Networks, Colonization, and the Construction of Knowledge

a review of Marianne Maeckelbergh’s The Will of the Many and Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s Decolonizing Methodologies

Both Marianne Maeckelbergh and Linda Tuhiwai Smith are social scientists, but both identify first and foremost as members of communities in struggle: the alterglobalization movement, in the first case, and the Maori, in the second.

Maeckelbergh is an incisive thinker and concise writer, and in her debut book she handily tackles the premise that the prefigurative networks used for information-sharing and decision-making in the alterglobalisation movement constitute an effective challenge to the exclusion and authoritarianism of representative democracy. I approached her book with trepidation, wondering how an ethnography of our struggle could possibly help us more than it helps the state agencies tasked with dissecting and controlling us. Somehow, she pulls it off. The result is not a blueprint of “the movement of movements” but a theoretical deepening of our understanding of networks that can only deepen our appreciation for the ability of what we are doing right now to confront and replace the current regime.

a review of Marianne Maeckelbergh’s The Will of the Many and Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s Decolonizing Methodologies

Both Marianne Maeckelbergh and Linda Tuhiwai Smith are social scientists, but both identify first and foremost as members of communities in struggle: the alterglobalization movement, in the first case, and the Maori, in the second.

Maeckelbergh is an incisive thinker and concise writer, and in her debut book she handily tackles the premise that the prefigurative networks used for information-sharing and decision-making in the alterglobalisation movement constitute an effective challenge to the exclusion and authoritarianism of representative democracy. I approached her book with trepidation, wondering how an ethnography of our struggle could possibly help us more than it helps the state agencies tasked with dissecting and controlling us. Somehow, she pulls it off. The result is not a blueprint of “the movement of movements” but a theoretical deepening of our understanding of networks that can only deepen our appreciation for the ability of what we are doing right now to confront and replace the current regime.

Tuhiwai Smith brings a persistent, thorough criticism to bear against the Western production of knowledge and the colonial role of scientific research in indigenous communities. As a researcher, she subsequently explores how different understandings of knowledge and approaches to research can be made to benefit indigenous communities, and how non-indigenous researchers could engage in research in indigenous communities responsibly. I found the book valuable for its anticolonial analysis of science and knowledge, and for the thoughts it can provoke regarding research, for anarchists who may never be researchers, but whose theories often refer to human geographies and ethnographical accounts of indigenous societies.

Academics for the Struggle

Precisely because scientific institutions and scientists themselves are a vital force in directing and advancing capitalism, while certain individual scientists have made crucial contributions to revolutionary struggles, it is useful to review these two books simultaneously. Each author, writing as a social scientist and as a member of a community in struggle, challenges academic norms in subtle but significant ways.

What Tuhiwai Smith offers is intuition and reflection. While scientists of all types thrive on criticism, the process of criticism remains very much within their control and is formulated by others of their kind using in-group rules. Tuhiwai Smith frequently mentions, and puts great weight in the fact, that Maori or indigenous peoples more generally feel suspicion or outright contempt for the prying activities of scientists on their lands and in their communities. She makes this statement not on the basis of statistical data, but as a Maori. In other words the scientific community is called to acknowledge how it is viewed through the eyes of a group it has consistently dealt with as an Other-to-be-studied, and to take responsibility for what it has done collectively to deserve this view. The collective feeling of rejection toward the scientific community is not legitimated or dismissed through comparison to objective data or a postmodern atomization and analysis of the forces that shaped this view; rather, an autonomous body of knowledge is allowed to exist alongside the Western methodologies of knowledge and to be granted validity.

Maeckelbergh offers humility, portraying alterglobalisation movement actors as intelligent, as producers of their own analysis, as a collectivity from whom other people can learn rather than an Other upon whom we impose our own analysis. Even while she teases out the intelligence of networks or describes patterns and norms within the movement in brilliant and original ways, she always does so in the spirit of sharing what alterglobalisation networks have created themselves. In other words, she subtly reveals that it is the activity of people, and not the scientific production of specialized institutions, that is responsible for the creation of knowledge. In both cases, these authors introduce what I would call anarchist values regarding communication, analysis, and criticism into their work. Tuhiwai Smith explicitly shapes her criticisms along the lines of what she identifies as indigenous values lacking in the Western scientific tradition; in my view these indigenous values have much in common with, and much to offer to, anarchist desires for a horizontally organized, decentralized or communal world free of state, capitalism, and patriarchy.

The result of the efforts evident in these two books could well be the liberation of necessary theoretical work from the colonial baggage that has long corrupted it.

Divergent Epistemologies

One of the most enlightening aspects of each book was their framework for understanding the creation of knowledge. Tuhiwai Smith analyzes the capitalistic production of knowledge in Western society, arguing that the accumulation of knowledge-as-resource during the process of colonialism was in fact the motor for the development of Western science. The religion of the colonizers, although a deterritorialized spirituality, was inadequate for the globalization of the 16th century and onwards because it had no way for assimilating the histories and biologies of the rest of the world. The agrarian, temperate climate economics and regionalistic 5000 year history of the Bible could do no better than write off the rest of the world as the habitat of the devil, failing to provide the needed level of nuance and technical instructions for colonizing and governing diverse peoples and bioregions. Science thus arose primarily as a system for alienating knowledge into information, classifying it, making it separable from its context, transferrable, mechanical, repeatable.

In other words, colonization, the process of encounter with and domination of the Other, is central to the history of the development of the West, yet curiously, it is peripheral in the accounts of both elites and radicals in the colonizing countries.

Tuhiwai Smith goes into more detail explaining how Western ethnographic accounts of colonized peoples had less to do with their lived realities than with the Western need to justify their own self-image and history through the invention of a convenient Other who confirmed preexisting assumptions.

