Doing It Yourself to a Fault

The death of print hasn’t killed people’s interest in watching the outside world. It has just added another layer between the windows and the world worth watching. As a result we no longer judge what we see on its merits but on the qualities of the glass between. Does it entertain? Is it beautiful? Are we respected, for our time and observation, by professional glazing and temper? We have conversations, in real life, that sound like rapid fire checklists of articles we have skimmed and that evoked something in us (a feeling? a thought? no time to know as there are a thousand more headlines to read).

While scanning this flood of information there is little time to digest, review, or even position oneself in regards to the material. One is a leaf in the wave. The idea that this is “information surfing” pretends to an agency that no longer exists in this third decade of mass networked information. The better metaphor may be one of a blanket suffocating a fire. The passion to create, small things, pales in the face of a reality where a fourteen year old observing that Friday comes after Thursday can be propped in front of a camera and watched over 167 million times.

Where there was once a spirit of rebellion in the practice of scribbling a word on paper and sharing it with other people trapped in homes, now we barely have the energy to attempt to semaphore. The democratization of digital creation has led to the few creative outlets being the most horrific (e.g. 4chan). It is so easy to say things that we say very little at all and nothing of importance. Nothing to shake worlds.

The new professionalism of digital information means that spinning up a server has never been easier nor less necessary. New radical projects click three buttons, fill in 10 – 20 fields and have launched a new Facebook™ site, where all the information one would have put together after days of hacking code, securing services, and agonizing over browser compatibility can be shared in minutes. The ease of sharing information means that sharing itself is free, or to put it differently, is the product itself.

When we share our dreams in their perfect enclosure we validate it (the enclosure). This is beyond being a source, or creator, of advertising or marketing material, but enclosures are also prisons of a sort. Rational self-interest has motivated pirates, rebels, and free thinkers into gilded cages where life (defined in this case as sharing information–also known as communicating) couldn’t be easier. Where life itself is pablum of links, factoids, and near opinions barely worth watching from the safety of our own homes. We are becoming bored of watching ourselves perform a communication dance near each other. Always reaching, never touching.

The Anvil Review is about bringing a hammer to the glass. Bruises and flaws are far superior to the blue (#3B5998) bars the imprison us. Bring back the xerox machines, printing press, and flawed do it yourself spirit of our childhood! Fucked up cut-and-paste is superior to fixed pixel width and the tyranny of the desk chair. Every time I see a book shaped to the ass of an actual reader I want to run and hug the person holding it. They are the few who have escaped the manicured landscape of our beautiful ever present reality of the lonely crowds and self prescribed limitations.

As long as ours hands have not curled into a carpal tunneled claws we will contest their presentation of the world, transgress against the theme park of false oppositions or one great nation, and engage with the tragic, failed, glorious projects we bring to each other in this, the only moment we have together.

Text as Folk Art: a book for non-readers

We could create change and resist the destruction that they wrought on the world. I felt joy and hope in all the possibilities we could continue to create, rebelling against their hallowed message that we should give up and give in.

I had to climb the hillside to see what was on the other side. Once I did, I saw the giants everywhere. I continued onward with curiosity and courage. I saw others doing the same and many of us walked together in mutual support. p 42

From Rousseau’s infamous noble savage to a fascination with tourism, western capitalist society has found many ways to both maintain and exploit the image of some people as Other. One of the more pernicious flavors of this is to see some people as more authentic, more in touch with their humanity and their experience. This increased authenticity can be attributed because they have suffered more, or because they are not seen as fitting into the model of the Normal Person ™ (who is supposed to be some combination of [sub]urban, white, middle class, straight, certified sane, etc). A particular kind of interest in folk art is part of this alienation.

In Europe, psychiatric collections, mediumistic art work, and paintings by autodidacts such as Alfred Wallis (1885-1942) and Henri ‘le Douanier’ Rousseau (1844-1910) were held aloft by modernists, along with colonial plunder from Africa and the Americas as salvation from industrialization’s increasing ravages (Gale 1999:16 and 17). Across the Atlantic, a similar fascination with ‘naive’ expression was taking place. Championing the romanticized notion of a fast-fading authenticity inherent in Anglicized American heritage, certain collectors, scholars, gallerists, and museum professionals turned their attentions to folk traditions. Marcus Davies

The definition for folk art is quite contested: how is it distinct from crafts (or is it)? What is its relationship to fine art and schools of art and art schools? Must it be completely untouched by the art market, or can folk pieces be in dialog with fine art pieces? Can fine artists do folk art? Should folk art be an umbrella term that includes naïve art, art brut1, tribal art, tramp art, self-taught art, etc, or is it a thing distinct from any of those? And so on.

For our purposes, wikipedia gives a reasonable entry:

Folk art

a) encompasses art produced from an indigenous culture or by peasants or other laboring tradespeople. In contrast to fine art, folk art is primarily utilitarian and decorative rather than purely aesthetic

b) expresses cultural identity by conveying shared community values and aesthetics. It encompasses a range of utilitarian and decorative media…

c) is practiced by people who have traditionally learned skills and techniques through apprenticeships in informal community settings, though they may also be formally educated

As with all attempts to define a group as outside of capitalist, western, urban values or experience, this can be read optimistically (the definers are dissatisfied with the status quo and are reaching for something, trying to understand the world in different ways), or pessimistically (the definers are attempting to integrate all difference into the status quo, to flatten differences even while they trumpet how “different” they are).2 More to the point, the members of the given group are both inside themselves and outside themselves at the same time. The Situationists were brilliant in their analysis of the Spectacle as something that divorces people from our own experience, an alienation that we are all subject to, but that members of Otherized groups are subject to differently. Vine Deloria’s article “Anthropologists and Other Friends” is intense and paradigm-shattering in its depiction of the relationship between anthropologists and the people-being-defined, negating (among other things) the idea that any of us can be untouched by the society that envelopes us.

Organizations like the National Endowment for the Arts rightfully define folk art as art coming out of a specifically identifiable tradition. Folk art is “learned at the knee” and passed from generation to generation, or through established cultural community traditions, like Hopi Native Americans making Kachina dolls, sailors making macramé, and the Amish making hex signs. From the website for the American Visionary Art Museum

Hopi-Native-Americans-making-Kachina-dolls (et al) are not just involved in a deeply spiritual and practical effort that their people have done for generations, they are also operating as Authentic Others within a capitalist model. These two ways of existing are diametrically opposed – are even mutually exclusive – and yet this paradox is embodied in these Hopi (et al), and to varying degrees in all of us.

Our truck sped along the highway, our thoughts in a tumult. Few cars moved our way, apart from the occasional military vehicle. In the other direction, the roadway was overflowing with evacuees. They began to look like refugees from another place. p 45

In Black Flags and Windmills (BF&W), scott crow – the best known (or at least the most interviewed) of the founding members of Common Ground Collective (CGC) – explains how he grew up and in to a world view that promotes a certain way of looking at race, class, disenfranchisement, responsibility, and privilege. BF&W is a reflection of that world view – one that has been called variously anti-racist, anti-colonialist, leftist – with many of its strengths and weaknesses.

While the group had many contributors and co-creators, it is fair to say that CGC (now a non-profit called Common Ground Relief) was initiated by a local ex Black Panther, a local woman, and an anarchist, in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when New Orleans was traumatized; entire neighborhoods had been emptied – sometimes through force; the government was demonstrably more interested in controlling the behavior of those who were left, than it was in meeting their needs. CGC, like many other efforts that seek to serve people’s needs without government or NGO mediation, has been lauded by some as an example of direct action, and criticized by some as a charity. In fact it was probably both, depending on when and on which people or subset of people one focuses on. Scott crow makes clear that there was an ongoing negotiation between working with people who were not anarchists, not used to dealing with anarchist horizontal process and mostly probably not interested in learning to deal with it, and the anarchists who made up most or sometimes all of the volunteers who were coming in from outside the area. Differences that were not made any less challenging by the different racial, economic, and cultural compositions of the two groups.

Naïve art:

The main characteristic of naïve art is a rejection, or strained relationship to, the formal qualities of painting, especially the three rules of perspective (as defined by painters of the Renaissance):

The rules of perspective are

  1. decrease of the size of objects proportionally at distance,
  2. enfeeblement of colors with distance,
  3. decrease of the precision of details with distance.

The lack of these characteristics leads to an equal accuracy brought to details, including those of the background, which would be shaded off in fine art paintings.

 

BF&W is an exercise in folk and naïve art, because it is less a cohesive story (or even set of stories) than a record of part of a conversation. The book does not abide by any of the rules normal for books on any of the themes that it includes. It is more than a memoir of CGC (it includes some of scott crow’s childhood) but less than an autobiography – crow mostly discusses his childhood, political development, and part of his life during the existence of CGC. It includes a history lesson but only for a few disconnected and very specific pieces of history, without a larger context (primarily the Black Panthers and the Zapatistas). It is a political text by an anarchist who seems to have been most inspired by non-anarchists. It is a manual for disaster relief without much step by step information to duplicate specific success(es). It is an adventure story about fighting cops, vigilantes, snitches, and entitlement, as well as surviving the environment, without a clear ending. People who already know a bit about CGC might read this book for more information on Brandon Darby, who was a significant part of the story for scott crow, and who gained notoriety first from to his self aggrandizement, and later when he came out as an informant to the FBI. However, where scott crow discusses Darby, it has more to do with crow’s process of coming to terms with the fullness of Darby’s perfidity, than it does with an analysis or accounting of Darby’s behavior.

More fundamentally, the text does not follow a single line at any point. All of the threads are woven together in the way that spoken conversations sometimes flow, but that seem quite random on paper. Because there are so many threads that all seem to get equivalent attention, it’s hard to know which is foreground and what background.

This conversational style, in which bits from all the various themes are mixed together–biographical fragments with stories about the Spanish Civil War and crow’s alliances with ex-Black Panthers (a description that is featured heavily throughout the book), etc–is so pronounced that it makes the book seem like something new, perhaps a book that is for people who don’t read, who don’t like or want to be limited by the patterns or habits in more traditional books.

So Folk as a description operates here in two ways. First is that of “a set of practices learned by watching other people,” in the sense that crow learned his activism by watching and listening to ex-Black Panthers, and from them received a particular take on identity, society, and liberation that he faithfully represents here, even when it is in conflict with much of anarchist thought. In a chapter called Of Anarchists, Panthers, and Zapatistas, crow explains his own eventual embrace of the label anarchist (after rejecting it initially because of his distaste for punk anarchists in his youth), when he decided “it was time to shock the political system.” For some it will be odd that in this chapter the examples of actual action that he uses are two groups that have no anarchist affiliation at all.

It is not hard to find criticism of the authoritarian practices of many within the Black Panther Party; one example is this quotation from Paul Glavin’s friendly review of Liberation, Imagination, and the Black Panther Party (edited by Kathleen Cleaver – who wrote the preface to BG&W – and George Katsiaficas).

The authoritarian, top-down structure of the Panthers, combined with their reliance on Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, is objectionable from an anti-authoritarian perspective. The Panthers saw themselves as a vanguard Marxist-Leninist style Party with hierarchical ranks and they were influenced by Mao. For example, Michael L. Clemons and Charles E. Jones’s essay, “Global Solidarity,” points out that fifty percent of BPP political education classes were devoted to Mao’s Little Red Book. Key members were given State titles, such as Minister of Information and Minister of Defense.

In this collection, Mumia argues it is hard to generalize about the BPP because it had many offices and a diverse membership reflecting regional and cultural differences. Yet by the 1970s the BPP did become increasingly authoritarian and centralized. … http://www.newformulation.org/1pantherinsurgency.htm

And the Zapatistas, as exciting as they have been for people looking to create mass movements, are themselves not even anti-state.

The EZLN has not hidden their agenda. Their aims are clear already in the declaration of war that they issued at the time of the 1994 uprising, and not only are those aims not anarchist; they are not even revolutionary. In this declaration, nationalist language reinforced the implications of the army’s name. Stating: “We are the inheritors of the true builders of our nation”, they go on to call upon the constitutional right of the people to “alter or modify their form of government”. They speak repeatedly of the “right to freely and democratically elect political representatives” and “administrative authorities”. And the goals for which they struggle are “work, land, housing , food, health care, education, independence, freedom, democracy, justice and peace”. In other words nothing concrete that could not be provided by capitalism. Nothing in any later statement from this prolific organization has changed this fundamentally reformist program. Instead the EZLN calls for dialogue and negotiation, declaring their willingness to accept signs of good faith from the Mexican government.

From THE EZLN IS NOT ANARCHIST

crow’s book exemplifies a conundrum for a particular kind of anti-racist activist, which is the question of how much one constrains their ideas to fit into models that have been approved by people of color. When one is an activist, as crow decidedly is, the models of the panthers and the zapatistas are too practical and successful (within limits) to be denied. But if anarchy is something more than a set of tactics, then one must admit that anarchy is impractical. It is not practical to have a beautiful vision of the potential in all of us, a potential that demands the overthrow of so much that so many take for granted or in fact demand. This dilemma continues to be acted out in many people’s political activities and organizations, and the scott crow book is (among other things) a story of the balancing that he was trying to do between its horns.

Anarchism means not waiting for the other to do something. It means knowing what the right thing to do is, recognizing we have the power to do it, then doing it. p73

But Folk can also apply to the way that a work is understood to be outside of institutions; counter to what is considered learned or erudite; easy for the Common Folk to understand. When the point of a work is to replicate cultural norms that are not scholastic or outside of a particular form-of-life, to be – for example – accessible to a group of people who are not used to reading, then the conversational flow and familiar language will be a comfort and an encouragement. These might be the people who take the story of Don Quixote’s windmills as an expression of hope and a refusal to concede, rather than as a sign of an old man’s delusion.

Reading this book brought up for me questions of habit and form, formality and structure. Arguably, scott crow took the format – papers bound together with glue and a cover – and made it his own. A practice that egoists, among others, might be able to appreciate.

  1. aka outsider or visionary art – ie art by people who are considered insane or far outside of social convention)
  2. Of course both pessimistic and optimistic views are true simultaneously.

Böll, Orwell, Bolaño: In Defense Of Art

Böll, Orwell, Bolaño: In Defense Of Art

This is a century in which democracy regularly presided over the birth of fascist regimes and civilization constantly rhymed – to the tune of Wagner or Iron Maiden – with extermination.

-The Invisible Committee

Only in chaos are we conceivable.

-Roberto Bolaño

 

Introduction: Art and Auschwitz

In the book Music of Another World, Szymon Laks describes his experiences as a member of the Jewish orchestra in Auschwitz. The post-war, communist government of Poland would not allow it to be published, claiming that it portrayed the Nazis in a positive light. In the book, there are passages such as the following:

When an SS-man listened to music, especially of the kind he really liked, he somehow became strangely similar to a human being…at such moments the hope stirred in us that maybe everything was not lost after all. Could people who love music to this extent, people who can cry when they hear it, be at the same time capable of committing so many atrocities on the rest of humanity? There are realities in which one cannot believe.

The book was eventually published in France and is one of the only books on the subject of the Jewish orchestra in the death camps. Laks explains how playing in the orchestra allowed him to have extra food, more privileges, and was the sole reason for his survival in the camp. He does not hide from the fact that his art sheltered him from extermination, nor does he hide his belief in the eternal power and beauty of music.

Contradictions were unavoidable. The book I present to readers interested in these matters does not claim to solve them. On the contrary, it may even introduce a few new contradictions. Is not one of them the very fact that music—the most sublime expression of the human spirit—also became entangled in the hellish enterprise of the extermination of millions of people and even took an active part in this extermination?

Laks never lost sight of the power that the art of music contained and his experiences in the death camp did not ruin the faith in his craft. But it did show him how his craft could be used for the most brutal and deathly purposes, how his compositions could ease the worries of those who did not know they were walking into the gas chamber, and how music calmed and cleared the minds of the Nazis who starved, shot, and burnt thousands of people in Auschwitz.

To write about music in [Auschwitz]–Birkenau without referring to the background against which this music was played would be counter to the aim and even the sense of this book. For this is not a book about music. It is a book about music in a Nazi concentration camp. One could also say: about music in a distorting mirror.

