with an illegitimate take-over of the continent by colonialists, surely it is appropriate for me to take over my original home on the same basis?

 

Gee, it really does seem as though when we consider Australian national borders we inevitably hit an almighty wall (a border, you might say): the unlawful dispossession of land that belongs to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Indeed, every time we deploy this home/nation borders’ logic, we also indirectly reassert the fact of colonial invasion, and thereby indirectly acknowledge all those people who were born within the borders of this continent an eternity ago. The logic indirectly acknowledges that these people were massacred and/or displaced by our colonial ancestors, and it indirectly acknowledges that the families of these people—families that determinedly, wilfully, incredibly managed to survive this violence—have a right to claim the land that was stolen from them.

 

Personally, I really feel that this is the fundamental truth that makes your “My Borders, My Choice” claim a bit dodgy, by which I mean: utterly ludicrous and offensive. For this reason, I did you the favour of removing the poster immediately, in the hope of saving you from future embarrassment. You can thank me later after you’ve thought this through a little more.

 

Yours Sincerely,

dannijean

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Waves: A review, of sorts

Some preliminary thoughts about the sea as a place of epistemological potential, prompted by my weekend, which featured The Honeymoon Suite‘s exhibition Waves, Kristina Davidson’s beautiful sculptural work Disconnect[i] (pictured), and the first episode of the new BBC documentary series Blue Planet II.

 

Disconnect

Disconnect (2017) by Kristina Davidson

 

Martin Buxbaum’s oft-cited reflection on the sea goes a long way towards describing many people’s affinity with this great body of water: ‘I have seen the sea when it is stormy and wild; when it is quiet and serene; when it is dark and moody. And in all its moods, I see myself.’

Many of us quote this because when we see the ocean we do see our moods, our behaviours, and our attitudes. Sometimes this “we” is singular: today, I am irritated and here is the sea, choppy and murky, just like me. Sometimes this “we” is extrapolated to mean humanness, but a very particular humanness, such as the flippancy afforded to some humans: yesterday, we stepped out hurriedly to grab toilet paper and milk, we forgot our calico bags, and we returned with an assortment of things including bananas, deodorant, and crumpets. We bought the toilet paper but forgot the milk. We shoved the plastic shopping bags inside other plastic shopping bags we keep beneath the kitchen sink. This morning, we grabbed takeaway coffees because we had no milk to make them at home. Later in the day, we went swimming in the bay and we saw at least two plastic coffee lids floating past, and for a moment we hated ourselves.

Momentary guilt is another type of “we.”

Most often, I think about the ocean as a place I long to be, a place I want to dive into so as to experience a different kind of momentary mood: solace. Lately, I’ve been trying to keep at the forefront of my mind the reality of the ocean as a place that others—Others with a capital O—long to be beyond, a place they want to cross, if they must, and then forever leave behind. When the ocean is this place it displaces both moods and moments. Forever is less of a moment and more of a life sentence when you can neither get beyond the sea in front of you nor put it fully behind you. I am sure this is what it must feel like for my father, still afraid of the sea after being forced by his orphanage Nuns at age five to venture into a great mass of water foreign to him. He ran away and is still running, as far as I can tell.

The sea is both dependable and menacing: carrier, continuum, and connector/ barrier, blockage, and bully. The sea might engulf us or deliver us; welcome us home on a Pacific liner, or refuse us entry on a small orange boat owned by the Australian Government. We can be flippant, but when we look at the sea we also sense that at any moment it might decide it has had enough of our nonchalance and become flippant, as well. After all, the world is mostly water and our bodies are at least sixty percent water, too. This water might become so wild on the last stretch of a P&O honeymoon cruise that we vomit all the way to shore, or so calm during a rescue by the Italian Navy that we can hear First Seaman Saverio Rizzi clearly counting the members of our family as he pulls us to safety after a long and treacherous journey from Syria: ‘One, two, three, four, five, six. Welcome!’[ii] The sea is, therefore, nothing but potential, at all moments, and this potential can disrupt our sense of time and the way our bodies feel moving through it.

