Great essay by Keller Easterling in the Design Observer about the evolution of what she (and others) call ‘The Zone’. The Zone consists of a variety of predominantly urban spaces that have the characteristics of the separate, fiction xenospace – Export Processing Zones, Special Economic Areas, Free Trade Zones, Freeports and the rest. Easterling’s essay traces the origins of such entities as far back as ancient Rome for which the port of Delos was a ‘primordial free port’. Over the ensuring centuries these zones have evolved to suit the changing circumstances and spatialities of successive ‘world’ and/or ‘global’ economies, all needing to maintain some form of exterior location (exterior to the state, the city, the empire, the nation, etc.) in which money can circulate and/or be accumulated undisturbed and unhindered.
The very rapid evolution of The Zone in recent years – enabled by the duplicity of ‘sovereign’ states actively differentiating their economic and legal territories for the privileged few, new technologies of mobility and velocity and the changing nature of power – is producing what Easterling calls a new mode of ‘extrastatecraft’ – an interestingly contradictory term that neatly encaspulates a statecraft whose primary function is the evasion of the state in any form.
Easterling’s account of the nature of the Zone brought to mind a description by Norman O Brown of the proto-market spaces created by the ancient Greeks to mediate exchange between conflicting communities. Dedicated to the cult of Hermes – the Trickster deity who was god of the market, theft, boundaries, trade and all manner of other activities that involved the duality of transition and the ‘in-between’ – the Greeks created a system of ‘silent trade’ that involved a very particular spatial separation. Brown describes it thus:
The most primitive form of trade, “silent” trade, has features which we have already noticed in the cult of Hermes. In “silent” trade the parties to the exchange never meet: the seller leaves the goods in some well-known place; the buyer takes the goods and leaves the price. The exchange generally takes place at one of those points which are sacred to Hermes – a boundary point such as a mountaintop, a river bank, a conspicuous stone or a road junction.
Norman O Brown, 1947. Hermes the Thief: The Evolution of a Myth. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press
Such careful articulation of a ‘special’ place for trade not only anticipates the xenospaces of the marketplace and, ultimately, The Zone, but also prefigures the intermediating role of money itself. Money creates a conceptual distance (spatial and temporal) between commodities, people, communities, companies, etc. that is directly analogous to this space of ‘silent trade’. As such, Easterling’s assertion that The Zone has allowed urban space to, “become a mobile, monetized technology”, is not new. Xenospaces are as old as social space itself, notwithstanding the myriad new forms they now take.