Maeckelbergh talks about the creation and sharing of knowledge in the alterglobalisation movement, and the M.O. she describes seems to mirror what Tuhiwai Smith identifies as indigenous ways of viewing knowledge. Namely, that knowledge is not property, rather it is collectively created through relations, in the connections and communication between different people or different nodes in global networks, with greater, more diverse participation and communication leading to better quality of knowledge, better decision-making, and in turn a stronger network. And far from being absolute, knowledge is context-specific, and often contradictory; it cannot and should not be homogenized or routinized.

The Western Individual

Tuhiwai succinctly restates perennial indigenous criticisms of the colonizers imposing categories of individuality, personhood, economy, governance, and land ownership that simply could not apply to indgenous worldviews. Maeckelbergh expands recent theoretical work (from the last few decades) on the individual, delving into the very best part of Western science and philosophy, which is the point at which it succeeds in deconstructing core Western values. Every time one of these sacred cows is imploded, I’m pleased to find it does so in a way that seems to confirm a premise of anarchist thought or revolutionary indigenous views as articulated by Zapatismo or Magonismo.

The case of the individual is no different. Western philosophies have long considered the individual as something reproducible or homogenous, alienable, mechanical, and even internally divisible (as in the dualist traditions). Maeckelbergh, in order to show the intelligence of horizontal networks, modifies complexity theory, which arose in the physical and life sciences to explain how an incredible complexity could arise spontaneously in chaotic systems (think the ordering of molecules, beehives). To make this theory applicable to social movements in a non-deterministic way, she combines it with a view of agency not as residing in an alienable individual but in relationships, in communication between diverse individuals. The result is that the individual is still an empowered agent, is not subsumed and lost within some greater, abstract community, but neither is the individual separable from her context, displaceable, transferrable between the cubicle, prison cell, and private home with demarcated, universal rights than inhere in her person, her body, and no further. Rather, the individual exists in and through her relations with the world and other individuals.

For anarchists and other people in struggle, the implications of this challenge to the categories of the dominant system are unending; although Maeckelbergh does not state most of these implications, they especially become apparent in the context of the alterglobalisation movement’s challenge to democracy. The constraining liberal discourse of rights disappears immediately, as soon as we are our relationships. Fighting against the pollution of the local aquifer is an act of self-defense. Criminality or social harm becomes a problem of the community, not a problem of law enforcement, without reducing the criminal to a mechanical victim of social circumstances. Knowledge is common property. Centralization can no longer masquerade as a practicality or necessary inconvenience or anything other than a violent imposition.

These are values that many anarchists have always held, as have, it seems to me, indigenous nations fighting colonialism, though as an outsider I can’t say that in any objective way. However, neither Maeckelbergh nor Tuhiwai Smith pretend to offer anything new (even though on a number of counts they do, and brilliantly); rather they present us with the knowledge our own communities have created, in an articulate fashion that confirms the best of our practices and experiences, renews confidence in our analysis, and helps us to understand, express, and expand that analysis. Many anarchists and other activists continue to limit their struggles by placing them in the confining, maladaptive parlance of liberal democracy, which is after all the system that dominates us. With our own theories so eloquently and solidly given back to us, we can leave the rhetoric of individual rights and legality in the dumpster of history, and then, better yet, set it on fire and wheel it into the street to block the dominant flows of knowledge and ideology.

Prefiguration and Cultural Survival

It is this character of militancy that I found most lacking in both books, which is especially problematic since passivity has long been one of the key weaknesses to academic efforts for social change. Curiously, Maeckelbergh phrases the combative networks of the movement as an attempt to reformulate, rather than abolish, democracy. Even though she demolishes the theoretical underpinnings of democracy, she keeps the term itself in a positive light, which is especially strange considering that the title she chose for her book is a reference to a Zapatista quote about how foreigners applied a eurocentric word, “democracy,” to something they had always been doing. I don’t want to renew any form of political correctness in the anarchist tradition and add to the list of words we are not allowed to say, and I think it’s perfectly acceptable to talk about anarchy as a better form of democracy when trying to win over well meaning reformists, but why preserve that one key link to the dominant system in a book that otherwise consistently undermines or challenges dominant values? To make it easier to communicate? To whom? Evidently not to the rebels of Chiapas whose phrase came to give title to the book.

Both of these books are marked by a minimization of struggle that to me seems to reflect that pernicious habit of academia, which seeks to breed itself into even the most sincere and intelligent enemies of oppression, to seek compromise with the dominant system.

Tuhiwai Smith mentions violent struggles against colonialism in the past, but similar battles don’t appear in her portrait of the current realities of indigenous communities. I can’t say whether counterattack against the dominant system is currently an important part of the Maori struggle, but it most definitely is of other indigenous struggles which she references. How can one write about the dangers posed by research and researchers to indigenous communities without stressing the centrality of state counterinsurgency programs which employ social scientists? Unless one doesn’t want to give the idea that the 500-year-long war of cultural survival is by no means metaphorical in many indigenous nations… Granted, it is a much more complex topic, how responsible researchers should conduct their work in a war zone, but it seems irresponsible to downplay or ignore the topic entirely, given the role geographers, anthropologists, and sociologists have played in recent years to aid the repression in Oaxaca, Chiapas, Chile, and elsewhere.

Maeckelbergh focuses on consensus in order to give useful ethnographic boundaries to her study of prefiguration in the alterglobalisation movement. Prefiguration sounds awful nice when it is written about in an eloquent book, but it is precisely the practice of “movement actors” to pick fights with the system, to be disruptive, to encourage illegality and support prisoners, as part of their prefigurative strategy, that gives vital meaning to the global mobilizations and consensus meetings. I find this oversight typical of the academic particularization or atomization needed to accomplish the pacification that is an important part of colonization and repression.

Nonetheless, it is an error of omission. Maeckelbergh is by no means a pacifist, and Tuhiwai Smith does not seem to be; they are not advancing the pacification process that employs so many other academics, simply failing to address what is in many people’s minds a key component of anarchist prefiguration or indigenous cultural survival. It is easy enough for the reader to benefit from their writing, which on the whole is very good, and to plug in the missing emphasis on struggle, on fighting back, in order to improve our strategies and deepen our practice.

Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous People (Zed Books, 1999)

Marianne Maeckelbergh, The Will of the Many: How the Alterglobalisation Movement is Changing the Face of the Democracy (Pluto Press, 2009).

Quijote Against the World

“it’s not like it used to be… nobody cares about change… it don’t matter…” – My First Soul, by Auld Lang Syne

Published during the Spanish Golden Age in two parts (1605/1615) The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha[1] by Cervantes has become one of the most famous books in the world and is considered by many to be one of the most respected fiction pieces of all time. The story relates an epic adventure taken on by two main characters, Don Quijote and Sancho Panza. Quijote goes off adventuring, lead completely by his horse Rocinante, who goes where ever it wants, leading Quijote and eventually Panza to fight injustice, reclaim the world, battle everything that is “bad”, and (for Quijote) win the love of his life [Dulcelina]. The entire book, originally written in Spanish is quite lengthy and full of misadventures depicting the frequent failures (perhaps great success?) during the early 1600’s, Spain. There are many English language translations, but perhaps one of the best (that I recommend) is by Edith Grossman, published in 2003. There are also, some abbreviated versions of the story, with the editors choice of parts – so this may be more advantageous for the time strapped or for those wanting to get a feel for the book. Setting up for a complete and in-depth review, would be quite the research project due to the books length and complexity – this is a greatly abbreviated review of the book, and by no means are all things touched on. There have been many reviews before this one, and maybe many more after. The overall purpose of this review is to briefly compare and contrast the ideas and attitudes of Don Quijote and Sancho Panza surrounding their thoughts upon essential materials vs. that of spirit.

“it’s not like it used to be… nobody cares about change… it don’t matter…” – My First Soul, by Auld Lang Syne

Published during the Spanish Golden Age in two parts (1605/1615) The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha[1] by Cervantes has become one of the most famous books in the world and is considered by many to be one of the most respected fiction pieces of all time. The story relates an epic adventure taken on by two main characters, Don Quijote and Sancho Panza. Quijote goes off adventuring, lead completely by his horse Rocinante, who goes where ever it wants, leading Quijote and eventually Panza to fight injustice, reclaim the world, battle everything that is “bad”, and (for Quijote) win the love of his life [Dulcelina]. The entire book, originally written in Spanish is quite lengthy and full of misadventures depicting the frequent failures (perhaps great success?) during the early 1600’s, Spain. There are many English language translations, but perhaps one of the best (that I recommend) is by Edith Grossman, published in 2003. There are also, some abbreviated versions of the story, with the editors choice of parts – so this may be more advantageous for the time strapped or for those wanting to get a feel for the book. Setting up for a complete and in-depth review, would be quite the research project due to the books length and complexity – this is a greatly abbreviated review of the book, and by no means are all things touched on. There have been many reviews before this one, and maybe many more after. The overall purpose of this review is to briefly compare and contrast the ideas and attitudes of Don Quijote and Sancho Panza surrounding their thoughts upon essential materials vs. that of spirit.



First, I’d like to define a few things. The essential key materials are thought of as water, food, and rest – which lack thereof results in a deprived state and eventually death, they are the things you really can’t live without. Obviously on the other hand, you have non-essential material goods such as gold, silver, clocks, games/toys, ect. That aren’t truly necessary for survival. As for the spirit, one can consider it to mean belief in something, even if that something is nothing. Some more clear examples are things of the supernatural sort, like the belief in god, or even bits and pieces of ideas – like the existence of heaven and hell, ghosts, majik, and other oddities/occult. It is important to note and define these ideas because Quijote and Sancho each display varying characteristics and perspectives throughout the novel on these topics.

So, the story goes: Don Quijote begins reading books about the adventures of various 14th/15th century knights-errant and their “heroic” deeds. Quijote, who is an older man, begins to spend all his time reading, and literally cares for nothing else, other than those old tales about “saving the world” and “falling in love.” Food, water, and rest seem of little importance to him, and eventually his reading habits drastically change his life. He begins to sell his land and other property, in order to buy more books to read. After sometime, Quijote emerges from the obscurity of his house believing – that in fact, he is a knight-errant, and his mission is to save the world and win the love of his life. Imagine someone sneaking out of their residence, after weeks of reading, hiding away, and building the most absurd self-styled armor a la knights-errant, to confront the world with, kind of sounds like some funny friends you may know. Yet, in the beginning of the end, Quijote gallops, or more like meanders out of town unseen and hidden, with his most unlike battle ready horse – Rocinante[2], not to be seen in town until his uneventful, yet dramatic return sometime later. He has no clue where he is headed, as he just lets Rocinante blaze the trail of his life.

And so it begins…

”The reason of the unreason that afflicts my reason, in such a manner weakens my reason that I, with reason, lament of your beauty.” (from Don Quijote)

Don Quijote wants to create a more moral world, a model of the human effort, one many may think of as a form of utopia. He has a very pastoral view of life and society, a living anachronism against the encroaching modernity of Spain. In many ways Quijote is confronting the more modern economic approaches and technology that was happening in Spain at the time, and suggesting something more simple (yet crazy). For example, look at Quijote’s so-called insanity. How did this happen?The invention of the printing press, which allowed him to buy and read all those books about knights-errant, seems to be the main source of his insanity. It was also this easier and wider distribution of print that ensured Cervantes, the author of Quijote, made little to no monetary gains by writing the book during his life. “Pirated” copies would turn up throughout the region, with even the second half of Quijote being written by another author. Which, in turn prompted Cervantes to actually write the second half of the book some years later, because supposedly he was very angry with this authors take on a sequel to his original work. It should be noted, that Cervantes actually created a fictional Moorish author/chronicler for Don Quijote named Cide Hamete Benengeli. And in many ways killed Quijote in the end, so no one else could ever write about his adventures again.

