Articles of interest
26th September 2022
Book in Focus
Re-Activating Critical Thinking in the Midst of Necropolitical Realities
For Radical Change
Edited by Marina Gržinić and Jovita Pristovšek
Keywords: Critical Thinking, Radical Change, Necropolitics, Necrocapitalism, Racialization, Flesh, Epistemologies
Re-Activating Critical Thinking in the Midst of Necropolitical Realities: For Radical Change was proposed in December 2020, in the midst of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has unleashed an explosive production of divisions and inequalities, many of which are deeply rooted in colonial history, nullifying the conditions of life and completely negating the meaning of life as such. Our goal, therefore, was not only to provide a radical overview of what a new generation of thinkers is producing in a particular geopolitical context, on an axis that stretches from Austria and the EU deep into the Balkans, an axis that leads into the global world, but also to provide critical thinking that seeks ways to radically change the world in which we live.
We wanted to rethink the big issues that were becoming more visible and pressing, especially issues of discrimination, racial violence, plunder, and exploitation in the context of necropolitical and necrocapitalist governmentality on a global scale. The question that arises is whether there is a pluriverse generation of writers currently forming a radical structure that is “viral” in terms of thought production and reflection on the current necropolitical global recalibration of social relations.
The twenty-three chapters with twenty-four positions gathered in this volume are presented in five subchapters marked by two borderlines: one for access, invention, and potentiality; the other for a somber threshold. They transcend geographical boundaries, conceive of the world as a single entity, and develop strategies for radical change. Themes addressed include trans*, technology, contagion, capitalism, necropolitics, performativity, and political economy. What also connects this axis, which spans Mexico, Slovenia, Austria, Korea, the former Yugoslavia, Turkey, the United States, Spain, Germany, Israel, and Japan, are writings and practices that seek to seed the idea of other worlds while reflecting on subjectivities, violence, time, realities, death, flesh, epistemologies, fetishism, and, not least, access and thresholds.
These critical writings are fueled by an imagination that pushes the boundaries of the comfort zone of academic writing, both in content and form. They seek to reconceptualize, reevaluate, and re-activate the work of theoretical thought, critical discourse, and practices that consider the present moment in society, while providing strategies for possible emancipatory political practices (if emancipation can still be understood as a practice of change). Their research is guided by various questions: What are the ways, strategies, and possibilities for conceptualizing change? Can we make tangible the differences between these strategies, and how? Can we move away from modernist notions of emancipation? Can emancipation be repoliticized? Can we even act in a way that recognizes that action in necropolitical realities? Indeed, if so, what would be the content and form of this political action? “If you think you do not need to be decolonized and continuously strive for stardom in a dreamt up scholarly decolonial supremacy,” Liliana Conlisk Gallegos forcefully sets the tone of the book, “it is time to wake the fuck up!” (31).
The reader gains access to the book through the “coloniality of the quotidian” (Conlisk Gallegos) that supports the perpetuation of transphobia, racism, sexism, ableism, and all other -isms/phobias, i.e., white supremacy in all its manifestations.
In the next moment, necropolitics is on our plate, at our table, or just around the corner. It produces and manages superfluous segments of the population by ensuring the devaluation of their lives; the latter, by using the productive power of violence, enables “extraction as a global tendency of capital accumulation” by legal and/or illegal means (Antonio Fuentes Díaz, 53).
In the twenty-first century, the seriality of violence is reinforced by new digital technologies. Culture is not exempt from these processes. Today’s digitally mediatized culture also creates racialized subjects and necropolitical visual realities. The digital is completely dependent on the amplified racialized affects that occur on social platforms (Taida Kusturica). Necropolitics is a constant process of extraction and waste production (not necessarily in that order). Contemporary capitalism has assumed its brutalist face (Nina Cvar). The pandemic has only exposed and accentuated the already existing structures of exploitation and exacerbated fascist tendencies. In addition, here, the figure of the refugee/migrant fleeing devastated landscapes and plundered lifeworlds is reborn as a threatening, contaminated alien figure (İklim Doğan).
The contributions in the second part of the volume range from attempts to approach a theory of gender that does justice to the particular experiences of gender (namely gender fluidity and the experiences of binary trans persons) in our cultural context (Lina Gonan and Mia Gonan), to the articulation of trans*formative potentials that lie not in trans*, but in its relations to decolonization, to decolonial ways of thinking, sensing, acting, and imagination (Tjaša Kancler). To trace the disruptive potential of the occidental multitude, one way is to look at how modes of cultural representation are transformed into the cinematic logic of capitalist reproduction of labor and capital (Diana Bulzan). This is reinforced through a critique of the Asian film industry, particularly the global Korean film boom, in its complicity with European cultural and film institutions. These connections through the film industry perpetuate (white) patriarchy and constant misogyny in South Korea (Yela An).
The third part of the book deals with white time. This stands in contrast to “a Black genealogy”, where “spaces and times are not linear, for it is not the history of the Afro-descendant diaspora that emerges in unexpected places and thousands of miles separated by the Black Atlantic” (Esther (Mayoko) Ortega Arjonilla, 197). The key is to trace the genealogy of ignorance and denial of past crimes and depredations. Looking at the Serbian reality of 2021, it is characterized by the denial of the Srebrenica genocide, fascist propaganda (re)packaged as anti-fascism, and the (re)construction of the nation-state by bringing back the Middle Ages, the golden age of Serbian history, “to the future of the Serbian third millennium” (Saša Kesić, 207).
