Issue #137 Editorial


Issue #137
June 2023

Often it seems like we are facing so many endings that we can only be living in the end times—a self-annihilation whose inevitability even appears deliberate. From climate projection to daily news, much of the apocalyptic tone we encounter has an almost celebratory character, as if the end times were more of an ideological construction than a common observation. Certainly a lot of it is macho clickbait or political brinkmanship, and in some cases actual worlds ending. But it also carries a stranger imaginative character in the absence of any significant political imagination by traditional standards. Indeed, taken as a literary tool more than a documentary one, perhaps there is more to the end of the world than we thought.

Yuk Hui subtly reminds us that eschatology—the part of theology concerned with death and finality—is not necessarily a horseman signaling actual end times, but is merely a device for contemplating ultimate outcomes. As such, it is inherited from Abrahamic thinking, but is furthermore an imaginative device for projecting a final destiny from more immediate tendencies that might appear conflicting or illegible when taken on their own terms. Hui faces the fears surrounding ChatGPT, urging us toward a deeper understanding of artificial intelligence—in order to identify the imaginative leap we are being asked to make.

Franco “Bifo” Berardi also turns toward artificial intelligence. Here he takes on the cognitive automaton, networks of AI capable of autonomous decisions—potentially including the one to eliminate the obstacle of their human progenitors. According to Bifo’s analysis, the alignment of AI with human values is a delusion. Instead, humans will need to align themselves with the values and capabilities of intelligent machines.

A book-review poem by Mary Walling Blackburn uses Bambi in its myriad forms—cinematic and literary—to explore how gender and soft power touch. “Together, we flay Bambi,” begins the text, as an invitation and a promise (even a threat?). Marguerite Duras claims that literary criticism kills the book it aims to describe. Can the review stalk and quash trauma too?

In a future where immortality is achieved through cryogenization, Ilya Gordon, a senior curator at the State Museum of Immortality, grapples with the responsibility of preserving the personalities of the resurrected via aesthetics. Boris Groys tells his story. When a private sponsor offers financial support to create environments that keep the personalities of the deceased intact, Ilya becomes entangled with malign interests. In a post-religious society, Gordon’s suspicions are aroused with the sudden appearance in his museum of old Dutch and German masters’ paintings of tortured saints.

Reluctantly Queer, a short film directed by Akosua Adoma Owusu, follows the longings of a young Ghanaian man who has migrated to the United States. The film centers on a letter to his mother, read over images of the young man in his apartment—sometimes with a lover, sometimes alone. Presented in this issue, the letter addresses the racial and sexual challenges he faces in both countries, neither of which promise him the safe embrace of all the true selves with whom he walks through the world.

Olga Rodríguez-Ulloa’s manifesto—fragmented, displaced, hopeful—explores the term “chola” and its haunted, powerful echoes in the Andean region. The manifesto aims to unearth a silenced past, digging up long and previously whitewashed histories to reclaim and embrace a fuller chola subjectivity, acknowledging the threat it poses to coloniality, patriarchy, and individualism.

In the 1970s and ’80s, writes Mijail Mitrovic, Latin American art critics sought to develop a theory that would address the region’s cultural identity and overcome enforced dependencies on the First World. Mexican art historian Rita Eder and Peruvian critic Mirko Lauer proposed a “Social Theory of Art” (STA) as an alternative to both dependency and difference, focusing on “the socioeconomic and ideological determinations of the plastic object.”

Meanwhile, looking into a similar era, Otavio Leonidio begins an unwritten history of performance art in Brazil. Starting with two young artists disrupting—on tiny bicycles—a Rio performance by John Cage of his famous silent minutes and seconds, Leonidio charts a tendency that continues today, of Brazilian artists misappropriating their expected, limited place as a non-Western avant-garde.

Sand, as a resource, is essential for construction and land reclamation projects, with Singapore being its largest per capita importer due to constant urban expansion. William Jamieson digs up the extent of the environmental degradation associated with sand dredging, the geopolitics of the sand trade, and the impacts of sand mining. Jamieson also sheds light on the artist Charles Lim, who uses sand and sediment as a means to investigate Singapore’s territorial expansion and the manipulation of the sea-state.

In light of this summer’s ongoing wildfires, Fábio Zuker’s message about the interconnectedness of fire and authoritarianism is particularly inescapable. We are now in the Pyrocene, a geological age characterized by the uncontrolled use of fire caused by human activity. Zuker argues that the use of fire as a tool for power, along with our reliance on fossil fuels, has led to the erosion of democracy alongside the emergence of new authoritarianisms, particularly in Brazil, but also anywhere else that uncontrollable flames and their debris touch down.

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