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<nettime> Dreams and Disguises, as usual
Monica Narula on Fri, 10 Dec 2004 17:17:50 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Dreams and Disguises, as usual

(This is an essay that we - Raqs - wrote recently to accompany the 
installation "The Impostor in the Waiting Room", presently still on at the 
BosePacia Gallery, Chelsea, New York. Hopefully those of you in that city 
can take the time out and see it :-))

Dreams and Disguises, As Usual.
Raqs Media Collective

"What did you say?"
"I said: Fant=F4mas."
"And what does that mean?"
"Nothing =8A Everything"
"But what is it?"
"No one =8A And yet, yes, it is someone!"
"And what does this someone do?"
"Spread Terror!!"

(Opening lines of Fant=F4mas, the first novel in the Fant=F4mas series by 
Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain, popular in early twentieth century 

In a painting titled Le Barbare (The Barbarian) (1928), Ren=E9 Magritte 
showed what seemed to be the shadow of a masked man in a hat. The shadow 
is seen against a brick wall, and it is unclear whether it is appearing or 
fading away. Magritte, always particular about the eccentric rhetoric of 
his practice of representation, was careful enough to have a photograph of 
himself (in a hat) taken next to this image. His face, quizzical, makes us 
wonder as if he is keeping secrets from us.

There are two particularly interesting things about this image: the first 
that it should be called Le Barbare, and the second, that it is not in 
fact the first or even the last appearance of a hat, or a man in a hat, in 
the work of Magritte. Men in hats, and hats, crowd the images made by 
Magritte. They refuse to go away. (1)

What does a man in a hat have to do with impostors and waiting rooms? 
Perhaps, like the narrator in the first novel of the Fant=F4mas series of 
fantastic crime novels, we could say, "Nothing ... and Everything".

Perhaps one of the secrets that Magritte keeps in this image - 
paraphrasing the title of another of his paintings - could be that just as 
the image of a pipe is not a pipe, so too, the image that suggests a 
suave, urbane man in a hat is actually of someone else.

The shadowy visage in a hat in Le Barbare belongs to the figure of 
Fant=F4mas (2), the archetypal and perhaps primal urban delinquent, the 
'lord of terror', the master of disguises who appears and disappears, 
takes on many personae, and refuses ever to be identified. In The Impostor 
in the Waiting Room and this text we seek to continue the dialogue that 
Magritte began with the shadow of Fant=F4mas, and to investigate what it 
means to conduct a dalliance with the imperative of identification.

The imperative of identification, and its counterpoint, the dream of 
disguise, are impulses we find as central to the story of our times as a 
threatened assassin, or a murderous corpse, or a missing person who leaves 
no trace, are to an obstinately intractable pulp fiction pot boiler.

In L'Assassin Menac=E9 (The Threatened Assassin), another of his paintings 
from the same period, Magritte shows Fant=F4mas attentively listening to a 
gramophone beside the corpse of his female victim, unaware that two 
detectives in bowler-hats are hovering outside the door with a net and 
cudgel, even as similarly attired voyeurs peer through the window. It 
takes a while to figure out that that all of them - murderer, corpse, 
police and spectators are the same person. The question as to which one is 
the 'real' Fant=F4mas refuses, like a recalcitrant cadaver, to lie low. 
Magritte's fascination with a tableau in Louis Feuillade's third 
Fant=F4mas film Le Mort qui Tue (The Murderous Corpse) is evident in the 
composition of this picture.

This dialogue with the figure of Fant=F4mas that Magritte initiated was a 
thread that ran through much of his work. In one of his occasional 
fragments of writing, titled A Theatrical Event, Magritte outlines the 
following arresting scenario: Fant=F4mas the quarry, and Juve, the 
detective in pursuit, mesh into each other as disguises, reveries, 
pursuit, the loss of identity, and the impossibility of capture (except 
through self-disclosure) are woven together.