 

Heinrich Böll and the Red Army Faction

Heinrich Böll worked for a bookseller after completing school in 1937, four years after the Nazis had risen to power. The bookseller he worked for sold contemporary and antiquarian books and also published select works. After finishing his apprenticeship with this book company he attempted to devote his life to reading, writing and teaching. This lifestyle was interrupted by his conscription in the Nazi program of compulsory labor service. Completion of this six-month service was a prerequisite for attending university. Having fulfilled this requirement, he decided to attend university but was only able to complete the summer term before being conscripted into the German army in 1939.

He fought for the Nazi army until 1945 when he was captured by the Americans and interned in a French prisoner-of-war camp. Released in the winter of 1945, Böll returned to his home town of Cologne to find it destroyed by the allied bombing campaign. There, he began to rebuild his demolished house with his wife. Like millions of young German men, Böll had been swept into the clutches of the fascist army and did not attempt to escape. Like millions of young German men, he spent the rest of his days after the war attempting to understand what had happened in Germany and how it had come to pass. His first novel, published in 1949, was titled The Train Was On Time and centers on a young German soldier on a train ride from France to Poland, the country of Auschwitz. On the train ride, this soldier befriends other soldiers and they discuss the horrors of what they have seen and what war has done to them. But nevertheless, the train arrives on time and the soldiers continue onward into death, misery and war.

Unlike most Germans who had a hand in the war, Böll did not shrink away from his responsibility to those who had died but also to the new generation being raised in the reconstruction. All of his following work concerns the German psyche and the aftereffects of fascism. In his fiction he highlights who was responsible for the Nazi horrors, explains how Germans attempted to resist, and casts a light on the many who were cowardly and afraid. For this, he earned the reputation of being an antifascist author and is credited with redeeming German literature from the shadow of the Nazis.

In April of 1968, the first members of what would become the Red Army Faction (RAF) bombed two department stores in Frankfurt, wanting to show the German public that they could not support American fascism without being subject to attacks. These young people had internalized the messages that people like Böll had been sending to the youth since the end of the war. They looked on with disgust and horror at the former Nazis holding high positions in the government and corporations of capitalist West Germany. Holding onto the memories and stories passed down by Böll and other writers, the youth were determined to never forget nor forgive the people who had created the death camps.

However, there were others who did not share either Böll’s or the youths viewpoint. Axel Springer, owner of the Bild-Zeitung newspaper, championed German support for the American war in Vietnam, condemned the wave of student unrest, and singled out radical leaders by name.

One of these radical leaders was Rudi Dutschke and after the Bild-Zeitung ran the headline STOP DUTSCHKE NOW! there was an attempt on his life by a right-wing youth. In retaliation, a mob of people stormed the newspaper headquarters, destroyed their trucks and burnt their papers. Amongst this mob was Ulrike Meinhof, the famous journalist who in 1970 helped free Andreas Baader from police custody and joined the RAF.

Unlike his contemporary Theodore Adorno, Böll met the younger generation where they were and did not assume an arrogant and condescending demeanor. He watched and did not condemn the RAF as they proceeded to rob banks and attack military and judicial targets. One of these targets was the offices of Axel Springer’s publishing company in Hamburg. In 1972, an RAF bomb exploded in an office and wounded 17 employees of the company that published the Bild-Zeitung newspaper. Ulrike Meinhof, the former journalist, was largely behind this action that would linger in Böll’s memory.

In the summer of 1972 the first generation of the RAF was captured and soon began their hunger strike in prison. Böll intervened on behalf of Ulrike Meinhof in 1972 because he believed that the press, which had been accusatory, had deprived her and her group of a fair trial. Böll was then himself criticized, subject to police searches, accused of creating a climate for violence, and cast as a threat to the internal security of the nation (Anonymous).

By 1974, an RAF member named Holger Meins had died from starvation. This same year, with the actions of the RAF firmly in the popular imagination, Böll published one of his greatest works. The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum or: how violence develops and where it can lead is a slim novella only 144 pages long. It details the life of Katharina Blum (pronounced ‘bloom’), a young, stern housekeeper for a wealthy liberal couple.

She leads a boring life, wanting nothing more than to earn her wages, balance her checkbook, have an apartment, own a car and be able to cook herself dinner. She is portrayed as the perfect example of the moderate success and comfort that was awarded to those who worked hard in the new capitalist West Germany. One day, she is invited to a dance where she meets a young man. For the first time, her friends see her enjoying herself and dancing. The normally stern woman unlocks herself and goes home with the young man who also happens to have stolen money from the army and deserted.

The next morning, the police raid her apartment in search of a dangerous terrorist. When they enter the apartment, they find Katharina alone with a smile on her face. The authorities take her to the police station and begin to interrogate her, believing that she helped the terrorist escape. She maintains her innocence and narrates to them her banal life. Unable to find any evidence against her, she is released into the world but soon becomes the victim of a right-wing media frenzy.

A paper called Die Zeitung calls her and her mother communist agents and encourages the authorities to jail her. A journalist for the paper illegally visits Katharina’s mother in the hospital and through his words causes the old woman to die of a stroke. His presence in the hospital is never discovered but upon hearing news of her mother’s death, Katharina blames it solely on the right-wing journalist. She soon invites him to her apartment for an exclusive interview. After he arrives, Katharina shoots and kills the journalist, turns herself into the police and learns that her young terrorist lover has also been apprehended. The reader last sees Katharina locked up, happy to be able to be with her first love once they are both released from prison.

In this novella, Böll in no way portrays Katharina’s assassination of the journalist as either faulty or uncalled for. If anything, this action is presented as perfectly reasonable. The novella caused an immediate controversy and positioned Böll on the side of the anti-fascist RAF. In 1975, the year after the novella’s publication, the second generation of the RAF began its offensive. Some would accuse Böll of encouraging and allowing this to happen. In this authors estimation, Böll is a true anti-fascist artist. His book was perfectly timed and posed the most forbidden questions in West Germany. A cinematic adaptation of the novella was released in 1975, further adding to the conflict. The film ends with the following words that were written by Böll at the beginning of his story:

The characters and actions in this story are purely fictitious. Should the description of certain journalistic practices result in a resemblance to the practices of Bild-Zeitung, such resemblance is neither intentional, nor fortuitous, but unavoidable.

 

George Orwell and the Sect of Revolutionaries

 

Shortly after the Greek insurrection of 2008, a group was formed that called itself Sect of Revolutionaries. In February 2009, after shooting at a police station and throwing a grenade at it (which did not explode), the group claimed the action by putting a CD with their communique on the grave of Alexis Grigoropoulos. In the communique, they threatened to assassinate police officers. This threat was followed through with and in June of 2009 the group killed an anti-terrorist police officer. In their communique for the assassination, the group threatened to attack the journalists responsible for helping quell the insurrection and returning society to its normal functioning. In July of 2010, the group assassinated the right-wing journalist Sokratis Giolias outside of his home. The following text are excerpts from the communique claiming his assassination.

So we’d rather go to his home than let something happen in a gunfight in the street and hit someone irrelevant. What exactly was said through the intercom to ensure not only that he would come down, but would come alone without being accompanied by his wife, is something that does not need not be made public for several reasons.

Our main concern was for not the slightest thing to go wrong with his wife and of course the young child. Everyone gets the end they deserve and these people have done nothing to us. Furthermore, the practice of political execution is very clear and specific. There will never be any danger from our attacks for any family members or family environment of a target that does not have any involvement in their dirty options and interests, even if this obliges us to cancel our plans. An urban guerrilla is not a cold murderer. When he chooses to shoot, he does not hit the face itself, but the choices of the specific person, the position he holds, the decisions he has taken, the interests he serves. It’s not a personal thing. The armed fighter fights the operators of the system who no longer have their own separate face, but a particular job they are defending. The armed fighter does not shoot people, he shoots against the system itself.


George Orwell, perhaps one of the most famous anti-fascist writers, was also a journalist. After being shot in the neck fighting against Franco’s army in Spain and after witnessing the Stalinist betrayal of both the anarchists and the Trotskyists, Orwell returned to his native England and penned the immortal work Homage to Catalonia. While he recovered and wrote, hardline communist supporters began to attack him in the press, insinuating he was nothing more than a bourgeois tourist who used the misery of others to sell his books. When his reflections on Spain were published in 1938, no one bought the book and it was clear that his perspective was neither welcomed or believed by those who subscribed to either the capitalist or communist mythology.

The second world war began in earnest in 1939. Orwell made his living during this time by writing for newspapers and magazines while his wife worked for the Censorship Department. As the Luftwaffe began to bomb England, Orwell saw the same fascism he had been fighting in Spain turning its sights on the island. He and other radical socialists joined the Home Guard, believing it could become a revolutionary organization. However, mishandling of a mortar during training caused Orwell to injure two fellow militiamen. Following this, he contributed to the war effort by planting potatoes and writing antifascist articles. The struggle against the shared fascist enemy had brought him to this position of co-existence with the British Empire, although he never accepted it uncritically.

In the summer of 1941, Orwell began working for the BBC, transmitting broadcasts to India in order to counteract Nazi propaganda while his wife transferred from the Censorship Department to the Ministry of Food. In 1942, Orwell started to write for the Tribune, a paper run by two leftist Labour MP’s. Wanting to concentrate on writing his next book and tired of sending useless broadcasts to India from a decaying empire, Orwell quit his job at the BBC and became the full time literary editor of the Tribune. His new book was to be Animal Farm.

By 1944, the book was ready for publication. Unfortunately, no one would publish it, afraid that it would damage the vital wartime relationship between England and the USSR. Shortly after the first rejection of his manuscript, a V-1 rocket destroyed his home and he had to dig through the rubble to retrieve his book collection. After Orwell finally found someone to publish his work, the Ministry of Information instructed the publisher to deny publication (it was later discovered that the official in the Ministry who ordered this was a Soviet agent). In 1945, Orwell found another publisher who promised to publish Animal Farm and was later sent to Paris to cover the liberation of the city for the Observer. While he was there, witnessing the destruction of the Nazi occupation and the rebirth of the city, his wife died during a hysterectomy.

During the first General Election since the start of the war, the Labour Party took control of the government, ousting the conservatives led by Winston Churchill. The month after this election, with the leftist Party in control of the country, Animal Farm was finally published. Orwell quickly found himself with the reputation of being an anti-communist writer. While Animal Farm was a definitive condemnation of Stalin’s USSR, he soon turned his attention on the Labour Party and the Cold War that was about to start. He began work on 1984, his bleak and terrifying tale of the future. He and his wife’s experiences working for the government informed much of the story. What Orwell feared the most was the Labour Party imitating the practices of the Stalinist’s in their effort to fight against post-war Soviet expansion. His vision of the Ingsoc (English Socialism) of the Party (the Labour Party) was a horror he wished to avert.

The main protagonist of the story is Winston Smith, an underling for the Outer Party. This character is Orwell, forced into collaboration with the Inner Party out of wartime necessity. Orwell saw the lies, the deception and the corruption of the government he had worked for during the war and in his final days of writing 1984 he did his utmost to apologize and to explain the position he had filled during the conflict. He did not shrink from what he had seen or what he had done and with the publication of his book in 1949, he gave everyone a warning of what the powers of the world intended to do over the next 40 years. His book may have not been so bleak, he said, had he not been a dying old man.

It is unknown what Sect of Revolutionaries would have thought of Orwell had they been his contemporaries, especially during the war years. He most certainly collaborated with the government and did support the Labour Party, however critically. When he died in 1950, he left behind a legacy that would inspire countless anti-fascists and writers. One of these writers, Roberto Bolaño, wrote the following words about Orwell:
George Orwell isn’t just one of the great writers of the twentieth century, he’s also first and foremost a good man, and a brave one.

 

Roberto Bolaño and Exile

Roberto Bolaño was a silver-tongued demon of the written word and specialized in generating mysteries that confounded all who attempted to control the chaos of the imagination. Born in Santiago, Chile in 1959, Bolaño lived in the colonial city until his family relocated to the sprawling metropolis of Mexico City in 1968. That year in the city, over 300 students were massacred by the military at the Plaze de la Tres Culturas. This event, so traumatic and overwhelming, cast a shadow over the young people of the city that Bolaño was to call his home for the next 5 years.

From the age of 15, Bolaño began his life as a free spirit and vagabond. He dropped out of school and immersed himself in the leftist counterculture that was attempting to regroup after the bloodbath. He began to steal books by his favorite authors, attended poetry readings and learned the ways of the prostitutes, junkies, poets and gangsters of the Mexico City streets.

If we are to believe what Bolaño wrote, then the following narrative of his life is true. In 1973, at the age of 20, Bolaño left Mexico for Chile to go help fight in the war against capitalism. Salvadore Allende, the socialist president of Chile, had been withstanding international and domestic pressure after his election and it was clear to many in the country that a military coup or fascist revolution was approaching. Bolaño had only been in the country for a few months when Augusto Pinochet staged his coup against the government. While on the street, Bolaño was picked up by the fascist police and taken to jail. During his imprisonment, he heard the sounds of people being beaten, tortured and killed. After eight days in which he thought he would meet the same anonymous death as hundreds of others, Bolaño was discovered by two prison guards who had been his childhood classmates. Released into the now pacified and quiet streets, Bolaño decided to return to Mexico by land.

He wandered Central America during this journey and eventually gravitated towards the pockets of resistance still fighting in the war against capitalism. His path took him through Nicaragua and El Salvador where he saw that his revolution was not yet gone, that his contemporaries were still intent on freeing their countries. Returning to Mexico City in 1974, Bolaño committed himself to writing poetry and destabilizing the established literary order by interrupting readings, stealing books and attacking those he believed represented the conservative values that had lead to the carnage of 1968 and 1973. He was not a fighter or a guerrilla and his words were far more powerful than any sacrifice of his body could have been.

In 1975, Bolaño learned of the death of Roque Dalton. Dalton was a poet and a guerrilla fighter in the People’s Liberation Army, a Marxist organization fighting the government in El Salvador. Dalton believed, contrary to his comrades, that their clandestine existence prevented them from even knowing the people they claimed to be fighting for. This belief of his was later used against him by his enemies. A story was propagated that he was a CIA agent and his desire for his organization to be more visible led his comrades to execute him on May 10th, 1975. Dalton wrote, my veins don’t end in me but in the unanimous blood of those who struggle for life. His veins extended to Mexico City where Bolaño was attempting to create the Infrarealist poetry movement. In 1976, he penned the manifesto of this group from which excerpts can be read below.

In architecture and sculpture the infrarealists start from two points: the barricade and the bed…the true imagination is that which destroys, elucidates, injects emerald microbes into other imaginations. In poetry and in whatever else, the entrance into the work has to already be the way into adventure. Create the tools for everyday subversion…risk is always somewhere else. The true poet is the one who’s always letting go of himself. Never too much time in the same place, like guerrillas, like UFOs, like the white eyes of prisoners serving life sentences…make new sensations appear—Subvert daily life.

But the most haunting sentence of this manifesto appears near the end and encapsulates the disillusion and loss he and his generation felt in the time period between 1968 and 1975: We dreamed of utopia and woke up screaming. We hear in this line the cry of Dalton as he was executed and the screams of the Chilean disappeared. In 1977, a year after writing this line, Bolaño left Latin America for a post-Franco Spain, the place he would spend most of his remaining life.

In the old anarchist stronghold of Catalonia he worked a series of random jobs including being a garbage man and the security guard of a campground. Regarding this period of time in his life, Bolaño wrote, my sickness, back then, was pride, rage, and violence. Those things (rage, violence) are exhausting and I spent my days uselessly tired. I worked at night. During the day I wrote and read. I never slept. To keep awake I drank coffee and smoked…tacked up over my bed was a piece of paper on which I’d asked a friend from Poland to write, in Polish, Total Anarchy. I didn’t think I was going to live past thirty-five. I was happy. In the early 1980’s, Bolaño eventually settled in Blanes, a small Catalan town on the coast. He opened a jewelry store in which he also slept at night. This was the last of his “extra-literary” jobs and it enabled him to write his poetry with more consistency and less exhaustion and for the next decade he wrote poetry and made no money off it.

