Recommended: In the Zone of the Homeles

Michael Doliner (his blog can be found here) wrote a restrained yet powerful essay describing the personal and social disasters which mark homelessness in Los Angeles. In his telling and my interpretation of it the homeless are homo sacer, beings present in society only as those excluded from its common practices, its typical places and from the law itself. Doliner does not use this term but the point of using it appears with clarity in the following passage:

Naturally, the police cruise the zone [in which the homeless live]. Almost always, along fifth street, one or even two cruisers sit at the curb. Beside them a couple of officers usually scold a homeless man or two. I wonder what, given their passivity, the homeless guys might have done? In any case the police seem only to talk to them, for what else can they do? Drag them in? Fine them? I have seen no real violence. It all seems rather routine. Clearly, a modus vivendi has developed.

In these districts a minor ironic reversal of privilege prevails. The homeless stagger about in the street, often down the center of the street with impunity. California has a no-jaywalking law the police gleefully enforce. The fine is $200. But the homeless are immune. Where are they going to get $200? Give them a summons and they are likely to use it for toilet paper. And what is the city going to do about it? Jail them? They might prefer it to the street. Recently, while in the fabric district just above an area particularly dense with the homeless, my friend, Liam, warned me that although the homeless were wandering about in the street it was not safe for me to do so. I looked like I could pay the fine, and the police would single me out among the jaywalkers.

The homeless are sacred and profane, legally controlled but autonomous, inside and outside society. They are the bad fate which can befall anyone who participates in a money-driven social order. And they are “superfluous,” as Doliner remarks. They cannot be rehabilitated or given a secure place in society. As such, they strongly structure the personal horizons of most Americans, for losing one’s home and becoming homo sacer is but a job loss away during the new Age of Austerity and Barbarism.

Doliner’s essay is worth reading.

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