Receipt: December 3, 2023
Acceptance: January 16, 2023
The turn of the millennium inaugurated a new phase in the history of humanity. From the post-boom of the ’90s, we moved to a new global consciousness, a product of cybernetics and ecological catastrophe. Humanity faces a crisis of futurity. The work of Signa Lab reflects this global turn in both its cybernetic and environmental aspects. Over three decades, the work of its founder, Rossana Reguillo, has been marked by the same political commitment and the same urgent concern about the persistence of violence, fears, atrocity, visuality, now articulated by technopolitics.
Keywords: future, millennial, planetary, knowledges, technopolitics
the spin of the planet and the crisis of futures: brief commentary on the text of rossana reguillo
The turn of the millennium inaugurated a new phase in the history of humanity. From the post- boom of the '90s, we moved to a new global consciousness, a product of cybernetics and ecological catastrophe. Humanity faces a crisis of futurity. The work of Signa Lab reflects this global turn in both its cybernetic and environmental aspects. Over three decades, the work of its founder, Rossana Reguillo, has been marked by the same political commitment and the same urgent concern about the persistence of violence, fears, atrocity, visuality, now articulated by technopolitics.
Keywords: futurity, millennial, planetarity, technopolitics.
The turn of the millennium has marked a new phase in the trajectory of humanity and the planet. The pivot is manifested in the construction of knowledge, the central theme of Rossana Reguillo's beautiful essay. The 1990s were the time of the post: postmodern, postcolonial, posthistorical. They fostered an intellectual subject that, with its back to the future, looked to the past and contemplated the great narratives that had already been exhausted and had become objects of study. The neoliberal wave was taking over everything, turning humanity into an agent of the extractivist, hyper-productive, hyper-consuming, wasteful capitalist machine. The millennium, on the other hand, inaugurated a turn towards the future and a crisis of futurity. The thinking subject turned around to contemplate an apocalyptic future, of environmental catastrophe, marked by unprecedented uncertainty and unpredictability. (As was the crisis of the y2k, when we did not know whether, at the time of the transition to the year 2000, all the computers in the world would settle in or burst.) What would be the value, the authority of the sciences, if they no longer relied on their ability to predict, on repeatability; if systems began to function unpredictably; if laws no longer governed the events they once dominated? A crisis of knowledge that unfolded on a planetary level with the covid-19 pandemic. The demand to listen to scientists clashed with the fact that what they "knew", the authoritative word, changed from one day to the next.
The turn of the millennium also marked the passage from the global to the planetary. It is hard to remember now that it was only in the late 1990s that the concept of the planetary began to spread in intellectual discourse. In literary studies -speaking from the U.S.-Gayatri Spivak began to speak of planetarity at the end of that decade. In her methodological manifesto, La muerte de la disciplina (2003), introduced the concept of planetarity as an instrument to distance ourselves from "capitalist-humanist globality". Other critics, such as Masao Miyoshi (1991), also proposed a "planetary turn" in the construction of knowledge. Popular culture, as always, anticipated and prophesied the change. In 1999 in Los Angeles, a comic book series was launched entitled Planetary, which was about a team of superheroes called the Future Archaeologists, who operated in the space known as the Wildstorm Universe.. In Peru, the religious sect Alfa y Omega (2001) preached new knowledge coming in telepathic messages communicated by "a divine solar father (extraterrestrial) coming from the distant suns Alfa and Omega of the Trine galaxy". He announced a "new reign of truth, justice and equality with new heaven, new earth and new knowledge". I remember my surprise in 2003, when the then president of France, Jacques Chirac, called for "une réponse planétaire" to the AIDS epidemic. Planétaire! Ten years ago, or five, I thought, no one would have used that word. The planetary imaginary was beginning to blossom. From the exhausted prefix post-, was transferred to the geo-, inaugurating geohistory, geoaesthetics, geolinguistics, geohumanities and geontology, which Elizabeth Povinelli defines as a field of knowledge where "the living and the nonliving co-compose to produce singular modes of existence and forms of power -and empowerment" ("the living and the nonliving co-compose to produce singular modes of existence and forms of power -and empowerment" Povinelli, 2016: 5). Another way of thinking about it all. New concepts to orient us towards futures that are a tangle of apocalyptic certainty - environmental catastrophe, mass extinctions - and total uncertainty - when, how, where, how much, with what speed, at what scale?
As Povinelli's quote suggests, the shift from the global to the planetary produces a decentralization of the human and of human agency. For Spivak, it was necessary to reimagine ourselves as "planetary subjects" rather than "global agents." This new planetary subject, it is assumed, recognizes its coexistence with the other non-human entities that share the planet, living and non-living, its interdependence with them and its reciprocal responsibilities to them. The planetary subject also recognizes that the activity of "global agents" has produced unsustainable ecological conditions, futures that humanity will not be able to control, or even anticipate. This is the crisis of futurity. The passage from global agent to planetary subject requires new knowledge, ontologies and ambitions; to build not structures and systems, but strategies to live uncertainty, ignorance, non-idea. As Elizabeth Kolbert says, "The choice is not between what is and what was, but between what is and what will be" (2021: 17). Uncertainty is the new certainty.
