The Social Disease

It was a singularly strange experience to be visiting the exclusion zone in Fukushima —with its checkpoints and protective suits—in order to visit the Don’t Follow the Wind project, and to be receiving urgent pleas from friends and family to return to Europe before all borders are closed and everything is on lockdown. On Thursday I arrive back at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, though this required a lot of phone calls and an assault on the KLM headquarters in Tokyo. In the case of some other European countries, return would already have been impossible.

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The Fukushima Daiichi disaster and the corona crisis have strange resonances; both are lessons in disaster capitalism and population management through a state of exception.  While wild boar rule the Zone in Fukushima, COVID-19 has spawned memes about dolphins “returning to Venice” stating that “we are the virus, corona is the cure” once again posit a seemingly unified species “we” in the manner of anthropocene discourse. Just like “Fukushima” was a capitalocenic catastrophe, so corona is—to detourn a Warholian term—a social disease that feeds off habitat destruction, intensive farming and air travel.

Neoliberal globalization was always based on a dialectic of borders and movement, of flows and blockages. When I returned home, Krystian Woznicki’s book Undeclared Movements was waiting for me, which open with a good analysis of the pre-corona situation in Europe. Even while clinging on to its ideology of free movement for citizens and goods, since 9/11 and even more so since the “refugee crisis,” the EU has intensified its regime of “deterritorialized borders” against immigrants from North Africa to its own inner cities; the border can now be anywhere, if you’re on the wrong side of it.  The EU was always a colonial project, all its bleating about noble values notwithstanding; as brilliantly reconstructed in Peo Hansen and Stefan Jonsson’s Eurafrica, the project of European unification involved a post-war attempt to consolidate the colonial holdings of the various crumbling European powers.  The corona crisis, with its closed Schengen borders, is a further intensification, which now also affects some whom privilege protected so far.

Various European countries and institutions failed to respond adequately (or at all) during the crucial early phase of Covid-19’s spread. Now measures have been taken that are both urgently necessary and deeply disruptive. Corona manifests itself in an isolationism that is the complete opposite of how Warhol used the term social disease: to refer to his constant party going. In the cultural field, exhibitions are closed and assemblies as well as publications are postponed. I realize that I’m not nearly as affected as those freelance workers who are fully dependent on the gig economy, but on a personal/selfish note, my (theoretically) forthcoming book Objections has been put on hold due to the pandemic’s impact on the publishing economy. I hope that Sean Snyder’s wonderful exhibition at Rongwrong, which I curated, can stay open at least for individual visitors, even if things look bleak for the gatherings we’d planned.

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While many forms of critical practice have more or less been suspended, the situation drives those of us in academia deeper in the arms of Silicon Valley, as we are scrambling to figure out which platform for video conferencing/remote learning can work for us (even while we, invariably, will end up working for them).

Anyway, having “made it back” to a country of—how can I put this delicately—ignorant and inconsiderate troglodytes, I’ll try to weather the storm here and keep working with my students and on my research. I hope you are well wherever you are.