e-flux reader: Closeness

e-flux reader: Closeness


Photo: Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary.

March 26, 2020
e-flux reader: Closeness

Dear friends,

With the ever-evolving situation here on earth, there’s already an almost unrecognizable distance between last week and this week.

Last Thursday, the editors of e-flux journal sent out the first thematic collection of essays from the journal’s archive—a reader on contagion. Today, a reader-submitted e-flux reader brings us closeness.

We are we are thrilled at the profound collections coming in from our readers, and we hope there are many more to come.

As of today, there are over 1,300 essays contained in 108 issues of e-flux journal. All are freely available online here. There are infinite ways in which these essays can be grouped—both in relation to what we are all dealing with now, and crucially, imagining what is on the other side of the pandemic.

Ideally your suggested reader includes a title, a short abstract (100 words), and links to 8–9 e-flux journal texts.

Please continue to send suggestions to the following inbox: reader@e-flux.com.

Reader 2: Closeness
The COVID-19 pandemic forces the human animal to practice isolation. In proximity, our bodies expose one another to the chance of perishing. To stay together, we must now remain apart. We will, to be sure, meet again. But what will closeness, relation, and community mean to us then? What, we begin to wonder, did they ever mean? As we distance ourselves from the social, perhaps we gain an opportunity to find out.

Let the following selection from the e-flux journal archive be a starting point for discussion.

—Lilly Markaki, PhD Candidate in Media Arts, Royal Holloway, University of London

Irmgard Emmelhainz—Shattering and Healing
Issue #96—January 2019

When I think about what it would mean to learn to live with our own fragmentation and shattering, I am reminded of a recipe for repairing that I heard once: when a tool is damaged to the point that it can no longer be used, it needs to burn red-hot and then be smoothed out so the damaged part can be removed by submerging it in water. This water can be drunk—you should actually drink the story of the damage and repair it; if you have faith, you can even heal the source of the damage. Afterward, you can give the broken part a new function or purpose. While this recipe is for repairing iron tools, healing by “drinking the story” and repurposing the damaged part might also work as a strategy for embracing our own shattering. Through a sort of cathartic separation from the damaged part, we can cleanse ourselves and then commune with the remains.

Mladen Dolar—One Divides into Two
Issue #33—March 2012

One divides into two, two doesn’t merge into one. This was an old Maoist slogan from the 1960s. Despite its air of universal truth it has become dated, and I fully realize the danger of appearing dated myself by starting in this way. Nowadays, one can recite this slogan in front of a class full of students and none will have ever heard it or have any inkling as to its bearing or its author—it’s almost like speaking Chinese. The slogan combines an ontological statement, a mathematical theorem, and a political battle-cry. So why does one split into two in mathematics, ontology, and politics? And why, once we arrive at two, can we never get back to the supposed unity of one?

Charles Tonderai Mudede—Black Mirror Body
Issue #80—March 2017

I propose that the human body always says this: make me equal to you. We are the equality-demanding animal. Confronted with our own kind, we insist on being recognized as equal. Resist this demand and instability will follow. Equality is a force. Remove this demand, and it becomes impossible to account for any and all of our definitive characteristics: language, cooperation, and above all, morality.

Tavi Meraud—Iridescence, Intimacies
Issue #61—“Politics of Shine,” edited with Tom Holert—January 2015

There are more pressing matters than this potentially touchy matter of pressing close. The following story isn’t so much an apology for intimacy or some kind of championing of it, but rather the modest suggestion that intimacy organizes our experience of space and especially of surfaces. As such, it is in fact not so trivial or delicate after all. These are notes towards a reconceptualization of intimacy in light of new ways in which we can think of the surface.