"=8AJuve has been on the trail of Fant=F4mas for quite some time. He 
crawls along the broken cobblestones of a mysterious passage. To guide 
himself he gropes along the walls with his fingers. Suddenly, a whiff of 
hot air hits him in the face. He comes nearer =8A His eyes adjust to the 
darkness. Juve distinguishes a door with loose boards a few feet in front 
of him. He undoes his overcoat in order to wrap it around his left arm, 
and gets his revolver ready. As soon as he has cleared the door, Juve 
realizes that his precautions were unnecessary: Fant=F4mas is close by, 
sleeping deeply. In a matter of seconds Juve has tied up the sleeper. 
Fant=F4mas continues to dream - of his disguises, perhaps, as usual. Juve, 
in the highest of spirits, pronounces some regrettable words. They cause 
the prisoner to start. He wakes up, and once awake, Fant=F4mas is no 
longer Juve's captive. Juve has failed again this time. One means remains 
for him to achieve his end: Juve will have to get into one of Fant=F4mas's 
dreams - he will try to take part as one of its characters." (3)

Fant=F4mas continues to dream of his disguises, perhaps, as usual, and the 
pursuer will have to get into the dreams of the pursued, he will have to 
participate as one of its characters =8A the disguise may blur the line 
between Fant=F4mas and Juve.

In the original Fant=F4mas novels, Fant=F4mas was at the very centre of a 
gang of 'barbarians' who lurked in Paris, called 'The Apaches'. It is as 
if his wearing the accoutrements of bourgeois civility, the hat, the coat, 
the occasional umbrella, or walking stick was a careful disguise, a combat 
camouflage cloaking a raging, rampant otherness. While it throbbed closer 
than the jugular vein of the modern metropolis of advanced capitalism, it 
was at the same time at its farthest remove. Fant=F4mas is a barbarian in 
a hat, or an impostor waiting to be recognized.

Looked at in another way, the disguise of the man in the hat and the 
overcoat is the only effective passport that the 'barbarian' can have into 
the world enclosed by the modern citadel. The disguise is a means to 
travel from a world apparently in shadow, to a world where the sharp glare 
that brings visibility in its iridescent wake is not without the threat of 
capture and confinement.

The liminal zone where roles can be rehearsed, different patois perfected, 
the various grades of personhood that lead up to the man in the hat and 
the coat tried on for size, the turban or the loincloth discarded is a 
waiting room. One awaits one's turn to go into the arc lights.

The figure of a person biding time in a waiting room helps us to imagine 
the predicament of people living in societies often considered to be 
inhabiting an antechamber to modernity. In such spaces, one waits to be 
called upon to step onto the stage of history. Most of the world lives in 
spaces that could be designated as 'waiting rooms', biding its time. These 
'waiting rooms' exist in transmetropolitan cities, and in the small 
enclaves that subsist in the shadow of the edifices of legality. There are 
waiting rooms in New York just are there are waiting rooms in New Delhi, 
and there are trapdoors and hidden passages connecting a waiting room in 
one space with a waiting room in another.

Fant=F4mas is a denizen of these spaces. Which is why he appears in Mexico 
City, in Calcutta, in Caracas, and why he, before Superman or Batman, 
found his way into short stories, comics, novellas and films in languages 
spoken in places as far away from Paris as possible. If the 'Apaches' 
brought Fant=F4mas with them to Paris from some forsaken wilderness, then 
Fant=F4mas travelled right back to the places where he came from to the 
urban nether lands of places that had not yet made it in the map of 

The passage from 'waiting rooms' to the 'stage' often requires a person to 
go through intense scrutiny. This happens at airports and borders. It also 
happens in streets, homes and workplaces. The art of the impostor becomes 
a guide to survival for people negotiating this rough passage. Waiting 
Rooms everywhere are full of Impostors waiting to be auditioned, waiting 
to be verified, waiting to know and to see whether or not their 'act' 
passes muster.

The Impostor is an exemplar for a kind of performative agency that renders 
a person capable of expressing more than one kind of truth of the self to 
the scrutiny of power. The figure of the impostor offers a method of 
survival that meets the growing intensification of scrutiny with a 
strategy based on the multiplication of guises and the amplification of 
guile. At the same time, the term Impostor is also an accusation. One that 
power can fling at anyone it chooses to place under scrutiny. It is this 
double edged-ness, of being a way out as well as a trap, that lends it the 
capacity it has to be a heuristic device uniquely suited for a nuanced 
understanding of a time in which criteria such as authenticity, veracity 
and appropriateness take on intense, almost paranoiac dimensions in the 
conduct and governance of life's most basic functions. As concepts, the 
'impostor', like the 'waiting room', can signify both thresholds meant for 
quick, sportive and easy crossing, portals into unpredictable futures, 
that come laden with the thrill that only unintended consequences can 
bring, and, for some, a bleak and eternal purgatory tinged with its own 
peculiar anxiety, distrust and fear.

