December 18, 2020 - e-flux journal - e-flux journal issue 114: “You and I Don’t Live on the Same Planet”
December 18, 2020

e-flux journal

June Balthazard and Pierre Pauze, Mass, 2020. Two-channel video, wood, foam, Polychoc, polyester resin, water paint, plaster, pmma laminated, synthetic plants, bumper, steel, stage light, light stand, dimensions variable. Commissioned by Hermès Horloger, Bienne, Switzerland and Taipei Biennial. Courtesy of the artist and Taipei Fine Arts Museum.

e-flux journal issue 114: “You and I Don’t Live on the Same Planet”

edited with Martin Guinard & Bruno Latour; co-published with Taipei Fine Arts Museum

with Dipesh Chakrabarty; Martin Guinard, Eva Lin, and Bruno Latour; John Tresch; Eduardo Viveiros de Castro and Déborah Danowski; Chun-Mei Chuang; Hamedine Kane, Stéphane Verlet-Bottéro, Olivia Anani, and Lou Mo; Isabelle Stengers; Nadia Yala Kisukidi; Yuk Hui; Achille Mbembe; Pierre Charbonnier; Paul B. Preciado; Adam Tooze; and Erika Balsom

e-flux journal issue 114: “You and I Don’t Live on the Same Planet”

edited with Martin Guinard & Bruno Latour; co-published with Taipei Fine Arts Museum

with Dipesh Chakrabarty; Martin Guinard, Eva Lin, and Bruno Latour; John Tresch; Eduardo Viveiros de Castro and Déborah Danowski; Chun-Mei Chuang; Hamedine Kane, Stéphane Verlet-Bottéro, Olivia Anani, and Lou Mo; Isabelle Stengers; Nadia Yala Kisukidi; Yuk Hui; Achille Mbembe; Pierre Charbonnier; Paul B. Preciado; Adam Tooze; and Erika Balsom

On the occasion of the Taipei Biennial 2020 and together with the Taipei Fine Arts Museum (TFAM), this special issue of e-flux journal will also be available to read in Chinese in 2021. Titled “You and I Don’t Live on the Same Planet,” the issue deals with an increasingly pressing situation: people “around” the world no longer agree on what it means to live “on” earth—to such a radical extent that the foundational material and existential categories of “earth” and “world” are profoundly destabilized. It was often said at the beginning of Trump’s time in office that he had no coherent strategy. But today we can see that, on the contrary, he had an extremely coherent strategy that unfolded over four years without fail: privatization, deregulation, and isolating the US from any international project. The message of this strategy was clear: “You and I don’t live on the same planet.” What becomes of politics when opposing parties are taken as aliens occupying separate earths altogether? It is as if the question no longer concerns different visions of the same planet, but the composition and shape of several planets in conflict with one another. Pluralism has taken a much more explicit ontological shape, as if we are literally living on different earths—and earths that are at war with each other, as the essay in this issue “Coping with Planetary Wars” explores.

Successive “world orders” have treated planet earth as a fairly homogeneous place where different kinds of resources, different kinds of interests, and different kinds of sovereignties are all unified by one homogenous and overarching concept of Nature. This issue explores the consequences of what Eduardo Viveiro de Castro calls a shift from multiculturalism to “multinaturalism.” As we approach a series of tipping points, we simultaneously witness a division between those who seem to have abandoned planet earth, those who try to make it more habitable, and those whose cosmology never fit within the ideals of the globalizing project in the first place.

