Featured image by Andy Holmes on Unsplash
The following has been collectively written by a number of academic contributors based at Birkbeck and beyond who, for the purposes of this experimental piece, are calling themselves "Le Comité de Salut Public."
Viral time is a sudden telescoping of the non-human time of virus life with the lived, clock time of human beings. It leads to a sense of the floor falling out: of the inbreaking of the alien into the everyday and the disruption of human history by non-human time.
Human history is characterised by a sense of repetition. We tend to imagine it as a horizontal line, divisible, calculable and stable. But its stability hinges on the idea of an impartial observer grounded at safe distance. Everything is then projected on to his sovereign eye as to the vanishing point of infinity, and in this manner the whole of timespace comes to be arranged for this one-eyed spectator as the universe was once thought to be arranged for God.
As visuality and spectacle.
This is why God and its kingly representatives on Earth could be easily replaced by a money-god fixated on slicing and dicing the body, dividing clock time and the expository value of humans.
But alien time reveals human history to be only his-story. It says: “You haven’t heard mine yet!”.
The alien is a time of an altogether different scale. The scale of disease becoming the anxiety of disrupted routines. And the latency of the interrupted projects of the past coexisting in the vortex of time, abstract and unfinished.
Given its virulence, its spread and its inhumanity, an analysis of the virus can proceed along lines parallel to the critique of capitalism. Thus, the abstract time of the virus, the hegemony of ill-health, suggests that behind all value is not so much labour time, as health-time. The abstract time of the virus, as an inhuman time of universal illness, both reduces individual concrete time to a period of anticipation of ill-health or death, and elevates matters of life and death to the time scale in which they matter most once again: the entrance into the vegetable time of putrefaction and decay, or memory time- provided that there are still some around to remember us.
These others need not be friendly. By bringing decay, putrefaction and memory they provide entry into other dimensions of relation and different orders of the visual. They’re a time-machine, in and of time and at the same time producers of time. Vegetable time and memory-time circulate through aliens, critters and enemies in the precise sense that memory has nothing to do with the return to the homely origins of mankind nor with efforts to restore Being against the corrosive onslaughts of an external becoming. Viral time does not belong to the order of recovery or social reproduction: it’s productive, instituting.
The putrefaction of others – the foundational concern of moral philosophy!
Viral time twists upon our poor human substance – a shared propensity to suffer and reflect upon suffering; the personal and the impersonal twisting together like the filaments of a cord; the very long strings of DNA and RNA molecules that tie us to ourselves, and to the viral life within and beyond us.
Not an exchange economy, but a productive one. But productive of what?
Classical political economy – even without old leather tongued Malthus – had an understanding of viral vectors: they are inseparable from trade – from what passes between us – “our tendency to truck and barter”. By 1550 those uneconomic, primitive peoples and their potlatch systems had died out or been brought to latency in the Americas. Their hodoo hollerin’ ghosts were travelling back to Europe as viral voodoo fetishes. 1665, spotted fever comes to London via Amsterdam – brought by the Dutch ‘Turkey fleet’ (or from Candia or Cyprus).
Commerce is a viral envelope.
Viral time is not de-commodified time – although it looks like we will all now have to live somewhere between working and not working. Between work and play. Life and death. Those well enough will worry about the rent- but, perhaps momentarily distracted from the horror, anxiety and distemper, might have the strength to see and do something else. All work and no play makes Jack a very dull boy indeed.
Viral Time is globalised time; the virus does not have a passport and cannot be stopped at the border. It moves on the breath, bringing tidings from the kingdom of the unwell. We will soon all be citizens of this benighted realm.
The Corona virus – the virus of the crown, the virus of the sovereign and the time of exception – is on every banknote and every coin.
Of course, the decider himself is at a hospital, on a respirator. Another casualty of the virus.
The virus is a medium of universal exchange: money is the best metaphor for the virus and its infinite accumulation of interest at our expense.
Cough in the morning, sweat in the afternoon; early evening a momentary, lucid reading of a great text or the sweet distraction of the shopping channel.
Viral liberation: the other side of fever dreams – life liberated from a worst plague – the scourge and drudgery of work. But as we all know capitalism loves a crisis: an opportunity to re-invent itself: the Sick bed as a consumptive consumption fund – ‘the man’ sheds his fixed capital – the ultimate nightmare – the invalid as auto-entrepreneur.
Sontag was right. At times like this only literary criticism can save us.
Viral time: waiting to see if one is infected; the suspension of time in illness; end time or the time of recovery. Body time, or, more precisely, the body working with the alien; a fetish set to catch a fetish. Working to its time.
It slices and dices, it curses us and splashes us, it cuts and divides all labour and suspends as the greatest of strikes; the industrial action of Gaia. It also bundles and derives. Can a derivative become dérive? That is the question. Tupi or not tupi. We are looking askance and admire as well as recoil to our swivelling seats.
A thermodynamics of viral time: the virus as the ultimate in disordered matter- the momentarily knowable human world dissipated endlessly in cosmic radiation – cooling down for ever- matter’s general forgetting of the human- the dumb insolence of all things that lasts forever. Matters of life and death matter-ing once again. Deathlifemattering. The virus as a field vector. Providing sense, not as significance but orientation.
Dussel’s destruction. Kluge’s difference. Weil’s decreation.
An a-theology of suffering is equally an entropics of viral time. Suffering is how intelligent matter comes to know the over-arching loneliness of God. He comes in a glory of night sweats, in feverish visions. Collapsed into the ruined abbey of the self, a transept of pustules points out no more than the horizontal grace of a virus that is as much part of the divine order as the rattlesnake.
Pacha mama or Mother Nature is not the caring mother of anthropology’s white fantasy. It is more like the stepmother of the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales and Desana myths. So says the wordsmith of the people of the snake.
A virus – an infectious agent whose agency is entirely non-human but whose effects – at least in a pandemic- are mediated by humans. When it enters the body, it can trigger an auto-immune effect that makes the body turn on itself: a recursive effect affecting the lungs, the rest of the respiratory system, even the heart. Prostheses may be needed, a respiratory membrane, an IC unit, a ventilator. These are extensions of oneself, or rather, more self than oneself. Like an entirely new organ alongside one’s lungs and heart to pump oxygen to the brain.
Aren’t these the more evocative organs of our inner self? But if so, if the virus entering the body results in the latter being connected to the respiratory membrane, the ICU and the ventilator, then the self and the alien come to form a strange alliance. Together with the machine. They become a strange organ, a rarest thing.
What this new organ does is not only to fold the non-human into the human, or turn the human against itself. It also turns it inside out, thereby opening up an interval or a gap in timespace.
