The failure of post-war institutions to fully grasp the depth and permanence of the placeless condition in the twentieth-century is at least in part responsible for the re-emergence of camps, barbed wire, sunken boats, and separated children in our own. As Seyla Benhabib demonstrates brilliantly, none of key intellectual exiles at the center of her book believed that political thought could simply accommodate the age of the refugee: the terms under which it operated had to shift with the moving world. I argue that there is an important kind of border poetics at work in these accounts of exile, migration and statelessness and within Benhabib’s analysis of the challenges that the placeless condition presents to the institutions of law and democracy today. This is no-coincidence. The modern history of placelessness required—and requires—a political imagination, and a language, that we are yet to fully appreciate or articulate. The wager of Benhabib’s book is how we might cultivate a poetics of exile which relinquishes claims to sweeping universalism whilst imagining the new forms we so urgently need to keep political life open to the differences and otherness that is its lifeblood.
- the placeless condition