This state of division flies in the face of many twentieth-century strategies of political ecology—especially the principle that the high stakes of political ecology justify bypassing the tedious process of negotiation and deliberation typical for political action. Unanimity was supposed to rally the masses in a strong revolutionary push to “save the planet.” However, for the last forty years, we have seen that ecology does not unify. Instead, ecology divides. It divides the generations who will deal with its failures from those who will escape its consequences; it divides the regions already affected by climate disasters from those that are protected; within each region, it divides the classes that suffer disproportionately from decisions made by other classes; furthermore, it divides each one of us at the personal level: for each decision we face, we know there are cascades of unintended consequences that make it hard to distinguish the right actions from the wrong ones. What Bruno Latour has elsewhere called the “New Climatic Regime” poses problems at every magnitude of scale and blurs the classical political cartography. As Chun-Mei Chuang writes in this issue: “Our place is neither conservative nor progressive. It is molecular and planetary.”

To characterize this new spatial configuration, Dipesh Chakrabarty offers a brief history of ways of conceiving of the planets, while Eduardo Viveiros de Castro and Déborah Danowski explore the consequences of the turn from a philosophy of history to a philosophy of space, epitomized by the dismantling of the Axial Age thesis.

In which direction should we go once these divisions are established and assumed? The objective here is to try to imagine procedures that would allow these incommensurable worlds not so much to “dialogue”—which is not sufficient for the enormous differences in ways of inhabiting the world—but to enter into diplomatic negotiations.

The diplomacy that is evoked here does not lie within the existing framework of nation-states, which have, to say the least, many limitations with regard to the New Climate Regime. At the international level, the various UN Conferences of the Parties (COPs) have shown only moderate efficacy. The state may be relevant for choosing whether to shift away from coal or to impose regulations prohibiting the consumption of single-use plastics, but when it comes to managing “trans-boundary hazards” or reducing CO2 produced outside a state’s borders, a framework other than that of the nation-state and intergovernmental negotiations needs to be imagined. In this issue, John Tresch, through his research on “cosmograms,” searches for a representation of this space to be invented, while Erika Balsom looks at how documentary cinema can depict those encounters at the “third register.”

As Adam Tooze argues in his essay, diplomacy must be understood here as a mode of negotiation in a world without arbiters, without a higher authority capable of regulating the actions of the various collectives concerned. Of course, being horizontal rather than vertical in its mode of operation does not mean that there is no balance of power.

Taiwan is perfectly positioned to explore this theme. Due to its particular exclusion from the international order, the Taiwanese government has constantly created innovative ways of asserting its existence. For example, in the 1990s it funded the University of the African Future, an elite pan-African university in Senegal whose history is traced in this issue by artists and curators Hamedine Kane, Stéphane Verlet-Bottéro, Olivia Anani, and Lou Mo. But Taiwan is also a place where geological power is felt: an island that trembles, where erosion is severe and typhoons common, and which does not escape the problems of dependence on coal and extractivism. In short, Taiwan is the ideal place to explore geopolitics in both senses of the word: geological and political.

It is on the basis of the cleavages arising from this new geopolitics that a new form of diplomacy can be formulated. As Isabelle Stengers writes in this issue, the statement “‘we are divided’ should first be understood … in an active sense, pointing to what divides us, that is, to what has destroyed the feeling of interdependence as an operative political affect.” In this sense, the figure of the diplomat is changing: it is no longer a representative of a state, but rather an investigator of collective dependencies who has the capacity to help these collectivities formulate their obligations towards what must be maintained. In other words, the diplomat is an “epistemic messenger,” as Paul B. Preciado writes in this issue. What remains to be explored is how to set up such collectives and how to grant oneself the right to represent them.

When one world vampirically preys upon the resources of another, diasporas may play the mediating role of stitching together torn geographies, as Nadia Yala Kisukidi proposes. She emphasizes the modalities of living in several worlds at the same time rather than assigning a place-based identity to diasporas. By exploring this form of geopolitics, Kisukidi traces a path away from the “poor dialectic” that binds France and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. For Yuk Hui, the figure of the diplomat mutates into that of the “knowledge producer,” promoting a planetarization based on a diversity of ways to understand technology. A new appreciation of technodiversity might help us break out of the global hegemony within which planetarization has become stuck. And with a concern that this situation may result in new forms of “techno-molecular colonialism,” Achille Mbembe draws the contours of an ethic that is not based on a “diaphanous universalism,” but on “commonality and incalculability” among the living.

