Chloe Aridjis You wrote your doctoral thesis on the representation of natural disaster and catastrophe in art and literature, so how often did the notion of catastrophe, in this case man-made, enter your thoughts while writing this novel? Did academic themes migrate into its arena—that is, the catalogue of twentieth-century disasters man brought upon himself? Both natural and man-made disasters could be read as an outburst of tension that's been building over time. And this raises the question of bearing witness, as your protagonist does, to historical events... And, of course, you have the character who paints the same volcano over and over again.
Carlos Fonseca As you say, I wrote my thesis in tandem with the novel, and to some extent the novel became the secret flipside of the dissertation—the place where I could take certain ideas to their limits. One of these ideas was that the twentieth century had turned universal history into a museum of ruins. In particular, I remember reading, in the year prior to writing the novel, an essay by Walter Benjamin, where he talks about the angel of history as he who, propelled by the storm of progress, contemplates how the past has been reduced to a giant pile of debris by the catastrophic passage of time. I remember thinking about that scene and telling myself that the task of the novelist was not unlike that of the angel imagined by Benjamin: the contemporary author must also, to some extent, make whole what has been wrecked. The twenty-first century author must reconstruct, out of the ruins of the twentieth century, an image of the past that would allow us to imagine a future. The novel then emerged as an attempt to imagine a Borges-like protagonist—the colonel—that, in the manner of a collector, writes a universal encyclopedia in an attempt to make whole what has been wrecked.
This is ultimately a question about witnessing. What does it mean to bear witness to a catastrophe? When I decided that this protagonist was going to take as its basis the life story of the mathematician Alexander Grothendieck, I did so intrigued by a simple question: How could it be that this man, who had been present, as witness, at many of the catastrophic events of the twentieth century—from the Spanish Civil War to the Holocaust, from May 1968 to Vietnam—had decided at the end of his life to seclude himself from society, to become a hermit? Why had the witness decided to seclude himself from political reality and devote himself to the composition of a universal theory capable of explaining history in mathematical terms? Perhaps, I thought, this was a new way of bearing witness: the only adequate testimonial way of interacting with a century that had been marked by a constant repetition of man-made catastrophes.
Perhaps it was while thinking about the idea that history is a constant repetition of an original catastrophe that I decided the mother of the protagonist would spend the whole second world war painting the same Mexican volcano over and over again. The reference there was to the eccentric and fascinating Mexican painter Dr. Atl—the teacher of the Mexican muralists—who later in his life became obsessed with volcanoes and started painting each of them more than a thousand times. I thought his gesture, in its obsessive absurdity, was the embodiment of a terrifying truth: the twentieth century was a constant chain of catastrophes, and as such, it asked for a witness capable of recording this absurd repetition. The protagonist of the novel is, in this sense, a man who collects bits and pieces of historical data in an attempt to reconstruct history.
Luke Harding, a former Moscow correspondent for The Guardian, was in Oxford to talk about his work as one of four hundred–odd journalists around the world who had access to the 2.6 terabytes of information about tax havens—the so-called Panama Papers—that were revealed to the world in simultaneous publication in eighty countries this spring. “The economic system is, basically, that the rich and the powerful exited long ago from the messy business of paying tax,” Harding told an audience of academics and research students. “They don’t pay tax anymore, and they haven’t paid tax for quite a long time. We pay tax, but they don’t pay tax. The burden of taxation has moved inexorably away from multinational companies and rich people to ordinary people.”
The extraordinary material in the documents drew the curtain back on a world of secretive tax planning, just as WikiLeaks had revealed the backroom chatter of diplomats and Edward Snowden had shown how intelligence agencies could routinely scoop up vast server farms of data on entire populations. The Panama Papers—a name chosen for its echoes of Daniel Ellsberg’s 1971 leak of the Pentagon Papers—unveiled how a great many rich individuals used one Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca (“Mossfon” for short), to shield their money from prying eyes, whether it was tax authorities, law enforcement agencies, or vengeful former spouses.
Tax havens are supposed to be secret. Mossfon itself, for instance, only knew the true identity of the beneficial owner—a person who enjoys the benefits of ownership even though title to the company is in another name—of 204 Seychelles companies out of 14,000 it operated at any one time. The Panama leak blew open that omertà in a quite spectacular fashion. The anonymous source somehow had access to the Mossfon financial records and leaked virtually every one over the firm’s forty years of existence—handing to reporters some 11.5 million documents. By comparison the Pentagon Papers—the top-secret Vietnam War dossier leaked to The New York Times by Ellsberg—was around seven thousand pages. Harding estimates that it would take one person twenty-seven years to read through the entire Panama Papers.