The Impostor figure also comes to us by way of another lineage, one closer 
to home than the bleak sky of Magritte's Brussels and its drizzle of 
bowler-hatted men. We speak here of the tradition in northern and eastern 
India known as 'Bahurupiya'.  A 'bahurupi' is a person of many forms and 
guises, a polymorph, a shape-shifter, a fantastic masquerader and 
pantomime, a primal 'Fant=F4mas'. 'Bahurupis' make their living by 
masquerade, by the performance of different roles by itinerant 
practitioners, for the entertainment, edification and occasionally, 
defrauding of the general public. They might dress up one day as a god, 
another day in drag; one day as a holy mendicant, another day as a monkey, 
and a third day as a somewhat comical police constable - and expect to 
earn money by merely turning up at doorsteps, or hanging around in public 
spaces, and being offered money or food or shelter in exchange for nothing 
more than a glance, or a brief stare. Here, disguise, and a degree of 
necessary ambiguity about the self is a way of life, a calling, a means of 
subsistence and ordering in a world otherwise deeply invested in 

* *

What lies at the origin of the distinction between the 'citizen' (and here 
we mean also the 'world citizen' who feels at ease and has a sense of 
entitlement everywhere) and the person who neither belongs nor feels 
entitled to belong to a city, or state, or the world at large, a person 
who is in the wrong place at the wrong time for the wrong reasons, 
everywhere? When does a class of people begin to think about the 
distinction between themselves and others in terms that require barriers 
to the circulation of presences? What makes them arrogate to themselves 
the status of being the exclusive subjects of history?

What is it about the spaces of vanguard capitalism that produces the 
peculiar anxiety of the contamination of its sanity, or its sanitariness, 
by the uncomfortable proximity of that which lies outside it or perforates 
it with an insisting presence? Why is that which itself is so invasive so 
afraid of contagion?

Or, as Magritte might have it: Why is Juve so afraid, and of what? Of 
Fant=F4mas - his quarry - or of his own reflection or shadow?

This inchoate fear is underpinned by a furiously-held telos of manifest 
historical development, which both demands, and provides the wherewithal 
for, the construction and enforcement of hierarchical taxonomies of 
people, space and ways of living and being - of those who have 'arrived' 
onto a notional centre stage of human achievement, and others that have 
been made to leave the stage, or are yet to make an appearance.

Those who have left the stage, or who are yet to make an appearance, are 
consigned to the waiting room of history, a notional antechamber in 
relation to the notional centre stage. And as the figure of the 'citizen' 
tests his paces, he also becomes confident that he cannot be upstaged so 
long as the motley restless crew in the waiting room is deemed 'alien'. As 
long as the denizens of the waiting room are seen as unconvincing in their 
claim to a place in the arc lights, the figure of the citizen can stay on 
stage.  (4)

But citizenship too is a template and a score, much more than it is an 
actual human condition. And an exacting template at that; the successful 
performance of which is always a matter of an ongoing test. One achieves 
citizenship, one loses it, one's performance is either applauded or it 
fails to live up to the demands, requirements and standards that accrue to 
it. To live with these conditions is to be always on trial, to know that 
in the eyes of the examining authority one is always, and necessarily, an 
impostor, unless proved otherwise. It is to know that one has to carry 
one's credentials at all times and that identities must be produced when 
they are asked for.

The bargain that is struck at the very heart of our times is the 
understanding that for the citizen, for the legal, for the authorized 
version and the eloquent oxymoron of the 'true copy' to be understood as 
such, the apparatus of authentication requires the lengthening shadow of 
the implied 'offstage' presence, or menace, of the 'alien' being, the 
unlawful act, the fake item, the impostor, as someone or something that 
anyone or anything can be shown up to be. This is why the chase never 
comes to an end. The eye of the state always stays open lest the impostor 
slip by and disappear into the night and fog of the city and its shadows. 

Juve must enter the dream of Fant=F4mas to learn to distinguish himself 
and the part that he has to play.

