Issue 138

Issue 138

e-flux journal

Painted skull from an ossuary in Hallstatt, Austria. Photo: Paul Kranzler, Maria I from the series “Vademecum,” 2013.

September 7, 2023
e-flux journal issue 138 

with Charles Tonderai Mudede, Amelia Groom, Samer Frangie, Serubiri Moses, Ratheesh T, Sven Lütticken, and Keti Chukhrov

In this issue, Charles Mudede proposes that Octavia Butler brought us a viable theory of quantum movement. Who is capable of moving through time to haunt other people in other places and other times, and in which direction? Paradoxically—and there are many paradoxes—just as the hurt have been hurt, the dead can only be dead, and are for that reason no longer able to move forward in time to haunt us. We, however, are alive in our own time, and we feel pain on their behalf. It is we who reach out from the future—our present—to haunt them in the past. We are in fact the zombies of the already dead, mirrors of our own regrets, just as we are presently haunted by messengers from a future time warning us to not repeat what they know will not end well.

Amelia Groom looks at how the singer Mariah Carey’s eccentric attitude toward time and temporality seems to demonstrate a unique physics of spectacle, or even a philosophy of chronology or history. Often expressed as a refusal of causality or time as measurement—who’s to say what preceded what, or what made something else possible?—Carey’s cheerful denial and insistent creativity in a metaphysical domain suggest an avant-garde sensibility thriving in the most unexpected of places.

Samer Frangie delves into the tense relationships between food, identity, and the social dynamics of crisis in Lebanon. The present political and economic crisis, argues Frangie, is not just a matter of material scarcity; it is a method through which those in power restructure society and exert control. Frangie’s exploration is driven by the current famine, a poignant symbol of the nation-state’s decay. The discourse around food, a once celebrated cornerstone of Lebanese identity, is transformed into a nostalgic relic in the face of contemporary collapse. But the breakdown of basic necessities like electricity also exposes the privileged place of the refrigerator as a fulcrum for modern family dynamics, relationships, and even the experience of life and death across class lines.

In Audre Lorde’s 1974 poetry collection New York Headshop and Museum, the New York City of the 1970s is a necropolis rife with violence, racism, decay, and decrepitude—a site for the ongoing genocidal tendencies of capitalism. In Serubiri Moses’s reading, Lorde’s poetry—including her deep engagement with African diasporic wisdom and spirituality—invites a reevaluation of modernism by highlighting themes of violence, healing, and revolution.

South Indian artist Ratheesh T’s practice of looking has evolved from his early experiences in Indian classical dance, where he encountered the complexities of caste-based politics in the performance world. Faced with overbearing whiteness, he transitioned to Western and cinematic dance, even embracing Michael Jackson’s style before unexpectedly shifting to painting after spending time with artists from the leftist Radical Group. More recently, observations of family and landscapes in his hometown of Kilimanoor have emerged as a central theme in his paintings, as have the “careless objects” Ratheesh finds in the disorderly arrangement of his studio.

Meanwhile, in the first installment of a two-part essay, Sven Lütticken envisions a complex landscape of divergent movements, critiquing dominant organizational structures while seeking ways to prefigure a transformative future. In exploring connections between Huey P. Newton’s “intercommunalism” and the micropolitical turn of the 1970s and ’80s that was associated with Deleuze and Guattari, Lütticken discusses the complexity of emergence, historical narratives, and the potential for creating alternative forms of life against capitalist forces. 

One and a half years into Russia’s attack on Ukraine, Keti Chukhrov examines the crisis of emancipation theories. In challenging Western leftist critiques of representative democracy and the enlargement of NATO, Chukhrov highlights the agency of former Soviet countries to voluntarily orient towards European democracy, NATO, and EU membership. The alternative, she stresses, would be continuing to live under autocratic rule. She argues that the war underscores the inadequacy of purely discursive critique by the cultural left, emphasizing the need for realistic strategies in the face of geopolitical crises.


Charles Tonderai Mudede—Who Haunts? 
Only the living can visit the dead, not the other way around. We’re there when George Washington buys a slave. We’re there when a tree bears strange fruit. We’re there in the gas chambers, or when Winston Churchill starves to death millions of Indians. And as we in the present are in the past, we are also haunted by those in the future, those not yet born.

Amelia Groom—There’s No Beginning and There Is No End: Mariah Carey and the Refusal of Time
Mariah wants “victory over the sun”; she wants to control her own lighting and thereby create her own system of time. None of this externally dictated, default reality! MC proposes a life of reparative denialism; rather than being touched by the tedium of reality, she floats above it—like a butterfly, that airborne creature of metamorphosis, transience, and flight that has accompanied her image for decades.

Samer Frangie—On Food as an Analytic of the System
Starting a few years ago, we had to confront ourselves as material beings. It began with the garbage crisis in Lebanon. The company responsible for managing our garbage was no longer able to control the dumps entrusted with keeping it out of sight. Rubbish accumulated on city streets, exposing the corrupt and deteriorating social structures responsible for managing waste. We tried to contain the scandal by returning the garbage to its rightful place, that is, out of sight. But we refused to learn the lesson that we are just part of a larger configuration.

Serubiri Moses—Audre Lorde’s Bloody Rush-Hour Revolution
While predominantly known for her writing on feminist topics including care, sisterhood, breaking the silence, and sexual ethics, a lesser-known aspect of Lorde’s writing—which shows up in New York Head Shop and Museum—concerns Black spirituality, especially orishas that Lorde turns to while looking beyond empire from within its crumbling constraints.

Ratheesh T—Observing Kilimanoor
When I entered the studio, it was messy. Everything was carelessly placed on the table, like underwear and everything. And once I beheld those things, there was some kind of beauty as I looked more closely. Even if someone else could not envision it, I saw beauty while looking at this messy table.

Sven Lütticken—Capitalism and Schismogenesis, Part 1
As “collective projects” and “collective agency” take on new and complex forms, how can processes of collective self-identification be grasped—not just historically, but also for the social media–driven present? How can such processes be intervened in and shaped? What is the role of disidentification between various “peoples” who cast each other in the role of other, alien, enemy? Are divergences always motivated through negation, by opposition?

Keti Chukhrov—Cracks in Theories of Emancipation under Conditions of War
The principle device of Putinist political technology is the manipulation of semantics to shape appearances, where any signifier or term can be imposed on any event, thing, or situation. This is the context in which a Federal Security Service worker can pretend to be an art historian, an orchestra conductor can be introduced as a curator, and an aggressor can be called a victim.

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