Relying on a more traditional definition of inter-state diplomacy, Pierre Charbonnier urges ecological discourse to change its moralist tone and develop a realpolitik approach. The author sees China’s announcement that it will achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 as a way of asserting its power on the international stage. An undemocratic ecology is on the march. Such a context can be instructive for European environmental movements advocating ecological justice by consensus in ways that limit their ability to defend concrete interests.

Even with such a “realist” approach to the situation, can we truly envisage negotiating with everyone? As the well-known doctrine goes, “You can’t negotiate with terrorists.” But what of the state-subsidized terror of preventing legal abortion? Preciado identifies a set of countries, from the US to Afghanistan, that shares a set of repressive policies on abortion. The diplomacy to be invented in this case must be one that incorporates the logic of resistance, otherwise the opponents of this techno-patriarchal bloc will lose all their leverage.

Adam Tooze, for his part, wants to clarify the modalities that make it possible to speak between opposing camps: one cannot negotiate with the hyper-privileged who abandon earth to fly towards “planet escape.” An irresponsible project that places so little value on the lives of the masses can only be a crime against humanity, whose adequate response is not diplomatic (horizontal) negotiation, but a hierarchically organized (vertical) trial. According to Tooze, the growing concern about a world that may become uninhabitable makes ecology less a question of superior metaphysical force than an increasingly credible cause. Tooze concludes: “Let us look for every chance for ‘diplomatic encounters.’ But let us reckon with the pervasive force of the emergency that our instruments so clearly register and let us not ignore complementary action” in the realm of traditional politics.

In conjunction with this special issue, the Taipei Biennial 2020, which opened physically on November 21, 2020, asks: How can an exhibition, as a vehicle for conceptual speculation, reach beyond the realm of the physical museum to interrogate the disorientation created by the current situation? Topics such as the interdependence between human and nonhuman worlds (Taipei Biennial 2018) have been explored by transforming the museum into a base for the activation of ecological thinking and experimentation. During the Taipei Biennial 2020, we introduced a series of thought experiments that unhesitatingly make action the priority. Consequently, the Biennial’s exhibition and its public programs not only feature fifty-seven participants, but also collaborations with scholars and school departments spanning a variety of disciplines. This engaged action introduces “political and diplomatic tactics” to explore the collision between human and nonhuman worlds.

In this state of division, the “common” that remains is our shared responsibility to face the future. In this sense, accepting that different people live on different planets may provide a useful clarification: to understand whom to ally with, and whom to fight against. The possibility of such “diplomatic encounters” remains a project to build, but aiming for such a project is already a radical departure from the path of war and conflict.

—Martin Guinard & Bruno Latour, Ping Lin, e-flux journal editors


Dipesh Chakrabarty—World-Making, “Mass” Poverty, and the Problem of Scale
The more humans created a human-dominated world order, an order of life, the more we got rid of most of the wildlife that could have threatened it. And we developed mechanisms for dealing with “natural” disasters, ranging from technology to insurance. The only predators we have left now are viruses, bacteria, and other microbes. In a way, this happened by combining caring with scaling up.

Martin Guinard, Eva Lin, and Bruno Latour—Coping with Planetary Wars
The singular image of the blue marble is now divided into different worlds which form a constellation that has nothing to do with celestial harmony. We are caught within it, where for each decision we must make, the gravitational attractions of the different configurations of earth make one’s head rotate as if on a merry-go-round. The model for describing this condition is not just some new form of dialectic (implying only two poles), but rather a configuration with a multiplicity of polarities.

John Tresch—Cosmic Terrains (of the Sun King, Son of Heaven, and Sovereign of the Seas)
Despite billionaires fleeing to New Zealand and Mars, we’re far too connected by oceans, weather, communications, and diseases for any of us to go it alone. We again need to see the earth as a whole. This is all the more true since the planet photographed from space failed to birth an unequivocally better world. 

