Beyond the common knowledge of
An important detail to point out, the Magistrate’s downfall begins with an intimate relationship with a Barbarian girl and his decision to take her back to her people after attempting to heal the wounds inflicted on her by his compatriots. Herein lies a perfect representation of an intrigue that keeps playing out again and again in the Western imagination. By showing the girl a grain of humanity, the magistrate is somehow corrupted and ends up being treated like a barbarian himself. What is especially perverse about this relationship is how it is framed through a bestowing of generosity, sympathy and humanity by the magistrate on the girl. Through this relationship, the constant pushing of the frontier town’s boundaries into Barbarian land, the continual transgression and invasion of this land, is portrayed as a humanitarian mission, a good deed. The settler crosses into Barbarian land, not to colonize the Barbarians, invade their land or violate their women, but to save one of their own and return her to her people, even though she is returned blinded and maimed.
So what does this story tell us about the concept of the frontier? I think the operating word here is limit. Being at the frontier implies being on the precipice, on the edge. The colony is the last frontier of civilization and a place where settlers live at the limits of their own humanity. The lands beyond settler towns are mythical, magical, apocalyptical places where civilized human beings encounter spirits, barbarians and the ever-present potentiality of death. Every step beyond the boundaries of the frontier town implies either the risk of death, or even worse, contamination.
I think the notion of limit, being at the limits, might be a productive way of using the concept of the frontier for thinking about contemporary
In a contemporary context, where the notion of the frontier has been replaced with the much more rigid and limited notion of the border, or diluted into a depoliticized notion of borderlessness and cosmopolitanism, I think it might be useful to reinvent the concept of the frontier as a site where human potentiality is simultaneously realized and circumcised. The frontier is not a no man’s land, nor is it a neutral space for well-intended, moderated dialogue. The frontier is characterized by a landscape of extremes, where survival remains an open question and where anxiety and fear are potent motivators for inventiveness as well as apocalyptic impulses. A frontier society in contemporary times is a site where necropolitics and the politics of hope meet, where a utopian vision for the future is constantly undercut by the remains and stigmatas of the past. It is an environment of extremes where individuals and groups are confronted with the risks and possibilities of being at the limits of their own habitus, histories, ethics, and at the limits of the racial, economical, cultural, political configurations that have served as their points of reference.
One can argue that the concept of the frontier is more relevant than ever, as colonial metropolises are slowly turning into frontier societies. Europe and
As a country that has been faced with these fundamental questions and lived through their consequences,
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