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THE END OF THE WORLD - THE BENDING OF THE WORLD
Rita Natálio




“A permanent fog of war is fanned by permanent fakes on Facebook. Already deregulated ideas of truth are destabilized even further. Emergency rules. Critique is a troll fest. Crisis commodified as entertainment. The age of neoliberal globalization seems exhausted and a period of contraction, fragmentation, and autocratic rule has set in.”
[1]Hito Steyerl

 

  

THE END OF THE WORLD

THE BENDING OF THE WORLD (AS IF WE KNOW IT)

 

 

We could start with a scream: This changes everything! This is the title of Naomi Klein’s most recent book, written whilst fishing in the ocean of co-alienation tethered between climate change and corporate capitalism. Or, we could go back to the 90’s and situate ourselves amidst the “golden spike” of financial capitalism in the Western world and proclaim, “It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism,” thereby following Fredric Jameson’s line of thought in Postmodernism, or, the cultural logic of late capitalism, shortly after R.E.M.’s 1987 pop anthem It’s the end of the world as we know it, which was later absorbed by recent “ontological turn” theories and cosmopolitical discussions.

We could also admit, together with anthropologists like Elisabeth Povinelli or Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine other modes of existence becoming dominant. Following this reasoning, and in order to build an alterpolitics of thought, we could then start to change the way we know the world by reclaiming the legitimacy of worlds that have consequently been neglected and diminished. This new “worlding” could (maybe) change everything. In turn, instead of linking the impossibility to imagine the end of capitalism with the possibility to imagine the end of the material world, it would rather work to put the dominant (capitalist) world at stake and put an end to the way we know and hierarchize the world. We could demolish the primary divide between “the West and the rest” and re-start imagination.

However, if it’s true that we should revise the edges and the limits between worlds and ontologies, we could also attempt to attack that which stands in between these two separate premises: to state the end of the world, materially speaking, or to state the end of the world as we know it, ontologically speaking. Looking upon this just mentioned divide, it seems no longer as split and as different as it was before, now that we can scramble and melt our thoughts in a permanent fog of Facebook fakes, wars, crisis as commodity, Instagram metrics, anthropogenic climate change, global scale events, cybernetic atomism, climate refugees, and techno-normative politics. The material and ontological ends of the world are not as separate as they were before, because there is a co-elaboration between reality shows, science fiction, and capitalism in the building of a supersized world of antipolitics, antipolitics meaning the impossibility to imagine something outside the realm of capitalism’s destructive creativity.

 Within this dominant sci-fi organization[2], many worlds are dying or have already passed away, while the dominant world ironically announces the possibility of a Big End (also called the Anthropocene). The Big End will ultimately be decreed by the exhaustion of planet resources, a possibility that is unlikeky to lead the dominant world to a sort of Big Bang (i.e. rebuilding a new world in a new planet). The most probable conclusion is that the end of planet resources will produce the end of the material world and by consequence the dominant world. In this scenario, the end of the material world is thus identical to the self-destruction of the ontological world of dominance. In short, the idea that is conveyed by the Big End/Anthropocene is that of the end of “all” humanity (“and this changes everything”).

Meanwhile, in Brazil, the indigenous activist Ailton Krenak comments on our present lack of political imagination with the following statement: “A river never dies. If you watch a river today, you can see a superfluous but thick cover of mud, while the river has decided to dive deeper into the earth and flow elsewhere. There is no such thing as a river that dies.”[3]

 Krenak is perhaps concerned with describing a non-human[4] tactic of resistance, because according to his understanding, such rivers in “coma” testify to a truthful alliance between thought and action. In order to think the end of the world, one must then think about the genocide of many subaltern worlds, such as the world of rivers, the world of the indigenous, the world of the enslaved, all gathered in the category of non-human which has been pervasively exploited as the resource of the antipolitics, but tactically resists disasters in manners that are still to be discovered.

Through Krenak’s eyes, one could ask: how to think/act with rivers in coma? How to keep on thinking and imagining in a world dominated by monoculturalism and antipolitics, a large scale cultural monolith that negates the very possibility of difference and induces material failure? Can we bend the world before it ends? Can we imagine an alterpolitics? How could alterpolitics ally with the imagination of the non-human?

As a river in coma dives deeper into the earth to escape pollution at the surface, the possibility to keep thinking implies finding ways to keep running and developing affinities/alliances with other agents, for example the earth. As a fugitive river close to death, the difference between alterpolitics and antipolitics would be precisely this possibility to keep on thinking/imagining and developing alliances/affinities between beings, namely non-human beings.

This way of perceiving politics is in fact not so far from what Deleuze meant by the difference between left and right wing politics. Deleuze claimed that, for the left, the possibility to keep thinking was the most important element, while the right could be easily drawn to laziness and clear answers. The Deleuzean description of the left can be thought of here as an alterpolitics, framing the field of political imagination beyond the figure of the State. Alterpolitics is, as such, the possibility to keep thinking and imagining in a world that is constantly addressing the impossibility to be self-thought otherwise. And to add to Deleuze’s perspective, Krenak’s depiction can engage the Brazilian Indigenous struggle with the non-human with the process of dissolving language and experimenting with impersonal action-thinking. Close to death and martyrdom, one has to preserve the relationship between thinking and politics through an alliance with non-humanity.

