The Work of Humiliation: A Psychoanalytic Understanding of Checkpoints, Borders and the Animation of the Legal World
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The policing of checkpoints demands a commitment from the soldier. These commitments are realized, as Robert Cover says of legal judgments, in the flesh of those subject to the policing and of those who police. Such commitments are sometimes difficult to maintain in the face of arbitrary policies and even arbitrary re-locations of checkpoints and borders. Obedience is required, but obedience is not simply an act of acceptance. This article employs a psychoanalytic lens and the work of animation theory to consider how obedience is legitimated in the minds of those who police borders and how practices of humiliation toward civilians at the borders function both to display the uncertainties about the regime’s legitimacy, and to aggressively depict this legitimacy in the flesh of those subject to the borders. This depiction, I argue, employs understandings of time, identity and the question, and these are then employed as techniques of humiliation. These techniques evoke a rhetorical landscape located somewhere between Freud’s discussion of the work of jokes and Scarry’s discussion of torture; between these two points is the promise of a legal world where there are only angels and devils and where these figures are animated in the flesh of both civilian and soldier.
KeywordsBorders Checkpoints Humiliation Israel Northern Ireland Psychoanalysis Sovereignty
This work was made possible with the assistance of Australia Research Council DECRA funding for the project ‘The Quality of Remorse’ DE120102304. My gratitude to the Council and to many colleagues at Kent Law School and Queens University Law School who participated in conversations on early versions of this work.
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