A Note on "All Tomorrows Parties" and the Covidian Æsthetic | @angelicism01
Guest Column #005
First version published @ cashdcobrazhousewriter.substack.com on January 19, 2021.
The second part of Mónica Belevan and Charles Curran’s All Tomorrows Parties captures tfw you build societies off of dopamine-driven feedback loops, suicidal epistemologies of tropes, the managed decline of conscious hypocrisies and the ressentimentalisation of everything. But in its formality—reverence for ‘raw footage’—it also does more than that.
Perhaps what can be beautiful in place of the dialectical two-step and its fallacies we are force-fed is the relative lack of ideological framing that can be found in this film, done under the auspices of Belevan and her husband Alonso Toledo’s proliferating Covidian Æsthetics project, one vital kiosk for which can be found here. The absence of imposition in the latest episode, which depicts ‘the storming of the Capitol’ to a Kanye West soundtrack, is a relief in this moment, and its achieved neutrality (for want of a much better word) is rare.
Images think in our place, of course, but Belevan is also wily enough to add a textual complement which is more than a supplement of brochure-like description. It is here that she expounds the episodic logic itself of the Covidian, which she has fixed as a mobile apparatus and set of signs.
Most recently, Aesthetic Wave Three—triggered by the approval of groundbreaking mRNA vaccines—gave way to Wave Four with the storming of the Capitol on January 6th, which signalled yet another shift in terms of what almost anybody thought was possible until it happened. I would go so far as to say that each of the aesthetic waves began with an event that challenged and expanded that notion by putting the fundamental value, probity and reality of our institutions, governance, and expertise—the spit that held the world together—to the test.
It is hard, and necessarily so, in the presence of Belevan’s project, to forget what Covid has meant on so many different levels. As she says, ‘we have accompanied our reverse and perverse juxtapositions of BLM and Q to the tune of Kanye West’s metamorph Sprechstimme in “I Thought About Killing You”’. Covid has been just this universal remix, just this avowal of new sadisms and new masochisms, just this outing of drives and logics of the malady of the century.
Let the reader note the reinvented and still possible equanimity: BLM and Q. This is not an equivalence but a strict—and fresh—equality. Indeed, the only equality available right now is in seeing these as equalised ‘hyperbaroque’ moments of a serial procedure.
The title, All Tomorrow’s Parties #002, points to the ongoing nature of these film-analytics (how may we arrive at #100?). Somewhat optimistically, perhaps too much so, we get to be excited about just what will be next. In truth, this has been the experience of the Covidian all along. Beside the depressive tonality, Covid started as and might continue as a Lichtung moment of profound fluidity and opening. Belevan’s work is especially useful in this respect in that it marks out this clearing again and again as khora and khorismos both, as serial logic and anticipation of surge after surge. Covid abhors a vacuum, we might say, whether that be the empty streets that BLM rushed into, or the ill-defended Capitol that the Trump protesters surged into and over. As Belevan puts it in the text for the first film, there exist ‘the civilizational veneers of a pent-up drive to crowd’.
All Tomorrow’s Parties #002 captures the drive or surge not as ‘coup’ or ‘insurrection’ or as ‘a second 9/11’, but as raw footage of an invasion that has no real name, until now, aside from the contrapunctality of what the Covidian makes of it, ‘yet another shift in terms of what almost anybody thought was possible until it happened’.
The value of this work, then, is that it fixes in archival styles that are almost architectural ‘the Covidian’ as memory and trace, and therefore has within its range to remind us of what this moment was to begin with: opening, potential, Lichtung!
We are full of malady-bliss, right now, if we let ourselves be, and we may allow ourselves to be guided by an informal memory work, and trellis of informers, to remain in the mood of a resolution of impermanence. ‘Which Way Western Man’ is the joke, but what is more cutting in the edit is the decision to see in the envy, irritation and sourness that will now increase in tomorrow’s virulence and virality an incitation for thought. No way is, presently, the inciter and the resolve.
Regardless of something like absolute disintegration at the level of external politics, or in fact because of it, an internal politics of the image and the archiving of new cardinalities remains viable. If we see the ‘surge’ on the Capitol as pure cinema, then we start to get somewhere. It is always possible to insist that, in terms of the Covidian serial image, those who were driven into and onto the Capitol, as if by Covidian design that matches the extinction drive, are even more than heroes. There is something saintly about them, even or especially when some of them are called ‘stupid’—which none of them may be known without further managed hypocrisy to be. On the contrary, Christ was seen as a criminal and he gave himself to that. He didn’t forbid violence, for example when he said to throw the first stone. He incited it.
