We have been waiting out crises for as long as we can remember.
Our ‘normal’ is organized around successive ruptures and disruptions: a fragile assemblage of gestures, discourses, and affects riding the fantasy of continuity—whether inscribed in history or the everyday. Within this given reality, uncertainty has in itself become a convention of our lives.
In the past twenty years alone, our worlds have witnessed the crushing failures of popular revolts and the normalization of military curfews and mass incarceration; the expansion of settler colonial terror, the enforcement of US militarism, proxy interventions, and extrajudicial killings; and on-again, off-again international sanctions that have slowly suffocated already isolated populations and economies. It is through and against these dynamics of historical unpredictability that we have designed our quotidian routines and makeshift futures, knowing all too well that they could be thrown into disorder at any given point, to be muted and taken over by the singular—and crude—business of survival.
Ashkal Alwan emerged in and was structured around crisis, specifically that of the postwar reconstruction project and its expropriation of the commons. Like most regional cultural institutions, we learned to navigate a terrain where a force majeure event is always at the precipice of unfolding.
When, in 2002, we held the first edition of Home Works Forum, gathering artists, scholars, activists, and writers to formulate critical inquiries and aesthetic provocations in response to shifting political conditions, its opening coincided with the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in Palestine. Our second and third editions of the forum were both delayed by over six months, due respectively to the US invasion of Iraq in April 2003 and the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005. At that point, Home Works—and, more broadly, any and all cultural gatherings that required similar arrangements—would settle into what we had then termed “a regular schedule of regular disruption.” Our modus operandi was in fact molded by these conditions of perpetual postponement, impelling us to construct modes of practice that must always respond to these disruptions.
On the morning of October 17, 2019, we were set to launch the eighth edition of Home Works, which we’d conceived around notions of ‘world-building’ and the radical imagination. That same night, thousands upon thousands of protesters took to the streets, demanding an end to over thirty years of neoliberal policies, sectarian rule, and corruption. It felt like time itself could, for once, be recalibrated towards the realization of our communal desires. A couple of days later, we unregretfully canceled the forum as we’d started experiencing a liminal juncture, a ‘pause’ in time, where uncertainty and the suspension of business-as-usual might, for once, translate to emancipated futures.
Today, the COVID-19 pandemic has abruptly imposed itself on a planetary scale, demonstrating the limitations of contingency planning under extractive capitalism. Due to social distancing and confinement measures, our doors closed once again.
The virus’s totalizing grip on our lives has proven decisive in accelerating our need to rethink fundamental characteristics of how our world is organized in terms of economic and social modes of being. This includes addressing conditions of massive precarity created by the current valuation of capital-labor relations, in an economy built around mass consumption and resource exploitation. We are told we’re on the brink of a world-yet-to-come, designed to summon that which has long been dormant, latent, or inexistent. Myriad predictive scenarios currently float in the air. While some of these predictions present changes that have already perturbed our psyches in the past, others either seem promising or terrifying in their novelty, suggesting that this is a time of transformative potentiality that can, with conscious effort, be geared towards repair.
As we wait on our governments to undo decades of criminal governance in order to respond to the current health and financial crises, the questions, for those who can afford to ask them, abound: what is it to inhabit a world being discontinued? Will we traverse this anxious space and time with wisdom, or will this uncertainty paralyze us? Can we delink our imaginaries from the violence that is folding itself into the recesses of future predictions? How do we push against the perpetual postponement of our expectations, desires, and insurrections?
This critical moment has, for better or worse, allowed us to reconcile with the humility of not knowing.
That is why Ashkal Alwan has decided to set up an online publishing platform that convenes artists, writers, scholars, and activists from different geographies and disciplines to make sense of and tune into our delayed destinies. This discursive exchange wishes to open up a possibility for the reclaiming of our agency amid our shared condition of stuckedness—either through speculative exercises in worldbuilding, or perhaps through sober intonations of the now.
Perpetual Postponement is an online pulishing platform that will launch on June 20, 2020.
Image: Rabih Mroué's Who's Afraid of Representation?, performed by Rabih Mroué and Lina Majdalanie at Masrah Al Madina in 2005, as part of Home Works III: A Forum on Cultural Practices. From the Ashkal Alwan archive.