Alex Bocchetto: With Invisible City you narrated New York’s East Village and Alphabet City from a very personal point of view. Can you tell us your experience in shooting for the project back then?
Ken Schles: Even after all these years it still feels a little alien to me to hear Invisible City referred to as a “project.” I guess we can call it a project. I was responding to what I was seeing and feeling at the time—where I found myself. Invisible City was about confronting and overcoming fears: it was about being locked inside my apartment and feeling trapped, but also wanting to venture out. To go out into what seemed an overwhelming, arbitrary, inscrutable, dangerous world. I didn’t quite know how to proceed. I was unsure of myself. I had no money and few resources. But I recognized that what I experienced everyday when I walked the streets near my home wasn’t reflected in what I saw in mainstream media. I felt compelled to capture that mood, which for me was so tangible, so palpable. And obvious too: what I was experiencing was intimately connected to outcomes of recent history: the collapse of the inner city, postwar deindustrialization, economic stratification, cultural dislocation, race tensions, the drug wars, the rise of AIDS. My state of mind—what I saw and how I lived—was a direct result of social and economic machinations that had been grinding along for a long time. The degraded physical environment… it all weighed upon me.
Alex: So it didn’t start as a project but more as diary entries …and to set the record straight, to give a different narrative of New York. Now I feel I better understand the title Invisible City: the inner city authorities are not willing to show, but it also hints at private spaces and the city within the city, a sort of “Interzone.”
Ken: I walked in the safety of friends in a forbidding and wild place. With the camera I tried to organize what I found: give it a semblance of sense, a modicum of meaning—at least for myself.
For generations the Lower East Side was a churning cauldron of activity. Site of immigrants (my own family passed through there more than a century ago), it already had a long history of renewal and decay. This activity also involved a tenaciously prickly art avant-garde, which had flourished there in various forms for nearly a hundred years. I had been living in the East Village five years when I began this “project” of mine. Things had begun to change in my part of the slum. We found places to go amidst the rubble and the open drug markets. Art galleries, performance spaces and underground clubs would spontaneously appear next to drug drops and abandoned buildings. People gathered at art openings or listened to music or saw performances or hung out in the bars. I fell in with this activity. These places became islands of refuge amidst boarded up storefronts and bodegas and liquor stores with their overpriced limited offerings hidden behind two-inch thick bulletproof Plexiglas pass through windows. These venues provided both spectacle and community in otherwise bleak corridors. The people I hung out were my friends. We’d barter services and borrow on each other’s talents—lean on each other for support so we could continue making our art. In turn, we’d show in the local galleries or perform in bars and clubs. When I photographed it was in the comfort of people I was familiar with or in places I knew well. I’d find parties where I knew there’d be food to stretch things along. Photography was my tool to explore where my life had taken me—I used it to frame and dissect my time and place. I used the camera to put my observations into context.
Alex: You wrote once “those were the taxi drivers days” …riots, drugs and violence, even if these are not actually shown inside the frame. How did the general atmosphere and your lifestyle influence the work
Ken: Lifestyle is as an odd word, isn’t it? Sorry if I seem to pick up on specific words of yours like that. But it’s not an unreasonable question. Even back then it was thought that I was somehow making a choice about where I was and what I was doing. People would ask me why I choose the lifestyle I chose. Why didn’t I just go to live someplace easier, someplace safer? These choices only appear as choices if you have the luxury to approach them that way. Lifestyle has to do with notions of class and economic mobility—or moral disposition. Hearing the word reminds me of the time my slumlord landlord refused to negotiate with me. He said, “Who the hell do you think you are to have middle class aspirations.” I remember a cop saying to me after my apartment was broken into, “You seem like a smart white guy. What the fuck are you doing living in a shit-hole neighborhood like this?” Attitudes like that just pissed me off. I was who I was. I lived where I lived as best I knew how. This was my home. This was my neighborhood. These were my friends. There were no “lifestyle” choices here as far as I could see. My situation encompassed facts that I simply accepted. I felt bound up—trapped—in the reality I found myself in. Trapped by history, trapped by economics, trapped by my desire to make new work and live affordably… I was committed to trying to make things work in my life.
