lotu5 on Thu, 31 Jul 2008 14:04:59 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Between Tracking and Formulating

> On 7/25/08 6:52 PM, "Brian Holmes" <brian.holmes@wanadoo.fr> wrote:

>> the "we"... addresses you where you are unconscious of what you do, it
>> joins your proud egotistic self-mastery to the real social flow of which
>> you take part. The "we" is critique from which there is no escape: it is
>> the linguistic performance of belonging whether you like it or not, the
>> illocutionary truth of our participation in the social order.
>> After two generations of this kind of performance in academia, it also
>> verges on total hypocrisy.
> Over the last several days, since you wrote this carefully considered
> response, I have been thinking about it, and I very much see your point.
> I see what I need to do:  to develop other, more subtle ways of touching
> on a complicity, but leaving open a space, generating a productive
> tension.  As you have done in your writing -- using "a set of metaphors
> that provoke the reader to feel [an] unbearable proximity" rather than
> corralling them in an artificial space from which there is no escape.

At the risk of intervening in a personal exchange here, I wanted to just
say a word, since I've talked with Jordan about this question of degrees
of political engagement versus aesthetic or theoretical engagements.

I just want to ask, does it really verge on "total hypocrisy"? Really, can
anyone living in the global north claim to be outside of the "we" of
empire? Or, can anyone who is a published author, making a living off of
artistic and academic pursuits really count themselves outside of the "we"
of the upper class, even? Or are we implicated already, to a large degree?
How can we work against empire, biopower, whatever you want to call it,
when we're surviving off of it? While I personally think that resistance
against capitalism is possible from within capitalism, otherwise there
would be no possibility for change under global capitalism, I still think
that anyone on this mailing list is highly implicated in biopower and
information capitalism.

> engagement.  An interviewer recently asked me about resistance, about the
> possibilities of resistance that my work offers, and, after thinking about
> it, I had to honestly answer that it offers very little.  Lately I have
> had these little moments of crisis, concerning the value of my project.
> The best I can come up with is that it helps to create awareness, and
> there is a benefit in that. A form of creative model-building.  But in
> terms of taking steps to "halt the worst," it does nothing.

Here I also have to admit my personal aversion to these self flagellating
totalities, really, it does nothing? I personally have a preference for
militant research or philosophy in action as shannon bell calls it, but I
still think that theorists who are bringing radical perspectives to
academia are in dire need, especially those trying to bring views critical
of the US to institutions there. So, Jordan, I have to disagree that it
does nothing to analyze the machinations of surveillance and the military
metaphors that shape much of the culture in the US. I actually think that
the essay you posted is a timely and important intervention into the
debate that was reignited by wired magazine's "end of theory" cover story.
You're looking here at what the implications are for celebrating this kind
of thinking.

>> It is now time for American critics to put their tremendous knowledge
>> into real and strictly pragmatic attempts to halt the worst, which
>> includes the degradation of "our" consciousness to the status of a
>> prescripted affect.
> I very much understand the importance of this but in all honesty, don't
> know what I could do in this regard.  In sincere response to that, I would
> have say that in my work I am trying more to uncover the libidinous
> investments one can have in that which one decries, and the contradictory
> workings of affect, which can mix attraction and repulsion in ways that
> don't even add up to an emotional reality, let alone a discursive one --
> and as such I have no real value as a critic or an activist.

One last intervention here, at the risk of sounding like an apologist,
this is a question I've spent much time thinking about in the last few
years spent as a theorist and activist. I personally am also a strong
advocate of "diversity of tactics" and I hold the idea as one of the very
few ideas that I think are still critical, central to creating change. The
radical flank theory also sums this up. I've heard, but I don't have a
citation, that Martin Luther King Jr. admitted that he couldn't have won
the legislative gains he did without having the Black Panthers in the
streets in gun battles with the police. Similarly, I think that we need
both people engaged in militant action on the front lines of the
barricades and people like Jordan or Agamben theorizing about the state of
the world and not spending their time every week trying to come to a
consensus on a direct action plan.

More specifically on this last point about ideas which "don't even add up
to an emotional reality, let alone a discursive one", it makes me recall
the words of Avital Ronell speaking about why the Telephone Book is so
hard to read. She asked who benefits from clear communication, in who's
service is clarity? Who says "read my lips?" Clarity is always supported
by context.

And she offered the suggestion that perhaps, by holding off a decision
that one understands something, the theorist might be able to hold off the
decision to drop a bomb, that to introduce uncertainty about the concepts
that lawmakers and military leaders might hold as central to their
decision making apparatus, theorists might be able to open up a space for
change. Similarly, I think it is essential to also open up questions about
the concepts that people who consider themselves radical hold to be true.

Really, after spending a lot of time organizing and a lot of time reading
and writing theory, I personally can't say which one is more effective at
making the world a better place, and really just prefer to avoid the
dichotomy altogether and instead try to create transversal strategies that
can operate in across multiple spaces.

It seems a bit like grandstanding to call for "strictly pragmatic attempts
to halt the worst", and one can often identify grandstanding when the
phrase "it is now time for" is used. Given the poor state of our attempts
at resistance, I'm not sure what it is now time for. Perhaps it is time to
think about what we're doing wrong, since it seems that the war grinds on,
despite our best efforts, and new bilateral agreements are being made all
the time, like the insidious SPP (http://www.spp.gov/) which includes
language that groups migrant people with terrorists gleefully. Or perhaps
it is  time for us to all don our black, pink or silver masks, given that
we've all but destroyed the WTO and the FTAA.

But is it time to tell people who are putting their best effort into doing
what they do well that their strategy for change isn't the best one? Or
that they are more implicated than we are? I have to admit that I drove my
car today, so I'm not so sure.

So lets keep on asking questions, and keep organizng, and find new ways of
doing both. Caminando preguntando, no?


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