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James Noël

Unfinished Histories Vol. VII

James Noël (*1978) is a poet, novelist and performer. He is considered one of Haiti’s most important contemporary authors. He has published over ten books of poetry in French and Creole, including Poèmes à double tranchant (Farandole, 2005), Kabòn 47 (L'action sociale, 2009), Bon Nouvel (L'action sociale, 2009), Kana Sutra (Vents d'Ailleurs, 2011), Ausgewählte Gedichte/Le plus grand des félins. Poèmes choisis (Litradukt, 2018), and Brexit – La Migration des murs (Au diable vauvert, 2020). He is co-founder of the artistic review IntranQu’îlllités and edited an anthology of contemporary Haitian poetry in 2015. He was recently awarded the Internationaler Literaturpreis 2020 (Berlin) for Was für ein Wunder (Belle merveille), his first novel.

Solid absence of ties, solid absence of
social cement for species and spaces The clinical
case of the world is seriously critical at the foot
of the wall On this harsh side of the reality
of walls, fundamentally, it’s life that ends up

On 23 December 2020, a refugee camp near Bihac, Bosnia-Herzegovina, was evacuated – it had never had proper water or electricity connections and was not winterized. Then it burned down. The 1400 people who had been living in the camp were supposed to be housed in former military quarters, but the surrounding cities would not take them. (1) Many are back in the camp, in new tents, with some heating devices, but restricted access to water and electricity and barely any food. (2)

James Noël started writing “La Migration des Murs” in 2012, two years after the devastation that saw many walls fall and many others rise for Haitians. And as his poem in response to “the proliferation and derangement of walls” kept growing, so did the cruelty and inventiveness of border regimes and migration systems. The crisis in Bosnia is just the most recent result of the policies that have turned the European border into the deadliest in the world. (3) More than 2000 people died in the Mediterranean Sea in 2018 alone, 1800 of them in the Central Mediterranean, where by April 2019 the death rate was as high as 10% of all those attempting the crossing (4) – and we will probably never know how many more have died as the result of illegal pushbacks. In the meantime, many European countries continue to criminalise true solidarity. While distributing symbolic emergency aid they seem unwilling to address systemic injustices (for instance when it comes to global climate justice). Noël categorically rejects such humanitarianism: “I declare it a crime against humanity!” (5)

And then came 2020. Emboldened by fear and by the absence of bodies in the streets, walls and their builders have thrived during the pandemic. Trump brought hundreds of construction workers to Arizona, endangering even US citizens in an attempt to add his mark to a desert that US migration policy began turning into a cemetery in the mid-1990s. And 2020 was also the year in which the Greek government came close to building a floating fence around Lesbos (6), and Britain considered creating an Australian-style offshore processing system for asylum seekers on Ascension Island. (7)

In a recent essay, James Noël described 2020 as “a heady year, a flooding river […] that will surely spill over into the next one, pouring its currents into the throat of the future.”(8) How and when it will come to an end remains unclear so far. Until then, Noël dares to imagine a solution that is not merely limited to a vaccine, but one that implies unconditionally bringing an end to exclusionary borders. As long as these continue to exist, though, his work will trace the multiplication of the architectures enclosing, separating and observing us. In his poetry “the civilisation of walls has [already] come to an end”.

You can find the texts featured in Vol. VIII here.

artiCHOKE e.V. is a collective of poets and translators that got together to organise a reading and publication series in Berlin around 2015. Since the beginning it has given particular attention to radical and militant poetries and aimed at creating international cross-pollinations through the practice of translation. 

Unfinished Histories Vol. VII-IX:
»Heinrich, ich steh’ hier mit der Kettensäge«
Sean Bonney, James Noël, Lisa Jeschke and Laurel Uziell
Organized by Andrea Garcés and Lotta Thießen for artiCHOKE

 (1) https://www.tagesschau.de/multimedia/video/video-801789.html
(2) https://taz.de/Menschen-im-bosnischen-Fluechtlingslager-Lipa/!5741125/
(3) According to a report published in 2017. https://www.iom.int/news/new-study-concludes-europes-mediterranean-border-remains-worlds-deadliest
(4) International Organization for Migration, World Migration Report 2020, p. 95. Available at https://www.un.org/sites/un2.un.org/files/wmr_2020.pdf
(5) https://www.wordswithoutborders.org/article/in-all-magnitude1
(6) https://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2020-06/griechisch-tuerkische-grenze-barrieren-lesbos-migration
(7) https://www.ft.com/content/9baaf989-f64d-417d-90c5-b0ea8f78bf0c
(8) https://www.rtbf.be/lapremiere/emissions/detail_dans-quel-monde-on-vit/accueil/article_james-noel-apres-la-fracture-des-gestes-barrieres-pourra-t-on-miser-sur-un-pansement-de-tendresse-sans-frontiere?id=10656851&programId=8524&utm_source=lapremiere&utm_campaign=social_share&utm_medium=fb_share