I don't really know what's going on

Patrick Heron, Brushstrokes Nº 3: 1998-1999, 1998-9


Considerations from the movie “Everything, everywhere, at once”

It's hard to describe the synopsis of Everything, everywhere, at once.[I] Summarizing and going straight to the point, we observe the dilemma of a protagonist who is faced with a kind of absolute: the possibility of experiencing everything, everywhere, at once. By having a portion of this feeling, in the form of all the experiences simultaneously available only to her person in different universes, the character is taken by a cynical nihilism, which makes her inclined to accept the absolute.

Since nothing has meaning or value, there is no difference between the one and the whole, between passivity and activity, there is no reason to act one way or the other. Before consummating her decision, however, the character is confronted by another character (Wang), who offers simplicity and tenderness as an alternative to nihilism. Making sense of things based on an effort to recognize beauty in the simple act and look for that simplicity in the world, an alternative that, in the end, is adopted by the protagonist. The absolute is rejected and the search for affection and simplicity serve as the new direction of life.

For the Brazilian spectator, the film's conflict brings to light what is often considered the greatest poem in our literature, the machine of the world, by Carlos Drummond de Andrade. In the work, the lyrical self walks slowly over a rocky road in Minas Gerais, when he sees himself face to face with the Machine of the World, bearer of absolute knowledge, of the truth about the world, and, after pondering over the possibility of accessing the machine of the world, rejects this idea and goes on his thoughtful walk.

Another interesting relationship between the poem and the film appears when we remember that Drummond's machine is often compared to the Aleph, by Jorge Luis Borges. In the short story, the Argentine writer discovers a point that, when observed from the right angle, allows the visualization of the whole world. In “Everything, everywhere, at once”, the absolute is a point, a bagel in fact, and the moment we catch a glimpse of it, when the camera enters the point, it seems that it is a cyclical movement, that we see the point within the point, since it is inside this universe.

The movement inside the bagel is peculiarly reminiscent of the way in which Borges describes the Aleph: “I saw the circulation of my dark blood, I saw the gears of love and the modification of death, I saw the Aleph, from all points, I saw in the Aleph the earth, and on earth again the Aleph and in the Aleph the earth, I saw my face and my entrails, I saw your face and I felt vertigo and I wept, because my eyes had seen that secret and conjectural object whose name men usurp but which no man has looked: the inconceivable universe.” In all examples, we note the overwhelming weight of access to the absolute.

The most recent effort to decipher Drummond's poem came from José Miguel Wisnik's (2018) book, The Machining of the World. For the critic, the experience that served as inspiration for Drummond to compose his poem was the process of “machining the world” imposed by the mining company Vale, whose project in the city of Itabira, where the poet was born, completely destroyed the local landscape, over which Drummond wrote about in several books. Wisnik shows how during the period when Drummond wrote the poetry he had been affected by a trip to his hometown, due to this devastation.

The horizon of the absolute criticized here would then be the capitalist horizon. The machine of the world that provides a capitalist absolute, the production of profit and incessant development, would have as its price the destruction of the matter of the world, the natural and simple life offered by the traditional ways of life and exploitation of the land that Drummond was presented in his childhood and so enchanted him during his life.

Another reading will see Drummond's poem as a reflection on the tragedy of the communist dream.[ii] The Stalinist regime, the end product of the communist project (Drummond was a member of the Communist Party for a long time), had as its price the death of millions of people and the submission of a country to a totalitarian and terrifying policy. Thus, the dream of a fair and egalitarian society becomes a nightmare, and Drummond's lyrical self refuses to accept that the consummation of this dream is like that. If the communist absolute is attainable only through these means, it must be rejected.

It is noteworthy that these readings do not seek to delegitimize a philosophical interpretation of Drummond's poem. On the contrary, by proposing different narratives of the gestation of this poem, the authors conceive a different way of thinking about these issues. If we insert the Stalinist apocalypse or capitalist development in the allegorical line of Drummond's poem, we have other tools to analyze these phenomena, we can observe both the allegory and the fact in a relationship that feeds and capture, thus, what there is in common between all these examples. We can see a homologous movement in the different trajectories traced. There is an enormous and devastating price to be paid, in the form of blind cynicism at the contradictions of the means, for stepping into the absolute.

Faced with these explanations, we could question whether the film we are dealing with manifests some similar relationship, or rather, which Absolute it could be representing. In 2021, Stuart Jeffries released a book with a curious title: Everything, all the time, everywhere – how we became postmodern. This phrase, according to the author, would encapsulate life in postmodernity. We have access to all the knowledge in the world, wherever we are, whenever we want.

Not only that, but we are bombarded with information all the time, making it difficult for us to understand and apprehend what we receive, so that relativization (of truth, science, value) is a general rule of postmodernism. Cultural production is taken over by the aesthetics of excess and falsification, with the incessant production of content and the paradigm of reality concerts, for example. There is an obvious relationship between this type of cultural production and the current economic regime – “There is so much image that it becomes capital”, in the words of Hal Foster.[iii]

In his book, Stuart Jeffries states that postmodernity began in 1971, with the end of the Bretton Woods paradigm. By locating the birth of postmodernism at the end of the gold-dollar parity, Stuart Jeffries wants to show that cultural life in postmodernity is inexorably linked to all that neoliberalism has that is most pernicious, defending that they are contiguous processes. The axioms of neoliberalism and the way of life it promotes impose a certain type of subjection, in which it is necessary to be available for work and consumption at all times and connected to networks that give it a public identity, circumscribing it to the norms of that environment. .

