Border Violence

Jefre Cantu-Ledesma: Were I End and You Begin; Body Within Body; Where You End and I Begin


Of the many binary correspondences which we may readily consider, one, inside/outside quite visually and literally contains an object which mediates its dualisms. The forward slash, a membrane, is the very border which keeps its terms apart, the side which orients in from out. The slash-border makes it easy to differentiate the terms as two separate entities as opposed to one insideoutside. Is this violence yet? At the scale of nation-states and their sovereignty, both law-positing and law-preserving violences accompany protocols of border control and protection. An electrified fence at the borderline of some property evokes the police’s/policing’s spectral ability to create legal situations where “no clear situation exists.”[1] Yet unlike the more static territorial borders upon which electric fences are built, nation-states alter the territoriality of their boundaries to inflict violence beyond their limits. As Laleh Khalili writes, “the US assumed Guantanamo Bay was exempt from the writ of habeas corpus because of its ambiguous territorial status: at once a perpetual holding of the US under an indefinite lease, and not included within the boundaries of the US between it is non-annexed colonial space.”[2] . Ambiguity between territory and legal sovereignty has permitted the US regime to inflict acts of atrocity against the people detained at Guantanamo Bay. Violence need not be inflicted only through legal loopholes though—in an example of imperialist territory externalization, “the EU is training a new counterterrorism and anti-migration force, called the G5 Sahel Cross-Border Joint Force, with Burkina Faso, Chad Mali, Mauritania, and Niger… UK soldiers are training Tunisian armed forces; Italy has redeployed troops from Iraq and Afghanistan to Niger, Libya, and Tunisia; France has forces in Tunisia and Niger; Germany is training border guards in Libya; and French and German militaries are training agents in Mali.”[3] In these cases of “Europe’s new border guards”, the border as a legal, carceral entity is extended, expedited to punish migrants before they even reach the de facto limits of their destinations.[4] From within the nation-state, recycled myths of the outsider as a pathogenic threat prevail to justify criminalizing immigration.[5] Di Cesare powerfully recalls Hobbes’ Leviathan as a symbol of the savage and lawless wilderness, the perpetual virtual war raging beyond the borders.[6] But perversely, it is not desperate migrants who embody the Leviathan when inhospitable states relegate them to be held in asylum aboard floating cruise ships.[7]


In Migrants and the State, Donna Di Cesare makes a philosophical move towards rejecting the boundary-as-cudgel seen above, starting with the the intersubjective: “[w]hat must be put into question is the metaphysical dichotomy between the internal and the external – the foundation of political separation… A philosophy of the migrant requires a spectator capable of moving from the internal to the external, and vice versa; able not only to recount and redeem the shipwreck, but also to pass judgment on it.”[8]

The motion outlined in her description evokes three consecutive tracks on Jefre Cantu-Ledesma’s album Love Is A Stream: Where I End & You Begin, Body Within Body, and Where You End & I Begin. Together, the pieces precisely call into question the self/other boundary, representing a movement from the internal to external and vice versa. In the first movement, a tangle of ambient reflections intensifies, perhaps joined by the timbre of a human voice before breaking open, erupting in a rumble while a delicately sustained melody soars overhead before the elements dissipate, ending abruptly The boundary is cracked apart, its contents ooze into the second piece, which drifts along to suggest an undifferentiated flow, a pure blending of subjectivity: insideoutside. A nagging harshness at the start of the third piece is soon smoothed away, assuaged by the presence of another. Balanced, the elements have returned to their respective bodies, but they fade out together. The pieces trace an affective outline of spectatorship toward a philosophy of migration, a solidarity beyond boundaries where no one subjectivity takes primacy over another. The sound pieces’ experiential traverse approximates Di Cesare’s alliance between the migrant and the spectator. But at what point in this “journey to the Other and back” does the citizen spectator gain more than just understanding of the other? How might such alliances between migrants and citizens, beginning in the abstract as metaphysical relations, convert into substantive actions?

Pat LeGates


[1]     Walter Benjamin, Peter D. Fenves, and Julia Ng, Toward the Critique of Violence: A Critical Edition (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2021), 48.
[2]     Laleh Khalili, “Carceral Seas,” Millennium: Journal of International Studies 49, no. 3 (June 2021): 462–471, accessed October 30, 2022,, 464.
[3]     Harsha Walia, Border and Rule: Global Migration, Capitalism and the Rise of Racist Nationalism (Halifax, NS: Fernwood Publishing, 2021), 12.
[4]     Walia, 12.
[5]     Not a direct quote, but thanks to Khalili’s “Carceral Seas” for this thought.
[6]     Donatella Di Cesare, Resident Foreigners: A Philosophy of Migration, English edition. (Medford, MA: Polity, 2019), 14.
[7]     Daniel Boffey, “Dutch Plans to House Refugees on Cruise Ships Described as ‘Absurd’ and Illegal,” The Guardian, July 22, 2022, sec. World news, accessed October 31, 2022,
[8]     Di Cesare, 22. Italics mine.

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