In making the author Moorish, it seems Cervantes reinforces the stereotype of the time, that anything a Moor does is probably not true. Therefore, making criticism of the book impossible, since it has already been refuted as utter lies. Clever in a sense, but more so it seems to begin to show some of Cervantes negative attitudes that were reinforced by society at the time [and continue to be]. Cervantes lived his life, one failure after another – first as a solider being injured, then as a prisoner, and later as an “unsuccessful” writer who seems to have lead a rather difficult life. The book reflects these reoccurring themes of failure surrounding Don Quijote (maybe Cervantes?) as he fights the battle that can never really be won, because it isn’t real. It is sad, but it is also an unfortunate reality that many of us know all-to-well. Like the saying goes, “la vida es dura” (life is hard).

If we examine the idealism behind Quijote or what some have called Quijotismo (the movement of Quijote) it could be said that in many ways it is an idealism without respect for or sense of being practical. It is an ideal that doesn’t consider consequences or the irrationality of one’s actions. Quijotismo is most of all, a romantic idea or a utopia that is unattainable by the non-romantic sane, one can only truly realize it, if you refuse to identify between reality and imagination. At the heart, this ideal is created by the love Quijote feels towards Dulcelina, his dream lover. The love and companionship of Dulcelina is more important than food, water, and rest – something that perhaps dear readers are familiar with. Quijote refuses to realize that his love is imaginary, and that his love is perhaps not even interested in him. It is like he will never give up, trying to make the world a better place, yet deep down inside, what he just really wants is some love. Perhaps, Cervantes is again reflecting on some of his own life experiences.

In the final chapters of the book Quijote returns to his home and with that some sense of what some may call sanity. In this way, Quijote becomes like his side-kick Sancho Panza, or the Sanchification of Quijote. Because while Quijote is for many, the raving madman throughout the book, Sancho always seems to act along much more practical lines. It is like Panza is the stable foundation for Quijote’s rocking-and-rolling all night long party house, that will probably collapse when the dancing begins, or maybe end up puking in the toilet the next morning. On the other side of things, Sancho Panza starts to become like Quijote, or the quijotification of Sancho; in this way, the two characters feed off each other and become one another. Once home, Quijote writes his will and gives all his belongings to his family, and while he originally promised Sancho an island that he could govern in the beginning of the story, he now wants to give him an entire kingdom. Unfortunately for Sancho, Quijote doesn’t really have anything to offer him, other than gratitude – not even a salary for his services. Just some (bad) advice maybe, and the memories to last a lifetime.

While, it seems this whole time, perhaps all Sancho really wanted, other than protecting Quijote from danger, was his island in the sun. It is not even clear if Panza knows exactly what an island is, other than some form of payment. In a high contrast to Quijote, Sancho represents everything that is some-what rational and thought out (or what many call being normal). Food, water, and rest are the most important things in life, along with knowing that you’re going to be well-off tomorrow, the next day, and so on.

Even the infamous Bill “NOT BORED” Brown has wrote an essay on the subject Sancho Panza’s priceless coinages which I will steal a quote from here (that is from an English translation of the book) regarding how Quijote recommends paying off Sancho:

“I think you’re absolutely right, Sancho my friend […] I can tell you, for myself, that if you’d wanted to be paid for those lashes which will disenchant Dulcinea, I’d have long since, and very gladly, have given you the money […] Just consider, Sancho, what you might want, and then do the whipping and pay yourself, because you are guardian of my money […] Add up what money you have of mine, and then put a price on each lash.”

Quijote and Panza are two very different characters, yet at the same time they are similar in the fact that they both can create some pretty wild dreams and become one another. They each have a great effect on one another, like any friend may have on your daily experience, and while at first Quijote seems to be the only one struggling against everything modern – soon his friend joins him, although it is already too late for Quijote. He has already returned to the miserable grind of reality and material goods and will soon die.

Cinema

Among the many movies made about the book, Orson Welles’s Don Quixote is one of the more intriguing ones to take a look at, one that truly deserves an entirely separate review in order to touch upon everything. For the purpose of this review though, I will only focus on one aspect of the film. In Rolling Thunder: An Anarchist Journal of Dangerous Living #6 (fall-2008), the following page appears:

As you can see, there is the classic windmill imagery evoked by Don Quijote, however what is important to take note of is the text. Here is the text quoted from the image[sic]:

“The Most Beautiful Six Minutes in the History of Cinema”

Sancho Panza enters the cinema of a provincial town. He is looking for Don Quixote and finds him sitting apart, staring at the screen. The auditorium is almost full, the upper circle–a kind of gallery–is packed with screaming children. After a few futile attempts to reach Don Quixote, Sancho sits down in the stalls, next to a little girl (Dulcinea?) who offers him a lollipop. The show has begun, it is a costume movie, armed knights traverse the screen, suddenly a woman appears who is in danger. Don Quixote jumps up, draws his sword out of the scabbard, makes a spring at the screen and his blows begin to tear the fabric. The woman and the knights can still be seen, but the black rupture, made by Don Quixote’s sword, is getting wider, it inexorably destroys the images. In the end there is nothing left of the screen, one can only see the wooden structure it was attached to. The audience is leaving the hall in disgust, but the children in the upper circle do not stop screaming encouragements at Don Quixote. Only the little girl in the stalls looks at him reprovingly.

What shall we do with our fantasies? Love them, believe them–to the point where we have to deface, to destroy them (that is perhaps the meaning of the films of Orson Welles). But when they prove in the end to be empty and unfulfilled, when they show the void from which they were made, then it is time to pay the price for their truth, to understand that Dulcinea–whom we saved–cannot love us.