Through it, other worlds get incorporated into our own. Was this not obviously what Benjamin meant when he observed that a rare constellation appeared in the intersection between the human and the non-human? A collection, a strange collector. For the strange collector his objects do not come alive in him, but rather it is he who, like the sick virulent body, lives in them. Stranger things indeed.
While these are things in the deader-than-dead sense that Taussig says we attach to a thing, they’re nevertheless loved and desired. Of course, we’re talking about matters of life and death which matter again, here and now, about shades and the sombre feeling-things only the dead can bring: distance and solitude. The deader-than-dead sense of a thing. And yet, this thing may be revered so that it can come to stand over you and turn you into its willing accomplice, unto death. Love and death. Of course, we’re talking about the fetish. It opens up a different time scale, another level of recursivity. Isn’t that what a viral thing does?
If this is the case, then what is meant to be a thing, a mindless inhuman thing, a critter, a tool or a not-so intelligent machine, ends up being an end in itself. If so, here the moral philosophy of judgment fails us. For its key distinctions between means and ends, sensible and intelligible, outside and inside no longer hold.
We must go through them beyond them.
After all, these walls and boundaries began to fall the minute good old Kant stopped listening to his valet’s military orders every morning as if to the voice of duty and started playing with aesthetic ideas (Lampe would say: “Wake up! It’s five a.m.! When the moral law speaks you’re no longer free to keep on sleeping!”) Or was it Thomas de Quincey translating Kant’s impenetrable writing into plain English while under the influence?
The German crackpot-genius is portrayed convincingly in Phillipe Collin’s film The Last Days of Immanuel Kant. The old man is positively addicted to his bizarre daily regime: sleeping in a mummy-wrap, getting every morning out of bed at five to five on Lampe’s orders, at his desk for five, drinking massive quantities of South American coffee at precise intervals on the hour every hour. Then smoke a pipe, prepare a lecture (to be delivered by quarter to one in the afternoon), lunch at one accompanied by a glass of Hungarian wine, smoke a second pipe, then to Friedrichsburg, back at six every day on the same path – the philosopher’s path: “there goes the philosopher, let’s adjust the clock”, the townsfolk would say. Back to the desk, more work, more coffee, more work … no time for sex (really?), back to bed mummy-wrapped at ten.
The other, addicted to the Chinese viral substance. Frequent pipes. No deadlines.
Fordism before Ford. Opium before the War. Let the outside in.
The philosophical point is this: as phenomenal beings we need to have aesthetic ideas that present to our sensibility the force of sublime passions and ideas, such as freedom, liberation or the universal destiny of humanity. In their presentation, a counterpoint with the beautiful is set that structures the sense of the universe. Visually, poetically, musically. In music, counterpoint is the relation between voices which come to be harmonically interdependent even though they’re separate, isolated and independent in rhythm, pitch accent and frequency function. It’s the principle behind baroque concert, jazz, funk and rock ‘n roll: forbidden parallel paths of fifths and the dissonant fourth. As when David Bowie’s Life on Mars gets combined with Simon Ritchie’s My Way.
The virus has its own spatiality- which is global. And its own ontology. Again the telescope effect: the infinitely small that has global effects. One effect is an ontology of separation and distinction: ill/ well; infected/ not yet infected; infected/recovered; infected/erased. And yet the distinction becomes a synthesis, the bipolar a dialectic: host/ parasite. Host/hostage.
The master eaten by his servant.
The death of an individual in a pandemic brings together these themes: infinitely painful at one level – the impossible unrecoverable loss of a human being – at the global level almost meaningless.
Fever writing reflects on this trauma; Defoe’s Journal – and the general advice on surviving the plague it gives- is predicated on the idea that its author’s life is worth less than sixpence. All that matters are general notes for survivors. Work out whether you should stay in London and face down the distemper or flee to Northampton with the nobles and the better sort.
Viral time is the time of a form of vertigo- whose poets are Modiano, Sebald and Cioran. Disorientation resulting from a sudden switch between scales, temporal, spatial and personal. Time becomes a spiral or a vortex – a twisting or turning of something upon itself; where the ‘itself’ is the fear, or the actuality, of infection. The fever dream of the patient. Or the hypochondriac.
Where we dream of illness, of dropping out, where capital’s life and acceleration has been stalled and spited where we don’t need to do anything but watch in its magnitude and jump in and do everything.
Death in Venice, or London? An aesthetic question. Like Serge, will I be accorded the time to object to the colour of the blanket in which I am wrapped?
The vortex of viral time means that – self quarantined or ill- your world becomes a room. All time revolves around a world space shrunk to the space between four walls, which nevertheless open onto every space, everywhere.
A sick room of one’s own: Woolf’s diaries – struggling with depression in 1939, isolated in the countryside – nightly air raids the sky full of tinsel and sparks. Playing chess with the air gunner who came down from the hill. To pass whatever time is left. Sense of impending collapse. Cannot even get a train to Croydon. But she notes that a ‘huge, un-sunned pear’ has fallen from the tree in the garden.
A lesson from Boccacio: the plague enfeminises. Ladies – forced to follow the whims of their husbands and fathers “spend most of their time cooped up within the narrow confines of their rooms…wishing one thing and at the same time wishing its opposite” – the dialectic, then, a plague tactic of confined women- able to affirm and negate at the same time. Men, however, condemned to the plain air are permanently distracted: walking “abroad…fowling, hunting, fishing, riding and gambling” – unable to concentrate, unable to think.
Cioran, as the poet of the virus, wrote in aphorisms. You might never finish a long book. Say it quickly.
The problem? All words taste of the mucus of others. Just shut up.
A permanent 3p.m. Too late to start anything, too early to stop. But still not enough time; and too much.
Time’s arrow broken across its own knee
Not much time for entropy, you can’t reverse a virus. It doesn’t go backwards. As it eats through matter is digests history and the lucky ones are left on the edge of the curvature, where we are running ahead of entropy itself and can see it coming.
We might fall to our knees, be injured, broken, killed, by the wave of scavenging or the anticipation of it. The decay exacerbates our breathe, our brain, our group brain which sits somewhere on the outside, we don’t know. But the chaos is magic, and yet the fiercest, as life eats life and we somnambulate our way to the great feast that never came.
The virus is carried on the breath like words. Like words- or a love itself – it enters into one’s body.
Viral time will make a Barthes of all of us – writing from our hospital beds (well, the lucky ones). Not so much the lover’s discourse but viral discourse: can I read the ambiguities of my symptoms? What does this dryness in my throat mean? These hot flushes? Either I’m in love. Or ill.
