We Want to be Great Like Our Crime

We Want to Be Great Like Our Crime
The Criminal Ego and the Struggle in Society

On Isabelle Eberhardt’s “Criminal” and Renzo Novatore’s “Toward the Creative Nothing”

Quotes refer to the Eberhardt Press edition and the Venomous Butterfly Publications edition, respectively.

Crime
In “Criminal,” Isabelle Eberhardt’s memoir of land colonization in Algeria written around the turn of the last century, the farmer Mohammed Achouri cuts an interesting figure. A “tall thin old man with the face of an ascetic, his hard features set in an expression of constant preoccupation”, a quiet character who stands “a bit apart from the others”, he is not a likely hero. Though he stands out, and in fact his inability to fit in singles him out for downfall, his unheroic resistance fits well within the unheroic reality of the story; the French have colonized Algeria, and they force the people of Bou Achour to give their prime land to colonists, a double theft because the collective society of that region had never even had to buy and sell land among themselves or “resort to the system of inheritance.” They get mere pennies for their land, their complaints are rebuffed, and they have no choice but to work under the new landlords. At harvest time they watch the riches of their toil and their earth taken from them, but that night, the new barn burns down, and the harvest with it. Nonetheless, a suspect is arrested, nothing changes, and the power of colonialism continues its cruel exercises, unfazed.

We Want to Be Great Like Our Crime
The Criminal Ego and the Struggle in Society

On Isabelle Eberhardt’s “Criminal” and Renzo Novatore’s “Toward the Creative Nothing”

Quotes refer to the Eberhardt Press edition and the Venomous Butterfly Publications edition, respectively.

Crime
In “Criminal,” Isabelle Eberhardt’s memoir of land colonization in Algeria written around the turn of the last century, the farmer Mohammed Achouri cuts an interesting figure. A “tall thin old man with the face of an ascetic, his hard features set in an expression of constant preoccupation”, a quiet character who stands “a bit apart from the others”, he is not a likely hero. Though he stands out, and in fact his inability to fit in singles him out for downfall, his unheroic resistance fits well within the unheroic reality of the story; the French have colonized Algeria, and they force the people of Bou Achour to give their prime land to colonists, a double theft because the collective society of that region had never even had to buy and sell land among themselves or “resort to the system of inheritance.” They get mere pennies for their land, their complaints are rebuffed, and they have no choice but to work under the new landlords. At harvest time they watch the riches of their toil and their earth taken from them, but that night, the new barn burns down, and the harvest with it. Nonetheless, a suspect is arrested, nothing changes, and the power of colonialism continues its cruel exercises, unfazed.



It was not until I read the story the second time that I noticed it was Mohammed Achouri who played the instigating role in getting the other Arabs of Bou Achour to protest the low prices they were given for their land by the French colonizers. The author mentions no rousing speech on his part, or natural charisma. He simply cannot stomach the indignity, and suggests they protest. The gesture is unsuccessful, the colonial administrator is powerless to change the decision that has come down from Algiers, and many of them, including Achouri, must go to work for their new landlord. Achouri alone is described as “openly sullen.”
At the outset Mohammed Achouri had placed a great distance between himself and the Frenchman, to whose good-natured sallies he remained wholly impervious. When the barn was burned down, suspicion pointed to Mohammed Achouri[…] They found him guilty. He was a simple, unyielding man who had been robbed and betrayed in the name of laws he did not understand. And he had directed all his hatred and rancor against the usurping colonist.

“Crime, particularly among the poor and downtrodden,” concludes Eberhardt, “is often a last gesture of liberty.”

The Human Frogs
In his poetic rant “Toward the Creative Nothing,” Renzo Novatore, an Italian individualist anarchist active from 1908 to his death in 1922, addresses another social tragedy, World War I, with much more heroic terms. He glorifies those who resisted, those “who died with stars in their eyes,” with a Nietzschean exuberance, while saving extreme contempt for his fellow proletarians who heeded the lies and marched off to war. “The human frogs knew neither how to distinguish their own enemy nor how to fight for their own ideas […] They fought against each other for their enemy.”

