The Whatsapps, Opening of the Floodgates, 2015.

e-flux journal issue 67

with Luis CamnitzerDouglas CouplandNatasha Ginwala, Boris GroysCharles Tonderai MudedeReza NegarestaniAna Teixeira Pinto, and David Riff

www.e-flux.com/issues/67-november-2015

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In Djibril Diop Mambéty’s 1992 dark comedy Hyènes, an extravagantly wealthy woman returns to her poor village seeking revenge. Her target is the man who humiliated her in her youth by getting her pregnant and abandoning her. It is not only death that she wants, but also justice. She will not murder the man by her own hand, as Charles Tonderai Mudede explains in this issue, but instead asks the village to mete out capital punishment, to murder him for his wrongdoing. In exchange, she will make the town wealthy. As the village reflects upon its principles, the people of the village begin buying things on credit. The wealthy woman will have her way not through the mechanism of justice, but through the mechanism of debt. If the film appears bleak for its conflation of money and justice, it is also a comedy about dividing them in the first place.

The paradoxical phrase “The King is dead, long live the King” originates in medieval Europe, where two divided bodies of the ruler reigned. One was eternal, embodying the principles and responsibilities of the role of ruler, and the other mortal—the human figure inhabiting the role. For Natasha Ginwala, there is a third body in this scheme, and it goes by the name corruption. Corruption is also a passageway between the responsibilities of the sovereign and the corporeal desires of human beings who come into contact with power. It sees an entire world inside the pious division and it goes to work at extracting a benefit from all that passes through this opening, undermining the sanctity of authority as well as the people who are subject to it. It is through this third body of the king that the informal sector or “back room” transforms from a dumping ground of undesirable elements and exchanges into an integral part of a society’s basic structure.

In both physics and information theory, the term entropy describes a quantity of heat and energy loss that cannot be converted into mechanical work. For Ana Teixeira Pinto, the second law of thermodynamics is also a social idea that describes the waste or dissipation of labor integral to the supposed equilibrium of any thermodynamic system. As a social idea, entropy directs the poor or unemployed to perform those necessary tasks that do not reflect the ordering principles of society, but are nonetheless crucial to its functioning. In information theory, entropy denotes the element of noise in any signal, or chaos in any orderly system. If allowed to overtake the system, these elements would lead to catastrophe or death. Were they to be eliminated completely, the system would also die. Thermodynamic equilibrium is maintained by managing the constant presence of death within life and waste within work. This holds true for information ecologies, markets, and national bodies alike.

Thirty years ago, the “Neue Slowenische Kunst” (NSK) collective formed in Yugoslavia and gained a reputation for appropriating constructivist avant-garde signs and repressed Nazi and totalitarian iconography into their own form of hypermodernist Slovene national art. At its three decade anniversary, Boris Groys considers how the collective’s often hilarious mix of highly charged official and subversive ideological signs in Yugoslavia not only precisely targeted the contradictions of the official ideology at the time, but also advocated a universalist message within communism, as well as within and in spite of the era of modernity. Interestingly, for Groys, the universal message of their avant-garde ultra-nationalism at the end of the communist era extended almost seamlessly into the period of global capitalism with the formation of the NSK State, a passport-issuing entity ”in time” with citizens but without a territory—a universal state.

The enormous challenge to universalist thinking today is often attributed to its capture by globalization’s market ideology, where the planetary or human scale is only accessible by way of free flowing heteronymous signs. For Reza Negarestani, philosophy can break this stranglehold of heteronymy through its programmatic and functionalist deployment of thought and thinking as an already autonomous enterprise. By establishing and structuring realizable commitments towards their own ends and demands, philosophy still has the capacity to release a full-blown project of emancipation via the extreme rationality of thought’s computability and capacity for abstraction. For Negarestani, thought itself is an ancient artificial intelligence whose resilience stems from its artificial capacity to reinvent itself.

