Totality is, after all, historical. The totalizing force we now confront did not turn out to be any great ideology or grand narrative but a very small diacritical mark, a seeming afterthought in the formula M-C-M ? which compels the expansivity of capital. Moreover, we are in the midst of a crisis that is in some sense total: the end of the U.S. imperium’s “Long Twentieth Century” in a descending double-helix of hegemony unraveling and global economic crisis. The United States is a name which should be understood to designate a mode of capitalism, a regime of value extraction, managed by a nation-state of the same name. In Giovanni Arrighi’s account, it follows the proto- and properly capitalist cycles of accumulation led in turn by the Italian city-states, the United Provinces, and Britain. Like those long centuries, this has reached its limits; it tumbles from crescendo to entropic stasis. We are, as it were, between centuries — and there is no serious question for art or politics other than what stance to take in relation to this.
In the autumn of 2008 — and here we remember Fernand Braudel’s great description of financialization as a “sign of autumn” — in the autumn of 2008, as total crisis burst into panic, investors raced to re-locate their assets in safer havens, cash foremost among them, while creditors called in their debts. This is what constitutes a panic. Capital fled its own speculative catastrophe, grabbing what little it could anddown to the ships and away from its cities on fire. But toward what did it fly?