In 1990, his first child was born and he decided to begin writing fiction, the only form of his craft that would enable him to support his family. It was only after beginning to write novels that Bolaño’s experiences and his anti-fascism were articulated for the world. His second novel, Nazi Literature in the Americas, is a fierce condemnation on every petty writer that surrendered or willingly gave their services to the fascist governments of Latin America. The book is composed of various biographies of fictional authors who sometimes bear a resemblance to the living and dead authors that Bolaño despised. One of these characters is the son of fugitive Nazis who settled in Argentina after the war. He becomes famous for his line drawings that can only be seen from the air. These drawings are nothing more than the blueprints for concentration camps. Not surprisingly, the art world comes to adore and praise this silent and enigmatic fascist.

Bolaño’s next novel, Distant Star, explores this same theme by centering on the life of one of the authors described in his previous book, a Chilean named Alberto Ruiz-Tagle . The main character is a mysterious student of literature who always appears to be bored. When the fascist coup takes place, Ruiz-Tagle brutally murders two sisters he was in class with and takes pictures of his crime. Once Pinochet’s government is firmly in place, Ruiz-Tagle joins the air force and soon becomes a famed artist. His craft consists of writing cryptic phrases in the sky with the exhaust of his plane. This brings him much critical acclaim and allows him to traverse the high-society of fascist Chile. At one of his exclusive art-shows, he covers an entire apartment in photos of the people he has tortured and killed over the years of Pinochet’s reign. The high-society that sees these photos reacts negatively to these images of what allowed their fascist leader to rise to power. The novel ends with a private detective tracking down an aged Ruiz-Tagle in exile and assassinating him.

In 1998, Bolaño published The Savage Detectives, the story of his comrades and fellow poets in Mexico City. It details the divergent paths he and his friends took and reveals the love he had for those years of sex, drugs, filth, and beauty. The book’s plot spans across Latin America and Europe and centers on two characters, one of them Bolaño and the other his friend Mario Santiago, a member of the Infrarealist movement. The love and warmth evoked in this work that immortalizes his comrades quickly made the book Bolaño’s first best-seller and brought him a fame he had never known. But unlike many other artists who had allow their fame to devour and weaken them, Bolaño continued to write novels that focused on the deaths and misery caused by the fascists and the beauty, chaos, and art that he and his friends had championed.

His next novel, Amulet, focuses on the life of a woman who is trapped in a bathroom of a university for twelve days during the 1968 student massacre in Mexico City. While she is terrified and afraid and waiting for a death that does not arrive, she reminiscences about her life as the queen of the streets and poetry and highlights the creative world that the fascist military wanted to exterminate. By Night In Chile, a novella published in 2000, revolves around the hypocrisy of the church, the left, and the literary society that existed in Chile during the reign of Pinochet. These two books are attacks on all of the artists who lived comfortably while other artists, the poor ones, the rebellious ones, were slaughtered.

His final novel was 2666. This work transcends anti-fascism and expounds on the mysteries of the holocaust, Germany, the femicides of Ciudad Juarez, telepathy, the labyrinths of literature and the horror of unrestrained greed. It is the first and only great book of the twenty-first century and cannot be summarized. It is meant to be read carefully and with caution.

In his short story “The Murdering Whores,” Bolaño tells the story of a young woman who is watching the broadcast of a soccer match in what may or may not be Francoist Spain. She sees a young man give the fascist salute along with thousands of others during the match. For some reason she singles him out, dresses up like a whore, gets on her scooter and drives down to the stadium. Miraculously, she finds him, seduces, takes him to her apartment, ties him up and then begins to deliver a long monologue. Her words ramble and flow in all directions and the true reasons for what she chooses to do are never fully articulated. But at the end of the story she kills the fascist youth with no regrets and no hesitation. This image of a woman killing a fascist represents the utopia of Roberto Bolaño.

Coda

In the article “Gaga, Bowie, Hitler,” this author set out to disparage and undermine a few of those artists who used their gifts to bolster the machinations of fascist systems of governance. In this article, we fulfilled a suggestion from Heinrich Böll in which he stated that “to condemn [poetry] requires that it first must be recognized.” However, rather than follow his advice uncritically, we decided first to condemn art before recognizing its timeless power and beauty. Art has been praised enough, art has been abused enough, art has been mutilated enough. We felt no need to accord it any more undue praise.

An artist only has their commitment to their vision to hold on to. Once that vision is contaminated by the dictates of the market, authority, and the status quo, the artist becomes a tool, an empty shell, a plastic vessel. But there are artists like the ones described above who not only possessed but held onto a unique vision of a world free of fascism and control. Art can be a weapon and the authors described above demonstrate this assertion. Despite our harsh condemnation of art in the past, we agree with Roberto Bolaño that “only poetry isn’t shit.”

Booze, Corruption and Rage

So I saw “The Rum Diary”, a film that is based on an early novel by Hunter S. Thompson. This is a great movie to showcase the inescapable but often overlooked fact that the world that we live in is fundamentally fucked up. The movie follows the character “Paul Kemp”, played by Johnny Depp, as he becomes acquainted with life on the island of Puerto Rico during the 1950s. He has moved there from New York City in order to work for a local newspaper. His first experience with that place is a big protest-turned-riot in front of the offices of that newspaper. This is one of the background themes that runs throughout the film – the protagonist lives in an occupied land, dominated by American imperialism, of which he directly benefits from.

As a newspaper journalist, he is given the task of creating a pretty picture with words to inoculate the American tourists who come to the island to have a good time. These tourists are the cash cow for the local economy. They are the people who bring in the money for the whole place, and the newspaper in particular exists to serve them. As a journalist Paul is told to report and write about trivia, meaningless crap, and it is a job that pretty quickly bores him and leaves him feeling unfulfilled. On this island there are stark class inequalities and injustices, and Paul quickly comes to notice them. He wants to report on this for the paper but he is told not to. Journalism like that is simply not what the paper exists for and to print such things would jeopardize the very existence of the paper, an institution that lives a very precarious existence to begin with.

The paper that Paul works for is thoroughly corrupt. From the beginning to the end of the film it is clear that the whole enterprise is entirely rotten. The employees there are aware of this and they openly acknowledge it, but no one dares to challenge it. In order to do the kind of work that they want to do and still make a living, working with that paper is simply the only game in town.

It is a miserable and insincere existence, socially and economically, in a land that is basically foreign to Paul. Given that he comes from the American mainland and does not speak the language, the cultures and customs of the locals seem weird and exotic to him. At the same time, the natural landscape, the ocean, the forests, the beaches, are quite stunning and beautiful. This contrast between natural beauty and social ugliness exists throughout the film.

So Paul turns to drinking. Or rather, he was drinking ever since he first got there, and he remains drinking throughout the whole film. Paul originally comes to Puerto Rico in the first place because he is disillusioned and disgusted with Eisenhower-era America. Drinking helps him to escape all of the ugliness that he sees all around him. Inadvertently though, it makes everything all the more uglier. Pretty much everyone in the film seems to be drinking throughout it, and one gets a sense that perhaps alcohol and intoxication is one crucial element that helps to maintain this world of shit.

And then there’s capitalism. Paul eventually meets and befriends a wealthy capitalist landowner named “Sanderson”. Through him Paul finds a reprieve from the tedium of his established routine and a mildly interesting escape into the wonders of high-class society. He also gets to experience first-hand how vastly different life is for the wealthy compared to how it is for the majority of the people who live there. He also experiences first-hand the intense hatred that exists in people’s hearts because of the combined domination of class and imperialism.

This hatred and alcohol-induced madness eventually results in him being attacked by some locals, which then results in him getting arrested. When it seems like prison is a near certainty, he is saved by the capitalist white guy (Sanderson), but his freedom comes at a price. Essentially Paul is to be a pawn in a land grab and development scheme and his role is to provide some good PR for it. Paul never is really that comfortable with this arrangement.

Then there is the woman character, named “Chenault”. She is the wife of Sanderson and Paul is deeply attracted to her. Chenault is somewhat interested in Paul, is bored with her life as a 1950s housewife and high-class socialite, and eventually decides to suddenly leave her situation in Puerto Rico altogether. Before that happens though, Chenault at one point leads Paul and Sanderson into a situation at a local night club where the two of them are thrown out, she remains dancing there with some of the local men, and she is possibly sexually assaulted by them. That part is never clarified, and as with many things in this movie everything is shrouded with a kind of alcohol-induced haze and a prevailing sense of dissatisfaction.

That episode eventually results in a breaking point where Sanderson and Paul’s friendship ends, Chenault decides to leave, and the lack of Sanderson’s protection (social, legal and financial) then causes the law to come after Paul again. The corruption of the newspaper results in that institution finally collapsing as well, and at that point Paul decides to go rogue. He leads an attempt for a kind of workers’ expropriation and self-management of the newspaper during a critical window of time before all of the newspapers’ property is lost. It’s an inspiring attempt, but it fails.

At that point Paul is completely done with all of it. He is entirely fed up with his work with the newspaper, the situation in Puerto Rico, and the whole political/economic/social system that surrounds it all. He decides to steal a boat owned by Sanderson and to leave the island. He is a changed man, and closes the film saying:

I want to make a promise to you, the reader. And I don’t know if I can fulfill it tomorrow, or even the day after that. But I put the bastards of this world on notice that I do not have their best interests at heart. I will try and speak for my reader. That is my promise. And it will be a voice made of ink and rage.”

Thus begins the career of the Hunter S. Thompson that we all know and love.

Ways In and Ways Out of the Situationist Labyrinth

“Voice 1: Howls for Sade, a film by Guy-Ernest Debord.
Voice 2: Howls for Sade is dedicated to Gil J Wolman.”

– opening of Debord’s Howls for Sade

 

1

(On a street corner, then running down the street)

Old Alciphron: Sorry I’m late. I’m always late to these things!

Young Alciphron:  Don’t worry, older one. I’m the only one here. Everyone else is at that Occupy thing…

OA: … which didn’t tempt you enough, younger one?

YA: …

OA: Anyway, before all that, we were to meet here to talk about the book by McKenzie Wark, The Beach Beneath the Street.

YA:  Titles that recycle slogans: always a bad idea. But I am ready.

OA: As am I, with this sheaf of notes and this annotated copy. Let’s start walking. This way. Well, the first version of the book had a much more interesting title: 50 Years of Recuperation of the Situationist International.

YA: Much better. But look, I am impatient (though I pretend not to be when I speak with you). Why either one? Why another book on the SI?

OA: Do we know them? From the point of view of our language, the first phase of translation, rendering the texts into English, is more or less accomplished. The majority of Situationist writings have been compiled, many or most images reproduced.  There are several archives that collect much of the material, adding commentary and context; there are academic and non-academic anthologies.

YA: You are suggesting that translation in other senses, the second, third, nth phases, is unstable and ongoing?

OA: Yes. What used to be called interpretation. Look, there have been decades of Situationist-inspired projects, so much so that for some of us some version of the SI is a basic point of reference. But for others, these many entryways are not automatically ways in.  An anthology or an archive, so it seems to me, is not a way in; one needs a reason, and the reason itself needs a desire. Faster.

YA: Run together desire-reason-need to find a way in, passing through the entryway?

OA: Yes – faster, let’s run, arm in arm – if one is like you, the first-timer – idealized or not – or like me, when I become capable of reading these texts anew, studying these images afresh …

YA: So the desire-reason-need complex will eventually show the path one takes through the labyrinth  … where are we going?

OA: For some of us our projects were the crystallization of that desire, the mark of our interest, our entry into dialogue with others (and, though many of us did not suspect it, with tradition. For example, it was one way to learn to speak Marxish and Hegelese).

YA: This goes for all of us, the idealized (or not) first-timer and the rest: we want a translation into a language of our own …

OA: … so that the figures who appear in a book can come to seem like our friends, and vice versa …

YA: … so that the theoretical terms that pepper it can be analogous, often enough, to the ones we use.

OA: Indeed, I would underline that the use of situationist terms (spectacle, situation, dérive, psychogeography, etc.) decades later and in other places cannot but have something of analogy about it.

YA: I imagine there are more analogies to come. The issue in this sort of translation is not one of exactitude, but of metamorphosis. We like what seems off in these terms and people when they mutate what is static in our lives. But that is a condition we set according to our desires.

OA: Have I answered your question as to why one might read a book like this?

YA: More or less. At least its appearance is a good occasion to stage such questions, because it is in some ways an introduction (corresponding to the latter phases of translation), and in other ways betrays that function.

OA: Museum, and hole in the museum’s wall.  Stop here.

 

 

2

(At the gate of the labyrinth)

YA: Here – you mean this labyrinth?

OA: Well, at its gate. The way in, maybe the way out as well.

YA: You can begin by explaining this to me: museum, and hole in the museum’s wall?

OA: Caress the stone of the gate as I do. An article in Internationale Situationniste 4 had the title Die welt als Labyrinth: a description for an exhibition that would lead from a museum to the streets in convoluted paths. Let me read a bit to you: “it is not desirable to build the labyrinth in the museum of a certain German town which is unsuitable to the dérive. Furthermore, the very fact of utilizing a museum brings with it a particular pressure, and the west face of the Amsterdam labyrinth was a wall specially constructed in the guise of an entrance to breach this: that hole in the wall had been requested by our German section as a guarantee of non-submission to the logic of the museum. The S.I. has also adopted, in April, a plan by Wyckaert profoundly modifying the use of the labyrinth studied for Amsterdam. The labyrinth shall not be built inside another building but, with greater flexibility and in direct relation to urban realities, on well-situated wasteland in a selected city, so as to become the setting off point for dérives.”

YA: I see. The labyrinth is their time…

OA: … and so we return to Wark’s better title. The reference to recuperation would seem to be an irreverent gesture rather than an angry complaint. A shrug in the face of the purists of the group.

YA: Of the idea of the group, the SI, or any group … suggesting the inevitability of recuperation, which could be the way things are at this turn of the labyrinth …

OA: … or, more speculatively, a spectacular version of some quite ordinary aspect of culture. I mean a glimpse of that aspect of culture that expresses our studied cruelty to the cultures of others – which can be linked with the ‘68 graffito soyons cruels! or Nietzsche’s be cruel with your past and all who would keep you there … wait, was that Nietzsche?

YA: How would I know, both hands on this stone? Anyway, this would not mean that there is no important distinction between recuperation and whatever we would face off against it, creating situations, for example, but it does mean that, from the point of view of culture as cruelty, or at least from that of the current inevitability of recuperation, there is not much urgency in distinguishing between good and bad Situationist ideas …

OA: … or people. And that lack of urgency, its irreverence, is a good way to describe Wark’s style: though he plays the academic game well enough, he does so with a certain lack of seriousness that, in his terms, consistently allows him to set aside the concepts (and proper names!) of high theory in favor of the incomplete ramblings and failed projects of what he calls low theory.

YA: You are going to have to explain that business of high and low theory to me.

OA: Take your hands off the stone, younger one; let us step back and gaze upon the gate. Probably the terminology arises through the twin demands of the academic market and the crude pragmatism of those we could call practitioners (activists or artists, for example).  If I am right about this, high theory would be whatever intellectual mode can claim some mixture of prestige and in-fashion status in the academic world at the moment, along with the canon this mode suggests.

YA: One could say so much more about this! Where such theory comes from geographically and where it doesn’t, its emphasis on proper names and adjectives formed from them, who publishes it, etc.  – not to mention how anyone arrived at the idea of “theory” at all…

OA: Sure, but let’s remain in his schema for now. Low theory could then be either the popularization of high theory in increasingly diluted, applied forms; or, more interestingly, it could be something else entirely, a way of theorizing that not only fails to be high theory, but does not attempt to qualify as such.

YA: Outsider theory, street theory; non-academic, or at least not primarily academic.

OA: Also, if this is to be an interesting idea, not necessarily popular theory; not necessarily theory aimed at the imaginary masses, the ideal everyman, the ghostly everywoman…

YA: According to this schema, most if not all of the theoretical works produced by anarchists (and situationists, supposing there are any) today would have to be classed as low theory.

