<written in 2017, was to be developed into part of a publication>
Revisiting Genesis is a twelve-episode web series produced by Oreet Ashery, a transdisciplinary visual artist engaged with “bio/political fiction, gender materiality and potential communities.” Revisiting Genesis explores digital environments, death-industry services, neoliberal necropolitics, post-industrialism and multiculturalism. The series comes from Oreet’s own experiences of seeing friends and artists dying online, in particular feminist artist Alexis Hunter who documented her final days in hospital on Facebook. The series uses a combination of script and improvisation, blurring distinctions between fiction and lived experience. The three main narrative threads – Genesis’ slideshow, Bambi and Nurse Jackie exploring options for his digital legacy, and the stories of real people with life-limiting conditions – are presented in fragmentary formations that offer a turbid perception of the social ensemble: that of dispersed seriality and market behaviour.
The commodity here is death – the afterlife – in which a legacy contact is selected (slash competes), familial territories are enforced via inbox, avatars are created making wonky co-declarations: we are futurists!, smartphone séances and diagnosis-ware –please speak clearly into the handset stating your symptoms– and Nurse Jackie composes slideshows that recompose the (soon to be) composting. In this text, I am interested in the collective formations and subsequent dispersals that occur in the web series, alongside what this means for care and solidarity within a larger psychic health in which isolation dominates social practices.
Genesis is the central figure, the title of the series itself suggesting rebirth, or a second origin. Connected by their Jewish migrant heritage, she is seen to be a reincarnation of artist Dora Gordine and Amy Winehouse, however her slideshow is also gleaned from Oreet’s own archives. Genesis’ presence is that of a disappearing figure, and is said to be ‘caught in a feminist death cycle.’ Attention is paid to the disappearance of women throughout the series, and subsequent developments in the story also stress the disappearances of spaces for minorities – in particular the working classes and migrants.
This text is indebted to contributions by the Revisiting Genesis collaborative writing group. Although our collaborative writing never much materialised beyond minute taking, their thoughts and insights offered new intensities and virtual mappings. Thank you to Oreet Ashery, Coral Brookes, Rosaliina Elgland, Ricardo Guimaraes, Kayla Izikowitz, Jun Lim, Zviki Mutyambizi, Ruyin Nabizadeh, Olga Paczka, Mi Park, Craig Thomas, et al. We experienced individual and collective grief, even joy in our encounters – and a wedding! In spite of now-expired visas, this is part of an unfinished project yet to be realised. Our discussions presence themselves, I hope to do them justice, even in partiality.
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Genesis is dying.
“At least, we think she is.”
In the Unavowable Community, Maurice Blanchot writes that “to remain present in the proximity of another who by dying removes [themself] definitely, […] this is what puts me beside myself, this is the only separation that can open me, in its very impossibility, to the Openness of a community.” Much like Genesis’ friends, Blanchot doesn’t “keep up simply to help [them] die, but to share the solitude of the event”  that is most fully theirs whilst it dispossesses them absolutely. This means that in grief, or the process of dying, you are dispossessed of the sovereign self because the limits of self-sufficiency are exposed – opening you to the possibility of solitude-challenging collectivity. The reality of our existence as interdependent beings is laid bare.
It is through this vulnerability that Genesis becomes an uncertain and fragile center for the group. Genesis’ friends come to understand themselves as “a spontaneous group formation out of seriality.” Genesis’ recomposition is the concern that her friends share, putting them beside themselves whilst opening them to commonality. From this grey point, “friendship means sharing a refrain, a semiotic set that allows us to see the same vision and helps to create a world out of chaos.” Nurse Jackie assists the group and their vision, composing Genesis’ slideshow through archival and narrative reconstructions. This involves “an activity of selection, elimination and extraction […] to take something from chaos across the filter or sieve of the space that has been drawn.”
Even though the group has entered into a process in which “everyone in turn serves as the unifier of the other members.” It does not necessarily mean it is always successful and this group-in-fusion strains itself at the borders of solitude. The intensity of the dispossessive encounter leads to resistance. One of Genesis’ friends attempts to reclaim (possess) themselves through a reassertion of solitude, whilst another attempts to hold the unity:
“…some space, I need to be alone.”
