In his Prison Notebooks (1930), Antonio Gramsci wrote:
“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”
The world is once again living an interregnum.
Of course, Gramsci was writing about an era of economic depression, rising fascism, and incipient world war. For many, the contemporary world looks oh so similar. The global North is poised between inward-looking old powers and reluctant emergent ones. We have been bequeathed an exhausted civilization determined to accelerate through neoliberalism directly into hothouse eaarth.
This is just another way of saying that the world’s current interregnum is fucking mess. We, indeed, are a fucking mess. Ours is a planet now defined by insane habits of extraction, haphazard technology, janky social networks, and pathological individualism; all forces that lie outside conventional notions of geostrategic power.
In her recent book The Old is Dying and the New Cannot Be Born (2019), Nancy Fraser identifies two versions of neoliberalism after the 1980s: progressive and reactionary.
iLiana Fokiana has this to say:
‘Progressive neoliberalism’ was a real and powerful alliance of two unlikely bedfellows: the mainstream liberal currents of new social movements and the most dynamic, high-end, “symbolic,” financial sectors of the US economy (Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and Hollywood.) ‘Reactionary neoliberalism’ was its antagonist, including mainly ethno-national, anti-immigrant, and pro-Christian figures, with similar distribution politics to the progressive neoliberals, “but a different reactionary politics of recognition.”
For psychoanalyst Lynne Layton,
Foucauldian theories describe neoliberalism’s ideal rational actor, but without a notion of unconscious process, so they offer only a partial sense of how neoliberalism is felt and lived. It thus makes sense to use their work to rethink earlier ideas about culture and character, to see what psychoanalysis might contribute to understanding neoliberal versions of subjectivity.
Here, Layton offers a reading of the psychological tropes of neoliberalism that not only bring narcissistic leaders to power but that also produce narcissistic subjectivities—identities driven by individualism.
The difference between narcissistic authoritarian statism and previous examples of autocratic governance is the creation of a new reality, a new idea of normality, that in turn normalizes violence with the help of technology. It succeeds because neoliberal subjectivities have been brought to the point of apathy and detachment, and therefore facilitate, perpetuate, and mimic this type of statism.
The psychological drive for success embedded in neoliberal subjectivities further alienates them from those who are less affluent and fortunate; a dependent or vulnerable human is seen as a failed human.
Dependent humans represent the fear of failure and therefore are cast as a burden to society, making it very easy to ignore them, thus encouraging the corrosion of those support systems that neoliberalism has long been unraveling….
While riding the turbo-capitalist wave, we have accepted our current condition as either normal or as a temporary glitch. We have adapted to a reality that promotes a competitive autonomy over dependencies of care. We play out a short-term vision of monetary success in a field defined by narcissism, precarity, public relations, and diplomatic nonideological positions. Is the battle lost? Faced with the ever-growing presence of narcissistic authoritarian statism and all its tropes, one thing becomes apparent: it is the magnitude and multiform nature of its very idea, played out through the concepts that define it, that should be our focus. Its deconstruction and the creation of counter-hegemonic power structures through the field of contemporary art, in alignment and in solidarity with a larger coalition of already existing (and currently threatened) counter-hegemonies of civil society, can create the groundwork for a new power bloc against narcissistic authoritarian statism and its current violent ideology and practice.
iLiana Fokianaki is a Greek curator, researcher and writer based in Athens and Rotterdam. She is the founder and director of State of Concept, Athens, cofounder, with Antonia Alampi, of the research platform Future Climates, and lecturer at the Dutch Art Institute.