The psychic costs of this for the subject are evident. Byung-Chul Han's palliative society, tiredness and transparency paradigms show how we are always on the verge of a burnout, holding on because we know we are replaceable, because we judge ourselves in strictly financial terms, and we refuse any contradiction, doping ourselves with antidepressants and any palliative variant of the genre. No wonder, in another book the author makes a request to us, to “please close your eyes”. A poetics of pause and waiting, which can generate another type of reflection, as we allow ourselves time to breathe and look at our surroundings in a different way.

In addition, by criticizing Hegel's view of Eastern art, Byung-Chul Han (2022) shows that to understand Bashô, a great representative of this art, we need a kind look, which seeks to see something different in the manifestation of things in themselves of its interiority, but no less worthy of being appreciated. A gaze that lingers over the object for a long time and allows the subject to empty himself from kindness, who will see a penetrating glow in the object, capable of penetrating the observer and affecting him to another extent, if he allows himself this more leisurely interaction It's lovely.[iv]

The internet plays a key role in this process. The articulation of everything through networks has reoriented the way we experience the world. Jonathan Crary (2022), in his most recent book, shows how the digital has entirely distanced us from unique affective human experiences. The atomization and isolation generated by constant connectivity has reduced the range of possible experiences: “How can we measure all the consequences of the so drastic confinement of the richness and infinity of human potential within the desolation and monotony of digital systems? […] the possibility of a common life of direct experience has been replaced by passive receptivity to streams of stimuli that are non-consensually imposed on us. […] experience is the most accessible way for ordinary people to articulate how the prevailing order makes them sad, anxious, in debt, alone, addicted or worse” (p.86, 97,98). The ways of life available to us are pre-established, circumscribed in this system.

Access everything, everywhere, all the time. In addition to the economic and psychological toll we have described, there is also the nihilistic cynicism that the film exposes. Facing all the contradictions of this system as if they were normal. The unspeakable inequality, the anomie on the periphery of the system, hunger, economic dispossession, all seen as the necessary means to reach that postmodern and neoliberal absolute, for which “there is no alternative”, in the words of Margaret Thatcher. One of the ways we articulate this in our discourse is through irony, the go-nowhere sneer that, according to David Foster Wallace, has become pervasive in our culture.

We see it in the mouths of leaders who say things “that they don't really mean,” for example. A form of disregard for things, words and reality, guided by the nihilism at the heart of the neoliberal way of life. The end result is a society of atomized and exhausted individuals, distant from each other, fearing for their physical and cybernetic security, cut off from material reality and belonging to a bubble with members from all over the world, willing to surrender the possibility of solidarity and interaction in exchange of protection and entertainment. "In this new era we'll all be entertained / Rich or poor / The channels are the same".[v]

One last coincidence, as significant as the others. When confronting the protagonist, Wang utters the following words: “I don't really know what's going on. But please, just be kind.” At one point in his book, Stuart Jeffries argues that: "in our culture, we don't need more irony and wit, but consideration and kindness". A movement towards simplicity, tenderness and kindness. Articulating a policy that takes into account another type of subject, another possible subjectivity, seems to be the primary task for the times to come. [vi]

* Julio Tude Davila is majoring in Social Sciences at USP and Psychology at Mackenzie.



CAMILLO, v. Drummond – from the People's Rose to the Dark Rose. Sao Paulo: Ateliê Editorial, 2005.

CRARY, J. Scorched Earth. London: Verse, 2022.

HAN, b. Hegel and power. Rio de Janeiro: Voices, 2022.

JEFFRIES, S. Everything, all the time, everywhere. London: Verse, 2021.

WISNIK, J. machination of the world🇧🇷 São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2018.



[I] In Brazil, the film received the title of Everything, everywhere at once, but the title in English is Everything, everywhere, all at once, whose precise translation is “Everything, everywhere, at once” or “all at once”.

[ii] If I am not mistaken, this reading is by Vagner Camilo (2005), but I have some memory of Paulo Arantes mentioning this interpretation.

[iii] The American critic used this phrase (an inversion of Guy Debord's diagnosis, “it is so much capital that it becomes image”) to describe the work of a notorious postmodern architect, Frank Gehry.

[iv] Two other artists mentioned by Han in this list are Paul Cézanne and Peter Handke. In fact, if we think, for example, of the idea of ​​sound present in Cézanne's works, we are close to silence and nature. In the various frames of the series card players we have a peculiar silence, a parsimonious scene of men cultivating their time. In frames like house with red roof or those in which he shows the landscape of Jas de Bouffan, we feel the wind give movement to everything in the image, as if we were resting in front of that view. They are images that generate a slow rhythm in us, which calls for a detained look. In Handke, the dimension of that time appears, for example, in the measured gestures of the left handed woman or in the stories don Juan tells, in addition, of course, to his essay on tiredness.

[v] Total Entertainment Forever, by Father John Misty.

[vi] The author thanks Vitor Morais for his reading and observations.


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