It’s too much for me: (Theoretical) Practice During the Wartime Acceleration

At the beginning of the full-scale war, there were a lot of texts written about all the difficulties that scholars faces during it. But now the situation is different, and people are finding ways to work well, so it looks like that I am the lazy one. It seems to me that the academy around me have moved on and no longer feel the perplexities of the war conditions, and I am just being dramatic when I say that it is difficult to ponder upon academic matters in the current context. However, I constantly find myself in front of these limitations. With this text I’m trying to rethink this running on one place assuring myself that it is running, running in a place where we are.

Prepared for publication in cooperation with Kateryna Lysenko and Jordan Voltz.

Benjamin’s historical materialist approach perceives revolution and war not as exceptional situations, but as the rule. The state of emergency is making its historical spin now on the example of the Russo-Ukrainian War. If the paralysing horrors of the Russian invasion are the rule, how should knowledge nevertheless make its gesture? The framework of experiencing temporality and spatiality enacted by the war opens up a range of possibilities of motion, one that is tuned to the shockwaves of fallen drones. 

Responding to Benjamin’s spiritual challenge, it can be productive to start from the basics. There is nothing more grounded that can be applied to epistemological issues than historical materialism. Prominent Ukrainian Marxist of the XX century Volodymyr Yurynets, explaining the work of Marx and Engels, shows how theorization was born by the division of labour and became the practice (one among many others) of the reproduction of social order. Theoretical practice does not appear as something ideal, but as a dynamic that emerges from the relations of social production. In another text, Yurynets makes the question more complicated by suggesting that base-superstructure relations are not an economic causality. The Marxist position, he explains, should contain an awareness of the fact that ideology is not determined fully by material conditions. Superstructure engages with the base dynamically and permanently (dialectically). Any small change in the relations of production leads to changes in practices that are not always reflected immediately. This dialectical relationship between material relations and social forms needs time to be revealed; practises themselves last: they are time-based. Material conditions impose a specific temporalization necessary for social reproduction. The products of social reproduction are bodies who practise particular forms of social being. A practising body is the zone where the perception (no matter what epistemological foundations it has) loses the division between idea and matter; the dialectical relationship between base and superstructure becomes synthesised as the body in time. The changing of practice depends on its unfolding into time and the body. Hence, to answer how the material conditions of war impact the trajectories of thinking and feeling, it is necessary to look at the events that enact the unfolding practice, and the consequent entanglement of body and time.

Targeting Collective Body

Russian rear shellings come with a pack of interruptions. The pack consists of air alarms, bombing, cutting off the lights, and cyberattacks: spreading misinformation and images of terror. Every step is followed by specific conditions of the body where Ukrainians find themselves over and over. In the Russian case, psychological pressure (PSYOP) works in pair with the physical threat (bombshelling). An attack on infrastructure and an attack on the mental state is the same attack. Social media feeds and the soundscape of bombed Ukrainian cities impact a range of cognitive processes. Svitlana Matvienko emphasises the role of context in the act of perceiving information. Depending on the place—a basement under shelling, on the frontline, in captivity, in displacement—the effectivity of propagandistic messages vary. If your survival depends on information, it becomes very hard to speculate on the reliability of a source of information and critically compare interpretations. One’s head becomes the battlefield of many political subjects, who make their militant maneuvers inside the emotional and reflexive spheres. 

Being the target of this war is meant to dispel any illusion about the boundaries of your body; they are dismantled by the survival need to be connected to the channels of communication and logistics. In Ukraine, the information produces an intense stimulus—synchronically to the tempo of the transformation of the frontline transformation. The imagination of the members of Ukrainian society, constituted by this communication and imagination, faces images, sounds and events and their bodies cannot escape a reaction to them. Videos with tortured civilians and killed captives can also be recognized as a tool of the Russian state in trying to influence the attitude of the people. Occupation and de-occupation brings dozens of images that are hard to avoid in the space of social media. Kateryna Iakovlenko describes the impossibility of distance spectatorship referring to the user’s experience of interacting with the viral images of killed Ukrainians: “All of these bodies, suffering or not, are a part of one collective body at war, with all its legs, breasts, and broken hands wearing a yellow and blue bracelet.” Bodily solidarity as a response to violent images comes with the duty to name (even if it is impossible) concrete bodies and concrete experiences that suffered from the Russian invasion. Mixed military attacks in combination with an imperative to differentiate and to name the bodies of Ukrainian society, your people, occupy the resource of attention.

