“I want my writing to be photographed so as to explain my hand”
Vaslav Nijinsky performing the ‘Danse Siamoise’ from Les Orientales by Foquine (1880-1942), Paris, 1910, sepia photography
By Alexandra Pirici
I was invited to give my opinion on the current situation as an artist, at a time when most art spaces are closed and most of public space is restricted. Since the only available space for larger circulation is now the online, in this particular space I prefer text. So I cannot but write in this temporary spatial confinement.
I also cannot think of art or the artist as pertaining to a discipline so I cannot give a straight answer and a disciplined response. Therefore I will make what might seem like a detour, hoping that you will bear with me.
The title sentence is taken from Vaslav Nijinsky’s diary, a feverish document, originally published in 1936, of the so-called “descent into madness” of one of the most interesting artists of the 20th century. Presented by the press as “the diary of a mad dancer,” the series of notebooks was written over the course of several weeks in 1919, providing “unique insight into the inner life of a highly gifted but mentally disturbed creative genius.” The editor of the first, 2006 English version of the text, Joan Acocella, does mention the possibility that Nijinsky’s illness—he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, a mental disorder believed to be genetic—might have been triggered by a series of events: the ravaging consequences and reality of WWI; Nijinsky losing his work as a dancer and choreographer in Diaghilev’s “Ballets Russes” after deciding to stop working as Diaghilev’s lover; his further deprivation of the possibility to move when being confined to his wife’s bourgeois family home in Budapest because of the war; an abandoned desire to pursue a Tolstoian country-life; his subsequent moving into a villa in St. Moritz with his wife and three-year-old daughter whom he could no longer hope to financially support; the impossibility to keep moving and keep his dance training, to keep choreographing and share ideas and movement with his sister, Bronislava Nijinska (an equally important artist), being now forced to practice in solitude, on his home’s balcony, and perform for small audiences of Swiss philanthropists and businessmen. The diary ends right before Nijinsky is institutionalized for the rest of his life, at the age of 30.
Throughout the mad diary of the great dancer, among conflicted accounts of the world, his experience and thoughts on sexuality, family, the war, industrialization, poverty, audiences, political men, apes, horses, soldiers and solitary walks, a pattern of insistence on his godliness and “feeling” as opposed to “thinking” emerges. A recurrent re-description of himself as God, god as man, God as feeling, man as feeling, himself as feeling. Everything and everyone can be “felt,” “feeling” being not just an emotional, sensorial capacity but a complex, empathic form of reason, of understanding the world, different from thinking as calculation and cunning skill of achieving a goal. His writing is a tormented, constant attempt to put into words that which he cannot express, to make himself understood to an “other” which he gradually comes to identify with everyone—from his wife Romola, which he loves but which he fears to estrange and lose, to his former acquaintances and doctors. The only connection he seems to be able to keep is with strangers and other life forms: a horse beaten by his owner and forced to keep pulling a cart, with whom he runs and then stops in synchronicity; a tree, which prevents him from falling off a cliff during a strange walk. “The tree received my warmth and I received the tree’s warmth. I do not know who’s warmth was more necessary.”
“I worked like an ox,” he writes at some point. Elsewhere he remembers Diaghilev hitting him with his cane. At some other point he wonders if he has enough money in his account to gamble on the stock exchange—which he wants to destroy. “The earth is disintegrating because the fuel is burning out”. Another time he hears the sounds made by his daughter: “My little girl is singing, ‘Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah!’ I do not understand the meaning of this but I feel its meaning. She wants to say that everything—Ah! Ah!—is not horror but joy.”
Perhaps it is unreasonable to interpret Nijinsky’s diary as a failure of coming to terms with the oppressive forces and events of his life, with his already semi-carceral situation, with what he perceived as a reduced and reductive world, that seem to have broken his body-mind at that point. Perhaps it is equally unreasonable to see in the diary a simple account of the breaking down of an individual and his “mind,” of a personal descent into the irrational.
