DAY 4 /// RESPONDING TO BORIS GROYS - COSMIC ANXIETY: THE RUSSIAN CASE, BY JASON ADAMS
After the turn of the 21st century, the partisans of the biopolitical frame have found themselves forced to reconcile the numerous disjunctures that were introduced when, according to Deleuze, "ultrarapid forms of free-floating control… replaced the old disciplines operating in the time frame of a closed system". While this made it increasingly clear that, “the issue is less confinement than the management of the public ways, or the control of movement”, an emphasis on the biopolitical frame nevertheless remains present, for Groys and others. At the same time, numerous related approaches concerned with speed, cybernetics, and open systems have emerged. But have they really been digested?
In his contribution, Groys does not directly invoke “Postscript on the Societies of Control”, let alone the central Accelerationist or Promethean texts. Nevertheless, he does assert a point that would not be completely alien to them. In short, he contends that we cannot understand the interiority of the Earth without understanding its exteriority, and its fundamental non-isolation and contextualization provided by the cosmos as a whole. For Groys, the earth’s local events depend on the larger frame of “black matter, waves and particles, stars exploding and galaxies collapsing”. From the outset then, Groys asks his readership to experiment with thinking not so much about the local minutiae of specific prisons, hospitals, or barracks, but rather about the most universal scale imaginable, even beyond the global: “the position of the Earth in the cosmic whole determines the conditions under which its living organisms survive on its surface”. The effect of this move is that he is then able to introduce a significant conceptual innovation, the reversal of the negative discourse of biopolitics, so that it might be put in the service of an affirmative left cultural and political vision. According to Groys, if historical communism generally sought to realize a harmony of man and nature, it nevertheless shared with liberalism the event of biological death as a central part of its framework, which thereby produced it as an essentially biopolitical project concerned with sovereignty, power over life and death. Since neither capitalism and nor communism can guarantee survival, death remains naturalized in both systems and living remains a matter of personal responsibility, or, when moralized via biopower, irresponsibility.
While the biopolitical state may keep the nation collectively alive as an immortal camp of bodies before, during, and after the cycles of birth and death for individuals, what it does not do is maintain the individual lives beyond death, into the realm of immortality. Groys’s reversalist call then, is that of a “radicalized demand [for] an intensified biopower”, one which would have in the past, been characterized by Nikolai Federov as the realization of our “common task”. Groys intends then, to introduce “the technological, social, and political conditions under which it would be possible to resurrect by technological, artificial means all the people who have ever lived”, thereby proceeding further into and fully realizing the biopolitical state’s promise to concern itself with life as such. Rather than the living exploiting the congealed labor of the dead, the dead would be enabled to enjoy their own fruits, as do the living, however partially. What this means conceptually is again, much closer to the post-Deleuzean philosophical milieu of our time: at a minimum, an intensification of the contemporary rejection of anthropocentrism, whether expressed in a politics of life-as-such, or one of objects-as-such. Groys, in short, asserts the necessity of the inclusion of “all previous generations [in] the realm of the socialist utopia”, an assertion that may refer not only to humans, but to bodies and objects, as broadly-conceived as may be desired.
Here, then, are a few questions:
While Federov’s approach is described as affirming a “technology directed towards the past”, and Groys articulates the role of the museum as preserving old things rather than introducing new ones, is either solution really adequate to the situation in our time?
Given that immortality would also mean that those bodies and things which seemed predestined to not encounter the future would not only have the opportunity to do so, but would even be capable of shaping it further, is Groys’s conceptualization not itself a temporally-limited, or maybe even “backwards” understanding of the meaning of immortality?
While Groys does note that “this limit [natural death] was, by the way, not even questioned by Foucault himself”, why, in the end, does he begin with Foucault in the first place - especially today, if so much of the rest of Groys’s discourse seems so clearly indebted to more contemporary thinking?
The “immortality of things” is an alluring phrase, but If Groys wishes to affirm what he calls “total biopower”, what might result from instead affirming the more contemporary concept of “total control”, in the sense of affirming the control society, i.e. speed, cybernetics, and open systems?
What would it mean to engage in a further reversal, to affirm total control in the sense of ultrarapid, free-floating control and the control of movement, but such that doing so would be deployed in the service of a left cultural and political project, what Groys anticipates as the victory of the “communist cosmos over the capitalist chaos”?
Jason Adams is an organizer at The New Centre for Research & Practice and holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Hawaii and a PhD in Media & Communication from the European Graduate School.