OA: Naturally, no? This is especially interesting when we consider how many of these works propose a way of thinking and living that is to some degree impossible.

YA: Yes, and how that impossibility, rather than being solely a source of frustration for writers and readers, acts as something more on the order of an intimate, vital challenge, a lure for feeling.

OA: A challenge of this sort could be Wark’s desire…

YA: For that to be clear, we would have to know who Wark is addressing in this book. For my part, I am not sure. I am not sure he is sure.

OA: Yes, that is why I have to invent ideal first-time readers for him.

YA: Well, if I follow what you said a minute ago, he certainly develops Situationist terms and concepts in a satisfyingly low way, by which I mean: not enough of a definition to satisfy a theorist; enough to get a creative mind going in an interesting direction.

OA: Or, enough not to have read a thousand books before “putting ideas into practice,” as they say, though this schema of reading-and-then-acting is silly indeed…

YA: Low theory would have to sabotage that schema, or result from its sabotage. Let’s come back to theory and its terms on the other side. We are still in need of a way in. What about Situationist people (since we won’t have the problem of wondering whether people can be put into practice)?

OA: The last time I reviewed a book on the Situationists, one of a spate of academic books that have appeared in the last decade or so, I inserted this remark in passing: “Many commentators on the SI either hallucinate themselves into the decades-old fray of expulsions and corrections, or they pull away into an abstract and scholarly safety zone.”  In Wark’s favor, I can say that he does neither of these. I continued: “Could it be that this split is an effect of the continual centering of Guy Debord as originator, founding genius, even Bretonian ‘pope’ evidenced in this anthology (from its title on), a certain ‘Debordism’ diagnosed by Luther Blissett with all of the spite reserved by situationists for nouns with that suffix?”

YA: So in placing (for you, unexpected) emphasis on everyone-but-Debord, some of them so-called minor figures, and their versions of the Situationist project…

OA: … Wark dismisses the purists of the SI by writing as if there was never really one group. Listen to this bit: “One discovers in the first three years of the SI many potential versions of it”…

YA: … and later too. It is hard to find the story of Debord as pope here. He is rather a secretary, writing letters to and about practically everybody.

OA: I noted that, although he does not place Debord at the center of his narrative, Wark does not criticize him for the practice of exclusion, which would be, for some, evidence for his own sense of centrality.

YA:  It is a qualified explanation. Writing that he does not think there was one SI changes the status of exclusions.

OA: Listen to this part: “Situationists were expected to know what was expected of them and without being told. Debord’s policy as secretary was ‘to place a priori confidence, in all cases, and only until the first proof to the contrary, in a certain number of recognized comrades, based upon objective criteria.’ The reason for most exclusions is not mysterious. It was a failure to live up to expectations. Members are what they do: ‘No problem in our collective action can be resolved by good will.’ A certain unsentimental understanding of how friendships form and dissolve, of how character becomes different to itself as it struggles in and against time underlie the distinctive quality of Situationist subjectivity, where ‘neither freedom nor intelligence are given once and for all.’” Repeat: in Debord’s SI, exclusion was perhaps related more to a certain understanding of friendship than to the leftover habits of communist parties and groupuscules it is usually connected to by commentators.

YA: I would rather not be friends with someone that places his friends in such double binds!

OA: Your preferences or mine aside, what could be more common? Driven, intense people are often this way – nothing “sinister” about it, as Wark puts it. For a party in power, or seeking power, to exclude is indeed sinister. For a group such as the Situationist International (or some version thereof) to do so is another matter entirely. Wark aptly calls them “a provisional micro-society”: something between a political group and a band of friends.

YA: An affinity group? People are always explaining how they come together and how they stay together, not how they are disassembled or fall apart …

OA: In any case, some people make friends for life, and others don’t; some friendships end well, and others end badly; and to the degree that some of that is done freely, I prefer to understand this as one of the many uses of freedom in friendship, rather than encroaching on them, even by criticism.

YA: So that would be one example of the openness of Wark’s irreverent approach.

OA: Yes. It is ultimately pleasant to think that this might be a sign that there are now many ways into learning from the Situationists. For example, in decentering Debord, Wark also revokes the status of Society of the Spectacle as the defining text of Situationist theory. I consider it a good thing that people might now begin with something other than Society of the Spectacle. For all its interest, this attempt to give the movement a theory text (or to invent a movement by writing one, in classic socialist/communist fashion) is done at the cost of the expulsion of the idea of situation, probably so as to give center stage to the by now clearly dubious political proposal of worker’s councils.

YA: So you are celebrating the decentering of this book? I haven’t read it yet.

OA: Decentered, it will be better reading. Past decentering it, those of us who have learned something from it, and some irresponsible others, will have to rewrite it one day without the dialectic and in a way that renders the worker’s councils a local solution (Council-bolos?) and restores the construction of situations to its more critical place. Otherwise generation after generation will continue to get mired in the crudest dualism of appearance and reality … separation realized …

YA: What about the other one I always hear about, The Revolution of Everyday Life?

OA: Well, Vaneigem barely appears in The Beach. It is less clear why – probably, whereas Society of the Spectacle has too much of a high theory agenda, Revolution sets too much of a unilateral tone. You know, the younger generations … whatever one ultimately makes of these decenterings, they are also ways to undo some of the binds and knots that we have inherited from the Situationists and their interpreters.

YA: I think it is the nightmare of some to consider that they come together with their interpreters.

OA: Ha! 50 years of recuperation!

YA: … better than fifty years of introduction, half a century of getting ready to live…

OA: … in some sense even the little betrayal that is in irreverence can be a way out for which we will be grateful should the labyrinth grow tiresome.

YA: But now I am imagining two labyrinths: their time, and ours.

OA: Which suggests that we are ready to pass inside. Let’s be silent for a while.

 

 

 

3

(Some time later, inside the labyrinth)

 

YA: It is very dark in here.

OA: What have you been thinking about in the dark, younger one?

YA: Proper names…

OA: … these others, strange friends…

YA: Wark devotes the bulk of The Beach to discussions of everyone-but-Debord. But one could also say that the first marginal situationist in Wark’s book is … Guy Debord.

OA: Before appearing as the secretary, he shows up in the days of Lettrism as a “street ethnographer” interested in the life of non-working people – hanging out with dropouts and delinquents.  I remember this line: “Debord was researching a people who were neither bourgeois nor proletarian nor bohemian, and decidedly not middle class.”

YA: In their company, before there was a group, or before the group had a name, ideas and experiences were exchanged, friendships and enmities bloomed.

OA: And love affairs.

YA: And that togetherness is something other than politics or community.

OA: [Sigh]

YA: In this street research we might have learned the stakes in sticking together as gangs do. As Ralph Rumney said: “Our social exclusion made us a close group.”

OA: And love affairs? Wark describes Michèle Bernstein’s novels All the King’s Horses and The Night as détournements of F. Sagan and A. Robbe-Grillet, then-popular novelists, and at the same time versions of her relationships with Debord and others. Love triangles, and so on.

YA: Gangs … different sorts of knots and binds?

OA: Wark makes this an opportunity to briefly broach the subject of sexual politics, and maybe there is something here to meditate on: when the inevitably narcissistic novel of one’s life, that novel we are all involuntarily writing about ourselves, is to be written out, it might be desirable to take a detour through the spectacular presentation of another’s life.

YA: For me, that there were two novels based on the same events is perhaps the remarkable, rebellious point in all that.

OA: Rebellious writing? What about Alexander Trocchi’s collective writing project, sigma portfolio?

YA: Its outcome was certainly something other than a novel: an “interpersonal log. It is to be an open-ended series of simple typed and duplicated documents.”

OA: In Trocchi’s own words: “This gambit, a round-robin which includes n participants, an interpersonal experiment in expression; a man responding as and when he pleases; copies of his response at once roneo-ed for circulation; individuals chiming in, checking out at any time.”

YA: What is roneo-ed?

OA: I don’t know either. Some kind of duplication, ditto machine.

YA: Predictably, Wark gets excited about sigma and describes it as “a web of logs before there was even an internet.”

OA: More interestingly, here is Trocchi again: “we propose immediate action on the international scale, a self-governing (non-)organization of producers of the new culture beyond, and independent of, all political organizations…”

YA: You have certainly memorized a lot of this book!

OA: No, I have a small light with me, and my annotated copy. You didn’t notice because I am walking behind you. I want to talk about Asger Jorn, which is going to require some lengthy quotes. Close your eyes and re-enter the dark of the labyrinth. First, concerning a recent object of some controversy, the fact that he continued to fund the Situationists after his exit, he said: “my interest in the situationist movement is purely personal and passionate, in a direct fashion, and, if the inevitable developments of social circumstances necessitate my exclusion from the movement this changes absolutely nothing in my purely economic attitude towards this movement. The economic surplus that my social situation, insofar as I am a painter, gives me is best placed with the situationist movement, even if this movement is obliged to attack me for being in a situation from which I can’t escape, but which embarrasses the movement.”

YA: An appropriate complement to your earlier statements about friendship and exclusion. But I thought that, overall, the discussion of Asger Jorn’s theoretical contributions in The Beach is confused.

OA: Perhaps Jorn, the “amateur Marxist,” was confusing. One can get at least a sense of the primacy of aesthetic over scientific considerations for him. Take his flirtation with one of the most obtuse works in the Marxist canon, Engels’ Anti-Dühring: “It is Engels who leads Jorn down the slippery slope of a dialectics of nature, and like Engels he risks a somewhat vapid generalization of certain figures from scientific literature … But what distinguishes Jorn from Engels is not just that his readings in scientific literature are more contemporary; they are readings of a different kind. Jorn does not aspire to a materialist world view, as Engels did, but a materialist attitude to life. He wants not a metaphysics legitimized by science but a pataphysics that reads science creatively. Rather than imitate scientific writing, Jorn – like Alfred Jarry – appropriates from scientific writing according to his own desires.”

YA: It seems to me that the bulk of Wark’s case for low theory rests on what he says about Jorn.

OA: It is almost inevitable that he faces off Jorn (not Debord!) vs. Althusser in the name of low theory. “Jorn’s amateur Marxist theories from the 1940s and early ‘50s went largely unpublished at the time and received scant attention. The most influential appropriation of Marxist thought would not be Sartre’s but that of Jorn’s contemporary Louis Althusser. They could hardly be more different. Althusser spent the war in a POW camp, not the Resistance. Althusser’s thought was in Jorn’s terms clearly that of a materialist world view. It took science rather than aesthetic practice as its model. Althusser stayed within the Communist Party (with Maoist sympathies) rather than break with it. He made Marxism respectable within the space of the academy, rather than attempting to found a new nexus between theory and practice outside if it. Althusser was much more interested in history as objective process than as subjective practice. Where Althusser became a respected academic philosopher, Jorn’s academic advisor gently suggested that his thesis was not really the sort of thing that could even be submitted.”

YA: Why all these lengthy quotes for this guy?

OA: Be patient. Low theory can be long-winded too. “Jorn points towards the question of practice, outside of, and now after the eclipse of, both the Communist and bourgeois versions of history. If Althusser cements a place within the academy for developing Marxism as a critical postwar discourse, he does so at the expense of aligning it with high theory. Marx is absorbed into the conventions of academic thought, into its spaces of authority, its codes of discipline, its temporality of semesters and sabbaticals. Jorn offers something in addition to all that. His is a development of Marx as a critical postwar discourse that creates its own games, makes its own rules, answers to a quite different time, and belongs to a more marginal but more interesting space, the space not of an institution but of a provisional micro-society, within which the practice of thought might be otherwise.”

YA: Hmmm. All of this will take some rumination. Wark assumes we have a stake in the outcome of Marxism. You might; I don’t.

OA: But there are analogies to be made with anarchist theory as it exists and to come, no? Think it over. Also, as with the two novels, it’s not trivial that he made such bizarre paintings while writing all this stuff. We’ll talk about it later when you’ve had a chance to see them in good lighting. Constant?

YA: Much more appropriate for this dark enclosure. From the early researches on urbanism to the New Babylon project, he seems to have had an influence, or at least his own take, on the construction of situations. He proposed a dynamic urbanism of movable, I almost want to say poseable buildings. The psychological effects of an environment upon a person or group are quite limited if buildings are heavy and static …

OA:  So set people and buildings into motion: “Owning property affords someone a house in which to be at home, at the price of being homeless in the world. Dispense with property, dispense with separation, and the feeling of being merely thrown into the world goes with them. Our species-being can give vent to its wanderlust, at home in a house-like world. Constant thought modernity was already accelerating a return to a nomadic existence. New Babylon is nomadic life fully realized.”

YA: Architecture set in motion, pliable architecture, allows the events of life, no longer mere psychological effects, to be primary!

OA: Dynamism seems to make us raise our voices! Jaqueline de Jong?

YA: She appears most dramatically with the Second Situationist International, “a rival and a replacement” for what was, for them, the “First” SI. Their journal, Situationist Times, was an alternative to Internationale Situationniste. In their founding document, one can read: “now everyone is free to become a Situationist without the need for special formalities.” I loved that.

OA: So maybe you have an opinion on this matter of exclusions as well?

YA: No, that is their business. But I prefer to do things without special formalities.

OA: De Jong writes in a letter to Debord: “The Situationist International has to be considered either as an avant-garde school which has already produced a series of first-class artists thrown out after having passed through their education OR as an anti-organization based upon new ideology which is situationist and which has not yet found in details its clear formulations in the fields of science, technique, and art.” The anti-organization does not practice exclusion, but rather allows an uncontrolled inclusion: “everybody who develops theoretically or practically this new unity is automatically a member of the situationist international and in this perspective the Situationist Times.”

YA: Well, we could have inherited this schizo version instead of the paranoiac pro-Situ, post-Situ, etc. arrangements that respected the central and centralizing version…

OA: Schizo, that reminds me … Chtcheglov?

YA: Almost not mentioned at all!  I will remember Chtcheglov with a line from outside Wark’s book. Poor Chtcheglov! He was bored in the city. In Olympia I found a book of poems about him. Here is the best line: “The moon rises above the State.”

OA:  Our dialogue is lunar, no? I believe we have found our way to one of the exits.

YA: Let us pass through the hole in the wall, older one.

OA: On the other side, we might speak about some situationist terms before parting ways … these words that needed, perhaps still need definition…

 

 

 

4

(Outside the labyrinth, on another street, maybe the same street)

YA: It is bright here, or at least brighter. And I am the one who asks the questions now, older one! You are the one who knows something about these terms that are more concrete than ideas, less precise than concepts, and I want to see what news you learned in this book of Wark’s. My list is short. Decomposition?

OA: It might be helpful to compare the definitions from Internationale Situationniste 1. Here is the one for decomposition: “The process in which traditional cultural forms have destroyed themselves as a result of the emergence of superior means of controlling nature which make possible and necessary superior cultural constructions. We can distinguish between the active phase of the decomposition and effective demolition of the old superstructures — which came to an end around 1930 — and a phase of repetition that has prevailed since that time. The delay in the transition from decomposition to new constructions is linked to the delay in the revolutionary liquidation of capitalism.” Wark broadens the context for understanding this idea, presenting decomposition in and as the passage from a technique of avant-garde art to a critique of modern life: taking things apart until we notice that things are falling apart …

YA: … or as we notice things are falling apart. And then still taking things apart, but in other ways and for other reasons.

OA: One source is Isidore Isou: “When most people thought of the postwar years as a time of reconstruction, Isou wanted to push the destruction of culture still further. His trans-historical theory of culture took the will to create as its primary axiom. Not Marxist necessity, not Sartrean freedom, but creation is the highest form of human activity. Creation takes us from the spit of unconsciousness to the eternity of a consciously created history, for while the artist creates within history, the act of creation touches the eternal. All forms – aesthetic and social – move from a stage of amplification to one of decomposition. In the amplification stage, a form grows to incorporate whole aspects of existence. The amplified form shapes life and makes it meaningful. In the period of decomposition, forms turn on themselves, become self-referential. Forms fall from grace and from history. As the form decomposes, so does the life to which it once gave shape. Form becomes unreal; language becomes tame: ‘Tarzan learns in his father’s book to call tigers cats.’”

