m of care – may 13
A special group this week, as we will be welcoming Alexei Yurchak, who will present his essay ‘Communist Proteins: Lenin’s Skin, Astrobiology, and the Origin of Life.’Here is the link to text:
Alexei is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Berkeley. He is the author of Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation, and famously coined the term of ‘hypernormalisation.’ So we’re very lucky to welcome him.And here is the link to the meeting:
notes/quotes from meeting:
dmitrii intro’ing alexei: known for book – everything was forever until it was no more.. summary: very influential in academia and beyond in russia.. debated widely.. helps to understand things.. offered plausible explanation for why it is wrong to see soviet experience in binary terms.. ie: cynical or stupid/deceived.. important breakthru in thinking about that time.. wasn’t that simple.. wasn’t either/or choice.. so this is showing a non binary view.. argues that soviet discourse/acts.. the official life people were living.. this entire body of ideology became hyper normalized.. that normalization that occurred after stalin’s death.. became engine reproducing hyper normalization rituals.. which offered opp for ‘performative shift’.. social effects became more important than literal content.. this hypernormalization/performative-shift.. created space for alts.. points to chain of events that led to fall of soviet union.. so no one was really surprised.. helped to make sense of many hard to understand cultures.. shared this link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lenin_was_a_mushroom
vassily shared in chat: I guess everyone here heard about Adam Curtis’s documentary, Hypernormalisation…
alexei: don’t know how to assess the diversity of the audience.. which is probably a good thing.. i should explain to you why this strange wacky paper appeared.. part of a larger project i’m working on .. project on lenin’s body.. and the lab that has maintained that body.. as anthropologist.. nothing is as closed as it may appear from the outside.. main problem was for me to explain to them that i wasn’t trying to ridicule .. many things about soviet union are ironic or very cynical.. i just wanted to study it.. many scientists responded positively to that..
alexei: the point is that it’s not quite a history of lenin’s body.. but also part of how to preserve something that’s not reducible to just a human being
alexei: so it is always lenin’s body and something bigger.. connected to concept of sovereignty.. the sovereign center of power… something external to political field.. that you can’t question.. that you start from.. that everything is linked to .. common to any political system.. in america founding fathers of constitution are unquestionable.. very difficult to question and be a politician in the us
alexei: so too.. no politician in su could question leninism.. point is that i trace how this is linked to text and body.. so idea was we really shouldn’t bury him like any other human being.. should be a ritual site.. then hard.. after preservation of body started.. hard to go back.. and try to bury it
alexei: the illness is very important for understanding the preservation.. how lenin was doubled.. already.. the text as well.. there were 10 bodies.. all done by same scientists et al.. evolving project.. other bodies weren’t all leninist.. i could get to lenin’s body thru those bodies..
alexei: my other interest is in biology.. search for and origins of life.. and extra terrestrial life.. i started by researching the bulgarian scientists.. ie: proteins as basis of life.. paper emerged sideways to the book .. but w focus on body itself.. very essential to think about theory of emergence.. and how systems theory is linked to that
alexei: the book i talk about is dialectics of nature.. each time you refer to engels.. get a knee jerk reaction.. from linking lenin and science.. but that’s not the case.. argue that one can’t consider theories separate.. shaped whole field of studies of origins of life.. can’t think about life as particles as carriers of life.. life is a synergistic process.. it emerges as systemic relations.. rather than concrete particle of matter.. that’s the connection to engels
nika: difficult for me to read the paper.. what was the reason for genetics being banned in su..