Re-read Boccacio’s Decameron. You will probably have time. A meditation on love, suffering and sympathy.
Viral semiosis – then – a miasmics of meaning: ambiguous, threatening – clouds of insidious possibilities – and sudden meanings that strike – like the crocodile that almost swallowed Archibald Haddock.
Deadly orgone energy.
The semiotics and the simulacrum spin and dance as all respond and glance and stare from one layer of simulation to the next. The view from a room feeling the ground, the flesh, the headscape, but here is where the virus is most powerfully simulated. The room of confinement is the viral space of the claim, the order, the lock down, the sit down. It is the space of the order where we are immobilised, and all external ceases as radiator windows and leatherbacked sofas we lie on, make us.
Like Béatrice Douvre in the endless night, dreaming of the green grass at the foot of the bridge support.
The house – or the no house – the lock down of the void, where there is nothing to lock down but burnt fingers and ripped Rizlas. Pass me the liquour and I’ll supp my way through this, may not see the other side. Those who have fallen down already forgotten by those who are fearing the drop.
Plague times: a deadly combination of necropolitics, and something yet to be thought: a politics of tedium.
The virus will turn us all into Marcel Proust. A Proust who writes in the sweat of his own loneliness a long book – a diary of a fever dream that no one will read. More profound fantasies – Proust re-written by Buchi Emecheta.
The sweet madeleine cake and the black windsock of heat death, an opiate’s wet dream where piano song drifts down hallways and the hack hack cough, of you, of it, of them/they.
But if the virus had its own voice – what would it say – other than to constantly complain about its own loneliness: its over-riding desire for company, for relationships, that always end in disaster. So, perhaps we have it wrong. We’ve over complicated things. The virus is not to be thought on the basis of capital, but a kind of universal, organic loneliness. How upset the virus would be to know that our response to its entreaties is to distance ourselves from each other and therefore from a structural sense of abandon that unites viral time with our own.
As the 1% jet off to their fever bunkers, the 99% suffer from the democracy of disease. The virus effects a separation: the majority who are exposed because of their humanity – the minority who deny their humanity in order to survive.
Luxemburg suggested that capital accumulation requires both internal and external markets into which surplus value that is ‘earmarked for capitalisation’ must be poured to create more surplus value. Luxemburg was concerned with the exploitation of colonial labour – but – if we are reading Luxemburg in the context of plague economics, then we might come across something slightly different: the division of an economy into two sectors: one healthy, one unhealthy. The healthy sector sells to the unhealthy one: an endless stream of Amazon deliveries. This model works well enough. It creates a cadre of applauded but low paid workers on whose services those furloughed and lockdown depend – whilst the money lasts.
Viral law: the lawyers flee first, which does everyone a favour: “the Inns of Court were all shut up…[E]veryone was at peace; there was no occasion for lawyers”. Viral time is a period for re-invention of laws: in the Decameron, the Florentines who have fled the plague elect Pampinea their queen- and create a jurisprudence of stories.
Boccacio also provides the ideal typology of plague personae: those who shut themselves up, those who, to the contrary, see viral time as the time for drunken debauchery, and those good Aristotelians, who prefer the middle way. All die together. Ballard as Boccacio’s lineal inheritor: a variation on the second type: those who seek out the virus: its collaborators.
Other collaborators: Pasolini between Boccacio and Ballard. Not as the mediating middle – but the multiplying vector. The theme of panic repeats the panic of the Bacchae. The mad chase from Thebes to the mountain; frenzied women in the forests suckling animals snakes twining in their hair. Pentheus – that man of constant sorrow – torn limb from limb by Agave – his own mum. Dionysus, Pan, Eros and Thanatos’ ‘running around, freaking out’ (the kind of family gathering recently prohibited) – jouissance-the rank smell of brambles, sweat and crushed grass. You cannot arrest a god.
Dionysus as virus? Is the desire of the herd in viral time deathbound?
Viral time produces geographies of quarantine. Landscapes of isolation.
The etymological Indo-European roots of virus go back to slime and poison. Do we come upon primal fear of the stagnant, the miasmic: what can be breathed in, swallowed or puffed out like spaws. But also that which rises up suddenly, strikes, and sinks its teeth into us.
If we are all rising up out of the spawn, then surely the most organic of organics, the mist, the form, the plasmas of the world are talking to us whilst parasiting their dreams.
And yet there is no speech, just purely occupation, a rapid and vapid occupation of form that does not even take form.
If there was an archaeology of the virus, then, it would be concerned with wetlands, ditches, swamps and mires. It would seek the traces of swarms- clouds of gnats – the paths of things dragging themselves back to filthy water.
Sorrow is a poison – and there is no greater sorrow than the death of another person: “laid in the cold grave, prey to corruption and reptiles of the earth”
In the vortex of viral time, neither at home nor at work, neither ill nor well, you still need to do something: read philosophy, write a novel or learn how to play the spoons.
Viral time centres in the mind, as well as the body, and yet divides us up into the most segregated of portals, we are siphoned into portals where we can muse and amuse through the confines of the apertures, we sit in.
We look in and delve into mirrors where other sit and yet the virus sits in us, our mind in one zone and the body the next, and yet have we never been so aware we are nondual, we are one.
It doesn’t come for you directly, but takes you from the side, just like everything else along the curvatures – but even drives through you to the next.
It bores through holes imperceptible grasping to skins of nothings and falling to joints, bones, muscle, sinew that fall to the ground.
Viral time pollutes the concept of the global village: connection and proximity. No longer signifiers of a desired state. Just as Defoe watched the waggons of the wealthy leaving London and the plague, those left in the global village seal their doors with incantations against the fluxus.
Are we viral? Solitude as a forceful agent makes us so. But are we popular? Dream on. Or keep telling stories. If it worked in 1351 it will work now. Probably.
Bored by the forced wit of the sons and daughters of Florence’s finest- Boccacio invented English literature, Shakespeare and post modernism.
Certainly something flickers through the often cack handed disaster planning of governments – we now need to cooperate rather than compete, engage in acts of sympathy and mutual aid. In this involuntary degrowth economy, the messages from airlines close to bankruptcy can be given a twist: state aid for all!
Time has slowed. The past has receded. The future is on hold. We are creatures of present time, viral time. More aware of our breath, its rhythm, of our coordinates in social and public space. We survey each other, suspiciously, kindly. The question, or at least a question, is: what will happen afterwards, after the dead have been counted, the autopsy performed? Will Covid-19 do what all its predecessors have failed to do? Or will it, like Reaganomics, SARS, and more generalised forms of zombie/necropolitics, simply be business as usual? If not a catalyst for revolution, for radical forms of democracy, it seems hard to imagine a future, which as Derrida reminds us is not simply a tomorrow, a repetition of the toxic same. We wait with baited breath and some of us, with a deepening cough.
