Architectural Violence

by zunguzungu

What is truly devastating about destroying something, perhaps, is the permanence of that act. A built thing can be unbuilt; the act of building can always be undone. But an unbuilt thing can never really be rebuilt; the act of destroying it is permanent. Which seems to me as good as any other way of describing why grief is what it is.

Lulu roundabout, before, when it was the center of pro-democracy demonstrators in Bahrain:

Lulu roundabout now:

I wrote about the destruction of the monument here and here, Noompa wrote here, and Jadaliyya here.

In a modest way — and it’s an analogy more than a comparison — this is what tents mean, the right to remake space being reclaimed from governments that do not wish to allow it, who will destroy the village in order to save it. This is what it means when the city of Oakland would rather drown and flood (and drown) Oscar Grant plaza with water than allow protesters to camp there (more on that, here).

Tents are a threat when they signify people claiming the right to the city. At an English department meeting where we were discussing the police beating students for putting up tents, many students and professors began their comments with the phrase “I’m not that concerned about the tents, but…” or some variation on it. The students beaten bodies and the shredded civil conduct of the police were the issues. One professor, the great Mitch B, stood up and said something very succinctly that Iwas very glad to hear expressed: “I am concerned about the tents, and violence against the tents,” he said (or as I attempt to paraphrase, and inevitably mis-remember and re-write); “Those tents, and the artwork the students built alongside them, were the expressions of students trying to build something, trying to make something in a community they were claiming and inhabiting by the act of doing so. When the administration destroyed what they had built, the message being sent was very clear.”

I have heard a great many occupiers proclaim that “violence” against property is not violence. And I take their point; it is beyond obscene when media accounts of a protest dwell in loving detail on a broken window while gliding carelessly over the broken bodies of protesters beaten by police whose violence does not, as such, register as such. This is not meant to deny that point. But sometimes an attack on property is an attack on the existential habit of being human that we all share. And there is nothing more violent than destroying a home, be it a tent or a house or a street, that most basically necessary of human habitations.