The title is a play on Judith Butler’s book Bodies That Matter. In it, she expands her theory of gender performativity to include the materialization of the body as a performative act, one that takes sex as the “source” material, as it were, from which the (sexed)body is constructed. Twenty years later in Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly, she has a kind of “spatial turn” taking the claim ‘we people’to be a kind of urban performative. Bodies get together and claim to be the people in order to demand a space for their assembly. All this got me thinking about the role of cities in making bodies appear, indeed, cities materialize bodies into existence in more insidious ways than we are ready to acknowledge. World’s population skyrocketed thanks to compulsive urbanization, which became the paragon of development. In Latin America, for instance, ever since the 1940’s development has been indisputably linked with urbanization.
According to Foucault, panopticism was the model for the State’s ideal city. Through an urban array of disciplinary practices aiming at fully integrating the individual body into the population mass, the city became the object and objective of the State’s power, which Foucault called Biopolitics. Cities are populated by a plethora of places teeming with biopower, which are now being disputed in the global arena by supranational entities like the UN, The World Bank, the IMF, Wall Street, must of which, if not all, are “manhandled” (pun intended) from the US presidential seat.
Our very organic beings are biologically supported by architecturalmachines that, quite literally, act as life support systems; so it will be a mistake to keep calling such a “place” the city and proceed to analyze its unique “cityness”, rather, we need to give an account of the metaphysics that produces such an object called ‘the city’. Indeed, the city is an impossible “object”, a “non-place” forged in the “endless play of dominations”, as Foucault would have it, between antagonists who do not belong to a common space but who build such space in order to encounter and try to dominate each other.
“Cityness” is the prized object being offered to third world countries with the promise of future development, but at what price? With Foucault it can be argued that cityness is a form of subjectivity and subjection; a double process that individuates and assimilates bodies into populations by, either, making them live or letting them die through what he called State Racism. Nowadays these practices have mutated into a politics of deathwhere the goal is to kill and let die as many as possible in the cheapest and most profitable ways. The Mexican transfeminist philosopher Sayak Valencia, calls this new permutation of ‘sovereign power’ Gore Capitalism, because of the way in which war drug-lords killings resemble B-rated gore movies, in which victims are gruesomely murdered using inexpensive materials and obscene cruelty, and also because such killings are highly profitable and have become a new means to acquire wealth in the world economy.
I want to interrupt the ongoing discussions about Favelas in order to acknowledge the metaphysics of western cityness materialized in a politics of death that operates by cruelly deploying the same biopolitical devices that allow any given population to live, against them through different mechanisms of abjection like sexism, racism, ableism, classicism, xenophobia and other kind of discriminatory practices. In this way, I think, Favelas can be rethought not as the “other” of the city, or a new permutation of it, but as spatial productions that challenge the hegemony of the city and its metaphysics of presence (Derrida), that is, the performative acts by which the city is brought into presence through the foreclosing of competing spaces. Spaces such as Favelas forged in the struggle for livable lives.