- Charles de Gaulle Airport:The Camp as Neoliberal Containment Site in Two Trojan Women Adaptations
In August 1988, Mehran Karimi Nasseri arrived in Paris's Charles de Gaulle Airport. And he stayed. And he stayed. He stayed until 2006, when he was taken to hospital gravely ill. Nasseri had lost his passport and the papers that were supposed to grant him refugee status in Britain. Without paperwork to prove either his identity or his right to travel to the UK, Nasseri simply remained in Terminal 1. Nasseri "lived in a lost dimension of absurd bureaucratic entanglement…[He] couldn't leave France because he did not have papers; he couldn't enter France because he did not have papers. The authorities told him to wait in the airport lounge while they sorted the paradox out."1 Nasseri had become stateless in 1977 after fleeing Iran, but struggled to get the necessary permissions to come to the West. When he finally made it to Europe, he found himself trapped in the liminal space of Terminal 1. Nasseri's story is a [End Page 1] striking example of state control and containment of refugees. According to Maurya Wickstrom, this need to regulate the physical presence of refugees is a central preoccupation of the modern neoliberal state. Her book, Performance in the Blockades of Neoliberalism, argues that under a globalized economic system, states devote substantial time, resources, and military/police force to delimiting the movements of mobile (and usually impoverished) populations.2 The poor threaten the stability of an economic system built on exploitation and the uneven distribution of resources; impoverished peoples must, therefore, be contained to facilitate the smooth functioning of late capitalism.3 Femi Osofisan's play Women of Owu (2004) and Christine Evans's Trojan Barbie (2009) both adapt Euripides's Trojan Women to protest the quarantining of the dispossessed under neoliberal governance.
While maintaining Euripides's basic themes and concerns, these contemporary plays increase the thematic immediacy of dispossession. Osofisan sets his version after the 1821 conquest of Owu, in modern day Nigeria, but the play's language is laced with satirical references to the 2003 Iraq invasion. A Bush-and-Blair rhetoric of liberation and freedom contrasts the violence and enslavement of Owu survivors. Evans is less overtly concerned with Iraq and more broadly focused on dispossession; Trojan Barbie foregrounds philosophical discussions of deprivation and liminal statelessness. In adapting Euripides's famous anti-war tragedy, the two contemporary dramatists locate our own economic and martial moment alongside a classical condemnation of exploitation, deprivation, and enslavement, thereby raising questions about the nature of the "freedom" so often promised by free market rhetoric.4 Each play's miseen-scène makes obvious the devastation of dispossession. The ruined village of Osofisan's play and the refugee camp of Evans's stage visually echo increasingly common sights in nations under neoliberal hegemony. The enslavement of the women makes clear the stakes neoliberal governments and corporations see for quarantining the impoverished and the oppressed. Simultaneously, however, both playwrights locate possibilities for resisting militaristic and imperialistic capitalism in aesthetics itself, suggesting that culture and the arts can help maintain identity in the face of dispossession and strengthen cosmopolitan empathy through hybridizing performance. [End Page 2]
The system these plays oppose, neoliberalism, has become the governing ideological system of the West since the 1980s and, via the IMF and World Bank, has been imposed throughout the global south.5 Essentially, neoliberalism is a comprehensive political economic philosophy privileging free-market capitalism as the primary guarantor of individual freedom and conceptualizing society, culture, and the individual in economized market terms. In other words, neoliberalism applies the logic of capitalist markets across all sectors of society, including human subjectivity. In this sense, it is a profound form of biopolitics (which will be discussed more thoroughly below). One of the foundational principles of neoliberal capitalism is privatization: the shifting of resources, property, money, and industries away from public/government control and into individual, often corporate, hands. In both the erosion of public authority and the repression of dispossessed people, neoliberalism is fundamentally anti-democratic, precipitating the destruction of shared democratic spaces and political structures. Around...