* *

A girl and her brother enter a deserted military airstrip - an overgrown 
concrete and tarmac ruin of a recent but already forgotten war, where 
rusting fighter planes lie scattered and waiting as if for the return of 
their dead pilots. The girl traces the path that the cracks in the tarmac 
make with her steps into the wind that suddenly blows in a terrifying 
vision of Kali, the goddess of destruction, who towers over the small 
child on the desolate airstrip. The girl stands frozen, struck dumb with 
fear. Her brother rushes in, discovers that the goddess is only a 
bahurupi, a thin itinerant impostor with a scowl, a set of wooden goddess 
arms, tinsel weapons and a garland of papier m=E2ch=E9 skulls. He asks the 
impostor angrily who he is and why he must scare children so. The 
bahurupi-impostor-goddess replies, "I did nothing; she came in the way".

This fragment of film, the 'bahurupi in the airstrip' sequence in Ritwik 
Ghatak's Bengali film Subarnarekha (The Golden Thread, 1965), is laden 
with strange encounters. A terrifying yet banal masquerade interrupts a 
child's exploration, a girl crosses the path of a goddess, a military 
airstrip built in the second world war invades a remote corner of Bengal, 
rust, time and the obstinate fertility of vegetal undergrowth encroaches 
upon and encircles the abandoned airstrip and its forgotten fighter 
aircraft. Everything comes in the way of everything else. Collisions bring 
collisions in their wake. The girl, her brother, the goddess, the 
impostor, the airfield, the aircraft, the undergrowth - all seem to be 
saying, at once, "I did nothing, she came in the way". (6)

When two worlds collide, one asks the other, "Who are you and what are you 
doing in my space?" Usually, the question brings with it an assumption 
that the questioner has the authority to ask it in the first place, and 
the confidence or the knowledge that space, and the means of circulation, 
can also be property. That the 'space' is his to enable the asking of the 
question to the person immediately categorized as the interloper, the 
encroacher, the not-quite-the-right-thing or 
right-person-in-the-right-place. Usually, what is being asked for is an 
explanation for what is seen as a trespass. When two worlds, or spaces, or 
beings or things collide in the course of their trajectories, and one is 
cast as the trespasser, there is a clear understanding that only one of 
them can have the right of way.

The itinerant bahurupi-goddess-impostor and the military airstrip. Which 
is the trespasser? Why is the sudden apparition of the goddess of 
destruction in an abandoned theatre of war so strange and so natural at 
the same time? Is she encroaching, or is she staking out her own 
territory?  Is she in the way, or is everything else in her way?

Who must give way?

The building of a military airstrip or a highway or a dam or a resort or a 
housing estate sanctioned by a masterplan can suddenly turn people into 
trespassers, and their way of life into a culture of trespassing. The 
masterplan has the right of way, as well as the means, to translate that 
fact into real control over space and circulation.

Sometimes this means that the inhabitants-turned-trespassers make 
themselves invisible, that they disappear into the cracks and folds of the 
plan; that they pretend that they are not there. They become impostors of 
absence, actors of vanishing acts. Sometimes it may mean that the 
trespassers may be present and visible and pretend to be what they are 
not, and that it is they who have the right of way. This makes them 
impostors of presence, pretenders in place.

* *

Many contemporary methods of spatial intervention necessitate the 
hollowing out of ways of life, ecologies and habitation practices from a 
space, and then filling it in with a one-size-fits-all imagination. 
Architectural plans, interior design catalogues and real estate brochures 
determine the 'value' of a location. To have a design on space is half the 
battle won in terms of the possession and control over that space.

Everything that is in the way - people, settled practices, older inner 
cities, nomadic routes, and the commons of land and water - disappears 
into the emptiness of the un-inked portions between the rectilinear 
inscriptions on the surface of the masterplan. As masterplans cordon off 
greater and yet greater swathes of space, they begin to come up against 
each other, leading to meta-masterplans that stitch different masterplans 
together, until more and more stretches of territory end up looking and 
feeling like clones of each other. The suburb, the gas station, the 
condominium, the supermarket, the highway, the underpass, the airport, the 
parking lot, the leisure centre, the school, the factory, the mall, the 
barbed wire fencing that protects and controls a plot of land from 
trespass, are the alphabets of a urban language that end up making the 
same statement everywhere, as the masterplan considers what it sees as 
waste land, or that which in its view is an urban terra nullis - "It was 
in the way".

What is it that disappears when the ink on the plans has dried?

