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Superconversations Day 4: Jason Adams responds to Boris Groys, "Cosmic Anxiety: The Russian Case"


Total Control

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.


•How is the perseverance of life in a museum order seen as life itself? I find inadequate solutions to this problem in Groys’ text. Firstly, isn’t the translation of an individual’s continuing life in the kind of an artifact an embrace of decay, a simple taxidermy as objectification where all interaction exists only within the preexisting collection, surrender instead of creation. And how is that different from the point that history begins with the act of inscription, of acquiring collections, and continues with an intensification of mnemonotechnics.

•If there is a crisis of spaces named as Museum or Library (among many other concept spaces), it is because there are more adequate technical means now of preserving memory in a globalized manner, namely a World {Museum>Library>WideWeb}. The quasi-curated experience of this kind of spaces, is faced in fact with untimely contaminations, as if one part of Groys’ proposal as read in Jason Adams’ first question is already a given. That goes with the notion of the individual, if a user were to be immortal (through the algorithmic iterations of the behaviors and preferences the user demonstrates) regardless of the person behind that user is living or dead, what does not die is the user’s capability of producing value.

•I am also reminded of the Italian avant-garde architecture utopias, ‘Continuous Monuments’ and ‘Non-Stop Cities’ (Superstudio and Archizoom respectively), where all life is included in certain spatial conditions a materialized higher-order, which bring out the blurring of divisions between user/artifact/subject. ( just two quick links for images, not allowed to put more : http://thesefields.blogspot.gr/2011/05/superstudio.html, http://futurecapetown.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/01-1024x720.jpeg )

•Lastly (and unproductively quickly) i am contributing with a small scenario that reemerged while reading the text and the response, although quite not clear or relevant, but i am writing this mainly due to the fact that the spatial limits of these thoughts expand from the scale of a function (museum, that is usually inscribed in a spatial ordering through a collection) to the scale of the universe (that is noted to produce an anxiety affect) infused with the biopolitical discourse.
• Death was banned for incarcerated subjects convicted with lifelong sentence
• Transition from the concept of bare life to the concept of bare death
• Asteroid colonies, the first extraterrestrial concentration camps.



In framing the situation of a cosmic ontology (anxiety) in this way- as a polarity between two historically- determined political systems- doesn’t Groys simply universalize that historical situation and anticipate an outcome, event, or turn that is more local? His “ultrarapid forms of free-floating control… (replacing) the old disciplines operating in the time frame of a closed system” retain their effective control when still framed in a basically platonic way of thinking of opposed political abstractions moving toward some ideal resolution. This type of thinking itself is a closed system that would theoretically be but one tiny aspect in a more universalist view. Groys’ starting point for his extrapolation of this cosmic theory is the localized, nationalist history of Russian communism. A corollary might be Malevich’s extrapolation of a universalist sign, say in “Black Square”, ( an appropriately weak sign, in Groys’ own terms) from a specific Russian ideological history with religious icons. The painter’s “cornering of the universe” in this way, as a reaction to and an internalization of the representative and dogmatic (religious) ideal might have some relevance here. Groys’ approach raises an important question.How does one incorporate local, customary, historical determinism in a universalist way that doesn’t then project the sublimated ideal of the local onto the cosmos? Taking this one step beyond, how might one expand upon a universalist view without reproducing a platonic ideal form that is dependent upon the politics of representation and the outcome of representational politics?


I think that his representation of this project as a Museum is a bit more…human? than his thought, I’ve not read the text but ive listened to a few of his lectures and I think maybe a reframing of the major points through the (unlikely pair for philosophical arguments) mysticisms and particularly the Dzogchen school of Buddhism…I think (speculation mind you) that his view of immortality relies heavily on a similar idea to the Mystics that the “God-like”, rhizomatic viewpoint outside of time, the body without organs so to speak (or even better, organs without a body) occurs naturally, over the decomposition and -dispersal- of the bodily material back in to ecology at large. That the nunc stans is a function of literally being multiple places at once, across space and functionality, IE the atomisation of every living thing will collectivise us (collectivise us AS individuals, for a properly mystical paradox) radically at the end, and that we can learn techniques from the dead and dying to both speed up and amplify the process of collectivisation and extend it into the lifeworld. For one thing: in two seemingly unrelated processes that are contained within the death experience in analog, we find methods of increasing our own personal range of potential viewpoints with which to approach a situation from outside the Self and stretch our ability to “Other ourselves” within our own mental process. A) the Apophatic negation, a simple negation of your own viewpoint results in an immediate second, and the process has a way of monotonically “stacking” like a feedback loop and building momentum, and B) to think multiplicatively, to meditate on the concept of states in which the individual can -be a multiple-, can explode and expand our considerations of consciousness, what it means to work together, what it IMPLIES to learn that in a very serious way, our methods for group interaction in modern western living are obscenely undervalued and almost always tossed aside for the individualist.


