WAYS OF WASTE
Yawning and Yearning
for elsewheres and for the right to stay
by Tatiana Thieme
Over one year, in 2019-20, the IAS and the UCL Urban Laboratory interrogated the theme ‘Waste’ across the arts, humanities and social sciences. The start of the pandemic in early 2020 however meant that many of the planned events and the programme of research could not take place and it was then that the book project Wastiary was born.
Three years later, the Wastiary is an illustrated volume of short contributions, the themes of which are prompted by each letter of the alphabet and the numbers 1 to 9. They are written by researchers from across the arts, humanities and social sciences, reflecting from their various disciplines and perspectives upon the multiple meanings and manifestations of waste.
The echo of the bestiary resonates widely in the Wastiary, this compendium of ‘beastly’ objects, creatures and artwork. Most vividly, the ‘beast’ evokes how waste cannot be tamed,
confined or managed.
To celebrate the launch of the Wastiary, three chapters will be published on Think Pieces as well as other contributions that are inspired by the subject of waste.
Yawning is a spontaneous bodily expression of ambivalence. It can be read as fatigue, boredom and the liminal phase between states of stillness and movement. A yawn can also be an adaptive response to and reconciliation with the need to wait and exercise a ‘politics of patience’ in the face of constant ‘threats to life and space’ at the urban margins.1 Yearning can be a sentimental call to another time and place that seem far away and inaccessible, but it is not a reconciliation with that distance. Rather, it is a form of persistence, that must decide whether to give in to melancholia or retain a measure of hope that a return to that place and time might be possible, or that conversely the right to stay in the present place will come, even if this place can never be home. Yawning and Yearning can occur simultaneously – as the embodied affirmation of both exhaustion and resistance. A yawn is also a yearn for more oxygen, for the expanded capacity to breathe.
Christina Sharpe’s In the Wake: On Blackness and being interrogates the everyday representations of Black life in North America in the ‘afterlife’ of slavery, reflected in the continuous forms of ‘non/status’ and criminalisation of Black bodies.2 Extending this reflection beyond the shores of the Americas to evoke the historical and present-day manifestations of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, colonialism and racial capitalism, she describes the bodies ‘transmigrating the African continent toward the Mediterranean and then to Europe who are imagined as insects, swarms, vectors of disease, familiar narratives of danger and disaster that attach to our always already weaponized Black bodies (the weapon of blackness)’.3 In the last chapter of her book, Sharpe explores the violent ecologies of what she calls the weather, an assemblage of environmental pressures on vulnerable bodies in motion and transience. The cold, the wind, urban pollution, over-policing …
In Porte de la Chapelle, Paris, tired bodies huddled under a bridge in the winter of 2018, yawning while holding their breath against the pollution and police evacuations. Yearning for peace, for a space to stay for more than one night at a time. Yearning for a day when the idea of tomorrow wasn’t filled with impossibility and more waiting. Grassroots activists standing not far from the bridge set up tables and started buttering rolls. They too were dishevelled, but they were not hiding. They vented, smoked, verbally trashed the government for its growing criminalisation of migrants and those trying to assist them. They exhaled smoke and inhaled the car fumes, flicked cigarette butts to the curb, went back into the warehouse to get more supplies and heat up the coffee urn. By day, these pavements became the stage of DIY humanitarian solidarities and distributions;4 by night they turned into zones of exposure to the cold, hard drugs and sleeping rough. The spaces under and around bridges offered ephemeral and tenuous refuge for migrants who had no place to go but no legal right to stay (yet).5
As spontaneous archaeological sites of makeshift shelter, at dawn, the night’s temporary materials for warmth and rough sleeping became the day’s relics of municipal disorder and civic disapproval. The pavements and spaces under the bridge formed a tapestry of humanitarian remains from the days prior – empty cups, blankets left behind, cigarette butts. And amongst the material refuse, these tired bodies displaced by conflict or the violence of economic poverty were themselves bodies ‘out of place’,6 at risk of yet another potential police evacuation.
Yawning and yearning, their bodies moved, stood and waited,7 from street-based hubs of hanging about to standing in queues and waiting rooms, at the edges of either asylum or expulsion, in what Sharpe calls a ‘plunge into unbelonging’.8 They waited for the queue to form across the street where volunteers set up the daily breakfast distribution so these mostly young male migrants in asylum limbo might have a cup of coffee and a buttered roll. They waited for their appointment at the prefecture, for a court date, for their papers.
The queues and the hanging-about hubs have now splintered or moved elsewhere. Some of these migrants were able to endure the lengthy asylum procedures and asserted their ‘politics of presence’9 in the city – making home and work, shaping diverse forms of participation in their Paris life world. These migrants might be classified as ‘new Europeans’. 10 Other migrants continued to sleep rough under the bridges, either leaving Paris when the permanence of waiting became unbearable or getting sucked into the crack-smoking community on the ‘colline du crack’ near Boulevard Ney. This Paris is the city of yawns, where bodies have huddled and stood or run away ‘in absence of country’,11 displaced but having arrived at no place. This is the Paris where tired bodies yearn for breath, whether in hiding, in the queue or at the hands of police. This Paris is invisible and yet it too is present and in full view.
The Wastiary. A Bestiary of Waste was edited by Albert Brenchat-Aguilar (The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL and former IAS Events Curator & Communications Officer), Timothy Carroll (Principal Research Fellow in Anthropology, UCL), Jane Gilbert (Professor of Medieval Literature and Critical Theory, UCL), Nicola Miller (Director of the IAS) and Michael Picard (International Environmental Law, University of Edinburgh and former IAS Junior Research Fellow). It will be launched officially on 31 October 2023 with a launch party at the Institute of Advanced Studies. To attend the event, please register here.
TATIANA THIEME is Associate Professor in Geography at UCL. Her contribution to the Wastiary draws on ethnographic research conducted in Paris for a multi-sited collaborative project titled “Temporary migrants or new European citizens? Geographies of integration and response between ‘camps’ and the city.”
Collage: Nina Mathijsen, Collage Y, 2021. © takeadetour.eu. Courtesy of the artist. The lead image is a detail of this collage.