In 1970, the year of its release, Bitches Brew sold nearly a half million copies, and sent the jazz world into a state of confusion: Was this the end of jazz, or a new beginning? Jazz purists weren’t wrong to suspect that Davis’s new music had something to do with commercial pressures. Clive Davis, the president at Columbia Records, had called him to a meeting about his declining record sales. Miles Davis was a deeply competitive artist, and the idea that he was losing audiences to white rock musicians with inferior skills—and, worse, had to open for them at concerts—inspired him to beat them at their own game. But he did so very much on his own terms. What one hears in Bitches Brew, as Grella argues, is not pandering but searching and striving: “a great work of abstract music inside the sounds, beats, and riffs of commercial music,” “avant-garde with soul and a beat.”
Bitches Brew was a more ungainly work than its predecessor, the shimmering tone poem In a Silent Way, but its sprawl was a measure of Davis’s audacity, his hunger for new forms. It featured an unusual ensemble of thirteen musicians, including three electric keyboardists, two drummers, and two bass players. Perhaps the most distinctive ingredient is Bennie Maupin’s bass clarinet. For much of the album, Maupin plays almost entirely in the lower register of his horn, making guttural noises, short, agitated phrases that add an incantatory undercurrent to the “brew.” Every musician, even Davis himself, contributes at one point or another to that roiling brew, to which the soloists respond and over which they occasionally collide.
Bitches Brew bids farewell to almost every musical convention, including the traditional cues for foreground and background. Most of the tracks are exceptionally long (twenty-six minutes, in the case of the title track), and they are not so much songs as—in Grella’s words—“waves” of improvisation, leaving the “disorienting sensation of…simply stopping without coming to a formal end or resolution of any kind.” Here were the sonorities of the free jazz Davis had claimed to disdain, only set against electric grooves and churning, tribalistic percussion.
Bitches Brew is very much an ensemble work, but the defining sound is Davis’s trumpet, as confident and fiery as ever. We hear him in an extraordinary range of moods: the fierce, growling swagger of “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down,” a hot blues in the key of F, set to a languorous New Orleans march rhythm; the hypnotic call-and-response of “Bitches Brew,” a cousin of the Andalusian pieces Davis had loved playing since Sketches of Spain; and the plaintive, mysterious lyricism of Wayne Shorter’s “Sanctuary,” with its echoes of “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” a Davis favorite. Blues, balladry, and the “Spanish tinge”: the effect here is a kind of kaleidoscopic self-portrait.
How could so many jazz critics have overlooked Davis’s powerful trumpet playing on Bitches Brew, and its continuities with his previous work? The reason for their bewilderment was, in large part, the brew, the music’s muddy electric bottom, which bore no resemblance to the jazz they knew. Davis had never been a pure bopper, but his music had always made allusion, however oblique, to the grammar of Parker and Gillespie. On Bitches Brew, Davis decisively broke with his roots in bop. As Grella argues, building on the pivotal work of Greg Tate and Paul Tingen, the more revealing points of comparison were no longer to be found in jazz but in the psychedelic guitar of Jimi Hendrix, the warbled vocals of Sly Stone, and the bass lines of James Brown.
Davis, as Grella sees it, was a bluesman even before he was a jazz musician. And in the late 1960s he had begun to worry that he was losing his “blueness,” his connection to popular black music and black audiences; he said he missed “the sound of $1.50 drums and the harmonicas and the two-chord blues.” Hendrix, Sly, and Brown showed him the way back to the blues of his East St. Louis childhood, the real “Rosebud” of his art. As he put it, “I don’t play rock, I play black.”
The music Davis made from 1969 to 1975 was some of his blackest ever, sometimes directly based on bass lines and riffs he heard in James Brown and Sly Stone.4 Yet it was also bristling with jagged, sometimes disturbing dissonances that grew out of his interest in the European avant-garde, particularly Karlheinz Stockhausen. It would prove no less demanding, and no less dazzling in its variety, than his acoustic work.5 There were slow, meditative compositions of breathtaking lyrical expansiveness, from In a Silent Way to “He Loved Him Madly,” his eerie requiem for Duke Ellington. There was the hallucinatory syncopation of his 1972 record On the Corner, perhaps the strangest funk album ever made. And, finally, there were the raucous, throbbing mid-1970s concerts, in which Davis had to hook his trumpet up to a wah-wah pedal to even be heard above the din of electric guitars. Like the early minimalism of Philip Glass, it was music you did not so much listen to as inhabit, an environment of sound where you were free to tune in and out.
