pandemic, Chema González

narrator Chema González
term pandemic
published 15 September 2015, Madrid, Spain
affiliated institution Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía

Pandemic refers to an epidemic disease that spreads internationally and indiscriminately attacking all members of a locality or region. In this proposal for the Glossary of Common Knowledge, the term pandemic is used both at literal and metaphorical level in order to understand a number of subjective and geopolitical processes (for instance, the conception of otherness as a disease and the establishment of an apparent normality connected and productive but dysfunctional) to characterize what we call "contemporaneity". I will try to connect this term with an intention to periodize, so it can touch and we may also debate the recent research and future exhibition that Museo Reina Sofia is preparing on the contemporary.


1984 is an anodyne year. Accustomed to a strong and foundational narrative, 1984 appears useless and inconsequential compared with 1989 (the fall of the Berlin Wall) and 1968 (Paris and the so-called strike of the real). This banality triggers a potential narrative: the ability to reveal a formless and unpredictable constellation, not yet appropriated by the collective imagination and dominant chronologies of the present time. In 1984, the fear of the Cold War, a condition that largely determines the policy and life during the postwar, seems to vanish. Reagan delivers his famous radio joke We begin bombing Russia in five minutes (FIG.1) while the uniform and a rigid Soviet world are playfully transfigured by Tetris, that video-game of opposed blocks –not by change- developed in the very Academy of Sciences of the USSR by Alexey Pajitnov (FIG.2). The Stockholm conference on disarmament ratifies that the bipolar tension seems to vanish like a ghost from the past, while the art system is celebrating, along with various neoconservative theorists, the triumph of the global market with the pictorial turn of Neoprimitivisms and Trans-avant-gardes.


This happy new world is shaken up by the public recognition of HIV. In April 1984 (FIG. 3) the virus is publicly identified and held responsible for tens of thousands of deaths worldwide. The circulation of the pandemic will transform its own meaning ("the disease of the whole people") in order to draw new limits of identity, geopolitical and subjective, which will outline a disputed and confronted body.


On the one hand, the productive developed and normalized body; on the other hand, the sick, primitive and deviated body. The pandemic circulation will serve to divide the world into two new axes: the alternate and normal. The origin of the chimpanzee and the man contagion in Africa will reinforce the conception of the dark, atavistic desire and the monstrous other, in which the black / colonized subject is the very source of the disease.


The cosmopolitan and universal dimension of the pandemic, as noted by Jean Comaroff, will articulate a new concept of power and its action since that moment. The traditional politics, based on governance of institutions and individuals, will shift to bio-politics of production and control of the physical and political body of the population. This new distribution of power will endeavor to demonstrate the relationship between pandemic and otherness: AIDS will be considered the disease of deviants, unproductive, and colonized (the 5H (Haitians, hemophiliacs, homosexuals, hookers, and heroin addicted), to whom the Western white body will confront and survive. To understand this international pandemic condition biopolitics, proposed by Foucault just a decade before, is key, but considered today insufficient. Achille Mbembe has approached this pandemic geopolitics through a macabre and sadistic version where biopolitics are replaced by necropolitics. A power that leaves the management of life by the maintenance and distribution of death, assigning dead zones and living deaths, replacing hence the old dialectic of colonial and the colonized world. If we think of Africa as a territory of exploitation and multinational dispossession regardless of human rights or subsistence we will approach to the living dead version which is posed by necropower of Mbembe.


AIDS, after all, and its pandemic / geopolitical spread will determine two conditions: the deviated diseased body and the healthy national body. The pandemic focuses in an abnormal multitude, a collective group of misguided and unproductive, a community outside of the political production of standardized bodies.


There is a quote on which I would like to go back to understand this normal and productive body in reaction to the pandemic. Jacques Derrida interpreted the emergence of email as one of the effects of AIDS. A connected and linked multitude, but disembodied, with no mediated contact whatsoever, as an example of the terror of physical infection. A productive and connected but canceled body. I'm going back to another event of 1984, that anodyne year in which nothing happens.


Along with the public recognition and detection of HIV, another viral presentation takes place, in terms of global spread. The first personal computer, the Macintosh, is introduced. 1984 wont be like 1984, George Orwell’s quote in a famous ad filmed by Ridley Scott, his first job right after the dystopian Blade Runner. In the spot, a mass with no will rebels against Big Brother, understood to be the then dominant corporation in the office environment (IBM). This new personal computer will be characterized by turning easy and simple tasks previously fragmented and specialized, eliminating the distinction between workers, between office-home and, ultimately, between worker and subject. The Macintosh will inaugurate a permanent productivity that keeps you always available, always connected, always producing, in some way it will reshape the domestic sphere according to the time and needs of the financial economy. Quoting Jonathan Crary, transforming natural time in an empire of constant attention. Each computer is a terminal and each terminal is a person who produces in a new global networked crowd, a new body modeled after the absence of borders and times of financial economics.


What is paradoxical is that this transformation opens a supposed sense of freedom and social improvement, when, as we know it involves an impoverishment of time and an ongoing self-commodification of the subject. A new collective modeled under the conditions of the new factory. A"productive" body affected by an external agent that, in symbiosis, modifies its behavior on a global scale. Is it not, as the very ad of the Mac remarked, "insanely great"? Is it not the same definition of a pandemic with which we began?


[1] My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes. Pronunciada en micrófono abierto en  Agosto 1984 en la NPR. Ver

[2] Ver el documental Magnus Temple. Tetris: From Russia With Love. BBC, 2004.

[3] Fukuyama, Huntington, etc.

[4] Comaroff, Jean, “Beyond bare life: Aids, (Bio)Politics, and The Neoliberal Order”, Public culture, 19:1, p. 197-198.

[5] 70.000 unidades en el primer mes