Eduardo Viveiros de Castro and Déborah Danowski—The Past Is Yet to Come
When did things start to go wrong? It is hard not to ask that question nowadays. By “things” we mean, of course, “nous autres,” those civilizations that are now known to be mortal, as Valéry lamented in 1919, using a plural to speak of a singular, modern European civilization, whose future was the object of his deep concern. Today, this singular has become even more evidently and disturbingly a universal, the techno-spiritual monoculture of the species.

Chun-Mei Chuang—Politics of Orbits: Will We Meet Halfway?
Enfolding, folding, unfolding, and entangling—in the solar system, where everything is revolving around everything else, the Baroque formation of life on earth is always already a work of art. Meanwhile, it is a definite politics of boundaries that we cannot ignore.

Hamedine Kane, Stéphane Verlet-Bottéro, Olivia Anani, and Lou Mo—We Are the Ambassadors of the Blurred Mirages of Lands that Never Fully Materialized (About the School of Mutants)
The desire for new narratives, as well as for reconnection with sources from precolonial Africa, is perceptible among young people in Senegal and in Sébikotane in particular. They are opting and organizing to stay in Senegal, to keep inhabiting the territory, despite being confronted by all sorts of dangers that threaten, crush, and deny life every day. It is this permanent revolutionary future that we try to capture on film.

Isabelle Stengers—We Are Divided
The idea that diplomats today could help us articulate what divides us should not be abandoned. But it needs to be resituated in a new environment.

Nadia Yala Kisukidi—Geopolitics of the Diaspora
Diasporic existence is a refusal, the refusal to choose between two worlds. This refusal assumes a singular form when the two worlds are in conflict. It summons a whole vital economy that contests a geopolitics founded on the logic of predator and victim.

Yuk Hui—For a Planetary Thinking
Sense-making (Besinnung) cannot be restored through the negation of planetarization. Rather, thinking has to overcome this condition. This is a matter of life and death. We may want to call this kind of thinking, which is already taking form but has yet to be formulated, “planetary thinking.”

Achille Mbembe—Meditation on the Second Creation
With the cybernetization of the world, both the human and the divine are downloaded into a multitude of tech objects, interactive screens, and physical machines. These objects have become genuine crucibles in which visions and beliefs, the contemporary metamorphoses of faith, are forged. From this standpoint, contemporary technological religions are expressions of animism.

Pierre Charbonnier—For an Ecological Realpolitik
The shaping of post-carbon politics is not a peaceful landing in the world of shared interests, but rather a theater of rivalries organized around new infrastructures, new assemblages between political power and the mobilization of the earth.

Paul B. Preciado—The Hot War
The world is divided, as Bruno Latour puts it, not only in relation to environmental politics but also, and even more sharply, in relation to sexual and reproductive politics. A new hot war divides the world into two blocs: on one side, the techno-patriarchal empire and, on the other, the territory where it is still possible to negotiate gestational sovereignty.

Adam Tooze—After Escape: The New Climate Power Politics
There is every reason to think that profound shifts are breaking the impasse that has defined our reality for the last thirty years. This is not to say that we do not face a divided and unequal world set on a disastrous course, but rather that the key players and the terms of the negotiation are shifting.

Erika Balsom—Shoreline Movements
Whereas most borders enforce separation, the shoreline is a threshold marked by ceaseless negotiation. It is a site of arrivals and departures, of safe harbors and hostile intrusions. At once embedded in local traditions and subject to industrial development, it hosts encounters between different populations and environments, the terrestrial and the aquatic.


Taipei Fine Arts Museum
Director: Ping Lin
Chief Curator: Sharleen Yu
Editor: Huiying Chen
Editorial Assistant: Emily Hsiang
TB2020 Visual Design: Lu Liang

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