How do we invent bad criteria for rotten infrastructure, the sliding of norms to the always incomplete and the already broken?
with Elizabeth A. Povinelli, Karrabing Film Collective, Lauren Berlant, Audra Simpson, Liza Johnson, Natasha Ginwala and Vivian Ziherl, McKenzie Wark, Rory Rowan, Tess Lea, Gean Moreno and Ernesto Oroza, Debbora Battaglia, and Dilip Gaonkar
e-flux journal iPad edition is now available.
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This very special issue of e-flux journal features a series of essays in conversation with Elizabeth Povinelli’s essay “Time/Bank, Effort/Embankments,” the last in a three part exploration on time, effort, and endurance in late liberalism (see also “Routes/Worlds” and “After the Last Man“). At the core of the issue are a series of questions on how to fully inhabit the time that never arrives and the half project that never resolves, never completes, that changes into a frozen breakdown, yet secretes crime and half-solutions in the meantime. How do we situate a field of half solutions crucially allowing for a virtuosity in conception in spite of severe limits to their pragmatic application?
Neither in shambles nor in glory, the liberal project limps on, but to what end? Where Fukuyama once heralded the fall of the Berlin Wall as the augur of the universal triumph of liberalism, by 2008 this event looks increasingly less like the end of history than the mute herald of an impending implosion. But the spectacular collapse of financial markets never quite succeeded in bringing anything down decisively. Indeed, if these buckles in the liberal social order suggest anything it’s that the idea and affect of “the end” (terminal futures, finitude) is merely another way in which liberal forms of governance secure their ongoing ethical claims and rectitude. The Big Disaster, the Decisive Event, the Last Wave: these forms of being and finitude wash away what is actually more decisive—the tsunami of quasi-events, where potentiality dwells, where normative identities collapse into crime, where crime ascends into statehood, where statehood slumps into museological conservation, but also, and perhaps most crucially, where forms of symbolic abstraction collapse to the point where objects and events crawl back into their referent, where forms of value detach from money and creep back into people. It is where potentiality is the refuge not of the hopeful but of the concretely ordinary and pragmatically banal.
We believe that to fail in this way is not to accept misery as a permanent condition. On the contrary it may be to supersede the function and wealth of the state materially and conceptually. And yet it may be a matter of accepting a certain discursive misery of a severe poverty of terms for situating activities taking place so far beyond the stabilizing borders of the liberal project, and the richness of terms available for certain bounded expressions of polite freedom. To look beyond this is to restore historical pain and disenfranchisement back into expressions of freedom that could very well be as consumptive and corrosive, but also the very backdrop against which those expressions can only emerge. Uprisings that aren’t? Welcome. We may not be idealistic, but we will always be subsidized by ourselves. We may never finish anything we start, but we deserve the richness of knowing why we shouldn’t have to. And couldn’t even if we tried. You are already one of us anyhow.
How does a life world already constitute a concrete money form? How do we understand and expand permanent incommensurability as the primary non-value of any form of social exchange? What figures does this produce as factors and variables in those exchanges, what does it draw into its vortex? Concentration, distraction, exhaustion, daydreaming, race, suffering, severe pain?
—Elizabeth A. Povinelli, Julieta Aranda, Brian Kuan Wood, Anton Vidokle
In this issue:
Karrabing Film Collective—Holding Up the World, Part I
When the Dogs Talked (2014) and Low Tide Turning (2012) are films by the Karrabing Indigenous Corporation in conjunction with Liza Johnson and Elizabeth A. Povinelli. This short film forms the first of a four-part meditation in this issue of e-flux journal on the problem of time, effort, and endurance in conditions of precarity.
Elizabeth A. Povinelli—Holding Up the World, Part II: Time/Bank, Effort/Embankments
In other words, those for whom no effort has been invested are then held accountable for not having the conditions for making the right kind of effort—the kind of effort that would eventuate a kind of event: the new, amazing, world-transformative concept-activity. How do we think about various explicitly aestheticized forms and genres of concept-activity that at once analyze and make worlds in which these efforts of attentive endurance are formed, thickened, and extended? And where and with whom?
Lauren Berlant and Elizabeth A. Povinelli—Holding Up the World, Part III: In the Event of Precarity … A Conversation
Desperation is a taxing noise that gets more or less intense. Sometimes in the places of economic cushion, emotional austerity is the norm for virtue, and waste makes ordinary action toxic and the atmosphere cortisol-cranky. I always try to remember that what we call the structural reproduction of life is about the relation of concentrations of wealth to other forms of social value and not just of who has the money.