In Novatore’s writing, one finds a clear contempt for the masses, not out of any aristocratic notions of inherent worth, but because they have behaved despicably and idiotically, going even against their own interests to participate in their own meaningless slaughter. Novatore will not excuse anyone who is less than great, and he certainly will not romanticize them simply for belonging to a mass. His judgments are harsh, and he could be accused of insensitivity to the many complex reasons members of that mass had for going off to war, but also in the interests of sensitivity one must imagine the horror of his generation and understand that at bottom there was no good excuse for obedience to that degree. Populism only becomes a form of justification. Yet some people cite this antisocial contempt, this Nietzschean adulation of those few who do not follow the herd, to argue that the individualist anarchists were counterrevolutionary elitists, or even fascists.

Eberhardt, very much a kindred spirit, evinces a similarly antisocial attitude. She writes of the need “To be alone, to be poor in needs, to be ignored, to be an outsider who is at home everywhere, and to walk, great and by oneself, toward the conquest of the world.” She tersely dismisses “the slavery that comes of contact with others,” and it is precisely in such phrases that she can be written off as dangerously impractical. Useless. How could solitude possibly be applied as a social program? The conclusion is that there is nothing revolutionary in hers or similar writings.

It is precisely the hidden totalitarianism of this line of reasoning that I want to unmask.

Against What Does the Antisocial Direct Its Attack?
I’ll start with the disingenuous claim of a connection between individualist anarchism and fascism. Novatore, one of Italian fascism’s most energetic opponents and earliest victims (he was shot down by police in 1922), had some bold thoughts on the matter. In talking about how socialism functioned to control the revolt of the proletariat by promising a base material equality while stifling talk of true freedom, he writes:

Because, if when the nation, if when the state, if when democratic Italy, if when bourgeois society trembled in pain and agony in the knotty and powerful hands of the “proletariat” in revolt, socialism had not basely hindered the tragic deadly hold—losing the lamps of reason in front of its wide-opened eyes—certainly fascism would never even have been born[…] Because fascism is the stunted and deformed creature born of the impotent love of socialism for the bourgeoisie. One of them is the father, and the other the mother.

In fact, we see in fascism not the heroic ideal of Novatore but the very populism he attacks. In order to save the bourgeoisie, fascism makes them indistinguishable from the masses by replacing Nietzsche’s superior individual with a superior race, integrating labor unions and industry, combining socialism with nationalism, creating the perfect herd.

The other arguments against individualism are rigid and insensitive precisely because they do not understand these thoughts as a process, a movement, rather than a fixed position or staked territory, as ideas are taken to be by many other thinkers. When Isabelle Eberhardt talks about nomadism and denounces the sedentary life, attacks in multiple forms the very staking of territory, how could one not guess that her thoughts would be equally nomadic? In the writings collected in “Criminal,” one finds not a static view of society but a tension, a need to depart in order to arrive, to lose in order to find.

I do not know anymore[…] But the inner voice that drives and disturbs me, that will tomorrow push me again along the paths of life; that voice is not the wisest one in my soul, it is the spirit of agitation for which the earth is too narrow and which has not known how to find its own universe. Eberhardt recognizes a multiplicity of voices in her own thinking, and acknowledges that the force that sets her life in motion is also impractical. Unprogrammatic.

The parallel misogyny of both writers reflects the untenable nature of their relationship with society, with femininity standing in for passivity, nurturing, the reproduction of culture. But even more it reflects that their writings represent a spiritual quest in process, a search for peace in turmoil. The fact that Isabelle Eberhardt was born female and socialized as a woman, but passed much of her life as a man can add credibility to the hypothesis that what they hated was femininity as a social value. Are we to read Eberhardt, for her misogynistic writings, as a self-hating woman, or to consider that she hated those women who resigned themselves to their socially assigned roles rather than taking on the dress and customs of men and venturing to the far corners of the earth? The language of the time could not adequately express gender identities, so we cannot know if Eberhardt’s passing was a strategy or whether he was actually a trans man, but the question is an interesting one.