Beyond whatever can be described in Western pathology as psychosis and schizophrenic episodes translated in his writing, there is an obsessive assertion of a body behind the words, of form and material, whether in the observing of his own bowel movements or in his exercises in concrete poetry scattered throughout the diary: a heightened sense of a suffering—attention directed, deeply and obsessively, both inward and outward—a sense of a breaking whole.
Male performers were rather exotic in an increasingly “feminized” field of professional dance, especially in Europe at the beginning of the 20th century, though dance in Western society remains mostly coded as feminine to this day. Nijinsky also explored androgynous characters, half-human, half-animal ones; he was both a gifted interpreter and brilliant “conceptual” choreographer, having produced what only later were to be recognized as some of the most ground-breaking works of modern dance. Everything about his life, the characters and forms he explored in his work placed him in a complicated, non-binary space of experience and knowledge. However, he was stereotypically reified in the popular imaginary as a disturbed (male) genius, a great, “mad dancer”—a genius that also wrote, albeit unfortunately, even if poetically pleasing at times, only to attest to his unreason, to the transformation of the beloved entertainer into the dark, irrational schizophrenic.
“I want my writing to be photographed so as to explain my hand”. Having written his diary by hand, with the purpose of sharing it with the world, Nijinsky sees beyond the illusion of disembodied thought and insists that the purpose of abstraction is to also reveal and send back to the coherent material of the body producing it. With no other way to be seen, expressed, moved, body and hand turned to writing to assert their existence. An overall “mad” writing, where disjointed, obsessive repetition merges with sharp analysis of how politicians pose in a photograph in a newspaper, what their postures and gestures might signify, only to then “break-down” again into disordered words (though very well calligraphed). He insists on the need to invent a new fountain pen to make the action of writing (moving hand and pen) smoother. The writing of the mad dancer, the attempt to translate feel-reason into signs formed by the hand interacting with the fountain-pen, to lay down words on the paper, becomes the impossibility of explaining the real, the document that proves his unreason. Or perhaps the real becomes “mad” because or when it cannot be communicated and understood by also being felt, when it can only be written.
The ongoing separation of physicality from discourse follows the lines of previous onto-epistemological separations between the Enlightened Rational Man and the irrational “savage”, between the Christian clergy’s ascetic “Spirit” and the layman’s indulgent “Flesh.”
A successful, desirable human in Western masculine imaginary—that came to be embraced and internalized across the gender spectrum—can only be recognized along the lines of hard divedes between intellect and physicality, even to this day: on one hand, academics or scientists, self-made billionaires and CEOs (a genderless homo economicus); on the other: entertainers, pop stars and football players.
Perhaps we can consider the Covid-19 crisis a rehearsal: a taste of how things would anyway come to be if they were not interrupted by the novel coronavirus but left to evolve unabridged in the direction in which they were already evolving. Contemporary modes of producing and living, in spite of global connectivity and online platforms, were anyway directed towards increased social distancing (where the very notion of the social can only be re-grounded through the physical); towards increasingly disembodied interactions; towards exclusively computational modes of organizing and valuing life, of understanding knowledge and intelligence in terms of the readable and the writable (meaning, of course, also the digitally encoded); towards virtuality embraced beyond questions of its materiality; towards gated communities; towards specialization to the point where the majority of people on the planet don’t know how to grow their own food and are barred from understanding and being able to explore how their smartphone works; towards borders for people and globalisation for capital; towards increased dependence on automated, monopolistic infrastructure that nevertheless relies on and is constituted not only by inorganic materials but also by living bodies—those very human workers deemed essential now, that are not only doctors and nurses but the embodied under-side of amazon or glovo, moving around, carrying things, touching things, with no health-insurance, on barely minimum wages and with no protection; those human workers picking up food crops, like Romanian seasonal workers who, despite travel restrictions, were flown towards richer EU countries that apparently lack national work-force for farming delicacies. Those undervalued, scorned, deemed “disposable,” but actually not-so-disposable even, because those strawberries and that asparagus on other people’ plates need the embodied knowledge of picking up a plant without crushing it, the soft-touch of those human hands and bodies kept in isolated barracks, barred from contact with the rest, with the valuable core of “civilisation.”