Ethical ontology: our suffering substance. The (m)other comes first. Love. Solidarity.
Viral time is the critique of capitalism. But once the suffering is over, can it survive without the virus? Or is it only a matter of time till the viral laws of competition return to sicken us, cheapen our aspirations, work us to the bone? Viral time brings with it a wager; written on a wall amidst the tear gas and rubber bullets of a million person protest for dignity and equality: "We won't return to normality, because normality was the problem." A threat in the form of a promise.
‘Stand firm to these, follow protocol, and all shall be well’. Let me tell you, and from the beginning. In viral times, sweat becomes a commodity – volume between life and death, and the trades one would make to avoid drowning; ridiculous in hindsight, but adamant in time. Time is lost to sleep, or sleep is lost to time – I am unsure. But the fatigue is enduring. The loss of movement is exhausting. Persistence becomes torture.
And as for Proust, gratitude on the non-disclosure of his fever dream diary – personal, exposure one should not require during a time of enforced solitude.
“Everybody knows that the Plague is coming; Everybody knows that it's moving fast; Everybody knows that the naked man and woman Are just a shining artefact of the past.”
Leonard Cohen got it right. We were expecting a plague all along. Perhaps we got so used to waiting we forgot the future. Memory plays funny tricks when viral times seem far away. We even assumed we were human.
But we were not human, just agents, porters, carriers, servants of our viral Masters.
Viral mastery is pure monarchy. It’s the rule of one. It governs simply for its own sake, its own life and its own evolution. Why bother calling it a pathogen? Suffering – our suffering – is only a by-product of these selfish microorganisms. Viruses don’t mean to cause suffering. Their cruelty lies in complete indifference to our well-being. Viral times are determined by whatever a particular virus does to achieve optimal virulence. Nothing else matters to it.
Viruses don’t laugh, but if they did they would laugh at the dark side of Christian universalism. All of us exist in expectation of some future catastrophe. Outside of viral times, expectation is what constitutes us, waiting is what shapes our existence. Viral times are times of no further expectation. The joke is that we will never be prepared.
The main victim of the virus is the self: no longer socialising except without a body; no longer whole, untransgressable, or readily recognised as self, the viral self sheds its boundaries as it sheds the viral load. With Haraway, politics now concentrate on controlling boundary conditions and interfaces in a mad fury to maintain the integrity of natural objects. Goodbye to all of that.
The future of the virus is our viral future. Once our skin boundaries are breached, the future nestles in and nags us towards an anthropocenic extinction. But right there, under the skin, like a nerve end, the viral future bifurcates and opens up the possibility of a different breath, less human, more chthonic.
The dream of the virus is a dream of world domination: spread and conquer, isolate and contaminate. It is the dream of total control, dreamt by George, the deluded analysant in Ursula le Guin’s novel The Lathe of Heaven. A male dream par excellence, where peace on Earth is brought about by six billion plague deaths. We are all part of this dream, all too human.
Viral time is vertiginously fast. It is the time of ‘the middle’, the Deleuzoguattarian cry for non-beginning, and yet the existential cry for anchoring. In the middle, everything rushes by in nanoseconds, weeks of national lockdowns become years of oppression, haunted cities of the past become breakfast nightmares of our self-isolation. In the middle, our bodies are rushed away from our conceptions, pushed into a wild collectivity of chance death, killing and survival.”
In viral times, I am infection, contagion, miasma, disease.
My hand is now a weapon that is turned firstly against me.
I am out of the haptic continuum.
Keep back! Do not touch me! Stay away!
I am saying it politely, kindly and in the best possible way.
Instead, if you want, I can wave to you from a window,
walk with you at a distance, and smile to you through the glass.
My skin, I am sure, will still be able to remember you and the touch of your hands.
For now, I can only send you greetings, and thoughts, and hugs from afar.
I can only gift you empty embraces, wilted desires,
a longing for kisses and other signs of tactile love.
In viral times, I can only rely on virtual connections,
and the steady traffic of invisible wires
for news, for advice, for closeness, support and supplies.
For solace, I turn to the words of those I hold close,
family, friends and strangers, writers of verse and heart-warming prose;
on audio, on screen, on the page and through the telephones.
In viral times, do not read into my absence abandonment.
Indifference is not the reason I am not there.
Withdrawal is an act of kindness, a gesture of profound care.
I am sorry this time I cannot join you. Your life I want to spare.
Instead, allow my voice to caress you,
Calm you down when you are scared,
When you feel lonely or forgotten and need reminding that someone is still really there.
In viral times, do not let the quietness of the city fool you,
the silent streets, the empty schools, the deserted squares.
The seeming inactivity is deceptive.
Behind closed doors, a lot is happening, we have a lot to share
– and not just angst, illness, death violence, cruelty, violence despair.
In front rooms and garden sheds, on desks, beds, and kitchen tables,
while ordinary life continues to subsist, the world is shifting
and every new day finds us on a new, previously unfathomed, edge.
So how can we all winter this out together?
Protect the vulnerable? Assist the weak?
The streets are no longer merely trenches.
They have now been refigured to keep the frail ones safe and not in any need.
No, now, is not the time to take off and go on a trip.
You'll have to wait for the summer, whenever that is,
Some day, some time, who knows indeed?
Viral time is split. The long before. A secret virus, your zombie time. Kiss a cheek, shake a hand, share a room, passby outside. Every moment’s full of vectors. Then the cough, a symptom of touch, of contact.
Viral time is split. The long before. Your secret now apparent.
The familiar now new.
‘In fear every day, every evening, He calls her aloud from above, Carefully watched for a reason, Painstaking devotion and love, Surrendered to self preservation, From others who care for themselves. A blindness that touches perfection, But hurts just like anything else. Isolation, isolation, isolation.’
The new, unfamiliar.
As Foucault said…
The Virus (2019) ***
Dir: Li Wenliang; (Cert: 18); Horror, Sci-fi;
Another disaster movie, this time its some virus spreading from the East. The premise was unconvincing, how could so many countries be so unprepared, even after they knew it was coming. The performances were a bit of a mixed bag, some of the health care workers were convincing, but the politicians were poorly cast. It mainly seemed like a vehicle for long lingering shots of empty streets and police over-reaction. (General Release, December 2019)
During these viral times, where physical movement is constrained, where time has paused-‘The future has been postponed’ – as a friend stated somewhat solemnly, we are frightened, we are suspicious – oh yes was that person 2 meters away from me?, did I hear coughing? -did the droplets reach me? – we are also witnessing the emergence of mutual aid groups, kindness and generosity. Kropotkin reminded us that Darwin did write in the Origin of Species that human and animal survival is better served if we act in concert, if we support each other. Old memories, techniques of doing things come together and bolster the present. During these viral times we also helped each other.
sharp, steel hooks
insistent to hang from smoke rings.