Together with ecological consciousness, the cybernetic revolution has obviously been a leading force in the formation of planetarity and the planetary subject, as it not only makes planetaryized experiences possible but also easy. An early example was the February 14, 2003 demonstration against the imminent invasion of Iraq by the United States. Protesters in Istanbul and Lagos communicated by phone with those in New York and Buenos Aires. Another was the long drama of the rescue of 33 Chilean miners trapped for 69 days in the heart of the planet in 2010, which became a celebration of global collaboration, in front of a planetary audience.
These two axes of the planetary, i.e., the ecological and the cybernetic, are clearly manifested in the work of Signa_Lab, presented by the eminent cultural critic Rossana Reguillo in the essay we write about here. Using search engines available on the web, the Signa_Lab team studies the responses and reactions to public events in real time or in the aftermath: the earthquake in Mexico City in September 2022, the covid-19 pandemic, Ayotzinapa, the YoSoy132 movement, the terrible femicides of Ernestina Ascencio and Ingrid Escamilla. The team presents the results of the investigations not in a linear or discursive way, but through a cybernetic and distinctly planetary visual aesthetic. Specifically, the representations (works) recycle and reinvent the foundational image of the Earth photographed from the Moon by astronaut William Anders in 1968. As in that original photo, the vividly colored pie charts float in the air against a black background that represents the vastness of the cosmos. The Signa_Lab project, however, is methodological, not representational. It proposes to experiment with new ways of constructing knowledge, of analyzing data, corresponding to large-scale objects of study that emerge from cybernetic performance. How can cyberspace be understood in terms that move, that make us feel, that mobilize the imagination and the force of the mythical? In its important manifesto The Great Derangement (2016), South Asian novelist and critic Amitav Ghosh laments the impoverishment and deformation of the modern Western imaginary brought about by the imposition of realism as an aesthetic and epistemic norm associated with industrial capitalism. Clinging to the particular and the local, realism creates subjects incapable of imagining forces and transformations on the broad planetary scale now necessary. Signa_Lab's work attempts to overcome this impoverishment, but without leaving behind the authority of empirical data. The data loses its locality, its specificity, its autonomy, to be absorbed in a massive representation of ephemeral connections around a news item.
The brilliant Rossana Reguillo has always worked with ethical, social and political urgency. As she herself states here, the issues of violence, fears, visuality, threats to social pacts are themes that have preoccupied her since the 1990s. Now she integrates ecological devastation as an actor and protagonist in the construction of futures. Post-nafta Mexico has been the scene of her research and the object of her ethical-political commitment, as well as of her love. The category of the atrocious provokes her. Looking at the photos of Abu Ghraib, of the femicides, she wonders: "How is it possible that such things happen, that there are human beings capable of such abominations, and then celebrate them? Thinking of Amitav Ghosh, I am of the opinion that the category of the heinous marks exactly the point at which realism yields to the mythical. It marks a change of scale. The atrocious, like the sublime, confronts the realist imaginary with something it cannot normalize. The atrocious always provokes what Reguillo identifies as a mode of knowledge capable of inciting demands for change. According to her, the instrument of change in the cybernetic age is technopolitics - cyberactivism and cybersolidarity.
The productions investigated by Signa_Lab offer striking portraits of cybernetic connectivity, and celebrate its capacity to generate democratic participation, vast communities and shared experiences. The question then arises as to whether the enormous mobilizing capacities of technopolitics will serve the political right better than the left. Unlike the left, today's rightists freely break the pact of fact versus invention, truth versus lies, as part of a political strategy that generates responsive knowledge and community participation through invented stories, composed to mobilize anti-democratic forces. Authoritarian right-wingers have had the luxury of taking full advantage of the arts of fiction. For democratic movements, this counterfeit machinery represents an unacceptable contradiction to the ends of democracy, a dilemma that does not exist for the right. In our crisis of futurity, the future of technopolitics also remains unpredictable and uncertain.
Alfa y Omega (2001). Divina Revelación. Lima: s/e.
Ghosh, Amitav (2016). The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Kolbert, Elizabeth (2021). Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future. Nueva York: Crown.
Povinelli, Elizabeth (2016). Geontologies: A Requiem to Late Liberalism. Durham: Duke University Press.
Miyoshi, Masao (1991). “Turn to the Planet: Literature, Diversity, Totality”. Comparative Literature, 43:4, pp. 283-97.
Spivak, Gyatri (2003). La muerte de una disciplina. Xalapa: Universidad Veracruzana.
Mary Louise Pratt is Professor Emeritus at New York University in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese and the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis.