Arriving Now, Foward to Section Three, Otherwise Known as Another Theory Section
Your parents spent time in the Seventies among the revolutionary movements in Mexico. You hid in the trees when they talked revolution, not because you were “counter-revolutionary” but because the scenario only made sense when seeing them push their own demons into
the fantasy of someone elses’ situation. It was as if you were with them atsome sort of reverse-Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting- drying out by activating their dreams to near strangers. Going back north by bus across the border, your parents world would again seem to you much smaller- they felt it too. (Friefeld p. 70)
One could see the level of frustration in your eyes. There were ways to avoid it; staring to the internets, listening to radio, cursing, cursing news, attending protests, trying at little “political projects.” But generally, it was all around, this horrible stasis. There were wars, the loss of a city, the disappearance of beloved bookstores, magazines, community centers (1) , and the cruel inability for networks to amount to anything real. It appeared that nothing good could be generated out from under this era.
And you were getting older (2) .
These past two years, you set out trying to recreate the movement over the impossible distance of a computer. Coming off of late 90’s globalization movements when a praxis (composed partially through innovative aesthetic actions like Reclaim the Streets), political networks and finally theoretical and cultural networks emerged, you had since been burning for this effectivity (and lets admit it, a clarity of purpose). Now you had ensconced within routines; routine action and routine theory that seemed only to resonate within professional networks or at best personal networks. It struck then to try your hand at networking anti-war artists to a point of critical reach.
When you set out to this work, you asked "where did everyone go?" You couldn’t take into account your own fear of direct action after 911. Your wondering became an excuse for your own projects as professional questions replaced political questions. You raged against the academicization of anarchist studies (continuing unabated in a homeland security climate) and how it seemed to move popular thoughts further into private spaces and professional domains, all the while noting but not acknowledging the useful salvaging and institutionalizations of certain histories and archives.
You emailed professional acquaintances suggesting the need for a national network of political cultural workers (folks involved in the creative industry- from musicians to club owners, to gallery owners and everywhere in between.) to activate this collection around the idea of the war. You took mass emails seriously; from the 16 Beaver Group the question, “what matters now?(3) ”. You wrote folks a long screed as to what you thought mattered. While everyone agreed, few responded with a desire to connect towards action.(4)
It had been at least a real generations since American Bohemia had a hardcore political phase. In your loneliness, you refused to witness .(5) New subcultures seemed to signal as clarion calls- freaky folk music calling out difference, explorations into alternative technologies, funkier forms of aesthetic resistance. The city nights are full of heads, its cool. In loneliness, this of course feels good.
Day comes, you think otherwise on cool. You know its cool, but… How do you build a politic on that? (6) Where does style end and commitment to cross-community dialogue and collaboration begin?(7) (And yet, it’s a useful realization; that so much of our contemporary counter-politics are attempts at heisting a zeitgeist. In that this journal understands aesthetics to mean among other things media and intangibles such as beauty, sublimity etc. we remain subject to or allied to cool. In that protest or its reverse, community work, try often to hold popular imagination, here too cool remains an often necessary commodity.)
When you got older, you spent your summers in leftist summer camps run by an old New York anarchist group. Much better then Mexico.
The camp councilors, younger Yippies and Feminists, actually felt much cooler then you could ever imagine being. When not fighting amongst themselves, they had too much fun re-enacting Chicago68 for the camp pageant. “Zooba!” They’d always get the townie’s to participate in that one. Their strand of protest was more in keeping with the media age you were beginning to understand. (Friefeld p. 69)
When the UK based Turbulence Collective (8) published their Move Into The Light? Postscript To A Turbulent 2007 (9) it was clear that something different was here. Published in response to their own pre-G8 analysis, it was a promise kept. Move Into the Light? took to task their own intellectual labor and asked what had been gained through the year of social movements? While never triumphant, it suggested that by actually returning commited to a radical politic and critique after the false consensus of the past years was worth the while.
Turbulence reminds you in your torpor that despite your inaction, people around the world are constantly raising hell. “What if there were a ‘new cycle of stuggles’ and we were not invited?” A useful question when you are still boiling for change but have no way to connect. “Think about what happened in the French banlieues in autumn 2005 (and appears to be re-emerging as we write).” turbulence goes on,
Anyone on the ‘established’ left… who claim that those who revolted are ‘with us’ in any strong sense would be guilty of appropriating someone else’s struggle by misrepresenting it… let’s look at the established left’s reaction to them, along its three general lines. Either the banlieues are brought into a ready-made framework, and become the ‘proof’ of some ‘new stage of capitalism’. Or they signify the terror of a social dissolution that requires state intervention… Or they represent a romantic abstract ‘other’ whose tough, uncompromising radicality- the poster image of revolution- is paid back with equally abstract solidarity.
You could create better connections to local movements that do share values. Their difference are much more superficial.
On rainy nights in the Lower East Side, you used to participate in late night bottle throwing and group fondling. Gentrifying intrusion into the neighborhood was the target. This routine had now fallen into literature, and inevitably to criticism.