That’s how we lived.
Once upon a viral time, when hostility became compliance, the present became nostalgic and meaningless, meaningless everything is meaningless. Self-discipline, quiet good human resolve, a fellow feeling she said. But what of our estrangement, our betrayals, our lies? What are we in our actuality? And how do we respond to others? Do not ask us to comply. Ask one another, what is the main danger; how else can we relate?
Even so quickly may one catch the plague.
Le Comité de Salut Public
Let’s not be duped by the portrait of Kant as the père tranquille of philosophy, his keep calm-and-carry-on life or his moral philosophy and anthropology setting limits as walls to keep the critters (die Echten Grillen) at bay. Also, evil imagination, the viral substance and its hallucinations – or pure reason running ahead of itself. Whereas, before, the voice of duty and its judgment hoped to do their work containing vegetable induced hallucinations and the critters out there (the “savages”, women, the mentally ill, visionaries and their noon demon, also Kant the Grillenfänger from himself), now, in viral time, limits and lines become more like a tightrope or the impurity of reason.
The sense of the floor falling out leads to disorientation: can we walk the fine line between the outer form of the beautiful and the inner experience of intensity brought about by the image of ideas (das Erhabene)? And/or else, should we throw ourselves on the side of stranger things without reservation, à fonds perdu as the black surrealists would say? In other words, open the doors and let the outside in.
What is so disorienting is the experience of openness: “Open the doors, let the outside in, are you crazy? The virus is out there!”. And yet, it is the case that in viral time there’s nothing one can hold onto. No sticking point in the (absolute, moral, legal) subject. The virus makes no distinctions between immigrants and citizens. The framework of visuality becomes unstable. The virus makes watching the news unbearable, and the appeal to heroic war-like tropes intolerable.
This is why it is more challenging than Kant and Hegel combined. The former circled the wagons around the subject. The latter held on to the unchanging nature of the framework. And yet, there’s always a way of falling down the rabbit-hole of the imagination and the vision of the whole in motion; into vegetable time. Then, the question emerges: can we break up the norm that divides us (“savages” from “civilised”, women from men, the ill from the healthy) while opening up and dramatically intensifying the importance of the possible as a field of (sexual, hallucinatory, historical) play within time differentiation?
This question is absolutely different from that of how to hold on to something, the thing, or to seize hold of a ground or a philosophy. Behind the question of how to seize hold of a philosophy lies violent aggression, the desire to seize hold of the thing, keep it for oneself and to keep to oneself. But this is guilt and penance transposed not only to the sequence of thoughts but also to the sequence of images and infographics repeated down the line, daily news bulletin after daily news bulletin, for mass image-consumption.
Against the call for a new (middle) ground and a frame of reference in which everything and everyone would have its place (us in here, the virus out there) let’s recall that this already contains the metrics of what is spatially perceptible and temporally calculable, and thus also the abstract dream of harmony through calculus. The goal of a relation between voices which come to be harmonically interdependent dispenses here with their rhythmic independence. The result is a mess: arbitrary axioms, a frame in which everything is captured, bodies disappeared, other voices silenced, everything contained.
The challenge is to differentiate practically at the crucial moment. Between present time, the future and the past. Between labour-time and health-time. Between intensity-time and obscene-time. Between isolation-time and the time to strike. The challenge is to look backwards and see the future-in-the-past which is distinguishable from the past-in-the-future. And to recognise the ability of the outside (viral time, Gaia’s strike, a general strike, sex ‘n drugs & rock ‘n roll, the landscape’s address, res extensa, das Ding) to interrupt the keep calm-and-carry-on morals of Groundhog Day duty, tranquil thought and judgment (labour time, the economy, the Executive’s authority, ascesis, res cogitans).
In other words, we’re not only looking to describe the house so as to find ways out of its prison of the extreme present, pure self-affirmation, the visual order of reality and isolation. But also ways to let the outside in and delineate provisional times and spaces, interstices and intervals, moments of inconsequential protest becoming indelible, affiliations beyond kinship, stranger things, collections, imaginary domains of hodoo hollerin’ bebop ghosts and raves. A garden or a jungle, near the Mavecure hills, where more vegetable time can be cultivated beyond the managerial mayhem brought on by the informational privilege of established authorities, their secrecy (which is older than transparency, like a cloak or a mask that survived the advent of democracy fully intact), the generic negativity of their eternal pessimist look and the disorienting flood of their harmonising dialectics, authorised information and data.
The problem isn’t dialectics, of course. After all, the dialectic is but a manifestation of relationality operating in accordance to the principle of contradiction. And it may not be the only one. The problem is with their harmonising from a position of informational privilege, containing everything and projecting it via news-screens on to the one-eyed spectator as if on to the vanishing point of infinity. No point against point here, no beautiful songs that could be sung simultaneously, no 3-part invention in F minor, no inversion, no free or dissonant counterpoint and no rearrangement of the parts. Thus, no jazz, no funk and no rock ‘n roll.
The problem is with their keep-calm-and-carry-on call for “national unity”, one voice against the critter enemy. It smells of ugly nihilist abstraction: not the intellectual endeavour of taking things apart that Kant undertook every morning after being ordered out of bed by faithful Lampe, but an act of make-believe that provides the appearance of the one figure against ground and has effects in reality: it creates a calculated distance. For instance, between the slave (or her “excessive” sexuality, pitch contour and colour) and the beneficiaries of the global slave trade; so that the latter could distance themselves from the ethical stain, the mudbound concreteness of dealing in skin, colours and natural bodies. It was all done through the fragmentation of interests, as Bhandar taught us. The post-politics of united voices against the critter and harmonious dialogue between seemingly polar opposites (such as the national and the global) aims for a fake balancing act: the bringing together of fragmented interests; as in 3 & 4 Will. IV c. 73, as if on to a contract, or article 151 of the TFEU, or Brexit “independence”, or the infinity of the vanishing point. Its ultimate aim is to hide from view the body and the voice and the skin and the sex of the slave; the fact of its non-relation.
This is the dream of harmony through calculus, redux and reloaded.
We must awake from these, the dreams of our parents.
Including, of course, the dream of Kant as the quiet father of moral philosophy. Let’s wake up to other manifestations of reality, to dialectics, yes, but also to the difference in time scales or dimensions revealed by the entry of the alien and in viral time. Multidimensional difference is the flip side of non-relation, Fanon dixit.