The Social Assumptions of Individualism
Beneath all the antisocial venom and harsh criticism in Renzo Novatore’s “Toward the Creative Nothing,” a sensitive reader will notice certain social assumptions that mirror Eberhardt’s sojourn being in some ways an ultimate search for community. Deep in a passage that begins by calling for “the liberation of the individual”, Novatore has buried a pithy couplet.
To communalize material wealth.
To individualize spiritual wealth.

Novatore devotes no time to elaborate this process of communalization; he merely takes it as a given. In other words, what for social and mass anarchists is the end goal, and what they accuse is lacking in individualist anarchism, is for Novatore just a starting point.

Other indications of the communal or collective assumptions of this idea of struggle further clarify that as much as these writers posit a conflict between the individual and society, it is not a dichotomy or a choice between one and the other, and certainly not a call for annihilation and unification. Early in the text we find the following admonition: “our individual ‘crimes’ must be the fatal announcement of a great social storm.” And towards the end: “We have killed ‘duty’ so that our ardent desire for free brotherhood acquires heroic valor in life.” Far from hating any notion of community or solidarity, Novatore expresses an “ardent desire for free brotherhood”. The distinction is that for society to exist free of all the lies, conventions, and hypocrises that imprison it (and it is these corruptions that Novatore spends the most of his time addressing in this text), individuals must embark on an unending process of personal or spiritual liberation simultaneous to the material struggle for collective liberation that will destroy the state and the bourgeoisie.

Eberhardt, for her part, shows an obvious sensitivity and compassion for the tribulations of the community in her writings about the tragedy of colonization in Bou Achour, in her clear sympathy for their custom of sharing land without inheritance or title.

The Winged Monster
Around the same time Renzo was penning “Toward the Creative Nothing,” Franz Kafka wrote in his diary:
Anyone who cannot cope with life while he is alive needs one hand to ward off a little his despair over his fate… but with his other hand he can jot down what he sees among the ruins, for he sees different and more things than the others; after all, he is dead in his own lifetime and the real survivor.
It is worth mentioning that I’m drawing this quote from Hannah Arendt’s essay on Walter Benjamin, another person whose life was fraught with the antisocial tension.

In my mind the most beautiful image anarchists have given to the world is that of the abundance of these ruins, whether that be in Durruti’s “new world” or in Bakunin’s “creative passion.” In one missive, Isabelle Eberhardt talks about a “winged monster, come to destroy us all” and the most striking thing about the image she paints is how beautiful it is, the fantasy of destruction. And it is immediately followed by the sound of rain in the desert. On a literary level, this is a cathartic release from the tension she has built up between creation and destruction. Symbolically, it is rebirth.

A similar monster appears in Novatore’s passages on the carnage of the War, but this is “a Death without wings”. With both of these writers, values are shifting, creation and destruction are inseparable, neither death nor life are inherently good or bad. The reason Novatore’s monster is an obscene thing is not because it is Death but because it has no wings, because the manner in which it dances, the manner in which it mows down its victims, is vulgar, and because its victims themselves are unworthy of a heroic death, not having lived heroic lives.

“I’m quite aware that this way of life is dangerous,” writes Isabelle, “but the moment of danger is also the moment of hope[…] When my heart has suffered, then it has begun to live.” Renzo echoes her: “And if our ideas are dangerous, it is because we are those who love to live dangerously.”

Again and again, Eberhardt and Novatore use similar language to tease out this contradiction, this inversion of conventional moralities. Politicians of all stripes have coined another term for that winged monster, that dangerous life. They call it “adventurism.” But it goes much deeper than that.