Shoulders tight up around the table, shadows on the etched glass outside the windows. Several heavy jackets on a surpising coat hanger next to you. Bar stools pulled up against the low table. The Lower East Side, again, then. This time with Lex Bhagat and the Bluestockings/Autonomedia crew. These guys from Spain, Maribel Casas and Sebastian Cobarrubias are there pushing an essay (you didn’t understand it, but you don’t say that). They’ve translated an essay by Marta Malo on Something called militant research.
“Since their inception, consciousness-raising women’s groups aimed to focus on the self-awareness that women have about their own oppression, in order to promote a political reinterpretation of their own life and establish bases for its transformation. Following radical feminist terminology, they aimed to “wake the latent consciousness”. Through the practice of consciousness-raising it was hoped that women would become experts in their own oppression, building a theory from personal and intimate experience, and not from the filter of previous ideologies. Besides that, this practice looked for recognition of the voices and experiences of a collective, which has been systematically marginalized and humiliated through history.(Malo)
Though you’re now living on the West Coast, the interesting talk is surprisingly familiar to you. Operaismo- theories generated out of the Italian Marxist/anarchist tradition… everyone’s talking about it is that thing. Italians Operaistas were into this militant research stuff… finding out ways to find the basis and collectivity for change in the everyday experience. Los Angeles art folks are reading this stuff too (at least in December. This matters to you because it seems as though this synchronicity proves the contextual value of the work.). Experience tells you that when different subcultures are reading the same things, something’s afoot. For all the future PHD’s around that table, you rant against academia (latter on secretly apologizing) the only thing you feel afoot that night in the bar was in your mouth.
A month latter, though, you receive an email, “We had the opportunity to meet and discuss current political initiatives when you were in New York City.” Kevin Van Meter of the Team Colors Collective was wearing a pageboy hat and white t-shirt that night, smoky heavily impatient eyes. “I have been meaning to email you to follow up on these discussions.” He says, “I am quite interested in the current composition and strength of movements in the United States, independently and vis-à-vis capital and the state-apparatus; the role of community organizing, artistic and cultural endeavors in these movements; and potential for struggles currently taking place. “
Over the course of the spring, Kevin, Conor Cash and Craig Jesse Hughes (10) coordinate the online magazine Whirlwinds .(11) This collection, inspired partially by the Turbulence Collective, sets out an analysis in advance of 2008 DNC/RNC protest. Involved in the process of putting the project together, you feel a shift. Whirlwinds is one of the first of several projects you notice that publicly begs for analysis of what is up with the movement . (12) From a conversation between El Kilombo and Michael Hardt in the Whirlwinds collection, El Kilombo talks about the apparent stasis of social movments…
El Kilombo: In El Kilombo, we feel that moving beyond this impasse implies the construction of permanent spaces of encounter, where no single subject (immigrant, student, industrial worker) is believed to be the principal agent of change, but rather where encounters across subjective positions allows for the creation of new collective habits. That is, this form of organization is capable not only of acting to provide for basic needs, but also of producing itself as a new collective subject (a community). In contrast to the vacuous “grassroots” rhetoric used by non-profits, we have to be careful to note here that community never pre-exists this process of self-constitution; and creating a community is not simply the process of recognizing people as they are, but rather acting collectively on who we want to become. Therefore, we need to reclaim this capacity for ourselves, to generate and sustain community, to exercise power collectively, to realize projects of autonomy and self-determination. We need the organizational consistency and structure to deal with real-life problems and be open to new desires, so we can move beyond the politics of the politicians and the paralyzing spectacle…
Michael Hardt: I love the way you use the notion of encounter, and it seems to me you’re actually talking about two theories of encounter. There is one notion of encounter that functions in the event; in other words, at a protest movement there are new connections that are made that open up towards the future and towards different kinds of organizing; let’s call this the event encounter. Then there’s another kind of encounter you’re talking about which has to do with continuity and what I think of as the construction of institutions. So this is an encounter that’s repeatable and this kind of encounter makes clear how your notion of community is different from the traditional notion of community. I think you’re right to find the idea of community creepy, and this notion of the encounter allows you to draw it away from these organic, fixed, identitarian, even familial notions, and allows you to bring community back to the common. What this second kind of encounter is about is a kind of institution of the common, in a way drawing out or developing our common powers that we find through our repeated engagement with each other.”
Yesterday (13) you sat down and found an anger inside yourself for having kept quiet, for having not been pissed off. There has been so much to be pissed off about recently. You were angry too that you have not been having fun with all this. This is not the time for BS, so, what was all this muck you’ve been in?
It has been an unfortunate practice of some cultural workers look elsewhere for models of change. Working in a ways that assume that actual political change is only possible elsewhere or with that other data set. While useful, this has its limits. Making cultural change is like any sort of R&D, a stab in the dark. We don’t know from where and how it comes. The most important thing is that we attempt to comprehend its constituents and play with them in the ways we can, vigorously (14).
Dario Friefeld, Groon Gallon’s Gale and the 17 Degrees, Elston Hogston, Sun Valley Idaho, 2007.