– Autumn/Winter 2007

The State of the Straits

Nadia Tazi

The English call it 'the gut', which could be a reference to both its narrowness (17 kilometres maximum) and the type of attachment they feel for it because of Gibraltar. For the Arabs, it was long known as 'the Andalusian canal': not a border but simply a passage within one land.

Its profuse imaginary then suddenly flips, and not without resentment, yielding gods and giants, the dust of empire, the Crusades, commerce and all kinds of traffic, drowned dreams, battles and mythic designs. But today its etymology says it all: from the Latin destringere, which lives also distress and which means 'bound on one side and the other', 'keep apart', 'hold back', 'prevent', 'stop'; strictus, meaning 'narrow'; and distrinctus, 'chained', 'shared', 'hesitant'. El estrecho, le détroit, al-madiq is no longer a boundary, in fact. It designates the most violent demarcation line: the edges of a barbed-wire barrier of meanings that trace the line separating two worlds that we call indifferently North and South, Orient and Occident, Islam and Christianity, Europe and Africa, but which express more than any one thing: 'Everything is hiatus'.1 Nothing seems more in agreement in this space where history and geography meet on a single line that we might call destinal. The political, the symbolic, all levels of life, information, demographics, even mythology take part of this general economy through the figure of Hercules separating the continents. Its character, at once absolute, hyperbolic and disjunctive, creates the unity of the place: nowhere else is the evidence of separation so complete and so brutal. The Straits can be called 'totalitarian' in that they have become, by virtue of their murderous lock-out and abysmal inequalities,

  1. See Zakya Daoud, Gibraltar croisée de mondes and Gibraltar improbable frontière: de Colomb aux clandestines, d'Hercule à Boabdil, both Paris: Séguier, 2002.

  2. See Smain Laacher, Après Sangate, Nouvelles Immigrations. Nouveaux enjeux, Paris: La Dispute, 2002.

  3. Advertising slogan designed to sell Morocco to the tourists. See http://www.bladi.net/440-le-maroc-le- plus-beau-pays-du-monde.html (last accessed on 29 June 2007).

  4. Jacques Rancière, Malaise dans l'esthétique, Paris: Galilée, 2004.

  5. Yto Barrada, 'A Life Full of Holes, The Strait Project', 26 June-22 August 2004, Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam. For similar work, see Fais un fils et jette-le à la mer: Marseille-Tanger, a series of photography workshops led by Yto Barrada, Anaïs Masson and Maxence Rifflet with teenagers of the associations Jeunes Errants from Marseille and Darna from Tangier, Paris: Editions Sujet/ Objet, 2004.

  6. See Jacques Rancière, Le Partage du sensible, Paris: La Fabrique, 2000.

  7. See, for example, Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution and Epistemology, University of Chicago Press, 2000.