alexei: genetics doesn’t take the opp view.. all i’m saying .. to reduce life in terms of genetic code is reductive.. but process itself is informed by genetics.. but can’t be reduced to info genetic code provides.. but couldn’t be emergent w/o it.. reason it was kind of banned.. frowned upon.. because of this vulgar marxism su embraced after 30s.. that humans are completely malleable.. can create own change/evolution et al.. genetics seen from that position as very restrictive.. and down playing social context.. because genetics not encouraged.. lashanka celebrated
alexei: life is process.. not reproduction of same form/elements.. reproduction of diff form/elements coming into all the time.. so this processial aspect is very key.. genetic code enables that shape.. but not the only thing that enables that flow
alexei: reason systems thinking was so (huge) because compatible w systems way they were thinking already
alexei: on transhumanism.. anja bernstein’s the future of immortality.. very diff than sv transhumanism.. fantastic for research.. i agree that this reduction (sv) of it has ‘no care’.. but how it connects to what i’m writing.. 2 key figures in origins of life field were both communists.. british and soviet.. so very much impressed by evolutionary project and humanity being able to shape own evolution.. i encourage you to read the book for a (vision of) hope.. they way they thought about it had very much to do with ethics of care
alexei: (q from vassily: on sensory nature of skin.. on how you could touch the body and get properties).. have whole ch related to this in new book.. sacred body but not in the religious sense.. this wasn’t an ie for lesser intelligents.. because not a noble/relics .. (which many said it was).. for religions – body preserved w/o interference of humans.. so then bodies actually aren’t really preserved.. just bones.. not recognizable of original body..but point was to carry on relic ness.. w/lenin’s body.. it’s the opposite.. 1\ preserved to maintain exact parameters of body at death 2\ preserved w never ending interference from science.. so it was done to dispel any connection to relics (from religious saints) for lenin’s body
alexei: (q from colleen on digital death).. anja’s book has one ch on this.. on the skin.. from paper body of lenin.. i show how body is really missing a lot of organs.. all the wet organs.. that can’t be preserved well.. also a lot of artificials added.. to build up bones et al.. but one organ that can’t be sub’d or changed.. the skin.. really need to preserve the skin.. it became something well understood by all.. because if change the skin.. it stops being the body.. so huge.. how skin can be preserved in the dead body.. had to develop a lot of methods for that.. that’s why went into proteins et al.. because of very nature of skin in structure of our body.. can’t replace it .. even though missing internal organs.. this idea got developed via emerging ideas.. ie: no one just sat down and wrote it
alexei: the death mask multiplied.. sculptures.. peppered whole country w approved ones.. so tactile link .. images et al.. so w digital world.. can think about that.. i don’t think digital after life of lenin today would go beyond artistic.. ie: don’t really engage w lenin’s ideas.. so don’t really see afterlife having same as during lenin’s time.. but there might be.. so i don’t see how this digital afterlife would make any sense..
colleen: as being a representation.. but also a repetition thru the death masks..
alexei: let me back track a little.. to the death mask.. images that had to connect back to the body.. might seem at first like mask production where origin is lost.. become something else.. so ie: many countries didn’t topple lenin they toppled something else.. the thing about cloning.. they are organically linked to the original.. that’s how they mention it.. intention not to let the aura die out.. that is very interesting..
simona adds to chat: https://www.gregegan.net/
alexei: how it’s connected to digital.. nft non digital token.. on original file having an embedded code.. non changeable.. copies won’t have the hidden secret.. making the original.. and how continuing artwork can deal w authenticity.. similar .. icon in e christianity.. it’s connected to the original saint.. also connected (colleen chat shares: a skin) to nft.. to embed authenticity in a place where it seems to be absent
simona: i think they did to lenin’s body what they did to communism.. made it be something untouched.. to immobilize it.. it is the real death of lenin/communism in a way
alexei: i would also say.. sacred ness does not have to be only in religious terms.. lenin’s body was sacred.. but not in same way as a relic.. sacred in way of the unquestioned.. when something is the unquestionable.. considered to be the objective truth.. beyond debate.. as such leninism became the unquestionable.. has to continuously be maintained.. when no foundational truth to go back to.. then whole system implodes..
alexei: i would say the truth of it is not coming from science.. it comes from this voice that’s external to the political.. but doesn’t make it religious
in chat – on minting this convo.. alexei add: “Minting” is a term from digital art and NFT (“non-fungible tokens”)
alexei: i’m wondering if this is not the general condition.. ie: the constitution has been constantly re interp’d to accept new people into we the people.. some things today run counter to the original ‘framists’.. but it’s always taken as unquestionable truth.. but always changing.. at some point will actually undo itself..
nika: on sovereignty and on kings.. something bigger than individuals.. the oppressive society is when one person becomes it
alexei: but stalin never was the center in su.. he could only maintain his power by using lenin as his foundation .. so after.. there was always a claim that going back to lenin.. that stalin distorted.. that’s the diff between the sovereign and the ruler.. can’t continue w death of leader/ruler..
alexei: the doubled body.. mortal (king dies) immortal (in habits body of next king).. each king temp occupies that body and then leaves
alexei: (q from michael on how to get rid of ‘truths’ like ie: constitution) .. why it’s so important not to confuse foundational truth w belief.. ie: in america law can be overturned if deemed unconstitutional.. this is why position of constitution is diff from our belief in these things.. not that we believe in it.. but that we take it as unquestionable.. don’t even have to believe the king is the king.. but no way to change it unless everyone deciding it’s ie: unconstitutional.. constant ref to constitution.. and this is only mech for which it is undone.. so positions is external.. w/o that it won’t be changed.. but of course one day will change.. but not until we change the whole system.. not that people believe the system.. but they believe it’s unchangeable..
ie: a nother way
nika: why are you going to extra terrestrial life.. how is it connected
alexei: didn’t come out of paper.. just always had that interest.. astrologist and physicist first.. but the connection is that i’m interested in something that’s systemic.. that can’t be explained in terms of internal rules.. extra terrestrial similar.. helps understand life here..
nika: asking if related to roy bhaskar..
alexei: don’t know much about him.. need to read more
alexei: body of lenin.. hidden science of communist sovereignty