Part of the enduring fascination of records like Bitches Brew lies not only in what they sound like but in how they were put together. Here Davis grudgingly shared credit with his producer, Teo Macero. A saxophonist and composer who had worked with the musique concrète composer Edgard Varèse, Macero was as important a Davis collaborator during these years as Gil Evans had been in the late 1950s. Macero sat in the control room with Davis at every session while the sidemen performed, often without being told if they were rehearsing or playing an actual take. Their relationship was volatile—the Bitches Brew recordings began just after an explosive row in which Davis demanded that Macero fire his secretary—but Davis thrived on such tension, and his trust in “Teo” was total.
With a razor blade, splicing block, and tape, Macero edited what were unruly jam sessions into suite-like compositions, often using loops—short sections of material—to create ostinato patterns. The two tracks of In a Silent Way are both sandwiched between such loops. Assuming this must have been an error, the jazz critic Martin Williams complained in his review about the “faulty tape splicing.” Others insinuated that Davis had cheated by stretching a half hour of music into forty minutes.
Today these criticisms seem rather quaint. Davis and Macero were, in effect, using the studio as an instrument. And on Bitches Brew, their aim was to create effects similar to those Davis had always sought in his playing: a dramatic expansion and enhancement of our perception of space. As the musician Brian Eno, who was deeply influenced by the electric Miles, has pointed out, the musicians sound as if they are “miles apart…the impression that you have immediately is not that you are in a little place with a group of people playing, but that you’re on a huge plateau.” That impression was powerfully reinforced by the now famous cover art of Abdul Mati Klarwein, which depicted a naked black couple on a beach, facing the sea against a backdrop of blue sky, red flowers, and yellow flames. A storm appears to erupt directly out of the woman’s hair; above the couple an imposing black face appears in profile, dripping with either beads of sweat or tears, as dauntingly inexpressive as the Pyramids.
We seem to be observing an Afro-Futurist rite of spring, and, as Grella observes, there are moments when the brew sounds “uncannily like fragments plucked from The Rite of Spring.”6 The master of this ceremony is Davis himself. He is higher than anyone else in the mix, as befits a lead singer, and, as Grella writes, “the physical power of his playing…cannot be overstated.” Even when he is absent, we feel as if we can hear him. He is summoning the ancient spirit of the blues, and at the same time leaping into the future, binding it to the sound of his trumpet, determined, as ever, not to be left behind. He cannot imagine music going forward without him, and neither, for as long as he plays, can we.
Photography is inescapably a memorial art. It selects, out of the flow of time, a moment to be preserved, with the moments before and after falling away like sheer cliffs. At a dinner party earlier this year, I was in conversation with someone who asked me to define photography. I suggested that it is about retention: not only the ability to make an image directly out of the interaction between light and the tangible world but also the possibility of saving that image. A shadow thrown onto a wall is not photography. But if the wall is photosensitive and the shadow remains after the body has moved on, that is photography. Human creativity, since the beginning of art, has found ways to double the visible world. What photography did was to give the world a way to double its own appearance: the photograph results directly from what is, from the light that travels from a body through an aperture onto a surface.
But when the photograph outlives the body 00 when people die, scenes change, trees grow or are chopped down — it becomes a memorial. And when the thing photographed is a work of art or architecture that has been destroyed, this effect is amplified even further. A painting, sculpture, or temple, as a record of both human skill and emotion, is already a site of memory; when its only remaining trace is a photograph, that photograph becomes a memorial to a memory. Such a photograph is shadowed by its vanished ancestor.
The other one, the one called Borges, is the one things happen to. I walk through the streets of Buenos Aires and stop for a moment, perhaps mechanically now, to look at the arch of an entrance hall and the grillwork on the gate; I know of Borges from the mail and see his name on a list of professors or in a biographical dictionary. I like hourglasses, maps, eighteenth-century typography, the taste of coffee and the prose of Stevenson; he shares these preferences, but in a vain way that turns them into the attributes of an actor. It would be an exaggeration to say that ours is a hostile relationship; I live, let myself go on living, so that Borges may contrive his literature, and this literature justifies me. It is no effort for me to confess that he has achieved some valid pages, but those pages cannot save me, perhaps because what is good belongs to no one, not even to him, but rather to the language and to tradition. Besides, I am destined to perish, definitively, and only some instant of myself can survive in him. Little by little, I am giving over everything to him, though I am quite aware of his perverse custom of falsifying and magnifying things. Spinoza knew that all things long to persist in their being; the stone eternally wants to be a stone and the tiger a tiger. I shall remain in Borges, not in myself (if it is true that I am someone), but I recognize myself less in his books than in many others or in the laborious strumming of a guitar. Years ago I tried to free myself from him and went from the mythologies of the suburbs to the games with time and infinity, but those games belong to Borges now and I shall have to imagine other things. Thus my life is a flight and I lose everything and everything belongs to oblivion, or to him.