I teach at Yale, am an artist, and am also Russian Orthodox. I found Groys’ essay a bit funny actually. The romantic picture he paints of the Russian revolution seems to leave out the role of mass murder in the gulags and the deaths of 66 million people. While I am thrilled that he mentions Federov, and am certainly not a believer in the world before the revolution of mass slavery and serfdom, I find his essay lacking in any shadow reflection. To dismiss these later horrors as the fault of Stalin, and having nothing to do with the original spirit of the revolution is also naive. The Reds were not choir boys. Not every artist is a secular atheist and I would not like to trust the fate of my soul to curators. I find it amazing that Groys would propose this. I read Solzhenitsyn and Pasternak and find their theological insights more on the mark.


Solzhenitsyn was exceptional and I absolutely agree. I think in a way, thinking in terms of a closed museum ie an anthropocentric “building” re my earlier post is either a miscommunication on his part or the main contention I have with him. The world/web set mentioned above seems far more in line, and I can definitely see how thinking of the soul enclosed forever in a “museum” is shockingly like a permanent gulag. I’ve written before on the mystics’ sky burial being the pure antithesis to enclosed embalming techniques and the dispersal being the key to this more positive “permanence”, and I have some extant thoughts re mummification on this that don’t agree with my own statements maybe but the more I consider it from the POV of the death-inclined, the more I dislike the concept of being enclosed after dying.


The mention of the Museum and Foucault brings up interesting theoretical terms that might be of use here, specially with Groys’ majestic exposition of cosmism. Namely, what I think is important to note in the project of conservation of old things and the desire for immortality is that they are both framed in such a way that they leave behind perfectly decente theoretical tools like the foucauldian archive and the benjaminian historical materialist. The repurposing of both could add to the warkian call for new ancestors I see present in Groy’s text.

As Jason points out, if the romantic picture (mccoy’s description) that Groys’ essay paints is clearly indebted to more contemporary thinking, why begin with Foucault in the first place? I think it’s useful to do this, if only because repurposing what might seem to be passé theoretical strands forces a re-orientation of thought that, in this case particularly, works as a positive supplement to Foucault’s thinking. What might be of use, then, is to use other elements from his conceptual apparatus to further extend the analogy and make it work with contemporary concerns. Media archaeology has brought up, for example, the figure of the archive in order to repurpose old media and re-use it, breathing new life into it in the process. The figure of the historical materialist revises a bit the picture of the “museum that cares for old things” by creating redemptive and alternative narratives (one could say that the historical materialist, in Benjamin’s sense, is the creator of discourse, while the archaeologist makes this discourse explicit in practice)

Further, both the archive and the historical materialist extend the analogy by making us think of technological ways to repurpose, re-use and ultimately extend human life. This, I think, is where the discourse of immortality intersects productively with AGI and accelerationist concerns.


Anthropogenic apocatastasis it would seem to be an Origenic haeresis of the material rather than the theological; and yet if the Orthodox Christian theory of “god became man so that man became god”, the process of theosis, were actualized perhaps this means may not be entirely unholy as suggested by a prior respondent:

I would posit that in the Spirit of the en-Pneum-eration of humanity in a Pan (bread, Christ, Pan) - Centric (whose centre is in each locus of awareness) Comm-union a perhaps more generous exercise of consuming the body of the Incarnated Logos is required; one which re-collects the divinizing moment of humanity through the anamnestic pronouncement at Liturgy - Leit/Urgos, the Work of the People.

As such are not our memories curations of the cosmos, do these effectively disappear through death and cessation of biological function, or do their echoes remain in the quantum flux of the blackness of Space? And is not the alethic revelation of Truth (singular and particular) not pregnant with the memories of every sentient being? Is the anthropogenic apocatastasis not the Singularity to which we are all compelled in a gesture through Topos space, an arrow shot from the bow of Eros, shot through Time (Chronos)?


It is curious though, that he invokes anarchism and not only Soviet-style communism, without any kind of snippy rejection of it that might be expected of a more authoritarian type. Of course, Groys is known for his relationship with certain aspects of Stalinism, so your point is well-taken in a general sense - but what do you make of the neutral framing of these lines:

Not for nothing did many Russian intellectuals and artists willingly take up Fedorov’s ideas after the October revolution. In their first manifesto in 1922, representatives of the Biocosmic-Immortalist movement, a political group with origins in Russian anarchism, wrote the following: ‘For us, essential and real human rights are the right of being (immortality, resurrection, rejuvenation) and the right of mobility in the cosmic space (and not the alleged rights proclaimed in the declaration of the bourgeois revolution of 1789)’. Thus Alexander Svyatogor, one of the main proponents of the Biocosmic-Immortalist movement, considered immortality to be both the aim of and the condition for the future communist society, for he believes that true social solidarity can be established solely among immortals…

