Passagen Streams#1: The Dark Side of Progress
Critical Voices on The Corona Crisis
A Conversation with Peter Engelmann and Jean-Luc Nancy on June 10, 2020
Engelmann: Dear Guests, I welcome you to the Passagen Streams, our new online format, by which we try to give our authors a voice during the corona crisis. I would like to thank our collaborating partners, the Volksbühne Berlin, the Gessnerallee in Zurich and the Kunsthalle Vienna for the realization of this project. For our first Passagen Stream I would like to warmly welcome Jean-Luc Nancy, our long-time author and friend. He has joined us from Strasbourg.
Dear Jean-Luc, was the lockdown, which imprisons all humanity, another step towards the formation of an authoritarian state, or was it justified to contain the pandemic?
Nancy: The lockdown, as you call it, was justified. If you look at what we knew about the different things, about the possibilities, at least I believe that the core of the question is aimed at the alleged authoritarian state and I see no signs of authoritarianism of the state, no signs at all. Furthermore, these are states that had no interest in taking authoritarian measures. In fact, they have difficulties in doing so, particularly France. I believe that there is a discussion that is completely pointless.
Engelmann: Giorgio Agamben speaks of the fact that with the measures to contain the Corona crisis the threshold from humanity to barbarism has been crossed.
Nancy: The interpretation of our friend Agamben is an interpretation that is based on a prejudice that has nothing to do with the situation and that is based on the assumption that the state, the modern state, wants only one thing: to create states of exception and to transform the entire territory of the country into an extermination camp, or at least into a penal camp. I have no idea where such an interpretation comes from. I think that Agamben confuses two things here, namely the state and the technical-economic machinery that indeed controls the whole world. But when you talk about this machinery, it is not as if it wants to set up a penal camp for everyone. This machine does not want anything. It does not know what it wants even though it constantly moves forward (progresses). In any case, it is the case that the states naturally have many connections, interests, necessities tied to this machinery, but there is no conspiracy and no intentional calculation. And what is stupid is that the interpretation of Agamben names a culprit even though there is no culprit. We are all guilty. You could say with Dostoyevsky, we are all guilty and I more than anyone else. We are all part of that machinery. Continue reading