The Control of Madness
Eberhardt: Many times on the paths of my errant life, I asked myself where I was going, and I’ve come to understand, among ordinary folk and with the nomads, that I was climbing back to the sources of life; that I was accomplishing a voyage into the depths of my humanity.
Unsurprisingly, Novatore gives us a similar image: “In the bottom, we want to live the reality of sorrow; in the heights, the sorrow of the dream.”

The heights and depths that these two simultaneously inhabit are a guerrilla’s mountain hideout which the armies of sedentary morality arrayed on the plains can never penetrate. The antisocial, individualistic thoughts of these writers are not useful, not practical, not static, not reproducible, not programmatic. They are real, and they are threatening.

They say: because I am crazy, no stable state of being will hold me. Because I cannot hide my sullenness, no barn will be safe from me. Because I am shifting and crazy, no treaty or written law will pacify me. For this reason, they are a threat to the politicians of the mass movements as much as they are to the gatekeepers of the present order. Because as much as they will participate wholeheartedly in the revolution against the state and against capitalism, they will not be content with the commune. They will continue to rebel because they understand freedom as a process, as a constant renegotiation of itself and an unending attack on any definitional boundaries.

In Chiusi a Chiavi Bonanno writes how, with the triumph of the reformers, the prisons may well be replaced by mental institutions. Those who break laws may be forgiven, but those who can never follow them cannot be trusted. After all, what better definition of craziness than the absence of self-preservation, the imperviousness to both the carrot and the stick? So conditions will improve for those who can be programmed, while those who are wholly insubmissive must be increasingly isolated.

The reason that the politicians of the mass cannot understand this antagonism between the nomadic and the sedentary is because they try to ascribe it a fixed position. And if there must be a right and a wrong, the right has to lie with the sedentary, because their programmatic existence makes possible the infrastructure and the production on which the nomads depend. So if there can only be one, it must be the ordinary folk. The nomads are marginalized, the villages with their stable families multiply and spread, the future is theirs, but they are plagued by inexplicable rebellion. Each time the rebels are cast out, to protect the social whole, which must be. That stability is scientifically proven as the base for all material existence, so what threatens it must be controlled. The administrator, a pleasant man, raised his hands in a gesture of powerlessness. “I can´t do anything. I told them in Algiers it meant the ruin of the tribe. They wouldn’t listen.”

In fact, the antagonism between the sedentary and the nomadic, between “the human frogs” and those who inhabit at once the heights and the depths, cannot be understood with fixed positions. Nomadism is relative. It defines itself in opposition to an other. Unlike ordinary folk, the nomads do not seek to erase that which does not have right on its side. The nomads trade with the villagers, just as Novatore’s “Free Man” may fight alongside others to communalize material wealth, at the same time as they turn away from society, to seek, to explore, to plumb the depths and climb the heights, because life, like rebellion, is unending. Its contradictions outnumber any dialectical process and to be crazy is simply to feel those contradictions and act on them, without permission from society. And this maligned adventurism, and nothing else, is the moment of hope.

We will avenge them.
We will avenge them because they are our brothers!
We will avenge them because they have fallen with stars in their eyes.
Because dying, they have drunk the sun.
The sun of life, the sun of struggle, the sun of an Idea.

Dedicated to Mauricio Morales, a year after his death.

The Ibn ‘Arabi effect

Dear T,

They left as night let its curtains down in folds. – Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi

I am neither an authority on, nor a partisan of, Camatte’s worldview and am thus unable to confidently recommend to you one of his works above the others. In my life, I have found that I am unable to perform either the role of teacher or student and so habitually avoid all approximates of such relations. Equally, as I do not know what questions you wish to ask in your readings of these, or any other works, I cannot even make a guess as to how to best inform your curiosity.

