October 10, 2012 - e-flux journal - issue 38: "Structural Violence"
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October 10, 2012

issue 38: "Structural Violence"

e-flux journal issue 38: “Structural Violence”
with contributions by
Sven Lütticken, Jon Rich, Bilal Khbeiz, Hito Steyerl, Eyal Weizman, Pelin Tan and Simon Critchley, Metahaven, and Cuauhtémoc Medina

www.e-flux.com/issues/38-october-2012

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To get rid of violence, you have to get rid of people, Tariq Ramadan once said in an interview. Of course, Ramadan meant this as an impossibility and a warning against overzealous idealism. But what an idea! By getting rid of people completely, we could have totally frictionless surfaces for exchange. Removing the human factor would effectively erase the difference between ethical and unethical behavior, visible and invisible infrastructure, finally relieving the increasingly tedious obligation to explain how political orders function, how economic transactions are guided. Those still living would only need to deal with the end products of systems whose functions are too complex, too tedious or technical, to merit attention. The entire world would assume the appearance of an iPhone interface.

The term “structural violence” is used often in sociology, anthropology, and human rights circles to explain how endemic cruelty between individuals or groups becomes institutionalized. It is a way of understanding how the violence of entrenched social differences or unresolvable civil strife ossifies and becomes sealed into cultural pastimes. And while systemic political and economic violence is often assumed to be a problem to eradicate, it is often in its very nature impossible to distinguish from that of its host society. Furthermore, it is a kind of violence without clearly identifiable actors—humans who can be expected to appear as part of a legal process. In many cases, structural violence assumes precisely the form of the legal process itself.

After all, legal systems are state and municipal bodies, and are subject to crimes and transgressions that take place within the borders of their jurisdiction. No wonder, then, that judicial systems have become increasingly inadequate for providing oversight on activities that take place across and between borders. The recent slew of extradition hearings only become more surreal in their rationales—just look at the case of UK citizens Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan, who were arrested in 2006 for posting to a UK website years before US prosecutors construed it as having supported the Taliban; unfortunately for Ahmad and Ahsan, the justification for extradition was that the service provider for the website was physically located in the US state of Connecticut. Meanwhile, the bizarre case of Julian Assange’s political asylum in a small room in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, the arrest of Megaupload’s Kim Dotcom, the FBI’s seizure the of riseup.net server, and of course Obama’s continuation of the US extraordinary rendition program, to various degrees all speak to the futility of pulling supranational activities back into the scope of domestic institutions.

The information, finance, and even art systems find comfortable nests in this globalized in-between terrain, and their infrastructural advances now compete with and often surpass those of sovereign states. What defines this realm is transit, velocity, logistics, and abstraction—fluid dynamics that smooth surfaces for the business of anything from warfare to humanitarian work, from financial arbitrage to everyday trade in products like toothpaste. And though we are deeply familiar with the paradigm of globalization and its effects, we continue to struggle to understand whether, and how, all of this traffic can be seen as a structure because it fundamentally assumes such fluid forms. And yet they are forms nonetheless, which is why this issue attempts to identify the indices where an infrastructure that evades representation nevertheless leaves its imprint by displacing violence into forms of culture and exchange, into emotional relations and into language.

In this issue, Jon Rich responds to an article by Bilal Khbeiz on the shared contract between readers and writers, in which an impoverished and imprisoned writer addresses nameless readers who will in turn be the authors of future revolutions. Rich’s response adds that the temporal compression of online exchange now produces a linguistic cocktail of authoritative address and rumor in place of analysis, and that this in turn shapes the ideological form of social movements led by ignorant readers.

Hito Steyerl looks at the state of indeterminacy between life and death illustrated by Schrödinger’s cat, whose fate is decided by the observer who finally opens the box. Seen as a grave, the cat’s box becomes a marker for both a juridical and metaphysical state of limbo functioning as a narrow pathway of communication between the dead and the living, the animate and the inanimate, the material that speaks and that which lies mute.

In an essay composed of excerpted passages from Eyal Weizman’s latest book, The Least of All Possible Evils, Weizman looks specifically at the structure of the “lesser evil” argument and its redeployment as a means to justify evil acts by identifying even more heinous hypothetical alternatives. It is a preemptive logic that produces a cold calculus of differentials in the absence of ethical absolutes, forming the very shape of a weak negativity that characterizes the withdrawal of any viable or coherent leftist, humanist mission.

