Issues
Issue #108
With: Yuk Hui, Boris Groys, Xiaoyu Weng, Maria Lind, Jonas Staal, María Iñigo Clavo, Daniel Muzyczuk , Franco “Bifo” Berardi, Massimiliano Geraci, Shumon Basar, Hans Ulrich Obrist
It is April now, which T. S. Eliot once called the cruelest month. In Eliot’s April, lilacs rose from the ground as if to mock the dead of World War 1. Today, as the pandemic rages on, many lives are on pause, while many others end. And yet, the flowers bloom. We might say that this issue of e-flux journal asks how Covid-19 preys on existential vulnerabilities—through essays written well before the current crisis, and others in response to it. If Covid-19 has merged the biological and...
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10 Essays April 2020

For Jacques Derrida (whose widow, Marguerite Derrida, recently died of coronavirus), the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center marked the manifestation of an autoimmune crisis, dissolving the techno-political power structure stabilized for decades: a Boeing 767 was used as a weapon against the country that invented it, like a mutated cell or virus from within. The term “autoimmune” is only a biological metaphor when used in the political context: globalization is the creation of a world system whose stability depends on techno-scientific and economic hegemony. Consequently, 9/11 came to be seen as a rupture which ended the political configuration willed by the Christian West since the Enlightenment, calling forth an immunological response expressed as a permanent state of exception—wars upon wars. The coronavirus now collapses this metaphor: the biological and the political become one. Attempts to contain the virus don’t only involve disinfectant and medicine, but also military mobilizations and lockdowns of countries, borders, international flights, and trains.

Even if philosophers are not directly endangered by the existing ideological powers, they are immersed in the everyday life of their society. Thus, to be able to survive in this society they have to accept almost all of its opinions. For example, philosophers have to eat and drink and so they have to accept societal opinions with respect to what is edible and drinkable and what is not. And in the contemporary world, they also have to cross the street on the green light and not the red light, and use their computers in an appropriate way. If philosophers found themselves unable to cope with everyday life and contemporary technology, they would die rather soon. Thus, in order to be consequential, the philosopher has to accept death as a possible and even probable result of the act of epoche. Socrates was ready to accept the death of his empirical self because he believed that a part of his soul remained immortal—and so he could sacrifice his earthly life in the name of eternal life in a society of gods.

It is particularly dangerous when something from the cultural imagination is later read as a reliable prophecy, since it renders the abstraction and alienation of human suffering as a set of perpetuating clichés. For example, the only similarity between the current pandemic and the “predictions” pulled from Dean Koontz’s 1981 novel The Eyes of Darkness, noted on social media this February, is a reference to a killer virus called “Wuhan-400” that emerged from the Chinese city of Wuhan. As the reality of the pandemic unfolds globally, “China” continues to operate as a spectacle in both intellectual gossip and pop-cultural speculation. But we need more than just an arbitrary imagination of the suffering. There is rage, confusion, fear, and despair: concrete and real.

The allergic fungal sinusitis I was diagnosed with probably had to do with my allergic sensitivity to pollen and cats, as well as all fresh fruit and most vegetables. As a psychological and social tendency, oversensitivity is familiar in popular culture as well as in the fine arts. We know a lot about high-strung individuals and their inner life, whether male geniuses, hysterical women, or something in between. In comparison, physical oversensitivity is not very well understood in medicine, culture, or society. And yet I share the condition with many other people. The World Allergy Organization states that 10 to 40 percent of the world’s population suffers from allergies. They predict that by 2025, half of the population of Europe will suffer from one allergy or another.

If any illusions remain that only humans have world-making agency in our ecosystem, the consequences of the racial Capitalocene are forcing these to an end. The Capitalocene’s trajectory was to establish “capitalism as world-ecology,” but the truth is that the brutal realities of its extractivist industries have enabled various parts of our violated ecologies to strike back: by hurricane and earthquake, by plastic flood and toxic fire. And now, the coronavirus pandemic predictably makes visible how structural inequalities are accelerated through what is still a relatively containable crisis, and this tells us much about what to expect from the current world order when faced with vastly more aggressive climate catastrophe–fueled pandemics, failed harvests, and millions of climate refugees.

I agree with the above critics that these artworks create spectacles out of non-Western cultural practices, and that there are dangers in bringing rituals into the art space. Yet I am also concerned with how the criticism reflects limitations of translation, as these limitations will always mislead us into interpreting these artworks as exercises of spectacularization or performance, corrupting the essence of the ceremonies. In using translation as a tool to understand the unknown, what potentialities are we missing?

The act of handing over museum rooms to be filled with expanded choreographic forms had a dual effect. It not only allowed the spectator to witness the development process and be offered tools to better understand the pieces; it also rendered each room an area of artistic autonomy, given that the now alienated artists were not obligated to respond to each other. These “living spaces”—unable to share in one, singular narrative—required that each artist stand on their own.

Killing Swarm, Part 3
Franco “Bifo” Berardi and Massimiliano Geraci

Once he entered the booth, Isidoro sat on the wooden bench and the screen immediately lit up on the wall across from him. The Cells of the Everpresent had curved screens across which the lives of the departed ran nonstop. On the concave back wall runs a trembling, electronic afterlife. Ectoplasms of the past are continually rearranged by grabbing brief fragments of video recordings from the prior existence, and combining them with clips from the present. Friends and relatives are televised, sending in images where they recollect the one lying beneath.

The art historian, critic, and curator Germano Celant passed away on April 29, 2020, in Milan. Perennially clad in black, his hair a mane of swept-back white, he was as distinctive a physical presence as his presence has been in the art of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Described to us once as “a living Vasari”—a reference to the pioneering sixteenth-century author of Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects —Celant’s sustained output over the last six...
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