Instead, and I admit this is quite unlooked for, I am able to discuss other more immediate but still related matters. The question I wish to raise with you is the nature of the breaking away of individuals from the elective relations which, to a great extent, have formed their characters. The reason I have discussed Camatte here, and elsewhere, is that he fits this model very well, he is the most readily recognisable and accessible embodiment of the tendency to depart from our milieu on a personal voyage. In fact, I am almost tempted to term this tendency, ‘the Camatte effect’ but it seems a little unfair to utilise the name of someone still living for such purposes… for want of a more apt term, I have therefore settled on the almost arbitrary, ‘The Ibn ‘Arabi effect’ as he is an exemplary figure who voyaged spiritually and then was unable to return home – he is a person who found himself in a different place.

Dear T,

They left as night let its curtains down in folds. – Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi

I am neither an authority on, nor a partisan of, Camatte’s worldview and am thus unable to confidently recommend to you one of his works above the others. In my life, I have found that I am unable to perform either the role of teacher or student and so habitually avoid all approximates of such relations. Equally, as I do not know what questions you wish to ask in your readings of these, or any other works, I cannot even make a guess as to how to best inform your curiosity.

Instead, and I admit this is quite unlooked for, I am able to discuss other more immediate but still related matters. The question I wish to raise with you is the nature of the breaking away of individuals from the elective relations which, to a great extent, have formed their characters. The reason I have discussed Camatte here, and elsewhere, is that he fits this model very well, he is the most readily recognisable and accessible embodiment of the tendency to depart from our milieu on a personal voyage. In fact, I am almost tempted to term this tendency, ‘the Camatte effect’ but it seems a little unfair to utilise the name of someone still living for such purposes… for want of a more apt term, I have therefore settled on the almost arbitrary, ‘The Ibn ‘Arabi effect’ as he is an exemplary figure who voyaged spiritually and then was unable to return home – he is a person who found himself in a different place.

Up to this juncture, those who have broken from their milieu, to follow their own path, have tended to disappear from its records… how many radicals have joined and then departed from the organisations that they thought best expressed their interest? The loss of these individuals is an occurrence that is little discussed – perhaps we are more tempted to contemplate how the organisations themselves operate homeostatically and always somehow maintain the same numbers even though these numbers are constituted by a constantly replenished membership of individuals. The great problem of this breaking away of individuals is not the schism itself so much as the constant rate of loss of knowledge that these individuals have gained in their intellectual journeying – this has developed to such a level that it functions as a critique of the specifics of membership itself. And the result for the organisations concerned has been catastrophic in that they are perpetually bound to a fallback set of principles only new recruits are capable of adhering to. The endless circulation of membership and the hanging on of a grizzled old guard induces organisational inflexibility. By contrast, we know by experience that where there is a constant long term relation, there is always, tinkering and internal modification of the terms of that relation.

I mentioned above, this juncture because for the first time those who have set off on their own journeys from the milieu are being registered as a positive phenomenon by those who do not wish to see them disappear. The problem has been that those who broke from organisations had no structures to ensure the continuity of their ideas… and so the milieu has been consistently losing the insights (and occasional theoretical breakthroughs) which were not aligned to any particular group or party. For the first time, the opinions of those who break away from the milieu’s organisations are being sought out and also organised in order that they cannot be so easily lost again. But why should I presume that those who break from the party are its most intelligent elements?

My understanding of the movement of human consciousness is that it is based firstly in a tendency to band together and secondly, in contradiction, in a tendency to divergence (hence, The Ibn ‘Arabi effect). We might say that Intelligence is thus always defined in terms of divergence from what is established whereas interest is expressed in terms of a reverted to solidarity. From this understanding, it is a small step to perceive ‘organisations’ as structures whose unrecognised function is, in reality, to produce embodiments of the Ibn Arabi effect, that is, they are devices for the production of dissent and breaking away.

I belong to a speculative (i.e. non-existent) group called Forward Unit, the purpose of this group is to engage those individual bearers of fragments of consciousness who have undertaken journeys away from the milieu orthodoxies which have formed them. The purpose of this engagement is to feed their knowledge back into the milieu so that such voyages have their social content returned to them.