YA: But somehow the situationist can get into decomposition and operate within it, push it farther? Tiger cats are not just sad, they are also funny. They are dialectically reversible to cat tigers, mini-tigers, suggesting the power of the small and the weak … Yes, I see. This decomposition was to be pursued “to the limit.” I like that. Dérive?

OA: From the journal: “A mode of experimental behavior linked to the conditions of urban society: a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiences.” Wark supplements this with the memory of your friend Chtcheglov, his part in the invention of street ethnography; this wandering or drifting around urban spaces could be understood more precisely as a discovery of lived time. This is time devoted neither to work nor to leisure. The time of the non-working classes.

YA: The time of research … of low theory. Situation?

OA: Well, you know, “A moment of life concretely and deliberately constructed by the collective organization of a unitary ambience and a game of events.” As you might have heard, part of the polemical function of this definition is to replace the concept of the artwork as commodity. But Wark suggests that  in the background of the polemic there is also an engagement with the idea of freedom. He helpfully contrasts Sartre’s use of the term situation: “Sartre … famously makes the category of freedom a central one, but in so doing [has] a sly recourse also to the category of situation. That which is for-itself, consciousness, presupposes something external to it. ‘There can be a free for-itself only in a resisting world.’ It is because of the intractable physicality of things that freedom arises as freedom.” But the situation as defined above does not distinguish between consciousness and what is external to it.

YA: Which perhaps explains the attraction of the adjective unitary for some of these folks.

OA: To construct freedom, construct situations: micro-worlds, provisional micro-societies, in which the obstacle and what it blocks are simultaneously transformed.

YA: I am thinking of Constant, again …

OA: It is a telling aspect of situation as a low-theoretical term that it includes a hidden reference to, and correction of previous high-theoretical concepts of, the supremely recuperable idea of freedom. And?

YA: … I almost don’t want to bother, given what you’ve said so far. There’s plenty to get going with …

OA: So …

YA: Oh, what the hell. Spectacle?

OA: The term is not defined in the initial list in Internationale Situationniste and was later overdefined…

YA: … Debord aiming in Society of the Spectacle at a concept worthy of high theory, so you have suggested.

OA: Wark somewhat perversely amuses himself by discussing it not through Debord’s opus, as social relation mediated by images or materialized worldview or topsy-turvy world  but through the work of his sometimes friend, sometimes enemy, the sociologist Lefebvre. For Lefebvre it is “the great pleonasm, the Thing of Things.” As though the term was already saturated with meaning at the beginning – as though the books that speak of it (Lefebvre’s and Debord’s) are also pleonastic … The definition of the spectacle and the spectacle of definition: schema for high theory. Wark allows us to consider this sociological appropriation of what was hardly intended as a sociological concept as a moment of 50 years of recuperation…

YA … this term, so it would seem, has a different status.

OA: The first three already belong to low theory. Almost no one cares about them. This last one will have to be re-appropriated if it is to be of use.

YA: As long as re-appropriated does not suggest the mastery that is high theory’s concern.  I think rather of setting it adrift, along with all the others.

OA:  Wark says: “Low theory returns in moments, not of disappointment, but of boredom. We are bored with these burnt offerings, these warmed-up leftovers. High theory cedes too much to the existing organization of knowledge and art. It is nothing more than the spectacle of disintegration extending into knowledge itself. Rather a negative theory that reveals the gap between this world and its promises. Rather a negative action which reveals the gap between what can be done and what is to be done.”

YA: But is all low theory negative theory? We need to think this through, work through the permutations … we need spaces in which to do this …

OA: “For such experiments the Situationist legacy stands ripe for a détournement that has no respect for those who claim proprietary rights over it.”

YA: Rights: the museum. Experiments: the hole in the museum’s wall. Where else?

OA: Though one is often housed inside the other, “The archive too is a space for dérive.”

YA: The city and the archive … well-positioned wastelands, they said. But they are dead. Who is there now, in the dérive?

OA: In some exemplary and dangerous sense, we are. In another sense, we only find a mask, that of translator or researcher of low theory. In a third sense, no one is there.

YA: What am I supposed to do with that answer? I am going back into the labyrinth. I want to see if the way in is also a way out. Wherever I come out, I guess I’ll go visit the Occupy thing after all. But I am going to be late.

 

Robots of Repression

With all the intelligent things she might have said, it is unfortunate that Audre Lorde is most widely passed around in the form of that execrable quote about the impossibility of using the master’s tools to destroy the master’s house. This allegation is false both in the imagined realm of the metaphor and on the historical terrain of social struggles it signifies. Many a time, a state’s own policies and institutions have brought about its ruin, whereas literally, if the master’s house is made of stone, the hammer, chisel, and levers we used to make it for him would be rather expedient for tearing it down; if made of wood, the same goes for the axe, saw, and plane, although it would be slow going with the plane. One could allege that tools expropriated to destroy the master’s house can no longer be called the master’s tools but are now the People’s Tools; however, such class-conscious semantics exclude the possibility that the tools still pertain to the master, and he has ordered us to tear down his house, to build a bigger one, or out of insanity perhaps. Stranger things have happened.

It has been said that the difference between a tool and a machine is that a tool is in the hand of its user, whereas a machine conditions its operator. The conditioning that is part and parcel of the machine is reminiscent of that of the apparatus. Curiously, analysis—quite unlike poetry—loathes the synonym, and demands a distinction between like terms. So, let us blindly answer the exigencies of our logical paradigm and refine ourselves into a farther corner of this cave of shadows: what is the difference between machine and apparatus?

In a past essay, I argued the need (admittedly arbitrary, although not random) to define “apparatus” as a concrete manifestation of the dominant networks of power that conditions both its conduits and its captives, and I emphasized a parallel need to “analyze these networks of power within their concrete and daily manifestations, so as to tease out the strategic relationship between the spaces we inhabit and the powers that shape those spaces.”

As all analytical categories are stillborn metaphors, the concreteness of the apparatus does not demand of it a specified physical existence; rather this concreteness, coming to us as it does as representation, might just as easily be the idea of concreteness as a fixed chemical tangibility. Really, what is the physical quality that distinguishes a nuclear family from another collection of people who may or may not inhabit the same dwelling? Though the nuclear family is certainly concrete—we can go and touch its members, be chased out of the house by them, listen to them throwing plates and screaming—there is no physical quality that distinguishes it from a group of actors living together for a reality TV show, a multigenerational assortment of persons whom chance has brought together to live in the same house, or a group of acquaintances who get together on holidays.

Nor are machines strictly physical. Many social configurations have been represented as machines, and with the further development of both affective and nano-technologies, in some seen reality we attempt to purge of representation, the supreme physicality of the machine is becoming increasingly hard to distinguish. The metaphor of production has long been naturalized within the realm of life by the ideologues of rationalism, who insist with religious fervor that just as a factory produces trinkets, certain cells produce sugar or babies produce sounds, to give two examples. But as genetically programmed animal captives come to manufacture medicines within the cells of their own bodies, or babies begin to replicate sounds and gestures as disciplined by a bombardment of educational television and increasingly scientific commoditized caretaking, we are dealing with production in fact and not production as a metaphysical usurpation of the meaning of natural occurrences.

Thus, we cannot distinguish between the machine and the apparatus using a criterion of their physicality.

A notable difference that might aid us in our semiological quest is that the operator is the adjunct of the machine, lamentably necessary to its functioning, whereas the conduits and captives are a specific focus of the apparatus. The machine progressively reduces the number and attention of operators it relies on, whereas the apparatus progressively intensifies the attention directed to its conduits and captives, and all other things being equal increases the number of conduits and captives it manages.

In the assembly line, the machine and the apparatus seemingly coincide. In a frozen instant captured for the popular imagination by, say, the photo of a factory in Detroit in the ’70s, we see that the machine and apparatus are coterminous, occupying the same physical space, although linked with the broader world by a number of dependencies, be those material and technical input or management by overseeing institutions. However, as the system develops, we are approaching factory systems that are entirely roboticized, with no more captives and just a few remaining humans as conduits that represent a severed loop, communicating with no one but themselves and the occasional elementary school field trip that might pass through for a tour.

In other words, in the specific physical space of the post-modernizing factory, the machine has apparently triumphed, whereas the apparatus is in shambles, nearing an apparent obsolescence. Such an obsolescence would certainly negate an evolutionist view of the system, as the machine came into our gaze before the apparatus, and is presumed therefore to represent a more primitive form.

The follies of evolutionism aside, the increased mechanization of the factories cannot be detached from an explosion of apparatuses into everyday life. Here we find an external will that coincides with the tendency of the machine for greater mechanization. Just as the logic of production favors an increase in labor efficiency and the replacement of workers with machines (a false dichotomy, perhaps), the strategic needs of capitalists and governors favored the closing of the factory as a space for struggle and formation of oppositional identity. Simultaneously, the apparatuses moved from the dessicating niche of the factory into the newly vivacious spaces elsewhere in social life (the highway, the shopping mall, the package vacation, the chat room, to name a few). This migration and proliferation of apparatuses was performed partly with the bumbling advice of administrators and the occasional brilliant prophesies of progressives, but to a much greater extent the movement was a silent one, performed with the instinctual intelligence of a hyperaggressive parasite. Unlike the move towards mechanization, which was made explicit every step of the way with balance sheets, investment recommendations, urban planning reports, and police threat assessments, all of which pointed in their different ways towards the closing of factories, the adoption of robotics, and the orphaning of proletarian communities, the apparatus migration was announced in no strategic papers except those that came after the fact. Although in some cases the growth of a new apparatus was specifically impelled by the institutions that managed it, just as often new institutions had to be founded to keep pace with that growth, which had taken on qualitative as well as quantitative proportions and therefore had opened up entirely new terrains initially free from direct institutional oversight.

All apparatuses are marked by a strategic dynamic that is, within a broader network that crosses them both vertically and horizontally, self-regulating. The machine, on the other hand, is simply replicating (and in an increasingly proximate future, also self-replicating). When the machine and the apparatus coincide in physical space, the machine is the analysis of that space at the level of its functioning, and the apparatus is the analysis of that space at the level of its functionality. Therefore, with the machine, the question of purpose is obviated with the removal of that purpose to an external inventor, mechanic, or technician. With the apparatus, on the contrary, the question of purpose becomes a cental paradox. Strategy is central to the foundation of the apparatus, but the articulation of that strategy is also constantly conditioned by the functioning of the apparatus in conjunction with the network of other apparatuses. So, how can we speak of strategy and thus of an external will and objectives if those who articulate the strategy are conditioned by their apparatuses and are at times even unaware of them?

A teleological understanding that divides reality into cause and effect, or for that matter mass and energy, would force us to seek the original apparatus and its Creator (perhaps language? according to Agamben). A chaotic understanding of reality sees creation as an ever present property of a communicative network that both responds to and articulates forces. In this view, subject_object is often a misunderstanding of thing-looking-at-itself.

Both the machine and the apparatus date historically to biopower, and biopower can be understood as a sea change or an emergent behavior that arose from the increasing pressure achieved by an anti-entropic array of forces within the chaotic whole (with a modest degree of accuracy, we can call this array the State). This emergent behavior functions as a decentralized or common measuring stick that different foci of power can use, consciously or unconsciously, to regulate themselves. When the democracy activist seeks to impose trusted and comforting forms of organization on a chaotic rupture, he is not in the employ of a specific institution, but as conduit and captive in other spaces of his life, he has been conditioned by other apparatuses and is now predisposed to create new ones. Thus, the advance of apparatuses can easily outpace the ability of the institutions of power to become cognizant of the opening of new social spaces in which apparatuses could take root. The institutional response is more likely to tend towards the suppression of new spaces, out of the conservative self-interest that characterizes the institutional form (a form that predates biopower, and is more parasitic than productive, or to refer to the earlier metaphor, is a sedentary parasite rather than a hyperaggressive one). However, the opening of new social spaces usually does not realize its potential as a threat to the State, because non-State actors following the tide and responding to newness with a greater adaptability than the State could ever achieve are usually the ones to introduce new apparatuses into the new spaces. These actors sometimes call themselves activists, or anarchists, or artists, or are called by others hipsters. In every case, what they fear is chaos, and what they seek is a “true” realization of the same values that the system has supposedly neglected (rights, justice, democracy, equality, and other tripe). This common language between governor and activist is the virus of colonization.

The internet constitutes a multitude of new spaces—a new plane—of social life. It is also an array of apparatuses. Technically, it is the unforeseen side effect of a well meaning attempt by the US military to still be able to control the world in the event of a nuclear holocaust, subsequently expanded by scientific institutions and informal networks of geeks before being even more massively expanded (and saturated with new apparatuses) as a new possible terrain for commerce. The specific machines that contributed to the development of the internet either run independently or they condition their operator little more than does a typewriter (referring now to the personal computer). But the new spaces constituted by the internet and the apparatuses that quickly migrated into them have had a profound affect on human behavior. At the user end, those who stray into the apparatuses of the internet exist simultaneously as conduits and captives. This heightened involvement as both producer and consumer is often portrayed as one of the liberatory aspects of the internet: so much of it is created by those who use it.

One possibility opened up by the participatory nature of the internet is the crowdsourcing of repression. “Crowdsourcing” itself is an internet-era neologism reflecting the previously unimaginable phenomenon that has followed riots from London to Toronto: the police publishing thousands of megabytes worth of photo and video and calling on the public to help them trace and identify lawbreakers, qualitatively surpassing the predecessor of this phenomenon, the good ole fashioned “Wanted” poster. Of course, to every action a reaction: this crowdsourcing of repression has already been sabotaged by anarchists spamming police identification efforts, sometimes with the help of computer programs that automatically flood the database with thousands of fake and funny names (the equivalent of ripping down the “Wanted” poster, drawing a moustache on it, or, à la Robin Hood, shooting a freaking arrow through it).

Another user offering thrown up on the altar of the internet—not just new content but a whole new feature—is the online comment. Rumor has it that the online comment, now so ubiquitous in the world of blogs and online newspapers, is actually the invention of Indymedia. It might be easy, and not entirely without merit, to return to the heady days of innovation, and in light of the subsequent triumph of that innovation, such that present day life is hard to imagine without the contribution of those shoestring activists, exalt in the creative grandeur of anarchy. Given the present condition of the internet comment, it is even easier to reflect on the erroneous or lacking critique of democracy and free speech held by those innovative activists, those pioneers unwittingly carrying their parasite into virgin lands.

Within a few short years, the internet comment forum transformed into a repressive apparatus, albeit democratic par excellence. With nearly everyone taking part, internet comment forums created and used within anarchist struggles have become acceptable spaces for the intensification of sectarian divisions based on barely a shadow of critical difference, the proliferation of superficial or aesthetic affinities, snitch-jacketing, rape-jacketing, the publishing of legally endangering information, the compromising of anonymities, the erosion of solidarity and its replacement with flippancy and instant gratification, and a deepening of the culture of TLDR.

In the world at large, comment forums have been seized on by internet news sites to increase reader interest but also to further mold reader opinion. Given that the public has always been an imaginary force used to discipline collective and individual behavior, the opening of a new potential manifestation of a collectivity, on the internet, had to be replaced by a new public. And that public, as all publics, had to be disciplined. In the beginning, this was done by astroturfing: mercenary trolls in the employ of public relations firms or government agencies posting comments that would generate favorable opinions of specific brands and policies, and on a larger scale create a majority disposed to social peace and consumption. Increasingly, astroturfing is being automated as the PR firms and governments that carry it out increase their labor efficiency by turning their opinion workers into the overseers of multiple computer-generated opinion-spreading machines that create the impression of a sycophantic mass hostile to the extremists, favorable to the products, and unquestioning of the tropes and lenses with which the media represent the world.

