Bruce Buchan – Bodies, Surfaces and Crossings in the Grotesque Border

We are pleased to announce that Associate Professor Bruce Buchan (Griffith University) will present his ongoing work ‘Bodies, Surfaces and Crossings in the Grotesque Border’ at our next seminar.

The seminar will be held on Thursday, the 9th September at 5 pm (AEST) via zoom.

If you wish to attend please register here.


“We live, I regret to say, in an age of surfaces.”

Lady Bracknell in Act III of The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, (London, 1899, p. 132).

If, as Lady Bracknell laments, we live in an age of surfaces, where lies the border? In this paper, I aim at no more than a sketch for a possible history that asks us to consider bodies and their surfaces as preconditions for a border in which crossings are made perpetual. Not so long ago in Europe’s past, it was thought that the sovereign’s body was grotesque, partaking of both finite physicality and potentially infinite extension. The sovereign’s body was not individual but collective: a body politic constituted from the flesh and blood of living subjects. The sovereign’s body politic was thereby coextensive with the territorial borders of the state, but also intimately connected with the transcendent and immortal properties of the divine. Once the physical individuation of bodies sealed them off from this perpetual extension, the border became visible on their surfaces. Surface was the point at which inside meets outside, and crossings between could only be made through or across it. Surfaced bodies were, as Michel de Certeau described them, “borderliners” whose “visible stigma” of difference was highlighted precisely at the point of border crossing. In our own day however, this idea of border crossing has the whiff of anachronism. While our own bodies have been sealed off from aspirations to infinite extension, it is our borders that have become grotesque. We live in the ‘Border Continuum’. The Border Continuum extends everywhere. No longer just a line on a map, or a geographical boundary separating sovereign jurisdictions, or even a point of crossing at which ingress and egress is policed, the Border Continuum extends infinitely across space within and without the border. By activating a permanent pre-emption, the Border Continuum is thrown forward in time making a point of single crossing at the border a physical and temporal impossibility. In the Border Continuum, each and every subject is already pre-fixed in the border. The Border Continuum has become the inescapable ground for an ontology of perpetual crossing. In the Border Continuum we are policed for the “visible stigma” of differences written upon our surfaces, dividing us from the grotesque potentialities now reserved only for borders, not for bodies.

Bruce is an intellectual historian whose work traces the entanglement of European political thought with the experience of empire and colonisation, focussing on the Early Modern and Enlightenment periods. His books include the monographs: The Empire of Political Thought: Indigenous Australians and the Language of Colonial Government (2008), and (with Lisa Hill) An Intellectual History of Political Corruption (2014), as well as co-edited collections: Sound, Space and Civility in the British World 1700-1850 (2019), and Piracy in Global History (2021). Bruce’s research has been supported by Discovery grants and a Future Fellowship from the Australian Research Council, and a project grant from the Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (Swedish Foundation for the Humanities and Social Sciences). His current research (with Linda Andersson Burnett) is funded by a 4-year Vetenskapsrådet (Swedish Research Council) grant on the conceptual prehistory of race in the teaching of medicine and moral philosophy, and in colonial travel during the Scottish Enlightenment. His next book (with Linda) is contracted to Yale University Press and is entitled, Racing Humanity: Education, Empire and Ethnography in Scotland’s Global Enlightenment, c. 1770-1820.

About us: The Australian Critical Border Studies Network seeks to bring together critical scholars in Australia working on border related questions in different disciplines. The network seeks to provide a space to share and discuss research and develop collaborations. For more information: Twitter: @BorderCritical

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