To photograph, to sense, to study, to perceive, to survey, to have a perspective at all, is to become involved.
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الصورة الممكنة
00 Much of my time in Cairo was spent traversing its militarized streets, squares, and alleys. These improvised explorations were an experimental technique I used to become more intimate with what the city was as well as what it could be in the tempests of a coup that sought to extinguish any future or past but its own. During these long walks, I clandestinely took thousands of photographs that gradually accumulated into an archive of my life within and movement through the city’s many milieus and ambiances. Midan Tahrir was both destination and departure point for my drifts as I promiscuously circulated through the square again and again, navigating through its intensities, fields, congestions, attractions, frictions, densities, emptinesses, disjunctures and conjunctures, flows and blockages.
01 In the locus of downtown, Tahrir is lined with barbed wire and metal barricades, layered with graffiti, crowded by booksellers, crossed by speeding taxis, loitered by traffic police, surveilled by plainclothes security agents, lit by neon signs, and connected by sandy paved spokes that extend outward in the form of roads and bridges. The square is a dynamic space whose contours are composed of forces that differentially encourage and discourage flows and movements through it, together creating diverse conditions for assembly and disassembly, proximity and distance, intimacy and estrangement, orientation and disorientation, speed and congestion. During my long walks I roamed into dense markets, down empty passageways, past military checkpoints and securitized government buildings, across bridges and freeways, and through the varied interstitial spaces of Wust El-Balad. Encountering manifold bodies, crowds, buildings, streets, blockades, police and military conscripts, the heat and the shade, I moved within and was moved by the uneven and shifting distributions of the city.
02 When I began to take photographs along my walks through the military occupied streets, I did so in a necessarily clandestine manner. My height, piercings, and light skin rendered me as a hypervisible body in all of Cairo, causing me to be subject to varying degrees of curiosity, suspicion and scrutiny. After Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s consolidation of power in the weeks and months following the coup in the summer of 2013, it became increasingly hazardous to photograph in Cairo at all. An intensifying paranoia promulgated through the city, finding life within security forces and a dispersed vigilantism that made the lens of a camera appear suspicious and at times even threatening. The military spread rumors that foreign spies were attempting to undermine the Egyptian people, and every gesture, every encounter, every body, was brought under the heavy gaze of differing intensities of surveillance and inspection across the spaces of the city. Outside of heavily policed tourist zones, the practice of photography in particular was purposefully made to be escalatingly precarious as a means of regulating and curtailing the production of images that were not preauthorized by the military regime.
03 In order to take photographs along my walks while avoiding unwanted and potentially dangerous attention in the streets, I attached a cellphone camera to the front shoulder strap of my backpack instead of using a larger and more conspicuous hand-held SLR camera. In hopes of preemptively evading state surveillance and repression, I installed a customized operating system and software onto my phone so all of my photographs would be encrypted and inaccessible as soon as they were captured. My cellphone shot photos on a repeating timer as I walked through the city, activating its shutter every 15 seconds, producing images in the poietic space between the count of the phone’s microprocessor and the embodied nuances of my walks.
04 Over time, I developed a repertoire of quotidian tactics and techniques that allowed me to clandestinely and imperceptibly capture photographs, even when in the presence of watchful security forces: repeatedly passing through a security barrier at different times of the day when shifts had changed in order to capture the look on different soldiers' faces; deliberately slowing down my walk in the midst of Cairo's perilous and chaotic traffic to get multiple shots of the entrance to the ministry of the interior; pretending to talk about grocery shopping in Spanish on my cheap Egyptian cell phone in order to photograph an armored military vehicle stationed in front of a bank. Becoming imperceptible in this way often didn’t depend on withdrawing or hiding as much as it did on performing as something else, a form of gestural and embodied encryption and obfuscation of the self, a practice of differentially dis/appearing in diverse fashions and degrees.
05 Experimenting with ways to photograph while evading notice soon became part of my everyday life in the city. This entailed becoming intimate with the uneven movements and sporadic congregations of security forces, becoming familiar with the military architectures of the city that were continuously shuffled around and reassembled, and exploring situations to see what possibilities could be felt resting on the precipice of the scattered yet imbricated makeshift milieus of Cairo. My pedestrian practice of image-making was a practice of risk-taking, a way of probing the boundaries of passable and possible behavior under a military regime, a measured yet experimental practice of exploring and documenting the proliferating spaces and times of the coup.
06 During my tactical explorations of Cairo that took me through checkpoints and over scattered cobblestones, I became drawn to the felt presence of plural pasts that subtly bled together in the discordant present of the city. The scorched side of a building, a knowing glance, a bomb going off and reverberating across the surface of the Nile, a faded portrait of one of the revolution’s many martyrs peeling on the wall, missing pavement stones from the sidewalk, having been thrown through the air at security forces on some previous occasion, revealing sand and stone beneath: in walking through the streets you unavoidably arrive in the melee, in the middle, in the midst, in the milieu of pasts constellating together in the present. The January 25th Revolution, even if it no longer filled Tahrir with bodies, tents, and fireworks, still manifested as a force on Cairo's streets because of the radical difference of its past that persisted in the present, and in this way the future of the city remained interminably bound up with the revolution's past surplus, its past indecision, its past remainder. This concurrence and convergence of pasts in the present constitutes the conditions of possibility for the city, and Cairo's futures continue to be unwritten only because its pasts are unwritten too.
07 Over time, I became less and less interested in simply documenting the coup and slowly began attempting to explore these diverse temporalities that endured and emerged on the streets of the city. As I walked through Cairo and photographed seemingly exhausted security forces haphazardly patrolling an alley, or a group of taxis dangerously speeding around a corner, or a baker leaning against their cart in the cool shade of the late afternoon, my camera captured scenes that were composed of the meeting of different times; these were photographs not of discrete moments but rather of the concurrence and convergence of multiple durations. The city that I explored was a complex coalescence of the past of the revolution (an unresolved past still in the process of becoming), the present of the coup (a present always-already slipping into the past), and the future (a future produced by the arrival and return of unresolved and indeterminate pasts in the present). These explorations took shape in my photographing of what I call Possible Images, images that emerge from the transversal and nonlinear dis/conjunctures of pasts, presents, and their futures.
08 Possible Images are collapses and crumplings of spaces and times, contingent compressions and folded contortions that plunge the present into the infinite sea of the past and the past into the shifting constellations of the present. The possibility of the Possible Image is the possibility of the past that emerges when it's taken up as memory, or in other words, when the past is taken up in its future tense. For Possible Images, the arrival of past memory in the present is the arrival of future possibility, and so when we remember the past we remember the future too. Depending on how the past is memorialized, different pasts can come to matter differently, and so the present itself is ineradicably a site for the differential emergence and mattering of past difference.
09 My photographs were produced in a present that was haunted by the past memories of the revolution. In addition, the photographs were also always-already memories for futures that were yet to come. In this sense, the present not only incessantly slides into the past, but is also inextricably part of a future past, a future anterior, a future memory, intensively and complexly constellating together into durations. Just as a sand dune is the historical material coalescence of winds in the desert, or a river like the Nile is the historical material coalescence of rain and water that carve out the ground over millennia, a photograph is the historical material coalescence of the conditions that it emerges from. In a city like Cairo, a photograph's production is shaped by the forces exerted on it by the city's streets and buildings, by the security forces and architectures that block various forms of movement and thus various perspectives, by the sun that floods the lens with light, and by the crowds that fill the city, each of which assemble together into the form of the image. In sum, a photograph is simply a visual condensation, constellation, crumpling, and collapse of these historical yet nonchronological forces within the formal and material space of its frame.
10 Possible Images contain forms of determinacy and indeterminacy, decision and indecision, that are expressed in the ways that they're differentially taken up as memory. What is remembered and what is forgotten, for whom and by whom, in what relational fashions and material forms, simultaneously fix and unsettle the world, conjunctively and disjunctively composing complex and incongruent conditions of possibility. In my experience of walking through Cairo with my camera, the conditions of possibility of the city were themselves entangled with the conditions of possibility of the photograph, formally, and with myself as a photographer, methodologically. In other words, the material conditions of the city, continuously shaped as they were by the past of the revolution and present of the coup, are not simply what I documented but also immanently shaped the process of documenting itself.
11 A photograph is one way that a past can have life even though the precise historical forces that produced it are no longer present, a way for past contingency to become entangled with the unfolding contingencies of the present, a memory of a past unlike the present that insists on having presence. To approach an image as a Possible Image, then, is to explore the relation between the past and the present, and in so doing to explore the immanent futurity of the past itself as expressed in the indeterminacies and contingencies of present situations. Importantly, you cannot approach a situation without also becoming entangled with it: to photograph, to sense, to study, to perceive, to survey, to have a perspective at all, is to become involved. Ultimately, Possible Images are less correspondent reflections of what is on the other side of the lens than they are persistent manifestations of the remainder, the undecided, the excess, that which troubles the possibility of the present with the unbounded possibility of the past.
12 On my walks, I explored a Cairo that was located in the imminent slippages between multiple pasts, a city constituted by plural and contested temporalities and spatialities that flowed over one another like rivers that sweep into oceans; even when walking alone, I remained awash in the conditions of possibility of the city and desired to investigate the ways in which the pasts of the revolution continued to endure in the present. Cairo, Al Qahira, is a complex and contradictory aggregate of architectures, traffic, peoples, birds, fields, unstable electricity grids, dust, sunlight, bridges, squares, alleys, and markets that together compose sets of possibilities, never entirely present but always potentially realizable given specific arrangements of circumstances, configurations, and relations. In spaces and times crisscrossed by riot police, wild assemblies, emptinesses, profound chaos and devoted calm, my cellphone camera collected images and the conditions that shaped their production in each activation of its electronic shutter.