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Yes, this does seem to be the case, but perhaps because it is not one many English-speakers are very familiar with it might still be suggestive? I get the sense that he doesn’t have a problem with representation, in fact he wants the state to become the museum of its citizens, etc…

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I’m not sure to what extent Groys endorses the program he sketches out, especially if the State he proposes is assumed to be a 20th-Century post-revolutionary one, as tommcglynn points out: [quote=“tommcglynn, post:3, topic:1608”]
Groys’ starting point for his extrapolation of this cosmic theory is the localized, nationalist history of Russian communism
[/quote]The Soviets explicitly called for the creation of the new Communist man (what Groys refers to as “radically modern” man) who was part of a break with history; the building of a new state and new institutions required the sloughing off of old conditioning, beliefs, structures, so that new ones could be inscribed on as much of a tabula rasa as could be created. That this was destructive, and only possible within certain sectors of society, was assumed. The Cosmist vision of this break is the collapse of history in its recovery as art, accomplished by as yet unknown technology. Life is museumized, and, as living space and museum space are united, eternal life spreads over the globe. There is a lack of detail here would could be answered by recent books on Cosmism (there is a history of the movement by George Young and even a new Cosmist manifesto, that I haven’t read, by Ben Goertzel). Groys’s vision is imaginatively interesting, and we may find parallels here with personality downloads, cybernetic political systems, A.I. trans-state networks, and the excellent examples zvzvzv brings up, both positive (Italian utopism) and negative (asteroid gulags). In addition it makes me think of Benjamin Bratton’s recent idea of the Big Haul (the mass data collection of the last fifteen years) that will give its subjects a kind of immortality (and an aesthetic one, if we think of our Facebook pages, shopping choices, news sources, favorite porn sites, etc. as contributing to a shaped, sculpted form). Another, related project to Fedorov’s is Bogdanov’s, with his ultra-Bolshevik vision of creating the new Soviet man through science (he is a reference point in McKenzie Wark’s new book). For myself, personally, the monstrousness of both biopower and 20th Century totalizing political systems is their most obvious feature; these will certainly find new, unexpected forms in the 21st Century, along with new abilities to resist them. One last thing to bring up is Groys’s much more interesting, to me, discussion of Malevich in his article “Becoming Revolutionary” in e-flux journal #47. Here, in Groys’s revelatory argument, we have the work of art that is the image of destruction by virtue of being what remains after the human nightmare (history, with the Dionysiac included) has passed over it. The mark which remains is the Black Square. It is also a transformation of Modernism in advance (showing its limit by being somehow beyond it at the beginning) by prizing neither the subject in time (per Joyce, Pound, etc.) or the object out of time (Cubism, Le Corbusier, Mondrian) but the nonsubjective depiction of forces. Malevich, of course, proposed that art museums be destroyed in favor of the freedom of those living now.


I like your more historically-situated reading of Groys here. It’s not at all clear to me that Groys is actually polemicizing the immortality move as = total biopower together with Fedorov. I read the Groys commentary as exactly that-- a speculative exploration of Fedorov’s ideas in the context of what the museum and the state could become in a flux-feedback of intense conflation.


I suspect Groys begins with Foucault because Foucault’s work on biopower/biopolitics remains timely to contemporary concerns and is still being actively explored in scholarship. Foucault laid crucial groundwork for all subsequent work on biopower/biopolitics—not least Deleuze’s very closely related notion of control as outlined in the “Postscript,” which builds on Foucault’s ideas and extends them, particularly into the realm of the digital. (Indeed, Deleuze makes explicit his indebtedness to Foucault; when Deleuze says “‘Control’ is the name Burroughs proposes as a term for the new monster, one that Foucault recognizes as our immediate future,” he is referring to Foucault’s discussions of biopolitics.)

In “Cosmic Anxiety,” Groys writes: "The overcoming of the boundaries between life and art is not a matter of introducing art into life but is rather a radical museumification of life—life can and should attain the privilege of immortality in a museum.” This may have something to do with Groys’s definition of life. Elsewhere, Groys has argued that, in the era of biopolitics, the difference between the living and the artificial has become exclusively a narrative difference. If the clone is an emblematic figure of the biopolitical era, it is because in this era life is no longer considered a “natural” event, but, rather, “time artificially produced and fashioned.” This is an era in which living things can be reproduced and replaced at will; thus, Groys argues, the living thing has lost its unique, unrepeatable inscription in time—its unique, unrepeatable lifespan. (Similarly, in the “Postscript,” Deleuze argues that the individual identified by a unique signature is a subject of the disciplinary society, unlike the coded “dividual” of the control society.) Today, Groys proposes, life is so artificially produced, tracked, and managed that it is narrative—for example, narrative constructed through documentation—that produces the life of the living thing as such, conferring upon it a unique identity and inscribing it into history. If narrative is now definitional of life, the “museumification” and infinite extension of life is perhaps a logical next step in what @naxsmash aptly describes as Groys’s speculative exploration—one that doesn’t necessarily imply endorsement, as @jeffreyandersson points out.