“we should stick together.”
“I really need to be alone.”
Friendship is further challenged in a previous scene from another narrative – that of performance artist Annie Brett. Annie has Crohn’s disease and the nature of her condition means she has to spend long stretches of time in hospital. Nurse Jackie queries her about loneliness, to which Annie replies:
“… I’ve got a very good friend … who actually came in to see me, in hospital, once … funny enough, she wasn’t actually there to see me … to have that five minutes … talking … it reminded me what again I was fighting for … almost like another drug had entered my system … boosted the need to get out, almost the immune system …”
To reframe both of these scenes, it is not friendship itself that is under question, but the conditions that make friendship possible. The structural weakness of the social fabric jeopardises “the very possibility of communication, empathy and solidarity.” The first can be read as isolation necessitated through processes of subjectification that privilege self-sufficiency. The second is isolation unwillingly endured because of chronic illness, requiring a rerouting through technology. Annie’s comments are noticeable for the prominence of communication technologies, in conjunction with her physical capacity for participation. The surprise –oh!– of the accidental hospital visit solicits friendships sustained primarily through “actions without an actor” that “play out on the ground of social visibility, but they don’t create any common ground in the space of consciousness and affectivity.” Instant messaging being one example of actions without an actor – for instance, think of those you speak to online but who do not acknowledge you in the street. A re-evaluation of the social constructions of friendship and its mediations is demanded in order to revalue the corporeal mind and what this means for the chronically ill and/or disabled. Seeing Annie as a corporeal actor beyond virtual platforms is the –oh!– of empathetic recognition.
Early on, Bambi is offered the choice – “your right to total erasure” – an acid soaked data stick frozen in resin, printed with the refrain:
ne me quitte(s) pas 
This consummate object holding upon its surface an eerie cry of alien actors.
The serial interchangeability of actors behind digital actions enforces precarity in lived social relations. In desperation, this scarcity of affective solidarity can exhibit itself as a certain self-interested competitiveness. Genesis’ friends enter into a competitive relation when a legacy contact needs to be chosen, in order to take care of Genesis’ digital assets. In this scene, Genesis is the object of a smartphone séance, resisting the summons of the group, manifested as ‘sister’s grey matter.’ In Sartre’s framework,
“what look like static physical objects can be translated into human relationships of which they are the disguise, or what look like direct, face-to-face human relationships can be seen to constitute mere reflections of inert objects and material systems of things.”
Petrifying (wo)man in order to animate matter, Genesis becomes the practico-inert object her friends are serialised by, slipping into individualism. The friends gather around ‘her’, sharing a common objective yet promoting their individual interests. They bay at the screen, the expressive delineating the possessive:
“… choose me Genesis … choose me …”
These are the contemporary conditions we have to work from, proliferation of capitalist technics reinstating organic scarcity and separation, and to quote Deleuze and Guattari: “in animals as in human beings, there are rules of critical distance for competition.” In a state of succession without coexistence, an assertion of bourgeois individualism attempts to smooth disruption. One of Genesis’ friends does this, attempting to stabilise themselves through laying claim to artistic production in a reassertion of possessive individualism – manifesting again in competition:
“In the field we work in, there isn’t really space for two people doing something so similar, is there Genesis?”
Guattari writes that we have lost the languages of human solidarity. Conditions of possibility are foreclosed in this context of competitive relations, for example, what might Genesis bring to the aforementioned field that her friend may not? In an unpublished text Acid Communism, Mark Fisher writes that “capital necessarily and always blocks the production of common wealth.” This ideological project can be seen to manifest in the consolidations and marketisations of educational structures.
Revisiting Genesis is concerned with the disappearance of spaces for minorities and it is to be argued that the real movement of accelerated capital is leaving-behind. Using material from Ashery’s archives, Nurse Jackie tells Genesis’ story of the Charles Keene College in Leicester. It is here in 1988 that she made costumes for dance classes and Nurse Jackie explains that
“… making those costumes gave you a creative outlet and a sense of community and that was important to you as a recent immigrant coming to Leicester.”
