- Chronic Time under Crisis Capitalism
Eric Cazdyn’s The Already Dead: The New Time of Politics insists that under contemporary capitalism, crisis does not occur when things go wrong: it happens when they go right. For Cazdyn, capitalism has reached a point of transparency whereby its inequalities and the individual crises they produce serve as proof that the system is working at peak efficiency, manufacturing the conditions that it promises to remedy. Our lives and deaths have been commodified and prescribed; our future has been colonized by the capitalist present so that we can no longer imagine a cure for capitalism. Drawing on an examination of big pharma (a metonym for the powerful control of the major pharmaceutical companies and their lobbyists), Cazdyn demonstrates how capitalism encourages treatments for social and physical ills that see suffering managed but not cured. The effect is the creation of a stalled temporality that keeps us in the unresolved present, where we are ripe for continuous exploitation. Capitalist globalization creates what he calls the chronic abyss, beyond which we can no longer imagine a cure for capitalism, just as the profit-driven pharmaceutical industry works only to manage our symptoms rather than cure illnesses. Cazdyn constructs a meticulous, historically specific account of [End Page 423] contemporary capitalism that, though bleak, maintains a sense of stoic optimism by promising that even if we cannot imagine life beyond the chronic present, we may still reclaim our right to live terminally and in doing so have faith that there is in us a future beyond the inevitable death of capitalism.
The Already Dead tackles such subjects as the temporality of capitalism, Japanese cinema, global pharmaceutical companies, and the psychic life of capitalist subjectivity. In The Flash of Capital: Film and Geopolitics in Japan (2002), Cazdyn examines the intertwined history of cinema and capitalism in Japan. In The Already Dead, his project broadens to examine how globalized capitalism has changed the way we relate to psychoanalysis, cinema, illness, death, and revolution worldwide, interweaving aesthetic and historical knowledge into a project of global scope.1 People caught in the nowin contradictions of capitalism become the already dead, an argument that the book makes in three parts. This is not quite a zombie existence, as the already dead exist within the capitalist system and make choices and critiques of it, exercising limited agency. As Cazdyn argues in part 1 of the book, “The New Chronic,” the already dead is a subjectivity specific to the present, whereby time collapses into the perpetual now, a chronic moment of crisis management in which crises are created by the system that ensures their very solutions. Part 2, “The Global Abyss,” describes how people fall through the cracks between globalization and the nation when profit is made from managing illness or the other everyday crises. Cazdyn includes his own story of managing leukemia as an American applying for Canadian permanent residency. Canadian immigration law can only imagine his diagnosis as terminal and expensive, even though chronic capitalism’s disease-managing drugs make him a healthy commodity, stranding Cazdyn in between national laws and globalized capital. In part 3, “The Already Dead,” Cazdyn elucidates a subjectivity that seeks to reclaim its own death and right to live terminally rather than chronically. This, he suggests, provides a way of pursuing the problem of utopia from the knowledge that one has already been killed emotionally and politically but has yet to die. For Cazdyn, “Our right to die . . . is our right to dream—and live in—a radically different present than the one we now inhabit” (7). The already dead embody a rupture born of the constant crises of capitalism, and as such they offer the promise of a different future than capitalism’s chronic present.
The greatest strength of The Already Dead is its nonmoralizing critique of capitalist systems. Positing that neither juridical reforms nor moral outrage have prevented the rise of chronic capitalism, Cazdyn looks to the mechanisms of capitalist exploitation in such [End Page...