Millions of people fade from history, and often the memory of their 
disappearance also fades with time. With the disappearance of ways of 
life, entire practices and the lived experiences and memories that 
constituted them vanish, or are forced to become something other than what 
they were accustomed to have been. When they make the effort to embrace 
this transformation, typically what stands questioned is their 
credibility. They are never what they seem to be, or what they try to say 
they are. The annals of every nation are full of adjectives that accrue to 
displaced communities and individuals that begin to be seen as cheats, 
forgers, tricksters, frauds, thieves, liars and impostors, as members of 
'criminal castes, tribes and clans' or as deviant anomalies who habitually 
attempt to erode stable foundations with their 'treacherous' ambiguities 
and their evasive refusal to be confined, enumerated, or identified.

These 'missing persons' who disappear, or appear with great reluctance, 
with their names, provenances, identities and histories deliberately or 
accidentally obscured in the narratives of 'progress' and the histories of 
nation states, are to the processes of governance what the figure of the 
'unknown soldier' is to the reality of war. The only difference is: there 
are no memorials to those who fade from view in the ordinary course of 
'progress'. The missing person is a blur against a wall, a throw-away 
scrap of newspaper with a fading, out-of-focus image of a face, a peeling 
poster announcing rewards for wanted or lost people in a police post or 
railway station waiting room, a decimal point in a statistic, an 
announcement that some people have been disowned or abandoned or evicted 
or deported or otherwise cast away, as residues of history. No flags 
flutter, no trumpets sound, nothing burns eternal in the memory of a blur.

The blur is not even an image that can lay a claim to original veracity, 
but a hand-me-down version of a reality that is so injured by attempts at 
effacement that only a copy can have the energy necessary to enable its 
contents to circulate. The patchwork of faded fakes, interrupted signals, 
and unrealized possibilities, which does not read well and which does not 
offer substantive and meaningfully rounded off conclusions, is sometimes 
the only kind of manuscript available to us.

Our engagement with the Impostor is an attempt at coming face-to-face with 
this world. We would like to do so in a manner that makes anxieties about 
'who comes in the way of the reading' appear, at the very least, 
superfluous, and at best, attenuated, by a desire to listen to stories 
(and histories) that some might consider incomplete. We are beginning to 
recognize that we ourselves might appear, occasionally in them, 
occasionally against them.

* * *

The collision of worlds (that happens, for instance, when an 
empire-building sensibility suddenly stumbles upon its grand object, the 
colony-to-be) is fraught with the trauma of the dispersal of the assumed 
monadic unity of the self, even of the one we presume to be the victor. 
The impostor always lurks in the shadow of the unknown to claim the 
territory of the unsuspecting self, even if that self comes attired as a 
world conqueror. Sometimes, it is the notion of the unitary, monadic self, 
with its unique unassailable identity (its 'it-ness', which it witnesses 
solemnly to itself), that constitutes the biggest obstacle: the 
fundamental scotoma that makes the image in the mirror so opaque and so 
elusive at the same time.

The early epoch of the ascendancy of the English East India Company (when 
it was still a minor 'Indian' power jostling with the Marathas, the Sikhs, 
the Hyderabad Nizamate and Mysore Sultanate, and the French and Dutch East 
India Company for slices of the crumbling Mughal imperial cake) in the 
late eighteenth and early nineteenth century India is full of English, 
Scottish and Irish adventurers turning their backs on Albion and 
embracing, to the horror of their superior officers, what were called 
'native ways': converting to Islam, renouncing the world and becoming 
itinerant holy men, or thugs, cohabiting with Indian women (and on 
occasion with Indian men), siring 'half-caste' children, endowing temples 
and mosques, wearing turbans and tunics after the prevailing Mughal 
fashion. Sometimes they even forget the English language.

Their counterparts within the 'native' populations of the presidency towns 
of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras make moves in the other direction. Young 
men full with the heady intoxication of strangeness learn to wear hats and 
clothes that make little sense in humid weather, break dietary taboos, 
cross the seas, become fervent Christians, learn to write sonnets, fall in 
love with English women (and occasionally men), becoming in every way 
possible, 'sahibs'. The word 'sahib' in Persian, Urdu, Hindi, Bengali and 
Marathi, meant 'master', or 'lord', but also began shading off at about 
this time into standing for the white man. In the long torrid summer that 
stretched over decades while the Mughal Empire dissolved under its own 
weight, until the conflict of 1857 finished the careers of both the last 
Mughal emperor and the East India Company, white Mughals met brown sahibs, 
while xenophobic Englishmen and new, nervously nationalist elites 
denounced them both as impostors. (7)