Camatte’s break with marxism is remarkable for two reasons: a. that he did not fall silent (which is most significant for the work of [Forward Unit as the not falling silent of those who are intellectually dissatisfied with the given forms of pro-communism is the highest of its priorities); b. his break produced a number of concrete theoretical problems (i.e. the total subsumption of the proletariat/the community of capital; the rejection of organisations and politics). Specifically, in my opinion, Camatte’s greatest contribution is found in an almost nondescript sentence in The Wandering of Humanity in which he states, (I paraphrase), communism is the return of all of human intelligence in non-traumatised form.

In other words, the invariant commitment of communism to humanity is not to be found in the adherence to a particular ‘communist’ theory (as this produces numerous unintended political, ethical and psychological side-effects, not the least of which is a destructive compulsion to heresy) but rather it is the structural and practical facilitation of other people’s intelligence within a safe and supportive environment. For myself, Camatte’s account (which he opposes to Marx’s later celebration of the development of the forces of production) was something of a revelation, as I have always found the certainty of pro-revolutionary groups embarrassing and counterproductive (i.e. the very forms they operate within are bound to produce violent and unhelpful disagreement both internally and externally)…. and the idea that communism is the realisation in the form of social relations of a set of principles is equally abhorrent as it denies the basic subjective content of all other human forms, past and present, that have appeared in the world.

What then is the status of the findings of those who break from the milieu? It seems to me that the Ibn ‘Arabi effect is some sort of embodied expression of the external world’s corrective of internal subjective formations and the sticking points of consciousness that belong to them (i.e. overvalued ideas, overvalued relations, overvalued objects, overvalued histories). Those who take an individualist turn in their activities renew the appropriate form of subjective thought within the milieu which habitually seeks an objectivist perspective despite its minority status. The individualist turn, as it expresses the generality’s corrective of small group pretensions, asks, ‘what is it of that which defines you, are you now prepared to give up?’

Up to this point in time, the pro-communist milieu has not had to actively engage with the Ibn Arabi effect, the fresh and eager enthusiasm of new recruits has simply supplanted the radical non-commitment of those departing. But now, it is possible for those have become disillusioned with the milieu to examine what it is that has caused them to undertake their voyage away from it without their having to renounce the entirety of the problems of social transformation which they previously were so engaged with.

If communism is not the realisation of a set of principles then perhaps it is a set of recuperative practices which attempt to field and process other people’s tendency to the Ibn ‘Arabi effect… this assertion is based, as I remarked above, on the assumption that disagreement (or, the filling in of not occupied space) is fundamental to the human species and that the therapeutic relating of the components of disagreement are of greater liberatory value than the content of the disagreement itself (or put another way, there is a commensurability between the freeing up of the different levels of discourses and the maximisation of those who have access to them.)

What happens when, through the efforts of Forward Unit, the findings of those who have voyaged away from it are fed back into the milieu? The first implication, I think, will be a reduction in the over-influence of clichés in young masculinity (that cycle of initial Hotspur militancy and denunciation followed by rapid decline into indifference); the event of radical divergence will also become less traumatising (i.e. it will not be so understood as alien or as a ‘betrayal’) and will be more generally welcomed as contributive. There is also the question of commissioning those who have not yet deserted the ranks to undertake their independent divergences… Overall, after long contemplation of Camatte’s (not-complete) marginalisation within the pro-revolutionary milieu, it seems that the preferable option (if we are to include such vital intelligences within our schemes) is to construct organisations that are actively and positively productive of divergences in place of those which have previously valued conformity. Divergent ideas and themes must be re-circulated within the milieu to be always up for their reconsideration in a new light – this work of reconsideration is the very core of a living social relationship.