This has everything to do with sex, drugs, and even rock ‘n roll. With David Bowie and Simon Ritchie, with substituting (Ian Curtis) a New Order, and with Johnny Marr asking “How Soon is Now?” Not Morrissey. No. Definitely not him. With all the things that the official history of philosophy has proclaimed alien to the stately seriousness of academic practice, its metrics and boring writing; alien to proper judgment and public appearance, to Kant and critique – like sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll and poetry and music. That is, the poetic tradition of revolt, of social revolt, storytelling and the allergic reactions of the skin and the lungs in viral time.
Love in the time of …
This has everything to do with a revelation brought about by the strange alliance that started to emerge between 1550 and 1750, in the wake of Duke Albert’s betrayal of the peasants’ rebellion. A strange collection this one; an alien alliance between, on the one side, all the new things arriving into the port of Könisberg from the four corners of the world -wheat, timber, furs, hemp, New World beats of the drum and chronicles and printed media such as the engravings decorating Hans Staden’s True Story (which show memory-raves intensified by New World beats of the drum) as well as maps of the river of the snake peoples and an increasing number of other “exotic” images from the East and the Rest. And, on the other side, viral phantasmata furnishing our inner self with the raw materials that are assumed necessary for us eventually to grasp the universals that are the starting point for genuine knowledge and orientation, theoretical and practical.
The revelation is a strange thing. Like a fetish set to catch a fetish in the world of commodities. This alien thing (imagine Kant’s aesthetic idea coupled with De Quincey’s opium) revealed the following: it is a most fundamental and paradoxical contradiction of capitalism that, on the one hand, such sublime and passionate ideas as freedom, liberation and justice for all can emerge under this formation while on the other it represses them, slicing and dicing us, separating us from ourselves as well as others, from realizing such lofty ideals, thus preparing a psychological misery that can be as violent as economic misery.
A misery of desire.
It slices us and dices us, it curses us and splashes us, it cuts and divides us. The word you’re looking for right now, is sex. Etymologically rooted in the Latin sectus/secare meaning “to divide or to cut”. Isn’t that what the moral philosophy of judgment does? Isn’t that, precisely, what capitalism does? But, of course, what can sex and Kant have to do with each other?
Unless you dig Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions and The Last Days of Immanuel Kant. Weak and sickly Thomas de Quincey in fits of psychological misery, takes flight from the prison-house prepared for him by his family in Oxford to live as a wayfarer. A solitary tramp finding his way from Wales to London. Returned by his friends to Worcester where, we’re told, “he came to be looked upon as a strange being who associated with no one”.
This is when he started using the alien substance, letting in viral time, vegetable time, chasing the dragon. Of course, De Quincey was no moral hero. Instead, a paragon of ethical ambiguity: a reactionary vis-a-vis Peterloo and the Sepoy rebellion, he became a staunch abolitionist of slavery. A friend of Thomas Carlyle’s visuality and an opium-eater.
While high on opium, De Quincey turned his attention to political economy. In the 1821 edition of the Confessions, he described it as an “organic science. Not part, that is to say, but what acts on the whole as the whole again reacts on and through each part, yet the several parts may be detached and contemplated singly.” In this passage, the economy is presented to us through an aesthetic idea: an image of the whole. One in which every part can be cut off, detached and listened to or contemplated as a moment of the whole before being recomposed as a set in motion; the whole reacting on and through each part. The items in this collection (a counterpoint composition called “the economy”) gravitate around each other and into De Quincey’s hands co(s)mically, visually and musically; as if by chance. But, of course, here we speak of chance as the flip side of fate.
This is a wild idea. Can you hear the New World beats of the drum, from the East and the Rest, vibrating with die Totalität and Formen (die der Kapitalistischen …), No worries if you can’t. But let me tell you my story. Druggie De Quincey stumbled upon it while reading David Ricardo avec Kant in ill-time, vegetable time. “For amusement”, he said. “Great as was the prostration of my powers at this time, yet I could not forget my knowledge … I had been led in 1811 to look into loads of books and pamphlets on many branches of economy; and, at my desire, M.[argaret] sometimes read to me chapters from more recent works, or parts of parliamentary debates. I saw that these were generally the very dregs and rinsings of the human intellect; and that any man of sound head, and practiced in wielding logic … might take the whole academy of modern economists, and throttle them between heaven and earth with his finger and thumb, or bray their fungus heads to powder with a lady’s fan.”
All that changed in 1819 when a friend from Edinburgh sent him down Mr. Ricardo’s book. The effect was Kantian. Not the Kant of philosophical lore, however. Neither the austere thinker whose late afternoon walks marked the Baltic city’s clock time, nor the asexual writer of critiques who knew no crises. But rather, the theorist of aesthetics who named the experience of existential transformative moments das Erhabene, the sublime. That’s when we are crushed, pulverised by the presence of something which overwhelms us. A strange thing. Like the virus, whose entry marks the passage from labour-time into health- or ill-time. Like the ancient god Pan. Afterwards, we exist no longer or not yet. C’est une petite mort, a brief glimpse of death.
But you know, of course, the other meaning of that phrase. Ecstatic fascination with the thing, a fetishism of the thing. Ce désir voyeur de savoir, toujours déçu, which animated les savants of centuries past to volunteer an ascetic, civil life (pas de femmes, pas de sauvages) in the name of truth and the universal. But we all know well what is the reverse of the genre of asceticism and civilism: the brothel. What is less well recalled is Baudelaire’s dream, a counterpoint between Kant and De Quincey, which reveals that by the late 19th century the brothel was in fact an image for the laboratory, academia and the stock market. And a viral vector.
De Quincey continues in a counterpoint: “Mr. Ricardo had deduced, a priori, from the understanding itself, laws which first gave a ray of light into the unwieldy chaos of materials, and had constructed [composed] what had been but a collection of tentative discussions into a science of regular proportions, now first standing on an eternal basis.” In other words, if you set aside the last line which still holds on to the frame of reference and the sticking ground, here, chance determines what goes into the collection. What an odd phrase!
De Quincey invites us to hear-imagine a social science that not only admits this strange principle but runs with it. In doing so, the writer of On Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts anticipates both the critique of political economy and private investigator Clem Snide as well as Special Agent Dale Cooper. They have all been described as detectives, their gaze ad pessimum focusing neither on the system of coordinates nor on the details, or about them, but emerging from within them, by assembling cut-ins and overlays around them. This is the real opposite to the eternal pessimistic look of forensic authority and its managers. It has a detective-like interest for the causes, to remedy them or stop on its tracks the desire to know and to accumulate them as one would a collection of dead butterflies, framed and hanged behind the managers’ desk.
