Quarantine Letter #9: The Day After is Behind Us

Joël Gayraud

May 4, 2020

We received the following article from Joël Gayraud as a contribution to our Quarantine Letters series. It first appeared in French on Lundi matin on May 4th, 2020. Our thanks to the Leeds Surrealist Group for their translation.

* * * * *

I.

Everyone talks about ‘the day after’. In today’s confined imagination, it has taken the long-vacant place of the dawn of the revolution or singing tomorrows. But the day after is already far behind us. The day after is the day that, from one country to another, followed the announcement of confinement. It was a day too much, the one that should never have come.

II.

On that day, the historical horizon, which a year of social crises had begun to reopen, was not simply closed. It was abruptly locked, without a shot being fired or a coup proclaimed. Never before has such a mass of people – more than half the world’s population – been placed under house arrest in such a short period of time.

III.

In a few hours we went from ‘Everything is fine’ to ‘Nothing is fine anymore’. The casualness principle that has served the market economy so nicely to the point of transforming the planet into a huge cesspool has magically disappeared before the principle of responsibility. But, in truth, everyone has given in to blackmail for survival. And, thereby, everyone has become irresponsible for themselves. Henceforth, no more future, no possible escape. In the autistic world of the spectacle, the apparent victory of the responsibility principle means the real ruin of the principle of hope.

IV. 

Democracy, which survives only in the corrupt ritual of elections, has been dealt the final blow, without any criticism or next to none. And with it, two of those freedoms that were once considered fundamental: the freedom to come and go without restriction or conditions, and the freedom to meet up with whomever we wish. What transpired thereby was our irreversible transformation from illusory political subjects into authentic biopolitical cattle. Those who believed themselves to be people, or even individuals, are henceforth nothing more than bodies. So, they will be numbered, recorded, monitored, tracked, traced for a long time. At the same time, the old politics have disappeared, replaced by the management of survival. We won’t regret it.

V. 

Let us be understood. No one can deny the reality of the danger, or the need to overcome the epidemic and save as many lives as possible. But the human community could very well have acted on its own, without having to place its salvation in the hands of the State. This is what the Zapatistas immediately did in Chiapas, when faced with the Mexican State’s denials and manifest negligence.

VI. 

It is the movement in commercial trade solely, not bats or pangolins, that has transmitted the virus. Whilst acknowledging that they are the reservoir, these noble animals are only the material cause of the epidemic, not its efficient cause. We know the reasons for the rapid spread of the virus: innumerable air flights, almost always caused by futile pretexts like work or tourist consumption, this lugubrious inversion of the journey. And then the epidemic went its merry way in air-conditioned purgatories: warships or cruise ships, office blocks, retirement homes, even hospitals. And now, at the end of the chain, it affects the poor, who do not take the plane or go on a cruise, but languish in prison or vegetate in the suburbs, subject to all kinds of stressors, and who will of course pay the full price of the crisis. The pandemic is not a natural disaster: it is the result of social relations – the market economy, condemned for a long time and more than ever in need of abolishing.

VII.

The ‘day after’ has ushered in the first global dystopia in history. Until now, even if they aimed (like Nazi Germany) for universal domination, dystopias always saw their expansion limited, in space and then in time. The dystopia now being established is intended to last, all the more so since its first act consisted in brutally modifying the conditions of sensibility: physical distance atrophies the most sensual of all the senses, touch, and the almost total primacy of screens mutilates our perception of the three dimensions of space. It is to be feared that once the epidemic has been overcome, human behaviour will be radically altered, and for a long time.

VIII.

Since the Second World War, Capitalism has changed paradigms: it has become cybernetic. That is to say, it has created multiple feedback loops that have enabled it to absorb economic and social crises. It alternates between the phases of an administered economy and a liberal economy, but within the same regulatory system. In solely criticising neoliberalism, we very soon miss the target, Capitalism, in its two inseparable aspects: liberal in economic initiative, statist in supporting the economy. To restart the machine that had temporarily stopped, we found, in an instant, the billions that were needed. Those nostalgic for Keynesianism and the Thirty Glorious Years can’t return to them. They have forgotten that the State is the best guarantor of the system. With the triumph of cybernetic dystopia, here they are now serving it.

IX.

The house arrest imposed by confinement is only the first moment of a new Total Mobilization. We are immobilized to better mobilize us. Mobilization has already started with working from home, which enables saving on fixed capital, such as offices and communicating machines, and soon on variable capital, with the transformation of employees into self-entrepreneurs, where everyone will be paid according to their profitability. It will continue through the major planetary ecological issues, a vast playground for green neo-capitalism, and with the alibi of seeking ever-greater efficiency, that is to say ever-increasing profits for the optimal management of scarcity and disaster.

X.

Those who call for a return to normality understand that this won’t happen and worry as much as they rub their hands. It must be said that, for them lately, normality has not been too pleasing: it was the Yellow Vests occupying the roundabouts and filling the streets, barricades in Chile, the Lebanese insurgents. Some imagine, now that the situation has turned in their favour, they will be able to control it in the long term. Yet they have ruled blind until now, showing to what degree they were incapable of forseeing anything. They saw nothing coming, neither people’s anger, nor the fatal vagaries of the economy. Besides, they never foresee anything, deprived as they are of any historical vision. For them too, the horizon is closed.

XI. 

As for those who, in their naive reformist conscience, believe that, when normal conditions are restored, we can ‘no longer carry on as before’, they are greatly mistaken. Because there will be no normality restored. It will vanish in the soft haze of lost illusions. They will obviously do as ‘before’, since they will do worse than before.

XII.

These considerations only sketch a picture of the moment which contains us, grasped in its general tendencies, and are by no means the decryption of a concerted plan of the leaders. The dystopia being established is not the product of a plot hatched by some secret government, but proceeds from a contingent moment of Capitalism’s rationalisation, which does not however preclude its constitutive irrationality. The multiple ways in which States have responded to the epidemic, improvised and matched to the means at hand, provide glaring proof of this. On the contrary, their differences, their lies, their inconsistencies, their manifest failings show the fragile foundations – on which the cybernetic dystopia that claims to govern all aspects of the use of our lives – is built. It is perhaps at the very moment it thinks itself all-powerful that it will be the most vulnerable. However, the desire for freedom, equality and justice must be broad and deep-rooted enough to unite our forces. If we do not reopen the utopian breach, we will live perpetually in the ‘day after’.

May 4, 2020