I find an interesting parallel between Groys’s discussion of mankind as dependent on the cosmic forces and mankind as artwork depend on a curator. In the former, mankind feels a cosmic anxiety and, more subtly, an excessive of energy that must be spent in excessive and non-recuperable ways influencing culture and politics. In the latter, the Christian promise is reinterpreted into an earthly kingdom where human nature is brought into harmony with nature. In this specific reinterpretation, aimed at life here on earth, the state acts as a museum and curatorial team taking the place of heaven and divine grace. Under this reinterpretation the state is responsible for both its general holdings and the upkeep of each piece of work. Would the cosmic anxiety reappear in the museum-state due not to a lack of control by the curators, but to an individuals personal lack of control? Or, is the anxiety not derived from the lack of felt control but from the lack of harmony with nature?


Our life is immortalised by a Museum of hard disks. Computers as huge buildings that are our sites to be contained and to self-containing mirrors, wile rapidly accessing heaps of fixed time on images, words and contents to be guarded, piled and stored.
Wile our existences become incommensurable cosmic dusts of invisible matter, our archive can be activated and re-appear at any given second and click of a browsed digital surface so that it can flow in front of our eyes or a thousand million faces or brains or cells…
We still believe in life after death to be mediated by the other’s memories of us, wile depictions and narrations of our passing by the earth can multiply eternally on ethernet waves.
Because if we have museumified our existences its only to became eternal, as the famous artist once had been.
Our God may become that place where our information is kept, the ultimate Metropolitan Museum of our lives.

In a post- Foucauldian Heterotopic realm, the sites where data rest, will become the new anti- Cemetery for our existences, a kind of Meca, and we will worship our “Keepers” with all sort of unimaginable rituals and sacrifices, as otherwise we will indeed dissolve and die.


Thanks for the comment ZV, the concept of immortality as merely archive-tending and that sort of thing seems like a much more conservative project than that which Groys seems to be introducing otherwise - in the post-digital era value can still be created for perpetuity, but for this to become something like immortality we would need to either be directly engaging scientific immortality research or various artificial intelligence projects like that you described via algorithmic personalities. If the spatiality of the museum is to become adequate to the limitlessness of time, perhaps it should also become adequate to the limitless of space represented by the WWW.


Except that he seeks to prevent this decomposition - this is a theory of taxidermy, as someone else put it above:

  • As a reader of Lewis Mumford Mumford, I’d like to pose a question to Boris Gorys: Aren’t our cities and villages, if not the entire planet earth including our telecomputational infrastructure already the museum of living life?

  • IMO The museumification of carbon-based life is a task in which our future artificially intelligent beings will be engaged. They will surely preserve all they can according to their own taste and political priorities. And since we are effortlessly pushing all life on earth towards extinction, we can only hope that we are cultivating enough love for culture in our machines so we can continue to exist in the future, within the museum format.


@DADABASE I get the impression that Groys considers the optimal state - the communist, presumably national (?) state to be one that functions as a museum of living life, but not the current capitalist states that we have, so he’s imagining a future state with an immortalist function, whereas present states are mortalist and biopolitical in the negative sense. To suggest that they might become something better only after having been totally overthrown is I guess the revolutionary inheritance that he invokes, but my sense is that you’d likely consider this further evidence of revolution as the opium of the intellectuals?

Or maybe the current state, telecomputational infrastructure, etc. already are the museum of living life in the way he means, which is preservation, but not in the way some in this thread might hope for, one that would be about introduction of the new, an orientation towards the future. As for AI machine-based variations on immortality, that at least sounds much preferable to the implicit logic of Svalbard Global Seed Vault, frozen zoos, human DNA equivalents, etc.

Technology as a whole must become the technology of art. And the state must become the museum of its population. Just as the museum’s administration is responsible not only for the general holdings of its collection but also for the intact state of every work of art, making certain that the individual artworks are subjected to conservation and restoration when they threaten to decay, so should the state bear responsibility for the resurrection and continued life of every individual person. The state can no longer permit itself to allow individuals to die privately or the dead to rest peacefully in their graves. Death’s limits must be overcome by the state. Biopower must become total. This totality is achieved by equating art and politics, life and technology, and state and museum.


Right, I think his aim is to limit the dispersal, which would go against what the mystics consider the proper end to achieve exactly what he is seeming to be talking about. To make some kind of continuity for the “current” consciousness in some fashion, could severely limit the expansion of the viewpoint that has been the hallmark of death-consciousness for several hundred spiritual paths throughout time.