– Giorgio Agamben, Profanations

Leaving the actual text aside for a moment, concentrate on the author, Giorgio Agamben of the above quote for a moment. If one were to see the text in the Rolling Thunder journal (image above), you will see that the quote is attributed to the authors Brener and Schurz. To my knowledge, the truth is that the editor’s of Rolling Thunder were duped into believing the quote was from Brener and Schurz. Perhaps, as the thinking may have went, if they knew it was really from Giorgio Agamben it may have not been published[3]. Not to get too far off topic here, but it is interesting to note that it appears at least to some extent, that another joke may have been played in return here (although, pure speculation). Recently, a new Politics Is Not a Banana #3 was released, however many have come to doubt that this new issue was actually created by the original folks involved in the journal, leading some to point fingers at the Rolling Thunder journal (CrimethInc.) folks. Whoever is it, or whatever the purpose – the humor and funnies are certainly appreciated!

Moving back to the actual context of the quote, the lovely titled “Six Most Beautiful Minutes in the History of Cinema” regards a clip of the unfinished Orson Welles’s movie that was left out of early versions, but was included eventually later on in some versions. Overall, this cinema experience of Don Quijote is quite intriguing, especially when considered with the movie as a whole. In many ways, it is understand to be like the post-modern movie version of Quijote, instead of attacking ancient 16th century technology and society, he is battling 1940ish motorized scooters and movie screens. One interesting thing from the movie is some footage of a religious procession, framed along and sliced with footage of the Klu Klux Klan, which Don Quijote goes to attack. Overall, it is definitely worth checking, especially if you’ve enjoyed the book.

So What!!!?

Who knows, maybe this book may be of little importance to you. At times throughout it, I find it to be rather “fluffy” sprinkled with blossoming flowers that never end. Like, ever try reading some old Shakespeare alongside José Martí with some bananas thrown in. However, I do find some gems that are really good within the book for me. Perhaps, most intriguing – to playfully read the adventures against everything that life as we know it has become, to see through our imaginations, rather than with our misleading desires for the most trivial things in life. As someone wrote recently, the greatest thing of all is saving the world! A lot of the time, I find myself taking in and fully enjoying those moments of non-thought and thinking, where it has been shown that our brain is actually most active and full of energy. Don Quijote in a lot of ways, is the definition of tragic hero – even though I may disagree with what he actually fought against for the most part, (the Moors) and alongside (Christianity). Blame can be placed on Cervantes here, maybe not so much Quijote, after all he is just a character. Cervantes wasn’t exactly the most upstanding character, but still a tragic-hero in himself. It can be all be too confusing, seeing Quijote for nothing other than love, and against everything that might actually make sense – then applying some sort of reasoning to it. Quijote was certainly a radical in his time, just what kind of radical is up in the air…

Footnotes:

[1] please note that I decided to remain with “Quijote” instead of “Quixote” throughout the rest of the text, mostly because I prefer to leave names and locations in the original language / untraslated. Title originally in Spanish: Aventuras del ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha

[2]

Dialogue between Babieca and Rocinante A Sonnet
B: Why is it, Rocinante, that you’re so thin?
R: Too little food, and far too much hard labor
B: But what about your feed, your oats and hay?
R: My master doesn’t leave a bite for me.
B: Well, Senor, your lack of breeding shows because your ass’s tongue insults your master
R: He’s the ass, from the cradle to the grave. Do you want proof? See what he does for love.
B: Is it foolish love?
R: It’s not too smart.
B: You’re a philospher
R: I just don’t eat enough
B: And do you complain of the squire?
R: Not enough. How can I complain despite my aches and pains if master and squire, or is it majordomo, are nothing but skin and bone, like Rocinante?

[3] “The editor of Rolling Thunder has expressed his disdain for the works of the author of the aforementioned essay, however, when the essay was sent to him under the name of a more palatable writer, it was prominently reprinted in the magazine.” — from Life is Definitely Elsewhere-A Response to “Say You Want an Insurrection” [a Crimethinc. text] [ http://www.anarchistnews.org/?q=node/10435 ]

Another Act of Terror

I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano,-
A stage, where every man must play a part;
And mine a sad one.

William Shakespeare – Merchant of Venice Act 1 scene 1

On Thursday morning 53 year old Joesph Stacks got into his plane and began to fly. His steps into a single engine Piper-Cherokee aircraft were strides off a rigged playing field of capitalist social relations. Fueled by ressentiment, the Austin, Texas resident flew his craft low over the skyline before piloting his kamikaze vehicle into the Internal Revenue Service building. Plowing into the hulking seven story building just before 10 am, Stacks’ act of terrorism brought instant reminders of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center. Flames shot from the building, windows exploded, a huge pillar of black smoke rose over the city and terrified workers scrambled to safety. The Pentagon scrambled two F-16 fighter jets from Houston to patrol the skies over the burning building before it became clear that it was the act of a lone pilot.

“It felt like a bomb blew off,” said Peggy Walker, an IRS revenue officer who was sitting at her desk. “The ceiling caved in and windows blew in. We got up and ran.”

I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano,-
A stage, where every man must play a part;
And mine a sad one.

William Shakespeare – Merchant of Venice Act 1 scene 1

On Thursday morning 53 year old Joesph Stacks got into his plane and began to fly. His steps into a single engine Piper-Cherokee aircraft were strides off a rigged playing field of capitalist social relations. Fueled by ressentiment, the Austin, Texas resident flew his craft low over the skyline before piloting his kamikaze vehicle into the Internal Revenue Service building. Plowing into the hulking seven story building just before 10 am, Stacks’ act of terrorism brought instant reminders of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center. Flames shot from the building, windows exploded, a huge pillar of black smoke rose over the city and terrified workers scrambled to safety. The Pentagon scrambled two F-16 fighter jets from Houston to patrol the skies over the burning building before it became clear that it was the act of a lone pilot.

“It felt like a bomb blew off,” said Peggy Walker, an IRS revenue officer who was sitting at her desk. “The ceiling caved in and windows blew in. We got up and ran.”



