Unity Dissolved Into A State Of Union
Sentir tudo de todas as maneiras,
Viver tudo de todos os lados,
Ser a mesma coisa de todos os modos possíveis ao mesmo tempo,
Realizar em si toda a humanidade de todos os momentos
Num só momento difuso, profuso, completo e longínquo.
As our social narration of the world is increasingly anchored in social and environmental upheaval, there is perhaps an equal or growing desire to let go of a world that is itself built on the loss and fungibility of life. In compresence with the future, this destructive world-historical order has determined what is possible to do and imagine today, from how we think, sense, feel, and know to how we experience the cracks within.
The foreclosure of the possibilities intrinsic to the social and labour movements as well as anticolonial liberation struggles of the 1960s and 70s by the so-called Washington Consensus brought us to “a time characterised by so much desertification of alternatives” where, as the sociologist Boaventura de Sousa Santos writes, “it is as difficult to imagine the end of capitalism, colonialism, and patriarchy as to imagine that they will have no end. The imagination of the end is being corrupted by the end of the imagination.” We’re witnessing an unprecedented assault to the imagination by rising forms of state repression, growing inequality, resurgent nationalisms, environmental disruption, racist supremacy ideologies fuelled by digital technologies and human rights violations. The strong hold of right-wing fascism and radical politics in the last decade is not only the result of continued neoliberal disinvestment but evidence of our current governance crisis.
Exerting its control over every alternative, the current reality system is at a historical nexus, shrewdly termed by historian Nikhil Pal Singh as “hegemonic decomposition,” when it is prepared to respond to any attempts of disruption with increasingly vicious and more virulent forms of violence. With the intensification of competing visions for the restructuring of capitalist society at the verge of ecological collapse, we must question the paralysis we experience on both individual and collective levels and that discourages our capacity to tackle the increasing advances of a failing world-order. Engaging with chronopolitics at this juncture, in other words, with the unequal distribution of our colonial pasts, complex presents, and possible futures, becomes a matter of necessity in assessing what the terms of capitalist restructuring are, what are its organising forces, and, most importantly, whether we intend to participate as part of its constituency.
We are unable to act differently, or to think and imagine differently, because of the absence, within the present system of unreality, of the basic requirements to implement any alternative course of action and imagination.
With philosopher Federico Campagna, I am convinced our greatest urgency today is to understand what capitalism is in materialist-cosmological terms and develop tools to surpass the contemporary crisis of action and imagination. Old forms of knowledge are no longer adequate to remediate this gap. To paraphrase Michael Marder, today’s masses of data, emissions, and non-decomposable products are the epitomes of Plato’s theory of forms, Aristotle’s four causes, Linnaeus’s taxonomies, Spinoza’s substance, Descartes’ mind-body split, Kant’s thing-in-itself, Hegel’s philosophy of history and so forth. Structured by linear progress narratives that are still widely used in the West across all disciplines, including the way in which all sciences organise their epistemologies, contemporary scholarship is trapped in its present organisation of knowledge. Within this progress narrative, the experience of the world is indexed in the immutable, empirical, and stable categories that laid the foundations of colonial modernity, in response to which we must unravel how we end up researching and representing the world through time as universal absolute, forward-moving, and made up of spatial successions.
-unity lies at the core of this issue. Unity is represented by the Pythagorean monad and the Neoplatonic One as a principle that represents completeness and a state of self-containment. The unitary one exists above all else and as perfection. The unit, in turn, exists in an endless chain of production and limitless growth that characterises our current capitalist modes of production. Insofar as it is reduced to a pure level of instrumentality, the unit exists in a state of disintegration with the world. Both the unity as well as the unit presuppose a state of self-possession, a kind of ownership that reads well alongside the emergence of the European modern subject as the white, male legal rights-holder. For him, the unit, from Latin unitas "oneness, sameness, agreement" enables "privilege; immunity from attack, inviolability," the root for the Latin immunitas or “the exemption from performing public service or charge." For him too, the unity in politics is communitas, a state in which all units are equal to themselves and allow them to share a common experience, a silent understanding of each unity’s inviolability in the face of the law.
Inviolability, absoluteness and oneness are ideas a visual artist would unlikely use to describe hers/their experience. I would like to propose that the series of interlocking crises that “community as immunity” emerges as a response to allow us to do away with the root of the representational language that constitutes both concepts and strive for the unwriting and unlearning of our present definitions of the relational mode of being human. If the role of art has long been to ask profound questions about our current reality and to imagine and activate different cosmogonies, what dialogues, conversations, parliaments and assemblies can we experiment with to describe the coming together of perspectives, knowledges, and experiences that intersectionally traverse us as artists, curators, and cultural workers working in, from and beyond Portugal? What alliances and forms of commoning are required to push the boundaries of what is thinkable today?
A key to resisting injustice is to move from nouns to verbs, towards being-as-doing, from friends and allies to friendship and comradeship that orient us towards helping one another to flourish. This approach requires time and a commitment to working slower, for allowing others and ourselves to be present in our fullest and to rest against the logics of exhaustion and extraction that fuel capitalist modes of production. For us to deconstruct such understandings and, ultimately, to transform them, our approach, following the philosopher and political theorist Achille Mbembe, must do the labour of “repairing reason”: seek a plurality of perspectives, worldviews, ways of being and belonging, ways of knowing (epistemologies) and methodologies in which artistic practice, poetics, scholarly inquiry, and political praxis can emerge and articulate with one another.
History with a capital H is written by vanguard intellectuals for whom there is no room in our call to "repair reason." Instead, with Sousa Santos, a new reality system calls for “rearguard intellectuals,” who contribute their knowledge to strengthen pedagogies that enable social movements and struggles. For Sousa Santos, an epistemological shift is necessary to recover the idea that there are alternatives to the current system shaped by patriarchy, colonialism, and capitalism as well as to recognise the efforts of the bearers, visionaries, artists, scholars, and activists who have made significant strides in bringing these to the fore.
Art does not seek to clarify but complicate, it does not offer answers or solutions, nor does it remedy dominant beliefs. Yet, of all disciplines it is perhaps the most proficient at imagining different cosmogonic forces and with them new worlds. At the core of this experiment there are ways of knowing based on experience, sensation, embodiment, plurality and positionality that require the affective labour of recognising the disparity between our positions and of addressing it. In doing so, it can remediate our experience of language and, therefore, our expression of ourselves as linguistically singular and multiple. Think of Álvaro de Campos’ eikos mythos or his account of the sensible world: the body is subtle, the being is tenuous, and sensation is indefinite. His oneness is multidimensional — unity dissolved into a state of union. What might the gap between action and imagination look like if we start from here?
Sofia Lemos is a curator and writer. She is Curator at TBA21 | Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary. Between 2018-2021, she was Curator of Public Programmes and Research at Nottingham Contemporary.
 "To feel everything in every way, / to live everything from all sides, / to be the same thing in every possible way at the same time, / To realise in oneself the whole of humanity from all ages / in a single moment, diffused, profuse, complete and distant.” Álvaro de Campos/Fernando Pessoa, “A Passagem das Horas. Ode Sensacionalista,” Fernando Pessoa, Obra Poética de Fernando Pessoa. Rio de Janeiro: Nova Fronteira, 2016. Author’s translation.
 Boaventura de Sousa Santos, The End of the Cognitive Empire, Durham: Duke University Press, 2018, ix.
 Federico Campagna, Technic and Magic: The Reconstruction of Reality, London: Bloomsbury, 2018, 88.