Thursday, June 23, 2022

Dark Reflections at Dusk on Riva Dei Sette Martiri

21 June 2015

During each Biennale the line of yachts anchored along the Riva dei Sette Martiri a short distance from the traditional seat of the exhibition in the Giardini tends to represent a rogues gallery of international oligarchs: mobsters from around the world, like Russia's Roman Abramovich, who've made a killing (quite literally: see Russia's "Aluminum Wars" of the 1990s) in the kleptocratic privatization of their home country's assets, or monopolists like Microsoft co-fonder Paul Allen. 

The yacht above belongs to the billionaire Les Wexner, founder of the clothing chain The Limited, whose holdings would eventually expand to include Victoria's Secret, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Bath & Body Works. But Wexner is now most notorious as the man who in the 1980s developed a very close personal relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, becoming the "main client" of the money management firm of the college drop out, and staking him with the means that would allow the latter to forge ties with American presidents, British royals, and other prominent international power brokers in the construction of what was Epstein's real business: sex trafficking.

What Epstein was selling to men rich enough to buy whatever they wanted with impunity, was indeed the idea of life without any limits, a life lived well beyond the reach of national or international law. 

It also seemed to me at the time I took this image to be one of the primary strains of American thought: this fantasy--decidedly infantile in nature--of a world without any kind of constraints, or restraint. You know the words and the associated myth: "liberty," "freedom," so vague as to be meaningless, and often used as justification for all kinds of abuses and violence. At the very least, with a kind of sociopathic selfishness.  

In the summer of 2015 the grotesque embodiment of this infantile, sociopathological strain in American thought was running for president. He was not an anomaly then, he is not one now. Nor are his followers, nor the party which he heads, which is now overtly fascist, with its threats of violence, its openly anti-democratic aspirations, its aim to destroy all sense and reason in public discourse, its substitution of histrionic self-pitying displays of grievance for any actual policy proposals or interest in governance, its aim of destroying the state with its admittedly imperfect checks and balances with a one-party rule of limitless power... 

Limitless corruption, limitless oppression, limitless exploitation: this is the promise of those who are euphemistically called "nationalists" or "populists" (though they are inevitably in the pocket of corporate interests and promoting a ruling party whose rules are essentially written by corporations). 

There's an irony in seeing nations such as England and the US once accused of the crimes of colonialism turning the brutal practices of colonialism upon their own citizens in their home countries: for example, one no longer needs to live in the Niger Delta to be subjected to a poisoned water supply, it's common throughout the US, and one need not live in a Native American reservation to be subjected to sub-par schools, medical access, and infrastructure.

The limitless, unbounded proliferation of cells in the body is known as cancer. In the body politic the fantasy of limitlessness is no less cancerous and no less deadly.

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