The Undocumented object


Undocumented [sans-papiers], this is the term which interrogates the current status of the immigrant. Nowadays, the status of the immigrant consists precisely in not having a legal or civil status within the community which he wants to enter and, in order that he is welcomed, there is an imposition of criteria which are ever increasingly difficult to satisfy. Heretofore, the immigrant was one who left one country in order to find a place in another. These immigrants are becoming fewer and fewer. The immigrant gives up his place – or rather his non-place – to the so called undocumented. This shift in emphasis is evident in the language utilised in newspapers, politics and also in that of public opinion. Henceforth, the subject who was once designated immigrant, finds himself in a kind of identity-void, where he is given a name which is stripped of all attributes. In short, a kind of nameless name [nom sans nom]: the undocumented. Beyond geographical displacement, the actual displacement is one of discourse: the immigrant subject becomes an object without attributes, one with which he is nevertheless asked to identify.

This displacement has the value of an index. In effect it is the index of the symptom by which contemporary Europe is divided, the modern sign of this segregation which Lacan, in a frequently cited paragraph from his Proposition of 1967, once articulated: ‘our future as common markets will be balanced by an increasingly hard-line extension of the process of segregation’[1].

Let’s provide a historical localisation of the aforementioned displacement. Stefan Zweig, a correspondent of Freud’s, notes the first traces of this shift in his memoirs, The World of Yesterday… Prior to 1914, Zweig had visited the US as a tourist; while he was there he decided to try to experience for himself the situation as it was for immigrants. Over a period of two days he was greatly surprised to find many opportunities for work and a good lifestyle, where an ease of insertion into the world and discourse of the Other – which very much existed – was possible. Much later on, at the beginning of the forties, he recorded his experience in the following manner: ‘No one had asked me about my nationality, my religion, my origin, and – fantastic as it may seem to the world of today with its fingerprinting, visas and police certificates – I had travelled without a passport’[2]. However, it would take up until the beginning of the twenty-first century for these mechanisms of control to reach the peaks that we see today. Thus airports have become the metaphor of a permanent temporary-stay [non-lieu], of a globalised non-place, where one must continually prove that one is not an undocumented.

The undocumented object presentifies the fact of the very inconsistency of the norm where it claims to regulate the jouissance of the Other in a function that would be for all. Thus crystallising that which is not be recognised a subject of right(s), the new undocumented object incarnates and prefigures the destiny of the non-recyclable object which touches, one by one, the most intimate aspect of the contemporary post-human subject.


Translation by Raphael Montague

[1] Lacan J., Proposition of the 9th of October 1967 on the Psychoanalyst of the School… (Grigg, R. Trans.) In Analysis N˚6, Australia, ACP, 2001.

[2] Zweig, S., The World of Yesterday, An autobiography by Stefan Zweig, Cassell and Company Ltd., London, 1947. P. 149.

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