260 aim of preventing us from becoming conscious of our condition. Of what does this new condition consist? We no longer actively seek, through our praxis, the death of the master. We no longer believe that the master is mortal. And inasmuch as (s)he is no longer mortal, we are left with only one possible illusion – that we ourselves can join the ranks of the masters. This is the only longing that remains – the master desire of our times. We live out this longing on our screens, the new historical stage. The screen not only attempts to cancel out the distance between fiction and reality, it has become the generator of reality. It has become one of the conditions of life in this century. More or less everywhere, including in the old nations that lay claim to a long democratic history, democracy is in crisis. To a much greater extent than before, democracy has enormous difficulty granting memory and speech their full value as the foundation of a human world which we can share, and which the public sphere should safeguard. I emphasize speech and language not only because of their revelatory power and their symbolic function, but especially because of their materiality. In every authentic democratic regime there is a materiality of speech, because basically we have nothing but speech and language with which to name ourselves, to name and act upon the world. As things are now, the constant flood of events that batters our consciousness is no CAPITALISM AS A NEW KIND OF ANIMISM The challenge is thus to ask how we can release the capacity of the subjugated for revolt in the specific conditions of our time. For what will it actually mean to create oneself, to pursue one’s own destiny or even to fashion oneself, now that humankind is simply one force among many others endowed with cognitive powers that will perhaps soon exceed our own? What all along we understood to be the human is about to be shattered beyond recognition, a mere fragment amidst a jumble of artificial, organic, synthetic, indeed even geological forces. Looking beyond Africa, the challenge is in short to establish how, in current conditions, we can develop a way of thinking that will help to strengthen democratic politics on the global scale; a mode of thinking that can embrace complementarities rather than differences. We are in fact living through a strange period in the history of humanity. One of the paradoxes of contemporary capitalism is that it simultaneously creates and negates time. This two-edged process in which time is both created and exploded has a devastating effects on our ability to ‘create memory’, which basically means to create spaces together for collective decision-making and to experience a truly democratic life. In lieu of memory we have multiplied our capacity to tell stories – all kinds of stories. But more and more, these are obsessive stories with the longer a singular being endowed with originality. He or she is a particle in a system, a bit of information to be incorporated in a code that can be connected with other codes according to a heightened logic of abstraction. When one no longer encounters others except in a spectral sphere, self-reification (becoming a thing) is the best way of capitalizing on the self. The digital universe, like the world of the computer screen, is an astral universe typified by fluid transitions, glows and irradiations. But it is also the universe of the mega-calculations, another regime of the intellect that can be characterized as anthropo-mechanical. We are in other words an epochal redefining of the human. We are moving away from the grand division into mankind, animal and machine that has been so crucial to the discourse of modernity. The human being of today will in future be linked directly and closely to animal and machine, to an assemblage of artificial intelligences, duplications and triplications that will underpin the extensive digitalization of our life. In these conditions, many are asking who are today’s slave masters. The paradox is that today’s masters no longer need slaves. The slaves have become too great a burden, and their masters seek above all to be rid of them. The great paradox of the 21st century is thus the emergence of a class of masters without slaves. This reversal is logical after all, since the new capitalism, although animistic in form, is mostly spectral in content. Certainly, human beings as much as natural resources continue to be squeezed to feed profits. But the raw materials of the economy are no longer territories and natural resources. True, these still play a role, but they no longer constitute the primary matter of capital. Increasingly the latter is to be found in the world of processors, in biological and artificial organisms, in the world of human brains and automated computations, of work with more and more miniaturized data and objects. The masters have understood this, and as I have said will attempt to divest themselves of their slaves, the idea being that with no slaves there can be no revolt. It is thought that to stifle potential insurrections at their roots, it is enough to release the mimetic potential of the subalterns. As long as the subalterns expend their energies trying to mimic the masters that they will never become, no revolt will be possible.
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