Audra Simpson, Elizabeth A. Povinelli, and Liza Johnson—Holding Up the World, Part IV: After a Screening of When the Dogs Talked at Columbia University
I’m suspicious of certain new and powerful models of requiring documentaries to have “measurable impact.” I think it’s our job as artists and intellectuals to be out in front of things, like canaries in mineshafts, and to be looking for things which are there to be sensed, like a tingling and hopefully collective Spidey-sense, but which might not yet be there to be measured. Something more like “structures of feeling,” or things that are in the air, which might have some other kind of impact, some immeasurable impact.
Natasha Ginwala and Vivian Ziherl—The Negative Floats: Questions of Earth Inheritance
The question then remains, how might suffering manifest as aberrational phenomenon—not least as earth-image but also as impossible terrestrial formation? To borrow from Fernand Braudel, in what ways may landforms transfigure as events of interruption and be themselves “the dust of history?” Against the sedimentary backdrop of monopoly power, land may be found in circulatory appearances and as a force of eruptive displacement.
McKenzie Wark—Designs for a New World
The ruling class itself has changed form. That’s part of the reason the art world changed form. Art has a new kind of patron. One much less interested in the making of things than in the reaping of surplus from information. Its goal is the commodification of information flows. As such it undermines all of the old gift exchanges via which information used to flow, in the family, the community, via schooling, and so forth. What the capitalists did for the production of things, the new ruling class is doing for the production of information. I call them the vectoralist class. They rule through the ownership and control of the vectors of information, its stocks, its flows, its design.
Rory Rowan—SO NOW!: On Normcore
For K-Hole, one does not lose connection to oneself in sameness, but instead finds belonging with others. Indeed, at the very heart of K-Hole’s conception of Normcore is the idea that the relationship between self and others has undergone a fundamental transformation, of which Acting Basic is a symptom, but to which Normcore offers a solution: “Once upon a time people were born into communities and had to find their individuality. Today people are born individuals and have to find their communities.”
Tess Lea—”From Little Things, Big Things Grow”: The Unfurling of Wild Policy
Tracing (dys)function—how it occurs, and to whom, what, and how it is ascribed—might yield fleeting glimpses of the stealthy means by which systems of slow death occur under liberal beneficence, yet such hard-to-ameliorate, enclosure-refusing life routes also resists neat homilies. This too is a condition of their non-narratability: the requirement to abandon a text without satisfactory end, for morally affirming conclusion is also a misleading tact.
Gean Moreno and Ernesto Oroza—“Un solo palo no hace monte”: Notes on the Otherwise’s Inevitable Infecundity
Aren’t instances of the otherwise, then, once they are properly historicized, what remind us that returning to the farm and the simple life, that making the imperfect revolutionary filmic essay, that producing tiny economies invested in a wobbly ethics of sharing, that going back to tactics we’ve inherited from the 1960s or the 1970s, that dreaming the Tricontinental dream, that eating Europeans or celebrating this liberating cannibalism may no longer be what is needed? All these things had their moment and now we must tune in to our times and see what emancipatory possibilities and difficult challenges these offer. We need to be extravagant in the demand for our instances of the otherwise to be utterly contemporary.
Debbora Battaglia—Cosmos as Commons: An Activation of Cosmic Diplomacy
Here, I stress the critical point of cosmic diplomacy, on one level, for adding into the mix of voices and doings of spirits and humans, some of nature’s own; on another, for asking what the poetics of “shamanism in action” might be offering science in action, in the service of a cosmopolitical consciousness (as Stengers conceives of this), and vice versa. This “dance” of translatability opens any possible “escape from perspective” for recognition of the myth that it is.
Dilip Gaonkar—After the Fictions: Notes Towards a Phenomenology of the Multitude
Modern capitalism, in its various phases from the mercantile to the financial, has made peace with crowds. Within the capitalist imaginary, crowds have progressed from being regarded as a necessary evil (the consumer crowd) to a source of wisdom (crowd sourcing). Moreover, the crowd ethos is considered an indispensable (and enhancing) part of the consuming experience. By contrast, the liberal democracy remains deeply fearful of crowds. From that perspective, there is something intrinsically “illiberal” about the crowd to the extent that it leads to the dissolution of the “individual.”
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