Terrorism is a gesture of advertising: it’s a literary act, a form of representation before all else and Stacks with his feeble attack on the IRS that killed one (besides himself) and critically injured two others, publicized his hatred for an inept political system.
Stacks was kind enough to leave behind a suicide note before his fatal voyage that brings more depth to his act. It is in his words, that would have gone completely ignored if he had not piloted his plane into such a spectacular collision, that we see his banal motivations. Cheated by a governmental system that cost him over $40,000, ten years of his life and sent his retirement plans back to zero, he conveys his life history of miserably common working class failures. After all: “The capitalist creed (is): From each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed.”
During his early years as a college student, still full of hope, Stacks lived next to an elderly widow. Her husband was a steel worker whose pension had been raided by corrupt unions, incompetent management, and of course the government, leaving the woman with only the pittance provided by social security to survive on. At one point he recounts a conversation between himself and the older neighbor in which “…she in her grandmotherly fashion tried to convince me that I would be “healthier” eating cat food (like her) rather than trying to get all my substance from peanut butter and bread.”
Stacks goes on to list his different attempts to solve the problems he has with the government, and the different ideologies through which he passes. Having spent at least 1000 hours and $5000 “mailing any senator, congressman, governor, or slug that might listen,” attempting to mount a campaign against the atrocity of unfair taxation, he realized the futility of his actions. Stacks finally grasped that “when the wealthy fuck up, the poor get to die for the mistakes… isn’t that a clever, tidy solution.” Having little recourse Stacks took up the decision for pointless martyrdom. Knowing that “… there have been countless before me and there are sure to be as many after. But I also know that by not adding my body to the count, I insure nothing will change. “
It is Stacks himself that points out the madness of his actions. Saying that “…the definition of insanity is repeating the same process over and over and expecting the outcome to suddenly be different.” Stacks perversely had some desire that his actions would some how wake up the “American Zombies” to the injustice of the reigning order. Yet as stated above others have thrown themselves against the Kafkaesque labyrinth of despair that is the governmental bureaucracy with equal effect, which is to say none.
Just days after his death, petty politicians of the left and the right are quick to denounce Stacks, each side pointing to the other for producing a mad man. The play of blame just quickens the process of recuperation, Stacks’ act is caught up into the order of things and quickly forgotten, after all Pamela Anderson’s new scanty outfit was a scandal and the Olympics are being played out. While pointing to the widely known fact that something is terribly amiss with the world today Stacks delusive deed becomes just another blurb in the spectacle of modern society.
What we really see in Stacks is the nihilism of his gesture. Nihilists constantly feel the urge to destroy the system which destroys them. They cannot go on living as they are. Stacks did not recognize the possibility for the transformation of the world, and so he becomes ossified into a role: in this case the “suicide.”
The nihilists’ mistake is that they do not realize that there are other with whom they can work. Consequently, they assume that participation in a collective project of self-realization is impossible.

“Take my pound of flesh and sleep well.”
Joe Stacks
1956-2010

The Story of Crass by George Berger

In the fall of 1999 I was a senior in a rural high school outside of Albany New York. My friend from high school, who had previously graduated the year before, was coming home. He was the other punk in town. I picked him up from the greyhound bus station. His large glue encrusted mohawk barely fit into the car. He put the tape in and that’s when I first heard Crass. The discordant muck was jarring enough for me to classify it as punk and the righteously indignant lyrics fit my understanding of what it meant to be political.

Ten plus years later I don’t listen to Crass much. I prefer the more melodic songs of Morrissey, Bronski Beat, She Wants Revenge, and a slew of others who attained more than a modicum of skill with their instruments. While my musical preferences have changed my interest in who and what Crass were has not. When I saw a copy of “The Story of Crass,” by George Berger at a recent Gilman show I picked up the book.

In the fall of 1999 I was a senior in a rural high school outside of Albany New York. My friend from high school, who had previously graduated the year before, was coming home. He was the other punk in town. I picked him up from the greyhound bus station. His large glue encrusted mohawk barely fit into the car. He put the tape in and that’s when I first heard Crass. The discordant muck was jarring enough for me to classify it as punk and the righteously indignant lyrics fit my understanding of what it meant to be political.

Ten plus years later I don’t listen to Crass much. I prefer the more melodic songs of Morrissey, Bronski Beat, She Wants Revenge, and a slew of others who attained more than a modicum of skill with their instruments. While my musical preferences have changed my interest in who and what Crass were has not. When I saw a copy of “The Story of Crass,” by George Berger at a recent Gilman show I picked up the book.

The book is composed of interviews with the members (sans one) of the band and include the voices of Gee Vaucher, Joy De Vivre, and Eve Libertine. The predominant voice of the previous media about the band mainly centers on member Penny Rimbaud, no doubt due to his proclivity for writing (Shibboleth, The Last of the Hippies and The Diamond Signature). Hearing from the others of the band fills out the picture of Crass, although Rimbaud’s voice is still prominent with the author often referring to Rimbaud’s “The Last of the Hippies.”

The beginnings of Crass start with, gasp, art school. Gee Vaucher, a working class girl, met the middle class Penny Rimbaud at a local art school they both attended. Later Rimbaud would move into the Dial House located in the rural landscape of England. Rimbaud points to the importance of the Dial House when he says:

“The place was, and is key and central to Crass. I don’t think Crass would have had the physical environment in which to be created, it wouldn’t have had the background on which it based its creation.But not only that, the very fact that it was a very secure environment which had minimal upkeep and costs, which had sufficient room for a large number of people to live for bugger-all made it central. It was, and remains, a central facility. (p. 165)”

Rimbaud and Vaucher would go on to join the Fluxus inspired artistic theatre group Exit. In recalling Exit Gee Vaucher said “We were part of the Fluxus movement. And before that we were affectedby the Situationists. We were affected by street theatre – by the idea of taking something out of the four walls and off the canvas. (p.33)”

The backbone of a art gave the band a helping hand in the design department. Their infamous logo was made and soon became stenciled everywhere. Along with their iconic logo was the artistic collages of Vaucher. Each album was put together not only with a pre-fixed price record but a long booklet which included the ranting of Rimabaud and the poster art of Vaucher. As if that was not enough the band also began to dress in all black, defining an aesthetic that would separate them from the rest of the punks. This separation was taken further when they were deemed by the punks, and the critics, as living up to the ideals to which they spoke. The Dial House was communal, their diet vegetarian and their shows were often put on as benefits for various far left causes. The members of the band subsumed their individual desires for a collective existence as Crass, for better or for worse.