13 Cairo’s spatio-temporal organizations and distributions and the embodied relations that find life within them constitute the plural and contingent conditions of possibility for the city, an improvised and polysynchronous orchestra of diverse activities, histories, and materialities. Cities can only be understood, even if only ever partially, in an active sensation and exploration that literally brings you into contact with them. Cities are nothing more than wild assemblies of many entangled perspectives, aggregating together and dispersing, pushing against one another in untamed conflict and fleeting affinity. Even when doing something as simple as walking on the street, that walk to some degree shapes the street it's taking place on. You can only come to know a city and its possibility by also taking part in differentially (re)producing it, both supporting and being supported by it, and ultimately, becoming together with it.
14 My practice of photographing Possible Images was persistently met by the militant controls of the regime that were expressed in various security architectures and forms of policing. Following the coup in the summer of 2013, Sisi’s military erected towering steel gates at the main entrances to Tahrir and deployed military vehicles and barricades whenever demonstrations were anticipated. In the streets around the midan, large concrete blocks were piled on top of one another sealing off the major thoroughfares and cutting neighborhoods off from one another in the process. What had long been a popular meeting place was kept sparse by unpredictable military maneuvers and the permanent security closure of the Sadat metro station. Despite this, an everydayness of the streets remained: people busily rushed to work, men with graying beards sipped tea in smoke-filled cafés, school children patiently waited for crowded buses, a family of Syrian refugees asked for spare pounds, static-laden pop music from a passing motorcycle and the call to prayer from a dangling speaker on the side of a mosque echoed over one another on a Friday afternoon. All of this was assiduously overshadowed by young military conscripts that were stationed at most intersections, large automatic rifles draped over their small frames.
15 These incongruencies constellate together and push and pull upon all who inhabit and pass through Cairo, a charged historical field within which all gestures and movements take place, unresolved and undecided pasts that persist intensively as forces on life in the city. During the coup, I found I could photograph from the windows of taxis and buses on the raised freeways which cut above Cairo's neighborhoods. Many months after the coup, when emergency measures were marginally lessened, I found that I could begin to move through the streets of downtown with greater degrees of mobility, either passing as a tourist or appearing in an official capacity as a professor at the American University in Cairo, presumably visiting the walled-off university campus on the east side of Midan Tahrir. My walking and clandestine image-making were tactical modes I adopted of relating to as well as evading the dispersed hostility of the regime.
16 While I was living in Egypt, the precarity implicit in the production of images was made clear in repetition:
, a close friend, was seriously injured by demonstrators while photographing at a protest;
, a student from one of the courses I was teaching, was arrested while taking photos and brought to the Mukhabarat (the Egyptian Intelligence Agency) where they were questioned for longer than 10 hours; an American student was stabbed to death while taking photos in Alexandria;
, an Egyptian friend, was spontaneously surrounded by a crowd and reported to the police because they were shooting photographs in the early morning in their neighborhood. For all of these reasons and more, my walks were unavoidably immersed in the affective atmospherics of the regime’s capacity for violence. An army conscript’s gaze, a group of men carrying long wooden sticks, a plainclothes police officer standing nearby: in Cairo it is violence’s unpredictable, dispersed and chaotic organization that deeply shapes life under the coup.
17 Under Sisi's regime, artists, journalists, and documentarians are required to obtain permits and permissions from the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Information in order to work in Egypt, and even those who have obtained them for their projects often face institutional harassment and censorship regardless. Several prominent journalists from Al Jazeera English were arrested in their hotel room and charged with ‘aiding a terrorist organization’ for their reporting on the coup, accused of being sympathetic with the Muslim Brotherhood. Doctor Tarek Loubani and artist John Greyson were arrested following the coup and jailed for weeks before being deported to Canada because they had filmed part of the deadly dispersal of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Rabaa sit-in. The Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zaid, also known as "Shakwan,"" was also arrested while photographing at the dispersal of the Rabaa sit-in in remains in jail more than three years after. More recently, the regime made it illegal to circulate accounts of terrorist and/or military activities that differed from official state narratives and as a result several foreign journalists were later detained for showing up to report on a car bombing in the city. To produce media in Cairo in a legitimized and official capacity requires subjecting your work to state approval and censorship while also potentially exposing yourself to violent repression. In this context, I chose to refuse the permission and oversight of the regime in order to be able to explore the presents and pasts of the city that diverged from the ones that the military desired to impose.
18 My walks through Cairo were heavily affected by the infinite nuances and contradictions of its composition that had arisen following both the revolution and the coup. The months after the first days of the January 25th Revolution were defined by the disappearance of the police and military from the streets, creating opportunities for social and political experimentation that was unprecedented in Egyptian history. The coup on the other hand was most clearly expressed in the reappearance and mass redeployment of these forces and security architectures across Cairo, hoping to eradicate forms of unstructured and informal relations that couldn't be assimilated within the control of the regime, leaving emptinesses and absences behind.
19 While in some parts of the world security forces produce power and control through overwhelming displays of force, in Egypt the relative incompetence and disorganization of the state means that the deployment and behavior of security forces are sporadic and difficult to predict. The regime leverages this to its advantage, using the unpredictable and seemingly random emergence of their widespread violence as part of a more general repressive strategy: while walking and photographing in the city, I not only had to respond to the presence or actions of the security forces but also to their ever possible manifestation. As I became more familiar with Cairo, I also became more sensitive to the affective waves of the security forces, feeling their presence in the movements of people in the streets while I was taking pictures. Although I mostly was able to avoid contact with them, I also inevitably found myself enveloped within the chaotic articulation of their movement.
20 One afternoon following Friday prayers, while wandering near one of Cairo’s busiest street markets in Midan Ataba, I became caught in the midst of a group of plainclothes police and baltagiya carrying automatic weapons on their way to disperse a crowd gathering outside of a nearby mosque. Another time I was stuck for several hours on one of Cairo’s islands when the military unexpectedly blocked off the surrounding bridges with armored personnel carriers. One evening I was pursued by an officer after I had been loitering next to a military staging area in order to photograph them with my phone. In the most familiar of senses, the street my partner and I lived on was regularly used as a deployment zone for various security forces, meaning that simply going out for a tea or coffee often required navigating around concrete road blocks and trucks filled with riot police.
21 While life under the coup is suffused with repressive violence, it’s also necessary to pause and stress that there is an ineradicable love that persists on the streets of Cairo despite the militarized atmosphere that seeks to extinguish it. My walks never took place autonomously or independently, but rather were always supported by, reliant on, and indebted to forms of conviviality and hospitality that were found in both expected and unexpected places and times. Over strong coffees and in crumbling buildings, before and after demonstrations where too many were crushed or disappeared, alongside friends and companions: during my time in Cairo, and especially so in the more vulnerable and precarious moments, tiny gestures enacted in repetition made life livable and worth living, and perhaps more importantly, preserved the conditions that make other kinds of living possible. These undermine the military’s totalizing logic by maintaining spaces for affinity and intimacy, and in the end were what rendered my walks through the streets of the city walkable at all.
22 To walk and capture images in this experimental fashion was to take back, however subtly, a small part of the possibility of the city from the military that attempted to entirely determine the activity and relations of the city itself. The success of a walk depended on passing as well as trespassing, both inhabiting and resisting the present while also encountering the past. To move, congregate, assemble and circulate with others is to enter into situations that have unpredictable outcomes by virtue of the differences involved. While the military controls the streets and squares of Wust El-Balad, to deviate away from those controls and produce images was to trespass onto and repurpose the regime’s territory.
23 After having departed Egypt with thousands of photographs, I began the process of speculatively drawing constellations within the collection of images itself, between resonances and dissonances that emerged as I sorted through them. In the process of constellating, of aggregating and assembling past moments together into the present, I meant to engage in a productive and creative process in relation to the irreducible multiplicity of the past itself. This process and practice of drawing connections between past events in a nonlinear fashion wasn't meant to represent or capture an objective past in a narrative or archival fashion or to even suggest that any kind of resolution is even possible, but rather to explicitly and purposefully partake in the political and ethical project of making particular pasts matter, literally, in the present. If memory, and history, are always to some degree indeterminate, then the way that we frame (exclude) and constellate (bring into relation) different pasts in practices of remembering helps to produce our nonlinear, nonchronological, and durational present. The indeterminacy of the past is what ensures the possibility of indecision arising within the present, the small and fragile spaces of freedom that we occasionally find ourselves inhabiting.
24 We’re caught in the momentum and gravity of histories that radically precede and exceed us, yet in walking we find in the world and in others tiny deviations that irresistibly manifest otherwise. My practice of photography was meant to explore these other times and spaces animated by the wild potentials that were born during the January 25th Revolution. If the revolution continues to persist under the military regime, it does so in minute detours that generate possibilities for new proximities and paths to take shape that point elsewhere, towards worlds that are yet to be traversed; the arrival of unexpected pasts in the present creates the conditions for the exploration of these novel futurities. Possible Images, in their preservation and propagation of past indeterminacy, can possibly be one way for us to begin encountering, experiencing, and cultivating the difference of the past that irrepressibly offers radically other ways of navigating the ongoing histories we find ourselves walking within.

