[This text was originally published in Four Minutes to Midnight 13.]
Leaving one place not yet arriving at the next. Also not really traveling. Hovering on the cusp of movement. Some anxiety around the decision: will I go for it, make the necessary choice, arrive somewhere? Fondness for this space of non-arriving but fearful it’s a trap. There are in fact three traps:
• the place left,
• this in between of both traveling and not,
• some final destination.
It would be easier to arrive if one was certain, less uncertain, that one could leave again. But I’m already beyond tired, comically dying of exhaustion, and if given a chance to rest I suspect I might rest forever, until the end, an end—one of many.
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David Graeber, from The Art World as a Form of Politics:
It is the peculiar feature of political life that within it, behavior that could only otherwise be considered insane is perfectly effective. If you managed to convince everyone on earth that you can breathe under water, it won’t make any difference: if you try it, you will still drown. On the other hand, if you could convince everyone in the entire world that you were King of France, then you would actually be the King of France. (In fact, it would probably work just to convince a substantial portion of the French civil service and military.)
This is the essence of politics. Politics is that dimension of social life in which things really do become true if enough people believe them. The problem is that in order to play the game effectively, one can never acknowledge its essence. No king would openly admit he is king just because people think he is. Political power has to be constantly recreated by persuading others to recognize one’s power; to do so, one pretty much invariably has to convince them that one’s power has some basis other than their recognition. That basis may be almost anything— divine grace, character, genealogy, national destiny. But “make me your leader because if you do, I will be your leader” is not in itself a particularly compelling argument.
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I had ideas but lacked motivation. Who doesn’t have ideas? Who doesn’t lack motivation? The situation is desperate, yet everyone still scraping by wonders if somehow they’ll scrape by forever. Something I read a long time ago, a review of a Bob Dylan song, Dylan dream-driving through the empty streets of the post-apocalypse city. The review said the problem was in his dream he survives, everything is gone, annihilated, not a living soul for miles, centuries, forever. In his dream he survives. In each of our dreams, as everything burns to shit around us, bad decision after bad decision, we, each of us, survives. Breathing underwater because we hope we still might.
No one falls asleep and gently dreams their own annihilation. Being murdered, sure, attacked, beaten to death as each good individual is beaten to death through the long haul of life. Various pleasures along the way. But being annihilated like a speck of nothing along with everyone else, all at once, in one fell swoop, gone. Where is the value in feeling as unimportant as we truly are? Daily life under global famine. Life during the plague. I arrived too late for Dylan. Missed the moment when he rode his wave, a wave I suspect he never deeply cared for. A wave he rode by hanging on to each mask. But he survived.
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Luc Boltanski, from On Critique: A Sociology of Emancipation:
Everyone recognizes reality (or recognizes what, in their experience, clearly pertains to reality) only because others designate it to them as such. Reality suffers from a species of inherent fragility, such that the reality of reality must incessantly be reinforced in order to endure.
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What we can and cannot change in the world comes back to questions of what is and is not reality. Convincing people, winning them over, is mainly a matter of slightly altering the socially defined parameters as to what reality might become. The reason propaganda is so effective. If something is everywhere, presenting itself as reality, it becomes a reality. The everywhere is the reality. If the king says he can breathe underwater he is still, for all intents and purposes, the king. Until overthrown. Kindness is not complex.
We all have a sense of what is and isn’t possible. If we were to each feel as unimportant as we actually are, might we think more of the future? Of the future without us—a future in continuity. But to think this future requires a new idea of time, a conception of time within which ‘the future’ might no longer exist. Past, present, future are lines in the sand. Where and when will we find this new sense? What daily experiences is it analogous with? If I do something now for the future, already I have set myself apart from it. How do I do something with the future as if it were part of me and I am still alive within it? As if destroying the future was destroying myself.
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Nina Power, from The Pessimism of Time:
But should the Left be coming up with ‘new’ ideas all the time? Politics is not fashion—and, in any case, even fashion is more cyclical rather than endlessly transhistorical. […] Certain fundamental things that the Left seeks to abolish—exploitation, inequality, material poverty, exclusion—are more present than ever and while they may take on ‘novel’ forms, the real newness may simply be quantitative, as more and more people ‘pay’ for a crisis they didn’t create.