Proper nouns are legible in any light and like to stay near their cages. They're the saunterers and the preeners, the peacocks who walk up to you and unfurl their fan of feathers hello. To see a shy one, position yourself between two trees; eventually it’ll get whisked into a sentence and will have to come out from the shadows. We stock the park with packs of verbs and ands, so the odds are in your favor. Lessons in tracking are given every hour on the hour. You’ll learn to go unnoticed behind a lamppost so you can get a glimpse of a squabble—COAT's flapping shadow tussling with WEARING because it wants to be the verb. The comma is the timid creature (ankle-height, cringing) you'll spot when you pause to look at the map, the dash is the sprinter in a thin coat of rain. Take a left for indirect object, for conjunctions, straight ahead. Officially, the exotics are extinct, but you’ve heard about watchers in the cities training their binoculars on ledges half-hidden by air conditioners, scanning the gutters for pairs of bright eyes. They know the ruses unsanctioned words use. They roll in the dirt to hide their vivid feathers. According to the tabloids, CHOCOLATING made it half way across the country, hopping from schoolyard to schoolyard in a convincing coat of mud, and last week VERYING was spotted hiding in the wake of a ferry. One watcher got a picture before the authorities harpooned it. In the photograph the water is bluer than blue.
Here is what that article described. The larva of the parasite Nematomorpha develops inside the body of a cricket, eating its way through everything non-essential to the cricket’s basic functioning. Once grown, the worm needs to return to water to reproduce. So, having eaten its fill and having reduced the cricket to head, shell and legs, the hairworm begins to secrete mind-controlling substances which create suicidal urges in the cricket, driving it towards, and then into, the closest river or lake. The cricket drowns, and the hairworm emerges from the corpse and swims away to mate. In a particularly romantic twist, this clipping suggested that the hairworm waits for a moonlit night to take over the mind of the cricket, using the reflection of moonlight to guide its host to a watery grave.
Strangely, considering the metaphoric and semantic overlaps between insect symbiosis and the language of hosting, in that book of lectures that I found on the train there was only one mention of parasitism. Derrida invokes it early on in order to draw the distinction between a “guest” and a “parasite.” “How can we distinguish between a guest and a parasite?” he asks.
1. Jacques Derrida, Of Hospitality (Stanford University Press, 2000), pp. 59-61
In principle, the difference is straightforward, but for that you need a law; hospitality, reception, the welcome offered have to be submitted to a basic and limiting jurisdiction. Not all new arrivals are received as guests if they don’t have the benefit of the right to hospitality, or the right to asylum, etc. Without this right, a new arrival can only be introduced ‘in my home’ as a parasite, a guest who is wrong, illegitimate, clandestine, liable to expulsion or arrest.1
The “law” that Derrida refers to here is one pole of a dialectic that these lectures seek to deconstruct. He sets it in opposition to the capital-L Law of hospitality, of a radical hospitality that cannot be constrained by a “limiting jurisdiction.” Under this “Law” then, there would be no “limiting jurisdiction” and therefore no possibility of a guest who is “wrong, illegitimate, clandestine.” Derrida does not consider the parasite as being, of itself, different from the guest. What distinguishes them is determined by the conditions that the “law” happens to impose. The one who arrives is nothing more than an arrival. Only after they have knocked on the door do the laws that they meet determine their classification as either parasite or as guest.
The first prediction that comes up on a google search for “insect” is “insecticide.” It’s an indication that on the most quotidian level, when most people think about bugs, it’s usually about how to get rid of them. Applying the metaphor of a bug to a human is a literal belittling, which scales them down to a realm where death is quotidian and inconsequential. There is a well-documented history of the dangers of a semantics which dehumanizes, in particular one which anthropod-morphizes. When some public figures (such as UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who referred to people at the Calais Jungle migrant camp as a ‘swarm’ headed towards his country) use this language, the response is swift condemnation and a reminder of the murderous history that such associations invoke. When Erdogan uses the language, his supporters take to the streets.