As machines condition the workforce with increasingly mechanical behaviors and apparatuses condition their captives to act within the suggested channels, we can surmise that the roboticization of the workforce carrying out the informational and affective labor of the internet forums is of secondary importance to the inculcation of robotic attitudes among the remaining organics. In other words, the horror of the mass production of an imaginary public through internet comments is not to be found in the image of real people being overwhelmed by corporate-employed robots who endanger a prior democratic balance; it is to be found, rather, in the image of real people becoming steadily more like the robots who replaced them, in their own turn making the robots redundant (but no less useful).

One can assume a low probability to the proposition that specifically anarchist comment forums are, or at least were in their earlier days, dominated by hired or robotic trolls. But the population and voracity of their trolls are not less but if anything more than in the mainstream internet forums presumably managed by the robots. After Infoshop News got rid of anonymous commenting, I can only imagine in an attempt to create a less pernicious commenting culture, a great deal of activity moved to Anarchist News, which is known far and wide for comment wars that are at best assinine. A recent poll on that site asking which types of comments could be acceptably purged suggests that they too are looking for a way to change the nature of their comment forum. The big question, no doubt, is how to get rid of the trolls and improve the quality of the debates without killing activity on the site. In this problematic we see reflected a characteristic behavior that is typical of the consumer: the demand for more opportunities to consume, and the reproduction of desires that in the first instance were objectivated from without.

A specific space inhabited by an apparatus—a website, for example—functions as a shell. Even in the absence of management, its very shape suggests a specific use and flow which serve to regenerate it. For this reason, fighting an apparatus within its own space usually requires counterintuitive, obscure, or shockingly violent measures. (If I were to say that it requires thinking outside the box, it is only because this particular field of text seems like an appropriate terrain for the burial ground of such a dead metaphor.) There are many anarchists who have run for the mountains, as it were, ignoring anarchist websites entirely and foregoing all the civilizational wonders of internetland, consigning themselves to discursive forms that are illegible from the lowlands. Through avoidance, they protect themselves from the recuperating trap of trying to resolve the problem, but they also run the risk, historically repeated, of losing a battle fought on a field from which they are absent, ensuring that they will subsequently be overrun and disappeared.

Faced with the superficiality of internet communication and its pernicious effect on our own behaviors and networks, what are we to do?

I don’t offer a solution to this question. I intend the question itself as a subversion, an invitation to counter the flow of the apparatus that is already leading you along to click on the hypertext that leads to the next article before even reading the middle of this one (because you skimmed, didn’t you?) by pondering—at length and unproductively—an invitation to look away, causing your eye muscles to remember distance and focus, to breathe in deeply and remember that you hadn’t been, and to remember your back and your shoulders, that should be straight, ready for a fight or a long walk, but are instead hunched, as though under some great load that you must carry with you wherever you go.

What are we to do?

More Green Now!

Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet

Derrick Jensen is at it again with his new book, Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet (2011), except this time with two co-authors taking the lead. The first is Lierre Keith, author of the book, The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability (2009). The second, Aric Mcbay, a previous co-author with Jensen in the book, What We Leave Behind (2009) and author of Peak Oil Survival: Preparation for Life after Gridcrash (2006) and Wake: A Collective Manual-in-progress for Outliving Civilization (www.inthewake.org). Jensen an author of countless books such as a Culture of Make Believe (2004), Endgame (2006), and his new book Dreams (2011). Jensen now takes a more passive role writing the introduction and answering questions at the end of chapters.

Keith and Mcbay seems to pick up and expand on the more militant aspects where Jensen left off in Endgame. “The book is about fighting back” to “save the planet” and the book completes its task for proposing a strategy, but whether that strategy resonates and speaks to people is an entirely different story. The book is broken into four sections: resistance, organization, strategy and tactics, and the future. The first and last sections are written primarily by Keith and the second and third by Mcbay.


The first section: resistance, establishes the problems and myths of civilization and goes to some depth in historical currents of resistance in history. Keith has a chapter called “Liberals and Radicals” where she seeks to distinguish the difference between the two and then demonstrates how both can operate in building social movements based on legal remedies, direct action, withdrawal, and spirituality. In this she describes a kind of socialist society she wants to build and what it ought to be like. This analysis is build on a Marxian definition of radical, Keith (p. 62) states, “[b]ut for radicals, society is made up of classes or any groups or castes. In the radical’s understanding, being a member of a group is not an affront. Far from it; identifying with a group is the first step toward political consciousness and ultimately effective political action.” A Marxist feminist current is carried into a chapter titled a “Culture of Resistance.” Mcbay ends the section with “A Taxonomy of Action.” Mcbay categorizes the different actions, omission and commission, giving a brief history on where they came from and how they functioned.


Organization written entirely by Mcbay, becomes a more technical section in laying out conceptual tools for resistance. This section beings with “The Psychology of Resistance” which lays out different psychological studies and ideas to demonstrate who, how, and how many may typically resist oppressive situations. One interesting notion was“learned helplessness” by Martin Seligman. The section continues to lay out a number different organizational models and demonstrates how different models benefit certain situations. This is followed by a discussion on decision making, recruitment, and security culture. The French resistance in occupied France and U.S. Army field manuals are a common source of reference.


The third section strategy and tactics lays out a broad plan of attack for a lethal natural environmental movement. This section summarizes military strategy and tactic from a couple U.S. Army field manuals. The strategic and tactical information is then synthesized and related to the successes and failures of different social movements and armed struggle groups. Starting from slave abolition to women suffrage, all the way to Irish Independence, the Weather Underground (WU), and the African National Congress (ANC). Then the concept of “Decisive Ecological Warfare” is deployed to bring the strategic and tactical necessity of underground cells to destroy industrial infrastructure and aboveground groups to support the underground actions while keeping a culture of resistance in mind. These ideas are explained at some depth.


The last section states the six principles of Deep Green Resistance and the need for Decisive Ecological Warfare. This section continues to tell a story of what could be and how, giving an example of these ideas in actions and the difficulties, pleasures, and hardships that could come from attacking the industrial system. And the book ends as many sections do, reminding you that 200 species died today—your inaction is complicit with ecocide.


The book contains a number of interesting ideas and includes a diverse range of material. The authors do well to expose the myths of civilization and to explain military strategy and tactic for dummies—the Hitler assassination diagram was clever. This book provides a common ground, or set of terms, to understand important methods of organization, security, strategy, and tactic. This may be beneficial to an audience ignorant to the realities of an industrial culture and power. That said, there are some significant shortcomings.


A concentration of concern exist in chapters, “Liberals and Radicals” and “Culture of Resistance.” These chapters seem to lack clarity, explanation, and fail to tie together clear ideas presented in an out of sequence structure. This continues in “Culture of Resistance” with a weak historical genealogical approach to European counter cultures. A further discrepancy is the definition of radical, stated above. This definition of radical appears shortsighted. Radical, stemming from the Latin word radix, meaning: root, the Marxian definition does not address the systemic or root issues of industrial civilization. There seems to be contradiction and confusion between the Marxist-feminist society proposed by Keith and the anti-civilization agenda of the book. The explanation of this indigenous friendly, socialist society is one notch deeper than superficial—a difficult image to paint nonetheless.


The culture of resistance and society proposed suffers from a romantic communism. Keith seems naive to power, an accusation she wages correctly against other groups, but her authoritative leftism may have unintended consequences. Keith, referring to spirituality in a “Culture of Resistance” (p.166-7) writes:

A moral code may inscribe obedience to authority throughout society or it may call us to fight injustice; we can find examples of both even in the same religious traditions….We need that new religion to help set the world right, and to nestle each human life in an unbroken circle of individual conscience and longing, communal bonding, connection to the multitude of members of this tribe called carbon….

Keith concludes in the “Culture of Resistance”section (p. 190) stating:

The task of a culture of resistance include holding and enforcing community norms of justice, equity, and commitment, and solidarity; encouraging vibrant political discussion and debate; producing cultural products—poems, songs, art—that create a mythic matrix organized around the themes of resistance; building individual character based on courage, resilience, and loyalty.

These could be words from a right-wing christian community. The specifics of this culture of resistance are not developed much past the adjectives of the last quote. There is continuous repetition of positive adjectives and little elaboration on how these cultures will develop there “own institutions”—many of that is put on the “Permaculture Wing.” The authoritative leftism thrown around is enough to turn most radicals away and discredit some of her finer points.


This brings up the examples used. Many of these social movements and armed groups are not radical in any deep sense of the word. Despite the accurate criticism placed against Permacultureists, there practice is more radical in many ways to the social movements and Marxist-Lenninist groups cited. Just because a group uses guns does not mean they are radical. These were points made it the book, but contradiction ensued. The conditions in South Africa are argued by many to be worse now than ever— parts of ANC leadership sold out to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund almost right off the bat. Further, the demands of civil rights and women suffrage were not radical, they were reasonable demands and concessions to be accepted by capitalist society. More to the point, they talk about Members for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), but not once do they talk about the deal the Nigerian government made with MEND for disarmament in exchange for amnesty, 1,500 dollars, and jobs. The leadership took it, and guess what? The leadership sits rich in the city while the foot soldiers still wait for their payments and jobs in a government indoctrination camps. MEND has recovered and has declared to resume attacks on June 2011, but the more complex lessons for strategy, tactic, and hardship are not taught. The authors of DGR did not even talk about the armed groups of Latin America from the 1960s to 1990s.


That said, this book is an interesting topic, but spends to much time constructing and describing what the authors thinks is a perfect society and fails to reconcile accurately the true hardship and shortcomings of armed struggle groups. Then again, the GDR manifesto is $19.95 new, not to mention $150-$500workshops, so how serious can you take the authors anyway? I recommend this book for nonprofit employees or self-identified student activists. The reading will be interesting no matter who you are, but has a authoritative leftist current that may undo the success of Derrick Jensen’s Endgame.


–Tiger Attack

Rock & Roll

The subject of my sermon today will be Motörhead, and, as may be deduced from my title, herein I will also be concerned with the topic of genre. When Motörhead began putting out records, there was often a bit of confusion as to whether they should be shelved as punk or heavy metal, but the general consensus ever since, to the best of my knowledge, is that Motörhead is basically a heavy metal band. This, however, is a consensus that, to the extent that the label as I understand it has any real implications besides a certain similarity in sound to other similarly labeled bands, I would prefer to dissent from, preferring to categorize Motörhead simply as—you guessed it—rock & roll. In doing so, I will be in good company, since Lemmy himself—to the woefully uninformed reader, that’s Ian Kilmister, the bass player, singer, and chief songwriter of the outfit—in scores of songs and interviews has never referred to his style of music in any other way, as far as I know.

First, heavy metal. There is no doubt that Motörhead has had an immense influence on the development of the genre; their 1979 song, “Overkill,” with its pounding double bass drum, repetitive riffing, and gruff vocals, probably single-handedly pioneered speed and thrash metal, although that’s admittedly not the informed opinion of a metal connoisseur, so I may be wrong. In any case, “Overkill” provided, both lyrically and sonically, the template for a good many self-referential metal anthems to come, among the more successful of which may be counted “Whiplash,” “Hammerhead,” “Battery,” “Heavy Metal Daze,” “Rattlehead,” and “Bonded By Blood.” But the first thing I want to mark is the difference, and a comparison of some of the lyrics of “Overkill” with those of Metallica’s typically turgid knock-off “Whiplash” seems like a good place to start.

“Overkill” starts simply enough, as if Lemmy is trying to avoid really saying anything, but of course the song has to be heard and not merely read:

Only way to feel the noise is when it’s good and loud
So good, I can’t believe it, screaming with the crowd
Don’t sweat it—get it back to you.

The emphasis here is on joy and release, which is exactly what the music provides. On the other hand, James Hetfield sings in almost the exact same cadence:

Bang your head against the stage like you never did before
Make it ring, make it bleed, make it really sore

Aside from the clumsy, apparently unintentional hilarity of “make it really sore,” the thing to be noted here is that the lyrics identify a fundamental problem with the music—it’s not intended to make you feel good, just to send you into a pointless frenzy. Whereas Lemmy wants to make you move, Hetfield sends you to the ER with a really embarrassing story.

What I want to identify here—and I do not intend to confine my argument to lyrics, it’s just that it’s all conveniently laid out there—is a fundamental aesthetic difference. And it’s not just a question of style, but also of attitude—heavy metal lyrics are rife with ridiculous posturing, whereas the best Motörhead songs manage to create a little distance between the singer and the posture, a moment of humanity for which most heavy metal lacks the courage. Again, here is “Whiplash”:

Now’s the time to let it rip, to let it fuckin’ loose
We’re gathered here to maim and kill ‘cause this is what we choose

Really? Next, another verse of “Overkill.” Note that, in terms of meter and length of line, these songs could trade lyrics:

On your feet you feel the beat it goes straight to your spine
Shake your head, you must be dead if it don’t make you fly
Don’t sweat it—get it back to you.

Lemmy wants to make you fly, whereas Hetfield wants to send you to jail, the hospital, or the morgue. Or rather, anyone capable of taking Hetfield’s lyrics seriously would say that, which pretty much rules out anybody over the age of 17. Lemmy, by comparison, only asks the listener to have fun, and the song immediately delivers on what he asks. The music performs what the lyrics are talking about, whereas “Whiplash” is pure, inarticulate fantasy, and not very much fun to boot (unless you’re pretty drunk, anyway).

Indeed, the posturing of most heavy metal lyrics, which complements the wooden feel of the music, shows up poorly in contrast to the irony, humor, love, sympathy and joy that pervade the words and music of Motörhead. A case in point is “Shoot You In The Back,” off 1980’s Ace of Spades. The song tries to impart a lesson about life by identifying the singer with a western outlaw. But the key moment comes at both the beginning and end of the song, when Lemmy announces that this is all happening “in the Western movie.” Rather than blustering about how deadly he is, Lemmy brings the song home by reminding us it’s about a common experience, not an invincible rock star. He acknowledges that he is no more a Western outlaw than his listener, which may disappoint the teenage metal fan but is a welcome caveat for those of us who would prefer a little maturity from a 35-year-old man.

In fact, heavy metal seems to be so much about posturing that it would hardly be the genre that it is without it, an especially ironic fact for those variants wont to fulminating about “posers.” It’s a poor copout when Slayer, for instance, sings about Joseph Mengele, all the while claiming to be reporting on something without endorsing it—the imagery of “Angel of Death” is of the essence of heavy metal, and it little matters who is evil, deadly, or badass, as long as somebody is, and that somebody can be sung about. Overblown phrases like “Monarch of the kingdom of the dead” don’t require a clear referent, because the posture is what the music is aiming for.

On the other hand, when Lemmy sings “Shoot You In The Back,” there is no bravado or chest-thumping; it’s not clear who we are meant to identify with, and anyway, it’s all in a movie:

The riders ride
Into the night
Into the west
To see whose gun’s the best
Got to realize
Before he dies
The rider wearing black
Always gonna shoot you in the back

The lesson here is that ethics and principles only take you so far in this world, and the lesson holds no matter what color hat we’re wearing. A basic human dynamic is tersely sketched in terms explicitly borrowed from the cinema, and no attempt is made to intimidate or bully anyone. Just don’t turn your back on the guy in the black hat, whomever that may be.

And what heavy metal band could have written or performed “I’ll Be Your Sister”? Although the title seems to indicate irony or camp, Lemmy plays it straight (in a manner of speaking!):

I’ll be your sister
I’ll be your lover
I’ll be your mother
If you need somebody

Is it possible to imagine Tom G. Warrior making such an offer? If he did, is it possible to imagine being tempted to accept it? From the introductory bass riff, the song kicks in with a fuzzed-out heaviness that anticipates ’80s heavy metal, but it moves in such a way that heavy metal never did; it’s pure rock & roll.

And whereas rock & roll is about need, longing, loss and recovery, how many heavy metal singers admit to needing anything? To being tired or lonely?