Charles Keene offered a space for experimentation that didn’t belong in professional-producing factories. The Undercommons argues that professionalisation, in its negligence, is “devoted to the asocial” and involves “the reduction and command of the social individual.” The college merger is one such mechanism, as Nurse Jackie explains:
“… for many years we have been witnessing the consolidation of small autonomous colleges into composite organisms made up of multicampus merger universities run by centralised management …”
This is a form of consciousness deflation, an intensification of serial dispersal, students as statistics, interchangeable as part of Leicester College – now one of the UK’s largest colleges. The Undercommons argues: “does the critical academic not teach how to deny precisely what one produces with others” and it is to be argued that the oppressive frameworks of professional practice and job scarcity enforce this delineating and possessive ethos. To continue the quote from Acid Communism, Mark Fisher argues that “instead of seeking to overcome capital, we should focus on what capital must always obstruct: the collective capacity to produce, care and enjoy.” The macro-consolidation of campuses is such an obstruction, however in its homogenising movement there is a guttural churning, to quote Moten and Harney, that “the uncanny feeling we are left with is that something else is there in the undercommons.” This is where the outsiders attempt to consolidate themselves after the demolition of spaces that the profession(al)s did not recognize and subsequently folded. Increasing numbers of students are pushed through failing structures, and calls for the ‘creative side of withdrawal’ become snarled in a tricky reclamation -you felt like a fraud, you had to go … was it the flu or the immigrant in you- from dominant discourses of failure, unprofessionalism and discrimination in places like the academy where feeling welcomed is not universal. This institutional structure is symptomatic of a capitalism whose dominant mode is consumption, embodied by the marketisation of education. These material conditions perhaps even denying (official) entry.
Few other professions struggle for self-determination than nursing. Under contemporary conditions, there are alarming similarities between sociologists writing about workplace resistance in call centres and the palliative care nurses’ dialogue in Episode 9. The nurses dislike acknowledging the target economy of their work and it appears in momentary lapses … I’m trying to sell the patient … sell… I shouldn’t use that … the real movement of the situation can only be read by actor Akiya Henry in her role of Nurse Jackie, “But it’s true isn’t it! You’re becoming a sales person.” The movement of the fictionalised nurse expresses the nurses’ real movement – the separation between a passion for care, and the lived reality of meeting targets and pitching themselves as healthcare professionals to patients, families and colleagues in order to receive a paycheck. Similarly to telesales, there is a perceived individualisation of worker resistance because of the way the nurses have had to reconfigure the dynamics of resistance. “Silent strategies of the collective disengagement from corporate culture” manifest as resistance in the break:
“…tea gives you the time … to have a discussion you know … it’s almost like a timer … whereas if you’re just standing here … ooh I should go back … but you know, you’ve gotta drink your tea…“ “…sometimes I wanna have a cigarette…“
Resistance practices such as ‘working to rule’ might be heavily criticised in care professions, because of reduced complicity and empathy between staff and patients over working conditions. Part of the problematic here is how work-to-rule is conceptualised. On the one hand, there is the media conception that proclaims patient safety would be compromised, threatening the striking nurses with a deeply affective public outcry. On the other hand, work-to-rule can be a practice in which the nurses ignore the bureaucracy of their role and attend purely to patient safety and reproductive labour in order to criticise the unnecessary labour that obscures them from performing their role. Work-to-rule redefined through the lens of life-making instead of institution-building or contractual restrictions.
Human capacity have been encroached upon, emotional labour appropriated in the management of the sales encounter. This is a material structure “arising from people’s historically congealed institutionalised actions and expectations that position and limit individuals in determinate ways that they must deal with.” This low period of class consciousness, driven by consumer satisfaction which turns oppressed against the oppressed in a kind of ‘negative solidarity’ or ‘magical voluntarism’, makes us forget collective forms through mandatory individualism. Capital’s mechanisms of capture (precarity, need to survive) force a serial dispersion, “for the middle classes fear the mass of workers and react preventatively [in] the lowering of salaries” for example the stagnation of public sector wages. Unfortunately, in the lived reality of care and class interests, it can be difficult to separate necessity from target-economies, when patient care is intimately linked to the propagation of a service economy.
