Talk For World Picture Conference on Tiqqun’s Musical Distance & OccupyWallStreet (raw)
The Coming Insurrection, a book that French authorities have accused certain former Giorgio Agamben students of having authored, shows that revolution spreads because of, rather than in spite of, gaps in space and rests in time.
Beginning with the initial call to occupy Wall Street issued by the bourgeois editorial collective of the magazine Abusters, the eponymous movement has been counter- revolutionary because loud factions within it have insisted on growing a mass movement, bringing people together simultaneously and across distance. At the same time, they and many of their allies call for revolution.
In order to best expose the uselessness of mass movements for spreading revolution, I’ll proceed along a path of contradiction, starting with the once and future Obama voter Cornel West, whose typical professorial arrogance seems to make him think it necessary for him to promote the word revolution.
Here we hear the liberalism’s false opposition to capital at its most idealist. From the beginning of his address West rigorously distinguishes his approach from historical materialism. He begins by noting that “There is a sweet spirit in this place,” firmly anchoring his discourse in an idealist plane of consistency. West postits a cause for the candy coated ghost he invokes. He continues “cause when you bring folks together of all colors, of all cultures, of all genders, of all sexual orientations, the elites will tremble in their boots.” West posits an unnamed quasi-universal that brings people together at the
same place and in the same time despite their particularities and differences. Implicitly, he conceives of distance as something to be overcome.
The liberal capitalist concept of distance-to-be-overcome can be felt in the mise-en-scene of West’s speech, the hug before he speaks and the charming physical closeness of the crowd. It can be felt in the use of the people’s microphone, in which the crowd repeats what was just said so that it can be heard by everyone, despite the state’s ban on megaphones at Zucotti Park. We see and hear at the center of what he calls revolution people coming together physically and politically for as long as possible. West’s rhetoric reduces the haecceities of the seasons to produce a history of occupation in which Arab Spring flows into American Autumn without even the enduring the heat of summer. West’s discourse implies an idealist historiography in which revolution grows through a linear process of development, as if revolution were a set that acquires members until some one dares to speak its name, witnessing it’s gospel spirit and thereby making its target tremble.
First contradiction: Here then is a passage from Glen Back’s favorite book, The Coming Insurrection, written in the wake of the Paris riots of 2005, states that contemporary revolutionary movements spread through resonance An entire musical historiography might be deduced from the passage, one in conflict with West’s theory of history.
“Revolutionary movements do not spread by contamination but by resonance. Something that is constituted here resonates with the shock wave emitted by something constituted
over there. A body that resonates does so according to its own mode. An insurrection is not like a plague or a forest fire – a linear process which spreads from place to place after an initial spark. It rather takes the shape of a music, whose focal points, though dispersed in time and space, succeed in imposing the rhythm of their own vibrations, always taking on more density. To the point that any return to normal is no longer desirable or even imaginable” (12.)
The bodies referred to by the authors resonate separately in time and space, they produce the music of the world as a melody of a different order than that which inspires West’s “spiritual break dance.” The music of the world attended to by the authors of the passage comes from a band of outsiders, bodies outside of the social 100%. When that band makes some noise, Tiqqun hears their soundscape as one structured by radical separation, one produced by sources external to one another as well as “outside of society,” to borrow a phrase Patti Smith used to anticipate the level of consciousness of the first punks. Internal and external separations allow variety of attacks on the empire of capital, attacks that come from various quarters at various times.
Our kernel of musical historiography can be understood as a treatment for blindness. The blindness of so many to the global civil war that has engulfed us for so long motivates the passage. Lenard Cohan sang of “ a war between the ones who say there is a war and the ones who say there isn’t.” A phrase oft cited by British activist and feminist philosopher Nina Power. The side of those who see a war doesn’t just include Nina, myself and Tiqqun, but also public intellectuals such as Mike Davis. Those who cannot see the war view uprisings, riots and resistance in distant territories occurring at different moments as isolated events. In a sense, their very attempt to see at a distance causes their own
blindness. One should instead try to hear it, for hearing is the exemplary sense of the so called temporal object, allowing us to sense the becoming of that which only emerges in time and needs distance in order to be heard. (Here I mean exemplary in the way Agustin Zaraosa used it yesterday.) Only those who see a war can feel the necessity of transforming the occupation movement from a protest to communal reistance.
Second contradiction: At Zucotti Park, the dominant faction’s chrontope has material origins and serves particular interests. In recent years, the empire of capital has attempted to handle the problem of overcapacity through just-in-time delivery (JIT), a technique that allows inventories to remain as low as possible along the length of a supply chain. JIT attempts to peg production directly to demand. JIT also provides another means of generating profit in the service sector via the extraction of surplus value from the labor involved in the delivery system itself. JIT the provides a model of distance as something to be overcome profitably and which prevents production that exceeds demand.
This is exactly the model of distance that operates in West’s discourse and the 99%’s chrontope. Political unity is sought so that the movement might profit by growing at the same time as the growth prevents the movement from focusing on anti-capitalism, limiting itself to objectives that designed to meet certain organizer’s perceptions of demands, perceptions based on informal market analysis. Serious systemic critique is always silenced in favor of reform because systemic critic is in excess of a demand that can be sustained within a politics that allows an appeal to diverse publics.