The edifice of Empire, which relied so heavily on the adventures of 
impostors to lay its foundations, also required their marginalization. The 
normalization of the state of power requires new garbs, even a new dress 
code; a new script and new persona that can help better distinguish the 
rulers from the ruled. It required new impostors, broken from a different 
mould. George Orwell speaks of "well-meaning, over-civilized men, in dark 
suits and black felt hats, with neatly rolled umbrellas crooked over the 
left forearm" who, sitting in Whitehall, could rule the world with their 
mastery of the global network created by the telegraph. They had made the 
earlier phase of empire building, the adventurous career of going east of 
Suez to discover a new self, redundant, ridding the world forever of the 
confusing 'White Mughals', and situating in their place, clones of 
themselves whenever it became necessary to impose "their constipated view 
of life on Malaya and Nigeria, Mombasa and Mandalay".  (8)

With the ascent of the man in the hat, the Empire may have lost something 
by way of its shine, its =E9lan and its energy, but it gained a great deal 
in staying power. And the apparatus of mature Empire stayed intact far 
beyond the accidents of changes in the pigmentation of those who grew to 
rule. Over time, the shape of headgear may have changed to that of a white 
cap that looks like a lopsided, upended boat. The cut and the cloth of the 
coat may have undergone transformations, Colonial cuts may have given way 
to Nationalist styles, even as the dull Khaki of the blunt edge of power 
retained the hue of the dust of hot places. What remains constant is that 
something is marked as the costume of rule, the dress suit or uniform of 
the master, the leader, the office, the 'sahib', the 'neta' (leader). This 
too is an imposture. But it is a guise marked by the verifying authority 
of power. An attested true copy.

In modern, republican nation states, power is a function of 
representation. This is as true of states normally thought of as 
democratic as it is in states where a single centre of power (an 
individual, a family, a party, a military elite) holds power, 
metaphorically, 'in the name of the people'. The legislator, the tribune, 
the one who makes law, represents the populace.

We can think of this as an aesthetic problem. More specifically, as a 
visual, even an ocular problem. Whenever the question of representation 
appears, we know we are speaking of a likeness, a 'fit' between an object 
and its image, its referent. The representative of the people is also a 
likeness of the abstract generality of the people. This likeness between 
the citizenry and its representatives is always a question plagued by 
provisionality. Features alter: power gains adipose, loses hair; the 
citizen sometimes grows pale and thin.

How then does the figure of the citizen acquire a semblance of stability? 
How do the various ambiguities and inconsistencies, the combination of 
historical and biographical accidents that make up a life, cohere to form 
a uniform, monovalent image and narrative? How does the person moult into 
the citizen? How do the various performative stances and experiential 
realities that add shades and depth to personhood lose rough edges and 
find points of equilibria that can yield the regularity and predictability 
necessary to the figure of the citizen? How does a person become a 
political entity capable of being represented?

What garb, which guise, which face, is required for the ruled?

* * *

The production of the citizen is, among other things, an exercise in the 
making of a face. Just as the skilful operation of a forensic identikit 
system can help reconstruct the face of an unidentified, missing or wanted 
person that can then be printed on 'Hue and Cry' notices and stuck on all 
the messy surfaces of a city, so too, the apparatus of identification that 
is necessary for the maintenance of governmentality must register, record 
and reconstruct the figure of the citizen from a mass of inconsistents.

The tension, however, between the image and its shadowy referent, between 
the identikit photo and the missing person, remains. This tension between 
citizens and denizens, subjects and aliens, is historically resolved 
through the approximation of a person's visage to an administrable image 
of the citizen. The passport, the identification card, the police record, 
the census datum and the portraits that these instruments build of 
personhood, are key to this. The frontal portrait makes a claim to be the 
distillate of truth. This reduction is all that is necessary for him or 
her to be known as a person with a valid claim to be in a place; all else 
is superfluous. The man in a bowler hat is a man in a bowler hat. 
Correspondingly, the barbarian, the alien, the pretender, must be 
unmasked. (9)

This necessarily involves an operation on and with images. These images 
may be photographic likenesses or biometric codes or iris scans or 
fingerprints, but in essence they are the condensations of personhood in a 
manner that lends them to being distilled by the apparatus of power.

