Emplacing the Local


On the Waterfront

Mellon Post Doc, Wesleyan University

To the list of locations visited during this spring’s lecture series—the virtual, the literary, the archipelagic, the theatrical, the archeological—this talk adds the littoral, in the shape of “customs territory.” Customs territory is the juridical terrain on which commodities are deemed onshore rather than offshore. It is an arcane, bureaucratic term that surfaces in the global public sphere only at border crossings, in the fine print of questionnaires certifying tariffs paid on American cars, Cuban cigars and French wines. Yet arguably it is the very foundation of the nation-state, the concrete abstraction that articulates the multitude of places into the sovereign space of the national market. This talk traces the contours of customs territory by focusing on a spatial form that suspends it, the free zone. The first half diagrams the U.S. zone system (the largest and longest-running in the world), and the second half uses an example of people imported into a quasi-free zone—Jewish refugees shipped to the United States in 1944—to raise the question of how the concept of customs territory conditions the grounds of citizenship.

MONDAY, MARCH 4, 2013  |  6 P.M.  |  RUSSELL HOUSE