Anarchist Developments in Cultural Studies (ADCS) 2010.1
Edited by Duane Rousselle & Sϋreyyya Evren
Published and distributed by Little Black Cart
Underneath Anarchism… Post-Anarchism
Recently, I finished reading issue #1 of Post-Anarchism Today: Anarchist Developments in Cultural Studies (ADCS). As the name implies, it is a journal of post-anarchist cultural studies encompassing articles on a variety of subjects - from architecture, identity, and morality; all the way to film studies, black blocs, book reviews, poetry and the old faithful Karl Marx. Overall, the material is quite dense, although not surprising, being that much of the text comes from a rather academic standpoint, if you will. Academia aside, which has been one of the most prevalent critiques of post-anarchy so far (supposedly rebuffed in this journal’s introduction) - there are some really good articles, and then there are some that are not-so-good. It seems like a promising start and the future of what has come to be known as post-anarchism looks theoretically intriguing. In this brief review I plan to look at three of the more meaningful texts, including Alejandro de Acosta’s Anarchist Meditations, Allan Antliff’s Adrian Backwell’s Anarchitecture, and Saul Newman’s Voluntary Servitude Reconsidered.
First off, a note on the medium. Like many great things in life, the contents of ADCS is available for free online at The Anarchist Library. It has also been brought into this world in “journal” format, which is actually much more (exactly) like a book. As with most things, I recommend the book - but the simple idea of sharing these texts for free over the Internet in an age where “print is dead” is a thoughtful and a beautiful idea that should be noted. A quick note: I found that I really had to try and be on my toes while reading the journal if I was going to try to write a review / critique of it - unlike, say a work of fiction - non-fiction is something one just can’t breeze through. I’m also not that well versed in post-anarchist material, and it is something rather new to me. I read it once all the way through, but then reread some individual articles two, three, four, even fives times before I felt like I really had something to say… I’m still not completely certain I do. Is this a good summer time book? In my opinion no, but it is still an intriguing read. Perhaps more well suited for the long cold solitary winter months, unless of course you don’t have winter - then well… I’m not sure what to tell you, other than you’re lucky.
I dreamed I turned off my cell phone
In Anarchist Meditations, or: Three Wild Interstices of Anarchism and Philosophy by Alejandro de Acosta he looks into the somewhat estranged relationship between anarchists and philosophy. According to Acosta:
philosophers allude to anarchist practices; philosophers (usually in search of theory to add to the canon). What is missing in this schema, I note with interest, is anarchists alluding to philosophical practices. These are the wild interstices: zones of outlandish contact for all concerned (p. 118)
Why is anarchism so intriguing then for philosophers? Acosta points out that anarchism has “never successfully manifested itself as a theoretical system” and it is herein that lies the excitement of exploring the unknown. The text goes on to state that the “apparent theoretical weakness of anarchism” is perhaps one of its “greatest virtues.” While some may scoff here at this claim, I can find understanding in it, because after all anarchy in many senses is the idea of having no ideals. And what of these zones of outlandish contact for anarchist meditation that were mentioned earlier? Acosta gives us three wild styles - daydreams, field trips, and psychogeography to draw from.
The first zone of outlandish contact are daydreams. What is a daydream? A daydream is exactly what one may imagine it to be - a meditative affirmation or even negation. Acosta goes on to describe the differences between the two.
The difference between meditative affirmation and negation is that in affirming I actively imagine a future that I do not take to be real; I explore its details to act on my own imagination, on my thought process, to contract other habits. In negation, as in affirmation, there is no future, just this present I must evacuate of its meaning. This meditation is a voiding process, a clearing of stupidities. It is what I do when I can find nothing to affirm in the present. (p. 127)
Perhaps, I do too much daydreaming - perhaps even, not enough. But, the idea of thinking things through, mulling it over from various angles, and using your imagination to develop a deeper understanding of things can be surprisingly simple, but not exactly common. Touching on only the superficial, rushing around from place to place, hoping to find the joy of all philosophical pursuit becomes difficult when we fail to take the time and patience to look on a deeper level. This is not to say that being spontaneous is the problem - what it is saying though is that often, especially here in American society - we have too much going on, too many things to worry about, and not enough time in the day to find our joy and happiness. How often have you heard that before? In affirming or negating these meditations “the question is that of another attitude, another tone of thought, another voice.”