A Future Yet To Come

A lot could be written on the "to come" of the future, an understanding of futurity that draws upon the French "l'avenir." For Jacques Derrida, it was fundamentally justice that perpetually remained on the impossibly-distant precipice of the future, a kind of horizon that could be walked towards but never reached. Derrida found it particularly important to distinguish between the future (as "le futur") and the future (as "l'avenir") based on the degree of their decidability:
"There is a future which is predictable, programmed, scheduled, foreseeable. But there is a future, l'avenir (to come) which refers to someone who comes whose arrival is totally unexpected. For me, that is the real future. That which is totally unpredictable." (Derrida featured in Dick and Ziering's film Derrida)
For the philosopher Gilles Deleuze, it was a people that were "yet to come," a future community that perhaps could be capable of reaching that justice which in a sense is impossible to anticipate. This temporal relation is further tied back to Jacques Derrida's writing on the form of the future-anterior (the future past), a:
"...way of thinking that is faithful and attentive to the ineluctable world of the future which proclaims itself at present, beyond the closure of knowledge." (Derrida. Of Grammatology, p. 4).
This future that presently "proclaims itself" radically suggests that we must think and act in relation to future communities that have yet to arrive, a politics of "l'avenir" that sees the imperfect present as a stage for the unexpected arrival of prefigured and refigured futurities, a present caught in the tides of a future anterior.

A Note Concerning Concepts

Throughout this project I'm using concepts as if they were tools or weapons. Concepts are less objects to be studied than they are verbs that are manifest only in their experimental and speculative activation. Concepts aggregate and disaggregate the world, conjoin and disjoin, draw order from chaos and chaos into order, always contingently and relationally.

This approach to concepts is indebted to Elizabeth Grosz's thinking when she writes that:
"If philosophy, through the plane of immanence or consistency, gives life to concepts that live independent of the philosopher who created them, yet participate in, cut across, and attest to the chaos from which they are drawn, so too art, through the plane of composition it throws over chaos, gives life to sensation that, disconnected from its origins or any destination or reception, maintains its connections with the infinite it expresses and from which it is drawn. Twin rafts over chaos, philosophy and art, along with their more serious sibling, the sciences, enframe chaos, each in its own way, in order to extract something consistent, composed, immanent, which it uses for its own ordering (and also deranging) resources" (Grosz, Chaos, Territory, Art, p. 8).
In this sense, concepts shouldn't be appreciated for what they are, but rather for what they do or might be capable of doing. This understanding of concepts is tied to processes of territorialization (ordering) and deterritorialization (deordering), which have a topological and imminent relationship with one another. In other words, we can think of concepts in terms of their capacity to order and reorder the world, or alternatively, to decompose it.

Abdel Fattah el-Sisi عبد الفتاح السيسي

Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (also referred to as el-Sisi, or just Sisi) was the youngest member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces during the January 25th Revolution in 2011, and was later installed as the military's commander in chief by then-president Mohamed Morsi in 2012. During the resurgence of popular protests in 2013, Sisi lead a coup that culminated in the arrest of Mohamed Morsi and a month later in the Rabaa Massacre, where more than a thousand were killed. Sisi was elected president in dubious elections in 2014, and remains in power in Egypt.