There is still a world out there, tragedies some of us only read about, bodies, breaking-backs, warmth, suffering, joy and hope beyond online courses and home delivery. That some of us now have even less access to it, that we “see” it even less, is a tragedy, not something to be normalized, though we became experts at normalizing tragedy. Marketing departments, framing the old as new with every new line of old products, keep inviting us to embrace the “new” digital space, as if there was no digital space before the coronavirus crisis. Of course there was, just like there was net art, online art, videogames, artworks and cultural objects that reflected, consistently, on the virtual, on digital platforms, on technology and also on the materiality of the digital. The “new” to be embraced, therefore, is not the digital but the reduction of communication to one single space/channel, highly protocolled and owned by corporate monopolies, on which a competitive precariat was already fighting for monetizable, quantifiable attention. Of course there are ways to keep a cultural space and art alive in these difficult times, releasing resources for their support, also through the digital but also through scaled-down exhibitions or events in physical space, post-lockdown—which are already happening but they imply a different ratio of investment and returns (less people attending, less butts on seats but same or more resources invested into safety measures, health-insurance, etc.). It is actually this kind of new rapport between investment and profits that most of the old economy wants to avoid.
Depoliticized predictions of how technology will bring education, art and culture and everything, really, at our fingertips, are also not actually meant for the future (their 90s feel is also testimony to that). They are meant for now. They are meant to induce even more anxiety and convince potential audiences and producers—people bored out of their minds by yet another live stream, Zoom meeting and online viewing room, and people even more scared about not being able to get work—that they have to get past their boredom and anxiety and also past their hope and expectations for an open, yet undetermined future; to enjoy, to produce and consume in this “new” paradigm. The future becomes a way of legitimizing the present because clicks and engagement are actually needed now. The new coronavirus is not the bubonic plague, it won’t last decades. But a few months time defines our shrinking concept of a future. Most of us can only think about survival in the now. There’s nothing “creative” about this, being constantly nudged to adapt to toxic environments designed exclusively for others’ profit, being herded into ever more standard forms, which we accept out of desperation and anxiety, and calling that new or “becoming modern.”
But people are still bored and depressed, even when anxious. We inevitably miss touch, closeness, the sound, smell and sense of others beyond a screen. We used to be able to at least see the delivery workers. Now they should just drop the bag at the door and leave. Our perception is embodied, our empathy depends on this crucial fact. Some things are also good and worth keeping: we can be happy with a new, slower rhythm—which is not even “slower,” really, but simply not hectic, allowing a heightened perception, an engagement with the world in more depth, if one has the privilege to be able to pause. Some of us found time to spend with people, things or practices they didn’t have time to spend with before. But for those who can afford to stay indoors, the world has also lost most of its depth at the moment. Emergency measures can and should be taken. But normalizing loss and deep crisis by demanding immediate adaption (with a claim to permanence) is a grotesque gesture subordinated to an economic imperative – and not of any kind. Our current economy is founded on the imperative to keep money circulating and producing more money. Max Weber in his The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism quotes Benjamin Franklin: “Remember, that time is money. He that can earn ten shillings a day by his labor, and goes abroad, or sits idle, one half of that day, though he spends but sixpence during his diversion or idleness, ought not to reckon that the only expense; he has really spent, or rather thrown away, five shillings besides. […] Remember, that money is the prolific, generating nature. Money can beget money, and its offspring can beget more, and so on. Five shillings turned is six, turned again is seven and threepence, and so on, till it becomes a hundred pounds. The more there is of it, the more it produces every turning, so that the profits rise quicker and quicker. He that kills a breeding-sow, destroys all her offspring to the thousandth generation. He that murders a crown, destroys all that it might have produced, even scores of pounds.”
