Review of Another Paradise
Received: 25 May 2009 /Accepted: 14 June 2009 / Published online: 1 October 2009
#Identity Journal Limited 2009
Set against the backdrop of the controversial UK Identity Card scheme, Sayan
Kent’s recent play Another Paradise (2009) conjures up a future dystopian image of
a biometrically-controlled Britain in which every citizen is reliant on biometric
technology, ID cards and national databases not only as a means for functioning in
everyday life, but more so as a prerequisite for being able to “count”as a person at
Kent’s message is trenchant and clear: with this extremely technocratic trend,
toward which the world is apparently heading, comes a loss of agency, individuality,
liberty and human touch. The play, as such, acts as a mouthpiece for conveying
some of the major debates surrounding the adoption of biometric ID cards and
highlighting the potentially dangerous ramifications of over-relying on technology
for governing society. Much of these alarming concerns and potential implications
are explored, somewhat satirically but nonetheless seriously, through the characters’
manipulated, re-appropriated, mistaken, lost or stolen identities as well as through
the concrete situations in the midst of which they find themselves as a result.
Who are you?
As a thesis play, Another Paradise raises many challenging and timely questions,
questions to do with the growing state surveillance, the neurotic securitisation of life,
the erosion of civil liberties, and the systematic exclusion of those deemed not
worthy of belonging. But beside these empirically embedded concerns, there is a
highly philosophical question underpinning the play. That is, the age-old question
“who are you?”, which warrants some discussion.
IDIS (2009) 2:319–325
B. Ajana (*)
BIOS Centre, London School of Economics, Tower 2, 11th Floor Houghton Street, London WC2A
Although basic and commonplace in itself, the question “who are you?”remains
as one of the most challenging, problematic, fluid and intricate questions to which
neither the philosophical discourses of metaphysics nor the technologies and
techniques of identification have been able to provide a fixed and conclusive
answer. “Who are you?”is indeed ‘an abyssal question’, as Carl Schmitt (1950) put
it. It is not because the word ‘who’stands for something that is ineffable,
unfathomable, unnameable and ungraspable, or something utterly secretive that only
the ‘self’can have an exclusive access to. Rather, it is because ‘who’is that which
indicates the incomparable uniqueness and the unrepeatable singularity of each and
everyone (Nancy 2000). And in so doing, it can only yield a response that is destined
to escape the linguistic confines of definition and challenge the technical
mechanisms of recognition. Inexorably then, ‘the moment we want to say who
someone is, our very vocabulary leads us astray into saying what he is’(Arendt
1957: 181), that is, the attributes and qualities which act as the content of one’s
identity and function as qualifiers for membership, citizenship and so forth (see also
Kottman 2000: viii; Butler 2005: 31; Cavarero 2000; Ricoeur 1992). The conflation
of ‘who’and ‘what’is in fact an attestation to the inability of both philosophy and
technology to fully capture the ambivalence and double-sided character of identity
and to acknowledge the impossibility of fixing once and for all that which makes the
person irreducibly unique and singular. In Another Paradise, this is expressed quite
vehemently by one of the characters, Abigail Tomlin, whose identity is stolen and
re-appropriated, and as a result is no longer able to prove who she is insofar as what
she is (her name, her biometric information, etc.) does not match her file on the
ABI: Don’t think you know me because you know what washing powder I
buy, or which TV channels I watch, or how many hotels I’ve stayed in. It’s
what that file doesn’t tell you that counts. You might know how many lovers
I’ve had but you don’t know how much I loved them. You might know which
brand of chocolate I buy, but you don’t know what I taste when I eat it. You
don’t know my favourite joke, you don’t know what cripples me with laughter
and you’ll never know which photograph I cry over. You think you know my
political persuasions but you don’t know what burns inside me, what eats me
up, what consumes me with passion, what makes me who I am. You…will
never know me.