Affinity and Affect

Affinity can be thought of as being the affective attraction and solidarity that emerges between two or more bodies in assembly. This affective relation is precognitive and is an ontological phenomenon, and arises from differential encounters. The philosopher Baruch Spinoza described affective relations as being intimately connected to the power of bodies:
"By affect I understand affections of the body by which the body's power of acting is increased or diminished, aided or restrained, and at the same time, the ideas of these affections" (Spinoza, The Ethics, Part III Def. 3).
For Spinoza, affect was a relation that emerges when two or more bodies come into contact with one another that involves a mutual transformation. Interestingly, in a Spinozist metaphysics when a body becomes more affectively powerful in the world, it also becomes more part of the world and more vulnerable to it as a result. The philosopher and artist Simon O'Sullivan elaborates on this point in relation to Gilles Deleuze's adoption of Spinozist thought:
"Affect then, for Deleuze-Spinoza, names the risings and fallings - the becomings - of my own body, especially when it encounters another body. It follows that different encounters will have different characters, and indeed that certain encounters will be more productive, others less so" (O'Sullivan, Art Encounters Deleuze and Guattari, p. 41).
In relation to Spinoza's affects, we can understand affinity as the form of collective empowerment that can potentially arise from affective encounters between bodies, what O'Sullivan describes as the "risings" and "productive encounters" that potentially become manifest. The philosopher Brian Massumi frames affect in more explicitly Deleuzian terms as being constituted by an active relation between the actual and the virtual:
"What is being termed affect ... is precisely this two-sidedness, the simultaneous participation of the virtual in the actual and the actual in the virtual, as one arises from and returns to the other. Affect is this two-sidedness as seen from the side of the actual thing, as couched in its perceptions and cognitions. Affect is the virtual as point of view, provided the visual metaphor is used guardedly" (Massumi, Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation, p. 14).
Here, affect is manifest in the experience of literally being affected by the world, of being unsettled and living the potentiality of difference and becoming by virtue of that affect. Bodies that enter assemblies, across glancing proximities and in newly found intimacies, increase the intensity and frequency of affective encounters, multiplying their collective virtual potential as affinities are generated.

American University in Cairo (AUC)

The American University in Cairo is an English-language liberal arts university in Cairo that was founded in 1919, where I taught while I was conducting my fieldwork in Egypt. Its main campus was historically located on the Eastern periphery of Midan Tahrir, but most of the campus has since been relocated to a new location in New Cairo, a wealthy suburb consisting of walled-off enclaves located in the deserts to the East of Cairo. Following the January 25th Revolution, the university hosted a wave of events, discussions, and conferences that examined and reflected upon the uprising, although these have largely receded following the coup as the university has become more conservative.


The term anticoup has been used to describe the various groups that emerged to contest General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's military coup in the summer of 2013. The regime's rhetoric has framed anticoup forces as consisting entirely of the Muslim Brotherhood, but in reality the protests against the coup were much more diverse and complex. Most notably, the "Third Square," which was composed of liberals, students, and other leftist groups, declared themselves to be against both Sisi's military regime and the Muslim Brotherhood leadership.

April 6th Movement حركة شباب 6 أبريل

The April 6th Movement is a political organization that played a large role in agitating towards the protests that led to the January 25th Revolution. The group was originally formed in 2008 in solidarity with striking workers in El-Mahalla El-Kubra, an industrial city in the Nile Delta to the north of Cairo that also played a large role in the January 25th revolution. The group was later outlawed and many members have since been jailed, although it continues to clandestinely operate under the coup.


An assemblage can be defined as any contingent set of heterogeneous parts that maintain forms of relation over time. Sometimes these parts are made up of material things, such as bodies, forests, cars, cities, bacteria, sand, telephone lines, insects, or the atmosphere. At other times these parts can be expressive things, such as ideas, colors, chants, utterances, or music. Thinking with assemblages is useful because it allows us to distance ourselves from habitual and normative ways of evaluating situations, and instead allows us to approach each case in its radical specificity. In the case of politics, it means that we don't have to start with categories like "the party," "the people," or "the state," or at least not in the unitary fashion that we're accustomed to thinking about them, and instead can try to draw upon less normative, but equally substantial, connections or dynamics.

We can think of assemblies, for example, as being a form of assemblage. The philosopher Manuel Delanda writes that:
"...once historical processes are used to explain the synthesis of inorganic, organic and social assemblages there is no need for essentialism to account for their enduring identities. This allows assemblage theory to avoid one of the main shortcomings of other forms of social realism: an ontological commitment to the existence of essences" (Delanda, A New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity, p. 4).
Assemblage theory allows us to focus explicitly on the metaphysics of production, duration, and relation rather than on the dualistic metaphysics of presence or reductive metaphysics of essence. This framework shuns essentialism, and instead places emphasis on the contingency and specificity of relations and compositions, or in other words, is attentive not to what things are but rather what they do and how they are poietically (re)produced over durations.

Assemblages are involved with several dimensions and dynamics. First, we can say that assemblages have external milieus that constitute the environmental/worldly conditions for their possibility, shaping their contingency and capacities. Second, assemblages have internal milieus, defined by the speed, intensity, and direction of the relations between their various parts. It's critical to note that assemblages are always doubly entangled with milieus in this way, each shaping their durational actualization. This double-entanglement of the assemblage is meant to describe the differential relations between the interiorities and exteriorities that assemblages create, and as such an assemblage can also be thought of as emerging from bordering phenomena or processes of de/reterritorialization. Myself (the author), this text, and you (the reader) can be thought of as being a form of assemblage.


While the concept of the assembly has often been used as a term to describe the particular meeting or decision-making spaces of social movements, I will be using assembly throughout in a broader sense to describe the dynamic affinities, densities, proximities, and promiscuities that take place between bodies, and between bodies and their environments, when they congregate together.

Judith Butler recently wrote her own account of assemblies in "Notes Towards A Performative Theory of Assembly," largely drawing on the work of Hannah Arendt and structuring the concept around her previous writing on performativity and precarity. Her turn towards the potentials opened up simply by the convergence and gathering of bodies is particularly useful in helping us to grasp the potentials of bodies that congregate together:
"...there is a coming together of bodies that speaks, as it were, in another way. Assemblies assert and enact themselves by speech or silence, by action or steady inaction, by gesture, by gathering together as a group of bodies in public space, organized as an infrastructure - visible, audible, tangible, exposed in ways both deliberate and unwilled, interdependent in forms both organized and spontaneous" (Butler, Notes Towards A Performative Theory of Assembly, p. 156).
While my own approach is not so concerned with questions of speech, this description of embodied political performativity that is remarkably ontological in its character is striking. Butler's earlier writing on Tahrir can also be particularly helpful when we attempt to grasp assemblies in their multiplicity as assemblages:
"So when we think about what it means to assemble in a crowd ... we see some ways that bodies in their plurality lay claim to the public, find and produce the public through seizing and reconfiguring the matter of material environments; at the same time, those material environments are part of the action, and they themselves act when they become the support for action. In the same way, when trucks or tanks suddenly become platforms for speakers, then the material environment is actively reconfigured and re-functioned, to use the Brechtian term. And our ideas of action then, need to be rethought" (Butler, Bodies in Alliance and the Politics of the Street).
In Butler's articulation, "the public" is produced by bodies and their material supports, or the "matter of material environments." Action is not reducible to the agency of any singular body or group of bodies here, but rather emerges from the "reconfiguring" and "refunctioning" of the relations that manifest in the process of assembling itself. The public is nothing more than a shifting assemblage of complex and dissimilar environments and bodies that becomes "organized as an infrastructure."

My own thinking is heavily indebted to extended engagements with Butler's work, and although I've chosen not to deal with it in specificity in this project, it's worth noting that I find her approach to assemblies complementary to my own and should be taken into consideration when thinking about the potentials and dynamics of assemblies. There are particular differences however, such as her position on nonviolence and her more general description of the assemblies as being nonviolent, that I find untenable. Nonetheless, her work on bodily vulnerability as a basis for coalition and alliance is much needed and is worth spending time with, particularity in relation to notions of possibility and its conditions.

Baltagiya البلطجية

The term baltagiya (thugs) is used at times to describe groups of men hired by security forces to attack demonstrators. Their informality and lack of official ties to the state allow them to operate outside of the law and contribute to the confusion and chaos of street battles. Some believe that the baltagiya have also played a central role in the organized sexual assaults against women in the assemblies of Tahrir.

Becoming Against Being

Becoming is the process of something becoming different from itself over time. This term is borrowed from the work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, who define becoming as an immanent process where different parts of an assemblage change the speed or direction of their relations and/or boundaries and thus change the form and potentials of the assemblage. This can happen auto- and sympoietically.