No, what De Quincey evokes is more like a determinate negation that bites the skin and causes allergy, which is of course the effect of opium in the users’ body. It’s shit, of course, like this world, but you can see how good it can come to be. This is anticipatory realism. A propensity, which belongs not to the human but the strange collector (him and his fetish, him and his viral substance). Ditto, because the items in the collection gravitate to one’s body by chance, this sort of collection can be used as an instrument of divination given that chance is the flip side of chance. For sure this is a wild idea, but this is how Clem Snide solves the case in William Burrough’s Cities of the Red Night. He sits back, reaches for the bottle or something stronger and more vegetable and listens at random to sound recordings he has made in the dead man’s villa in Greece, near the beach. In his recorder specially designed for “cut-ins and overlays”, which “you can switch from record to Playback without stopping it” he records the toilet flushing, the shower running, the dishes, the sea and the wind, his “thinking out loud” about the case as well as rave disco music. He cuts in reading from The Magus or from scenes in Greek TV so that he raises (un)consciousness. “I’ve cracked cases like this with nothing to go on”, just by walking straight from the imagination back into the common here and now, he says. It isn’t madness. Call it a method, if you like.
Such is the detective method for the critique of political economy in a world of commodity fetishes and visuality anticipated by De Quincey. He also anticipated the French parody philosopher Jean-Baptiste Botul. His philosophy -Botulism- was laughed at on account of being taken stately seriously by a mediatic new philosopher, as well as its name’s unfortunate resonance with the affection caused by the germ botulus. But in the epoch of the virus, its time has come.
Upon reading Kritik der reinen Vernunft as a soap-operatic autobiography, Botul declared: “Pour moi, la vie sexuelle de Kant est une de plus graves questions de la métaphysique occidentale”. Sex, Botul contends is the royal road that helps us go through and beyond judgment’s moral philosophy. For too long, he tells us, the inventor of critique has been represented as the quiet father of modern philosophy, austere and asexual. No wife. No mistress. No lover. No fucking. Such celibacy, such austerity, Botul explains, came to be the essence of moral philosophy itself. Proper philosophy, like the proper philosopher, they say, admits no women and no savages.
It is the philosophy of the limit. And yet, after Marie-Charlotte Jacobi returned to Könisberg no longer interested in seducing old Immanuel but opening a literary salon, and in the wake of the sublime’s passage on to the obscene, Kant can no longer stand the contradiction. A “cultivated” woman of the 18th century (the word reminds us of the garden or the jungle, or a room of one’s own, where more time and experience can grow beyond the white transparency of the sovereign’s gaze and the constant flow of things and data) shows the way. The point is no longer to use your imagination so as to escape into a temporary autonomous zone, like a literary salon or a gallery space, but to take the literary salon or the gallery space into the streets.
The point pertains De Quincey’s view of the whole as well as today’s networked society. Of course, the possibilities of exchange, information, communication and flexibility brought about by the two-way street path between the part and the whole of the earth seem wondrous. The same goes for our networked connectivity. Notice, however, its latent side-effect, intensified during viral time and space: it makes the world flat, as Pascal Gielen says. The intensity of this effect has become far more visible than it already was as we are all forced into lockdown taking our precarious jobs, or lack thereof, indoors. All the while remaining “connected” (in harmony) via Zoom, Collaborate or Facebook and elsewhere on the Internet.
It’s a horizontality effect. The democratization of art and epidemiology, for instance, suggests anyone can have an opinion about the importance of an artwork or the value of social distancing, etc. In fact, there is a kind of “democratization” that assures the same value is attached to all statements about art, science or society. It was well described by Afrofuturist sociologist and storyteller W. E. B. Du Bois, a critical reader of the historical inheritance that includes Kant and De Quincey’s friend Thomas Carlyle.
According to Du Bois “with a democratic face at home modern imperialism turns a visage of stern and unyielding autocracy towards its darker colonies.” He’s describing a colonising horizontality effect that is both internal and external. The key to his description is a distinction between face (as in “the face of democracy”, or its Executive image) and visage. Such a distinction seems relevant to the philosophical understanding of the distancing from (and putrefaction of) others and the ways in which the reign of commodity fetishism, managerial standardisation and spectacle in our era of horizontality, flattening connectivity and expository value throws up the likes of Bolsonaro, Trump and Johnson. The symptoms and derivative copies of zero-ground Neoliberalism, neither new nor liberal.
Flowing freely through copper fibre optic cables – the veins of the global network – it uses modulation, audits, neo-management and so-called evidence-based policy to flatten timespace and guarantee the dominance of one unique perspective and hierarchy: that of numbers, capital and the image of the image, or visage, which effectively makes every quality relative. Including the face of the other.
Hence the master-politicians of Photoshop and Facebook. Today’s photographs follow the Facebook pattern, showing young girls posing in the same manner, with the same face (visage!) and standard makeup. The whole thing is designed for maximum horizontal expository effect; with standard makeup and smile to avoid the need for any statement interrupting the image, or having to deliver a speech or provide an idea the same way girls post duck faces on Facebook and boys like Neymar take visage selfies with tongues sticking out. “I have nothing to say”, is the message. Das Erhabene turned obscene visage, or the images of a dinner party turned predatory gathering.
A face da cena que é a face obscena, says Paulo Ghiraldelli. The horizontality effect: a framework which contains everything, reduced to the size of a small cartoon or an emoji. It spells the end of the face of the other, and of its ethical quality. In fact, all qualities are expressed in terms of quantity (how many likes?), thereby making any quality interchangeable or comparable to any other quality. This practical belief in a measurable society constantly transmutes all qualities into the number of likes, posts and retweets. The well-substantiated argument for democracy, for instance, is rendered into a more or less liberal democracy (less each time, it seems) that takes its massage-message from the numbers of faceless voters, the size of an audience or turnover. the same happens to educational quality, reduced to a number of competencies, contact hours, grant income, impact or the flattening of your College’s deficit. Institutes and institutions are reduced to tactical operative organisations for the expression of qualities in terms of measurable quantities by measuring output and public outreach in a competitive world.
In this flat world, are we able to create verticality again? Is that even desirable? Should we stick to horizontalist strategies – the “movement” – alone, or is there any room for producing the kind of quality that follows a different logic from that of harmonious balancing and numbers? Is there life after standardisation? Is there life on Mars?