The intimacy of the role of the palliative care nurse, if we think of the first Blanchot quote, pulls the nurse in two directions. One, the serial interchangeability of patients, two, the narrative punctuations, husks of dead actions (freedoms?) that sediment themselves upon the nurses’ subjectivity – calling their capacities into question. An inhuman landscape is revealed, demanding interiorisation that alienates because of the sheer number of other human actions that impede individual (and collective) action. It is a confrontation that “exposes the real relations among people as inhumane.”
“I feel like I’m trying to be a machine but the person, the human being side is taking control. I’m finding it very difficult to like, emotionally disconnect …”
Patients dehumanised into serial numbers and statistics, the revelation of the inhumanity of human relations realises itself. Statistical anonymity: one, two, three hundred slideshows and counting for Nurse Jackie. Living besides herself, a dispossession “that marks the limits of self-sufficiency and that establishes us as relational and interdependent beings” although “our interdependency establishes our vulnerability to social forms of deprivation.” The nurses attend the funerals of the patients they’re close to, as well as helping people with no one left to plan their own funerals. In a society constructed upon market logic it “accepts that there must by definition be casualties.”  Nurses see the realities of loneliness, sharing in their patients’ ultimate solitude, their absolute dispossession. It is no consequence that failure “is personalised by the most dispossessed and powerless groups.”
“… it can happen to you when you’re nursing. You know, after a while you see patient after patient … familiarity … it’s very difficult to get nurses to stay in cancer nursing … literature describe it as burnt out, that we’re burnt out emotionally because you’re having to grieve and you’re having somewhat to confront your own self and your mortality …”
Ungrounded, burn out prevails. In the current conditions, fantasies where “those whispered secrets and sideways glances that used to pass in the stairwell on smoke breaks start to run the show” spill out into dialogue. Moten and Harney affirm that it is “in the trick of politics we are insufficient, scarce, waiting in pockets of resistance, in stairwells, in alleys, in vain.” It must be understood that when practicing in bad faith, that “none of them [the nurses] have any power to disobey in the system’s terms.” Freedom through the system’s terms runs the risk of reiterating bourgeois individualist hegemony where their work is not related to a larger working class struggle. The system’s terms are unjust. Mark Fisher writes that “neoliberalism’s victory [depended] upon a co-option of the concept of freedom. Neoliberal freedom, evidently, is not a freedom from work, but freedom through work.” The inhumanity of relations demanded by target-time and statistical dehumanisation will reach burn out, intensified by the rapid depletion of the racialised and gendered workforce the NHS has always required and exploited. Pushes towards the digital must reduce clerical work and resist the further precaritisation of care, and a second move to recognize that the nurse as part of the class of the dispossessed, co-produces ecologies of care and life-making that must move into common practice not rampant privatisation.
In the series, collective closure is attempted through Genesis’ party, a more convivial setting for the realisation of her friends’ common project – the reconstitution of Genesis. The narrative strands of Revisiting Genesis come together, Genesis’ friends, as well as the real people with life-limiting conditions. This unity – both the party guests and the web series itself – is a struggle between sad passions and the joyful encounters of friendship, presenting itself as a “complicated coexistence of groups at various stages of their development and masses of serial individuals surrounding them.” In the heat of the group’s fusion, as they come to understand themselves as such a unity, an individual breaks in the face of its cooling:
“Nothing’s ever good enough is it? It’s just not working! Look we’re all here and it’s … do we know what’s even supposed to be happening?”
In the end, the group disperses. Genesis’ grey matter remains on display. Fredric Jameson writes that “Sartre’s theory is only designed to account for the empirical fact of the very real sense of life-and-death urgency which a group-in-fusion confers on itself.” Although, it is to be argued that the accumulated interpersonal history, the encounter with others, sustains a responsibility to that which has passed. In its invisibility, there is still a politics in process which may be more active than perceived, in the will to honour a memory and a history of struggle. Sartre’s framework incites Jameson’s dialectic: “until such fetishism of individual isolation itself dissolves and yields before a swarming, suffocating, intolerable feeling of human relationships and violent antagonistic struggle in all directions and at every instant […] one cannot awake until one has first measured the extent and the intensity of the nightmare.”
Although in Oreet’s words:
“Casting is how we can affect the future, in Genesis’ part of the story there are no white men until episode eleven.”