Indeed, what biometric technology can capture and make epistemologically
knowable and technically available about the person is merely the ‘what’aspect of
identity: physical characteristics, behavioural traits, institutionally assigned attribu-
tions, etc. This, of course, only constitutes half of the story. What remains
inaccessible through and untellable by biometrics is precisely that uniqueness of
the ‘who’wherein reside the person’s intentions, values, beliefs, desires, and
resistance itself. In this sense, Abigail’s defiant statement “You…will never know
me”is a reminder that biometrics’overzealous quest for capturing the uniqueness of
singularity and accessing the nexus of ‘whoness’is doomed to failure. For the very
premise of biometric technology is based upon a partial and restricted understanding
of identity that is informed by hyper-scientific discourses and technical practices
320 B. Ajana
whose aim is to ‘simplify’the meaning and function of identity, and to ‘purge’it
from its ambivalent, contextual, contingent and subjective dimension. And what
comes part and parcel of this technologisation of identity is the growing indifference
toward the embodied person herself; the bypassing of her ‘self-attesting’story in
favour of capturing, measuring and storing digital templates of her biological data.
Such a process partakes of what we may call, following on from Gilles Deleuze
(1992), the dividuation of individuals. That is to say, the practice by which they are
turned into ‘dividuals’; a series of abstract bits and digits scattered around databases
and identified by their profiles, pin numbers, consumer data, credit scoring, etc.,
rather than their subjectivities (see also Rose 1999 and Haggerty and Ericson 2000).
As illustrated by this exchange between the characters Lisa Grundy (a customer
services employee at the Alien Registration Office) and Enoch Dawes (an accountant
who subsequently becomes a ‘nobody’after his identity was stolen):
LISA: Do you find that you are a black and white person?
Clarity. Polarity. Contrast. Definitives.
LISA: As opposed to subtle, nebulous, fluid, ambidextrous.
LISA: Yes or no?
ENOCH: Like you’re a somebody and I’m a nobody?
LISA: Think of your ID card as the portal to your digital soul. It links you to who
you are. As long as you are attached to a corresponding file on the database the
card could say you were a mouse and I would believe it. Even if you didn’t look
like a mouse. Which you do, slightly. Even if you stood in front of me as you are
and your data told me you were Monty the Mouse I would accept that as true. I
would greet you as Monty and offer you a piece of cheese.
And again, as the character Captain Fisher (a female police captain specialising in
internal security) puts it:
FISHER: Mrs Tomlin, you have to appreciate that I work in a grey area where
people say all sorts of things. My job is not to take people on their word but on
what their card verifies. Verify, to establish the truth, accuracy, reality.
Verificare from the Latin verus, true. That’s why I like it. I don’t have to
make difficult decisions. I can leave that to the judges and politicians.
Seen in this light, the power struggle, which unfolds in the domain of biometric
technology and ID cards, can then be articulated as a struggle around, and at times
between, two competing onto-epistemic registers of truth. On the one hand, there is
the truth that is distilled from the person’s bodily particularities with the aim to
officially establish an institutionally governable and controllable identity- the one
that is ‘required by state bureaucracy: a stable, objective, unambiguous and thing-
like identity’(Aas 2006: 147). On the other hand, there is the truth that stems from
the narrative, biographic and self-attesting dimension of identity, i.e. from the
person’sstory. While the former can be seen as belonging to the realm of the ‘what’,
the latter is an expression of the dimension of ‘who’. Increasingly, and especially
Review of Another Paradise 321
within the rationality underpinning biometric technology and identity cards,
there is a fundamental epistemological suspicion towards the story, and with it,
the growing occlusion of selfhood and the redundancy of ‘whoness’itself.
[a] talking individual, who owns the body, is in fact seen as unnecessary and,
even more importantly, insufficient for identification. Now only the body can
talk in the required ways, through the unambiguous and cryptic language of
codes and algorithms. When a body provides the password, a world of
information opens. Databases begin to talk. On the other hand, when the
individual talks, the words are only met with suspicion.
It should be noted at this point that the distinction between the ‘what’and the
‘who’aspects of identity is not to be understood as a sharp and clear-cut dichotomy.
