Brian Holmes on Thu, 3 Jul 2008 17:58:29 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Some reflections on global mapping

dr. woooo wrote this to me:

    re: Sovereign Wealth Funds and the current global restructure, I’m 
struggling to keep up with it all, things move so quick now it seems, it 
is nearly impossible to develop a ‘map’

Indeed, is there any point to it?

My idea over the last 5 years has been that the incessant transforms
of global capital are in our nervous systems, like it or not, and
that it could be more interesting to see them on the outside,
right there big as life, like a skyscraper or a cement factory or
a stock exchange. It could be useful and meaningful to map out the
restructuring in ways both theoretical and aesthetic, rather than just
taking each new jolt through the headlines, the fashions, the clashes
in the street, the new management “tools,” the labor movements, the
glimpsed oppression at the borders. Since I was flexible (after
all) and could ride the cultural air-ticket to a wide variety of
destinations, I decided to Just Do It. By going to Edge Europe, to
Argentina, to China, to the Midwest and the Middle East, I hoped to
meet people who would open up their nervous systems, so that we could
not only compare jolts, but better, explore other lengths and depths
of time, share different kinds of aspirations, dreams and satirical
ironies, replacing headlines with lifelines. I wanted to ask: How has
your existence changed since this whirligig of electrocapital came
around? And I wanted to feel out what might have come before, not
paradise, but historical experience on the intimate level, the kind
that shapes a body and the tone of a voice, or the way families and
lovers relate, the way people protest or laugh it off or complain or
try to escape.

Of course, at the beginning there was a hope to pin it all down, to
know how it works, to grasp the “system.” Neoliberalism appeared
to have a logic operating not only on the extensive but also on
the intensive level, which some of us in the counter-globalization
movements had tried pretty successfully to understand in the 1990s
and the early 2000s: how capital became cybernetic, biopolitical, the
way that relations of accumulation and exploitation were transformed
into language and reappeared as motivation in one’s own flesh.
To understand that was liberating: it allowed probably hundreds
of thousands of people to see a little more clearly through the
strategies, to make different decisions about how to use their time
and their attention, their love, their sex drive, their computers,
their credit cards, their mobility, etc. This kind of mapping is not
at all in vain, when you are under the sway of the immense, publicly
sanctioned manipulation-machines called “capitalist democracies,”
which tend increasingly to merge into one pulsing circuit of soft
expropriation and micro-modulated spectacle.

But does the intensive knowledge of capital and its limits have
any validity (any “purchase” as the English phrase so ironically
has it) where the production system extends outside the centers of
accumulation? And can it even be understood, or more importantly, made
useful, inside the new centers, the non-Western ones, where society
meets psychology in ways that cannot be presumed on the basis of any
shared canon of references or interpretational schemes?

These questions, far from being obstacles to the mapping impulse, now
appear to me as fundamental, the very interest and meaningfulness of
the whole thing. If there is a social unconscious of globalization
- made brutally manifest in simmering national feuds, outbreaks
of racism, wars and re-impositions of guarded borders - then that
unconscious is founded at least partly on our own opacity to the flows
that traverse us, on the way that embodied collectivities “cover up”
the capital logic and its insane imperatives. Of course this is where
it gets dicey: because what’s the difference between a “cover-up” and
an alternative? If capitalism presses necessarily toward individualism
- which I believe it does - then any kind of alternative, i.e. any
kind of solidarity, necessarily has to involve some kind of community,
whether ethnic, national or abstracted. Dogmatically rational leftists
are quick to criticize the first two kinds of community, for one good
reason: they are not egalitarian, they inevitably draw culturalized
lines of inclusion/exclusion. Ethnic and national solidarities operate
in denial of the fact that there are always people from the outside,
right here among us, working more or less against their will for the
system, and being doubly punished for it - that is, both economically
(through exploitation) and culturally (through exclusion from whatever
counts as “humanity” in a given space/time).

