e-flux journal issue 126

e-flux journal issue 126

e-flux journal

The damaged clock tower of Finale Emilia, Italy, 2012. Photo: Gianfilippo Oggioni, Lapresse/AP Photo.

April 7, 2022
e-flux journal issue 126

with Svitlana Matviyenko, Boris Groys and Liza Lazerson, Boris Buden, Raed Rafei, Gregor Mobius, Tyler Coburn, and Heather Davis
www.e-flux.com

It’s unclear how many people still alive today can remember feeling the strange, warm rains that fell over the riverside city of Pripyat on the Ukraine-Belarus border in late April 1986. Pripyat was built in 1970 to serve the nearby Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, dedicated to harnessing the mirnyy atom (“peaceful atom”) for the Soviet Union. For the past thirty-six years, Pripyat and a surrounding exclusion zone of inconsistent bounds bridging swaths of today’s Ukraine, Belarus, and a bit of Russia have been off limits to most human beings. In this issue of e-flux journal, Svitlana Matviyenko disagrees with Paul Virilio when he says that the Chernobyl disaster was “the original accident” of war and peace converging in technological “shipwreck modernity.” For Matviyenko, a Ukrainian scholar of cyberwar and nuclear colonialism, the full and non-accidental activation of the same nuclear-plant-turned-weapon happened this year, just a month ago. 

Also in this issue, Boris Groys finds Vladimir Putin leading Russia into a self-destructive search for cultural foundations, to a point where even Western sanctions could be part of a much larger suicidal plan orchestrated by Putin. But this fanatical drive to restore a non-Western essence becomes especially dangerous when such an essence may not actually exist. For Groys, what does exist is a very long story of restoration following the (also long story of) Russian Revolution; in this restoration, prerevolutionary symbols of capitalism, monarchy, and local culture are supposed to heal the wounds of revolutionary violence. However, the delusion that Ukraine should welcome being restored to its rightful place in a coherent “Russian World” shows that, while revolutions are often characterized by purposeful violence, restorations have their own kind of senseless and blind violence.

Boris Buden asks: What the hell is “the West,” if not another vague regional abstraction, boasting democratic principles without even being a truly democratic political entity? In this sense, Putin’s criminality doesn’t exonerate the West for abandoning Ukraine to fight its war as a proxy while hiding behind money, bombs, and liberal values watered down from real revolutionary vision. Similarly empty of ideas beyond the expansion of its own identitarian bloc or “European family,” the West is also the result of a counterrevolutionary project far more robust than Putin’s. But crucially, for Buden, real revolutionary vision is what is sorely needed to prevent an accelerated decline into senseless identitarian war. Today we need to “make love, not war”—harnessing the radical utopian vision of sex and love embodied in that slogan, not its reduction to mere freedom of expression—in order to mobilize our common desire for peace and reconciliation for Ukraine and Russia.

Raed Rafei explores Pier Paolo Pasolini’s visit to Beirut in 1974, during the golden era of leftist struggle in Lebanon. Just one year later, Pasolini would be dead and the Lebanese Civil War would begin. As Rafei writes, Pasolini’s intertwining of sex and politics speaks to how queerness might have shaped radical politics in 1970s Beirut and the Arab world if the civil war had not put an end to the cross-fertilization of anti-imperialist struggles and sexual revolution.

Gregor Mobius, a theoretician of visual languages, writes that recent events have radically shifted his perception of the world. Between the Cambrian explosion of 530 million years ago, when new animal species proliferated, and the literal explosions of today, the world “has gradually turned from a well-organized 3D structure into a flat, chaotic 2D universe.” To restore some sense of synaptic order, Mobius considers possible scientific and philosophical starting points for a new “big narrative.” Perhaps the next one can be more inclusive of the startling diversity of human civilizations, and can even imagine the possibility of an emergent, self-aware biosphere. What unit of time should the next big narrative use? Or should it dispense with time altogether? “It is important and necessary,” writes Mobius, “to begin articulating a story about the world/life/existence that is completely different from one that is dissolving now.”

