The Plague of the Encounter

In the heart of the plague is a void. There are, within this void, all the elements of new political situations, that have poured like a torrential rain all over the earth. The plague has both opened and closed sites of political activity in its wake. However, these elements do not simply fall in parallel within this void. At some point they must encounter one another and create some consistency, some kind of stable political situation. The encounters with the most chance of holding together are the ones most amenable to the current global hegemonic order of capitalism. But much to the chagrin of this order, it is unable to capture and subsume every instantiation of these elements of political activity. Lacking the ability to anticipate this global event, both state and individual-as-political-subject have responded in drastically different ways. As we know, some states have chosen to completely lockdown while some countries have opted for complicated colour coded systems that regulate movement, while still others simply went with a laissez-faire approach. Finally, we can think of the plague in terms of its elements as the COVID-19 virus itself, whose elements find their contingencies in the encounter of one carrier with another, and the various effects produced by those encounters on both individuals and political situations.

For individual-as-political-subject the void of the plague has created and continually creates new forms of subjectivities and temporalities. For those who remain in lockdown, their void persists, whose members have the vague idea that these contingent political encounters are occurring elsewhere, something somewhere must be happening outside their homes. Everything and nothing is happening in suspended time. Whereas for those who venture outside, new political subjectivities are being formed in response to the measures enacted by their respective states.

The liberal-subject cries out against the restrictions imposed on it in the name of civil liberties, liberties whose watchwords are often contradictory and not always entirely clear to those who utter them. “Freedom of movement!” but not to those who arrive by the incorrect channels. This is the form the liberal-subject’s resistance takes in relation to the state, they are not the claims to universality they think they are, freedom of movement yes, but only for some. These forms of resistance are easy for the state to recuperate for they speak the same language, the encounter only takes place in the form of an underdetermined political situation. One should be careful not to be too flippant and stretch the example to the point of a total dismissal, however it is simply to illustrate the nature of this political encounter. They do not participate in the truly contingent nature of a political encounter, one which does not cohere to the logic of the state, and thus belongs to the void from whence it came.

In Greece, where Epicurus announced the existence of the void, protestors took to the streets against the brutal police crackdowns on its citizens. In France, where Althusser announced the fusion between Epicurus and communism, protestors railed against proposed global security bills; the Yellow Vests have maintained their political resistance. In Australia, thousands marched in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, to fight against the ongoing injustices faced by Indigenous people at the hands of the prison and police system. In Colombia, enormous protests broke out against proposed tax reforms, the corruption of the state, and health care reforms: yet the protestors continued despite the government eventually backing down. In Lebanon, protests have been occurring since 2019, right through the plague, in the face of the country’s ongoing economic crisis. These protests are the proper bearers of contingency for they do not speak in the language of the existing state of the political and economic system, they speak to a beyond of its current state of existence. They divide the One of the state into the Two of a truly new political situation where there are no guarantees if the construction of something beyond the given state will be possible yet continue anyway. This quality is what constitutes the revolutionary-subject.  

One must be careful when analysing these political situations, for the void of the plague is indifferent and thus is capable of bringing up more than just those forms of political subjectivity. The plague has spewed up and fertilised the soil for the far-right and neo-Nazis to continue their recruitment efforts. However, their subjectivity possesses a particularly unique quality. They speak in the language of the revolutionary-subject, that they can go beyond the existing state of affairs, but suffer from the same form of contradiction as the liberal-subject. How can a master race be truly masterful if they are threatened by a Great Replacement or White Genocide (or whichever word de jour they’ve come up with). They simply wish to possess the state and change the ethnic makeup of its elements. Thus, seized by this contradiction, they cannot belong on the side of contingency but still hold that dangerous quality: being able to sound like revolutionaries to the liberal-subject while still sharing the same fundamental basic contradiction, a fidelity to the capitalist state. As history has shown, capitalism will always take the side of fascism if it’s a choice between that or facing the revolutionary-subject.       

There are always openings and closings in times of crisis. These crises generate the different subjectivities which either resist the state or, whether they realise or not, are subsumed under the logic of the existing state of affairs, that is, the reign of global capitalism. The plague as void is indifferent to the political situations it creates; it is up to individuals to assume their political subjectivity within the situation that has been presented before them.

So, I’d like to conclude with a poem, one I dedicate to the revolutionary-subject: Apollinaire’s La Jolie Rousse.  

We are not your enemies

We want to take over vast strange territories

Where the flowering mystery waits to be picked

Where there are fires and colours not yet seen

A thousand imponderable apparitions

Which must be given reality

We wish to explore the vast domain of goodness

Where everything is silent

And time can be pursued or brought back

Pity us who fight continually on the frontiers

Of the infinite and the future

Pity for our mistakes pity for our sins

The violence of summer is here

My youth like the spring is dead

New, O sun, is the time of scorching Reason

Laugh then laugh at me

Men from everywhere and more particularly here

For there are so many things I dare not tell you

So many things you will not let me say

Have pity on me.

Mailing List Subscribe

To keep up to date with MSCP activities and local philosophy related events, please subscribe to our mailing list

The MSCP only uses these details for the mailing list. We will not pass your details on to anyone.