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Apocalypse now

April 29, 2016


What if we had already gone beyond the end of the world? Perhaps (this is just a hypothesis) the time we live in is a time after time. We now know that the idea of linear time was probably an illusion, because the infinite continually takes us back to our origins, hence to circular time.

In Spring 2004, Maurizio Cattelan displayed three hung babies in Milan. They were three dolls he had hung on a tree near Porta Ticinese. A few months later in September, 186 children were killed in a school in Beslan. Who could have understood at the time that Cattelan’s radical work was no “provocation” but rather a foreshadowing. Because this is the function of art, to describe an event before it happens.
After all, to cite two out of countless possible examples, if we look at two French (but not only French) phenomena of some decades back, the nouveau roman and the nouvelle vague (in literature and cinema respectively), we cannot but be amazed at the way some writers and directors foresaw the end of the word and the obsolescence of the image, i.e. the radical crisis in that traditional narration which had a beginning a middle and an end. If we go even further back in time, as early as the 1930s Bruno Schulz, the Polish writer, had intuited the crisis in that form of narration in which time is imagined as linear and in continual progress.




In other words, we see the world as broken up into pieces, fragmentary, a place where synthesis is impossible. This is proved (another example) by the lack of intellectuals. The figure of the public man armed just with words, amateurish but able to summarize knowledge of and about the world, has vanished. In his place are myriad specialists in the most diverse and specific disciplines.
Deconstruction is the key for analyzing the universe. The idea that the deconstructed pieces should be remounted is absent from the discussion. Marx said that humanity only poses itself problems it is able to solve. This is probably why today we are unable to reconstruct the world which we are pulling to pieces day by day. 
After all, still some decades ago (think of 1989) we were convinced that progress was a valid idea, that despite the Shoah (the collapse of western civilization) and despite the theorizing of Adorno and Horkheimer, enlightened thinking had an intrinsic and absolute validity. This is no longer true.
And the crisis is not only in our way of thinking. We have simply lost some certainties. We used to think for example that there was an intimate, indissoluble link between material wellbeing, democracy and freedom. Today we know this is not so. We used to be convinced that the accumulation of capital was linked to the growth of specific scientific and technical knowledge; today we know that an inspired speculation on the stock exchange (open 24/7 globally), completed with just a few clicks on the computer keyboard, is much more advantageous than the work of generations of entrepreneurs and workers.




Again, we used to be convinced that Europe was a place of peace where, after the Shoah and the collapse of regimes based on the suppression of human rights, certain brutalities would no longer be possible. Instead with the migrant crisis, the boats sunk in the Mediterranean sea and the barriers and walls erected to keep out human bodies, the human body is at the center of politics. 
Just as, in a different way, the body of the terrorist who blows him/herself up is also at the center of the conflict: a life whose purpose is to cause death.

The end of the world manifests itself in the epiphany of biopolitics. 

So what is to be done? The answer is simple: go back to the origins.
(Heidegger intuited this decades ago, but how forced his return to the Greeks was and how authentic instead his adhesion to Nazism, might be argued about at length).   
Returning to the origins means thinking and acting as if time no longer existed: (re)discovering wonderment; not being afraid to ask primary, elementary questions (What is time? What is love? What is death?). The Repair of the world is perhaps beyond our horizons, but at least we can narrate it, albeit in fragments. As long as we are able to imagine what we see and tell. 

Cover image:

Andrea Botto, KA-BOOM #17 Rapallo, 2009, Fine Art Pigment print, Image courtesy: the artist