Locked into the present
By MARK TERKESSIDIS
Amid the crisis, there is only crisis. We fall to crisis, we react to crisis, our thinking is dominated by crisis. We estimate the effects it will have on the future. And every crisis is worse than the previous one. The crisis creates the total present, apparently there is no before and no after. Yet we could as well draw lessons from the last “crisis,” which wasn’t a “refugee crisis” but a governmental crisis: it were the (Western) European governments who did not want to believe that Syria was nearby, that a civil war was taking place there and that the situation of the refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Greece was becoming increasingly unbearable. For several years, the UNHCR travelled through Europe and emphasised that the funds for the people cared for by the UN Refugee Commission only covered 40 percent of the needs – and nobody reacted and increased the funds.
The crisis has a history.
With “corona” it is very similar. For a very long time a wide variety of experts and institutions has been pointing out the dangers of a pandemic. But as much as people apparently believe that globalisation can be limited to the trade in goods (while the migration of people is to be prevented regardless), they apparently also believe that viruses can be stopped by Frontex. Since the outbreak of HIV, at the latest, people have basically been pretending that viruses only affect “fringe groups” or non-Western people: Ebola, MERS, SARS, Zika, Dengue, West Nile fever – what did “we” have to do with it? At the same time, the World Health Organization (WHO) has been systematically de-funded by state governments – today it receives two thirds of its funds from the private sector and thus increasingly depends on it.
In other words, this crisis, like any other, has a history.
Since real socialism, planning seems to have become a dirty word; it suffices to make the billions available when the crisis is imminent. The mayor of my home town recently told me that he can hardly communicate the consequences of the “refugee crisis” politically: Before 2015, all the small initiatives, the people with commitment had approached him for small amounts of money – and he had to tell them that the city doesn’t even have 500 euros to give. But then, with the “crisis” impending, suddenly millions of euros were spent. And when the crisis is considered to be over, we put it behind us. During the “refugee crisis”, a vast number of new forms of civil engagement and collaboration have emerged, as well as a myriad of new experiences – but did we learn from them at all?
After the crisis, we pretend that “normality,” this fetish, will return, and that all the pre-crisis mistakes can be committed anew. Right now new methods of problem solving are being tested – for example, in the responsive restructuring of education and labor. But how all these new experiences will be incorporated afterwards? Who will evaluate them? What might authorities learn from them? Without factoring in the lessons of the before and after, the crisis will remain a form of government that is locking is us into the present.
In that case, it is always only crisis.
March 27th, 2020 — Rosa Mercedes / 02
Lauren Berlant, the brilliant theorist of “cruel optimism” and related issues, died of a rare form of cancer on June 28. The following, devastatingly optimistic quote is from a 2016 essay on the commons as “infrastructures for troubling times,” part of a book that they worked on with the typically double-edged title On the Inconvenience of Other People: “What remains for our pedagogy of unlearning is to build affective infrastructures that admit the work of desire as the work of an aspirational ambivalence. What remains is the potential we have to common infrastructures that absorb the blows of our aggressive need for the world to accommodate us and our resistance to adaptation and that, at the same time, hold out the prospect of a world worth attaching to that’s something other than an old hope’s bitter echo. A failed episode is not evidence that the project was in error. By definition, the common forms of life are always going through a phase, as infrastructures will.”
Some basics from the Strike MoMA site: “Campaigns, actions, and letters chip away at the regime’s facade from the outside. Inside, every time workers organize, defy the boss, care for a coworker, disrespect secrecy, or enact other forms of subversion, cracks are created in the core. Cracking and chipping, chipping and cracking. As the walls that artificially separate the museum from the world collapse, we reorient away from the institution and come together to make plans. Let us strike in all the ways possible to exit from the terms of the museum so we can set our own.”
Hyperallergic on the environmental impact of blockchain referring to recent NFT (non-fungible token) art sales: “This is not the first time the art world has come under scrutiny for being on the wrong side of the climate conversation. Artists and activists have protested everything from the carbon footprint of physical art fairs to the fossil fuel money funding major museums. But some say the energy consumption of cryptocurrencies is particularly egregious, and research shows it’s relatively easily quantifiable. A study by Cambridge University, for instance, estimates that bitcoin uses more electricity per year than the entire nation of Argentina. (Ethereum mining consumes a quarter to half of what Bitcoin mining does, but one transaction uses more power than an average US household in a day, according to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.)”
Nicholas Mirzoeff on “Artificial vision, white space and racial surveillance capitalism”: “Based as it is on ‘epidermalization’ (the assertion of absolute difference based on relative differences in skin color), AI’s racial surveillance deploys an all-too-familiar racialized way of seeing operating at plan-etary scale. It is the plantation future we are now living in. All such operations take place in and via the new imagined white space of technology known as the cloud. In reality, a very material arrangement of servers and cables, the cloud is both an engine of high-return low-employment capitalism and one of the prime drivers of carbon emissions.”
Sara Ahmed on the performativity of disgust (from The Cultural Politics of Emotion, 2004): “To name something as disgusting is to transfer the stickiness of the word ‘disgust’ to an object, which henceforth becomes generated as the very thing that is spoken. The relationship between the stickiness of the sign and the stickiness of the object is crucial to the performativity of disgust as well as the apparent resistance of disgust reactions to ‘newness’ in terms of the generation of different kinds of objects. The object that is generated as a disgusting (bad) object through the speech act comes to stick. It becomes sticky and acquires a fetish quality, which then engenders its own effects.”
November 7th, 2020
David Graeber (1961-2020) on What Would It Take (from his The Democracy Project. A History, a Crisis, a Movement, 2013, p. 193): “We have little idea what sort of organizations, or for that matter, technologies, would emerge if free people were unfettered to use their imagination to actually solve collective problems rather than to make them worse. But the primary question is: how do we even get there? What would it take to allow our political and economic systems to become a mode of collective problem solving rather than, as they are now, a mode of collective war?”
September 7th, 2020
T.J. Demos on why cultural practitioners should never surrender, via tranzit.sk: “For artists, writers, and curators, as art historians and teachers, the meaning-production of an artwork is never finished, never fully appropriated and coopted, in my view, and we should never surrender it; the battle over significance is ongoing. We see that battle rise up in relation to racist and colonial monuments these days in the US, the UK, and South Africa. While the destruction of such monuments results from and is enabling of radical politics, it’s still not enough until the larger institutions that support and maintain their existence as well as the continuation of the politics they represent are also torn down. This is urgent as well in the cultural sphere, including the arts institutions, universities, art markets, discursive sphere of magazines and journals, all in thrall to neoliberalism, where we must recognize that it’s ultimately inadequate to simply inject critical or radical content into these frameworks, which we know excel at incorporating those anti-extractivist expressions into further forms of cultural capital and wealth accumulation. What’s required is more of the building of nonprofit and community-based institutions, organizing radical political horizons and solidarity between social formations.”
August 21st, 2020