Consider the formal compositional and aesthetic requirements of 
portraiture as laid down by a United States passport or visa application 

A passport photograph, in duplicate, must be as follows:

- 2x2 inches in size
- Identical
- Taken within the past 6 months and showing current appearance
- Full face, frontal view with a plain white or
off-white background showing all facial features
- Brightness and contrast should be adjusted to
present the subject and background accurately
- Photos without proper contrast or color may obscure unique facial features
- Color should reproduce natural skin tones
- Fluorescent or other lighting with unbalanced
color may cause unwanted color cast in the photo
- Appropriate filters can eliminate improper color balance
- Between 1 inch and 1 3/8 inches from the bottom
of the chin to the top of the head
- Taken in normal street attire (10)

The rigour of this aesthetic stems from the subjective methods that 
uninformed citizens would generally employ in the earlier half of the 
twentieth century while sending in photographs of themselves for passports 
and other identification documents. Cut-outs from family albums or 
reframed tourist snapshots, in which people smiled or otherwise expressed 
emotion, made it difficult to affix the face in the stable configuration 
of features so critical for quick and easy identification. The formal 
style of the 'passport photo', which then becomes a generic template for 
all images made for the purposes of identification, emerges from the 
dissatisfaction that identification apparatuses had with thousands of 
instances of incidental and unintentionally ambiguous self-portraiture.

In a statement to the London Times in the year 1957, Miss Frances G. 
Knight, Director of the United States Passport Office, said that "people 
looked thug-like and abnormal when sitting for their passport 
photographs". (11)

Ironically, this 'thug-like and abnormal appearance' stemmed from the 
effort to stabilize the visage in passport photographs. The very subject 
produced through a system geared towards the generation of greater 
credibility appeared, at best, suspect. Fant=F4mas rears his head again. 
The man in a hat is actually a barbarian, and the more he tries to hold on 
to his hat, the more savage he appears.

More recently, another newspaper report on the introduction of new 
biometric passports in the UK says:

"Under new security measures all mugshots must in future "show the full 
face, with a neutral expression and the mouth closed". The advice is being 
sent to all applicants before the introduction next year of "ePassports", 
which make it harder for terrorists and criminals to get hold of fake 
passports. The facial image on the photograph will be incorporated in a 
chip, which will be read by border control equipment. But the high-tech 
machines need to match key points on the face - a biometric - and this 
only works if the lips are closed=8A. "An open-mouthed smile will throw 
the scanner off."

Eyes must be open and clearly visible, with no sunglasses or 
heavily-tinted glasses and no hair flopping down the face. There should be 
no reflection on spectacles and the frames should not cover the eyes. Head 
coverings will only be allowed for religious reasons. Photo booth 
companies, which supply most of the pictures for passports, have been 
required to update their equipment to ensure they are acceptable. Existing 
passports are not affected but the new rules will have to be followed when 
they are renewed=8A

Most people already think they look miserable enough on their passports. 
There is an old joke that if you look anything like your photograph then 
you need the holiday. A survey of 5,000 Europeans last year suggested the 
British were among the most embarrassed by passport photos. It found that 
a fifth of Britons were so uncomfortable with their images that they hid 
them from their families." (12)

The passport, the ID document, is a script, the border is an audition, a 
screen test, an identification parade, a drill that you practice and never 
quite get right. Like the random slippage between a North Indian and a 
North American accent in the voice of a call centre worker in New Delhi 
talking to New York, the slippage reveals more about a person than the 
desperate attempts to maintain a flawless performance.

That slip, between who you are and 'more' of who you are, accompanies you 
as a possibility in all your waking and dreaming moments. Fant=F4mas too 
inhabits Juve's worst nightmares. That slip in the accent, that gust of 
wind that blows the hat away, that blows your cover, is the give-away that 
won't let you go through. The spectator who is the policeman who is the 
assassin who is the corpse who is the god who is the prisoner who is the 
animal who is the man in a hat with a stick and an overcoat and the 
transposed head of a donkey... You move between one and the other. Your 
moves takes you back into the waiting room. Where can you, and your 
terror, of being everyone and no one, of being everywhere and nowhere, of 
being the bahurupi and the mug shot, Fant=F4mas and Juve, belong?

Ren=E9 Magritte keeps his secrets. So must we.