Our economy is actually doing great during the pandemic: a report from the Institute of Policy Studies states that between January 1 and April 10, 2020, “eight billionaires – the “pandemic profiteers” – have seen their net worth surge by over $1 billion each: Jeff Bezos (Amazon), MacKenzie Bezos (Amazon), Eric Yuan (Zoom), Steve Ballmer (Microsoft), John Albert Sobrato (Silicon Valley real estate), Elon Musk (Tesla and SpaceX), Joshua Harris (Apollo Global Management), and Rocco Commisso (Mediacom)”, with Jeff Bezos’s wealth surge being “unprecedented in modern financial history.” ((https://ips-dc.org/billionaire-bonanza-2020/ – https://ips-dc.org/billionaire-bonanza-2020/ )
This wealth will never return or trickle down to the majority of people that helped create it. The numbers of those living below poverty line will only progressively increase, a truly unstoppable epidemic. The most that this concentration of wealth can do for humanity is accelerate its demise and finance Bezos’s mechanical clock meant to function for 10.000 years in a hollowed-out mountain, that ultimate, terribly kitsch artwork of an overall ignorant man, who is, however, very good at business. A message from humanity as CEO, time standardized – that ground-breaking modern achievement – for a future oblivious both of humanity’s existence and its extinction.
What can you possibly teach on Zoom, what book can you possibly order on Amazon to make up for such irreparable shift in the balance of knowledge-power-wealth?
Indeed, what a crime to keep money, bodies and oil tanks still for a bit. How necessary it is to re-normalize the imperative to move fast and keep consumption (and waste) at “normal” levels, to insist we must adapt to scarcity, impoverishment and dread.
Luckily, beyond the marketing department, there is always the real.
The separation of abstraction from matter, of an ideal plane from physical bodies, regardless how distanced the abstraction, is entirely performative. Matter, liquids and flesh follow us everywhere, even in our wildest dreams of neat, clean, ordered, “masculine” freedom. And the quality, usefulness and intelligence of abstraction, of our exo-somatic organs (via Bernard Stiegler), of our ideas and technology in the service of a better, less impoverished life on the planet, are directly and fully dependent on the kind of (multiple, entangled) intelligence we develop as biological, somatic bodies.
So what kind of labor (of care, artistic, scientific, academic) can we do, what work is of utmost urgency and necessity?
For now, helping in any ways we can, with our current knowledge—from doctors in ICU units and researchers working on vaccines in the lab to farmers, people sewing masks, volunteering to help the isolated elderly, to people cooking, making art, dancing, planting a garden, remaining sensible.
For now and later: the complex, political and multi-modal work of doing away with ontological and epistemological distinctions policing the borders of intelligence between humans and non-humans and between laymen and technocrats.
We need more dancers writing and we need more writers dancing and making art. We need scientist gardening and gardeners drafting governmental policies. We need intellectuals cleaning streets and raising children; we need cleaners reading and making art. We need artists working with engineers, engineers writing poetry and poets designing social media networks. All this, until we can work across fields and reach perhaps less expert but solid, healthy, inescapably embodied, undisciplined reasoning.
We need to push and allow ourselves out of our (dis)comfort zones, those places of knowledge in which we were forced to grow stale by a scientific management turned psychotechnics of labour and the human, that systematically pushed us into becoming low or high-performance units of production. We need knowledge of life (and living knowledge) before expertise, and for expertise to be useful and ethical, as expertise is to be both recognized and politically imprinted.
From Christian clergy to Renaissance humanists to modern intellectuals to technocrats, the division of knowledge, truth and power opposed an elite to the laymen. We need to break with history, aiming at a cultivated, intelligent whole.
