Wallification, or Paranoia I
Bottom in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ playing Pyramus says, more shrewdly than he or Shakespeare had any idea of, ‘O wicked wall, through whom I see no bliss,/ Curs’d be thy stones for thus deceiving me!’ Shakespeare surprisingly often anticipated the insights of postmodernism in this way; it is quite poignant and heart-rending to realize he wasn’t in a position to know he was doing so. We are more fortunate.
We are in a position to understand the insidious sublimated power of the wall in all its forms and manifestations, we can problematize its taken for granted status in our culture, we can interrogate the way it does its work, and thus come to an understanding of the regimes of separation, blockage, interference, interposition, interruption, and frustration in Western hegemonic structures.
Walls are everywhere. A wall is a barrier, and barriers are everywhere we look. In fact, it is difficult not to conclude that Eurocentric Western hegemonists are so terrified of nature and the real world (if there is a ‘real world,’ but that is a question for another essay) that they can’t bear to confront any part of it without a barrier. Poor frightened paranoid rational bureaucratic neoliberals, cowering away from trees and flies and snow, constructing an artificial antiseptic world to live in and never smelling the flowers or the decaying corpses.
Many of the walls and barriers are obvious enough: they’re the ones we already call walls and barriers: the walls of houses and prisons and asylums; fences and border crossings, and the like. Also roofs and floors. But there are other barriers, or walls – other solid objects that come between the Self and some piece or aspect of the outside world. Between Self and Other. These walls define the other as Other – that is the cultural work they do. There are more walls of that kind than a theorist can enumerate. Shoes. Hats. Socks. Clothes. Plates. Tablecloths. Chairs. Cushions. Beds, mattresses, sheets.
All furniture is a barrier. Chairs and tables are barriers between us and the floor, which is a barrier between us and the ground. Plates and glasses are barriers between food and the table or floor or ground – and so on. Barrier upon barrier everywhere you look.
All of our lives are infiltrated and saturated with barriers. Everything is blocked, interrupted, partitioned, channelled, frustrated. Our energies are clogged, our desires and impulses and hemmed in and corralled, our inspirations are siphoned and piped, our creativity is boxed up and fenced in. We are allowed free interaction and intercourse with nothing. (It is no accident that prostitutes can charge more for ‘bareback.’) Mosquitoes, flies, worms, bacteria, leopards, vultures, polar bears – we are forcibly separated from all of them.
Band-aids. Umbrellas. Boats. Cars. Park benches. Bridges. All, manufactured artificial objects interposed between our breathing natural bodies and the earth. It is as if ‘civilization’ has done nothing but teach us a kind of hypertrophied paranoia in which we can’t stand to confront anything skin to skin. O wicked wall indeed.