Wrestling with Modernity


History is not like chess; it is more like wrestling. History takes place as flesh moves inside space; it is thus, among other things, about the biology of flesh – as well as about the topology of space. If history is about flesh-and-blood individuals interacting in material space, it also follows that history is not confined to humanity alone.

We tend to concentrate on humans because we consider humans as actors in history – they have desires, they move about, and thus they shape reality. But all living beings have desires and move about, and so they shape reality as well; and in another way, the same is true even of material reality itself. And because all these actors occupy the same stage, they cannot fail to interact; no species is an island.

Thus history is embodied – and not only inside human bodies but in the bodies of all species. One of the main features of history is the prevention of motion. Biologically, animals just move around: history arrives when they are confined to a place. In a formula, this is history: humans change the terrain to prevent the motion of animals as well as other humans.


To have our motion prevented is unpleasant, at the basic biological level. We want to move around, and to be denied that is itself painful. Even more directly, prevention of motion is usually painful for a simple reason: usually the way to prevent us from doing what we wish is to cause us pain.

There is thus a direct relationship between the prevention of motion and violence. Modernity made possible a total asymmetry between the powerful and the powerless. With this asymmetry of power, everything about an organism’s life could be controlled, and as a result, a new kind of living being was created.

Both cows and humans suffered the same modern equation of iron over flesh, and so both were transformed into what may be considered an altogether new species: the victim of extreme control. This victim – animal or human – is the hero of the twentieth century.


{Excerpts from Netz Epilogue as compressed by DP}

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