“Our mode of hybrid living being alone—this together with our also hitherto always genre-specific bios/mythoi enacted orders of supraindividual consciousness—is thereby to arrive on the scene all at once!”
—Sylvia Wynter and Katherine McKittrick, Unparalleled Catastrophe for our Species? Or, to Give Humanness a Different Future: Conversations, 2015

“The tying of the hands at birth also symbolizes this; that no-one should accumulate things the rest of the community does not have and he must know how to share, to have open hands.”
—Rigoberta Menchú, I, Rigoberta Menchú, 1983

“The divisibility of the individual is to be emphasized (as the belonging to several collectives).”
—Bertolt Brecht, Individual and Mass, 1929

“The Dividual” explores an emergent subjectivity divided from itself and always-already a part of something. Since antiquity, the Individual (άτομο or átomo in Greek, individuum in Latin) has been defined philosophically, legally, and psychologically as an entity that is distinctively separate from the rest and indivisible from itself. In many societies, the individual is perceived as an objective subjectivity. As the relations and social institutions that constitute the individual and those that are formed around it change, there have been throughout history struggles around the gender, class, race, age, ethnicity, and species of those recognized as individuals.

While the long history of individuation is well documented in philosophy, literature, law, and social sciences, it is in the history of the arts that we find iterations and examples of the dividual and its proposition. Within the realization of individual-based structures collapsing all around us before, during, and after the pandemic, various recent cultural products, such as Laeta Kalogridis’s Netflix cyberpunk series Altered Carbon (2018–2020), based on the 2002 novel by Richard K. Morgan, and Adam Curtis’s BBC documentary series Can’t Get You Out of My Head: An Emotional History of the Modern World (2021), describe the rise and fall of individualism and invite conversations on other forms of being in the world. The dividual denotes a broad set of subjectivities that are divided and at the same time always in relation to others. Through a multidisciplinary approach, these contingent subjectivities provide for us other forms of self.

The term “dividual” appears at different points when anthropologists, artists, and philosophers have tried to describe an emergent subjectivity that does not comply with the logic of the individual. [1]1
Some examples of the use of the term “dividual” in the 1910s and ’20s include: Sabina Spielrein, “Destruction as the Cause of Becoming” (1912), in The Essential Sabina Spielrein: Pioneer of Psychoanalysis, ed. Ruth I. Cape and Raymond Burt (Routledge, 2019), 97–134; Paul Klee, Contributions to a Pictorial Theory, translated copy of teaching notebook, 1921–22, Bauhaus School, trans. Stefan Lamm and Miranda Bethell, ed. Michael Agnew (Zentrum Paul Klee and Fondación Juan March); and Bertolt Brecht, “Individuum und Masse” (1929), Bertolt Brecht: Große kommentierte Berliner und Frankfurter Ausgabe, vol. xxi, ed. Werner Hecht, Jan Knopf, Werner Mittenzwei, and Klaus-Detlef Müller (Suhrkamp Verlag, 1989), 359.
Six different perspectives provide entry points to this incipient subjectivity: In anthropological literature of South Asia and Melanesia (McKim Marriott, Marilyn Strathern) and of the Andean and Amazonia (Eduardo Viveiros de Castro), the dividual appears as a form of kinship. In the critique of the society of control and the rise of digital and financial networks (Gilles Deleuze, Gerald Raunig, Arjun Appadurai, Michaela Ott, John Cheney-Lippold), it is presented as a distributed subjectivity. In Black study (Frantz Fanon, Robin D. G. Kelley, Cedric Robinson, MLK, Marronage, Octavia E. Butler, Sylvia Wynter, Fred Moten and Stefano Harney), it is experienced as a presence that expands historically and by that generates the solidarity of the undercommons. Within the shock of modernity, it emerges as a form of being that both expands and divides the individual (in digressive modernities such as psychoanalysis, feminism, Marxism, and surrealism). In relation to the Soviet science of management and shock work (Platon Kerzhenetsev, Andrei Platonov, Sergei Eisenstein, El Lissitzky, Evald Ilyenkov, Bertolt Brecht, Walter Benjamin), it is perceived through new divisions of labor that provide measures or scales between individual and mass, or person and collective. And in the philosophy of symbiogenesis (Lynn Margulis, Boris Kozo-Polyansky, Bruno Latour, Alexander Tarakhovsky), it is perceived as a holobiont—a unit that is an assembly of elements folded into one another. “The Dividual” is informed by the persistence of these social imaginaries, their histories and futures, and provides a proposition for living, thinking, and organizing.

“The Dividual” is an ongoing project of various scales, initiated and developed by Joshua Simon. It recently received the form of a seminar led by Simon and an exhibition curated by him with the assistance of Simone Curaj, within the framework of the Critical Studies Master Study Programme at Leuphana University, Germany, and with visiting students from Designing Design II course led by Irena Haiduk at Barnard College, New York. The exhibition was organized together with the students at the Kunstraum of the Leuphana University Lüneburg (July 2–16), and it includes contemporary artworks, archival materials, books, films, posters, and historical artefacts, courtesy of the participating artists, the Museum of Applied Arts in Zurich, Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern, the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection of Aztec maps at the University of Texas at Austin, the Marx and Engels manuscript archive at the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam, and private sources. An extended version of the exhibition is scheduled for display at Los Angeles Contemporary Archives in fall 2021.

Research and coordination: Ilkay Aydemir, Ludovica Chiodi, Eli Duncan, Kristina Elhauge, Leon Follert, Tobias Gaschler, Gundula Gross, Lorenzo Huskamp, Catherina Janssen, Marie Jessen, Kassia Karras, Hannah Koerner, Estefania Morales, Anna Penner, Sophie Peterson, Marie Poivret, Nataliya Pysareva, Lucia Razza, Gorina Shah, Luca Tueshaus, Fred Volske, Max Waschka. With thanks to Ada Ackerman, Fabienne Eggelhöffer Sebastian Fessel, Ella Gold, Maike Hugendick, Clemens Krümmel, Susanne Leeb, Hailey Loman, Andrew McKneely, Rònké Òké, Ben Ratskoff, and Natalie Russell.

Joshua Simon is a curator and writer based in Philadelphia and Tel Aviv-Jaffa. He teaches at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, and Leuphana University Lüneburg, Germany.


Preview image: El Lissitzky, poster for “The Russian Exhibition,” Zurich, 1929. Courtesy of the Museum of Applied Arts, Zurich.

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