Being, on the other hand, is described by Deleuze and Guattari as the state of having stable properties and relations in equilibrium. It is the state of being unchanging and stratified in static configurations of difference. Being is disrupted by becomings that arise from the encounters between things in the world that set into motion forms of indeterminate transformation.

Becoming is a state of existence defined by its status as a verb, or as a process or activity. In other words, it is a "doing" rather than a "being." The doing that is becoming gives rise to new forms of possibility and potentiality. As Mark Bonta and John Protevi describe:
"In complexity theory terms, the new assemblage, the symbiosis, is marked by emergent properties above and beyond the sum of the parts. It is also important to remember that a becoming is a combination of heterogeneous parts; it is an alliance rather than a filiation, an 'unnatural participation,' a 'marriage against nature,' a 'transversal communication'" (Bonta and Protevi, Deleuze and Geophilosophy, p. 59).
Becoming is in some way always an experimental and speculative process because the emergent properties and potentials that emerge from a new assemblage cannot be reduced to the sum of the assemblage's parts.

Becoming is immanently tied to being in the sense that they exist in differential and folded relation with one another. As the artist and scholar Simon O'Sullivan suggests:
"There is no Being, or at least no Being which is separate from the processes of becoming. Our world consists of moments of becoming, the mingling of bodies, the meeting of forces, a constant interpenetration and interconnection of all phenomena. There is no beginning or end to this process. As Deleuze and Guattari remark: 'We are not in the world, we become with the world'" (O'Sullivan, Art Encounters Deleuze and Guattari, p. 56).
In this way, being and becoming, the actual and the virtual, together constitute the multiple, diverse, differential conditions of any present.

Bullets and Fogs

There exists a certain kind of photograph: the "shot," a heavy bullet of indexicality. Its determinacy is discrete, a scene composed of figures neatly arranged within the capturing and enclosing truth of its frame. However, in contrast, there's also another kind of photograph: a "fog" that saturates the scene of time and space rather than a projectile that flies through them. While the bullet is aimed and strikes a target, the fog inhabits, roams, reveals and hides, responds to subtle imperceptible forces, and finally returns as condensation when the conditions for its duration are no longer there to support it. It's not so much a question of what the image "is" in an ontological sense, but rather what its production, circulation and reception "does." The bullet is predictable in its trajectory, while the fog is full of surprises. The bullet draws a neat line, while the fog appears only in the way that it diffractively blurs.


The constellation as an image of history was first suggested by Walter Benjamin in the prologue of "The Origin of the German Tragic Drama" where he describes it as being simultaneously a subdivision and a redemption of the past. For Benjamin, constellations were an accumulation of the past in the present, a form of drawing together images and connections between what is past yet is arriving. This formulation suggests a view of history that is nonlinear and non-teleological, a history that is full of creative dialectical openings. In one of the fragments from his unfinished "Arcades Project," Benjamin writes:
"It's not that what is past casts its light on what is present, or what is present its light on what is past; rather, image is that wherein what has been comes together in a flash with the now to form a constellation. In other words, image is dialectics at a standstill" (Benjamin, Arcades Project, p. 462).
What is interesting about the image of the constellation is its emphasis on the creativity of our relation to history and past as well as its ontological haunting of the present. This continuous yet varied arrival of the past, the emergent inheritance of multiple pasts, constitutes not only what we could call the conditions of possibility for a present dis/conjuncture that radically precedes and exceeds us, but also for a creative orientation towards the future in constellational form that radically exceeds those dis/conjunctures.


Contingency is a state of existence that is possible, but not necessary. A contingent existence can be thought of as a particular historical organization or formation that comes into the world, has a duration or life, and eventually leaves it. However, rather than simply propose that there are contingent (accidental) and noncontingent (necessary) things in the world, we can follow Louis Althusser's insight that:
"Instead of thinking of contingency as a modality of necessity, or an exception to it, we must think necessity as the becoming-necessary of the encounter of contingencies" (Althusser, Philosophy of the Encounter: Later Writings, 1978-87, p. 261).
In establishing an immanent relation between the contingent and the necessary, Althusser helps us to understand the radical contingency at the heart of all matter. Like the processes that create states of being and becoming, different forces, folds, and fields constitute the conditions for the stability and duration of various forms while also being contingent themselves. The "becoming-necessary" that Althusser describes is another way of describing the process of actualization, which is also always a contingent and historical process in relation to virtuality.

Coup انقلاب

It's worth noting that the use of the term "coup" is controversial in Egypt, and in a sense its use signals one's political position in relation to the current military regime. For example, supporters of Sisi refer to the coup simply as the "Second Revolution." When the coup first began with the military's arrest of Mohamed Morsi against the backdrop of popular protests in the summer of 2013, the historical consequences of the events that were unfolding and the military's role within them were less than clear. After the imprisonment of thousands of revolutionaries, the Rabaa Massacre, and the outlawing of opposition parties and protests, it's increasingly unquestionable that the military purposefully executed a coup and seized state power in response to the popular protests of that summer. It's also worth noting that the United States never officially recognized Sisi's seizure of state power as a coup, a strategy that enabled them to continue delivering their annual $1.3 billion worth of aid to the Egyptian military.


A drift is the practice of walking in or exploring a space in the interest of encountering and possibly resisting the forces that organize that space. The practice was developed and theorized by the Situationists in France in the 1960s. When they first began experimenting with dérives, Guy Debord and the Situationists imagined them challenging:
"...the built hierarchy of the capitalist city and break down distinctions between private and public, inside and outside, use and function, replacing private space with a 'borderless' public surface." (Weizman, Hollow Land: Israel's Architecture of Occupation, p. 209).
Guy Debord proposed the dérive as a methodology to be used in these encounters with cities, mapping them by simultaneously becoming intimate with as well as resisting their forces:
"One of the basic situationist practices is the dérive, a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances ... In a dérive one or more persons during a certain period drop their relations, their work and leisure activities, and all their other usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there ... from a dérive point of view cities have psychogeographical contours, with constant currents, fixed points and vortexes that strongly discourage entry into or exit from certain zones" (Debord, Theory of the Dérive).
Debord argued that the distributed conditions that affectively shaped movement through cities were often overlooked, but were essential to the understanding of urban space:
"The sudden change of ambiance in a street within the space of a few meters; the evident division of a city into zones of distinct psychic atmospheres; the path of least resistance that is automatically followed in aimless strolls (and which has no relation to the physical contour of the terrain); the appealing or repelling character of certain places — these phenomena all seem to be neglected" (Debord, Theory of the Dérive).
Debord's main insight was that navigating a city necessarily meant being immersed within its organizational, material, and managerial power, and thus processes of navigation, orientation, and movement could be forms of complicity or resistance in relation to that power. Interestingly, both modern Paris (where the Situationists were walking) and modern downtown Cairo (where I walked) were developed along Georges-Eugène Haussmann's philosophy of urban planning, and thus share particular organizational and spatial features.

Determinacy and Indeterminacy, The Actual and The Virtual

The determinate and the indeterminate can be mapped onto the actual and the virtual as concepts. The actual is a concept used to describe a contingent state of a system, whereas the virtual is the infinite set of possible states which potentially can become manifest as actual. Actualities are historical groupings of virtual states that have reached temporary equilibriums, or historical groupings of possibilities that have been temporarily and contingently realized. The actual is not expressive of any predetermined or necessary order in this sense, but rather is ordered by the intensive virtual forces that constitute the historical conditions for its emergence.