The band’s coherent aesthetic still contained problems. Talking later of “Yes Sir I will…” Steve Ignorant says “I hate that fucking record – that and Ten Notes on a Summer’s Day are just two piles of garbage. The fun had gone, but I didn’t know how to say it. Because we were Crass, and because Crass lived together, it didn’t ever stop. So your personal life was part of Crass, and Crass was part of your personal life – it’s all intertwined. So the way that you were was Crass and the way lived was…, you could never switch off. Even if I went to the pub or a gig, I was always careful not to get drunk in front of people cos it might backfire, I might get seen. So, yeah, it was quite a restriction and it stopped being fun. (p 244)”

While it was the style of Crass that made them popular it was the very same style (that pervaded their everyday life) that led them to breaking up, and becoming stagnant as a group and amongst themselves. Penny Rimbaud states how Crass’ opposition to the status quo, to their static position as an alternative authority caused , can become inadvertently crystallized.

“When creativity is in opposition to destruction, inevitably destruction prevails. To a very small degree, that was one things we initially didn’t realise. The moment creativity falls into the trap of being in opposition, it’s becoming defined – the whole purpose of creativity is that it’s channeling and describing undefined areas – its bringing form from formlessness. The moment the form is defined (by auhtorities, by the state, by the schools, by parents, by the church) then we’re no longer in a creative situation.”

The above quote smacks strongly of the idea of ressentiment, a Nietzschean term that depicts a sense of resentment and hostility directed at that which one identifies as the cause of one’s frustration. In Crass’ case their ressentiment was directed at the State and Capital, against society as a whole. With ressentiment there is a sense of weakness or inferiority and perhaps jealousy in the face of the “cause” which generates a rejecting/justifying value system or morality. Here we can see Crass’ embrace of vegetarianism, pacificism, and anarchism. This set of morality attacks or denies the perceived source of one’s frustration. The ego creates an enemy in order to insulate itself from culpability, it allows one to have a righteous anger against the enemy, a forever feeling of victim-hood.

While I thoroughly enjoyed this book, the way it highlighted the art background and hippy values of Crass was ultimately very disappointing for me personally. I hate hippies, and its sad that one of the greatest punk bands were hippies. Working class member Steve Ignorant saves the day, (a little bit, even if he wasn’t a hippy he sure did hang out with a bunch) when he said in reply to being called hippies; “That used to drive me up the right up the fucking wall! I hated that. … the hippy thing used to drive me mad because I never was a hippy and never will be. (p. 163)”

Phew at least one of them wasn’t a fucking hippy.

The Theory Of Bloom

In a sense they foreshadowed what was to come, in their own sad and skeptical way, which led them one by one to the abyss.

-Roberto Bolaño

Tiqqun was a two volume journal published in France at the turn of the 21st century. The first volume appeared in 1999 and included a text entitled Théorie du Bloom. In 2000, the text was augmented by the authors and published by La Fabrique Editions. In the two volumes of Tiqqun, the idea of the Bloom appears throughout the interrelated texts. Its clearest articulation resides in the augmented, book-length version of The Theory Of Bloom.

In a sense they foreshadowed what was to come, in their own sad and skeptical way, which led them one by one to the abyss.

-Roberto Bolaño

Tiqqun was a two volume journal published in France at the turn of the 21st century. The first volume appeared in 1999 and included a text entitled Théorie du Bloom. In 2000, the text was augmented by the authors and published by La Fabrique Editions. In the two volumes of Tiqqun, the idea of the Bloom appears throughout the interrelated texts. Its clearest articulation resides in the augmented, book-length version of The Theory Of Bloom.

The book begins by narrating a scene of total, entropic disconnection between passengers on a train. A woman yells through the phone at her ex-husband, the two of them negotiating time with their child and time with their respective boyfriend and girlfriend. While she talks she is propelled forward on a train, sitting in a seat identical to all others in a car which is identical to all the others. The detachment of everyone on the train, the “strangeness” between them, is something we all share in common. This “strangeness” is also called the Bloom. We only experience it as a “strangeness” because we are so separated and so masked to one another. But in fact, the Bloom is the common power we all share. Bloom is the name given to the nameless.

From there, the book dives into the history of the 20th century, narrating the development of Biopower from 1914 onwards. Biopower, the science of control, is the “ benevolent power, full of the solicitude of a shepherd for his flock, the power that wants the salute of its subjects, the power that wants you to live.” Working hand in hand with Biopower is the Spectacle, “the power that wants you to talk, that wants you to be someone.” You must have a social role in the Spectacle, you must be recognizable and clearly distinct so as to be better classified in its shows, magazines, soap operas, social scenes–its theater of masks. As Biopower and the Spectacle’s control grew more total in scope and effect throughout the course of the 20th century, the Bloom had to survive and adapt. It had to exist with the bombardments of the radio, the television, advertisements, moral duties, mandatory military service, and the conditions in modern factories.

But soon, the Bloom caused the strategies of Biopower to shift. Too many people concentrated together would produce too much resistance. The common ground had to be pulled out from under the Bloom. The workplace had to be diffused, more and more had to become automated, and the workers had to be stripped of their collective power. By being made easily replaceable and anonymous, workers fell deeper into the grips of Biopower. At the same time, the worker became disinterested in crumbling truths regarding living wages, job security, and fair employment. All ties the Bloom once had to economy started to fade, and are still fading.

KEEP A GOOD FACE, before the domain of ruins.

