An allegory of the omnipotent state, the Leviathan occurs in Lidia Ginzburg’s notes from 1943-44 and in the context of her reflections on the experiences of surviving in, and living on after, the unprecedented human catastrophe of the siege of Leningrad. Ginzburg describes her time as the “era of great experiences and tests” which started in 1914: the era of world wars with their “maximum non-freedom” and the “absolute non-freedoms” imposed by the all-powerful state, the Leviathan. The siege of Leningrad is not an exception from such a history, but a culmination of the “non-freedoms” of Soviet and, more broadly, European modernity of the twentieth century. All of these events/experiences produced a generation that “became history’s experimental material. And history burned it and disemboweled it and minced it into a bloody mess.” In the siege of Leningrad, various dimensions of “non-freedom”— total mobilization and total war, state terror, and mass death – culminate, converge, and confirm one another. In the struggle for survival amidst destruction, repression, and starvation, Ginzburg tries to understand the Leviathan, the omnipotent state that sanctions and orchestrates the massive obliteration of life. The new Leviathan emerges as a complex aggregate of different power technologies involving various aspects of life and, hence, producing different overlapping regimes of “non-freedoms.”
According to Ginzburg, the subject is involved in the workings of the Leviathan in many ways. Moreover, as exemplified by the experience of the civilian in the siege, the individual depends on the Leviathan for elementary survival. This political and biopolitical complexity makes Ginzburg’s critique more challenging than the trivial understanding of “non-freedom” as a mere deprivation of rights. Matters of life and death in the siege, as Ginzburg’s witness account shows, are deeply politicized, and the power to administer and distribute life and death constitute the foundation of the New Leviathan’s omnipotence. The New Leviathan’s three vectors of power – repression, discipline, and biopower — each in their own way contribute to the destruction of the human and usher a new, post-human historical subject summed up in the figure of distrofik (a patient of starvation disease in the terminal stage) overpowered by the total indifference between life and death, between living and surviving. I propose to look at the strategies and politics involved in such a subjectivity, with a special emphasis on the “choreography” of besiegement: its spatio-temporal structure, its corporeality, and strategies of surviving its post-human condition, as well as the dilemmas of living on “ever after”.
Invited lecture at Weaving Politics: International interdisciplinary symposium on choreography, violence and human rights
14 – 16 December 2012, Dansens Hus, Stockholm.