9 essays
Compiled by e-flux journal editors

The global pandemic has sent many of us into self-imposed captivity to protect ourselves from others and to protect others from ourselves. Anyone could be the sickness and anyone could be the cure, depending on who you come into contact with and who you don't. If the challenge of biopolitics has always been to understand the sublime administration of productive and vital forces—life and death, economic flows, health, freedom of movement, populations as statistics, etc.—then what on earth are we meant to learn from COVID-19, and from the new world order and disorder that it has imposed on all of us?

These following essays from the past issues of e-flux journal might speak to this question.

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Hito Steyerl
Missing People: Entanglement, Superposition, and Exhumation as Sites of Indeterminacy
Originally published in October 2012

In 1935, Erwin Schrödinger devised an insidious thought experiment. He imagined a box with a cat inside, which could be killed at any moment by a deadly mixture of radiation and poison. Or it might not be killed at all. Both outcomes were equally probable.

Boris Groys
Entering the Flow: Museum between Archive and Gesamtkunstwerk
Originally published in December 2013

Traditionally, the main occupation of art was to resist the flow of time. Public art museums and big private art collections were created to select certain objects—the artworks—take them out of private and public use, and therefore immunize them against the destructive force of time. Thus, our art museums became huge garbage cans of history in which things were kept and exhibited that had no use anymore in real life: sacral images of past religions or status objects of past lifestyles. During a long period of art history, artists also participated in this struggle against the destructive force of time. They wanted to create artworks that would be able to transcend time by embodying eternal ideals of beauty or, at least, by becoming the medium of historical memory, by acting as witnesses to events, tragedies, hopes, and projects that otherwise would have been forgotten. In this sense, artists and art institutions shared a fundamental project to resist material destruction and historical oblivion.

Captives of the Cloud: Part I
Originally published in September 2012

We are the voluntary prisoners of the cloud; we are being watched over by governments we did not elect.

Eyal Weizman
665: The Least of All Possible Evils
Originally published in October 2012

The preemptive logic of the “lesser evil” is often invoked to justify the use of a lesser violence to prevent a supposedly greater, projected one. The argument conjures a cold calculus of differentials, one in which good and evil are seen as commodities that are exchanged, transferred, speculated upon and in constant circulation. But, as in our contemporary financial economy, the Leibnitzian theodicy of “the best of all possible worlds” is in crisis, and out of its ruins emerges its twin—the necro-economy of “the least of all possible evils.” Eyal Weizman’s most recent book The Least of All Possible Evils looks specifically at the structure of this argument, the predictive and incalculable conceptions of violence it puts forth, and its redeployment as a means of providing a convenient bogeyman for justifying almost any atrocity committed in the name of even more heinous hypothetical consequences. Looking at the forces shaping international law, at the paradoxes of the humanitarian band-aid, and at the dark art of forensic architecture, EW points to the very shape of a weak negativity that characterizes the withdrawal of any coherent mission for the left.

John Russell
Abysmal Plan: Waiting Until We Die and Radically Accelerated Repetitionism
Originally published in June 2013

A car crash harnesses elements of eroticism, aggression, desire, speed, drama, kinesthetic factors, the stylizing of motion, consumer goods, status—all these in one event. I myself see the car crash as a tremendous sexual event really: a liberation of human and machine libido (if there is such a thing).
—J.G. Ballard, interview in Penthouse (September 1970)

Ana Teixeira Pinto
Death Wall: Extinction, Entropy, Singularity
Originally published in November 2015

In 1796, upon observing a vast array of elephant fossils, paleontologist George Cuvier noticed a puzzling fact: the fossilized mammoths of Europe and Siberia were different from living elephant species. None of the specimens in his collection corresponded to present-day African or Indian exemplars; they were all remains of fauna now extinct. At length, it dawned on him that another world might have preceded our own, a world whose existence had suddenly come to a halt, possibly “destroyed by some kind of catastrophe.” From that moment onwards Cuvier became an advocate of catastrophism, the geological school which claims that life has been subjected to sudden, yet periodic, violent natural events with fatal fallouts.

Elizabeth A. Povinelli
Geontologies: The Figures and the Tactics
Originally published in December 2016

But are the concepts of biopolitics, positive or negative, or necropolitics, colonial or postcolonial, the formation of power in which late liberalism now operates—or has been operating? If concepts open understanding to what is all around us but not in our field of vision, does biopolitics any longer gather together under its conceptual wings what needs to be thought if we are to understand contemporary late liberalism? Have we been so entranced by the image of power working through life that we haven’t noticed the new problems, figures, strategies, and concepts emerging all around us, suggesting the revelation of a formation that is fundamental to but hidden by the concept of biopower? Have we been so focused on exploring each and every wrinkle in the biopolitical fold—biosecurity, biospectrality, thanatopoliticality—that we forgot to notice that the figures of biopower seem to be inflected by or giving way to new figures: the Desert, the Animist, the Virus? And is a return to sovereignty our only option for understanding contemporary late liberal power?

Elizabeth A. Povinelli
Geontologies: The Concept and Its Territories
Originally published in April 2017

The Desert does not refer in any literal way to the ecosystem that, for lack of water, is hostile to life. The Desert is the affect that motivates the search for other instances of life in the universe and technologies for seeding planets with life; it colors the contemporary imaginary of North African oil fields; and it drives the fear that all places will soon be nothing more than the setting within a Mad Max movie. The Desert is also glimpsed in both the geological category of the fossil insofar as we consider fossils to have once been charged with life, to have lost that life, but as a form of fuel can provide the conditions for a specific form of life—contemporary, hypermodern, informationalized capital—and a new form of mass death and utter extinction; and in the calls for a capital or technological fix to anthropogenic climate change.

Mark Fisher
“A social and psychic revolution of almost inconceivable magnitude”: Popular Culture’s Interrupted Accelerationist Dreams
Originally published in June 2013

We live in a moment of profound cultural deceleration. The first two decades of the current century have so far been marked by an extraordinary sense of inertia, repetition, and retrospection, uncannily in keeping with the prophetic analyses of postmodern culture that Fredric Jameson began to develop in the 1980s. Tune the radio to the station playing the most contemporary music, and you will not encounter anything that you couldn’t have heard in the 1990s. Jameson’s claim that postmodernism was the cultural logic of late capitalism now stands as an ominous portent of the (non)future of capitalist cultural production: both politically and aesthetically, it seems that we can now only expect more of the same, forever.

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