Issue #134 Editorial


Issue #134
March 2023

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 how 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?”

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