“Precarization means more than insecure jobs, more than the lack of security given by waged employment. By way of insecurity and danger it embraces the whole of existence, the body, modes of subjectivation. It is threat and coercion, even while it opens up new possibilities of living and working. Precarization means living with the unforeseeable, with contingency.”
– Isabel Lorey, States of Insecurity: Government of the Precarious, p. 1
“[P]recarization in neoliberalism is currently in a process of normalization, which enables governing through insecurity. In neoliberalism, precarization becomes ‘democratized.’”
– Lorey, States of Insecurity, p. 11
“They began to see themselves, their towns and factories, on the crosshairs of radial targeting maps. Far from a technological determinism, the all-too material technologies and concepts of self were fully imbricated. […] Somewhere in the midst of total war, a technocratic vision of a technical Enemy Other rose to become a vision of ourselves.”
– Peter Galison, “War against the Center”, p. 29
“One of the goals of this project was to use iconographies tied to the complex of technological neoliberalism (think things like QR codes, NFC tags, etc) in ways that allow me to question more deeply my role as an economic cyborg, being that my entire genealogy is born of the transatlantic slave trade, of the middle passage and the events which ensued.”
There’s a dense thicket of historical, technological, and economic threads that need to be unravelled when one considers contemporary forms of control. How did we arrive at the biopolitical management of life, the striation and surveillance of social groups, the lodging of the control apparatus within the body of the individual? Perhaps one figure that makes this thinking easier is the drone. If we follow Gregoire Chamayou’s Drone Theory, we come to see the drone as embodying a form of power “that both kills and saves, wounds and heals, and it performs those double tasks in a single gesture, in an integrated manner.” (p. 139) This is the double movement of biopolitics, famously invoked by Michel Foucault, as the power to “make live and let die.”
The drone takes things one step further, however. It emblematizes the latest shift in the changing relationship between targeter and targeted identified by Peter Galison in “War against the Center.” Where once this relationship was assumed to be uni-directional (picture the movement of a bomb from aircraft to land), with the proliferation of long-range projectiles in the post-WWII era, thinking about striking an enemy required a consideration of how one could be similarly struck. The action of targeting the Enemy Other foreshadows the targeting of the Self.
The drone also adds a layer of surveillance to the mix, watching and painting a swathe of targets so that they may “appear” as precarious enemy combatants, able to be killed. Befitting its existence in the digital age, this targeter-targeted optic is hyper-portable, refusing to discriminate between combatants and citizens, foreign and local1. All life is viewed through the lens of precarity. It is this optic that returns to the home front in the guise of neoliberal precarization, the process by which individuals are made to understand themselves as inherently vulnerable, contingent, and insecure, able to be targeted. And it is into this morass that N-Prolenta leaps, bearing his new album, “A Love Story 4 @deezius, neo, chuk, e, milkleaves, angel, ISIS, + every1else…. and most of all MY DAMN SELF”.
A droning meditation on ubiquitous surveillance, the continued commodification of blackness and black bodies, and the opportunities and dangers posed by contemporary capital, this is a graceful, heartsick work. Its songs arrive broken and fractured, before reassembling themselves with joints exposed: a series of posthuman laments, powered by wailing strings, skittering textures, and cyborgian utterances. Over mournful soundscapes, spoken word pieces are lodged close to the ear, telling tales of (dis)connection, (dis)appearance, pain, and love. These songs feel like the remnants of a distant storm, exposed, dislocated, and peripatetic, as if they might be blown away at a moment’s notice. One is given the impression of walking through some haunted space, buffeted by voices and sounds that swell and strain, impinging on the machinic and the digital. Lovesick drone-ballads for the neoliberal age.
The vocals are multifoliate; irreducible to the singular, double-tracked, distorted, queer. They trace a series of moments within which the individual finds itself dislocated, becoming aware of its contact with the Other, with their shared precarity, their penetration by technology and capital. N-Prolenta takes this dislocation as a starting point, for beauty, for connection, for an acknowledgement of shared experience. “SCREAM PA MI (for @deezius and kola)” sets its graceful R&B vocal against squalling, minimal backing, using digitized artifacts to warp the a capella at its edges. It gestures toward a surfeit of sound and meaning, declaring that “tonight we’re more than lovers” — a shattered, melodic affirmation of excess. This is the moment “when we see that at [the] end all we have are our bodies, our connections to one another,” when the connections forged by precarity becomes the starting point for solidarity.
These whirring, pointillist, insectoid songs confront the listener with the affective dimension of neoliberal bodily management (the prison-industrial complex, heightened inequality, gentrification) — the paranoia of being targeted, the fear of being made both invisible and visible, the control and commodification of bare life. Once we understand the affective charge of these states of being, we can respond: discovering the moments of beauty lurking in these songs, peeling back the neoliberal techno-symbolic (QR codes, NFC tags), revealing its joyful/fearful excess, its potential for new forms of solidarity, living, being. A love story for everyone else, and for ourselves.
1. “As we well know by now, the possession of American nationality is no protection against targeted assassination. But the American citizen killed in Yemen by a drone strike in September 2011, Anwar al-Awlaki was perhaps, in the eyes of those who decided on his death, not or no longer a full citizen or really American. Nor, apparently, was his sixteen-year-old son, born in Denver, and killed one week later by a strike designed to complete the job.” – Chamayou, Drone Theory, p. 239 note 27.