Illegible

On many levels [District 9’s] post-colonial society inevitably comes across very poorly – a society that continues to be shaped by whites, although key positions are occupied by blacks. The society is marked by apartheid continuities and a concomitant inability to develop a coexistence with the aliens; a society that does not shy away from neo-liberal technologies of normalization, as evident, for example, in the disciplining of sexual relationships between aliens and human beings. Social (and disjunctive) technologies of exclusion which work on the basis of belonging seem to point to continuities rather than a radical break with coloniality. No single group within South African society is presented in a sympathetic way, neither the MNU people or the military, nor the people on the streets or the ‘experts’ interviewed. And still many reviews understand inclusion in this society as the pre-condition for a possible reading of individual characters or entire groups (such as the aliens or the Nigerians) as positive. The fact that the majority of responses to D9 read the disorder, the non-legibility and the destructiveness that mark the aliens as negative does raise several questions. It points to an inability to understand the (partially militant) resistance by the aliens as a legitimate action against permanent repression and regulation. This inability needs to be analyzed as the interpretation of the aliens as categorically ‘Other’, an interpretation reinforced by reviewers who are not prepared to distinguish between what the aliens ‘are’ and what they turn into in the context of the conflict with the humans. Responses of such kind in fact (re-)affirm technologies of ‘Othering’ that the film sets out through various media-strategies to disrupt.

The concluding paragraph to Henriette Gunkel and Christiane König’s reading of District 9. Many of the elements alluded to above are fleshed out very nicely in the piece, which I highly recommend. But here I especially like that they show how criticisms of the movie — and not just of the movie, of course — start from the premise that the film’s subjects don’t attain subjectivity proper until they are subsumed under the nation, specifically the postcolonial, postracial nation. For critics, politics can’t begin until the subjects are legible by the nation, and legibility is only possible when the subjects recognize sovereignty.

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