Perhaps the real problem here is the way in which time itself always serves as the measure for all politics, and all critique of politics, whether it be the bleak future, the heroic past, the desolate present, the utopian tomorrow, the shadowy past or the dawning of a new day. […] If time is a weapon used against people fighting against the speed and brutality of what is happening, we may be forced to use a different image of time—or perhaps an image of a world without time altogether—against those whose only measure seems to be the maximisation of profit in the shortest possible period. The question of whose finitude counts and whose doesn’t—a brutal marker not only of the division between life and death but between the more important distinction between those whose life/death ‘counts’ and those about whom nothing is counted at all—is played out in the only post-religious ‘infinite’ permitted to matter: permanent accumulation. The dedication to amassing at the expense of life itself reveals a terror of time so disturbing that any politics of temporal pessimism/optimism looks insignificant by comparison.
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From the other side, nature is reality.
There is nature as social construct and then there is nature: lungs, blood, air, water, nightfall, hunger, running, sunlight, food. Nature no amount of propaganda can erase.
Time before clocks, after every last clock has stopped. For the people in your own tribe you fight to the death. All kindnesses pertain. Other tribes are another story. By this I want to say something about time. Breakthroughs in history don’t pertain to geography. In geography they must have the same breakthrough again, using their own language, their own terminology, their own moment. But I slipped when I wrote the word breakthrough. Breakthrough denotes progress. Instead: history and geography as the same thing. Time against progress. Time that keeps itself alive.
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Biologist Jonas Salk:
If all insects on Earth disappeared, within 50 years all life on Earth would end. If all human beings disappeared from the Earth, within 50 years all forms of life would flourish.
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Sometimes I think we must gather and fight. Other times I think: a fight is something you can win or lose, our situation too tragic for further loss and further loss is exactly what’s coming.
A new way of thinking about time might be something else. Not fighting, not winning, not losing; stepping aside and into continuity.
Out of history then we don’t quite know what. Then no more then’s. No more or less alive than the world. There are lines between days, between years, between eras, positions and disciplines. Lines, once drawn, fight for their self-fulfilling survival. What is and is not reality and how what is not reality is useful for maintaining territory.
Everything that destroys the world gives at least someone’s ego a quick, powerful boost. Neoliberalism is the totalitarianism of capital. Monsanto is the Lysenko of neoliberalism. “The resistance of being to purity.” (Inger Christensen)
The term planned obsolescence is generally attributed to the industrial designer Brooks Stevens who used it as the title of a 1954 talk. Wikipedia says: Stevens defined it as “instilling in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary”. His view was to always make the consumer want something new, rather than create poor products that would need replacing. Planned obsolescence is our current economic model of time.
And so little reality would be required to prove, allow us to feel, be smashed by, the reality that this is in no way the case. A matter of slightly altering the socially defined parameters as to what reality might become. You cannot throw time away and then get another chance.
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Gianni Vattimo, from The Transparent Society:
Amongst the many definitions, there is one that may be generally agreed upon: modernity is the epoch in which simply being modern became a decisive value in itself.
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Kindness is not so complex. Solutions are not so complex. But the course we are on is enough to make me believe in the fucking devil.
The devil is insecure. To do these things you must be driven by something awful. There must be some great pleasure in it. That we are the pinnacle of history and it’s all downhill from here. Reality TV and shit pop songs are the pinnacle of glorious history and it’s all downhill from here. No one wants the middle, so much more tragic and musical to be the first and last. Business is business.
I am searching for a new sense of reality and a new sense of time. As must be obvious, I don’t have answers. I have thoughts. I spend many hours blankly staring at the internet each day. (All citations above found on line.) My work, my writing, my art for so long has hinged on wanting to be new, unlike the rest, breaking something open, cracking the paradigm, the hot new thing that leaves all past art in the dust. It’s part of the problem as is so much else. I don’t know if art and this new sense of time will exist in the same world.