The body, exhausted by responding to the overwhelming amount of pictures and threats, turns into a state of indistinguishability of its reactions. The artistic duo from Ukraine fantasticlitlesplash used the word ‘compressed’ to describe the feelings that appeared during the consumption of images of destruction and violence, “It’s about the enormous intensity of emotions and this difficulty to distinguish your individual feelings from collective ones.” Their interactive work creates the archive of such compressed feelings, capturing the blurred and overexposed images as a metaphor to the experience of emotional overloading. Constant notifications about air alarms appear on screens, where the black background is filled with the falling white pixels and it is easy to confuse falling stars with spreading phosphor. 

Escalating the Times

If the World Wars of the industrial epoch resulted in a certain rhythm that was reflected in the art movements of the time, the product of Russia’s actions now works less with rhythms that include pauses between iterations, but with speeds that presuppose tightly layering of power operations sprawling in all directions of time. Asia Bazdyrieva and Svitlana Matvienko point out that with the full-scale invasion, witnessing and processing of events have reached exhaustive intensification. The speed and amount of the events and their documentation form a specific bodily reaction that reassembles the duration of (theoretical) practice so that both the duration, as well as the body’s work on theorization, are pushed to their limits. The overwhelming speed of war paralyses rather than accelerates the practice. Acceleration by the effects of war is unbearable for the body so it stops. Doomscroling sessions emaciate attention and reduce the will to pushing of the “refresh the feed” button. The possibility of acceleration to interrupt, to slow down and to prevent also shows itself in the necessity to go to the bomb shelter or endlessly check the news about current shelling instead of reading or writing scientific articles. The best scholar, in that case, is a scholar who is alive: the one who finds his way to the near bomb shelter faster than the rocket reaches the area, not the most educated, virtuosic and critical. Moreover, theoretical practice loses its exceptional role exactly in the queue to the basement and blends into the collective practice of overtaking the events (checking Telegram channels’ posts) delivered by Russia with rocket speed. 

Simultaneously with the acceleration of present processes, Russia’s invasion brought acceleration at all times. Contemporary war speed operates not only in the shocks of the present but in the past and future as well. As we see in the example of Chornobyl NPP, the battle happened transversally in all continuums. Not only working infrastructure but the emergency infrastructure of the past were mobilised to create a series of threats (always oriented toward the future) in the present. Transtemporal acceleration also works responsively to the Russian expansionist actions; the ones who battle for Ukraine are the ones who inherited the defeats and victories of the previous local acts of resistance. Bodies moves of the past and present are in constant negotiation with each other, but the former ones and the present get their response ability within different temporalities and spatialities. The memory of suppressed acts of resistance and victories animates today’s grassroots struggle as well as the functioning of expansionist chains.      

200-year-old cultural heritage is also involved in the battles. Ukrainian local communities around the country are seriously questioning the presence of the Russian Imperial or Soviet monuments and sometimes understand their existence on the territory of Ukraine as a threat to national security. In their turn, the Russian marionette government in the occupied territories of Ukraine reinstalls Lenin’s monuments or ruins the monuments to the Ukrainian soldiers killed in anti-terrorism operations. 

Material Foundations of Solidarity

Western future-oriented modernity and its speeds are hardly able to include the “atavistic” interruptions of wars. War turns our faces to history and its materiality, making them see the fragility of the bright future. Excluding its horrors, the Russian invasion brought the insight that reinventing life is possible and already happening. The practice of reflecting on the Ukrainian reality indicates that overloading and indistinguishability are “the rule” of the state of emergency. At the same time, I see these negative effects of military pressure as an emancipatory opportunity for the mutual assistance of thinking-feeling bodies. Precariousness affirmed by excessive bodily experience in the Ukrainian context can be the base for the necessary solidarity. Transtemporal speeds of war question the security of a linear flow of time and raise the necessity of cooperation to reorient the battle for the future in favour of suppressed experiences. Responsibility for others’ survival comes with the experience of overloading and perceiving the (emotional, mental and other) limits of the body. This experience is equivalent to understanding that bodies aren’t eternal and invincible; they need to be cared for. I am calling for a look into the monstrous production of ruins (in the past, present and future) with the drive to intercept the possibility of life, to create interruption between interruptions, even if speeds are enormous.


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Iakovlenko, Kateryna. “Exactly That Body: Images Against Oppression” e-flux, February 2023.

Matiash, Tania. “Rosiiany vstanovyly v okupovanomu Melitopoli demontovanyi u 2015 rotsi pamiatnyk Leninu (foto).”, November 5, 2022.

Matvienko, Svitlana. “Nuclear Cyberwar: From Energy Colonialism to Energy Terrorism” e-flux, April 2022.

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