—Julieta Aranda, Brian Kuan Wood, Anton Vidokle

In this issue:

Ana Teixeira Pinto—Death Wall: Extinction, Entropy, Singularity
In the 1940s, entropy was grafted onto information theory, after the physicist Erwin Schrödinger reconceptualized it as a measure of disorder. Thomson’s twin blades of “work” and “waste” reappear as “signal” and “noise,” while information—heretofore a concept with a vague meaning—was recast as the negation of entropy (negentropy). As biological and computational systems were treated as informationally equivalent, organisms came to be described as thermodynamic systems that extract “orderliness” from their environment in order to counteract increasing entropy.

Douglas Coupland—Stuffed: How Hoarding and Collecting Is the Stuff of Life and Death
The collecting of stuff—slightly out-of-the-ordinary stuff—is different now than it was in the twentieth century. eBay, Craigslist, and Etsy have gutted thrift and antique stores across North America of all their good stuff, and in Paris, the Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen is but a shadow of its former self. eBay itself, once groaning with low-hanging fruit being sold by the clueless, is now a suburban shopping center with the occasional semi-okay vintage thingy still floating around. This same sense of sparseness is felt in the museum world, where the slashing of programming budgets remains the norm.

Luis Camnitzer—Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?
When a philanthropic institution commits itself to an activity normally performed by a government, it enters something akin to a marriage contract, one that only death or the Pope should be allowed to annul. Hopes are raised, and there is no recourse when these are allowed to fall. Once a private entity starts a project on this scale, it forfeits the right to stop it, unless it wants to show arrogance and capriciousness.

Reza Negarestani—What Is Philosophy, Part One: Axioms and Programs
Even though the corollary problems of philosophy as a specialized discipline (the tenor of its discourses, its traction beyond its own domain, its applications and referential imports) can in no way be ignored, they are however problems that, as it will be argued, can only be sufficiently addressed in the context of philosophy as deeper cognitive enterprise. The primary focus of this cognitive program is to methodically urge thought to identify and bring about realizabilities afforded by its properties (theoretical and practical intelligibilities pertaining to thinking as such), to explore what can possibly come out of thinking and what thought can become.

Boris Groys—NSK: From Hybrid Socialism to Universal State
In fact, contemporary globalization is the direct opposite of the modern ideal of internationalism and universality. The world of globalization is not a world of international solidarity or shared cultural values. Nor is globalization the realm of the anonymous “crowd mind” as it was celebrated by postmodernism. Rather, it is the world of the global competition of everybody against everybody. This competition pushes the subject who participates in it to mobilize his or her own human capital. And human capital, as described, for example, by Michel Foucault, is primarily the cultural heritage that is mediated by the family and milieu in which an individual grows up.

David Riff—Was Marx a Dancer?
Actually, there is a quite a bit of dancing in Marx. To begin at the beginning, there are his poems, written for his distant love and ballroom baroness, Jenny von Westphalen, who waited for him seven long years as he studied to get his degree. Marx’s poetry reaches out to its promised partner with memories of the ballroom, or so one imagines, interrupted by long, if chaperoned, afternoon strolls. The verses whirl and twist, curl and rust. These are generic salon rhythms, hammered out somewhat mechanically, but the goal is earnest enough: to protect transcendent love and shared ideals from the dirty world.

Charles Tonderai Mudede—Neoliberalism and the New Afro-Pessimism: Djibril Diop Mambéty’s Hyènes
The mayor, with the town’s approval, rejects the offer, saying: “We are in Africa but the drought will never make us savages.” The village agrees with the mayor. They have rules, customs, beliefs, morals. They will not kill an innocent man for money. That is immoral. That is what animals do in Darwin’s race for survival. They are not animals. They are humans. Linguere Ramatou sets up a tent outside of the town and waits. Her offer still stands. How long can this community resist her money? Not long at all.

Natasha Ginwala—Corruption: Three Bodies, and Ungovernable Subjects
The status of corruption may be said to lie at the division of visible and invisible labour, and at this tipping point it “acts out” and loops back into the body politic as a sentient character. The daily-wage worker and the cognitariat are equally implicated in this realm and made subservient to the uncanny sweep of the veiled hand of corruption. The social contract is breached repeatedly through its perverse pleasure fantasies and subterranean nightmares.

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