The escalating death tolls of migrants seeking to enter Europe are a dramatic testimony to the cynical, dehumanizing, and violent fortification of the European Union, whereby refugees and asylum seekers have become the emblematic figures of contemporary political exclusion. Rather than emerge as a peaceful, open, and postnational community, fortress Europe increasingly relies on a process of (re)walling, evoking the legacy of the camp and redrawing colonial boundaries. Europe’s borders serve as expressions of “necropower” and contemporary biopolitical attempts at subjugating and distinguishing forms of “bare life,” as they regulate forms of life, death, and living death. At the same time, these “necropolitics” remain hidden by the necrogeography of the borderscape. The author argues that this deathscape escalates bare life into bare death as a form of nonrelational death enabled by the constructed otherness of the Muslim refugee. Reading this politics of bare death against Sophocles’s Antigone, this article considers how Europe’s deathscape is mediated and challenged. The author examines the art collective Center for Political Beauty and its controversial project of transporting the bodies of deceased migrants from Italy to Berlin in order to give the dead “dignified burials.” The author suggests that the artists engage a form of “corpse politics” using the ritual of the burial as a way to reintegrate the death of the other. This opening of the European soil enables a reimagining of European sovereignty, acknowledging the relations denied by bare death. The nomos of the earth is reinterpreted as a nomos of the soil, reenvisioning a Europe beyond borders and welcoming “difference” as the grounds for responsible politics.
The Dead are Coming: Border Politics and Necropower in Europe
Jenny Stümer teaches media and film at the University of Auckland. Her research explores the fortification of border walls in the contexts of Berlin, Palestine, Mexico, and contemporary Europe, examining political practices of exclusion as well as possible subversions of these dynamics through cinema and art.