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Book Review

Maurizio Ferraris – Post-Coronial Studies – Seicento sfumature di virus [Post-Coronial Studies – 600 shades of virus], 2021, Giulio Enaudi Editore S.p.A., Turin, Italy.

 

 

The proposed book tries to map, from a philosophical point of view, a new phenomenon that developed in the pandemic years under the title of Post-Colonial Studies – 600 shades of virus. The author innovates conceptually by proposing the term post-coronial studies, in which he subsumes a series of theoretical and reflective analyses of how the threat of the Covid-19 virus has changed social thinking and human life forever. Ferraris distinguishes between the term “post-colonial studies” (he associates it with a closed historical stage, in which humanity has victimized itself sufficiently for its decisions) and “postcolonial studies”, in which, in essence, it aims to analyse behaviours and logical strings that have brought a change of paradigms in our lives, from the approach of technology, to the ecological impact, to progress, all in an innovative key and marked by the hope for a prosperous future.

Structurally, the volume consists of four chapters, prefaced by a prologue and closed in a circular epilogue, as it follows: Prologo – Elzevirus [Prologue – The Elzevirus], Documentazione del mondo della vita [Documentation of the World of Life], Virus complottista [The Conspiracy virus], Virus biopolitico [The Biopolitical virus], L’educazione dell’Homo sapiens [The education of Homo sapiens], Epilogo – Nudo virus [Epilogue – The Naked virus].

The author proposes a current script and as truthful as possible from the ontological sphere, bringing, at the table of analyses, good historical and literary references. The fragility of the ecosystem, the responsibility of man for his own future and the opportunities offered by new technologies are the themes that are at the heart of this study. After a careful mapping of the historical texts, chosen from different fields, the author seeks to provide truly useful political proposals for the future.

The first chapter, Documentazione del mondo della vita [Documentation of the World of Life] issues around a series of human behaviours and expressions, which were established in the pandemic and during the period of confinement. For example, the analysis in the subchapter “Biosfera” shows how the mankind, in this interval, has managed to produce such a large number of documents, comparable to what has been written throughout all the human history (it seems an exaggeration, but hyperbolization is a conscious intention of the author). In this sense, the term documanità (derived from the fusion of the lexemes documento and umanità) comes as a founding concept: social relations are interspersed above all among documents, from the coronation rituals of antiquity to historical archives and web pages we use today. We notice, therefore, a paradigm shift: from homo sapiens we move to homo faber, the man who not only thinks but also produces. He produces documents, contents. The next subchapter covers a narrative line between terms such as: Erlebnis (translated by Ferraris from German as “lived experience”, a kind of social inclination, an intrinsic need of mankind to map, to write, to keep a journal during the pandemic, as the virus has changed the collective thinking from a communicative and reflexive point of view, to follow how the social exigencies are born and how the banal is rediscovered, making it extraordinary, especially in the architectural spaces, which are becoming one of the main concerns in this regard); impressione (“impression”; quoting Heidegger, Freud and theories of trauma, the author believes that this biological virus had the ability to really scare humanity, seeking a relief not only in the pharmaceutical mirage, but also in technology considered common , the one that serves the act of writing); espressione (“expression”, in which the pandemic brought with it a whole series of lexical novelties, such as: coronavirus, Covid-19, virus, corona, anti-virus, lockdown, social distancing, pandemic, as well as a series of psycho-socio-semiotics analyses of today’s society); interpretazione (“interpretation”, through which each individual was able to offer, through online and offline documents, his own version, contributing to the creation of an extensive palette of interpretations about the virus).

The second chapter, Virus complottista [The Conspiracy Virus], it highlights the way in which humanity does not just notice that something has happened in history, but wants to know why this tragedy happened to them. The answers can be translated in a negationist form (“the virus does not exist because it is not precisely defined” / “everything can be cured with a pill”), in a minimalist form (authorized sources have come to deny the reality and severity of the virus, to keep social peace), in a benaltrism type (“the virus exists, but at the moment there are even more important problems to be solved”), in a conspiracy form (which exacerbates the fight for truth and reality) and in a nihilistic type (derived from Friedrich’s Nietzsche thinking: in the field of postmodern philosophy, the term denotes the total rejection of technological and intellectual progress so far and calls for a return – a coming back, maybe – to the origins). The proposed arguments can be combined, divided or merged in such complex terms that any result becomes useful to give us a perspective on the society in pandemic. According to Foucault, “madness tells us a lot about the society in which we live” but it is also important to mobilize to study the phenomenon in order to find solutions to treat the anomaly. Not so much is known about this virus yet, but one thing is sure: as days go by, we discover new things about the virus, about ourselves and about our world.

In the third chapter, Virus biopolitico, [The Biopolitical virusul], Ferraris draws an imaginary spider’s web and places words as Natura, Tecnologia, Politica in it. It forces us to think that Nature is good, Technology is bad and Politic is tyrannical. He then invites us to dwell on the first word and reflect on the idea of ​​divinity, whether there was a God in the pandemic period or whether it is a Mother Nature who feels harmed by human greed. Could our ecological knowledge have predicted and controlled the pandemic from the very beginning? Could the reduction in biodiversity be the cause of the acceleration of the virus? Technology seems to have taken the reins of power: something that humanity has created will be the dominant force. However, the author urges us to think in the opposite direction: if the gesture of “automating” could be translated into a positive vision. A machine can be run by people to serve a noble purpose, even great, and the internet (understood as an automatic technology) can be a tool that mankind would master only for its development. After all, Ferraris believes that, without humanity, the Internet would not exist and would not evolve. It is imperative, from the author’s point of view, even essential for post-coronal studies, to think that machines are totally dependent on people. Humanity created technology, not the opposite, and this creation could not go anywhere without humanity, it could not evolve. Machines, for example, don’t get tired, don’t have needs, don’t die, and don’t have anything, therefore, what is called temporality, finality, responsibility or some, will be necessary for a possible “rebellion” against humanity. Technology becomes an instrument, a tool, prosthesis for a natural evolution of humanity.

We end the chaptersˈ presentation with “L’educazione dell’homo sapiens” [The education of Homo sapiens], in which the author explains how this virus accelerated the technological and social processes. Under normal conditions, it would have developed over the years, decades or even longer. Acceleration has occurred and amplified not only physically (“walking with them” the virus), but also technologically, what Ferraris identifies in the internet / web (and hence the concept of web fare): a huge added value, which is produced by man, consumable only by him and which sets in motion the engine of the economy, leaving traces (data) in its passage. Adding value, which, however, is problematic: is it recognized? Are the jobs generated by the pandemic recognized? But about those trades that disappeared with the advent of the virus, what can be predicted and what can be done? One of the main concerns of the philosopher is that the social assistance system (the welfare system) must support and recognize work more than before. So, in this context, today’s philosophy can become a window through which we look critically at this “new” world, inviting us to discover it with different eyes.

The paper, in short, has the merit of opening a wide horizon, for many perspectives, from almost any point of view, while reviving a kind of enthusiasm that seemed to be lost (remember the slogan “And everything will be fine!”), the need to reconsider and appreciate the usual things around us, especially on the contemporary artistic level. It is true that the pandemic period has forced a paradigm shift and that there is a great deal of uncertainty about the future. Ferraris wants to reassure the informed reader by proposing new directions for action, revealing the possibilities and unimaginable resources at its disposal, despite the difficulties that may arise in their exploitation.

 

About the Author

Erika Guadagnin

Center of Excellence in Image Studies (CESI), Faculty of Letters, University of Bucharest

guadagninerika87@gmail.com

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