I view the class struggle in its most totalised form to be more productive of, rather than receptive to, conscious intervention in its great churnings. No subjective consciousness has the capacity to successfully divert the flow of the struggle at that level. The process by which ideas are circulated on the largest scale is, under stable conditions, tied to capital expenditure on communications machinery (although even this is no guarantee of success of particular ideas). But during unstable periods, the means by which a new idea becomes popular is a mystery. Nobody could anticipate the linking of Camatte with Ibn ‘Arabi for example. The territory of communist intervention therefore is extremely narrow and I have come to see it in terms of a form of pastoral care undertaken at a very small scale. Camatte was the first marxist (since Marx perhaps) to reintroduce the individual’s scale in the question of opposition to capitalism… it is the individual who most resists quantification, abstraction and his interchangeability as a unit of the economy. More precisely, it is the role of communists to re-present to the most militant anti-capitalist formations of the moment, the centrality of the individual.

The purpose of communist activity after Camatte is to increase the conscious proportion in decisionmaking process at all levels and to thereby diminish the influence of this hostile environment. And where there occurs within the milieu an identification with the forces of production and the ideology of progress, where it is demanded that some individuals will necessarily be destroyed to achieve the realisation of some greater process – the communist must step in, even where he has no power to effect the outcome and argue, ‘’not this individual and not this process.’

I also think a new theory of the proletariat becomes possible at this juncture, a theory which accepts Camatte’s insight into domestication but does not consider it as the end of the matter. Domestication, or real domination, is productive of further contestations but on a different terrain, we still find evidence of objective (i.e. non-conscious) class struggle. However, the struggle is now occurring, as a friend has put it, beyond politics and at the level of affectivity… that is at the level of the proletariat’s recent acute sensitisation to its environment, at the level of its incapacities, of its multiplying illnesses, of its dependency, its lack of agency and non-productivity, its deskilling, its flight from responsibility and politics.

It seems that capitalism cannot survive without the continual reproletarianisation of the world’s population, and yet within vast numbers of humanity this process has induced a terrible enervation and incapacity for productive work… Beginning from Camatte’s perception of a condition of total domination we see that if communism cannot now occur in the form of a supercession of and through capitalist production then it may begin materially as a collapsing away from the productive relation altogether.

If in the past the mighty workers movement could not subdue capital and bend productive forces to its will then the proletariat’s current high maintenance costs and its increasing uselessness may indicate a separation of humanity from its domination by dead labour – we see here how the Ibn ‘Arabi effect works out on a society wide scale – the proletariat is diverging from its productive role and is passing into a condition of errancy, or listless wandering.

The therapeutic attempt to realise all this unarticulated alienated drift as a radical and conscious incompatibility with capitalist forms and then link it to a project of total social transformation is central now to pro-communism’s historical role – although at first, before this therapeutic intervention may occur, it is likely that even more pain, loss and anguish (or ‘austerity’) must be passed through.

You asked for a reading recommendation and instead I have provided you with a reading of my own. Did you expect anything else?

Aimiably,

frére dupont

Up in the Air

I came to anarchism through loneliness. I remember trying to outrun my lifelong feelings of inadequacy expressed through fits of depression and suicidal tendencies. As a consequence, I developed tricks, explored alternating personalities, became a hopper of religions, and committed myself to trendy living, in an effort to gain entry into several of the communities, sub-cultures, and relationships that surrounded me. I was dissatisfied with the pain in my life and I thought that other people could help me to fill the void. I wanted to live because I felt as though I was already dead. The great oppression of my life therefore was my inability to forge successful connections with others. I was always at war with myself.

I came to anarchism through loneliness. I remember trying to outrun my lifelong feelings of inadequacy expressed through fits of depression and suicidal tendencies. As a consequence, I developed tricks, explored alternating personalities, became a hopper of religions, and committed myself to trendy living, in an effort to gain entry into several of the communities, sub-cultures, and relationships that surrounded me. I was dissatisfied with the pain in my life and I thought that other people could help me to fill the void. I wanted to live because I felt as though I was already dead. The great oppression of my life therefore was my inability to forge successful connections with others. I was always at war with myself.