“Swarm,” “parasite,” “virus,” and “vermin” (that which carries the parasite) are used in similar syntactic situations, but with differing associations. While a “swarm” suggests something en masse, beyond control, and beyond the individual agency of the participating organisms, a “virus” suggest infection and uncontrollable multiplication; a “parasite” brings up opposing images of something calculating, pernicious, rational and controlling: something sneaky and evil-intentioned which will take on-the-sly, abusing the generosity of the host.
Alex Bein’s 1964 essay “The Jewish Parasite” outlines the history of this word “parasite.” Contrary to contemporary usage, which invokes the biologic and anthropodic as a metaphor for the social, the passage of the word through time shows that the scientific sense is in fact a transfer from its original, social, meaning. The etymology of the word has its roots in the greek, παρα, “beside,” and σιτος, “grain, food,” or by extension “one who eats beside.” It was originally used in a positive sense, referring to “the officers of the sacerdotal and municipal services,” who “received their provisions at the expense of the state.”22. Alex Bein, The Jewish Parasite: Notes on the Semantics of the Jewish Problem, with special Reference to Germany, Leo Baeck Institute Year Book, Oxford University Press, January 1, 1964, vol. 9 (1) pp. 3-40 (Ironically, it is members of these municipal services that are currently being labeled “viruses” in Erdogan’s purge). By the fourth century BCE its meaning had shifted, referring instead to the poor who would gather outside the houses of the rich during the midday meal — no longer beside them at the table, but subject to mockery and humiliation in exchange for the scraps of charity. Marxist theory would later adopt the word parasite to refer to the capitalists who lived off the labor of others. The metaphor is displaced to the opposite end of the power and wealth spectrum, but retains the association of unproductivity. The arrival, in order to be a guest, must have a productivity to offer — a “guest” worker visa confers a status in exchange for extractable labor.
From the beggar at the gate, the parasite became a stock character in Greek comedy, and through this it entered European language and literature via Molière, Shakespeare, Ben Johnson and others. Not until the mid-19th century, with biologists such as Pierre-Joseph van Beneden (1809–1894), who studied the life cycle of the tapeworm, did the word assume its current scientific significance. Then in the 20th century, borrowed back as metaphor from science with all its accumulated layers of association, it became a central pillar in the ideology of Nazi Germany, a foundational myth of the Holocaust which saw the Jew cast as a parasite, an unproductive and destructive outsider that has entered into and is feeding off the body of the German nation. In the 1990s came the language of the Hutus, who labeled the Tutsis ‘cockroaches’ during the Rwandan genocide, and in the dark corners of the internet the accusation of parasitism is alternately leveled at Israelis, Palestinians, the Polish, Romanians, Mexicans, people on welfare, and unemployed youth, all the way through to the current European crisis of migration, Brexit and the potential dissolution of the United Kingdom. In Turkey today it is concurrently deployed at opposite ends of the spectrum, at both the Syrian refugees and the accused coup-supporters in the municipal services.
The “migrant crisis” (which, in the phrase “migrant crisis” enacts another semantic mis-transference, applying to the migrants themselves what is really a crisis of the Europe receiving them) is the most recent occasion for this language of parasitism. From politicians to tabloid media to far-right nationalists, these insect metaphors are being deployed to denigrate and dehumanize those who are arriving, accusing them of dependency, or exploitation, of taking and bringing nothing in return, and of posing the threat of destruction to the ones already there. A small syntactical twist in these metaphors that cast immigrants as insects brings us to the language of Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right Front National in France, who recently proposed a health initiative to, “Dénoncer et éradiquer toute immigration bactérienne.” While she protested that she had meant only to find solutions for new bacteria arriving in the country as a result of the movement of peoples, the double meaning of such a phrase — to eradicate immigrant bacteria — is impossible to ignore. In one sentence Le Pen manages to combine the migrant as both bacteria and as the host of bacteria — both the carrier of disease and the disease itself. She goes on to state: “Les hôpitaux font face à la présence alarmante de maladies contagieuses non européennes, liées à l’afflux migratoire.” In her double-tongued phrases “Non-Europeanness” is contagious, a threat, a kind of pernicious biological warfare being waged by the incoming strangers.