 

Svitlana Matviyenko—Nuclear Cyberwar: From Energy Colonialism to Energy Terrorism
A premediated and unlawful act of terrorism committed either by rebels or governments can be isolated, but it can also take place in the context of war. In this case, it should be distinguished as such. Russian forces, it seems by now, were better prepared for a parade than combat. They intended to achieve victory in their failed blitzkrieg by a series of distributed terrorist acts. Their attacks on “not just selected but also random targets” were meant to seize attention and paralyze the country by shock, horror, fear, or revulsion. The occupation of a nuclear power plant—one such terrorist act—equally targets local and remote publics, opening multiple channels of negotiation or pressure to compensate for the Russian military’s disorganized invasion.

Boris Groys in conversation with Liza Lazerson—Putin: Restoration of Destruction
No one is asking people in Mali or Peru to live the “Russian way.” This is the difference between today’s Russia and the Soviet Union, because back in those days there were communist organizations and parties in every country of the world. They wanted everyone to live under socialism. It was a universal message aimed at the whole world. But the current “Russian message” is not universal: it is not addressed to the whole world. Second, it makes no sense to anyone. It is incomprehensible even to the Russian people, and even more incomprehensible outside of Russia, because no one understands what this Russian identity is.

Boris Buden—The West at War: On the Self-Enclosure of the Liberal Mind 
The true catastrophe that has turned Ukraine into a killing field is precisely this binarism in which the West fights the very ideological monster it itself created. This war erupted not because the West should have penetrated even further into its eastern other, now called the “Russian World.” Rather, it had already penetrated too far—with the binarism of primitive accumulation (private vs. state property) that devastated this whole space and installed oligarchic rule. It’s this same binary deadlock that prevents us from imagining any end to this war beyond the dystopian vision of a fragile armistice among ruins and hatred. How much time will it take to heal the wounds of this war that divides not just two nations and millions of families and friends, but also two civilizations, two worlds? Already we hear that it may take hundreds of years. Do we have that much time?

Raed Rafei—Pasolini and the Queer Revolution in Beirut 
Mainstream historical accounts have long held that the sexual revolution and subsequent gay rights movements started in the 1960s in the US and Europe. What if we imagined Beirut as the heart of a queer revolution where anti-imperialist ideals and sexual freedoms are tightly interlinked? What would happen if we imagined, further, that this was an all-encompassing revolution for “the wretched of the earth”—one that sought a definitive break with Western, capitalist, heteropatriarchal ideologies and drew inspiration from premodern spiritual wisdoms? Pasolini, a colossal figure at the nexus of queer sexuality and radical leftist politics, could help us reconfigure the past along these lines and envision alternate futures.

Gregor Mobius—Personal Entropy
Eternity is timelessness; it is nonliving death. Life is finite, temporary, but it is meta-nonliving. The living can see/observe the nonliving (and the living), while the nonliving cannot see either the living or the nonliving. If 2D images derived from RNA/DNA sequences are “pictures of the world” recorded by living matter, then perhaps another kind of life-form, regardless of its molecular structure, might perceive the world in a similar way. Its “pictures of the world” might correspond to those recorded and saved within RNA/DNA. In other words, if the two living forms are structurally different, having different or even unrelated material properties, they might still perceive the world in a similar way. Temporariness is the price life must pay in order to be able to see the world.

Tyler Coburn—The Petrified, Part 2
Or am I wrong to assume that the pursuit of petrification is individual, not collective? A reprieve from life and not, like the living Buddhas of Japan, an ongoing vital practice? The pain of mummification was endured to alleviate our own; do the petrified, in their own manner, unburden us through their actions?

Heather Davis—Plastic Media
As plastic has become so central to communications and infrastructure, plastic operates as a logistical medium—that is, a medium that sets the “terms in which everyone must operate.” Plastic determines so many of our relations, including the goods we can access, the distribution of food, access to water, medical supplies, and an infinite variety of other things that arrange and regulate the movements of people and the qualities of our lives. It is a leverage point of power, distributing and amplifying other systems of inequality.

 

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