The answer is supposed to be abstract solidarity: in a well-organized
society with strictly egalitarian laws, everyone should participate
in the fruits of production. I believe this, but my belief itself is
abstract, since nowhere do I see it being put into practice. Therefore
I am willing to cut a little slack for the really-existing solidarity,
to see how it is working on a case-by-case basis. How does peoples’
recognition of each other contribute to a better life? And how does it
draw misplaced battle lines resulting in useless enmity and suffering?
This is one of the ways I understand “culture” in the broadest sense
of the word, and this is one of the multidimensional realities to be
mapped out, in a kind of vague and always incomplete way, behind the
accelerated pattern of capital flows. To do that kind of mapping is
first of all to contribute to one’s “own” culture, that is, to try to
share some understanding of the human paradox and hopefully to open up
the idea that slowly, intimately, occasionally or maybe even sometimes
structurally, social relations can be tipped over onto more convivial

All of this sounds great, and also very idealistic. On the one hand
there is the risk of superficiality: project a few abstract ideas
in your head onto a few glimpses of ways that people live. The only
thing I can say is that being called on your superficiality is one
of the most productive things in life, it means that your attempt
to perceive, learn, communicate and share something is being taken
seriously. One of the real obstacles to the multitude of mapping
projects - and to the constitution of a “multitude” in all its
potential - is the lack of confrontation, of expressed disagreement,
of spaces where the superficiality of your own skin is placed at
the risk of others, their gazes, their words, their accusations,
their potential violence. How to create those spaces and make them
productive of greater understanding across the societal divides?
That’s another definition of culture, an alternative one, which
I think can add a lot to the abstract solidarity of the dogmatic
leftists. I look for these kinds of spaces in daily life and on my
travels, and I try to contribute to them.

There is, however, another risk on the other hand, which I think
might explain the sense of lassitude in dr. woooo’s remark about the
near-impossibility of drawing a map. This is the risk of power itself:
the risk that it will crush you.

The rise of the neocons in the US, and the way their ideological
victory acted to legitimate the resurgence of conservative political
forces all over the world, has embodied the risks of blindly crushing
power more than any other trend. To a certain extent it has made the
finely tuned and subtly insane logic of neoliberalism obsolete, in the
face of a kind of crass irrationality that operates above all at the
sovereign level. The bloody spectacle of the US and Britain invading
Iraq FOR THE OIL is what reopened the geopolitical nightmare, where
sovereigns struggle with sovereigns, with all the consequences on the
intensive existential level, all the multiplications of misplaced
solidarities and blind rage against people whom one does not know.

My situated understanding of the world is that we entered the 2000s
not on that uneventful New Year’s Eve, nor even on September 11 of
the following year, but on November 4, 2004, when Bush was elected
by a real popular vote, bringing the full inertial force of modern,
war-making sovereignty back into the world picture. The neoliberal
acceleration of capitalism into the nervous system is now freighted,
literally, with these massive movements of troops, salvos of missiles,
productions and sales of arms, not in a sublimated or sporadic or
hidden way but once again as a baseline of the world economy, a
regime. It’s like having lead pumping through your veins, again
literally for the most oppressed, the ones in the line of fire. And
what happens to the overall map is that this sovereign dimension
combines with what we used to think of as capitalism-as-usual, so that
the development of the productive forces is overdetermined by global
military rivalries, and vice-versa.

Unfortunately, that overdetermination is capitalism-as-usual. The
entire Middle East has lived through it for decades, parts of East
Asia suffered it before that, and meanwhile, the unmediated war in
Columbia continues. This forces everyone back to the headlines, back
to the journalistic kind of mapping, which even at its best (say, Pepe
Escobar’s “Globalistan”) is really the worst, the defeat of any chance
to save the cultures from the vultures, or to open up those spaces
where everyone’s superficiality can be placed at an interesting risk.
The secrets for overcoming such lassitude then become part of life’s
not-so-little mysteries. Something about which there would be more to
say, in another context.

It has been around 5 years since the Continental Drift project started
to take form. High points so far: four autonomous seminars in New
York with 16 Beaver Group; the Continental Drift through the Radical
Midwest Cultural Corridor that just happened; an upcoming session
in Zagreb. I expect to do this kind of thing for around another 5
years, and hopefully achieve various kinds of useful results in
collaboration with many different people - unless something great,
like a revolution, happens to come through along the way.

keep your eyes wide open!


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