Instead of gathering population into a pseudo-hip hop cotillion, the band of outsiders produces radical separation in their audience and themselves. The profound effects of the melody of separation transform bodies of revolutionary agency from corporeal substances to functions of movement. In This Is Not A Program, Tiqqun conceives of the band of outsiders as rabble or pöbel according to a passage in Hegel’s Elements Of The Philosophy Of Right. Here revolutionary proletariat become a form of life that desires it’s own persistence not than a class defined by substantialist demographics. Further, Tiqqun conceives of the participants in the rabble as the product of contradictions within so called individuals. Such a conception has the advanatges of avoiding the Italian error of affirmative biopolitics, as Tiqqun makes clear. More importantly for Occupy Wall Street, it installs distance and separation within those who move through bloqs of insurrectionary resistance. By characterizing subjectification as a material process of assemblage, the bloq- functions, constituting the band of outsiders, prevent them from becoming a substantialized and constitutive antagonist within the social whole.
In the 1971 essay entitled “The Concept of Negation in the Dialectic,” Herbert Marcuse described the music of the band of outsides thus: “The outside is not to be understood mechanistically in the spatial sense but, on the contrary, as the qualitative difference which overcomes the existing antitheses inside the antagonistic partial whole [ ...]and which is not reducible to these antitheses. [ ...][T]he force of negation is concentrated in no one class. Politically and morally, rationally and instinctively, it is a chaotic, anarchistic opposition: the refusal to join and play a part, the disgust at all prosperity, the
compulsion to protest. It is a feeble, unorganized opposition which nonetheless rests on motives and purposes which stand in irreconcilable contradiction to the existing whole.”
When 99%ers claim to be engaged in revolution, their mouths turn the word into a corpse. Whatever their intentions they confine their movement to the fate of a socially stabilizing becoming-voting-block. As we saw, the music that makes West spiritually break dance is that of as many people as possible crowed into Zuccotti park, so many of them, so close together, unified as the 99%. When he tells them not to be afraid to call camping out a revolution, he assumes that revolutions grow linearly by attracting larger and larger numbers who become increasing willing to change things as they stand together. This model of revolution is nothing other than spectacular co-optation, only capable of achieving reform and re-regulation. Re-regulation is a constituative phase of capitalist development: regulation comes when bubbles burst and deregulation occurs when bubbles reappear. Furthermore the neo-Gramscian, Mouffean attempts to grow diverse publics, an approach taken by self appointed “messaging” experts at Zocotti Park and the people at AdBusters is nothing but yet another iteration of the demographic biopolitics of empire, it’s the same as the big tent of electoral politics or the crossover audiences of the Hollywood block buster. To use West’s terminology, it derives from the logic of the corporate-media multiplex.
Fifth: contradiction: The spiritual solidarity binding the 99% contradicts material facts so palpably that even its economic priests such as Doug Henwood have had to revise the
percentage downwards, claiming that 80% should count as 99%. The professionals of identity among the 99% have realized that they are an overwhelmingly white group and make condescending overtures to bourgeois people of color to join them, only because it has become politically expedient to acknowledge them. They look away from #Anybody outside of society, and even from those close to it’s margins. As a result, they can narrate their own identities as the exploited, but cannot tell a story about the origin or end of exploitation. This is not a matter of a Jaucques Rancier’s hollow notion of the “distribution of the sensible” which is supposed to happen at alevel prior to politics and independent of dialectal mediation. It is a matter of active political exclusion.
West’s dance responds to music made by those within society, the bodies unified into the phantasmatic chorus of the 99% sining antagonism to the 1%. The 99% and the 1% constitute two organs in a badly delimited whole, each playing contrapuntal melodies in the larger composition.
The 99% attempts to speak with a unified voice and limit there demands to getting corporate money out of politics, but there are other factions in the occupation movement. The more aware of their own material embodiment they are, the harder they struggle to speak with a separate, distant voices in the etymological sense opf distance we heard about from Eugenie Brinkeman yesterday . As a group active in the Baltimore occupation, Bmorewomentrans, who define themselves as “a feminist reading group for women, transsexuals and gqueer folks” put matters,
“The “99%” rolls their eyes at anyone that takes offense to signs referring to the current economic climate as “Slavery 2.0,” or asserting that “The free hand of the market touched me in a bad place.” Comparing (white) student debt to hundreds of years of violence and forced subjugation, entrenched as a system of enduring systematic racism; mocking sexual assault for effect – these statements send a clear message to those of us subjected to such oppressive acts. By trivializing our experiences, these signs simultaneously control and silence how we talk about our marginalized statuses and traumas. To those of us who hoped for Occupy Baltimore’s status as a safe, anti-oppressive space, we read these signs as “BEWARE.”
