Joseba Gabilondo Atlantic Decoloniality: State of Exception, Concentration Camp, and Modern Bare Life

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Joseba Gabilondo

Atlantic Decoloniality: State of Exception, Concentration Camp, and Modern Bare Life

This article explores the way in which the state of exception and the concentration camp are not internal political technologies to a north-European modernity that, as Giorgio Agamben defends, reveals its perverse telos and truth in the Nazi concentration camp. The paper will argue instead that the European intellectual discussion of the concentration camp and the state of exception hides, rather than reveals, the truth of a non-European Atlantic modernity, by situating politics and history inside a putative self-enclosed modern Europe.

By shifting the ground of analysis to the colonial Hispanic Atlantic in the 19th century, this article analyzes two developments. First, the way in which the coup d’état organizes politics in the decadent Spanish empire and its colonies in such a way that the difference and undecidability between the rule and the state of exception, or their reversal, cannot be upheld as the founding act of modern politics. This state of politics is due to the marginal space occupied by the Spanish empire in 19th-century modern colonialism. Secondly, the paper argues that this Atlantic organization of Spanish politics is central to the formation of the first concentration camps in colonial Cuba after the Ten Year War. By emphasizing that the British and Germans borrowed this Spanish colonial technology in order to apply it to their respective colonial territories in Africa and that they imported it afterwards to Europe, the paper will conclude that European modernity and politics must be rethought from within a non-European, non-modern space, the colonial Hispanic Atlantic.

Joseba Gabilondo is a licenciate in Basque philology from the University of the Basque Country and a Ph.D. in comparative literature from the University of California, San Diego. He has taught at several universities: Duke University, Bryn Mawr University, SUNY Stony Brook, University of Florida and University of Nevada, Reno. Currently he is an Associate Professor at the Department of Romance and Classical Studies at Michigan State University. He has published several articles on Basque and Spanish nationalisms, intellectual discourse, postnationalism, masculinity, queer theory, the Atlantic, globalization, and Hollywood cinema.

He has edited a special issue for the Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies entitled The Hispanic Atlantic (2001). He is the coeditor of Empire and Terror: Nationalism/Postnationalism in the New Millennium (Center for Basque Studies, 2004). He is also the author of an essay collection about contemporary Basque literature entitled Remnants of the Nation: Prolegomena to a Postnational History of Basque Literature (University of the Basque Country Press, 2006; in Basque English translation accepted by Tamesis) and a monograph on Basque novelist Ramon Saizarbitoria: New York – Martutene: On the Utopia of Basque Postnationalism and the Crisis of Neoliberal Globalization (or Who Will Desire Us Now?). (University of the Basque Country, accepted) .

He is currently finishing two book manuscripts entitled Before Babel: A Cultural History of Basque Literatures (a cultural and postnational history of Basque literatures from the Middle Ages to the 21st century) and Atlantic Spain: Nationalism and the Postcolonial Ghost. He has also published two narrative books: From California with Love (1992) and Vulgate of the Apocalypse (2009) in Basque.

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