In this issue of Public Culture, we welcome Vyjayanthi Rao as editor in chief. Having served the dual roles of Senior Editorial Board member and managing editor, Rao is the beating heart of the editorial team. She shapes the pages of every issue with her vision and direction. With great enthusiasm, we anticipate issues that reflect her interests in aesthetics, urbanism, culture, and design. Appropriately, Rao takes up the role in an issue devoted to chronopolitics, or the forms and terrains of time. Rao was an editorial assistant during Carol Breckenridge's tenure. Thus, she inherits the founding ethos and carries it onward through future conversations carried out through new voices. Institutional time is manifold. Concepts, authors, and topics enter and exit the frame, weaving a topology of possibilities between readers, authors, and publics.

This issue, the first of Volume 36, gathers entries that observe forms and grammars of chronopolitics. From remembrances to public interventions in discourse, each injects movement into temporal orders that can seem firm and unyielding. We begin with “Anti-monument,” a conversation between Shahzia Sikander, a Pakistani American artist living in New York City, and Faisal Devji, a historian of modern South Asia. Sikander, renowned for her miniatures in Indo-Persian style, recently turned to large-scale sculptural works and public installations. Sikander and Devji discuss her installations in Madison Square Park and on the roof of the Appellate Division, First Department of the Supreme Court of the State of New York.

NOW and Witness figure feminine forms that engage the past in public conversation. Sikander activates cultural landscapes with non-Western symbols, injecting multiplicity into discourse though syncretic iconographies that complicate narratives about sites and situations. Witness, for example, occupies a place among nine statues of ancient lawgivers, all male. One plinth left vacant after the removal of the statue of Mohammed. “The vacancy,” Sikander says, “screamed for female representation.” In the wake of Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, the US Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, the work provokes conversations about bodily autonomy. Rendered in forms associated with fecundity, monstrosity, nurturing, resistance, the sacred, and profane, the work expresses in multiple registers. Public art can “stimulate and encourage active dialogue, rather than passive observation, within a collective community.”

The articles begin with Ayala Levin charting postcolonial modernization through architecture in “Tropical Skins: Climate, Character, and the Postindependence African Subject.” A newly independent Nigerian government set out to educate postcolonial subjects by rejecting the racializing logics of British tropical architecture, which treated colonial climates as an uninhabitable crisis. It promoted undoing the separation of inhabitants from their environs as the necessary path toward economic development. Seeking a modernism that integrated future elites with their surroundings through contact with land, agriculture, and climate, University of Ife founders called on the Israeli architect and Bauhaus graduate Arieh Sharon. In collaboration with the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and inspired by Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), Sharon developed a geometry that fused Zionist discourses, the American land grant model, and Latin American ornamentalism.

Levin argues that “campus design becomes a powerful argument about the colonial continuities and discontinuities in the Global South, specifically in regard to man-environment relations and how they pertain to national economies.” Newly independent nations were key sites for critiquing modernism on its own terms. For example, the sun-shading devices featured on modern designs as they spread to warmer climes might have become part of the international grammar. However, architects like Sharon critiqued the limits of modern architecture, with imported glass curtain walls requiring shading to manage heat. The smooth, transparent surfaces that preoccupied modern architecture required ornamentality. Instead of championing a “planetary interior” for organization men, Sharon drew on Zionist national rejuvenation projects that justified primordial territorial belonging through bodily acclimatization. His designs did away with enclosures, cubic forms, and ornamental shades. Instead, inverted pyramids provided vertical heat evaporation, ground-level air circulation, indoor-outdoor shaded areas, and hanging gardens. In a newly-independent Nigeria, colonialisms underway elsewhere provided a grammar for postcolonial style.

Daniel Akselrad and Robert N. Proctor contribute “Why Did Philip Morris Stop Making Cigarettes at Auschwitz? An Essay on the Geometry and Kinetics of Atrocity.” By 1996, Philip Morris was the most profitable corporation in the United States, and the largest tobacco company in the world. That said, cigarette manufacturers were engaged in multimillion-dollar campaigns to stave off litigation, regulation, and anti-tobacco activism. As part of these efforts, they were seeking new markets, particularly in post-Soviet countries. Thus, Philip Morris purchased ZPT–Kraków buildings in the largest privatization deal in Poland's history.