The world was outraged when Donald Trump made yet another suggestion for fighting the coronavirus, telling people to inject themselves with disinfectant. In general the blame seems to fall on the demise of respect for expertise, on a becoming oblivious to the right forms of authority. But the solution to worrying that people will drink detergent when being told to do so by an authority is not having another authority telling them not to do it. We should ask ourselves why is it that people who have access to all contemporary information channels might drink disinfectant when being told to do so? We should be able to discern, to have the possibility to explore what are the substances, forms, machines, living and non-living entities that surround us and are part of our lives. The problem might not be one of obeying right or wrong forms of authority but the impoverished, ignorant way of being in the world created by authority, by ongoing divisions of labour, knowledge and ontological ground.
The division of labour and knowledge, as an essential feature of industrial capitalist society enacted a radical impoverishment of thinking-practice as a trade-off for achieving exceptional expertise in one field and scalable modes of extraction, production and profit. But knowledge is not something that can be broken down into parts, with the whole being the (computable) sum of these parts; knowledge enacts intrinsic entanglement, relation between fields of knowledge, infiltration and deep leaks. The totalitarianism of efficiency in the service of profit insisted that an individual focuses on a single task (or “vocation”), the master achievement—to become expert in one’s field, without needing to worry about a “whole.” Perhaps no wonder we discover today, like the factory worker in Harun Farocki’s Inextinguishable Fire who steals separate, individual parts from the production line, hoping to finally get a vacuum cleaner, that after putting them together they make up a submachine gun.
We can act in the world without destroying it even further only by trying to grasp its complexity across performative divisions, collaboratively and humbly.
What is the point of trying to understand complexity and entanglement only through the readable and the writable? The only answer we can get will come from logos. By obsessively linking our knowledge—and pleasure—to intelligence as the capacity to articulate, to make discrete, to analyze, capture, extract and abstract, we failed to even keep the world habitable. Can we agree we are in a disastrous place?
Perhaps we also do not need yet another “voice.” Perhaps we need to insist on granted time to stay silent, touch, mimic, smell, move with, swim with, spend time with, listen. The world with us in it hasn’t been brought about by a speech-act. Language is a very small part of it, of its time and history. We do not need more words but a new, expanded concept of intelligence.
While Sylvia Wynter offers a deep, consistent analysis of the continuity of distinctions permeating the Western descriptions and constructions of the human and human-centered world in her essay “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/ Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human, After Man, Its Overrepresentation—An Argument,” it is perhaps in an interview titled “The Re-Enchantment of Humanism” that she offers one of the most interesting accounts of a practice of decolonization, that also makes the deeper move towards a de-centering of the human subject:
“As a student I think I was more hooked into the dancers. I was a part of Boscoe Holder’s dance troupe. My central interest there was in dancing and that was far more my world. It would be only after I had finished my degree and then left England, got married, and come back in about 1957—’58 that I became connected to writers and writing. […] For some reason, I don’t know why, the idea of the dance at that time was so powerful because I think it bridged the divide in the Caribbean between the literate written tradition and stigmatized yet powerful undertow of African religions and their cultural seedbed that had transformed itself into a current that was now neoindigenous to the Caribbean. “
We desperately need to share embodied pleasure beyond discourse, to trust knowledge that is grounded in “feeling”—as a form of reason and deep listening, the rhythmic intelligence of a shared composition, a shared touch and a shared dance-floor. This is no master plan. But the failure of master plans to produce a rich, habitable planet is a historical fact. The current “master plan” is a defunded NASA teaming up with Elon Musk—the same man asking to liberate America from lockdown alongside Trump, his SpaceX company and Jeff Bezos’s “Blue Origin” now building lunar landing systems that can carry astronauts to the moon by 2024, “the White House’s accelerated deadline under the space agency’s moon-to-Mars campaign.” The master plan is the old colonizer’s dream of leaving its mess behind, so painfully and beautifully expressed in Gil Scott-Heron’s poetry. Against this forceful, deadly, ignorant mastery, we need a forceful re-grounding; a distributed, collaborative intelligence of different kinds, committed to the living.