Kant used the term Spirit in this respect, observing that the powerful role of an aesthetic idea is that it activates or institutes the spirit so as to make the great ideas of freedom and liberation come alive, irreducible to empty abstraction or knowledge, even mathematical knowledge. He then chose the term imagination in a way that allows us to recognise that, of course, who we are and we want, even our most primordial or “archaic” formations (Formen) become present through the imaginary images that others have of us, which are morally loaded. Also, to insist on the need to configure the playful role of the imaginary as a new dance, after the independent rhythm and contour , the vibe and the groove, shared as a dance is shared, rooted in what came before and yet always making room for the kinds of instituting processes that create openings for horizontal social and artistic practices intersecting political ones again and again, the many dimensions of vertical flight, because horizontality in and of itself cannot exist without aspects of verticality, as Mark Fisher taught us.
To be done with judgment is, therefore, not to place oneself above it and the law. Rather, it means going through it beyond it. Where to? Towards a different verticality (an authority?) that can carry on temporally and spatially a force-vector of social alterity, without confusing authoritarianism with authority. Is this utopian? No, it’s not. Eunomian and eutopian, perhaps. An “euchronia”, the Afrofuturist writer would say. And if it is utopian then this one is attainable. For we have seen it. When peoples (“movements” may be dead in art and society) took the literary salon and the gallery space to the streets in city after city in the Americas and elsewhere in late 2019. It is there, in the fondness for the surviving “primitive” communities demonstrated by those who fight against Bolsonaro in Brazil.
The image we speak of is a vector of orientation, rather than another possible world. That communism would be a recreation, at a different time scale and on another level, of the social virtues of previous forms of communalism or commonalism, is an idea that belongs to the earlier heritage of the tradition of revolt that De Quincey put in his lungs together while smoking laudanum (which his friend Carlyle reacted against) and which Du Bois inverted in the style of free and dissonant counterpoint while inventing sociology. Fourier, Saint-Simon and Flora Tristan were explicit about it (“we must discover paths of that primitive happiness and adapt it to the conditions of modern industry”). That orientation can be found in the early Das philosophische Manifest der historischen Rechtsschule, quoted in 51n1 of Eric Hobsbawm’s 1964 introduction to the Formen. It’s the direction of what Marx called in his detective investigations, the fetish. or in cinematic terms, the McGuffin.
This was, of course, the gist of his aesthetic critique of the Nazarene painters, first, and later on the classical economists. In his masterpiece work that reads more like a detective novel or a film, Capital, Marx coined the notion of commodity fetishism to evoke the image of a thing that can do justice to the world of secrets and shades, deader-than-dead or waiting-for-death phantoms that we live in. It does justice to the secret (of World History) rather than exposing it to the procedures of forensic and juridical judgment that would destroy it. We know, it’s a public secret, that such is the world we take for reality.
Is it the case that in such a world the product of our labour escapes our control and comes to dominate us, as it happens in all those Hollywood dystopian movies, from Terminator to Contagion? Surely. Once upon a time so it was with God, the product of man’s imagination who turned the tables and told man that he, the image of the one and only God, Χριστός Παντοκράτρ, created man. Nowadays, it’s more common to imagine robots and artificial intelligence, the less-than-sublime products of man’s imagination will one day turn the tables and tell man that it, the one and only Mind, replaced man. Like in all those Hollywood dystopian movies.
However, if behind all value and importance is not so much labour time as health-time then what escapes is not only the product of our labour but productivity itself, the imagination. This is what happens when we’re told to escape into the imagination while in lockdown but never to return to the here and now. One effect of commodity fetishism is this desire for absolute distance from the world of others. It is at work in the capitalist fantasy of making profit without the need for workers, those inefficient, pesky humans making alliances and unions, striking and so on. Also, in the patriarchal fantasy of the chief who would like to have all the women for himself.
Mankind has always dreamed of freezing that fleeting moment when it seemed permissible to believe that that the law of reciprocity could be evaded, that one could gain without giving to others, or enjoy without sharing. Human history could be marked at either end of the earth and at both extremes of time between the Sumerian myth of the golden age and the Andaman myth of the coming singularity, from the confusion of languages to the bliss of the everafter, so anthropologists say, as a paradise heaven when he (it’s always “he”) could keep all the women for himself (and keep to himself).
The first effect is that of eternal distance from others. The fantasy of isolation. One hundred years of solitude, or more.
But we need not wait until the end of Lévi-Strauss’s Kinship to notice the obvious: that behind the voyeuristic look and the fetishistic fantasy of the abstracted body of women and slaves – the world without others – lurks the first currency, ready-at-hand and ready to be hoarded. It requires a “first”, primitive, primordial and untimely real abstraction: the separation of women from their bodies, and of Akan-speakers, Yoruba-tongues and Arawak speakers from their fetishes and their words, spirited away from their lands and into the plantations of the Caribbean. This we call the separation of peoples, previous to or constitutive (and contemporary) of all modern forms of property and what legal historians like Bhandar term “the fragmentation of interests.”
Viral time interrupts this fantasy of absolute distance from others and living in isolation by imposing the need for a concrete distance. But is this the agency of the virus or that of its human mediators (which in locking us in would make it impossible to bring gallery space to the streets, strike and so on)? Do these mediators still fantasize with occupying the vanishing point of infinity, the time of exception of the Sumerian or the Andaman myth placed by global capital at either end of the earth and at both extremes of time? Of course, Capital did not invent the myth. It only invested in it. Turned it into a derivative, sold it at lightning-speed provided by superfast computers in the finance markets of the singularity future. This way, both the oldest myth and the most primitive accumulation come to be one and the same with the myth of acceleration. Totem.
Perhaps the agency of the virus is of a different kind: a re-enacted law of incest against the dream of accumulation and accelerated isolation. The savage law of incest, which is neither savage nor merely a law but the emergence of the rule as rule, is a rule of reciprocity. It does not do away with the demarcations of our places of dwelling, our villages and cities and the flats where we have locked ourselves down waiting for ill-time to pass (unto death). But it has a second effect, associated with the viral time of these non-human others; its effects are one of a desire for distance from others – an anti-mitdasein that Heidegger never imagined. Taboo.
Let’s recall at this point, however, that most moral philosophy worth reading is viral thinking. Smith, for instance, opens his account of sympathy with an image of the warts, sores and pustules of those whose suffering appals us. His image of sympathy does justice to the secret hidden in his-story: sympathy is but the other side of envy, warts and all.
We call it publicity now. Fashion
The theme that links Smith and Heidegger: that image is the law; without the distances between us, we could not be sympathetic to each other’s fate.
“To take pity on people in distress is a human quality, which every man and woman should possess, but it is especially requisite in those who have one needed comfort, and found it in others” (Boccaccio, Decameron, Prologue).