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#8: State of Emergency

Oxana Timofeeva /// Suspicious Faces

In the passages and on the escalators of the Metro, I hear a familiar call echoing out of no-where: “Pay attention to suspicious persons”, (i.e. homeless people, drunks, smokers and beggars), “and to ownerless objects.” Mortal danger rings its signal through the the tunnels of the underground: “people in dirty clothes” sully its cars and benches like a plague; objects that are nobody’s property send it flying into a rage; cigarettes could cause a fire, and somebody’s alcoholic breath against the nape of somebody else’s neck is enough to incur its frenzy. I hear that signal up to ten times a day; I remember it by heart, often enough to make me suspicious: something is wrong here. It’s as if the city that I’m travelling under were suddenly nothing but a paranoid figment of some lobomized brain. As if this wasn’t our world. As if this world were alien. 

In the passages and on the escalators of the Metro, I hear a familiar call echoing out of no-where: “Pay attention to suspicious persons”, (i.e. homeless people, drunks, smokers and beggars), “and to ownerless objects.” Mortal danger rings its signal through the the tunnels of the underground: “people in dirty clothes” sully its cars and benches like a plague; objects that are nobody’s property send it flying into a rage; cigarettes could cause a fire, and somebody’s alcoholic breath against the nape of somebody else’s neck is enough to incur its frenzy. I hear that signal up to ten times a day; I remember it by heart, often enough to make me suspicious: something is wrong here. It’s as if the city that I’m travelling under were suddenly nothing but a paranoid figment of some lobomized brain. As if this wasn’t our world. As if this world were alien.

The “terrorist threat” is just a name for a situation, a situation in which we are strongly advised to “pay attention”. Then again, this threat could come from anywhere, like the “Communist threat” in the West at the time of the Cold War. One is even reminded of a medieval town in the grips of leprosy or the Black Plague, when everyone was subject to suspicion, a state of emergency nightmarishly akin to an image from a dream, suffering endless metonymic transformations. But power is the dreamer, while society is its compulsive nightmare, which it sees as a constant threat to its existence.

But isn’t the main threat to power coded into power itself? In its finitude, which it it is not ready to admit or accept on its own? The thing is that no power can be absolute, eternal or endless. Its inevitable end, a change in power, no matter which form it takes, is its point of vulnerability, its weakness. It is the core around which it construct the defensive bastions of the army and the police, directed toward the outside, at the place from which it assumes the main danger will come.

It sees the reflection of this impossible truth in “suspicious people” and their “suspcious faces”, in the eyes of the abyssmally poor, in the corneae of the blind. It projects its fears onto society, whose scrambling movement of life drives it franctic, turning society’s own aggression and weapons against itself. Power pulls us into its paranoid projection, in which it turns out that we are enemies. What is so worrisome is that, in this way, we involuntarily become the participants of the crazy fantasy of people who happen to control the kind of resources that allow them to make this fantasy real.

* Translator’s note: In Russian, litso means person as well as face.

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