Perhaps the clearest relation between the actual and the virtual comes from Gilles Deleuze when he notes:
"Every actual surrounds itself with a cloud of virtual images. This cloud is composed of a series of more or less extensive coexisting circuits, along which the virtual images are distributed, and around which they run. These virtuals vary in kind as well as in their degree of proximity from the actual particles by which they are both emitted and absorbed" (Deleuze, Dialogues II, p. 148).
An example of an actualized state might be a sand storm, where individual grains of sand become dispersed and move through the air due to intensive conditions in atmospheric pressure and temperature, without necessarily containing information or knowledge of the storm in any singular sand particle. The virtual, as expressed in intensive changes in atmospheric pressure between two zones, manifests in the actual movement of the sandstorm. We can go on to say that there is something like a topology that exists between the actual and the virtual, and between the determinate and the indeterminate, that allows for their differential and poietic folding.

For example, the Deleuzian philosopher Brian Massumi argues that:
"The potential of a situation exceeds its actuality … the virtual is not contained in any actual form assumed by things or states of things. It runs in the transitions from one form to another" (Massumi, Sensing the Virtual, Building the Insensible, p. 2).
Massumi suggests that the virtual acts as a kind of plane from which actual situations emerge and transform: the actual conditions the virtual, and vice versa, in a form of differential relation. Massumi also describes the virtual as:
"...the pressing crowd of incipiencies and tendencies, is a realm of potential. In potential is where futurity combines, unmediated, with pastness, where outsides are infolded … The virtual is a lived paradox where what are normally opposites coexist, coalesce, and connect; where what cannot be experienced cannot but be felt" (Massumi, Sensing the Virtual, Building the Insensible, p. 30).
The differentials between the actual and the virtual constitute what we can simply call the conditions of possibility for forms of relation, organization and duration.


Here it may be helpful to reflect on two distinct forms of difference that find expression in bodies. The first form of difference is the one that we're perhaps most accustomed to thinking about, and is the difference of being. This difference is what we can call a form of stratification, where bodies and things are coded, articulated, and organized along historically reproduced differentiations. An example of this form of difference is religious identification, materially and durationally reproduced in certain kinds of dress, food, architectures, and/or the practice of prayer, that literally reshapes the bodies that participate. Another example might be a strand of DNA that codes for the production of a specific protein, literally writing its difference into the flesh of bodies across generations. The stratified differences that accompany being are always (re)produced historically and are manifest as a kind of positive difference in the sense that they rely on oppositions (this, not that) instead of taking on a form of difference which simply expresses itself (this, this, this) without relying on oppositions.

Stratified difference is contrasted to a second form of difference that for our purposes is more substantial. This second form of difference is the difference of becoming, the difference that emerges between a thing and itself, or in other words, the difference of possibility. This form of difference emerges autopoietically (coming from an internal change in relation or intensity) and sympoietically (coming from a differential encounter between things, a kind of transtitial production of difference). The difference of becoming is manifest as a modulation in the repetition of difference, a detour from its stratified course (this, this, that).

These two forms of difference making are often in conflict with one another, in the sense that the latter has the potential to unsettle the stratification of the former. This relation between stratified difference and the difference of becoming is the ground of poiesis. The philosopher Elizabeth Grosz argues:
"Difference is the 'principle of identity' for all identities to the extent that no entity is self-producing or self-identical, with each entity and relation a product of the encounter of differences of different things and different orders. If difference is what emerges through all forms of life, then difference must also suffuse the inorganic conditions that enable the eruption of life from non-life" (Grosz, Significant Differences: An Interview with Elizabeth Grosz, p. 4).
For Grosz, difference is expressive of the relational dynamism that is part of matter itself, expressed as it is in durational processes of being and becoming across matter generally rather than just in matter that we might consider "living." In this sense, we can consider the formation of a mountain as being engaged in the same form of process as a blooming flower, a burning star, or perhaps even a dream, each of which produces itself through diverse processes of differentiation across radically different durations.


In relation to mathematics, the "differential" of differential calculus emphasizes not change/difference but instead the rate of change/difference, or what we could call the speed of change/difference. This is a shift from the study of extensity to intensity, or in other words, from being to becoming. Gottfried Leibniz, one of the inventors of differential calculus, notes of difference in general that:
"...there are never in nature two beings, which are precisely alike, and in which it is not possible to find an internal difference ... I take it also for granted that all created beings ... are subject to change, and even that this change is continuous in each" (Leibniz, Discourse on Metaphysics and Other Writings, p. 118).
Borrowing from Leibniz, my use of differential is also meant to imply this incessant entanglement between difference and change, understood in their radical continuity. Differentials are mutually transforming relations, or in other terms, are differences that are entangled together in conjunctive and relative motion. In a sense they can be likened to the use of the term differential in engineering, which describes a gear that allows parts moving at different speeds to combine their motion together. Differential in this sense is about the forms of practice and production (in the case of a differential gear, of motion) that arise from the meeting and encounter of difference.

The Encryption of the Self

I would like to briefly suggest here that this encryption of the self can become manifest in two distinct fashions. In one sense, self-encryption can occur in a self-coding that makes oneself immediately and obviously recognizable in a particular fashion, while also effectively masking the nuance, complexity, and contradiction that persist despite this coding (this can be thought of as a form of misleading performance). In my case, this meant appearing as a wandering tourist on the streets of Cairo, for example. On the other extreme, an encryption of the self can take on the form of a refusal to be coded, becoming something that Giorgio Agamben calls a "whatever singularity" that simply fails to align with codes at all. This would manifest along the lines of becoming "a body" or "a life" in general rather than a particular body or life.

Hosni Mubarak حسني مبارك

Hosni Mubarak was the dictator that ruled Egypt for 30 years between 1981 and 2011. Before becoming the fourth president of Egypt, Mubarak had served in the Egyptian military in several important positions. Following Sisi's coup in 2013, Mubarak was cleared of almost all charges related to the repression of the January 25th Revolution. While Mubarak currently remains in prison, he will likely be released soon having already served the time he was previously sentenced to.

Intensive Forces

Intensive forces operate as forms of topology and conditionality that constitute ranges or spectra of possible action by establishing forces between their topological extremes. Some examples of intensive phenomenon are storms and steam engines, but could also be something like a soccer game that has its own speeds, surfaces, attractors, and forces. An intensive force can be thought of as the becoming-possible of a particular virtuality.

Midan Ataba ميدان العتبة

Midan Ataba is one of Cairo's main squares and is located to the east of Midan Tahrir. The square contains a large mosque, one of Cairo's largest street markets, and a police station. Midan Ataba was one of the important gathering places for protesters during the January 25th Revolution.

Midan Rabaa Al-Adawiya ميدان رابعة العدوية

Midan Rabaa is a square a few kilometers to the north-east of Tahrir that contains several street markets and a mosque. Following the coup, members of the Muslim Brotherhood staged a large sit-in in the square to protest the removal and arrest of Mohamed Morsi, which was later dispersed by regime security forces who killed more than 1,000 people and injured several thousand more in what is now known as the Rabaa Massacre.

Midan Tahrir ميدان التحرير

Midan Tahrir (Tahrir square) is in the heart of downtown Cairo. Literally translated as "Liberation Square," it was home to the assemblies of the January 25th Revolution in 2011. Made up of a large roundabout and small plazas, Tahrir is a center of traffic and social activity in the city. Reflecting on the revolution, squares like Tahrir took shape as advantageous places for assemblies as protesters:
"...(re)learned that 'the streets of discontent' need to be large squares and streets in the heart of the capital … they are places where mobile crowds can rapidly assemble and then easily flee, before security forces disperse them forcefully ... The flexibility of larger places and streets allows protesters to appropriate a maneuverable space where they can easily flee from police through numerous back streets and alleyways, shops and mosques, that can offer sanctuary or respite for protesters" (Soudias, Negotiating Space: The Evolution of the Egyptian Street, p. 72).
The square was first planned and built in the 19th century by Khedive Ismail as part of the modernization of Cairo, which was modeled after the modernization of Paris, and remains a symbolic locus of Egypt's political life.

