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<nettime> Continental Drift
brian.holmes {AT} wanadoo.fr on Sat, 24 Sep 2005 11:59:12 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Continental Drift

Hello Nettime, and everyone else who might receive this -

I'd like to let you know about a seminar I organized last week in collaboration
with the 16 Beaver Group in New York and about 20 participants. This seminar
explores the geopolitical dynamics between macro-regional formations, or processes
of "continental integration," including but not limited to NAFTA, the EU and the
emerging Asian bloc. The idea is to see how they (and we) evolve under the
pressure of neoliberal capitalism, at this moment of maximum overreach and crisis
of US hegemony. Greg Sholette, David Harvey and Claire Pentecost also gave
presentations at the first sessions, from September 17 to 20, and the discussions
were extremely interesting. They were streamed and the videos should soon be
available on the net. An email list has been started. A second round will follow
from October 20-23. Other locations will likely emerge for sessions in upcoming
months. Documentation can be found at www.16beavergroup.org/drift and at
www.u-tangente.org. Of particular interest would be the project statement and the
introductory text, available directly at these addresses:



As long-term readers of this list know, I did not await Seattle, September 11, the
Argentine insurrection, the Iraq war, Bush's re-election or hurricane Katrina to
point, along with many others, to the pathological nature of the current mode of
global development under contemporary capitalism. However, the age of disaster has
now unfortunately begun in earnest, and it is no longer a matter of pretending
that upcoming years will be anything but tumultuous and conflict-ridden. The first
goal of the Continental Drift seminar is to generate a collective learning process
about the effects of social atomization and imperial subjugation now underway, but
also about the reactions to these, both negative (fascist and racist closure of
certain societies) and more importantly, positive (activist interventions, the
invention of new modes of social self-management, cultural reorientations,
ecologically viable forms of development). Another goal is to establish an
autonomous but broadly shared position from which to raise the level of debate and
engagement in the cultural and artistic sectors of our societies, where, despite
increasing exceptions, a narcissistic blindness to the current conditions still
reigns. The most important goal of the seminar is to help relaunch the activist
mobilizations that were so successful around the turn of the millennium. "Help" is
the key word, there are no pretensions here. This can be done both by contributing
to a short, middle and long-term analysis of the crisis, and by examining and
inventing new modes of intervention, necessarily at small scales.

Given both the location of the first sessions, and the delirious official
proclamations you can now read in the newspapers every day, the first overarching
priority of the study group is to thoroughly understand the genesis and actuality
of the new power structure in the USA, the new "hegemony" in Gramsci's sense.
"Neolib Goes Neocon" is the shorthand for this analysis. The basic idea (derived
from Karl Polanyi in particular) is that the extreme exploitation and
commodification/financialization of everything that we have experienced across the
world over the last 25 to 30 years inevitably destroys the very ground on which it
stands, generating crises which in turn are used to call for a return to order,
religious values and ultimately, authoritarianism. This is now quite logically
accompanied by the debt-financing of police repression and war, or what is often
called "military Keynesianism." It was extremely interesting to see that David
Harvey is very close indeed to these ideas, though of course with immensely more
insight into the concrete processes. I will soon write a review of his forthcoming
book, A Brief History of Neoliberalism.

The point of the seminar, however, is not merely to reiterate Harvey or Arrighi,
Brenner, Gowan, and the whole panoply of theorists who provide an increasingly
precise understanding of the intricate and extremely volatile dynamics of capital
flows in the world today - and of the power politics that strives, with limited
success, to condition and channel them. At the opening session of the seminar I
attempted, with broad gestures and albeit somewhat simplistically, to literally
map out those flows using hand-drawn arrows on a conventional Mercator projection.
The aim was both to provide a kind of cartographic frame-narrative of the rise,
complexification and crisis of US hegemony since 1945, but also to dramatize the
way that geopolitical flows enter living bodies and become part of consciousness.
As supranational regions engulf ever-larger populations and the passage of
shifting borders becomes an ever-more common activity, geopolitics is increasingly
experienced in the flesh and in the imaginary. I think it can be very interesting,
and even practically useful, to develop a way to interpret artworks and
artistic-activist interventions so as to highlight the forms taken by the
geopolitical imaginary in daily life. Going further, one could hope to approach
the "diagrammatic" level where the cartography of sensation is reconfigured
through experimentation. Because of the transverse nature of world flows, it is
possible to draw on the experiences of far-away acts of resistance in the midst of
one's own confrontations with power, both in its brute objective forms, and in its
subtle interiorizations. The relation between the Argentine pot-banging
cazerolazos and the almost continuous urban mobilizations in Spain, from Febuary
15 2003 to the ouster of the mendacious and power-hungry Aznar government in March
of last year, is a large-scale example of what I'm talking about. To sense the
dynamics of resistance and creation across the interlinked world space is a
necessary part of the formation of solidarities and modes of cooperation that have
slowly been emerging since the late 1990s.

I am personally trying to reach this diagrammatic level in my critical writing,
but it's essentially useless if it remains just the production of an individual.
The reason for attempting a networked seminar is to seek out the capillary
extension, multiplication and reciprocal transformation of these kinds of
interpretations, which necessarily focus on the danger zones of all kinds of
transitions in the contemporary social structure: the threshold-experiences of
border crossing, of assimilation or acculturation to the imperial order, of
commodification of self and other, of regionalization and absorption into massive
bureaucracies, of militarization and subjection to brutal authority. At the same
time as it is urgent to develop a pragmatic and precise map of the way these
technopolitical transformations are implemented, it is also urgent to develop a
more fluid and improvisational culture of persuasive and sane response, in order
to contribute to the periods of short-term massive civil disobedience and
long-term micro- and macro constructive effort that undoubtedly lie ahead, for all
those who do not just want to cynically or masochistically submit to the process
of capitalism swallowing its own tail - that is, all of us.

These are heady declarations, and I guess I sould excuse myself for being so
immodest as to basically say what I think and feel. Somehow the mask came off when
the hurricane hit New Orleans. In the face of the social and ecological crises
that unlimited capitalism creates, and refuses to see (in the wide world, only the
Bush administration now refuses to acknowledge the scientific evidence of global
warming), the only response is to send in the troops to protect property and
restore order. Next we will see the plans for an entrepreneurial reconstruction of
the city, similar to the mercenary reconstruction of Iraq. Everything is coming to
a head, but the long-term consequences of neglect and a misguided, power-seeking
approach to world problems will never be dissipated by any single crisis. I really
think it is time for people everywhere to begin reconstructing an ability to
understand the dangers of the moment from below, and to impose much saner forms of
conduct on our governments. Otherwise the only shake-out from all this can be
further and more destructive war. On that the lessons of history are all too
clear. There is no more time to be blase about it. One of the forms of a positive
social power is to argue clearly, persuasively and publicly with those who think
that tomorrow can just be business as usual, and therefore would foreclose any
serious critical discussions about what's going wrong today. And that's as true in
Europe or Latin America as it is in the USA.

Anyway, I would certainly appreciate any comments or responses to the texts I have
indicated above, and anyone who wants to participate in the further development of
the seminars is welcome.

best to all,

Brian Holmes

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