The second zone of outlandish contact are field trips. Here Acosta looks into the act of adventuring to some significant unfamiliar location, engaging it, and creating an abstract “thesis” unto that experience. A field trip, is a field trip and I’m reminded of younger school days of going someplace far off on a bright yellow bus. What made these field trips important and exciting is that they seem to make meditations more meaningful. No longer are you just daydreaming, traveling the great expanse of the human mind - but now you are a doing-being… err… or, something like that… whatever. Digging your hands in the dirt, uncovering the past, and finding out for yourself what it means to be alive. Citing Frere Dupont’s Nihilist Communism, Acosta states:
we always need new practices of thought, new contemplations, that habituate us to overcoming our profoundly limited common sense about what is human, what the human or its societies can do and be. (p. 131)
The third and last wild style is psychogeography. This can be thought of along Situationist terms in the dérive, although psychogeography is not strictly for the urbanlandscape . I imagine this almost like a field trip, but with less of a specific structure and aim. It is going out in the world - observing and experiencing. Acosta writes:
I am referring to what is collectively called “hanging out.” Going to the public library, for example, for no other reason than to witness what in it is anarchic - or again, to a potluck. This practice involves another way of inhabiting familiar spaces. It brings out what in them is uncannily, because tendentially, anarchic. It multiplies our sites of action and engagement and could shape our interventions there.(p. 132)
Psychogeography is the most appealing wildstlye for me. There is something about taking hours to wander through the woods, walk from one end of the city to the other, with no strong intentions other than to explore, to feel, to try and make sense out of your surroundings, and find the anarchic meaning hiding right in front of your eyes. Exploring by foot, bike, train, plane, car, and/or… (you get the point).
Overall, I find that the point of these meditations is to find a deeper and more profound understanding; or to find the joy and happiness that makes you want to get out of bed in the morning. It is far from easy, as the aspects of mental health in our friends and society have made it glaringly apparent. Something is not right, and there are some approaches we may be able to take - and this is the reason anarchist meditations are not only important, but necessary. Or as Acosta writes, “[t]hese wild styles ought, eventually, to put into question every political project - first, as project, and, again, as political.” (p. 135)
u mad? u jelly? When Nature Calls
Ever notice how all the airports look the same? Where ever you go, it seems like you are always arriving and departing for the same location (or is that just me?). Is it the comfort of knowing your surroundings or has modern day travel and globalization lost their imaginations? It’s not just airports, but the entire assemblage of society - gas stations, supermarkets, and restaurants all made to look the same. In the article Adrian Blackwell’s Anarchitecture (see link for images) by Allan Antliff the tension between capital and architecture is examined. Or in the words of Antliff, “Blackwell has developed the antagonistic aspect of anarchist aesthetics by creating zones of tension enacted in the spaces between art and architecture.” (p. 165)
The question is asked - how can one “radicalize the social potential of architecture?” (p. 167) Growing up in the rolling ghost lands of abandoned farms and crumbling wooden red barns - I would dream of the possibilities of what these places once looked like and what their futures could hold. What if the grain silo that now lays empty, except for the dead bird bones scattered across its floor, had a glass staircase winding up to the top of it to look over the majestic country side? What if that barn with old rotting hay in it, was turned into a workshop of sorts or maybe even an indoors basketball court- instead of just being an utter rats nest?
What happens when architecture takes the opposite approach? When it aims to quell the social potential of individuals? I’m reminded of the insane idea of staircases that are meant to hinder rioting, or if you will, insurrection. At least that is what I always think when I encounter stairs that are irregular and difficult to walk up - are they purposely designed this way? I believe their actually may be some validity to this idea, however far off the truth actually is - after all I know I’m not the only one who has mentioned this before.