“Contemporary capitalism pervades daily life in much more complex ways than it did under classic industrial (Fordist) capitalism, when the conveyor belt and punch-clock still seemed like a violent imposition of abstraction on life,” asserts Sven Lütticken in his expansive essay on the relationship between economic and artistic abstraction, from Marx to Beuys, to recent arguments by Andrea Fraser and exhibitions such as Maria Lind’s Abstract Possible.

Pelin Tan sits down with Simon Critchley to discuss the philosopher’s thoughts on the social contract as civil religion, Obama and liberal political theology, anarchism and responsibility, the Arab Spring, and football.

In the second part of their series of essays on the cloud as an online meta-architecture and myth, Metahaven find the concept drawing deeply from ideological strains of techno-libertarianism, Ayn Randian anarcho-capitalism, and hippie cyber-utopianism. If the innovative new forms of control that circumvent and exceed those available to most governments are exercised under the heading of the cloud, then it becomes clear that the terms for understanding its new forms of power are still to come.

Finally, Cuauhtémoc Medina ponders Raqs Media Collective’s drifting video work The Capital of Accumulation, which takes Rosa Luxemburg’s work, legacy, and absent body as its guide through a landscape of organic relations between capital and the human body. If Luxemburg understood that human relations could not be fully subsumed in a calculus of numerical relations, it is perhaps her work as an amateur botanist that now speaks to the ghosts that escape the clutches of systemic enclosure.

—Julieta Aranda, Brian Kuan Wood, Anton Vidokle

In this issue:

Sven Lütticken—Inside Abstraction
This drives home the point that contemporary capitalism pervades daily life in much more complex ways than it did under classic industrial (Fordist) capitalism, when the conveyor belt and punch-clock still seemed like a violent imposition of abstraction on life. Writing in the 1940s, Adorno and Horkheimer could still think of abstraction only as a liquidation of concrete objects; now it is obvious that abstraction does not so much liquidate as liquefy and transform the concrete from within.

Jon Rich—Facebook: A Court of Ignorant, Cruel Judges
It’s very possible that advancements in telecommunications caused the acceleration towards indiscriminate destruction. Since its beginning, the Syrian revolution has succeeded in creating unparalleled imagery that has taken everyone by surprise. The activists have led demonstrations against the regime knowing full well that they would be killed by the regime’s soldiers. They carry their mobile cameras to film their own deaths or those of their comrades.

Bilal Khbeiz—In Praise of Books: When Authorities Close a Prison, They Foil a Revolution!
The reader is the de facto authority for being nameless and ignorant. Unlike the writer, who builds a reputation out of the fragile adoration of fans, a reader could lay to waste to an entire empire in the blink of an eye!

Hito Steyerl—Missing People: Entanglement, Superposition, and Exhumation as Sites of Indeterminacy
How can we understand its conflicting desires: to want and to dread the truth at the same time? The urge to both move on and keep hope alive? Perhaps the state of missing speaks of a paradoxical superposition that cannot be understood with the conceptual tools of Euclidian physics, human biology, or Aristotelian logic. Perhaps it reaches out to an impossible coexistence of life and death. Both are materially interlaced in limbo—as long as no observer opens the “box” of indeterminacy. Which is, in many cases, a grave.

Eyal Weizman—The Least of All Possible Evils
Sometimes the principle is presented as the optimal result of a general field of calculations that seeks to compare, measure, and evaluate different bad consequences in relation to necessary acts, and then to minimize those bad consequences. Both aspects of the principle are understood as taking place within a closed system in which those posing the dilemma, the options available for choice, the factors to be calculated, and the very parameters of calculation are unchallenged.

Pelin Tan—Breaking the Social Contract: Interview with Simon Critchley
And it is secularists who insist that God has no role in the political realm, that we cannot appeal to God. This is usually based on some progressivist idea of history, which is also religious. Secularism takes over the providential narrative of Christianity, changes some key elements, and comes up with the idea that liberal democracy is the completion of history. The idea is that one is either on the right side of history or the wrong side of history—as Obama has said.

Metahaven—Captives of the Cloud: Part II
The space of flows is absolutely not smooth. It looks like a data center, and the coal plant that powers it. It looks like Julian Assange’s room in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. It looks like the Principality of Sealand. It looks like Sabu’s apartment on the Lower East Side. The landing from the digital onto the material is hard; it comes with a cruelty and intensity we haven’t even begun to properly understand.

Cuauhtémoc Medina—A History of Infinity and Some Fresh Catastrophes: On Raqs Media Collective’s The Capital of Accumulation
It is this spirit that retains the capacity to animate the kind of enquiry needed today in order to overcome the gloom of post-Marxist theory: an openness to the miscegenation of illuminations and facts, rebellion and receptivity, stories and theories. This is where, in fact, the true legacy of Rosa Luxemburg lies waiting for its inheritors. And so the interrogation of the accumulation of defeat and rebellion can begin afresh.