-Tiqqun

The Bloom is forced to fixate on certain social roles in order to survive. Worker, housewife, professional, student, citizen, all of the roles are but masks, donned and rarely removed. The Bloom must remain positive while wearing these masks, ignoring its own power and sovereignty. “The Bloom is the masked nothing.” But underneath the mask is the pure potential of every person.

To catch a glimpse of one’s pure potential most often causes either fear or destructive elation. On one end, the fear invoked by one’s own freedom makes people cling ever more tightly to their masks. “At first I was lost without my cage,” said the canary. This produces the western hipster, the devotee of nothingness, the champion of the mask. Hipsters are neutralized beings, forever terrified of what they could do, might do, and will never do. “The hipster is the Bloom who offers himself to the world as a bearable form of life, and in order to do so forces himself into a strict discipline of lies.” The hipster is a finished being, “ever-already disappeared, ever-already forgotten.”

On the other end, the intoxication of one’s own freedom, finally experienced, causes the Bloom to lash out, to affirm its power as the ability to kill and destroy. The school shooters, the cop killers, “the maniacs of nothing,” expend themselves asserting their sovereignty over the systems which once dominated them. The book references the Columbine shooters and children killing their parents as examples of these eruptions of pure potential as death. But the authors stress that their “aim is not to lend an ordinary revolutionary signification to such acts, and hardly to confer an exemplary category to them. Instead, we wish to understand the way they express fatality and to seize upon it so as to explore the depths of the Bloom. Whomever follows that view will see that the Bloom is NOTHING, but that this NOTHING is the nothing of sovereignty, the emptiness of pure power.”

One path leads to the nothingness of commercial society, the hipster. The other path leads to the nothingness of death. The authors of The Theory Of Bloom suggest a different path, one which leads to neither death or perdition, but towards the “strategic community of the Invisible Committee.”

At the conclusion of The Theory Of Bloom, the positive objectives of the Invisible Committee are elaborated. After having taken the reader through an erratic genealogy of western literature, religion, philosophy, and capitalism, the authors lay out their prescription. They ask the reader to not “merely struggle against the dominant schizoid state, against our schizoid state, but to begin there.” By making use of our dual natures of public and private, of worker and party animal, of criminal and model citizen, we are to “coordinate in silence a sabotage of grand style.”

Only those who know the meaning that they will give to the catastrophe retain calmness and precision in their movements. By the type and the proportions of panic to which a spirit allows itself to go, one can tell one’s rank.

-Tiqqun

The goal for the reader is to understand the context and significance of their situation, to not run in terror from their pure potential, their total freedom. They recommend experimentation, massive experimentation in which the reader detaches themselves from their detachment “using a conscious, strategical practice of dual self.” In this way, one becomes part of the Imaginary Party, the anonymous sea of actors who cannot help but hinder the movements of civilization. But rather than be a hipster or a school shooter, the agents of the Invisible Committee move anonymously through their environs, composing strategically within a collapsing system, refusing to be frozen in popular culture or sacrificed to the Spectacle as a psychotic killer.

To embrace the Bloom in oneself is “the practical experience of the self as trickster.” Everything which exists in the world of the Spectacle and Biopower can be utilized but must never be embraced or championed. It is all at our disposal, every bit of it, ready to be re-appropriated. “To not only survive in the constant immanence of a miraculous departure, to not merely force oneself to believe in the job that one does, in the lies that one tells, but to begin from there, to enter into contact with other agents of the Invisible Committee.” The Invisible Committee is “an openly secret society, a public conspiracy…the name of which is everywhere and the headquarters nowhere.” All defectors, all deserters, all escape artists can take part in the “inassignable plan” of the infiltration of every echelon of society. The book ends by telling the reader, very simply, to leave the rank “without appearing to.” The authors tell the reader when to do this. NOW.

“In the metropolis, man purely undertakes the trial of his negative condition. Finitude, solitude and display, which are the three fundamental coordinates of that condition, weave the decor of the existence of each within the grand village. Not the fixed decor, but the moving decor, the combinational decor of the grand village, for which everybody endures the icy stench of their non-places. ”

-Tiqqun

It is very difficult to synthesize the various conclusions in this book. All I have done here is present a few of their main points. The book itself, according the Junius Frey, the author of the books intro, does not act like a book. It is what he calls an “editorial virus” which “exposes the principle of incompleteness, the fundamental insufficiency that is in the foundation of the published work.” It is not meant to leave the reader feeling satisfied as they would be with a book they could read on the beach and then throw away. It is meant to bring the reader to a position where their withdrawal from its conclusions “can no longer be neutral. ”

The Theory of Bloom is a very dangerous book, filled with warnings against fascism, laziness and stagnation. It describes our era as one whose defining characteristics are display, finitude, and solitude. We display ourselves to each other because it the only way to be seen. We are finite beings, forever sealed off from each other, only able to display our masks in a grand masquerade. And we are all alone, solitary, stumbling over each other when the dance is over and the masks have grown uncomfortable. In times of decadence, people get to the bottom of things, growing disgusted and tired with their masks. We are all orbiting around the gravity of our potential power, unsure of and afraid to use it. But that power is not something which only one group may access. Fascism is simply another response to glimpsing ones power, ones pure potential. Fascism is the mass-experience of freedom as death. It is a very real, ever present danger.

The book is terrifying in its simplicity, nearly overwhelming in its descriptions of modern culture. The fact that it was written over a decade ago is a testament to the resonance it still carries within it. There are dozens of passages describing familiar scenes which still hold true today and are no less potent because of their age. This book is one of the main keys to the two volumes of Tiqqun and the later work of the Invisible Committee, The Coming Insurrection. It holds everything which was to come later, and contains to seeds of what is still to be sown. This book should be read and read again.

Evidently, it has no other end but devastating this world; this is even its destiny, but it will never say so. Because its strategy is to produce the disaster, and around it, silence.

-Tiqqun