Milieus Against Territories

Assembled bodies encounter one another in the milieu, a space that is uncoded and unbound, or in other words, is deterritorialized. A milieu is etymologically a "middle" place, a space-time in the middle or in the midst, contourless and without clear limits, edges, or boundaries, among rather than apart from. Milieus take shape from within the indeterminate, chaotic, and open. A territory, opposed to the milieu, is a space that has defined boundaries and relations, or in other words, is determinate, ordered, coded, and closed.

Territories become milieus, and vice versa, through the emergence or disappearance of expressive rhythms that repetitively produce differences that define the boundaries of territories. A territory emerges through processes of territorializing milieus, while a milieu emerges from the deterritorialization of a territory. Mark Bonta and John Protevi describe Gilles Deleuze's and Felix Guattari's understanding of milieus in this way:
"Deleuze and Guattari mention markets and forests as milieus, where diverse territorialities are jumbled together; the rain forest is a milieu serving as the plane of consistency of myriad territorialities that draw from it and each other" (Bonta and Protevi, Deleuze and Geophilosophy, p. 114).
The distinction between milieus and territories is not absolute, and typically milieus and territories differentially coexist in an entangled and imbricated fashion. Assemblies can be thought of as milieus where forms of experimentation take place without being coded, bounded, or ordered by territorial forces.

Mohamed Morsi محمد مرسي

Mohamed Morsi is a member of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and was elected as president in 2012 in Egypt's first democratic elections following the January 25th Revolution of 2011. Morsi was heavily criticized during his presidency because of perceived attempts to impose aspects of Islamic law and because of the repression that he ordered against popular assemblies and demonstrations. During large protests against his administration in the summer of 2013, he was arrested during a coup orchestrated by the military's commander in chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and currently remains in prison.

Muslim Brotherhood جماعة الإخوان المسلمين

The Muslim Brotherhood is the Islamist group that came to power in Egypt's first democratic elections following the January 25th Revolution. While under the rule of the former dictator Hosni Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood was Egypt's oldest and largest resistance movement, and still has support across Egypt estimated in the millions. After the coup, the Muslim Brotherhood has been outlawed but they continue to organize protests and claim that Mohamed Morsi remains the legitimate leader of Egypt.

National Democratic Party (NDP) الحزب الوطني الديمقراطي

The National Democratic Party is the political party that ruled Egypt for 33 years before Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in 2011. Founded by Anwar El-Sadat, the party ruled as an authoritarian regime and regularly orchestrated mass state repression in order to remain in power. During the 18 revolutionary days of 2011, the National Democratic Party headquarters on the periphery of Midan Tahrir were set on fire and looted.


The presence of noise, as a form of chaos, allows one to speculate and experiment with possible moves, gestures, and relations that can produce opportunities to grasp various forms of advantage and leverage that strictly deterministic systems do not provide. In other words, the unpredictability of noisy systems is an opening for speculative resistance and nonlinear combat.


A nonlinear system can be described as an environment whose dynamics have intensified to such a degree that it becomes increasingly impossible to predict in advance what will come to be. A clear example of a nonlinear relation can be seen when one throws a paper airplane when standing still as opposed to when one throws it while in motion. If you were to throw the paper airplane from a window of the Mogamma administrative building that overlooks Tahrir square, for example, the path of the plane may be fairly predictable in a linear fashion as it glides down to the square below. However, if you were to throw it from a speeding motorbike in the square itself, its path would become radically unpredictable, where minute changes in the gesture of the throw would have dramatic consequences for the fate of the paper plane.

Another clear nonlinear relation can be seen in matter state changes, for example when a glass of liquid water turns into steam or ice. Given certain delimited conditions, for example a planet that never goes above 100 or below 0 degrees Celsius and shared Earth's atmospheric pressure, the glass of water would forever remain in liquid form. However, if you add or subtract enough energy, radically different potentials emerge nonlinearly that would not have been predictable in advance of these changes. In this example, steam, water, and ice exist as possible virtual states, but are only ever actualized given specific conditions and/or speeds. This relation is as true for bodies and other materialities as it is for the paper plane or glass of water, and so with certain changes in the relations between these bodies and materialities, emergent possibilities may also actualize, or at least threaten to, in nonlinear fashions. In sum, we can think of the nonlinear as being that which doesn't unfold sequentially or evenly, but rather at diverse speeds, intensities, or frequencies. The nonlinear is that which defies monosynchronicity, diverges from consistent chronology, and destroys determinacy.

Obscurity, Opacity, and Obfuscation

Obscurity is a form of escape. It can take on different forms and emerge from different techniques and practices, including but not limited to evasion, camouflage, escape, encryption, disguise, or distraction. Obscurity can also be an environment, such as a fog or a shadow. The French group Tiqqun goes as far as to argue that "Fog is the privileged vector of revolt ... Fog makes revolt possible." The artist and theorist Zach Blas writes of obscurity through the lens of opacity in Édouard Glissant's work, emphasizing its tactical variability:
"Ultimately, it is the late Martinique thinker Édouard Glissant's aesthetico-ethical philosophy of opacity that is paradigmatic: his claim that ‘a person has the right to be opaque' does not concern legislative rights but is rather an ontological position that lets exist as such that which is immeasurable, nonidentifiable, and unintelligible in things. Glissant's opacity is an ethical mandate to maintain obscurity, to not impose rubrics of categorization and measurement, which always enact a politics of reduction and exclusion. While opacity in Glissant's writings is not tactical, an opaque tactics, now more than ever, must be wielded to insist on opacity as a crucial ethics--because capture annihilates opacity" (Blas, Informatic Opacity).
This collective refusal of categorization and measurement is at the center of obscure practices. Obscurity always has a tactical and differential "to whom" that it operates in relation to, in the sense that nothing ever escapes or hides absolutely but rather only partially in relation to particular perspectives or forms of sensibility. Rather than simply being present or absent, visible or erased, obscurity is precisely about managing and navigating the spectra in between extremes, and as such is a differential. We could describe obscure practices as being invested in exploring the uneven distribution of opacity, the various and varied forms that exist outside of the sensible.

Photographic Indeterminacy

Photographs are never simply determinate or indeterminate, but rather always maintain forms of determinacy and indeterminacy, actuality and virtuality, contingency and possibility. No total resolution in an image is ever possible in this regard. Instead, images are always haunted by a coexistence and con/disjunctive juxtaposition that emerges from the entanglements of their pasts, presents, and futures. A camera, just like any other apparatus, renders the world simultaneously determinate and indeterminate, what Karen Barad has called a "cutting together-apart." For Barad, the process of encounter and relation itself is ultimately productive of the related, which necessarily implies degrees of ineradicable indeterminacy in the production of the determined. Furthermore, when forms of determinacy do emerge, they only ever emerge contingently so. The camera obscura is just that, a form of framing that necessarily preserves degrees of what remains dark.


Poiesis (and its poietics) can be simply defined as creation or production, and is framed in several different fashions depending on how relation itself is conceived of. For example, autopoiesis is used to describe the process of self-production or self-creation, or the making of the self that emerges from the practices and potentialities of the self without any relation to an outside, exterior, or other. Sympoiesis, on the other hand, is a form of collective production or creation, or a form of production and creation that results from encounters with others. Making distinctions between auto- and sympoietic systems is a mereological problem, or a problem of the relations between scales, and typically forms of autopoiesis and sympoiesis can be said to be occurring conjunctively and simultaneously.