The print edition of e-flux journal can now be found at:
Amsterdam
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– Projects / DEPO / SALT Innsbruck: Galerie im Taxispalais Johannesburg: Center for Historical Reenactments Kristiansand: SKMU Sørlandet Art Museum Kansas City: La Cucaracha PressKlagenfurt: Press Kunstraum Lakeside Leeds: Pavilion Lisbon: Maumaus, Escola de Artes Visuais / Oporto Loughborough: Radar, Loughborough University Ljubljana: Moderna Galerija LLandudno: Mostyn London: Architectural Association/Bedford Press / Gasworks / ICA / Serpentine Gallery/ The Showroom / Visiting Arts Los Angeles: REDCAT Luxembourg: Casino Luxembourg Madrid: Brumaria / CA2M / Pensart Maastricht: Jan van Eyck Academie Marfa: Ballroom Marfa Melbourne: Monash University Museum of Art / World Food Books Mexico City: Proyectos Monclova Milan: Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, Hangar Bicocca, Milton Keynes: Milton Keynes Gallery Minneapolis: Walker Arts Center Moncton:Fixed Cog Hero (a bicycle courier company) Montreal: Canadian Centre for Architecture Moscow: Garage Center for Contemporary Culture Munich: Museum Villa Stuck / Walther Koenig Bookshop, Haus der Kunst Munich New Delhi: Sarai CSDS New York: e-flux / Independent Curators International (ICI) / Printed Matter, Inc Nottingham: Nottingham Contemporary Omaha: Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts Oslo: Kunstnernes hus Oxford: Modern Art Oxford Padona: Fondazione March Paris: castillo/corrales – Section 7 Books / Centre Pompidou / Les Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers Philadelphia: Bodega Pori: Pori Art Museum Porto: Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Serralves Portland: Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, (PICA) / Publication Studio Prague: Dox Centre for Contemporary Art Prishtina: Stacion – Center for Contemporary Art Prishtina Providence: AS220 Reykjavik: Reykjavik Art Museum Riga: Kim? Rio de Janeiro: Capacete / A Gentil Carioca Rome: MACRO Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Roma / Opera Rebis Rotterdam: Piet Zwart Institute / Witte de With Saint-Nazaire: Le Grand Cafe, Centre D’art Contemporain Salzburg: Salzburger Kunstverein San Antonio: Artpace São Paulo: Kunsthalle São Paulo / Master in Visual Arts, Faculdade Santa Marcelina Sarajevo: Sarajevo Center for Contemporary Art Seoul: The Books / The Book Society Sherbrooke: Foreman Art Gallery of Bishop’s University Skopje: Press to Exit Project Space Sofia: ICA Sofia / Sofia Art Gallery St Erme Outre et Ramecourt: Performing Arts Forum St Louis: White Flag Projects Stockholm: Bonniers Konsthall / IASPIS / Index / Konstfack, University College of Art, Craft and Design Stuttgart: Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart Sydney: Artspace Tallinn: Kumu Art Museum of Estonia The Hague: Stroom Den Haag Toronto: Mercer Union / The Power Plant Torun: Centre of Contemporary Art Znaki Czasu in Torun Toowoomba: Raygun Contemporary Art Projects Trieste: Trieste ContemporaneaUmeå: Bildmuseet, Umeå University Utrecht: BAK, basis voor actuele kunst / Casco-Office for Art, Design and Theory Vaduz: Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein Valletta: Malta Contemporary Art Foundation Vancouver: ARTSPEAK / Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, University of British Columbia / Fillip / Motto / READ Books, Charles H. Scott Gallery, Emily Carr University of Art and Design Vienna: Salon für Kunstbuch, Belvedere Gallery Vigo: MARCO, Museo de Arte Contemporanea de Vigo Vilnius: Contemporary Art Centre (CAC) Vitoria-Gasteiz: Montehermoso Kulturunea Visby: BAC, Baltic Art Center Warsaw: Zachęta Narodowa Galeria Sztuki / Zachęta National Gallery of Art Wiesbaden: Nassauischer Kunstverein (NKV) Yerevan: Armenian Center For Contemporary Experimental Art, NPAK Zagreb: Galerija Miroslav Kraljevic / Gallery Nova / Institute for Duration, Location and Variables, DeLVe Zurich: Postgraduate Program in Curating, Zürich University of the Arts / Shedhalle / White Space.

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