e-flux journal issue 134

e-flux journal issue 134

e-flux journal

Oleksiy Radynski, Chornobyl 22 (still), 2023. Documentary film. Camera: Max Savchenko.

March 9, 2023
Issue 134 
with Svitlana Matviyenko, Boris Groys, Lyn Hejinian, LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, Mohammed Zenia, Thotti, Jason Waite, Gigi Roggero, and Ben Ware

In this issue, Boris Groys charts the self-transformation of the working class through labor itself. Workers’ bodies, through their own labor, become spiritualized—artificial forms of their own creation. Since modernity, the working class, held up as a universal whole, has practiced “secular ascesis,” even if by exploitation and oppression. And where does this spiritualized dimension of the working class manifest itself? As art.

When the ready-made is brought into the museum—or when the museum is filled with giant monochromes, as Alexandre Kojève imagined—the difference between the industrial worker and the artist theoretically dissolves. Neither art nor labor have a utilitarian function, says Kojève via Groys; instead, their “essential” function is to produce the spiritualized bodies of the working class. The museum becomes a site for spiritual unification between ascetic workers, while the state protects “life-forms” produced through work from the danger of slipping back into a history of bloody struggles, wars, and revolutions.

In mapping the “Speeds and Vectors of Energy Terrorism,” Svitlana Matviyenko details how a full year of Russia’s asymmetric invasion of Ukraine opens a long view on hyper-contemporary practices of war. With the myth of “victory” and the promise of reduced kinetic combat in twenty-first century warfare both dashed, Matviyenko illuminates the entangled vectors targeting Ukrainians today. She also warns that any resolution must seriously contend with the ongoing operational psychosis evidenced by complex propaganda. Russia’s imperial army, hellbent on maintaining what Matviyenko terms “terror environments,” summons the technical, ecological, corporate, and aesthetic capacities of prior wars, fueling extreme new trajectories for past debris. Meanwhile, air-raid sirens, constant since February 2022, “have generated myriad affective relations between different life-forms throughout the entire country,” writes Matviyenko, maintaining “a profoundly cybernetic form of control and communication in the animal and the machine.” One need only see the haunted eyes of a fox, a living resident of Chernobyl, to glimpse the immediacy of a terror with a too-long half-life and no outside.

Looking to the near past, Jason Waite shows how the 2011 Fukushima meltdown destabilized Japan’s economic and political order and prompted the country’s largest social movement since the 1960s. A loose cultural collective called Amateur Riot (Shiroto no Ran) had already been building autonomous infrastructures, which were then put to use. Waite considers Amateur Riot—composed of artists, musicians, and other precarious cultural workers based in a small working-class neighborhood in western Tokyo (Koenji)—alongside the concept of “zomia,” which refers to a vast region between South, Central, East, and Southeast Asia that has little state presence due to its mountainous topography. In Koenji, Waite mobilizes the concept to describe embodied, local resilience against encroachments on survival.

Writing about extinction, Ben Ware asserts that anti-natalists choose the tight embrace of death—and in this way carry on in a vibrant form of life. Ware compares Freud’s lingering death drive to the “universal death drive” of entropy in the study of thermodynamics, and finds notions of death and its inevitability to be highly conflictual—not least in the pursuit of pleasure.

Thotti continues with the second installment of “We Too Were Modern,” a sprawling work on colonial modernity in Brazil. This month’s essay details the transformation and transubstantiation associated with the cultural interest in cannibalism, particularly as an expression of radical, national integration. In this belonging that will never pass for colonized or colonizer, “Oswald de Andrade’s operation seeks to revive the gesture of hospitality of Montaigne’s cannibal, to insert his flesh and especially that of the country into the infinite process of devouring and digesting where any lines between human and thing are erased.”

This issue also features work by three poets, selected by e-flux journal poetry editor Simone White. Lyn Hejinian’s “Lola the Interpreter: Book One” posits that “perhaps an artist is a fantasy creature, author of a genuine inner life, but about whom, eventually, a police statement says that she or he died of weeping or, as some witnesses insist, of laughter.” We come to this, in Hejinian’s lyrical opening directive, through “let[ting] this begin, precipitously disturbed.” LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs lays groundwork through memory structures that are often concerned with the language of—and conflictive relationship between—violence and sexuality. The photograph published with her poems shows one form of infrastructure (electrical cabling) growing through and destroying another (a house). The last line of Diggs’s two poems reads: “she reaches for a twelve pack of Nutty Buddy at Target / the book closes :: see / the problem w/ including photos.” Her poems and image come from her book Village, newly out. Mohammed Zenia’s “Fear and Poeming in Upstate New York,” which also travels points north and south, presents the ambiguous shifting figure of Funk Flex, in a musically adjacent counterpoint to Diggs’s parataxical, layered memories of America. Zenia’s work is definitional in its poetic strategies—in the naming of the geographically and personally specific elements of the poem. Read together, the work of these three poets presents parallax affective landscapes that speak through one of Zenia’s lines: “survival, the shuntering towards a failed kingdom or an abyss.”

