e-flux Conversations has been closed to new contributions and will remain online as an archive. Check out our new platform for short-form writing, e-flux Notes.

e-flux conversations

Superconversations Day 41: David Xu Borgonjon responds to Yin-Ju Chen & James T. Hong, "The Fruitarian Dilemma: a dialogue about kissing ass, corruption, and compromise"


There are many ways to define corruption.

  • Legally: breaking rules for personal gain;
  • Socially: cultivating networks of cronies;
  • Functionally: the decreasing efficacy of a system;
  • Ethically: tainted thoughts;
  • Fictionally: in terms of characters…

A taxonomy is already implicit within Hong and Chen’s pastiche. Let’s draw it.

Figure 1 isolates individual traits that we might call corrupt from Hong and Chen’s characterizations. As we analyze, we might follow this line of questioning:

  • What is unique to each character? (4 traits)
  • What do any two characters share? (6 traits)
  • And any three? (4 traits)

That sums to 14 combinations, at least. These questions can be mapped neatly onto a graph, as above, but also plotted into a table. Let’s extend our initial table into a third dimension, along a ‘z’ axis, into a sheaf of tables, or a prism:

Of course there’s no need to go to a fourth dimension, and name what all four characters share: that’s simply corruption tout court.

Each trait can be described positively and negatively—a simple semantic issue, hence the liberal /’s in figure 2. And as soon as we look at what nasty little tic any three share, we absolve the excluded corner of that trait. Note that the guru, artist and drunk all share a ‘sigh’ of resignation to the world as it is, for example; it’s the narcissist who can marshal what skill they have and their considerable self-interest to shape that world.

Any diagram of a crossed square can be pivoted into a tetrahedron, since it can be imagined as bordering triangular faces (figure 3)—i.e., four faces bound by six edges and four vertices. Just like the narrative extension in Hong and Chen’s fictive dialogue, this geometric manoeuvre gives us conceptual traction. (Tetracolorspace, MC Stoddard’s invention, simply maps RGB and value onto the four corners of a tetrahedron: this allows scientists to spatialize the optical sensitivity of, for example, birds.)

A picture of corruption in its ideal form. For example, running through one combination:

Each point is one persona’s unique trait

  • EN = Opportunist | RA = Smug | CD = Empathetic

Each edge is a trait shared between two of them.

  • EN x RA = Selfish | RA x CD = Aloof | CD x EN = Complicit

Each face is a trait shared by any three.

  • EN x RA x CD = Vulnerable

And we could run through the other possible groupings to derive additional virtues:

  • Distance
  • Involvement
  • Cunning

If we trace “normals” from the centers of these faces, we can locate four new orienting points to add to our original four (see figure 4). Any tetrahedron can be thought of as embedded within a cube, (see figure 4) just like the triangles can be fit into squares. Rather than the narrative of “fall from grace” that Fruitarian Dilemma describes, we could find—in this white cube—room to grow.

“Fiction” is in the air, and it has been for a while. We are all thinking about how plots and narratives are constructed, how convincing stories are told—whether legal, racial, financial, sexual—but what about character:

  • as a moral quantity?
  • as a narrative agitant?
  • as a constructed practice?

If corruption is a process, character is a practice.

David Xu Borgonjon is an independent administrator, who advocates for another return to institutionalism in the arts. He has curated at Eyebeam and Wave Hill in New York, and is managing editor at Screen.


The Resentful Artist: “My intention is to become a monster.”

Quoting Cioran: “Only a monster can allow himself the luxury of seeing the world as it is.”


Samir, the RA is the worst!!!

We have to be persons not monsters—becoming a monster is embracing the process of corruption, becoming a person requires the practice of character. It’s about a question of intent, and is analogous to the problem of composition and chance in painting.


Dear David, I really like your analysis. The points about “narratives” and corruption are very timely.
I think that there is a mode of corruption that is starting to emerge in politics today, that would be a programmatic corruption. So basically, you have a programmed system and bugs emerge from it (corrupted) to point out deficits in the structure and generate debugging narratives. The issue with this is that the bugs are often consciously integrated into the program in order to retro-fit it with the aforementioned debugging narratives: It is a form of corruption that reveals itself under the guise of “progress”.


Can you give an example of the staged debugging? I can almost imagine it.

1 Like

Corruption guarantees the survival of the corrupt system. They are co-constitutive. By pushing the borders of law into lawlessness corruption actually help upholding the flawed laws that give rise to corruption.