While some are already bristling at the “identity politics” of those that are offended by racist, misogynistic, survivor-hating signage, the placards that have been denounced the most loudly are those that attack capitalism. Concerns about “public opinion” being able to identify and sympathize with our collective messages abound. These so-called debates actively skew the agenda towards the watered down, apolitical, and (com)modified. GAs that play out as if we (the comprehensive “99%”) all endorse these views, but communist, anarchist, and anti-capitalist perspectives are in fact excluded before they are given a chance to be voiced. Meanwhile more privileged niche groups like (hella pro-capitalist) small business owners remain front and center. We who are “taking things too far” get left behind by the “99%”.
Collectives like Bmorewomentrans practice a 0%. with the band of outsiders in the current context.
The politics of gthe 99% negates the originality of the first occupations in this historical series, it turns away from their communizing aspect in favor of reform. The communization that goes on in the occupation of parks is informal and largely unconscious. It goes on despite the 99%.
The current historical series of occupations began with distant events separated by the entire width of the United States. First, in December 2008, students and faculty occupied the New School in New York City then in September 2009, students and faculty at the University of California began occupations of various campuses. These occupations took place on seemingly public property that turned out to be the private property of the regents of the respective schools. Inside the buildings, the occupiers transformed the labor that used to take place in those building into communal work. They continued to hold classes, to teach and to learn, but whereas, previously, teaching and learning had produced knowledge on the basis of the extraction of surplus value, labor’s definitional exploitation, the occupiers set up fragments of a temporary university commune. Although some factions in these inital occupations concentrated on protesting budget cuts with some vague hope of restoring funding and restricting tuition hikes, the practices were pract an in communization. The occupiers sought to find out if they had the capacity, the power to educate themselves on their own terms, autonomously.
One of the editors of AdBusters, Micah White , was at the Wheeler Hall occupation of of 2009 and wrote about the event as if it had been about linking arms and seeking some ideal of social change. Rather than anti capitalism, direct action on material forces and communization, White called for others to “ link arms with us as we build a mental environment movement capable of smashing corporations, downsizing consumer spending and building egalitarian communities.” [http://www.adbusters.org/blogs/blackspot-blog/open-letter-students.html]
Organizers in Tarir Square, The Real Democracy movement in Spain, and those in WisconsinK< the other major moments in this series, were aware of the bicoastal university actions and took up certain aspects of their practices, mostly those promoted by White. The 99% chooses to forget the university occupiers and it invokes the memory of the others in a partial or false manner. They look back on attempts to cook, as well as to provide medical care and other services in the Barcelona occupation without remembering that these were attempts to build a commune. The 99% constructs Tarir and the so called Egyptian revolution as nonviolent although a pipeline was sabotage, a bank was burned and cops were fought and to hand.
Eighth Contradiction: The forces of the outside, constituted by events and actions not by the demographics of substantial populations treated by biopoltical sociology, require spatial distance and temporal deferral in order to articulate the productive differences among themselves. The capacities of each faction intensify through a process of subtraction. The ideology of the 99%, though its insistence on closeness, proximity, and the consensus process that dominates general assemblies suppresses necessary separation . At the moment, the proximity fetish in Zuccotti Park generates a rhythmic crisis. According to The Downtown Express, a loud drum circle makes a racket for up to 12 hours a day irritating both the neighbors and other occupiers who have difficulty performing such functions such as the general assembly. Obviously the drum circle has also irritated the businesses and resents neighboring the occupation. According to Jason Jones, an anti-capitalist activist at the park who works with Not An Alternative and No Space, the drum circle could undermine the neighbor’s political support for the park at a community meeting to be held on Tuesday Since Occupywallstreet has not yet acquired enough power to hold the park against major force by the police, this could spell the end of the occupation. In a comment stream on facebook, Jodi Dean, a professor of political science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and a communist theorist, suggested that they drum circle be asked to become a vanguard group in taking over another park. Her idea is on the right track, and on the order of useful separation and schism. If a mechanism for excluding the drummers could be worked out they could become a vanguard on their own.
Communes must be able to define themselves by developing their own principals of inclusion and exclusion. Such principals constitute powers like any others. This is why the so called historical avant gards practiced schism.
Revolutionary Relevéof the contradictions:
In a talk delivered at The Historical Materialism conference and published by the collective blog occupeverything.org. Joshua Clover delineates the most likely arrangement for an meaningful revolution in our time. Revolution can only be understood as a change in political regime based on a change in economic relations.
Our only consists in attacking capitalism differently in time and space according to clover. Both modes of attack take capital’s chains of valuation as their target. The spatial mode must be articulated by workers through strikes and sabotage that interfere with production and the temporal form by consumers through default that interfere with capital’s ability to deploy circulation to colonize the future. Both of these modes of attack come produce an outside and separation.
The task of communes is, Clover puts it to become “able to increasingly provide collective material life outside the real subsumption of capitalism’s lifeworld. Collective debt default implies communities that first exist within the pores of global capital, but which mean eventually to replace its organs with an entirely different metabolic system, and thus a different relationship to the totality.” This model of revolution is as you can hear based not on togetherness and unity, but distance, interval and separation.