“Racialized modalities of exclusion are continuously shifted” (Rexhepi, 230), based on cultural, religious, and historical differences, depending on the needs of exploitation at a particular capitalism’s historical moment. We saw after the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war (2022) what happens to African students who flee the warzone like Ukrainian refugees, but are left to fend for themselves and forced to give priority to “real refugees” at the borders. The book was a premonitory “handbook” for a myriad of contemporary structural and social racialization processes. Borders are the hallmark of our present. Racialized bodies are assigned to different spatial compartments, while the compartmentalization and time spent by rulers on the Western side with never-ending asylum procedures, etc., are crucial to necrocapitalism (Kyungrim Lim Jang).
The fourth section on death and flesh begins with a textual diagram of “interracial relationships, the erotic capital of our Black/Afro-Indigenous bodies and the racial discipline of desire,” on “how we maintain white supremacy in our beds and through our desire” (iki yos piña narváez funes, 262). This is followed by an analysis of the “necropolitical hyperrationalization of dying that closes the final chapter of liberal humanist utopias”—the “death-for-itself” as “the highest point of the necropolitical justification of human expendability” (Stanimir Panayotov, 266).
Where, then, can we find agency that proves to be a counter-logic to occidental subjectivity and its sensations and aspirations? The answer is to be found where there seems to be no future, in necrozones that are carceral spaces, refugee camps, war zones, and so on (Jovita Pristovšek). In the Western context, characterized by “the disappearance of society as a political configuration” and “the banishment of the political,” should “the universally revered aspects of the modern power regime—democracy, emancipation and progress […] form the very core of that resistance” (Šefik Tatlić, 308, 307)?
Needing new ways of naming and wresting the possibility of establishing the narrative from those who tell our story, a ruminant epistemological proposal emerges in the fifth part of the volume on epistemologies and fetishism (Lucrecia Masson Córdoba, 329). “Ruminant epistemology bets on the fact that it is possible to think and generate stories from other places. From the borders.” (329) The ruminant breaks with the logic of productivity, speed (332), the concept of time (chronological, unilinear, and measurable), and history based on progress (331).
“Without an alternative to capitalism, it is unlikely that there will be a way out of [even] the spiral of legal decay and mass worker poverty.” (Maja Breznik, 363) However, under the conditions of this moment, when “the aestheticization of politics is perfected by the digital,” are we able to visually perceive the operations of power and see or show the world (Joshua Simon, 384), as well as imagine a different future?
“The principle of un-learning must be learned on a structural level,” and “it is also about unlearning privileges and, above all, recognizing that a supposed privilege can also be a disadvantage.” (Cathérine Lehnerer, 390). This un-learning should take various forms, including un-learning intimacy. “In the age of technological surveillance, the realm of ‘intimacy’ is also the site of knowledge production ‘standardized’ and controlled by colonialism, imperialism, and heteronormativity, and this knowledge production itself unleashes violence in various ways.” (Mika Maruyama, 426)
Technology gives a direct push to capitalism and life is directly at stake in all these processes (Marina Gržinić, 432, 433). “The neoliberal state grants or takes away [prosthetic] ‘citizenship’ as a gratuitous gesture.” (437) Moreover, and this brings us to the threshold: rampant financial capitalism shows that “all that matters is the form of ownership,” particularly with regards to private property (442).
To summarize, in the midst of necropolitics, we have envisioned this book as a compilation of writings, quotations, thoughts, and images that interrupt the necrocapitalist reproduction of the present, and seek forms of collectivity that transcend Western relationality. The reader is invited into a dialog with critical thinking that is reactivated precisely by thinking about the necropolitical and necrocapitalist constellation in which we currently live.
In addition, the book has already gone through three public presentations in different cities and institutions, in which the contributors in the book participated in different compositions. The first presentation took place at the Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (ZRC SAZU) in Ljubljana, Slovenia, as the book is an outcome of the research programme J6-3139 “Boundary Configurations in Philosophy, Politics, and Psychoanalysis” (conducted at ZRC SAZU and funded by the Slovenian Research Agency). The second took place at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, as many of the contributors are pursuing or completing doctoral studies in philosophy at the Academy of Fine Arts under the direction of Marina Gržinić. With this remarkable group of PhD candidates at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, the presentation became an impressive colloquium lasting several hours. For the third presentation, we decided to organize a public symposium, again in Ljubljana (ZRC SAZU) with an international group of contributors. The intention was also to publish this long remarkable exchange on YouTube.
This is now available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uKPqdPLf8u4&ab_channel=ZRCSAZU.
Marina Gržinić is a philosopher, theoretician and artist. She works as a Research Advisor at the Institute of Philosophy of the Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (ZRC SAZU), Ljubljana, Slovenia. Since 2003, she has been a Professor at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, Austria.
Jovita Pristovšek holds a PhD in Philosophy from the Postgraduate School of the Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (ZRC SAZU), Ljubljana, Slovenia. She is a postdoctoral researcher at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, Austria, and an Assistant Professor at the Academy of Visual Arts, Ljubljana.
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