Anna Galkina, Untitled, 2014. Collage courtesy of the artist

The Discovery Of A Malign Host: Anxiety and Work

Apollonio di Giovanni, Ulysses and Nausicaa, 1435
 
Notes for a talk at South London Gallery, 20th June 2014, as part of Anxiety Festival
 
I would like to discuss anxiety and its relationship with work today, from a philosophical perspective. I will examine anxiety as connected to the problem of hospitality, and particularly to broken hospitality, then I will explore the changes that the traditional concept of hospitality has undergone under the current condition of Nihilism. It will be in the field of Nihilism that I will explore the connections between anxiety and contemporary work. Finally, I will try to look for a philosophical alternative.
Before starting, I must acknowledge two debts. Most of the first part of this talk derives from a conversation I had with my friend and fellow writer Robert Prouse, whom I would like to thank. The final part of this talk, on the other hand, has been very influenced by the poet Lucy Mercer, and I would like to thank her for that.
 

TEXT 'FEED' NOW! The gamification of charity

 
On trains travelling in and out of British cities, it’s common to be confronted by a gallery of sorrowful portraits, peeping through the surface of ad posters. Kelly is distressed, John is abused, Samira is desperate. They need your help. But they don’t live in the same universe as you. Differently from the homeless person outside the station, or from the exploited migrant worker travelling next to you, their bodies live off the flow of digital data that springs from mobile phones worldwide. So grab yours NOW! By simply texting ‘life’, ‘feed’, ‘save’ to a phone number, you can restore their life-bars and improve the living conditions of these human tamagotchis. On the same phone on which you are playing Hay Day and Farmville, and by using very similar commands, you will be able to magically feed or shelter the virtual avatars Kelly, John, Samira, etc.
 
If this sounds like the description of a mediocre video game, it’s because it is. Gamification has been all the rage for years, and now it has reached the shores of charity campaigns. It goes without saying that a great number of charities provide very useful help to people in need, and it would be unfair to deride their efforts. Yet, their recent communication campaigns reveal something rotten at the heart both of the charity system, and of our own, contemporary reality-system.
 

Tendencies of Life and Death

 
Life forever holds within itself, coiled at the very centre of its unfolding, the fearful promise of death. That death, emerging from the shadows of the living, from the darkness that forever follows the living, brings about an absolute end-of-life, brings down its sickle upon the vitality of the existent in order to return it to nonexistence. Death then, the absolute, final end-of-life, is that nothingness, that emptiness, that hollow darkness, which is forever stalking the living, anticipating that twilight upon which it may exercise its right to return ashes to ashes and dust to dust, restoring that which is living to the barren desolation of the non-living.  This is the terror that has plagued the thought of the Western episteme since at least the conception of episteme as such.
 
Such a conception of death, as that which brings an absolute end-of-life, has been persistent, and for all good sense, and indeed philosophy, it appears as though it could be no other way. How can it be possible for one to speak of death other than as an absolute end-of-life? Is it not precisely a complete and absolute lack of life that is characteristic of death? It would appear foolish to attempt to think otherwise, to think death as something other than the final, absolute and total end-of-life. Nevertheless, in spite of its apparent stupidity, its total lack of good sense, its absurdity, and indeed as some might say, its impossibility, that is precisely the task to now be placed at hand, that of thinking life and death tendentially; that is to say what is here sought is an interrogation of the tendential relationship between the living and the non-living. The failure of the Western episteme to think death in a manner other than what I shall be calling the finalist conception does it great disservice (and let me be clear early on that on the one hand there is indeed a episteme, the episteme—that is the episteme of ontology, metaphysics and logos—for in no other way and at no other time has episteme been thought as such, that is as episteme and as Western; whereas, on the other hand, there is indeed a heterogeneity of epistemes that is irreducible to an episteme, a difference that is not internal but rather demonstrates unavoidably the open and connective nature of episteme itself, that allows episteme to form from that which is other than episteme and forever prevents its closure). Such a conception, that of absolute death, paralyses thought under the stifling force of fear and sorrow, and leaves us unable to even approach questions regarding the living. Our minds, moulded as they are by the episteme of finalist death, reel in horror at anything that is not static, clear and oppositional, anything that approaches the fluidity of life and indeed its relationship with the non-living.
 

How the Town of Pomigliano Had Its Own Anarchic Carnival


The People’s Carnival that took place in the town of Pomigliano (Southern Italy) in 1977 was an exemplary moment in the history of the Italian Left. Combining folk music, art performance and a radical language, thousands automobile workers and their families gathered up against austerity. The event was depicted in a documentary that I screened (in an edited version) during the event New Politics of Autonomy, at Bluestockings Bookstore, New York, on October 27, 2013, together with Ben Morea (founder of the Black Mask group). This is an excerpt from the talk.

The “Dialogue”
 

I've been working in this factory
For nigh on fifteen years

All this time I watched my woman

Drowning in a pool of tears
And I've seen a lot of good folks die

That had a lot of bills to pay

I'd give the shirt right off my back

If I had the guts to say
Take This Job And Shove It

David Allan Coe – Take This Job And Shove It (1977)
 
At the end of the 1970s, Italy was going through a traumatic yet extremely creative phase of its history. Those were the heydays of the Autonomia movement: radical extra-parliamentary groups (composed by students, unionists, workers, unemployed) were fiercely confronting the austerity politics imposed by the bigot, mafia ridden Christian-Democrats (DC) with the complicity of the Communist Party (PCI). While society was increasingly subjected to militarization, corruption was rampant; the decaying political establishment was more arrogant than ever. The party founded by Antonio Gramsci was seen as a Stalinist oppressor by the movement, the big unions as its partners in crime. Not a single day passed without a major demonstration or a few Molotov bombs thrown at the police.
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