From the European South

a transdisciplinary journal of postcolonial humanities

Ceux qui traversent la frontière

Georges Didi-Huberman


This contribution takes as its starting points a poem by Niki Giannari and the documentary film Des spectres hantent l’Europe (Spectres Are Haunting Europe, dir. Maria Kourkouta and Niki Giannari, 2016), shot in the refugee camp of Idomeni in Central Macedonia (Greece), in order to offer a reflection on the theme of hospitality as a space of antinomies and the emergence of spectrality. Following Spectres de Marx by Jacques Derrida (1993), it identifies in the “refugee crisis” an agent of dislocation that has the potential to remove the ‘ghosts’ haunting the West. If the survivors who reach the frontiers of Europe can be seen as specters carrying a revelation, the ghosts currently troubling Europe are the issues raised by the spectral presence of the refugees: the antinomy between an acknowledgement of the human desire ‘to pass’, to move beyond borders, and the sanction of the frontier; between the ‘sacred’ law of hospitality and the ‘profane’ laws of politics and international procedures, which reflect the crisis of the institutions regarding hospitality. In tune with the Freudian notion of the unheimlich, this spectrality challenges our present and our political memories, as it shakes the foundations of identity formed over time. In response, a new ethics is being born, on whose necessity political philosopher Achille Mbembe insists at the end of his Politique de l'inimitié (2016). This ethics is recognizable in the proliferation of actions and practices that revive and restore the fundamental and universal right to mobility. Didi-Huberman ends on a reflection on the image and reach of art as a transit agent, capable of forcing antinomic poles. Thus, the words “ils sont déjà passés” in Giannari's text, seemingly contradictory in the context of the containment system of refugee camps, invoke a dimension beyond the purely material and the contingent. In their spectral nature, those who cross borders and pass from country to country “move beyond” us (dépassent); they become figures of the power of desire and the avant-garde of their people: “the power of the past” that looks to the future (P. Pasolini).




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