For in the concrete sense, these dimensions continuously interact with each other and
in ways that are by no means mutually exclusive: institutional identity ascriptions
(citizenship, membership, etc.) certainly shape some aspects of the life story of the
person, just as the narrative accounts one gives about oneself when asked the
question “who are you?”may contain, affect and be affected by, elements that
belong to the sphere of the ‘what’(as in the case with the narrative identity of the
‘asylum seeker’and the ‘refugee’). Yet and in terms of biometrics, there is an
evident imbalance in the relationship that mediates between these two dimensions of
identity insofar as the knowledge that is produced through biometric procedures is
not a knowledge based on ‘mutual communication’, but on ‘one-way observation. It
is clearly knowledge marked by a power relation’(ibid.: 153). It thus favours the
forms and discourses of truth that emerge out of official sources and technical
operations rather than from personal accounts. In Another Paradise,thisis
demonstrated, with much satire, through various situations whereby the ‘card’and
the ‘file’end up overriding the ‘life’and the personal reality of the characters by
forcing them to adjust to the new identities they are officially assigned. For instance,
Enoch Dawes who adopts the re-appropriated identity of Abigail Tomlin, gets treated
as Abigail by everyone (including Abigail’s husband) despite the visual evidence of
LISA: Look, this is a good ID. You’ll love it. Once you get used to it. Now go
home. (Hands him the printout). There’s your new address. Bank details.
Potted history, employment record. National insurance number. Date of birth.
All sort of interesting things.
ENOCH: I can’t just walk into another life.
LISA: This is you now.
ENOCH: Look at it. No one will believe me.
LISA: Of course they’ll believe you.
ENOCH: But I’ve stolen somebody.
LISA: You can’t do anything about it now. Cheer up. It could have been a lot
worse. I’mgladit’s all worked out. Enjoy your new life, Mrs Abigail Tomlin.
322 B. Ajana
Coventry, a non-place
LISA: …Every sovereign state has its Coventry. It’s the price we pay for
Coventry features in the play as the place where the unidentified/unidentifiable and
the biometrically unqualified are sent. It is reminiscent of what Giorgio Agamben
(1998) refers to as the ‘space of exception’; a peculiar non-place which is a by-
product of too much organisation and excessive orderliness. It exists both inside and
outside the state: inside, in terms of its physical presence that marks its ‘inclusion’
within the state’s boundaries, and outside insofar as it is ‘excluded’from its regular
social and juridico-political procedures and structure. It is like a ‘mezzanine space of
sovereignty’(Nyers 2003: 1080) whose exclusion in an ‘inclusive exclusion’(an
exceptio) and whose function is to contain those who are categorised as ‘non-
citizens’; those who are ‘[c]onstituted as threshold political beings […and] defined
precisely through their liminal status that places them on the outskirts of the
community’(Zylinska 2004: 530). In Another Paradise, the non-place aspect and
the exceptio character of Coventry are represented in terms of its absence on the
official map, as well as through the kind of activities performed within it and the
type of people who dwell in it:
ENOCH: I stole a map.
LISA: I don’t need to know that.
ENOCH: Coventry isn’t on it. It’s just a blur, an MOD restricted area. Look.
(Thrusts a map at her.) No Coventry. You told me it existed.
ENOCH: A cash economy no questions and no cannibalism.
LISA: A state of mind.
ENOCH: So I went to the blur.
LISA: It’s just a saying, being sent to Coventry.
ENOCH: I’ve been to Coventry …Why is it a blur? Tell me.
LISA: It doesn’t exist.
ENOCH: Coventry does exist. It’s real. What are you hiding?
LISA: When the biometric identity scheme phase 3 was instigated, the whole
population was finally put onto the national database. But there were many
people living in this country who didn’t fulfil the exacting requirements of
citizenship. So, the government, having invested billions in the program,
requisitioned a small city in the Midlands to dump the leftovers in. Coventry, a
haven for aliens.
