Paul D. Miller on Mon, 24 Apr 2006 22:50:45 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Jean Buadrillard - The Pyres of Autumn

This is an intriguing look at, as The New Left
Review calls it, the "trompe l'oeil" of post
modern Europe. They write: "The torching of the
French banlieues as both sequel to the No vote of
May 2005 and symptom of a wider Western malaise.
Rejection of official pieties of integration, and
flames of revolt against an automated Europe."
It's kind of interesting to see a European
intellectual admit that something is totally,
deeply wrong, with the state of things. Ahem, I
don't endorse the viewpoint, but just see it as a
wider symptom of 21st century malaise. This,
Katrina, and the basic sense of ecological
imbalance in the world today... Ah, The




Fifteen hundred cars had to burn in a single
night and then, on a descending scale, nine
hundred, five hundred, two hundred, for the daily
'norm' to be reached again, and people to realize
that ninety cars on average are torched every
night in this gentle France of ours. A sort of
eternal flame, like that under the Arc de
Triomphe, burning in honour of the Unknown
Immigrant. Known now, after a lacerating process
of revision-but still in trompe l'oeil.

The French exception is no more, the 'French
model' collapsing before our eyes. But the French
can reassure themselves that it is not just
theirs but the whole Western model which is
disintegrating; and not just under external
assault-acts of terrorism, Africans storming the
barbed wire at Melilla-but also from within. The
first conclusion to be drawn from the autumn
riots annuls all pious official homilies. A
society which is itself disintegrating has no
chance of integrating its immigrants, who are at
once the products and savage analysts of its
decay. The harsh reality is that the rest of us,
too, are faced with a crisis of identity and
disinheritance; the fissures of the banlieues are
merely symptoms of the dissociation of a society
at odds with itself. As H=E9l=E9 B=E9ji [1] has
remarked, the social question of immigration is
only a starker illustration of the European's
exile within his own society. Europe's citizens
are no longer integrated into 'European'-or
'French'-values, and can only try to palm them
off on others.

'Integration' is the official line. But
integration into what? The sorry spectacle of
'successful' integration-into a banalized,
technized, upholstered way of life, carefully
shielded from self-questioning-is that of we
French ourselves. To talk of 'integration' in the
name of some indefinable notion of France is
merely to signal its lack.

It is French-more broadly, European-society
which, by its very process of socialization, day
by day secretes the relentless discrimination of
which immigrants are the designated victims,
though not the only ones. This is the change on
the unequal bargain of 'democracy'. This society
faces a far harder test than any external threat:
that of its own absence, its loss of reality.
Soon it will be defined solely by the foreign
bodies that haunt its periphery: those it has
expelled, but who are now ejecting it from
itself. It is their violent interpellation that
reveals what has been coming apart, and so offers
the possibility for awareness. If French-if
European-society were to succeed in 'integrating'
them, it would in its own eyes cease to exist.

Yet French or European discrimination is only the
micro-model of a worldwide divide which, under
the ironical sign of globalization, is bringing
two irreconcilable universes face to face. The
same analysis can be reprised at global level.
International terrorism is but a symptom of the
split personality of a world power at odds with
itself. As to finding a solution, the same
delusion applies at every level, from the
banlieues to the House of Islam: the fantasy that
raising the rest of the world to Western living
standards will settle matters. The fracture is
far deeper than that. Even if the assembled
Western powers really wanted to close it-which
there is every reason to doubt-they could not.
The very mechanisms of their own survival and
superiority would prevent them; mechanisms which,
through all the pious talk of universal values,
serve only to reinforce Western power and so to
foment the threat of a coalition of forces that
dream of destroying it.

But France, or Europe, no longer has the
initiative. It no longer controls events, as it
did for centuries, but is at the mercy of a
succession of unforeseeable blow-backs. Those who
deplore the ideological bankruptcy of the West
should recall that 'God smiles at those he sees
denouncing evils of which they are the cause'. If
the explosion of the banlieues is thus directly
linked to the world situation, it is also-a fact
which is strangely never discussed-connected to
another recent episode, solicitously occluded and
misrepresented in just the same way: the No in
the eu Constitutional referendum. Those who voted
No without really knowing why-perhaps simply
because they did not wish to play the game into
which they had so often been trapped; because
they too refused to be integrated into the
wondrous Yes of a 'ready for occupancy'
Europe-their No was the voice of those jettisoned
by the system of representation: exiles too, like
the immigrants themselves, from the process of
socialization. There was the same recklessness,
the same irresponsibility in the act of
scuppering the eu as in the young immigrants'
burning of their own neighbourhoods, their own
schools; like the blacks in Watts and Detroit in
the 1960s. Many now live, culturally and
politically, as immigrants in a country which can
no longer offer them a definition of national
belonging. They are disaffiliated, as Robert
Castel [2] has put it.

But it is a short step from disaffiliation to
desaf=EDo-defiance. All the excluded, the
disaffiliated, whether from the banlieues,
immigrants or 'native-born', at one point or
another turn their disaffiliation into defiance
and go onto the offensive. It is their only way
to stop being humiliated, discarded or taken in
hand. In the wake of the November fires,
mainstream political sociology spoke of
integration, employment, security. I am not so
sure that the rioters want to be reintegrated on
these lines. Perhaps they consider the French way
of life with the same condescension or
indifference with which it views theirs. Perhaps
they prefer to see cars burning than to dream of
one day driving them. Perhaps their reaction to
an over-calculated solicitude would instinctively
be the same as to exclusion and repression.

The superiority of Western culture is sustained
only by the desire of the rest of the world to
join it. When there is the least sign of refusal,
the slightest ebbing of that desire, the West
loses its seductive appeal in its own eyes. Today
it is precisely the 'best' it has to offer-cars,
schools, shopping centres-that are torched and
ransacked. Even nursery schools: the very tools
through which the car-burners were to be
integrated and mothered. 'Screw your mother'
might be their organizing slogan. And the more
there are attempts to 'mother' them, the more
they will. Of course, nothing will prevent our
enlightened politicians and intellectuals from
considering the autumn riots as minor incidents
on the road to a democratic reconciliation of all
cultures. Everything indicates that on the
contrary, they are successive phases of a revolt
whose end is not in sight.

[1] [Tunisian writer, author of L'Imposture culturelle (1997).]

[2] [Sociologist, author of L'Ins=E9curit=E9 sociale (2003).]

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