Fall 2017

Untimely Considerations: Hospitality as Methodology


Axel Drainville, Casablanca: Twin Center (2010). Digital photograph. Licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-NC 2.0.



The large building you see in this photograph is a mall located in Casablanca, Morocco. The complex known as the Casablanca Twin CenterThe building was commissioned by a private corporation; the Groupe ONA (Omnium Nord Africain). Founded in 1919 by the powerful French businessman Jean Épinat, the conglomerate played a crucial part in the consolidation of French colonial authority in Morocco. In 1980, ONA was bought by the Moroccan royal family and merged in 2010 with the monarchy-operated SNI (Société Nationale d’Investissement).was inaugurated in 1999 and stood only a few blocks away from my childhood home.

I don’t have any memories of the towers prior to the events of 9/11.

For almost two decades, and until conducting factual research for the purpose of this piece, I strongly believed that the mall had been inaugurated in September of 2001, on the same week as the World Trade Center attacks.

The twins always emerge abruptly in my recollections. They are built swiftly, overnight. As a child, I may have ignored their existence because I found them ugly and it may have taken the overwhelming emotional and political impact of 9/11, and the subsequent war on Afghanistan, for me to start seeing them.

Most importantly, preceding 9/11, I did not know of the existence of the New York World Trade Center itself.


But I remember this. Following the attacks, I took on studying the World Trade Center at a local cyber-café. The American towers glimmered, as if silver-forged, and commanded. I learned that they were over 540 metres high. These numbers, as well as the plethora of panoramic photographs that supported their claim, rendered our twins, with their mere 115 metres, petty, maquette-like and irrelevant.


A second inauguration

Following 9/11, Casablanca’s towers ceased to live as mere replicas, which is probably why I started seeing them and took interest in their story. With the disappearance of the skyscrapers they were modeled after, Casablanca’s twins had to disappear as well. They also had to come back, casting upon their return a much larger shadow. They wore their sisters’ stigma and threatened in their stead. It was common understanding that this ubiquitous association had turned them into standing menaces and prime targets for potential terrorist attacks. The mall was cursed and Moroccans take curses very seriously.

For most of the first decade of its existence,The city’s relationship to the towers has developed considerably since. They now harbour a luxury hotel and several businesses. That being said, the complex has never ceased to cause fear and disquiet.the building’s basement and ground floor were the only sections accessible to the general public. A number of businesses had decided to opt out of the complex while many among the city’s population dreaded walking into the building. When they did, either out of curiosity or necessity, they never stayed too long within its walls. They also knew well enough that they weren’t missing out. Except for a gloomy supermarket located in the basement, the few luxury stores that remained open were beyond the means of the average visitor. Deserted, the place felt like a brand-new ruin, too white and too clean, odd and hollow, which is maybe why teenagers were drawn to it. The towers had a frightful kind of hospitality to offer them, one that amplified the thrill found in skipping class, and welcomed several episodes of adolescent (and often working-class) intimacy. This was a novelty. For decades, American cinema had been feeding us images of rebellious white youths wandering in suburban malls and, there it was, our very first mall, the pride of Africa.


But this accomplishment, far from triumphant and prideful, had a bitter cost, at once economic and spiritual. It cost us our future. As a teenager, I believed I was looking at monuments to subaltern belatedness when in reality the towers actualized the idea of futurelessness.I derive this term from an excerpt of French orientalist Alphonse de Lamartine’s Voyage en Orient (1835) in which colonial subjects are said to be “futureless.” Edward W. Saïd, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 2003 [1979]), 178.

And indeed, it was easy to feel futureless facing the twins while navigating an increasingly merciless neoliberal economic climate in a time of globalized war.

But futurelessness is assigned, not chosen. It is the place you are sent when your future is confiscated. To be futureless is to live like a lonely ghost and to be instructed that you have nowhere else to go, and no one to travel with.For many, the endeavour of migration often seems like the only way out of this state.

Most importantly, futurelessness is a façade. It demands more than monuments and dwells in constructs of its own, ruins that require constant maintenance through the deployment of violence.


With the Bush administration announcing the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, student riots erupted across the Muslim world and Morocco was no exception. My own school, Chawki’s High School for Girls, had the special misfortune of facing Casablanca’s Central Police Station. When on a grey morning we announced a general strike and decided to occupy the facilities, a substantial riot squad showed up almost immediately at our steps (they basically crossed the street). Beatings took place outside the closed gates while teenage girls held their school like a fortress. We threw chairs and tables at the cops over a tall fence from which the twin towers could be seen and ultimately, those of us who escaped ended up hanging out on the steps of the mall. I’d never seen anything like that before, such angst in a moment of collective clarity–and yet the next day classes resumed as per usual.


Today I understand this: we rebelled because we wanted all of our futures back. The mall was no refuge, we were (we are still) the refuge.