Furthermore, by adding the point of view of the enslaved and indigenous people to this non-humanity, non-humanity has to be reconsidered as a question of “inhumanity.” After all, throughout history, Indigenous peoples and Blacks were systematically enslaved and controlled as “objects who can speak”[5], which is very different from rivers. One might say that the imagination that can arise from this condition is less elsewhere than nowhere. It arises from impersonal subjectivity but contains the self-abolitionist perspective, meaning, it is only possible to (re)exist in-humanity if we can abolish the perspective that made subaltern existence possible.

Thus, to dialogue today with the end of the world produced by the double alienation of climate change and planetary capitalism (the Anthropocene), is to accept past and present ends of subaltern worlds, to produce new fictions around thought and politics and, above all, to abolish the idea of a universal end of the world produced by a dominant idea of humanity. Alterpolitics might be an inhuman path of thought: the ability to think the abolition of the dominant world as the abolition of a certain idea of humanity and power. An inhuman alterpolitics thinks the Anthropocene as a Misanthropocene (a fake mise-en-anthropo-scène); it questions universalism and produces a collision between grief and resistance. More than negating the reality of destruction, it learns from the struggles of dying existences while deviating and escaping capitalist sorcery where all alternatives seem mined or impossible. Grieving, learning to desperate, is part of the process of alterpolitics, it is impregnated with pain yet empowered by the clairvoyance of the in-non-human, 

In the middle of all this, we should add that contemporary art is not merely a piece of the puzzle; it is rather one of the sword arms of antipolitics, despite the efforts that many artists make to resist it. Not by coincidence, the story of Ailton Krenak that I chose to tell here was given at a public talk in the 32th Sao Paulo Biennial of Arts. We could ask: what does this story produce in the context of art? As Hito Steyerl wrote:

“Art is encryption as such, regardless of the existence of a message with a multitude of conflicting and often useless keys. Its reputational economy is randomly quantified, ranked by bullshit algorithms that convert artists and academics into ranked positions, but it also includes more traditionally clannish social hierarchies. It is a fully ridiculous, crooked, and toothless congregation and yet, like civilization as a whole, art would be a great idea.”[6]

Art could be a great idea, but unfortunately it fits too well into capitalism’s permanent de-territorialization in the ways that it speculates on the value of the common, thus ruining the possibility of any radical change. Contemporary art is the sword arm of intensive monoculturalism because it speculates on its own value through different aesthetic and political perspectives of the world, while at the same time this dominant world claims only one way of thinking the world. The hegemonic world “consumes” imagination.

In my perspective, the challenge of an alterpolitics in alliance with art is to create a web of affinities between imagination, aesthetics, and social change, opposed to the infinite mobility produced by the consumerist imagination of art detached from action on reality. The work of an artist, as is the work of any immaterial worker, implies refusing the status quo, meaning, the obligation “to do without thinking, to feel without emotion, to move without friction, to adapt without question, to translate without pause, to desire without purpose, to connect without interruption.”[7] In order to invert this process, we need to reclaim affinities and the ethical imagination of the in-non-human, whereby alliance and affinity are both part of the grounding process of imagination in politics.

To conclude, if it were possible to sum up a text about an in-human thought in politics, I would risk saying that the bend of the world is an attempt to claim other modes of existence, compromised with the subaltern, the non-human, and the in-human. It would be a good idea if art is invited to be part of that process.

 

Rita Natálio 

 

Note:  This short essay was constructed for the new project "Our Times", by Michiel Vandevelde, one of DNA's Focus Artists. A booklet will be launched as part of this project.  

 

References:

DANOWSKY, Deborah; VIVEIROS DE CASTRO, Eduardo. Há mundo por vir? Ensaio sobre os medos e os fins, Desterro, Florianópolis: Cultura e Barbárie, Instituto Socioambiental, 2014.

JAMESON, Fredric, Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Duke University Press, Durham, 1991.

KLEIN, Naomi This changes everything, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2014

MOTEN, Fred; HARNEY, Stephano, The undercommons - Fugitive planning & Black Study, Minor Compositions, New York, 2013.

 Other:

Ailton Krenak. Conference at 32nd Sao Paulo Biennial of Arts, “Conversations to postpone the end of the world”, November 2016.

 

 

NOTES 

[1] Hito Steyerl, “If You Don’t Have Bread, Eat Art!: Contemporary Art and Derivative Fascisms”, Journal #76, E-flux, October 2016.

[2] Idea that I invoke from Walidah Imarisha’s work on black sci-fi in the United States.

[3] Conference at the 32nd Sao Paulo Biennial of Arts, “Conversations to postpone the end of the world" November 2016, free transcription.

[4]Here we are not considering the idea of a “generalized humanity” distributed by all kinds of beings, as in Amerindian cosmovisions. Non-human is what escapes the concept of humanity produced by the dominant world.

[5]Fred Moten and Stephano Harney, “The undercommons - Fugitive planning & Black Study”, Minor Compositions, New York, 2013.

[6][6]Hito Steyerl, “If You Don’t Have Bread, Eat Art!: Contemporary Art and Derivative Fascisms”, Journal #76, E-flux, October 2016.

[7] Fred Moten and Stefano Harney, “The undercommons - Fugitive planning & Black Study”, Minor Compositions, New York, 2013.