Books · Colonisation · General philosophising

Notes from the rubble

The Wretched of the ScreenThe Wretched of the Screen by Hito Steyerl
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

version 1.0

One could of course argue that this is not the real thing, but then – please, anybody – show me this real thing.

This stuff is so fresh it hurts. I am shocked and shaken and overstimulated. I’ve stumbled into someone else’s too-real dream. It’s so exciting that someone with the perceptiveness, sensitivity to language and willingness to look behind what’s being pushed in front of us as Sara Ahmed is at work at the screenface of art and the biopolitics of disaster capitalism, determinedly seeing things differently. The conditions of crisis are taken as read. Franco ‘Bifo’ Beradi writes in the introduction

The year 1977 was a watershed: from the age of human evolution the world shifted to the age of de-evolution, or de-civilization. What had been built through labor and social solidarity began to be dissipated by a rapid and predatory process… in the second decade of C21, post-bougeois dilapidation took the final form of a financial black hole. Adrainage pump started to swallow and destroy the product of 200 years of industriousness and collective intelligence…

Indeed. But I’m finding it difficult to process my feelings about the positions Steyerl takes in relation to this situation.

I have repeatedly argued that one should not seek to escape alienation but on the contrary embrace it as well as the status of objectivity and objecthood that goes along with it

(I think I read a review of one of Roland Barthes’ books recently that expressed astonishment at the profundity of his parenthetical remarks – Steyerl’s most startling conclusions, including this one, are often found in her footnotes, like Einstein’s E=mc^2) But what am I to make of this? Where do I begin my response? Well, as always I will have to begin from where I am. And I have a sneaking suspicion that Steyerl has described the terrain around me, white female disgruntled freelance worker, all too accurately…

I can’t claim to have understood all this, no way, it went past too fast, like a ride. And when I read it again as I will have to, maybe in a year’s time, it will be like taking the ride again; it can’t slow down for me.

But… as it flew past I saw this: colonialism was once horizontal. Steyerl eloquently elaborates the HORIZONtality of colonialism as expressed and enmeshed in the artistic tradition of linear perspective. Only now there are no edges to the colonial project, and the perspective has changed; now we have the strategy game, the CCTV god’s eye view, we have 3D. Colonization as 3D surveillance. ‘Vertical sovereignty’ means power is stacked in layers, class war is waged from above. And the gaze (of this war) is outsourced to machines, it is disembodied. And we are all falling in this space, but there is no ground. Help! But Steyerl never panics, disconcertingly she keeps prodding me to… enjoy it, interact with it, find the possibilities for solidarity and freedom that might be hidden in it (And… this isn’t wallowing in privilege is it? Existential nausea is privilege (escape it in housework). It’s a more effective resistance. Nausea is immobilising after all. Liberal politics produces denial, worthless apologies and delusions of purity. Steyerl has the formidable courage of her frightening convictions. Here is the structure and here is my complicity. Now what am I going to do? Apologise?)

Work to occupation. Art as occupation. Steyerl pushes the two meanings of this word together, like a fertility therapist stimulating a ball of embryonic cells to divide. What will this concept grow into or give birth to? Well, gentrification and its role in the military industrial complex, for one thing? In fact, it looks like contemporary ‘semiocapitalism’ as envisioned and enversioned by collaborating art and its army of unalienated un(der)paid female strike workers, connects everything so comprehensively that its probably impossible to make a really preposterous connection, everything is permitted or just done anyway and however many times Steyerl makes me spit out my tea I end up conceding the point.

History, as [Walter] Benjamin told us, is a pile of rubble. Only we are not staring at it any longer from the point of view of Benjamin’s shell-shocked angel. We are not the angel. We are the rubble. We are this pile of scrap

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