Beyond providing Casablanca’s young with a deserted mall to hide in, the economic fiasco of the towers delivered concrete proof that repeating Western ways meant carrying (into the future) the potentiality of Western demise. For every time you laid eyes on the twins, the prospect of progress through imitation was instantly canceled, it collapsed. The towers themselves collapsed. When they seemed to stand, they only did so as an elaborate joke, as a pied de nez to capitalism. If we looked at them hard enough, we could see that Morocco’s independence was never completely achieved. We saw an ever-collapsing structure. Ever-collapsing because the scope of devastation called for by colonial ventures is so totalizing that it is always met by resistance, hence unachievable. But also because whenever questioned as arbitrary, whenever subjected to deconstruction, colonial canons and structures are swiftly, but never completely, put back together. The maintenance of white supremacy is above all a (utopian) process of perpetual restoration. This statement isn’t meant to seem hopeless or resigned. When I say ever-collapsing, there is a moment of lucidity dwelling between the two words “ever” and “collapsing,” as well as a margin of manoeuvre. Every short-circuit suffered by the continuum of white supremacy is an opportunity to break away from its narrative, making possible other ways of relating to knowledge, to the Earth, to the future, and to each other.


A future that happened in the past

In her 1974 essay Visão do Esplendor, Clarice Lispector remembers her visits to a freshly inaugurated Brasilia. In her recollections, the futuristic metropolis is genderless, unreal to the point of being uninhabitable, beautiful and frightening at once. Lispector’s Brasilia “is a future that happened in the past,Clarice Lispector, “Vision of Splendor” (Visão do Esplendor), in The Complete Stories (New York: New Directions Publishing, 2015), 582.the city is already haunted, carrying mnemonic traces of the millennium to come. She writes, “In the year 2000, there will be a celebration here.”Ibid.She also writes, “I wouldn’t be shocked to run into Arabs in the street. Arabs, ancient and dead.”Ibid., 575.

In this passage, the aforementioned Arabs aren’t necessarily Arabs. The Brown ghosts encountered by Lispector may be simply, and unknowingly, ambassadors of all that she isn’t; they live by (and for) contrast. Their seemingly odd invocation is absolutely indispensable as it renders evident the specificity of utopia as a white progress-driven construct. These Arabs are the ruins that make the future possible–and futurity, in its totalizing modern-colonial expression, demands a spectral other. In fact it cannot do without a spectral other. But there is more to it: futureless in a futuristic place, these diasporic ghosts exist in Brasilia, but only as ancestors. I have immense sympathy for them, as I too understand what it is to show up unannounced and be greeted like an ancient. The University has never failed to make me feel this way,The University is nonetheless “a place of refuge” (conditional refuge) that leaves us with no choice but to “abuse its hospitality.” Fred Moten and Stefano Harney, The Undercommons. Fugitive Planning and Black Study (Brooklyn: Minor Compositions, 2013), 26.nor did Casablanca’s twin towers.

Ricardo Bofill, the Spanish architect behind the design of the mall, deemed it perfectly reasonable to sell the concept of a smaller duplicate of the World Trade Center to an African nation. But why is that, when he could have created something site-specific and completely new? The answer exceeds the simple argument of plagiarism or even that of laziness. It is precisely because the New York twin towers were understood as canonical that the need to re-enact them was felt. We, Moroccans, were the ruins that made the future (Bofill’s future) possible. In this situation, as often happens, the architect was merely instructing a Third-World population on progress. As a recipient of this education, you are taught and then erased, erased and then taught, and your removal from the future is at once the prerequisite and the outcome of this process. The canon can only operate as long as it is a spectralizing instance.


Where do we go? Intimacy as survival.

I am grateful today for the failure of Casablanca’s twin towers. They have ceased to haunt me as they did for years, and maybe it is me who now haunts them.


In Western culture a clear distinction is made between the ghost and the spectre. The ghost is a potentially vengeful acquaintance from the past. As a known unknown, the ghost is fearsome exactly because it is supposed to be gone (unseen) for good. The spectre is, unlike the ghost, expected; it is defined as “the idea of something unpleasant that might happen in the future”“Spectre,” Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus, (Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017).(this is when we ask: unpleasant to whom?). The ghost shows up unannounced while the spectre hovers, looms ahead. The ghost returns from the past (or maybe it simply decides to stay) while the spectre keeps arriving from the future. These distinctions are necessary to the maintenance of the canon as they are drawn to justify the policing of the past and the future into a steady succession of presents.For Jacques Derrida, it is the encounter with the spectral that allows for doubt in the face of the reassuring succession of presents. Spectres de Marx : L'état de la dette, le travail du deuil et la nouvelle Internationale (Paris, Galilée, 1993), 72.They make knowledge adhere to time in a certain way, one that forbids the mobility of the said spectral or ghostly entities and one that is incompatible with the ways of hospitality.


When operating outside of the canon, there is no need to tell ghosts and spectres apart. This is when Lispector’s Arabs are received as friends into the reader’s intimacy.


But what would it mean to mobilize hospitality as methodology? Where do we go? How do we encounter the certainty of Indigenous and diasporic survival everywhere and at all times? Maybe the shape of study to come is as much decanonizing as it is decolonizing. We are already (our own) ancestors and we are already out of time. Our forced removal from the contemporary is no curse as it allows for the study of self-determined time travel technologies and the perfecting of hauntological shape-shifting. Simultaneously, this means exceeding white understandings of contemporaneity and intimacy alike through the acts of welcoming our ancestors and ourselves (as ancestors) into the future.