As a result of my ceaseless commitment to finding meaningful relationships, I never had one. What person, community, or sub-culture could ever outshine a great and radiant lifelong phantasy? (Growing up, I frequently reminded friends, family, and partners what love and society were “supposed to look like” — foolishly, nothing in the world could compare to it.) As I matured I began to realize that my visions were the result of phantasy itself, an attempt to outrun the pain at the heart of my existence, and that, finally, I didn’t have an answer or a place to escape – I simply knew that there were problems; problems that neither love, society nor friend could ever pretend to mend because they were first of all problems at the root of my very being. I had only to become acquainted with, rather than outrun, what Dexter Morgan has always called his “dark passenger”.

There is a great truth to the claim that one does not become an anarchist but that one might only realize that an anarchist is what one has always been. If it were as easy as becoming an anarchist, we’d only have left to set our sights on how to make others anarchists too; and, in this performance alone, we contradict the most basic of anarchist ethics, that is, we cease to be anti-authoritarian. And yet, if one were first of all born an anarchist, that is, born into chaos and confusion, then one might only come to terms with the anarchy of life. This is my darkness and it is yours; it is a passenger that remains with us wherever we find ourselves. This is what naturally resists our human interventions because it has always been the general principle of existence. It relates to the profound negativity that frere dupont describes as revolt, but it occurs just as much inwardly as it does outwardly.

I have thus this precise meaning when I insist that anarchists have always been ‘Up in the Air’: we have always been motivated by phantasies. It is here that we understand that being anarchist implies living within the contradictions and the darkness that surrounds us, it means never escaping phantasies except deep within the pits of our being; coming to terms with the phantasies that we have constructed, and will continue to construct, in order to escape the traumatic nature of our birth. Conditions will never change, but our personal, unspeakable, relationship to these conditions can change and with it so much else.

For glimpses of this “dark passenger”, this darkness that emerges from the outermost inside of the anarchist milieu and then from everywhere else outside of it, one has only to look at the recent lineage of nihilistic films on the big screen. Most recently, a film called “Up In The Air” depicts the sad life of Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) who spends his time flying around the world helping large companies fire their employees when they decide to downsize. A number of techniques emerge to help soothe the fired employee upon hearing the news, including but not limited to: constructing comforting and soothing environments, constructing future fantasies (the employee now has time to ‘chase his or her dreams’), technological mediation (layoffs via webcam), creating elaborate discourse to embellish layoff packages, etc. For all of the fancy words, soothing environments and future fantasies, Ryan is still aware of the darkness that exists beneath all the talk but he does little to combat it. Indeed, he builds his empire upon its soil. He helps construct phantasies for other people.

It appears for a while that Ryan has no darkness, that he enjoys his life – he is captured by his phantasy—the phantasies of others—repressing his own darkness. What he thinks he lacks is connection. He is resistant for a while, protecting himself from the light. He eventually submits to the love of a co-worker and, at the end of the film, we are left with an unsettling feeling: Ryan stands alone, still without the connection, he continues his career, he returns to the darkness of his life now aware of it but brutally facing it. This is why we should go to watch movies – movies that reject the happy ending in favour of the more realistic reminder that our lives are lived among the darkest of passengers. Disappointed spectators are faced with the sadness of their own lives, some release the pain with tears, others with bad words, still others remain seated for minutes after the movie, just reflecting. They return, like Ryan, to their everyday world and rebuild phantasies until they are ready, again, to face the darkness of life.

I am brought to tears for the beauty and honesty of film and then question my own love for the film. I realize that being an anarchist, in the political sense of the term, doesn’t mean that I have to be immersed in the milieu, interested in anarchist things, or vocally against everything that currently exists. If it helps, [I] think of it this way: I am an agent from the future; I must live a normal life in the circumstances in which I find myself. There is no need for me to go looking for ‘events’ – they will find me. Any action, for me, is only a running away, a phantasy, and, as a result, I run away from the fundamental struggle of my own life. Anarchism, like all things, is simply a preparation for death during life. And if I die an anarchist, I will have been more prepared than most.