The ordering of knowledge (and labour) by distinction and degrees—of a higher degree: abstract, conceptual, intellectual; of lower degree: embodied, physical, not-of-the-“mind”—has been mapped onto socio-economic hierarchy, further accelerated by automation (exteriorisation of knowledge, in Stiegler’s terms, or perhaps we could also call it expropriation of knowledge, depending on its conditions). That the poor would come to see (self) emancipation only through knowledge of the “higher degree” (of the rich and of authority and, therefore, increasingly abstract), was both a necessity, as knowledge and land was taken away, and a bitter irony, considering how this knowledge of a higher degree was also instrumental in perpetuating and accentuating those very processes of dispossession that lead to conditions of extreme inequality and poverty. The failure of state communism, structured on an apparent renunciation of this distinction and hierarchy, might have to do with the fact that it actually operated a re-affirmation: proletarians were recognized as the majority – physical workers; intellectual activity could not be recognized as work because it wasn’t recognized as being physical—early discussions of the Proletkult movement and who counts as a worker are very interesting in this respect. And even if initially the communist ideal included an utopian “education for all,” a desire to think of knowledge as a public good—not just by promoting literacy but also as a broad expression of culture and curiosity, encouraging and financing networks of small cultural institutions spread throughout the country, reaching the most remote villages, in the end the productivist race within an overall industrial society could only allow a superficial utopia. The state needed competitive efficiency, thus knowledge was subordinated to production on capitalist terms.
As an artist trained in dance and choreography, coming from a so-called “under-developed” South-Eastern European country, always struggling to catch up with the “real” Europe, I wasn’t surprised to witness intellectuals marveling at dancers who could also speak well, at choreographers— humans familiar with less obvious forms of embodied reasoning—that could also express themselves through logos. I empathize with and understand the (constructed) need to legitimate embodied knowledge and practice through discourse, mostly because authority is trained to only recognize itself. “Speaking the language of” literally means becoming visible to power. Perhaps we do not need a critique of the power-relation in “giving a voice” but of the very demand for a body to produce a recognizable voice in the first place, to have to speak or write (eloquently and coherently) in order to be recognized as intelligent, therefore worthy of care and of being paid attention to. It is possible and it is urgently necessary to connect, not subordinate, different forms of knowledge and ways of being, not human but intelligent. What we should care about now is not who we are but how we can live – in intrinsic entanglement – that which can still be called a life, that is, a rich, ethical, complex pleasure of being.
A new kind of reason cannot be invented, however, without a new kind of body, solely by and through reproducing the bodymind arrangement which sees the inventor ergonomically sitting at a desk or engaging with a computer screen, practicing the standard activities of the modern, industrialised world, moving along the same patterns, even in leisure and sports. Non-Western philosophies and concepts of knowledge have long evolved with and incorporated embodied intelligence. Taoism and Confucianism, for example, are deeply interconnected with martial arts practices, that can also become accessible, non-combative forms of training body-mind and practicing an embodied rationality, like various forms of Taijichuan.
Despite some discursive desire, practically letting go of the exclusively abstract, mostly disembodied ways in which we describe and define knowledge (and therefore, power and governance), making ourselves and our time available for different practices, seems to be akin to a process of self-annihilation. Time is still money for what a so-called modern, privileged “we” came to be and how we’ve come to operate. Claiming to have unique solutions or the master-key, the one, correct analysis or answer, is actually the thing to do in a competitive environment where you need to move fast and break things, in a world turning everyone into a territorial, paranoid human-sales-pitch. And can we dare to be critical towards the division of labour when we need ventilators, ecmo systems and ICU’s? When we need to manage not only the scale of the disaster brought about by centuries of presumably complex but demonstratively simple thinking, but the immediate threat of massive life-loss? I believe so, because the human world – investment in public health-care, in democratically supervised biomedical research, in accessible vaccines and technologies of life-support – depends upon a complex, entangled, ethical and political understanding of the world at large.