If you need me, feeling tired
Need someone to set your heart on fire
It’s so lonely hanging on the wire

Or how about being afraid? Here’s “Lawman”:

Every time you speak to me
Makes it clear that you don’t see
What’s really happening here
You just confuse respect with fear

Or, in one of his many regular-guy rants against record company suits and all they represent, when Lemmy insists:

You know that you can rob me
But you can’t stop me

what an abyss separates this from the empty bravado of “We’ll never quit, we’ll never stop, ‘cause we’re Metallica”!
But I don’t mean to spend the entirety of my time here beating up on heavy metal. Anyway, what I want to talk about is not really heavy metal, but rock & roll, and even if heavy metal is a subgenre of rock & roll, it is still absurd to tag Motörhead as a heavy metal band. Indeed the passion for rock & roll music, inexplicable or even inexcusable to some, is a constant theme for Lemmy, something holy and all-encompassing, not simply a label or an indicator of genre, but a fundamental position, a way of life:

Don’t you listen to a single word
Against rock & roll
The new religion, the electric church
The only way to go

Or, again:

I’ve got rock & roll
To satisfy my soul
And if that’s all there is
It’s not so bad

Or, most simply and classically:

If you want to feel good
If you want to feel alright
If you want to shake your stuff
Get some rock & roll tonight

(This last comes from a song called “Dance.” Is there any dancing in heavy metal?)

The point I’m trying to make is that there is humility, joy, passion, sorrow, love and hate, empathy and despair, in other words a full array of feeling, an undeniable humanity in Motörhead’s music. It would be tempting to say that there is a generosity of spirit there, and if I hesitate to do so, it is not simply because the phrase is such a cliché. More than that, if the name spirit has always designated the domain of ethics, reflexive reason, and the coming to self-awareness of the concept, would it not be inaccurate to speak of a generosity of the spirit? In that case, wouldn’t generosity instead be an effusion of the body? Indeed, wouldn’t spirit itself be a generous gift of the body? And, to arrive at my thesis at last, isn’t this what great rock & roll has always been about?

A view such as Guy Debord’s, which sees the role of art as self-negation, abasement before it’s own commodification and the autonomy of an aesthetic and cultural sphere divorced from life, could not be more at odds with a form that seems to allow the body to speak, which is what I am claiming for Motörhead particularly, and rock & roll generally. Lemmy seems to recognize this when he insists, “Rock & roll is not art. Rock & roll is about celebration…” This is not to say that rock & roll is not commodified, that it doesn’t sell soap, or cars, or itself. And this is not to say it manages to transcend its role as a commodity. There is no transcendence here. But what rock & roll so clearly enunciates is the body of meaning that does not itself mean anything, without which there is no meaning, or that which means without being meant. It is the body setting itself to work, rather than being set to work—not the bloody, sore body of the headbanger but the moving, living body of the bloody, sore headbanger, which makes all the difference here. If that isn’t clear enough, it’s because I’m trying to say something in the wrong medium, to enunciate in language what can’t really be brought to language. But that isn’t to say it can’t be expressed; it is expressed all the time, in the best rock & roll music. Heavy metal is for the most part a pale shadow of real rock & roll, and that’s what Motörhead is—real rock & roll.

You don’t really care for music, do ya?

a continuation of “Kafka Reloaded”

I used to live alone before I knew you

There are a number of babies in this park, all of them accompanied by an adult. Little Worm is the only one in a baby sling, pressed tight against my chest. All the others are being pushed around in strollers, alternately sleeping or crying or staring off, while their adults are alternately talking or using cellphones or staring off.

Little Worm was removed early. Premature, they call it. The doctors said it was an emergency and he had to come out. It’s hard to know if they were right, because emergencies are their preferred terrain.

So, I suppose the first apparatus Little Worm encountered was a surgical procedure. (Do we have the machine that goes ping?) The second was an incubator. Given the politics of hygenization and the suppression of human contact, the bottle could be considered not just a tool (which in a different socio-historical context it would be) but a third apparatus. A fourth would be a stroller. All of these tend towards separation.

I wonder if it’s fair to consider the stroller an apparatus, while sparing the baby sling this perjorative assignment. The stroller minimizes interaction and socializes the baby to accept vehicular movement in which the force that impels is invisible, and the world is split into personal space and scenery. These same movements are repeated elsewhere in the grand symphony. Wars have been fought to inflict the same achievements on uncivilized populations.

The baby sling, in certain manifestations, reifies the bourgeois right to buy back some of the human contact that has been robbed from all of us. In the next neighborhood over, it would be easy to find progressive yuppy parents toting their tots around in baby slings, perhaps dyed to look like they’re from India, or done up as an entire backpack with extra diaper pockets and multiple safety features. The one Little Worm snuggles in is secondhand, purely functional. His parents don’t have the kind of money they have in the next neighborhood over.

Because Little Worm was kept in an incubator the first months of his life, he never got used to drinking milk straight from the breast, only from the bottle. One advantage to this sorry fact is that I can take him to the park and care for him for hours, despite my tragically useless mammaries.

The strollers are depressing me as they make their clockwise rounds, accompanied by their pair of humans, small and large, fore and aft. In an obvious juxtaposition, a minor fleet of Latin American immigrants appear on the scene to push citizen convalescents in wheelchairs counterclockwise about the park. The unpaid labor of mothers dances about the paid labor of immigrants in a symphony of social reproduction whose greatest movement silences the sound of the music.

The superimposition of strollers on wheelchairs makes me think of Addie Bundren in William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, lying unseeing in the coffin as her family disintegrates around her on its journey cityward. And like Darl I’m overcome by an inarticulate sullenness, a need to burn down a barn, or its urban equivalent. I think about Jewel (the kid from Yoknapatawpha, not the singer from Alaska) running in to save the horses, and how every gesture of negation runs into complications, how every apparatus contains its innocent captives. Today, the exact same sensitivity can lead to terrorism or to humanism. Nihilism without arrogance—the kind that lets itself cry on top of a coffin as the barn burns—quickly loses its way. But this loss is a necessary and beautiful thing. Someone in the symphony must finally put down her violin and admit that really, she just doesn’t understand.

In the anarchist newspaper I read about a couple youths in the adjacent town who got sent to prison after breaking into the construction site for a mental hospital and destroying everything, just because. Donnie Darko’s summary of the Graham Greene novel tells us this destructive impulse is common enough to have passed from literature to pop culture. The official news does damage control, imposing an alibi of irrationality, while the silver screen pretends to sympathize with everyone’s inner nihilist as long as they just stay in their seats, stay tuned in. On a rational, discursive level, the entertainment media’s sympathy for nihilism makes no sense; it seems to contradict our argument that there is nothing subversive within the Spectacle. It is Power’s quest for affective allegiances that explains the contradiction.

Little Worm starts to twitch and squirm. I sing him a song to keep him asleep. His tiny fist clenches and unclenches at my chest.

Earlier I was looking at a book full of exercises that can be done with children, starting in the very first week, to maximize the development of their muscular and cognitive processes. The Worm’s mother told me that all the progressive daycares in town were like bootcamps in which the kiddies were strapped down, never hugged, and bombarded with stimuli meant to boost their intellect. I remember an argument with a doctor friend who wanted to send her child to school as early as possible to give him “more opportunities.” I think about the parents who want super-babies. The line between love and abuse is so fine sometimes. Neglect, in these cases, seems so benign.

If only we could get a little less attention, given the motives that lie, naturalized and invisible, behind that attention. I hug Little Worm close to me. He’s a little ball of warmth against my heartbeat. I shrug my way out of my jacket.

In the argument with my doctor friend, a devout follower of Francis Bacon, I was saying that science is a religion based on a mechanical mythology. William Gaddis illustrates this perfectly through brief vignettes in his comic novel J R, as the minor character in the public school where much of the storyline takes place, Coach Vogel, teaches his students about the human body using the naturalized metaphor of a machine (naturalized because the body is held to be, not like a machine, but in fact a machine). At first his monologues are simply annoying, when he talks about the digestive system, the fuel for this machine, then depressing when he claims the heart to be a piston, and then hilarious when, in the oblique background of one scene, he begins to explain the reproductive system. The naturalness of the metaphor finally breaks down when he assigns his students the construction of machine-bodies and they all pass out from inhaling glue fumes.

there was a time when you let me know what’s really going on below

The Little Worm awakes in a fit of sobs. I rock him and sing a lullaby, and soon he is breathing evenly, gripping me, eyes closed, head pressed against my chest to hear my heartbeat. It feels both perverse and wholesome that the song I put him to sleep with is the Decembrists’ “Shankhill Butchers.”

The shankhill butchers ride tonight
you better shut your windows tight
they’re sharpening their cleavers and their knives
they’re taking all their whiskey by the pint

cause everybody knows
if you don’t mind your mother’s words
a wicked wind will blow
your ribbons from your curls
the shankhill butcher’s wanna catch you
awake

Since the Age of Disney, expressing such violence to children is blasphemous, but Disney itself represents a stark transformation from the Age of Grimm, in which fairy tales were used precisely to introduce children to a particular war. Santa Claus, remember, used to beat naughty children with bags of coal, not make presents of them; and the first two Little Pigs didn’t run to their brother’s house, they got eaten.

When the bow breaks
the cradle will fall
and down will come baby
cradle and all

It seems appropriately old-fashioned to put this atavistic baby to sleep with threats about the shankhill butchers. But the Grimm Brothers, now a stock symbol for the archaic, were every bit as much the revisionists as Walt Disney. Walter Benjamin has already untangled the meaning of the fairy tale as a semiotic war against the world of magic. Though the fairy tale’s didacticism communicates to both adults and children, by objectivating the audience as a childish one, the Grimmists restrict the magical world to prepubescence, which is to say subhumanity, sealing the monopoly of rationalism on adult discourses. Secondly, within the moral template of the fairy tale, the women are chaste, nature is either tame or evil, bad children meet with violent ends, and the witches always get killed. (The frequency with which women were the protagonists of fairy tales, in contrast to the cultural production of Hollywood up until the ’80s, also leads one to speculate whose social role required the most work in disciplining during that age).

The fairy tale is the accompaniment to the standardization of child-beating in Western society (for a study of the emphasis European colonizers put on teaching indigenous Americans to beat children, see Silvia Federici’s “Caliban and the Witch”). In other words, these putatively magical narratives are in fact a hostile incursion into imaginary territory.

That they must be directed at children is not solely a function of their didactic structure. Since the colonization of European populations by endogenous elites, children have been the keepers of the imaginary, without which no rebellious struggle is possible. Paradoxically, or perhaps as a direct result of the former, children also have the longest historical memories. Childrens’ rhymes tend to be the oldest surviving pieces of oral literature. For example, earlier forms of the following rhyme, “Ring around the rosie/ pockets full of posie/ ashes! ashes!/ We all fall down!”, date back to the 18th century, and the rhyme itself possibly refers to the Great Plague of 1655.

Another old secret preserved in the games of children is the little trick of “rabbit ears.” What most children or adults would never guess is that the rabbit ears that sneak up behind a friend’s head in the moment of a group photo is in fact a representation of the cuckold’s horns. The cuckold, a term remembered by few people who are not Shakespeare enthusiasts or otherwise overly literate, derives its name from the cuckoo, a bird well known for laying its eggs in other birds’ nests. The cuckold, therefore, is a man whose wife sleeps around. The joke, originally, was to give someone the “rabbit ears” without him noticing, so everyone else would understand you were sleeping with his wife.

But why on earth would the cuckold have horns? The cuckoo certainly doesn’t. The answer is even more obscure. In the Christian caricatures of pagans, and very possibly in the practices of the druids themselves, European shamans wore horns, possibly as a subversion of the division between humans and other animals, and as a symbol of communion with the natural world. For this reason, the Devil is portrayed as a horned creature, and nearly always part animal. Referring again to Silvia Federici, the early rise of capitalism was accompanied by an increasingly brutal repression against heresy, against surviving pagan traditions (frequently connected to early anti-capitalist resistance, as is still apparent in the dual significance of May Day), and against the relatively liberated role of women. Contemporary moralists converted sexual freedom into ‘allowing one’s wife to sleep around,’ utilizing the age-old sentiment of jealousy to enlist lower class men in the war to reconstruct patriarchy. The symbol they chose linked the emmasculated man to paganism and animism.

Cabrón, the word for “cuckold” in Spanish, recalls the goat (“cabra”), and thus, the horns.

Your faith was strong but you needed proof

Little Worm’s nap was short-lived. He awakes again crying. By now I have learned to distinguish the different types of sobs. He is telling me he is hungry. As I sit down and prepare the bottle, I begin talking to him, and he calms, though continues to repeat his cry of “hunger! hunger! hunger!” until the bottle is in his mouth. I keep talking to him. The rich smell of his hair rises to my nose. Before long, he will start babbling, and a few months after that, to make full words. But it’s not a passive process of learning. Children who grow up in circumstances without an adequate, fully developed language will invent one, collectively, within a generation. This has been observed in refugee populations thrown together, and in other historical moments. In fact, children and immigrants are the principal creative forces in the development of every language. What the residents of the academies at the center have been blind to for so long is that the margins are the most dynamic, vital space of any paradigm. Western science as a whole, Linda Tuhiwai Smith notes, created itself in the colonies.

Immigrant and child continue their assymmetrical conversation. Now and again I make grammatical mistakes as I speak to Little Worm; the native language of his parents, which will presumably be his native language as well, is not my own. I hurry to correct myself and then think, “it doesn’t matter, he doesn’t know yet.” In fact if the two of us were to spend all our time together, we would create a new language, shaped by my errors and his own demands. Modern English, for one, has incorporated the typical grammatic mistakes made by the Gaelic subjects of the successful Anglo-Saxon invaders, even as nearly all the Gaelic vocabulary was eliminated. In all likelihood, it was Saxon children playing with Welsh children, to the consternation of their parents no doubt, who incorporated the grammatic variations—which to their ears, unlike to the adults, sounded just fine—into a creole which eventually became official.

For a moment I stop talking to Little Worm, to think about the learning process that unfolds before him. Is the language we are teaching this child an apparatus, like the stroller? Within the anarchist milieu, it is not hard to find arguments to this effect. From Zerzan to Tiqqun to emile (a once prolific commentator on anarchistnews), we find the assertion that language is a deterministic Pandora’s box or that grammar and writing superdetermine limitations to human thinking and intellectuality, although the former bases his hypothesis in non-falsifiable assertions and the latter two rest on factual inaccuracies (regarding Slavic languages and so-called phonetic language, respectively).

None of these conversations are able to embrace the present moment. I look down at Little Worm. The term “apparatus” becomes meaninglessly broad if it is put in his mouth, because this language is something he has a role in creating, and there is a whole world of difference—a difference I have been unable to find in the works of all the relevant theorists—between creating and reproducing.

Turning to Agamben, we find the following definition:

Further expanding the already large class of Foucauldian apparatuses, I shall call an apparatus literally anything that has in some way the capacity to capture, orient, determine, intercept, model, control, or secure the gestures, behaviors, opinions, or discourses of living beings. Not only, therefore, prisons, madhouses, the panopticon, schools, confession, factories, disciplines, juridical measures, and so forth (whose connection with power is in a certain sense evident), but also the pen, writing, literature, philosophy, agriculture, cigarettes, navigation, computers, cellular telephones and—why not—language itself, which is perhaps the most ancient of apparatuses—one in which thousands and thousands of years ago a primate inadvertently let himself be captured, probably without realizing the consequences he was about to face.

This description of the invention of language bears more in common with the story of Adam and Eve than with any plausible history of language. Furthermore, his idea of influence (“capture, orient, determine[…]”) preserves the philosophically lacking idea of a pure body separate from and beleaguered by its environment. When living beings are separated from their own expressions, gestures, tools, and traditions, they are reduced to golem, mere bodies, and every influence that these things, once a part of their being and now expropriated by the category of “apparatus”, exercise over them is now read as a form of corruption or control. And as Agamben only recognizes three broad categories: living beings; apparatuses; and the subjects that reside in the battle ground between the two; his conceptualization of an “apparatus” requires an alienation of beings from their collective and historical existence, since every collective or historical manifestation of a person must fall within the category, not of living being, but of apparatus. In other words, Agamben recreates living beings not so different from capitalism’s alienated individual.

