Arts Of The Working Class Logo


On the everywhereness quality of the body.

  • Essay
  • Mar 15 2023
  • Sebastian Muehl
    is a Berlin-based researcher, educator and curator. He is part of the faculty at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Design and Architecture at Art Academy of Latvia, Riga. Among his subjects of research are the politics of global contemporary art, visual culture, critical theory, and aesthetics.

It’s not quite thrilling to read another essay on Covid-19 these days. Looking back at the past few months, it seems pretty clear that the pandemic is somehow “over”, and attention has shifted to more urgent crises, the ongoing war against Ukraine, the climate emergencies, and the devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria. Likewise, the pandemic has long since become a victim of its own production of fatigue, no matter to what extent many people still grapple with the disastrous effects of the coronavirus just as with the consequences of the measures that were taken against it – be it on the level of beloved lives that were lost, jobs that are gone, regimes of biopolitics that were newly implemented, and social inequalities that were increasing, even more sharply showing a separation between the poor and the rich. Against this backdrop, what’s uncomforting with the current situation is that every attempt to readdress Covid-19 as a critical issue somehow becomes trapped in a deadlock, with a virus that still continues to testify the worn-outness and dividedness of a population tired over fighting arguments about the past anti-Covid measures, vaccinations, and the various different forms of regulations and restrictions. But even if large portions of the population are now vaccinated, and even if the curves are flat, contact-tracing is given up, and the last regulations are dropped, the widespread idea that we’ve reached a post-Covid world is somehow troubling. Not the least problem is that such a vision is now often paralleled with the complete loss of any forms of attention, recognition and empathy given to the actual victims of a global health emergency that still continues to go on.

In fact, it won’t be over that soon. [1] Clearly, many people are more equal than others and have always afforded to bail themselves out of whatever crisis. Since the first outbreak of the coronavirus in early 2020, the pandemic has testified the sharp divisions within a global population across the lines of social class, nationality, ethnicity, and race. Yet, it still remains scandalous – and overwhelmingly cynical – that we’re now in a situation where many governments, often in rich Western countries, declare the pandemic over and start subsidizing a new state of carelessness and mindlessness, while people across the globe still suffer from Covid-19, or from the outcome of Long Covid and Post-Covid. In the past weeks, large portions of the population in China, still widely unvaccinated, faced the spread of the omicron variant, an event almost passed over by media outlets, since Beijing not only dropped its zero-Covid policy, but exercises informational gate-keeping, holding back reliable information on fatalities and cases, particularly with regard to the most vulnerable elderly population in the rural areas of the country. Here, as elsewhere, people died without being counted, and without even being considered worth being counted. Clearly, one doesn’t need to adopt a global comparative framework to recognize the scandalous imbalances. It’s across the streets of European cities, too, where people are stateless, homeless, or refugees, and thus cannot take advantage of any substantial and indeed very needed infrastructures of health care services and social support with regard to Covid or Post-Covid issues.

But this text isn’t exclusively meant to address the unjust redistributions of attention, empathy, and recognition with regards to those who suffer, or to simply counter the impression that we’re somehow done with the pandemic. It’s also an attempt to enter into dialogue with a book by Judith Butler, namely her most recent essay What World is This?, which equally grapples with the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic. Butler’s book is meant to be a phenomenological account of what she calls the “pandemic condition”, and it also adds to her social ethics a reflection on radical interdependency, mutuality, and interconnectedness, which came to be sharply highlighted by the pandemic. “Regardless of where we have lived in recent times,” Butler writes, “we are all living under a new set of conditions created by the Covid-19 pandemic. I am not saying that the pandemic creates a single condition under which we all live, since the pandemic cannot be separated from the prevailing social and ecological conditions. Yet the pandemic now configures those prevailing conditions, including the war against Ukraine, in a new way – the bodies clustered in shelters, in transportation vehicles, amassed at the border.” [2]

As in earlier texts, Butler equally posits the notion of grievability at the center of her thought. She argues that the grievable life does not come into view only when people have already died, that is, when we mourn the loss of someone we loved. Rather, grievability is a quality of living beings, and consequently, this highlights the various forms of inequality that are always already cast into political and social forms of separation – between those who are deemed worthy to be grieved and those who are not, between those who exist at border walls and fences, in refugee camps, or in the streets, and those who do not. „Grievability already operates in life as a characteristic attributed to living creatures,” Butler writes, “those who walk around knowing that their lives, or those they love, may well vanish at any moment, and without a proper mark or protest.“ [3] It’s interesting that from the very outset, the pandemic had also been referred to as a universal (and etymologically, it’s stemming from the pan-demos, “the people everywhere”). [4] Yet, the very idea of a common world of conditions and experiences shared by everyone, everywhere, still collides with the hard facts of a reality where some have always been more vulnerable than others, some were more privileged, and some just didn’t even appear on the stage of social perception, be it in terms of support delivered, bodies counted, or empathy distributed.

But what struck me most about What World is This? is how much the notion of the pan-demos, or “the people everywhere,” also adds to our political imaginary of the demos, “the people”, in a fruitful way. It’s here where we traditionally encounter the collective subject around which claims for equality, freedom and justice are addressed both on a material level and in terms of political representation and rights. While there is a tradition within radical democratic thought which conceives the demos as a collective that only comes into full representation when it accounts for those that are structurally unheard and unseen, Butler argues that in our interconnected world, it also encompasses the interdependency of all material bodies, and that is: the “bodies everywhere”, of everyone’s body on the bodies of everyone else. 


    [1] In a statement from 30 January 2023, WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus reported that in early 2023 the pandemic is seen “probably at a transition point”, with the possibility that we’re entering a post-pandemic phase within the next couple of months. However, that doesn’t imply that the situation becomes normal, but rather “the event continues to constitute a public health emergency of international concern”. See: (08.03.2023).
    [2] Judith Butler, What World is This? A Pandemic Phenomenology, New York 2022, p. 1.
    [3] Butler, What World is This, p. 101.
    [4] Butler, What World is This, p. 5.


    Stefan Hurtig @stfnhrtg



To improve our website for you, please allow a cookie from Google Analytics to be set.

Basic cookies that are necessary for the correct function of the website are always set.

The cookie settings can be changed at any time on the Date Privacy page.