Issue 139

Issue 139

e-flux journal

Elderly people doing tai chi. Photo: Boris Thaser, Hanoi, 2015. License: CC BY-NC 2.0 DEED.

October 6, 2023
e-flux journal issue 139 

with Luis Camnitzer, Boris Groys and Anton Khitrov, Mario Tronti, Vanessa Machado de Oliveira Andreotti and Lucia Pietroiusti, KJ Abudu, Alberto Toscano, Sven Lütticken, and Shane Greene

If you believe in progress, the old and aged are always to blame for causing the persistent problems of the present, and the young, who supposedly come later, are the solution. This is all very tidy until you wake up one day to find yourself old—and observe that the young who blame you are also the young who are causing the problems of the future, just as you had in your own youth. In this issue, Luis Camnitzer offers advice to the aging—which, to be clear, means all of us—through an anecdotal contribution to the field of intergenerational dialogic studies. He discusses attempts at nonauthoritarian child-rearing; his experience, while a student activist, of explaining an art historian’s own obsolescence to his face; and recent moments when he’s realized that his generation has become ineffective at communicating with the young. In other words, Camnitzer fears that his has become the generation suffering from “asshole syndrome”—a diagnosis he and his fellow students used to dole out. Age and power together form a complex configuration, which make empathy and self-assessment all the more important when communicating across generational lines.

Boris Groys argues that in an unfree society, the underground becomes a space where individuals can express themselves even when their actions appear trivial from the outside. In conversation with critic Anton Khitrov, Groys remembers the work of the late Ilya Kabakov, dissecting how introspection can respond to mass culture. Kabakov, suggests Groys, exemplified the complexities of Soviet unofficial art and the nuances of success in the art world. Ultimately, Kabakov’s questioning of the human condition, in the Soviet era and beyond, left a profound legacy.

Mario Tronti passed away in August. Here, we celebrate him by translating into English for the first time an essay from his 1998 book La politica al tramonto (Politics at sunset), where he responds to those who thought history was ending at the close of the twentieth century. Tronti instead argues that the workers movement was defeated not by capitalism, but by democracy. He advocates for a new political freedom that transcends both modern and ancient forms of liberty, challenging liberal-democratic consensus and emphasizing the importance of injecting culture into modernity to counteract the ongoing barbarization of social relations.

Vanessa Machado de Oliveira Andreotti introduces the concept of “hospicing” modernity, to provide palliative care to an epoch in decline while nurturing the birth of something potentially wiser. In conversation with Lucia Pietroiusti, she challenges the illusion of our separability from nature, highlights the importance of collective rewiring, and calls for us to grow beyond the limitations of modernity.

KJ Abudu addresses the rise of anti-queer legislation in several African countries, and the potentials (and pitfalls) of two strategies employed by queer African scholars and activists: the tracing of anti-queer legislation to colonial origins, and the reclaiming of precolonial Indigenous queerness. In photographs by Rotimi Fani-Kayode, which challenge Western notions of queerness and gender by incorporating Yoruba onto-epistemological concepts, Abudu finds a path for an anti-colonial and anti-capitalist Afri-queer politics rooted in decolonial—and spiritual—revelation.

Alberto Toscano examines the persistence of fascism in the United States, tracing its roots back to the country’s history of enslavement, extermination, dispossession, and domination. Highlighting forgotten analyses of fascism by the Black radical tradition, Toscano argues that fascism is deeply enmeshed in the American experience and should not be dismissed as a foreign import, nor equated with the European interwar period.

Sven Lütticken delves into debates about historical materialism in the Black radical tradition, highlighting arguments by C. L. R. James and Sylvia Wynter on anti-colonial and class struggle, as well as challenges to the Hegelian dialectic by Frantz Fanon and Carla Lonzi. In a critique of contemporary art’s transformation into a commodified asset, Lütticken asks how “unexpected subjects” create divergent forms of life and social relations, some of which might also herald an emancipation from work.

As part of a series of writings on human extinction, Shane Greene discusses the contemporary rise of anti-natalism in an era of mounting environmental concern, plummeting global fertility, and the spread of industrial chemicals that alter human reproductive anatomy. Greene stresses the importance of considering gender and economic inequality in discussions of fertility and environmental responsibility, ultimately suggesting that we who live now, on this planet sinking under the weight of modernity’s false promises, may wish to have been the “never-born.”


Luis Camnitzer—Geriatric Power
Today I have become a member of that same generation I despised when I was a student. This was a slow and insidious process that I only perceived gradually and marginally. I started thinking about retirement when a student who was a fan of hip-hop asked me what music I liked. I answered that I favored classical music. After a long silence he looked at me and said, “Oh, you mean The Beatles?” 

Boris Groys and Anton Khitrov—No Order Makes Any Sense: A Conversation on Ilya Kabakov
I would say that contemporary civilization is a civilization in which nothingness has disappeared. Kabakov’s treatment of garbage still retains the intuition of nothingness. He assumes that it is possible to disappear into nothingness, and he often describes it—for example, as a departure into outer space from one’s room.

Mario Tronti—Politics at Sunset: Theses on Benjamin
The workers movement wasn’t defeated by capitalism. The workers movement was defeated by democracy. This is the problem which the century puts to us. The matter in front of us, die Sache selbst, that we must now try to think through.

Vanessa Machado de Oliveira Andreotti and Lucia Pietroiusti—Hospicing Modernity: A Conversation
We are conditioned, even neurologically impaired, by what modernity does to us. But we are not determined by it; we can find other ways to rewire ourselves. This rewiring is a collective process; there’s no way an individual can do it alone.

KJ Abudu—Anarcho-Ecstasy: Options for an Afri-Queer Becoming
This text might be framed as an offering, an attempt at releasing latent animist lines of possibility for what late twentieth-century works like Bronze Head might do for us in our current climate of rising anti-queer sentiment, on the African continent and elsewhere.

Alberto Toscano—Racial Fascism
Long before Nazi violence came to be conceived as beyond comparison, Black radical thinkers sought to expand the historical and political imagination of an anti-fascist left by detailing how what could be perceived from a European or white vantage point as a radically new form of ideology and violence was in effect continuous with the history of (settler-)colonial dispossession and racial slavery.

Sven Lütticken—Capitalism and Schismogenesis, Part 2
If many in the West today have the sense that the world is coming to an end, it is very much their world that is ending; other worlds were invaded and ripped apart long ago, yet the peoples in question refused to disappear—or, as with the Creole populations of the Caribbean, they became an unprecedented people spanning several aboriginal pasts, the long present of (neo)colonialism, and uncertain futures. Meanwhile the extractivist machine keeps accelerating—even amidst the symptoms of planetary collapse. The million-dollar question—to use an inappropriate metaphor—is to what extent contemporary forms of asymmetrical schismogenesis can maintain or produce forms of life in opposition to financialized and racialized capitalism.

Shane Greene—Never Born
Today I present a different figure, something like the unborn child’s bizarro cousin who is both real and unreal at the same time—the figure of a human life never even conceived. I call it the never-born. It exists but only in the minds of the already born and possesses no material manifestation whatsoever. No sperm hooking up with egg, no embryo, no fetus, no natal development, no forty weeks, no moment of birth, no child to care for, no adult in the making, no mortality to face.

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