Rather than isolating the one “true” Italian operaismo, Gigi Roggero paints a nuanced picture of the movement’s historical context. “For revolutionary militants,” he writes, “truth is never something that needs to be explained, but is always something that must be fought for.” Roggero summarizes the various versions of councilism that preceded and informed the development of operaismo, showing the movement emerged from the “political desert” of late-1950s Italy. In the end, through ruptures with history and with themselves, the operaist militants opened the possibility of a “history that would become collective.” In reading Roggero’s retelling of attempts to fortify the collective autonomy of the working class, Boris Groys’s opening question reverberates: “Let us ask: Why do people work?”  




Svitlana Matviyenko—Speeds and Vectors of Energy Terrorism
We are often reminded today that “empires do not know their borders.” This speaks of ultimate uncertainty, and thus of the imperial urge for conquest, which is driven by paranoiac imperial certainty about a threatening outside. The Russian Federation claimed that they “had no choice” but to invade Ukraine and kill its people, which constitutes a complex and contradictory epistemological landscape that could probably only be deciphered through psychoanalysis.

Boris Groys—Alexandre Kojève: Production of the Spirit
What do humans do after a successful revolution? The traditional answer is: they become the new masters and begin to impose their will on the losers. Indeed, such is the usual historical dynamic. However, Kojève believed that the working spirit—or rather the spiritualized working body—could be victorious over the animal human body. In other words: he believed that after the proletarian revolution succeeds, the proletarians will continue working. But they will not work merely to live or satisfy their desires; they will work to maintain the spiritualized life-form their revolution achieved.

Lyn Hejinian—Lola the Interpreter: Book One
Let this begin, precipitously disturbed. There: its only alternative now is to continue, which is to say: there’s no real alternative at all. Skepticism—doubt: it can prove liberating: SKEPTICISM, says the motto, WILL KEEP YOU FREE. But it can lead to a sense of hopelessness, impossibility; it can seem to promise nothing but dead ends and fatigue: SKEPTICISM WILL EXHAUST YOU. Ergo, says the logician, freedom is exhausting.

LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs—Two Poems from Village
digress :: journey to the bottom /of Bear Mountain Park’s tidal pool :: between wormholes / a girl is dancing w/ her eyes closed beneath mechanical surf / which way is up :: distancing downward :: is there any ooze /  that might ignite another reactionary freeze?

Mohammed Zenia—Fear and Poeming in Upstate New York
The feeling / Of / sinking // The ridiculous and / messy; the slow drip into / The other // (read either) / preening sighing, / emotional wallops / and manly grins / as if / somehow / through it all / Funk Flex was transference

Thotti—We Too Were Modern, Part II: The Tropical Ghost Is a Cannibal
Brazilian authority becomes trapped in producing potlatch after potlatch, transforming its legitimacy into a promise while constantly governing in the name of the exception, in the hope of consumption and expenditure, of enjoying a sacrifice so extraordinary as to erase its spurious and deficient character. It is this debt that allows the colonizer to coexist with the settler insofar as the colonizer can continue to explore, consume, and enjoy through the potlatch, and the settler can see in the colonizer’s enjoyment and expenditure the future birth of law and name. And yet, this birth is always postponed because the authority is burned, inevitably consuming itself in the fire of expenditure, from which the farce of hope and name must be restored with new clothes.

Jason Waite—Para-zomia: Cultivating Interdependence in Koenji
To counter the cultural and economic neoliberal shift towards precaritization, Amateur Riot has worked for almost two decades to reestablish local agency and to foster forms of interdependence for collective social reproduction, creating what I call, following the writings of political theorist James C. Scott, a “para-zomia”—a self-organized community embedded within an urban area. Though Amateur Riot includes artists and cultural workers, the collective does not consider itself a producer of artworks, signaling a move on its part past what is usually considered art.

Gigi Roggero—Italian Operaismo
Councilism involves the glorification of the figure of the worker as such, a work ethic that isn’t simply ideology but is rooted in a specific class composition, in which this worker and their pride in their craft play an important role in the productive process. These workers bear the stamp of their predecessors, the artisans. They are a sort of split artisan, struggling to regain complete autonomy over their skills, capacities, and forms of organization. Councilism fights against the expropriation of the crafts, which is implicit in industrial development, and tries to guide development toward a strengthening of the collective autonomy of the working class. 

Ben Ware—The Death Drive at the End of the World
This is precisely what anti-natalism cannot grasp, or perhaps does not want to know. It does not see that pessimism is the fixed point around which its own enjoyment circulates. What singularizes the anti-natalist, what provides them with a specific way of going on, just is the view that the best is not to be born and that our ethical purpose now is to bring about the extinction of the species by refusing to procreate. This is a life that sets itself against life, that carries death at its very core; but it is a life, nevertheless.

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