Last night, my boyfriend and I watched the first episode of Blue Planet II. During the episode, an encounter between false killer whales and bottlenose dolphins was carefully manipulated for us, the viewers. An anticipated bloodshed became, at the last moment, solidarity and togetherness. Two marine species formed an unexpected alliance. Two humans watching felt their mood transition from dread to relief, despair to hope. Buxbaum was right: we see ourselves when we see the sea—but at the last moment we might also see others. Maybe sometimes we even glimpse unexpected ways of being, an alterity that helps us reframe the world. Maybe if we do not see these slippages when we see the sea, we are not looking hard enough.

 

[i] Kristina Davidson, “Disconnect”, 2017, wire, paper, glue, plastic. Featured as part of Waves exhibition curated by Charlotte Cornish, The Honeymoon Suite, Brunswick VIC.

[ii] First Seaman Rizzi was captured on film speaking these words to a Syrian refugee family he helped rescue as part of Italy’s Operation Mare Nostrum in 2014. (ABC, “The Italian Solution”, Foreign Correspondent, 14 October 2014, available: http://www.abc.net.au/foreign/the-italian-solution/5813806)

Southern Italy

I am on a train travelling to Palermo, Sicily. We were delayed in Messina for dieci minuti, which made the Nonno sitting next to me very annoyed, but ten minutes doesn’t seem so bad when compared to the five hours I was told to expect these Calabrese trains to delay. Prior to our arrival in Messina the train was put onto a ferry so we could cross the stretto di messina, the passage of sea keeping Calabria and Sicily apart. My claustrophobia kicked in and I wanted to stay inside the train for this brief but unnerving oceanic passage. “But,” I thought, “if the ferry starts sinking I will not just be on a sinking ship: I will be inside a train on a sinking ship.” I grabbed my backpack and hustled off the carriage. As I drank a bitter, black coffee from the ferry bar, I comforted myself by thinking that if there was a Titanic situation I could at least dive into the sea. Hopefully, an old door would float past soon after, I could push Jack off, and await rescue.

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Train travel through Calabria

 

I cannot tell if everything is before me or in front of me. For the first time in my life I feel like I am exactly halfway. Half of everything falling away behind me in the distance, and half of everything stretching out ahead of me. One long train track, and there I am, in the middle. I have just come from a conference about the Italian diaspora, where I spent a lot of time with Italians—some of them “more Italian than others,” some of them keener to assert this “more Italian than others” than others. From a purely critical thinking point of view, nothing about my participation at this conference felt particularly cutting edge. However, I think the robustness will become apparent via my reflections of the whole experience, beginning with someone’s argument that theorising the Italian diaspora must begin in Italy, and must be in Italian, and ending with someone else’s boozy, 4am quip: “when I told my Dad I wanted to be a poet, know what he said to me? ‘What are you gay?!’” The haughty principles of the first argument counterpoised against the mundane hurt of the second. Yet, why do I feel these two incidents are somehow related?

 

I will take all of these moments and slip them into my pocket: the misogyny hidden beneath one man’s sarcastic jokes and ever so slightly raised eyebrows when a woman—me—was talking about her work; the feeling of alienation on the bus as everyone chatted excitedly in Italian, a language intimately familiar to me in sound and rhythm, but foreign and incomprehensible in meaning; the way my body shook very early in the morning on the day I later presented; the tears that spilled over when Giovanna Riccio read a poem, Namesake. All of these things I will gather like small flat stones and add to my pocket, waiting for a calm day by the sea when I will pull them out, one by one, flicking them onto the glassy water’s surface and counting how many times they skim.

 

I feel my body relaxing into a place of placidness as I watch the sunset emerge. It has been a long time since I have enjoyed the sun melting crimson all over the blue-green sky so consistently, as it does this evening, as it has done every evening this past week in Southern Italy. In Australia, the sun drops cleaner, brighter, creating a yellowy orange sky; but here, the sun drifts towards the horizon like a hard-boiled lollie that has gone soft on the dashboard of a car. Allora, such sticky joys—sweetness tinged with sadness because you cannot suck on it any more today.

 

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Sunset, Tropea

 

What will I do when I arrive in Palermo? What will I think of? How will I move my body? Will my hands find themselves on the small of my back again, just as they did in Tropea, the moment I stepped onto the main street sans suitcase? How is it that a place you’ve never been before can draw your body into a shape its known its whole life, learned discreetly from the quiet strolls with your father, as he peered into shop windows or stood back to assess how much fruit the birds had ravaged from the backyard trees? Allora, such sticky joys, sweetness tinged with sadness.

 

Sunset in Tropea

Buonasera, Stromboli