This is why the arts are also essential, as a field that remains open to the possibility of combined knowledge – acknowledging, trying to think-practice multiple ways of being in the world. The arts, with dance and the performing arts of course included, offer a social space of experimentation, of embodied and strange collectivity, where different presences, forms and materials can mix; where humans don’t need to fear being ridiculous in non-familiar postures among others, where we can experiment with not having to be stuck so firmly and intelligently on two legs, where we can openly, concretely rely on others, look at things from different perspectives, use sound and one’s voice to go beyond speech, spend time with the non-speakable, the non-writable, the non-readable, express knowledge in differently-bodied discursive forms.
And this is also why the arts cannot be subsumed under the concept of “creative industries”. They need to speak alongside, not under, the same processes of calculation, quantification and standardisation that are closing other fields of possibilities. We need to evolve beyond calculation. We need to “think-feel” within a new onto-epistemological framework of intelligence, leaving space to listening, to (macro and micro sensing), to embodied attention, to rhythmic sensibility, to feeling – space, time, life and movement – in multiple ways, so we can then also imagine and abstract them in different ways. We need expanded somatic knowledge and sensibility to then exteriorize into intelligent exo-somatic organs and technology.
The novel coronavirus could be a metaphor for necessary indeterminacy.
As a singular event, a foreign invader with which we are at war, the virus prompts us to react un-intelligently, closing the future with remedies and quick-fixes that are profitable in the present. It prompts us to take a shortsighted, managerial approach to disaster, an interest in “health” and the ability to breathe that stops at productivity and fades when immediate danger is averted, oblivious to existential-material questions, to human and more-than-human life on the long term. It prompts us to make disproportionate investments in technologies of surveillance and life-control rather than life support, to look for answers only in smooth curves and abstract visualizations of material, distant suffering, in the sterile, safe space of the lab; to only learn how to grow a business, how to be profitable in aggregating and manipulating data about life in a death vortex.
As a connected, infectious part of our world—which we of course have to manage and contain but which we understand and investigate within the intrinsic, messy and complex entanglement of life and the non-living—the virus prompts us to be open to the unknown, to accept that we need to expand our intelligence for a chance of living a better life.
It prompts us to invest in technologies of care, to do the hard work of communication across difference, to combine, interpret and train to “read” and learn what to do with non-scalable models; it prompts us to also ask embodied questions and look for embodied answers, to do field work, to touch (soon, when it will be safer, though touch will never be completely “safe”); beyond immediate dangers that of course must be averted, it prompts us to accept that touch and contagion are essential ways of becoming; to accept that we cannot escape the deep, complex, messy, dangerous exposure to the invisibilised bodies of the real that always are and will always remain, under whatever invisibility cloak of abstraction and virtuality; it prompts us to learn how to grow and nurture life in diverse forms.
A lot of humans have already chosen to work towards the second future. Those that cannot act with the world at the moment, in multiple ways, accept the restricted physical, public space as a necessary, temporary measure during the pandemic but they also demand that solutions and faster ways out are politicized.
If I were to write down yet another prediction, that is, an inevitably situated (which does not mean incorrect), performative reading of the past and present intended to participate in shaping an indeterminate future, I would say this: one of the consequences of instituted (though now necessary), totalitarian distancing will inevitably be a re-eroticization of touch and of the body, having been re-encoded as transgressive and risky. Seventeenth-century rationalism was also a transferring—from the body to the (separated) intellect and to a form of reason exclusively shared by societies of men—of the homoerotic pleasures forbidden by the totalitarian, heterosexual concept of physicality instituted by the Christian church (see Dusan Bjelic, Galileo’s Pendulum: Science, Sexuality, and the Body-Instrument Link, 2019). In the same vein, a new eroticization of the body, of touch and contact, will spring from the deadlock of instituted physical disconnection.
I’ve already written too long of a contribution for the scope of this context. I did so, though, hoping I won’t have to write more before I get to express what I think-feel, live, with others, and in different forms. This moment is not permanent. As long as we keep sensible, we will emerge from it with a renewed curiosity in what the world has to offer. Beyond the virtual realm, see you in the shared space of the garden, the public square, the public art space or museum, the shared living room, the dance-floor. Soon enough.