According to Agamben (1998: 109), what binds the life of those considered as
non-citizens to sovereign power is the notion of the ‘ban’; a relation of exception
that is both inclusive and exclusive of life and in which the ‘banned’is made subject
to the rule of the law while being excluded from it and abandoned by it: ‘He, who
has been banned is not, in fact, simply set outside the law and made indifferent to it,
but rather abandoned by it, that is, exposed and threatened on the threshold in which
life and law, outside and inside, become indistinguishable’(ibid.: 28).
Review of Another Paradise 323
ENOCH: They just left them there?
LISA: Up the creek without a paddle.
ENOCH: No communication with the outside world.
LISA: It’s shielded. A measure of containment.
ENOCH: And no one has to prove who they are, just names.
LISA: Just names, can you imagine?
ENOCH: Nothing but a blur.
Importantly, this rationality of abandonment and exception is not tantamount to
the casting out of politics or the cancellation of what is deemed as the norm. Instead
it is regarded as an integral part of ‘normal politics’itself and a condition of
possibility for its actualisation and organisation. As Rajaram and Grundy-Warr
(2004: 34, 36) argue, ‘the condition of exemption by which the normal political
space is declared entails that the norm is dependent on its exempted other […]itis
through the appropriation and control of the excluded, in effect its inclusion with its
threat ameliorated, that the sovereign law maintains itself’. Lisa Grundy’s above-
mentioned statement, about Coventry being the price one pays for freedom, is indeed
indicative of the intimate and co-dependent relationship between exception and the
norm, between the sovereign inside and its (imagined) dangerous outside. It also
echoes the neoliberal modality of ‘governing through freedom’, which takes as its
premise the logic of individual ‘autonomisation’, that is, the governing of individuals
as ‘subjects of freedom’(see Rose 1999; Miller and Rose 2008; van Munster 2005).
Freedom, as such, is seen as both an ‘objective’to strive for and a ‘resource’to be
enabled and managed through the myriad of techniques and technologies such as
biometrics and ID cards. Concurrently, in the neoliberal style of governing, freedom
also involves the control and monitoring of that which poses a (potential) threat to its
exercise, and the (inclusive) exclusion of those who cannot be ‘entrusted to enjoy’
freedom (van Munster 2005: 6). Coventry, in this regard, can be seen as an extension
to such techniques and strategies, and a constitutive element to the maintenance of
the norm. This, insofar as it represents a means by which residual otherness and its
perceived dangerousness are regulated and contained with the aim to facilitate the
exercise of freedom (of access and mobility, for instance) for those who qualify as
belonging citizens and to minimise the supposed disturbance and threat of those who
Perhaps the play’s most sinister message, and one that mostly resonates with
Agamben’s alarming accounts, is to do with the fine and fragile line that
distinguishes between citizens and non-citizens. In a society that is overly dependent
on technology rather than politics for organising the life of its inhabitants, there is
always the looming danger of turning exception into the norm, rendering every
citizen as a potential non-citizen; every identity as a suspect identity, and making the
space of exception, such as that of Coventry, the fundamental paradigm of the city
Yet despite this bleak picture and ominous accounts, both Kent’s play and
Agamben’s thesis manage to leave a room for hope and potentiality. Curiously, it
seems that it is precisely within these zones of indistinction (between exception and
norm, life and non-life, citizen and non-citizen, city and camp, etc.) that the possibility
for resistance might exist and that the resuscitation of the political might take place. For
324 B. Ajana
instance, Coventry, against all odds, becomes the sole place where a sense of community
and human touch still subsist, unfettered by the need for identification and unburdened
by the imperative to constantly prove one’sentitlements.
To a certain extent, then, Another Paradise has succeeded in interweaving the
different concerns surrounding biometric technology and ID cards together with the
enduring philosophical questions regarding identity, rights and belonging. And in
this sense, it has undoubtedly done what a thesis play has to do: exposing some of
the most pertinent, problematic and controversial socio-political issues of our time,
and stimulating further thinking and debate.
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Review of Another Paradise 325
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