Antliff’s article on Adrian Blackwell, explores this axis of architecture and modern society. One that is
“constantly searching for avenues that break out of alienation, transparencies that bridge the gap between artist and audience, ruptures that draw us into contested social ground, where we discover our own freedom.” (p. 177) Thoughts of a giant tree houses and forgotten parks within the city, abandoned power plants and deserted subways tunnels, spiced with Frank Lloyd Wright all spring to mind. It tells the tale of the Canadian government and private developers who “found common cause in the popularization of a familiar gentrification equation: poor people = danger.” (p. 168) Toilet humor aside: Blackwell installed a portable toilet, with a two way mirror acting as the door. This allowed those on the inside to see out, and those on the outside to see a reflection of themselves and the environment. The rest of the article goes on to document some of Blackwell’s other adventures in architecture, including some pinhole camera photography that is in color none-the-less (at least the online version).
Do I get paid for this…?
Last, but not least for this review is an article by Saul Newman entitled Voluntary Servitude Reconsidered: Radical Politics and the Problem of Self-Domination. The text asks the question of “why do people at some level desire their own domination?” (p. 33) If information wants to be free, why don’t human beings? Thankfully, this domination over us “is a condition of our own making - it is entirely voluntary; and all it takes to untie us from this condition is the desire to no longer be subjugated, the will to be free.” (p. 33) It all sounds easy enough, but like many things - it is often much easier said than done.
Newman goes on to state that “democracy itself has encouraged a mass contentment with powerlessness and a general love of submission.” (p. 35) Lovers of submission is a bit strongly worded, but life under democracy definitely quiets a lot of people down. Then again, so does television. Some people have often asked me why I don’t vote, finding it difficult to understand why something so important for them, just doesn’t matter for me. Others have even gotten extremely angry with me - to the point of no return, were they don’t even want to be friends. Most of the time though, I think that people think it is just a matter of being lazy - but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Again for Newman, “the state relies on us allowing it to dominate us.” (p. 42)
So, what does mean for those human beings who want to be free? Newman writes:
We can take from this that radical politics must not only be aimed at overturning established institutions like the state, but also at attacking the much more problematic relation through which the subject is enthralled to and dependent upon power. (p. 44)
A little further one and more in-depth, Newman states specifically that:
This would mean thinking about what freedom means beyond the ideology of security (rather than simply seeing freedom as conditioned by or necessarily constrained by security). We also need to think what democracy means beyond the state, what politics means beyond the party, economic organization beyond capitalism, globalization beyond borders, and life beyond biopolitics. (p. 45)
However simplified and full of catch-phrases these last two quotes may seem, I think it really puts the nail-in-the-coffin regarding what Newman is aiming for. While theoretically intriguing, the study rehashes a lot of ideas that seem secretly well-known. Like everyone knows this, but is this enough to push them over the edge? Or are we just going in for a dip today? Maybe even, this will just have a drive there, have a look at the beautiful view, and return to work. If the majority of people honestly believe that they have everything that they need - what is there for them to be angry about? I’m angry because more people are not angry; and also because not enough people can laugh at everything (not in a Lulzsec kind of way though, even though that is still funny… very funny [tm]).
On the whole, the future of ADCS looks promising. Recently, they released The Anarchist Turn, which is a collection of mostly audio and video from New York City about… the anarchists turn (insert joke about anarchists taking turns here). When I think of cultural studies, I think of something like a dialogue on hip-hop in the Caribbean, or and examination of Mexican migrant workers in the USA - or something like that. ADCS seems to expand upon the field of cultural studies, especially in a more theoretical direction. It works and the journal brings some good (some bad) discussions to the field of post-anarchism. As the journal has said, the toughest part is just starting because after all, the secret is to really begin.
If you’d like, you can order the journal here:
Or, if you are curious about more post-anarchist texts, you can check out the post-anarchism tag at the Anarchist Library: