In the capital of the Enlightenment, 20,000 empty shoes were left in the Place de la République on November 29 to stand in for disembodied protesters whose bodies have been banned from public space. The body has been exiled from the space it worked so hard for centuries to create.
Bodies are called too much of a liability in a city square, but they are welcome in the space of consumerism, the depoliticized space of the mall, where throngs of people can shop without raising any worries about public safety. It is bad times, the state claims, and bad times call for extreme measures. But terrorism was only made more present by virtue of the protesters’ forced absence.
One of terrorism’s most damaging effects is its being a convenient excuse for states to suppress dissent. Concerns for public safety aside, the cancelling of the climate change protests in Paris speaks to the state’s perception of assembled bodies as a threat.
The shoes were allowed to stay because they were merely traces of the bodies.
The shoes could not stamp out the doomed destiny of the world, shout in the face of its leaders, sing a revolutionary song, or even dream of a world where representations, and thus, protests, would not be necessary.
The shoes lying surrealistically under the rainy Parisian sky seemed to mark the end of the era of the body and the death of public space. After all, how else can news agencies report on the shoes than by mentioning their number or the particularly notable people whose shoes can be found amongst the rest? We are expected to be nothing more than what Deleuze called “dividuals”: numbers, codes.
It is only through political acts such as demonstrations that the numbers and codes can reclaim their agency in public space. And it is this agency that has the capacity to disrupt the elitist agendas of corporations and states. Thus, as these elites continue to delegitimize political protest, we can expect to see more disembodied demonstrations of hats, umbrellas, chairs, and the like.