As Simone Weil puts it describing Christ the criminal,
Even the presence of Christ in human flesh was something other than perfect purity, since he censured the man who called him good, and since he said: ‘It is expedient for you that I go away.’ He must then be more completely present in a morsel of consecrated bread. His presence is more complete inasmuch as it is more secret.
Yet this presence was probably still more complete, and also still more secret, in his body of flesh at the moment when the police seized this body as that of a common criminal. But as a result he was forsaken by all. He was too present. Men could not endure it.
Whether this body belongs to you or the human being called Donald Trump, there is only denying that the outgoing President belongs to the category of saintly criminals for whom visibility is not possible for centuries we now don’t have. Aside from the stammering and lethal tropology of the CNN-talking-heads (‘a new 9/11 commission’ ordered up for hyperbolic political speech alone), Trump as inciter has to be seen at the level of, yes, truth. As soon as any statement incites, after all, it may be analysed as differend (as Lyotard once called it) and truth-event, however full of holes and precarious.
If we wish to see the human being called Donald Trump as inciteful, then we will also see him as flesh. He is, indeed, too much with us. Too human, and too inhuman, for our own good. ‘Men could not endure it.’ Hence, his going.
Those who follow him, can only surge. Like the followers at the end of St. Francis of the Flowers, they spin away like helicopters into the shutdown of the night of Washington D.C., the green zone before supposed ‘inauguration’. It is only ridiculous to compare Trump and Christ if you take Christ too seriously and Trump not seriously enough. The Capitol’s bugs are so much better, in any case, than Spielberg’s ‘dinosaurs’.
If you were to ask me what makes it out of the Covidian alive, I would probably say nothing, and that’s the point: the Zeitgeist thrill of the malady beyond celestial joy. At the same time, I think open intelligence makes it. I think seeing everything according to the dimension of the Universe and not the World, and that includes virulence. What are Universal virulence and virality? What is the inner intelligence of disease? These are the questions the Covidan project allows us to address. These are the only things that make it out of the foreshortened millennia alive, with and without us.
What is it that Covid is resisting, after all? This is the question I come to write just now, in January 2021, after watching this serialising film, as if exactly one year too late—one year on from the supposed arrival, if we are to believe official logs, of this virality. It is also a question I feel I partly owe the persistence of a Covidian archive which continues to incite me to go on with the formalising of this theme, recalling what is already within me and which I may not want to say— a degree of gratitude for what is so irreversibly wrong.
Another way of putting the question is as follows, since gratitude is here at stake: what is it that I owe to Covid? A strange question, were it not for the fact that in any good Dzogchen praxis, one contemplates the resolution of impermanence mentioned above. That is, and always first of all, impermanence is the root of thanks. We owe ourselves to a Grand Mal d’Archive.
It is what makes possible my praxis—that is to say, my resting. In terms of rest, I remain within my own mind, and Covid is merely the latest serious trope of impermanence—to be welcomed as such.
To these, therefore, I add another question. What do I welcome in Covid and, perhaps more startlingly, what does Covid welcome in me? At this stage, we are making the ‘disease’ even more active, as an agent of the loving embrace impermanence perhaps knows in me. Covid becomes dear to me to the extent that it is that which allowed me to bed down and meet resting as praxis where it was, which I do imperfectly. To anyone who needs a definition, resting is merely staying close to what is precious and well-resourced in and of my own mind.
But now I remember other sources of the same, and other reasons to thank. There is what the Tibetan poet in exile Tsering Woeser wrote sometime between February and March 2020 in her Epidemic Three-Line Poems. Here we are at the very start of a long sequence, and already there is a type of silent heresy:
No, there exists another plague far worse than this one
This was early, even for a writer based in China, to conceive of what might come after the plague, and what might, or will for sure, right now, be even worse in serial recomposition. Already Woeser is saying, and right now, there will be not just another one, but one far worse than this one. Or rather, that the virus of political oppression will be, and is right now, even worse.
Between this one and another, between one virality and another, and even within this one right here, that we take to be only one, we already find an episodic relation to other viruses and viralities. The poem says for certain that ‘there exists another plague far worse than this one’. We may thank it, as it comes out of Tibet to say so.
Woeser’s line leads me to imagine another plague, a real one—this time exposed to the outside, as I briefly felt in March and April of 2020, close to the voice of my teacher, scared of what impermanence might really have meant, raw. This real plague is knowing what it feels like, in our hearts, to have become infinitely impermanent.
Image: Side view of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein with one receptor binding domain shown in colored ribbons. Credit: Jason McLellan / University of Texas at Austin.
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