The most radical change in the human condition we can imagine would be an emigration of men from the earth to some other planet. Such an event, no longer totally impossible, would imply that man would have to live under man-made conditions, radically different from those the earth offers him. Neither labor nor work nor action nor, indeed, thought as we know it would then make sense any longer. Yet even these hypothetical wanderers from the earth would still be human; but the only statement we could make regarding their “nature” is that they still are conditioned beings, even though their condition is now self-made to a considerable extent.
To this self-made condition belong the laws of a technological progress that is directed towards the future and permanently destroys its own past. Intellectuals and artists are often plagued by a feeling: I make effort after effort, and nothing stable comes out of it, because the next generation uses different technologies, different fashions, and they don’t respect what I have done. In our culture, based as it is on the idea of progress, the feeling of precariousness is universal. That is why the Russian cosmists spoke about immortality and resurrection: they wanted to—at least partially—redirect progress from the future towards the past. And they took the museum as a model.
AW: I can see how thinking about these bigger questions is important, especially at a time when we are all sort of scrambling.
BG: They are simple questions, but everyone feels their relevance. You know, in many of his texts Andy Warhol says that he is interested in keeping leftovers.
AW: He had this thing where he boxed everything.
BG: And he was a commercial artist. At the same time, he had a desire to keep things from being discarded, from becoming garbage. This was a reaction against our culture, which destroys everything—either through consumption or through rejection.
AW: Well, I have another question for you then regarding your own subjectivity in this climate. In your essay “Genealogy of Humanity,” you wrote:
The truly emancipated individual experiences oneself, rather, as an artwork that should be protected from decay and annihilation. Accordingly, true technology is the technology of sustainability. Thus, museum technology cares for individual things, makes them last, makes them immortal. The Christian immortality of the soul is replaced by the immortality of things or bodies in the museum.6
You were speaking about the cosmists’ desire to return the human body from being an object to a subject. This continued objectification of the body—I’m not sure if this is something I am interpreting correctly—is already happening. At NASA, for example, as part of the Human Research Program, there was a “twin study” for which astronaut Scott Kelly spent a year on the International Space Station (from March 2015 to 2016) while his genetic copy, or twin brother, astronaut Mark Kelly was on earth. According to the official report published in the journal Science three years after Scott Kelly’s return to earth, “Long-duration missions that will take humans to Mars and beyond are planned by public and private entities for the 2020s and 2030s; therefore, comprehensive studies are now needed to assess the impact of long-duration spaceflight on the human body, brain, and overall physiology.”7
The language of science always underscores the objectification of the body. I think about how language works in this subject-object divide. But perhaps the astronauts regard this case as a modern-day sacrifice. Astronauts risk death to explore the outer reaches of what is humanly possible, not unlike the ancient Mesoamerican warriors who traveled to an alternate dimension through self-sacrifice by climbing to the top of pyramids and plunging to their deaths. Maybe this image is too dramatic, but the point is that in addition to a philosophical schema, cosmism seems to also be a spiritual framework for considering our collective relationship to the cosmos.
Maybe it’s not the subject-object divide but rather the decentering of the subject. The subject is dissolved, similar to the dissolution of the ego in the Buddhist tradition—so there is no subject and object. Do you think there’s any relationship between cosmism and Buddhism?
BG: I think the problem is not so much the sacrifice itself, but whether we get compensated for it. In the Christian tradition this compensation is divine grace. In our times it is the collective memory of people sacrificing themselves for the common good. It was very characteristic of the Christian church to create an archive for sacrifice, for martyrdom.
Sacrifice is always connected to the process of archiving. Capitalism tends to negate archives; today physical archives are financially in a very bad position. This economic dissolution of archives creates a feeling that whatever we do, it all disappears—it is all for nothing. If people don’t have the feeling that their sacrifice is valued, then they just enjoy life. They think the only thing they have is life here and now, so they want their life to be a life of pleasure.