Gastón Gordillo recently posted the text of his AAG presentation, ‘Opaque Zones of Empire‘ to his Space and Politics blog. Derek Gregory picks up the discussion with a piece entitled ‘Terror and Terrain‘ at Geographical Imaginations. What is especially interesting in both is the focus on terrain, as a textured, material landscape over which, in which, geopolitics takes place, but also which is transformed through this. Terrain is not then a static background or container for political action, but rather needs to be understood in a more dynamic way. Gordillo sees the potential of this for developing work on volume (mentioning, among other sources, my recent ‘Secure the Volume‘ article):
In this essay, I argue that this conceptual shift from area to volume should be explored even further and from an object-oriented perspective, or, more precisely, an object-oriented negativity. But this sensibility to the materiality of the countless objects that populate the spatial texture of the planet demands new conceptual tools to account for the volumetric physicality of space and for the ways in which its forms, folds, and multiplicity preclude vision and the deployment of violence. I believe that the concept of terrain is key to this theoretical shift because this is the only term that indicates that, indeed, space is made up of forms, folds, textures, depths, and volumes. Not surprisingly, this is the term, “terrain,” that drone operators use to name the opaque spaces they scrutinize from above. In what follows, I examine terrain as a conceptual (rather than descriptive) category in relation to violence, vision, and ontologies of multiplicity, and as the gateway toward an immanent ontology of space.
The analysis picks up on my ‘Land, Terrain, Territory‘ essay, where I argue that land, as a political-economic concept, and terrain, as a political-strategic one, are necessary but insufficient to understand territory. The suggestion is that while this may be true, “it could be argued that terrain can help us better understand territory and, in particular, the politics of verticality.” I’m sure this is right, and that more needs to be done on the idea of terrain. This will be something I continue to think about as I develop the work on examining the concept of ‘earth‘ as part of a rethinking of geopolitics. Terrain, of course, comes from the Latin word for earth, terra, which is also found in the French la terre, both land and earth. Gordillo’s work, and especially his forthcoming book Rubble: The Afterlife of Destruction, will be important for this.