Mankind, as is well known, has made giant leaps in space as well as drawn major lines on earth. Our kind is out for limits – then, to transgress these.
If we may believe Bataille, the French philosopher and eroticist, not to transgress such limits would reduce us to utter mediocrity and boredom, if not reducing us to melancholy; or in the philosopher’s own language, to ennui. Phrasing it more dialectically: limits, according to his philosophy, are merely invented to be transgressed; otherwise, they will simply reduce us to tamed, subdued animals.
There is a snag, though, in Bataille’s Philosophy of Transgression. If pursued, each transgression is necessarily, because logically so, also the last one of its kind, thus forcing its seeker to immediately go for a new limit. Besides this being rather tiresome, our simple world does not seem to offer an endless range of limits. Faced with a lack of new possibilities, at some point we would be forced to throw ourselves over that final cliff, like Lemmings leaping into the ocean – and drown. Suicide, then, would be the logical conclusion for all practitioners of Bataille’s Transgressive Philosophy.
Then again, Michel Foucault pointed out that tracing a limit – any limit, whether a physical frontier or a social interdiction – has always already seduced men and women to transgression. Or, in other words: limiting our behaviour actually produces transgression. It seems to be our nature…
When in the British colonial system, race barriers became the norm, any contact between so-called white ‘men’ and so-called coloured ‘people’ had become anathema. Reading E. M. Forster’s Passage to India one may come to shiver. The kind of warped mind that is often effected by such hypocritical Apartheid is staggering. In white men and women, such racial frontiers produce a lust after black men and black women and, of course, vice versa. However, only the black man is damned for touching a white woman – ne touche pas la femme blanche… In white men, sleeping with black women is tolerated in a camouflaged manner.
Of course, in all kinds of authoritarian societies circumscribing property, acres of land owned by one man and not by others, has become the norm. It has been argued by Alfred Sohn-Rethel, that mathematics was invented in Egypt, as each year after the flooding of the arable properties in the Nile Delta, those properties had to be measured and fenced in, again and again.
Such simple mathematics seems to have been a kind of instinctive urge in those who sought to create territories. The almost ridiculously straight lines, used to slice up whole continents into colonial territories, are a case in point. Disregarding natural barriers and tribal possession of cut-up lands, the rudeness of the undertaking still stands out all too obvious.
Such partitioning of territories always involved the forced removal of original inhabitants, under the cover of for instance handing the Indians new territories ‘’of their own”, complete with a List of Federally Recognized Tribes in the United States.
Territorial racism did not stop at the original possessors of God’s Own Country – The Indians. The Mason and Dixon Line is a fine example. Between 1763 and 1767, it was surveyed by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, two young British lads, to finally resolve a border dispute involving Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, in what was then still Colonial America. It was to become a fatal border line, in the end separating the so-called Free Northern States and the Slave Owning Southern States.
Though, not so much territorially separating Black people from White People, that frontier was separating territories where Whites were indeed separated from Blacks, from the Northern States in which such slave owning racism was at least forbidden.
Once again, the simplicity of the solution is mathematically obvious: the Mason-Dixon Line is indeed a line, even though a crooked one! This is what Mark Knopfler’s song tells us:
We are sailing to Philadelphia
A world away from the coaly Tyne
Sailing to Philadelphia
To draw the line
The Mason-Dixon Line
Now you’re a good surveyor, Dixon
But I swear you’ll make me mad
The West will kill us both
You gullible Geordie lad
You talk of liberty
How can America be free…
However, such ‘frontiering’ may suddenly touch oneself, rather personally so. While selling my house in Haarlem, The Netherlands, my real estate man discovered that all those fifty years we had been living there, the end of our garden – a strip of seven square meters in all – had been not ours to toil, but the property of a neighbor, two houses further on. Too crazy to be true. All these decades I had been transgressing that limit – unwittingly so, thus not really profiting in Bataille’s sense of the word…
As if the frontiering business is my very personal, perhaps even god-ordained issue, this is what I found out the day I bought my new house here in France, in Montmorillon, on the river Gartempe. While boringly reading aloud all the particulars of the deed, the up to date notary was also showing us the various maps of the site on a screen. Then this one popped up:
Observe the little red line through the house on the street side, as if it were slicing some sixth from my new property, more or less in the same way as all those decades the invisible line had done with my garden. Take notice, the notary said – if your building were to collapse on the street side, you would only be allowed to rebuild it up to that red line. You will lose a bit of your property rights…
At least, this time, I was warned before the fact, whereas the frontier in my Haarlem garden had been hidden and obfuscated in the deep and dark dossiers of the municipality.
As, according to my lover, I have always already been a bit of a border-liner, all this frontiering gets on my nerves and pushes them to their very limits – as it were, transgressing my very own self. In the fine words of the poet Pessoa, I must plead for myself:
This my madness, accept it, those who can,
Dare whatever it needs.
What, without madness, is a man
More than a beast after feeding,
A corpse adjourned, the half-alive breeding?
Sierksma, Montmorillon 2.7/2020