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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Borderwaters: Archipelagic Geometries between Indonesia and the United States


Generally speaking, the border/borderlands complex has oriented itself around interactions between the border as a one-dimensional Euclidean line and the borderlands’ set of contestations growing out of cultural currents that exceed the state’s superimposed Euclidean geometry/geography. In complement and contradistinction, this essay advances a borderwaters framework as interlinked with governmentality’s engagement in and with modes of non-Euclidean spatial perception, in which the state’s imagination of borders has not been the evocation of, in Gloria Anzaldúa’s term, an “unnatural boundary” but has rather been a partial function of the geological and hydrological materialities and processes to which governmentality has tended to affix water-based and water-dependent borders. These water-dependent and natural-cultural borders (with their attendant notions of human sovereignty) are intertwined with an arena of borderwaters where nonhuman actants (currents, waves, shorelines, and nonhuman animals) play roles in establishing how human borders will attain perception. In outlining some of the dynamics of the borderwaters, this essay turns toward the oceanic and archipelagic work of the Greater Mexican visual artist Miguel Covarrubias, whose midcentury representations of Indonesia and the United States’s Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands help contextualize and theorize state, Indigenous, and nonhuman cultures as they have converged and diverged across non-Euclidean modes of imagining boundaries, nonboundaries, and spatial area on a terraqueous planet.

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