The Great Wall as Space-craft by Judith Farquhar

The Great Wall of China is not the barrier to barbarians it is sometimes thought to be. These days, it does not seem to bound anything [1], in and of itself. Did it ever? The wall is not an iron curtain of the impenetrable sort, heavily policed (though its flows have been managed, at times and in places). Nor, though it makes a difference in space, defining a certain “north of” and a certain “south of” [3], does the Wall produce an internal purity or an effective immunity from alien organisms [11]. Did it ever?

The aim of this essay is allegorical, an effort to unfold the powers condensed in a fetishized object into practice and history [4, 8, 9]. At the end of The Fold, his study of Leibniz and Baroque philosophy, Gilles Deleuze says: “Leibniz occasionally sums it up in the triad, ‘scenography, definitions, points  of view’.” (126) These are strategies of writing and thinking, and they are allied in Deleuze’s discussion to the uses of allegory. He notes Walter Benjamin’s argument that allegory makes an event of the object, and suggests that allegory introduces time into the logical spaces of representation and signification. Rather than drawing maps of meaningful spaces, then, Benjamin (and Deleuze, and perhaps even Leibniz) look for and deploy stories that unfold some lessons of experience, from a point of view, through time.

I here propose a historical “scenography” of the great Wall, seeking – allegorically – to show how boundary walls appear to craft space, and also how they fail to produce purities [3, 11].

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