The Quest for Totality

Boris Groys, In the Flow, 2016

Traditionally, the main occupation of human culture was the search for totality. This search was dictated by the desire of human subjects to overcome their own particularity, to get rid of the specific ‘points of view’ that were defined by their ‘life forms’ and to gain access to a general, universal worldview that would be valid everywhere and at every time. (p. 9)

The old-fashioned, metaphysical universality could be achieved only through very special and complicated efforts. Materialist universality seems to be always already there — achievable without any effort and without any price. Indeed, we need not make any effort to be born or to die, or, generally, to go with the flow. Materialist totality, the totality of the flow, can be thus understood as a purely negative totality: Reaching this totality simply means rejecting all attempts to escape into the fictive, metaphysical, spiritual space beyond the material world, abandoning all dreams of immortality, eternal truth, moral perfection, ideal beauty, etc.

(…) Our personality survives our body — preventing our immediate access to the totality of the flow. To destroy, or at least transform, the archives that materially support our persons during our lifetime, we need to initiate a revolution. The revolution is an artificial acceleration of the world flow. It is an effect of impatience or unwillingness to wait until the existing order collapses by itself and liberates a human being from his or her personality. That is why revolutionary practice is the only way by which post-metaphysical, materialist man can find an access to the totality of the flow. However, such a revolutionary practice presupposes serious efforts on the part of the practitioner, and requires intelligence and discipline comparable to what was needed to achieve spiritual totality. These revolutionary efforts at self-fluidization, understood as the dissolution of one’s own person, of one’s own public image, are documented by modern and contemporary art, just as efforts at self-eternalization were documented by traditional art. (…) The fluidization of the artistic form is the means by which modern and contemporary art tries to gain access to the totality of the world. (pp. 11-12)


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