Akselrad and Proctor draw on corporate memos from litigation and leaks to deliver a forensic analysis of Philip Morris at Auschwitz. That the company's purchase and refurbishment of the infamous death camp is hardly noticed raises a question about atrocity: “How should we think about violence that is soft, or slow, or not even recognized as violence?” During the SS regime, the Tobacco Monopoly Buildings were converted to infrastructures for warehousing prisoners and for administration. The “gestalt switch” from cigarette factory to concentration camp happened in several countries. That different “infrastructures of atrocity” have existed in the same location opens a conversation about the kinetic politics of commemoration. Holocaust remembrances trace violence beyond the camps; the world's leading preventable cause of death is a diffuse, slow-motion catastrophe without memorials. How can we mark the time of ongoing future atrocity?

In “Settler Shock: Colonial Fetishism and the Disavowal of Violence in Contemporary Canada,” Joseph Weiss analyzes the political deflection that allows colonial regimes to recognize what they were without seeing what they are. Opening with news of 215 unmarked graves discovered at what was once the largest Indigenous residential school in Canada, Weiss analyzes why an open secret could elicit surprise. Settler shock “is colonial violence as plot twist, a constant surprise that allows the martial foundations of settler colonialization to be consistently glazed over with a veneer of shocked ignorance.” Temporal distortion fragments the narrative, casting state violence into the shameful long ago in order to disavow Indigenous opposition to settler colonialism in the present. Disavowal is a structure of refusal, a trauma response to the primal scene of occupation. It redirects the anxiety generated when settler colonial fantasies of a liberal, multicultural polity within uncontested territory are revealed to be a lie. Everybody already knows that no one can be at home by taking another's home through violence, deception, or theft. The obligation, however, to contend with this obvious position requires that settlers forego the move to innocence at work in a reaction of shock.

In “From Dazzle to Diesel: Mediating ‘Neo-Ottoman Cool’ South (in Guinea-Conakry),” Clovis Bergère and Marwan Kraidy take up the dizi craze in francophone West Africa. These rags-to-riches melodramas narrate protagonists’ journeys from humble beginnings to love and prosperity through temptations to moral compromise and corruption. These aspirational “narratives are part of a global charm offensive to promote Turkey's unique brand of modernity, both pious and entrepreneurial, Western and Islamic, captured by the notion of neo-Ottoman cool.” Drawing on Joseph Tonda's concept of éblouissement (dazzlement), Bergère and Kraidy analyze how Guineans encounter worlds conjured on-screen alongside Turkey's ambitions to postcolonial imperialism in the region. Muslim conservatism, neoliberal capitalism, authoritarianism, and socialist labor history collide in material conditions. As Turkish-owned and -operated utilities, transport, private schools, construction, and mosques reshape the built environment of Conakry, Guinea, contradictions emerge. A “dazzle-to-diesel” oscillation between shining visions and the costs of partnering with an authoritarian regime appear through labor protests, burned vehicles, smoldering trash piles, gas fumes markets, and repressive anti-labor practices.

Finally, David Nugent and Adeem Sohail take up the widely felt anxiety about the future of life on earth. In “Sacropolitics: Mass Sacrifice, Asceticism, and the ‘State of Redemption’ in Contemporary Political Life,” they outline a “cult(ure) of extinction.” As various coalitions and movements come to believe that the end is near and it's all our fault, people are existentially reckoning with total collapses in meaning. The kinds of thinking and doing that got us into this mess will not get us out. Where will new political imaginaries come from? Nugent and Sohail detect an emerging logic of “sacropolitics” as a “politics of public mass sacrifice” that calls for the immediate transformation of everything by everyone everywhere.

Totalitarianism meets felt existential crisis by concentrating powers in the sovereign, and narrowing the community by stripping populations of personhood. Sacropolitics, by contrast, animates a “community of sacrifice” by incorporating all: “In sacropolitical conditions, no one may be killed without sacrifice, but everyone must sacrifice without being killed.” This emerging vision of an alternative future produces a distinctive logic of rule that, with uncompromising devotion, seeks to redeem the planet by leaving nothing unchanged. If the state of exception is emblematized by the camp, the “state of redemption” lays claim to the whole earth. Only permanent and ubiquitous sacrifice can usher in an “age of miracles” defined by never-ending heroic deeds. The present path can only be averted if all of humanity, which threatens all of humanity, acts with uncompromising and immediate devotion to redeeming the world. Every boundary must be effaced until no distinction between subject and world remains.

Public Culture bids farewell to our assistant editor Sandeep Mertia. We are grateful for his intellectual contributions and his insightful cultural analyses of sociotechnical forms. We look forward to his future work.

This content is made freely available by the publisher. It may not be redistributed or altered. All rights reserved.