The island – insularity, archipelagos – a geophilosophical issue

The next Summer University promoted by our network will take place in Greece (on the island of Mytilene) from the 10 th of July to the 14th of July 2020.

The subject of our conference will be : « The island – insularity, archipelagos – a geophilosophical issue ».

This is our 7th Summer University – international as ever, transcultural and cosmopolitan. This from « cultural dissent » (Chilhac, France, 2007) to « Orient, disorientation, reorientation » (Istanbul, Galatasaray, 2018). Our network is in constant renewal – as shows the fact that this new event will be hosted by the Aegean University, set on six islands in the North-Eastern part of Greece – a new partner !

Our Summer Universities always have been inspired by the spirit of what Michel Foucault called « an ontology of the present ». It’s very topical in the present case : we will meet in very close proximity to the hotspots where migrants are confined in the Eastern part of Greece, that is the borders of the European Union. In other terms : the island as a poetic, metaphysical, utopian issue – but not only...

What makes the island a perfect topic for our next Summer University is that it gives a tangible form to what Michel Foucault calls « the entanglement of the Utopian and of the Heterotopian ». The island can easily become a concept image because it is loaded with all kinds of utopian and heterotopian intensities and potentials. It is an unexhaustible topos for imaginary and fantasy projections, investments and speculations. It can be the imagined space where the most impassioned utopian dreams prosper, as well as being the black spot where the most sinister dystopias are located. It can be a line of flight for poetic imagination or, conversely, the symbol of desolation, the barren island battered by the winds, a dumping ground for migrants, exiles and convicts.

There is a magic of the island because it always suggests more than what it is supposed to be as a spot on a map, a location, a rock amidst the ocean, a vast piece of land, an archipelago... It thwarts our efforts to territorialize it ; it leaks in all directions : it always tends to break loose from what it is supposed to be as just a piece of land surrounded by water. The imagi-nation of the island relentless challenges the tangible reality of the island.

Utopian and Heterotopian elements are entangled in the narratives that deal with the island. This feature is apparent as we pass from literature or philosophy to cinema : Utopian novels stage purely imaginary islands, topoi that cannot be mapped. When films associate Utopi-an mottos or intensities with the topic « island », they have to territorialize in a paradoxical way what is supposed to be non-territorial : a real island has to be the location of the U-topian fable or tale. This is where the motif of « Erewhon » ( The island called « Nowhere », Samuel Butler) as the distinct mark of Utopia and that of the « espace-autre » (Heterotopia as other space or space of Otherness) tend to merge. The dystopian Lord of Flies (1960), inspired by William Golding’s novel, was shot by Peter Brook on an island off Puerto Rico.

The amphibology of the island also becomes glaringly obvious if we envision it from the an-gle of the “couple” finitude/infinite : as a literary object, Robinson’s Crusoe’s island is in-separable from solitude, loneliness, isolation (regardless of the conspicuous presence of Man Friday). Nevertheless, from another angle, the island is the passage or passing point par excellence ; the area or just the small dot that makes transitions and exchanges pos-sible : there is no sea trade or commerce without islands, without ports to call into for fresh supplies before heading out across the wide seas. The archipelago, as a constellation of is-lands, is, in terms of physical and mental geography, a stimulating alternative to the main-land and all we are inclined to refer to it – state, sovereignty, the law, etc. (Carl Schmitt). This is why the archipelago is so inspiring for philosophers like Deleuze, Lyotard and others – it sketches out a line of flight out of the compactness of the European discursive order that is deeply rooted in the opposition Land/Sea.

Taken from a different perspective, such as North East Asia and Southeast Asia, where coun-tries are mostly formed or surrounded by islands and archipelago, as a string of pearls, the concept of the island becomes more realistic, but also challenging. The apparent political tension between the island and the mainland, the hierarchical order among different islands, image of "Nusantara" or "pula-pula" that turned scattered islands into a totality for the Indo-nesian, Malaysian, Javanese, and the Filipino communities, even the concept of the Islam Nusantara, the recent dispute over the South China Sea for the natural resources underneath the sea, all have created the more complex dimension of the idea of the island.

The dystopic aspect of the island can be traced in Greek history in the form of the island as an exile, punishment and torture topos for those who were considered as unwanted, carriers of miasma for political (like with the internment camps pf the island of Yaros), or health (like with the island of Spinaloga) or penal or ethical reasons (like the island of Dipsa). But these same dystopias turn to be u- or a- topia as long as the sea becomes the moving double representation of the possibility and impossibility of crossing/connecting with mainland (aquatic impediment). Islands are places of birth/emergence/life/salvation and death (as in the refugee’s crossings through the centuries), of penury and vulnerability, but also of self-sufficiency and richness (because of ship navigation), of openness and closure (as they open to the world/horizon beyond and are closed on themselves), promise and dead ends, para-doxical metaphors of the paradox of coexisting contraries. This double nature of the island area transforms it to a cultural and philosophical lever as it permits the connection between continents and the development of a sui generis culture, as a mixture of difficulty of being and transcendence, of austerity (rocky landscapes) and mildness (proximity with the sea), a natural oasis or a hideaway (or instead a trap and a pitfall), and lastly an ecological and edu-cational haven.

Various tracks and directions will be explored on the occasion of the Summer University :

• The island as an inexhaustible source of inspiration for literature and cinema
• Insularity – the island(s) as a form of resistance against mainland conflicts and com-plementarities
• What is an islander ?
• Islands, archipelagos, a deterritorializing approach to land and sea
• Island(s), exile, exclusion, confinement
• The island as perception, image, concept – how does the island makes us think (Deleuze, Foucault, etc.) ?
• The hierarchical political order among the thousands of islands,
• The island as the externalization of territory and border,
• The island as the dumping place for the “wastes” of the sacrificial system of state capitalism,
• Insular cultures, their similarities and particularities.
• Islands in history, politics and culture as a decentralization/centralization configura-tion
• The island as an educational environment/narrative
• Legends, mythology and islands
• The island as a metaphor
• Islands as elitist tax havens, as bling bling paradises, but also as sites of mass tourism.
• The Island in Utopian Theory and Practice in the Anthropocene era.

The Summer University will take place on the island of Rhodes (Greece) in July 2020. It’s a « work in progress », any suggestion is welcome.