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Eric Cazdyn’s The Already Dead discusses how three areas of Western society – illness, politics and the arts, particularly in the US and Canada – are completely engrained in the logic, as well as symptoms, of capitalism. His thesis is quite complex, requiring more than half of the book to set up the terms of his discussion. And given his point that these areas work in consort, affect one another and are affected by one another, there is more than a single aim to the book. If there is a central point to the book, however, it is probably a hope for the death of society as we know it – a move to end the chronic management of illness and capital, to accept that we are ‘already dead’ and that revolution is conceptually possible to imagine if not currently accessible. Cazdyn argues that by managing the symptoms of the disease of capital, such as corrupt business officials and financial crises, in the same way that we do terminal illnesses like cancer and HIV/AIDS, we get caught up in the management of the disease, thus making it chronic and forgetting about the cure – the end of capitalism itself. Cazdyn makes his case by examining the management of illness in the US and Canada and its sociopolitical ramifications, especially for immigrants and people seeking permanent residency in either country. Along with political theory and a practical examination of the medical system in the West, Cazdyn makes use of psychoanalytic theory, referring to a variety of visual narratives to complement his analysis of the multifaceted problem of crisis management and its application in the nation-state as well as the global economy. The Already Dead is organised into three chapters that highlight the new terms Cazdyn establishes in the introduction: The New Chronic, The Global Abyss and The Already Dead.
It is essential to remember when reading The Already Dead that Cazdyn is, at all times, speaking simultaneously of the medical, political and artistic realms of Western culture. While each chapter can be linked more explicitly to one of these areas (‘The New Chronic’ to the medical, ‘The Global Abyss’ to the political and ‘The Already Dead’ to the arts), Cazdyn takes pains to make clear how each area functions within and as part of the others. While some might find Cazdyn’s argument somewhat repetitive, I found his frequent return to [End Page 125] the key points of each section to be imperative in keeping track of his complex presentation style. It may be for this reason that I found the first and longest chapter, ‘The New Chronic’, to be the strongest.
The New Chronic as a concept speaks to the current society of management in which we fail to search for a cure, or accept death or revolution in the name of maintaining the status quo. Management is privileged over cure or fixing the root cause of the problem, and Cazdyn sees this at work in both medical and political practice. Underlying Cazdyn’s entire argument is the fact that, when all is said and done, management is more lucrative than cure. The circular nature of this perpetual chronic – in which one symptom is managed while another creeps up – may be a reflection of capital’s tendency to reproduce itself. Cazdyn speaks of this in terms of dependency on the system: ‘Every level of society is stabilized on an antiretroviral cocktail. Every person is safe, like a diabetic on insulin’ (13). If we understand this to be true – and it is hard not to – we can also see that if something in the system fails, so too does the stability of that system. The chronic patient becomes terminal. The chronic society collapses. In this way, it is easy to understand capitalism as a sickness – one that plagues its society with a refusal to suffer, to feel, to die.
Having established the idea that crisis is no longer a short-term event but a long-haul condition to be managed, Cazdyn speaks...