Ana Hoffner ex-Prvulovic—Non-Aligned Extinctions: Slavery, Neo-Orientalism, and Queerness
Issue #97—January 2019

In any other situation, this story might be an accepted and rather boring part of lesbian life, maybe even a welcome sign of neoliberal excess and playfulness. However, I found it difficult to associate this memory with the context of slavery. It felt almost impossible to acknowledge that I could easily identify with the slave trader examining a woman’s teeth. Since the museum text did not address the dimension of sexuality at all, there seemed to be no language for the obviously sexual relations in the painting, only a silent repetition of the “disturbing” moment of the scene. In fact, the institution’s text suggested a reception of the painting quite similar to its function in 1866: slavery has to be watched with secret and speechless arousal.

Bernard Stiegler and Irit Rogoff—Transindividuation
Issue #14—“Education Actualized,” guest-edited by Irit Rogoff—March 2010

In fact, I propose to speak about three levels of education. The first is education in the larger sense of transmission—inter-generational transmission—because, to my mind, this is the essence of education. What is education in this sense? Education is the relation between diverse generations, and contact is its mode of transmission. For example, an artist is capable of affecting, in and of themselves, a line of transmission from Paleolithic art through to contemporary art, and this transmission is a relationship to time, to human—I don’t like the word “human,” so perhaps we could say “mortal”—experience. These lines are within the artist, not made manifest by him or her, nor are they structures of representation, and they are put into effect through their practice, through the contact with them.

Elizabeth A. Povinelli—Routes/Worlds
Issue #27—“Alternative Economies”—September 2011

For some time, I have been interested in developing an anthropology of the otherwise. This anthropology locates itself within forms of life that are at odds with dominant, and dominating, modes of being. One can often tell when or where one of these forms of life has emerged, because it typically produces an immunological response in the host mode of being. In other words, when a form of life emerges contrary to dominant modes of social being, the dominant mode experiences this form as inside and yet foreign to its body. For some, the dominant image of this mode of interior exteriority is the Mobius strip, for others the rhizome, and still others the parasite. But what if the dominant visual metaphor of the anthropology of the otherwise were a woven bag?

Paul Chan—The Unthinkable Community
Issue #16—May 2010

In Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, two men wait by the side of a country road for a man who never comes. If done right, that is to say, if done with humor, fortitude, and a whiff of desperation, the play is as contemporary, funny, precise, courageous, and unknowable as I imagine it was back in 1952, when the play premiered in Paris. When I worked with others to stage Godot in New Orleans in 2007, we took many liberties to make it work at that place, for that moment in time. We set the entire play in the middle of a street intersection for one set of performances, and then in front of an abandoned house for another. The actors let the musical cadence of New Orleanian speech seep into the dialogue. We used trash that was left on the streets as props. But there was one thing I wanted to do, but didn’t in the end: I wanted Vladimir and Estragon, the two main characters, to wait for Godot with people loitering nearby. So the country road that was supposed to be empty would teem with strangers walking by, sitting on the grass, or wandering aimlessly while talking on their phones, all ignoring the plight of these two homeless and luckless tramps. I think it would have worked. And this is because, in 1952, being alone literally meant not having anybody near. But today, one can be surrounded by, and in contact with, anyone and everyone, and still feel inexplicably abandoned.

Brian Kuan Wood—Is it Love?
Issue #54—March 2014

Love becomes a society without the state, to paraphrase Pierre Clastres. Love within strong and well-managed infrastructural conditions is explained with transcendental and highly personal terms—we are meant to be together, we are made for each other. We have so much in common. We are a private commons within the society. Love is allowed to be platonic and never opportunistic, and only the most wretched or destitute people marry the child of a factory owner for that reason, for a passport, etc. But when the trash man stops showing up, everything starts to marble and flip. Infrastructure turns to love and love becomes infrastructure. The son becomes the trash man. True love becomes a healthy family business, with children as its labor force. The economic mobilization of love might explain how love can be used to territorialize close communities. It doesn’t explain how much power these communities actually hold through those very bonds, through their ability to dissolve the apparent necessity of making alliances with power structures that don’t offer any immediate form of reciprocal support simply because they are there.

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March 26, 2020

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