Precarity is a concept I'll use throughout to describe the degree to which a body is differentially rendered vulnerable. Judith Butler elaborates on this point as a particular social and political problem when she writes:
"In our individual vulnerability to precarity, we find that we are social beings, implicated in a set of networks that either sustain us or fail to do so, or do so only intermittently, producing a constant spectre of despair and destitution. Our individual well being depends on whether the social and economic structures that support our mutual dependency can be put into place" (Butler, For and Against Precarity).
Here, Butler establishes precarity as a kind of vulnerability that conditions all of life in the world that is also simultaneously particularized onto individual bodies, a kind of imbrication between the individual and the world. In this sense, precarity can be thought of as the singularized expression of broader systems and structures of vulnerability and fragility that create the conditions for something such as an individual to exist (an individual vulnerable to, and capable of doing harm to, vulnerable others), that simultaneously renders that same individual ineradicably social. Precarity can be thought of as being generalizable to all matter in the form of contingency and duration.


I use queer in this project as a concept to describe that which drifts away from the stratified and coded, rendering other less recognized forms of life and practices of living more possible. Judith Butler suggests:
"...we remember that the term queer does not designate identity, but alliance, and it is a good term to invoke as we make uneasy and unpredictable alliances in the struggle for social, political, and economic justice" (Butler, Notes Towards a Performative Theory of Assembly, p. 70).
For Butler, queerness is found in the doing rather than the being, which for her is necessarily relational. The theorist Sara Ahmed writes on queerness and suggests:
"We have hope because what is behind us is also what allows other ways of gathering in time and space, of making lines that do not reproduce what we follow, but instead create new textures on the ground. It is interesting to note that in landscape architecture the term desire lines is used to describe unofficial paths, those marks left on the ground that show everyday comings and goings, where people deviate from the paths they are supposed to follow. Deviation leaves its own marks on the ground, which can even help generate alternative lines, which cross the ground in unexpected ways. Such lines are indeed traces of desire, where people have taken different routes to get to this point or that point. It is certainly desire that helps generate a queer landscape, shaped by the paths that we follow in deviating from the straight line" (Ahmed, Orientations: Toward a Queer Phenomenology, p. 570).
This topology of queerness is helpful in stressing the ways that it takes shape materially and historically in the accumulation of gestures, walks, and deviations. Perhaps, José Esteban Muñoz provides the most generative understanding of the "queer" when he writes that:
"Queerness is essentially about the rejection of a here and now and an insistence on potentiality or concrete possibility for another world" (Muñoz, Cruising Utopia, p. 1).
Muñoz's invocation of queerness understood as the ineradicable potentiality of a radically "other" world or way of being in the world is perhaps most useful for us in this project.

Shaimaa Al-Sabbagh شيماء الصباغ

Shaimaa Al-Sabbagh was a socialist who was murdered by police in downtown Cairo in the days leading up to the 4th anniversary of the Janurary 25th Revolution, causing international outcry. While carrying a wreath of flowers to Midan Tahrir to commemorate the revolutionary martyrs, the small march she was part of was attacked by security forces with birdshot that killed her.

Sharia Mohamed Mahmoud شارع محمد محمود

Mohamed Mahmoud street leads away from Midan Tahrir to the East towards Midan Falaki, and was the site of the most intense and prolonged street battles between protesters and security forces during and following the January 25th Revolution. Later, the street was almost entirely covered in murals and graffiti commemorating the martyrs of the uprising. Following the coup, many of these murals have been defaced or are painted over and some of the walls have been demolished.

Static Obscurity

Throughout this text I've included static blocks like this
to make obvious where I have removed information in order to protect those that partook in my project from the forms of repression currently unfolding in Cairo.

The Conditions of Possibility

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant famously defined the conditions of possibility as being the a priori conditions of possible experience. I agree with Kant but also find it important to elaborate by arguing that a priori conditions are historically contingent and are themselves a form of multiplicity. A complementary rephrasing might simply be "The Contingencies of Possibility," which suggests an imminent relation between possibilities and their conditions.

For the philosopher Gilles Deleuze, the conditions of possibility were understood not as the conditions of possibility for existence as such (as a kind of logical problem of noncontradiction), but rather as the conditions of becoming, of poiesis, and of genesis. Reflecting on the work of Kant, Deleuze remarks:
"The ground is a condition. The condition is that which renders possible … The classical problem of possibility completely changes sense. The possibility is the condition of possibility" (Deleuze, What is Grounding, p. 31).
Here, there is no distinction between a condition and a possibility, but rather, in a classically Deleuzian fashion, conditions and possibilities are thought of as having an immanent relation to one another rather than a transcendental one. In one of his lectures on Kant, Deleuze elaborates on this point further:
"It's when I say that every apparition refers to the conditions of the appearing of the apparition, in this very statement I am saying that these conditions belong to the being to whom the apparition appears … the subject is constitutive not of the apparition, it is not constitutive of what appears, but it is constitutive of the conditions under what appears to it appears to it" (Deleuze, Cours Vincennes : Synthesis and Time – 14/03/1978).
For Deleuze, there is no transcendental reference frame that conditionally renders appearance possible in this way, but rather the frame of reference for relation emerges from the encounter between the related themselves.

Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) المجلس الأعلى للقوات المسلحة

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (also simply referred to as the SCAF) is a group of Egyptian military officials that convene during times of national emergency. They briefly took power following the January 25th Revolution in what was called a "transition period to democracy," and later helped orchestrate Sisi's coup in 2013.

Cryptodocumentary Practice and Collective Abstraction

In this project, I've obfuscated and abstracted the conversations that have been included in order to make the participants in my project impossible to identify by security forces. In order to accomplish this, I've placed multiple algorithmic layers of "lossy" and "noisy" filters over the video footage, obfuscating and partially randomizing the visual information. This particular process of abstraction is technically impossible to reverse. Additionally, the conversation locations within the drifts have been randomized throughout the project so that every time a page is reloaded different video clips are moved to different parts of the project, essentially creating a collective subject that speaks but refuses individual identification. Lastly, the conversation contents themselves have been mixed together across the drifts, a form of translation that aggregates distinct experiences together into a voice that simultaneously speaks in the particular and the general. Along with the clandestine photography that I performed while I was in Cairo, these constitute what I call a "cryptodocumentary" practice.

Wust El-Balad وسط البلد

Wust El-Balad is the name popularly used for downtown Cairo, and is literally translated as "the middle of town." The architectural layout and style of Wust El-Balad was designed and built in the mid-19th century and was largely inspired by Georges-Eugène Haussmann's renovation of Paris earlier in the same century, giving Cairo its nickname: Paris along the Nile. The modernization of downtown Cairo involved tearing down many buildings in order to make space for traffic through the city, creating wider avenues and more open spaces. While Napoleon III had rebuilt Paris largely to allow it to be more easily controlled by military forces following a series of popular uprisings, his authoritarian design was not entirely translatable to the bustling chaos of the streets of Cairo. A crucial difference between the two modernizations was the survival of Cairo's old city on the periphery of the new downtown, while Paris' had been destroyed. As Janet Abu-Lughod describes:
"Thus by the end of the nineteenth century Cairo consisted of two distinct physical communities, divided one from the other by barriers much broader than the little single street that marked their borders. The discontinuity between Egypt's past and future, which appeared as a small crack in the early nineteenth century, had widened into a gaping fissure by the end of that century. The city's physical duality was but a manifestation of the cultural cleavage" (Abu-Lughod Tale of Two Cities: The Origins of Modern Cairo, p. 430).
The urban geography of Wust El-Balad remains radically heterogeneous in this way, having large squares and thoroughfares alongside labyrinths of alleys that allow for uneven and unexpected routes through the spaces of the city.

The Conditions of Possibility
شروط الإمكان

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