Revolving lights illuminate the deserted streets where usually reigns a hive of activity. Whilst the sirens grow louder and fade away, the daily routine of two cities gets disrupted. Paris and Brussels are both under a state of emergency. Paris, because terror attacks have already taken place and Brussels because the city is under the threat of imminent ones.
The events of the past few weeks are characterized by the potentiality which hastily justifies a state of emergency: „In case of imminent danger resulting in grave infringements on the law and order, or in the case of events which display, by their nature and their gravity, the character of public disaster.“ This rhetoric indubitably reminds of those so-called emergency laws, which get into force in case of natural disasters. Those incidents are as just sudden, just as unpredictable, just as violent and there are no words or images that can be more than just a vague consolation. Yet despite this, the institutional response concentrates on an expression already loaded with tension: state of emergency. It seems nearly contradictory, because it puts the fleeting eventuality of such an event face to face with the oppressiveness of a status quo. Thus what does the actual „state of emergency“ means but the simple reversal of two contradictory semantics? What would happen if this emergency was to become permanent?
It comes to a breaking point as soon as the economic flow and the daily routine get interrupted. Terror unleashes a stagnation in the initial aftermath as it appears as being „inopportune“. This topology emulates a vertical arrangement, an instantaneous fall that provokes a sense of powerlessness for its victims that does not seem to have any limits.Who could have suspected that terror would find its way into a European Capital again? Shouldn’t “we” have seen it coming, ask some zealous analysts. Yet the state of emergency in Paris or in Brussels initially appears as being an event without „Horizon“. These attacks could not have been easily foreseen by state institutions. By definition terror can only take place out of time. It can only fulfil itself within this marginality and destabilise the public order.
It’s within this expression of “state of emergency” that this temporality drifts towards a dialectic figure. It’s in this permanent stasis of public life that the exception usurps the right to become a habit. Just like the habit devours life, life devours the habit. This interrelation, which gives a disastrous phenomenon a daily face, seems to tirelessly continue. When the city centres are sealed, when the police and armed forces guard sterile streets – thus when life is inside rather than outside- the state of emergency becomes a self-referenced threat. When the exception becomes a daily occurrence, it anticipates its own nature. The exception no longer appears as being an unpredictable occurrence but rather melts from a transitive event into the idea of a continuous possibility. That which is exterior, hypothetical and timeless, dilutes the busy world of cities, its dynamic flow and operates the mutation from verticality to the horizontality of a seemingly virtual threat. In this respect the fear of the state of emergency is not only the fear of an upcoming, realistic danger cloaked in shadows, but also the fear that the emergency comes to an end. Therefore, fear seems self-justified because of what is simply possible. What happened can happen again without the guaranty that it won’t happen anymore. Said differently: the memory of a past attack is no less than the treat of a future one, liable to happen now.This is where the affective logic of fear is located, where its persistent eventuality as well as its frustrated incomprehension is.
Just like when storms strike, the state of emergency “sequesters” every affected city and cloaks them in a vague and undefined atmosphere.This state of “insured insecurity” brings many preventive actions to ward off any danger. In a situation oscillating between fictitious threat and real threat, these transitory actions become permanent. Ultimately it is not yet decidable whether we are talking about a chain of unfortunate events or about a recurring event. Through the levelling or the twisting from the vertical to the horizontal - meaning the time span’s exception with the rules - the „status quo“ becomes a transition, the event becomes everyday life, and cities become a place where anxiety and prohibition strike.
Then, dusk falls. Revolving lights re-illuminate the deserted streets together with the sirens and their never-ending strident sound. Behind an armoured car the horizon takes shape. Another military vehicle stops in a no-parking zone. Flowers lie on the ground, there, where the Incomprehensible took place. Above our heads, a statue looks into the distance (unless she’s saluting?) as if she’s looking for answers. These days Brussels, burdened by clouds, is a dark place, a crepuscular place. Meanwhile, attentive eyes roam everywhere, looking for subjects, picking up multiple aspects of the situation and proposing the keys to read and understand the state of emergency.
Paris, 5 december 2015