(1) The figure of a man in a hat first appears in an image called "The 
Menaced Assassin" in 1926, and re-appears several times, including in "The 
Usage of Speech" (1928), where two men in bowler hats speak the words 
'violette' and 'piano', in "Les Chausseurs de la Nuit" (1928) where a man 
in a hat with a rifle slung across him is seen as if leaning against a 
wall with his companion, another gunman, both with their backs turned 
towards the viewer, in "The Therapist" (1939) and "The Liberator" (1947) 
where he appears with a cloak and a walking stick, in "The Return of the 
Flame" (1943) where the man in a hat looms across a burning city, in "The 
Man in a Bowler Hat" (1964), with a dove flying across his face, in "The 
Time of Harvest" (1950) , and its variant "The Month of the Grape Harvest" 
(1959) where the man in a bowler hat is an assembly line prototype, an 
edition made in multiples, in "The Song of the Violet" (1951) where two 
men in hats, one with his back to us, and the other profiled, stand 
petrified, in "Golconda" (1953), where it rains bowler hatted men from the 
sky, and in "The Schoolmaster", and its triune variant "Les Chef 
d'Oeuvres" (1954-55) where the man/three men appears with his/their 
back(s) to us against a sea, under a crescent moon, in "The Presence of 
Mind" (1960), framed between a falcon and a fish, and finally, in "The Son 
of Man" (1964), which Magritte did tag as a self portrait, where the 
hat-wearing man's face is obscured by a green apple.

The hat appears independently in "The Reckless Sleeper" (1927) and "The 
Interpretation of Dreams" (1930), along with motley other objects, and it 
appears as if the man has momentarily lost his hat while looking at a 
mirror (where he sees himself as an frontally inverted reflection) in 
"Reproduction Prohibited: Portrait of Edward James" (1937).

(2) For more information on Fant=F4mas, his career as a character, and his 
remarkable influence on twentieth century avant garde literature, art and 
cinema, see the website dedicated to the Fant=F4mas phenomenon 

(3) Translation by Suzi Gablik, from "Magritte", Boston: New York Graphic 
Society, 1976

(4) The 'waiting room' of history is a metaphor used most eloquently by 
Dipesh Chakrabarty, who in "Provinicializing Europe" discusses the 
importance for people outside Europe, and the metropolitan West, of 
stepping outside the trap of considering themselves forever to be 
'waiting' for the arrival of the contemporary moment, even of modernity 
itself. See "Provincializing Europe: Post Colonial Thought and Historical 
Difference", Dipesh Chakrabarty, Princeton University Press, 2000, also, 
"Alternative Histories: A View from India", Shahid Amin, SEPHIS - CSSSC 
Occasional Papers, 2002

(5) The 'Impostor' figure, particularly the notion of the state treating 
its subjects as impostors unless proved otherwise, was suggested to us by 
a reading of Partha Chatterjee's usage of the trope in his recent book 
"The Princely Impostor". See, "The Princely Impostor: The Strange and 
Universal History of the Kumar of Bhowal", Partha Chatterjee, Princeton 
University Press, 2002

(6) 'Subarnarekha', direction Ritwik Ghatak, produced by J.J. Films 
Corporation, 1965. For more about 'Subarnarekha', see 

(7) William Dalrymple in "White Mughals" looks at the phenomenon of 
cultural and physical miscegenation in eighteenth century India. See 
"White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth Century India", William 
Dalrymple, Harper Collins, 2003

(8) To read the full text of "The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the 
English Genius", see - http://www.george-orwell.org/

(9) For an exhaustive history of the Bowler Hat, see "The Man in a Bowler 
Hat: His History and Iconography", by Fred Miller Robinson, University of 
North Carolina Press, 1993

For an interesting online profile of the Bowler Hat, and a very arresting 
image of a crowd of bowler hat-wearing men, see 

(10) For guidelines on the specifications for correct composition, 
lighting, exposure and printing of photographs of US Passport and Visa 
applications see the website of the US State Department Passport and Visa 
Photography Guide http://travel.state.gov/visa/pptphotos/index.html

(11) Quoted in "The Passport: A History of Man's Best Travelled Document", 
Martin Lloyd, Stroud, Sutton, 2003.

(12) "Look Miserable to Help the War on Terrorism", Philip Johnston, Home 
Affairs The Telegraph, London, 06/08/2004

Monica Narula [Raqs Media Collective] Sarai-CSDS 29 Rajpur Road, Delhi 
110 054 www.raqsmediacollective.net www.sarai.net

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