And at the same time, he negates one of Foucault’s greatest contributions by doing away with the historicity of codes and categories of power and creating one categorical set that stretches back to the beginning of time, to the very invention of language. But if apparatuses are indeed strategic, which I think they must be if the term is to have any use, then they cannot have existed in a time whose paradigm of power is mutually unintelligible with our own. If there is a continuity to power from the beginning to the present day, it can only be in the imaginary; in a particular dream of power and its retroactive pedigree, on the one side; and on the other in a universal impulse towards rebellion and a conscious choice to incorporate the struggles of predecessors. In other words, out of many dreams of the powerful, of those living on the upper side of a line of social conflict, only one or a few bloomed into the State we know today. Those of us living on the lower side of a line of social conflict can certainly claim to have always been fighting against authority, and we may in fact be able to learn something about our fight today by identifying with those who fought a completely different configuration of power in the distant past, but the categories that describe this fight necessarily arise from the present vantage, and applying them timelessly, as Agamben attempts to do, will hide more than it reveals.

If power had never made the urgent evolution, around the 15th century in Western Europe, from being primarily parasitical to primarily productive (as biopower), we might well live in a society that would chose other lines of continuity to link itself to the complex admixture of the past, and the identification of a beginning in the invention of language, of agriculture, of phonetic alphabets, or whatever—-an identification that can make so much sense within today’s context-—would perhaps be about as meaningless to those hypothetical denizens of a parallel, non-capitalist universe as we would find it meaningless that these parallel denizens might locate the beginnings of their present struggle in the invention of the lute, or dancing.

In the final analysis, Agamben’s conceptualization of the apparatus is impractical for anarchists because it is victimistic. Contrary to the values of our rulers, influence and corruption are not the same, and we are made stronger by what influences us, because this is our manner of living in the world. An apparatus, in an anarchist analysis, can only be recognized because all its carefully constructed influence and points of contact are predicated upon separating us from the world. It is not the fact of influence that defines an apparatus, but the forceful replacement of one paradigm of influence—a mutual and circular one—with another paradigm of influence, based in control and exploitation with the necessary accompaniments of essentialism and mechanism.

Emile, more specific than Agamben, attempts to link “phonetic language” (literary language rendered in alphabet) to the loss of a conjugate, “spatial-relational” understanding of the world and its replacement by a “material-causal” one. He makes a necessary critique of the role classical physics has had on conditioning a mechanical understanding of the world, and he suggests interesting possibilities for how the new physics and field dynamics could influence anarchist philosophy. However his linking of these worldviews to language is lacking. Mystical Hindu texts he cites to illustrate a “spatial-relational” worldview were written down in a phonetic alphabet, not in an ideographic writing system. The linear alphabet he mistakenly attributes to the ancient Greeks (it was the Phoenecians) and links to the rise of taxation and commerce and the fall of a spatial-relational worldview was in fact preceded by the Linear B of the Mycanaean Greeks, influenced by the Minoans. Linear B was a writing system used for taxation and administration, but it was not an alphabet. It was a syllabary, with each character reprenting a whole syllable, and not an isolated sound component that could represent a metaphor for other types of isolation, as it does in Emile’s theory, although ironically he doesn’t recognize his argumentative structure as a metaphorical one. And while Emile’s writings are full of references to what the Zuni, Hopi, and Dakota Indians think about certain social situations (a troublingly exoticizing and essentializing form of argument), I could not find a reference to the Han Chinese, who developed a complex bureaucracy with an ideographic writing system.

The various arguments to assign language a superdetermining role on our cultures, as an apparatus, fall short because language is a part of our being and something we constantly recreate to meet our changing needs. Language cannot be used to assign language a limited place in reality. Symbolic thought can not be used to confine the totality of symbolic thought to a symbol.

By focusing on the need of capitalism for images, many theorists have mistakenly attached an evil significance to symbols. But there are symbols that give, and symbols that take away. Holding this baby to my chest as he in turn clings to me and feels my warmth and my heartbeat, we watch a smile go from his face to mine and back again, while in the background a line of people stare dully at the advertisement placed in front of them as they wait for the bus. If we lived on a desert island, the two of us, we would invent a new language.

It is not the capturing of meaning in symbols that manipulates us, mediates our experiences, or robs us of understanding, nor could it be; meaning cannot exist outside of symbols, except for fleeting seconds of transcendent experience that neither negate nor are prevented by symbolic communication. What robs us of understanding is in fact the fracturing of a whole sensuousness into quantified, mediated, and quarantined senses. The true apparatus is governed in such a way that discourages whole sensuousness—-one does not hold and smell a baby in a stroller, nor stop to feel the texture of a roadsign. To quarantine the senses and prevent them from merging again, the apparatus isolates the intimate senses (touch, smell) while bombarding the expansive senses (sight, sound) with a deliberate surplus of non-reciprocal media. Within this controlled landscape of loss, people are more apt to chase after an attractive aesthetic because the transcendent beauty one encounters in the merging into sensuousness has been made strange, even uncomfortable.

For this reason, it is not naïve to claim that beauty is subversive.

Every time a monkey shouts “Snake!” as several types of monkeys are known to do, we could criticize them at a philosophical level for trapping themselves in language as an apparatus, reducing a complex snake-becoming to one function of that snake-becoming, which is the one that eats monkeys. By saying nothing, the monkeys would avoid this philosophical trap, but they would also be dead. By developing a more complex grammar, they could avoid the trap by learning to say, and necessarily to also distinguish, “a hungry snake!” They would no longer be reducing the snake to a single of its typical functions. But now they would fall victim to another error, that of predicates, which Tiqqun, for example, describe in one of their essays, articulating an alternative philosophical view through a romanticized and factually false portrayal of Slavic languages (they should have reached farther, more exotic: try Mayan next time).

If we humans, in turn, could evolve more complex brains that could sustain a more complex grammar, we might be able to express, in simple and quotidian phrases, Mach’s principle, interrelationality, and other high-falutin’ ideas. Emile, for one, would be happy. But then we would run into the next set of philosophical difficulties for which even that more nuanced grammar would be inadequate.

From this we can infer that we always tend to work just beyond the capacity of the tools we have at hand, coming up against our limits and just into the undefined space on the other side. Regardless of our personal weaknesses, as a species or as individuals, it is in this space, what we might call smooth as opposed to striated philosophical space, that the most important questions and challenges can be formed.

As the Little Worm goes back to sleep, I take a break from my pacing to sit on a park bench and open a book his mother lent me. I’m reading an essay from Sottosopra Rojo, January 1996; “The End of Patriarchy. It’s happened and not by chance” :

The symbolic, what is it? The tongue [language] we speak and the voice we have for speaking, with their admirable capacity to revolutionize the real. The tongue and the voice, which make, of stumbles, significant pauses; of defects, occasions for signifying better; of obstacles, levers; of deficiencies, points of transformation; of mistakes, a ladder upwards; of falls, deepenings. A tongue is not a sum of words, as it might seem, but a multiplication and, more than a multiplication, an open game that reveals what’s more because, as the linguist well knows, a new word can put the significance of everything that has already been said (or lived) back into play.

Her beauty in the moonlight overthrew you

“Poetry is the mother tongue of the human race as gardening is older than the field, painting than writing, singing than declaiming, parables than inferences, bartering than commerce…”
J.G. Hamman, drawn from James C. Scott.

Poetry and rebellion build capacities for understanding that no grammar or phonetic system could ever take away from us, because they take place in that smooth philosophical space just beyond our capacities. The subversion of a rule, be it grammatical or otherwise, produces an unknown quantity that not only has the possibility of exceeding the value of its component parts, but of creating an entirely new measure of value.

Poetic language can communicate the interrelationality of all things in a way our grammars seem to prohibit, and it is able to produce this effect not because it disregards or frees itself from grammar, but because it works on it and against it. Yawar Nina, in Puruma: la complejidad poética del pensamiento andino libertario, offers a mobile glossary of Andean metaphors, deities, rituals, geographies, and peoples that serve not as categorical enclosures but as transformations: the image of a llama watching the stars is rebirthed as a foundation of astronomy and navigation; an anecdote of stars reflected in a pond opens into an entire metaphysics; an ethnicity shifts into a mode of movement through the world. In this lexicon, poetry is a weapon and an aspect of being that remembers what was stolen, reconstructs what is lost, and subverts the efforts of colonialism, through its language, history, and rationalism, to superdetermine memory and resistance.

Although there are clear differences between written and spoken language, poetry as subversion can exist in both, and language in no form is able to superdetermine what we can understand, because language is inseperable from understanding, and it is reciprocally affected by the processes of knowledge, constantly hollowed out and filled back in, extended and shorn, fractured and mended.

Although from the very beginning he has been speaking, in one form or another, it will be some time before Little Worm learns to read, if he so chooses. It is tempting to turn literacy into a symbol for the loss of oral culture, and it’s an easy enough magic trick, although there are illiterate populations that have lost their oral culture, and literate ones that have not. In defiance of the official narrative of a unilineal history, anarchists must realize the strategic necessity of recovering and reinventing oral culture. Language in its liberatory, collective capacity is not a paradise lost, but an ever present possibility.

James C. Scott, in The Art of Not Being Governed, documents many Southeast Asian cultures that have gone back and forth between literacy and illiteracy, as they cross the frontiers of state power or are crossed by them. Interestingly, literacy seems to be one of the only “state effects” many state-fleeing peoples are sad about losing. The non-literate Akha, for example, esteem writing, hate the census, and pride themselves on killing tyrants. Their oral tradition holds that they once had writing, but they lost it while running from authoritarian neighbors.

One of the principal contributions of Scott’s book is to emphasize chosen political strategies in the development of human societies. In the fractured microcosm of upland Southeast Asia, explanations of human social arrangements based on geographic determinism or game theory, which appear to hold water on a broad perspective that terminates and originates at the vantage of the present-day State, fall apart about as quickly as state-making projects in the hills.

At any one place and time, historically, the ethnic identities on offer might be seen as a bandwidth of possibilities for adjusting one’s relationship with the state—a gradient of identifications which may be, over time, fitted to the prevailing economic and political conditions. To be sure, it makes eminent economic sense for [sedentary rice] padi planters to drop everything and take up foraging when the price of resins, medicinal plants, or edible birds’ nests shoots up. But the move to foraging can as easily occur because it is a state-evading strategy. Similarly, the choice between padi planting and swiddening [mobile horticulture] is more likely to be a political choice than a mere comparative calculation of calories per unit of labor.

Though state-formation was advantaged in the valleys and disadvantaged in the hills, the landscape did not superdetermine social development. On a few occasions, states arose in the hills, and on countless occasions, valley societies overthrew states or their ruling states collapsed, and the people continued to practice sedentary rice padi agriculture, to live in small cities, and to have writing, without the management of a state. The ethnicities that formed in the flight to the hills did not perform a culture determined by their landscape or simple reproductive calculations; rather, their residence in the hills, the crops they cultivated, their language, and their loss of writing were strategic adaptations stemming from a chosen determination to live free from State authority.

Anarchist theory faces an absolute necessity to center personal and collective agency. This isn’t only a question of putting our theoretical money on a winning horse—always an embarrasing strategem because all theories, in the long run, lose, and there’s nothing more embarrassing than an ideologue shoring up an outdated hypothesis—but of recreating the real world. A theory that centers agency, rather than mechanistic determinism, has the chance of changing the supposedly natural laws the social sciences purport to extrapolate. The more we center, talk about, and theorize free will, the more we encourage it, recreating a world based on will out of and against the present system in which all choices are superdetermined.

Within this process of leaving state space, we run into the concept of legibility. States attempt to impose legibility on their subjects, encouraging them to speak a single language, follow the same religious practices, adopt surnames conducive to bureaucratic filing, practice a form of agriculture and industry that can be easily controlled and appropriated, live in permanent dwellings and participate in the census, so that they can all be easily read from above. Meanwhile, rebellious populations constantly shift in ways that, if successful, make them more illegible to their governors: moving around; transcending the formalized familial relations; changing ethnic identity; developing language; employing black market economies and heretical religions. Illegibility can be understood as externality and opacity to power. It is not external in the sense of being independent and unaffected, for it is indeed relative and mutually shaped. Rather, it is a font of creativity and subversive power that cannot be captivated or understood by centralizing power.

Although Foucault tends to eschew the idea of externality, we can infer its existence at the margins of one of his classic examples: sodomy, which during one historical period was absent from social discourses and in the subsequent period was acknowledged and disciplined. Although in the records, sodomy is invisible in that earlier period, we can surmise that proscribed sexual practices formed a grand conversation in private homes, nighttime rendezvous, illegal cabarets, and other spaces that were illegible and opaque to the cultural, moral, and legal authorities, and thus external to their disciplining powers and discourses.

Which brings us back to oral culture. Far from being limited or superdetermined by written language or higher powers, oral culture enjoys a constant potential for opacity and illegibility, for serving as a creative font for the poetic subversion of dominant values and meanings. It creates a space that can exist alongside permitted culture and official discourses, external and threatening to them, harboring fugitive dreams and memories. Contrary to its pretensions, biopower cannot eliminate memory. Short of eliminating its subject population and thus to an extent, itself, a centralizing power can only play tricks. Memory must be surrendered, and this is exactly what European rebellious movements did in the 18th and 19th centuries, by infantilizing their oral culture and adopting the myth of progress, the religion of rationalism, and the values of the Enlightenment.

Little Worm is stirring. Soon he’ll be awake, and if his return to the waking world is abrupt, he’ll come back crying. Time for a new song.

“They say there was a secret chord…”

Against Leviathan,‭ ‬Against Work

‭I engage in a pastime that’s both time-honored and yet somewhat of a relic in the punk world:‭ ‬tabling shows.‭ ‬I pack my panniers full of radical books and zines and bike them across town,‭ ‬setting them up on borrowed card tables in generally smoky venues,‭ ‬and more often than not lug nearly all of them back home with me at the end of the night.‭ ‬I’m not in it for the money—‭ ‬the petty cash all goes back into acquiring more material.‭

So why do I do it‭?

It’s a two-part answer.‭ ‬There are books and zines out there with messages that I find important.‭ ‬In addition,‭ ‬there’s a heritage of selling books and zines at shows,‭ ‬which means that there’s already in place an accepted process for getting this literature into people’s hands.‭ ‬I suppose there’s a corollary answer that the act of standing behind a table of books and zines is something with which I’m already familiar and comfortable,‭ ‬having attended so many book fairs and zine fests.‭

As a result of sharing a distro with a friend who has since left the country as well as my own wishful wholesale purchasing,‭ ‬I have found myself with a number of books on my table that I haven’t read.‭ ‬I am trying to rectify this,‭ ‬even if it means slogging through nearly all of Crimethinc’s titles.‭ ‬It has always surprised people to learn that I’ve never read a Crimethinc book,‭ ‬given the company I have kept over the years.

I once befriended someone who had gotten into anarchism in high school via Crimethinc.‭ ‬When I was in high school,‭ ‬Crimethinc didn’t exist yet.‭ ‬Neither did the internet,‭ ‬per se.‭ ‬It doesn’t make me better or worse,‭ ‬but it means I don’t have a shared experience with many people I know.‭ ‬Reading‭ ‬Evasion as a teen didn’t cause me to leave home and hitchhike across the country.‭ ‬I didn’t start doing that until much later,‭ ‬and it wasn’t because I read about it.

Although I planned to lose my Crimethinc virginity with‭ ‬Evasion,‭ ‬years past its expiration date,‭ ‬I was going out of town for five days and wanted to read something longer.‭ ‬At the last minute I left‭ ‬Evasion at home and brought Fredy Perlman’s‭ ‬300-page essay‭ ‬Against His-Story,‭ ‬Against Leviathan‭!‬ I’ve read many other titles by Perlman,‭ ‬but this one had seemed daunting.‭ ‬Many of my friends started it and never finished.‭ ‬I thought out of town would be the best place to focus on it.‭

The first day of my trip,‭ ‬one of the friends I was visiting handed me the newest Crimethinc book,‭ ‬Work.‭ ‬As I leafed through it,‭ ‬I noticed that it was actually somewhat similar to‭ ‬Against His-Story,‭ ‬Against Leviathan‭!‬ They both attempt to critique a totality while picking apart the smaller aspects.‭ ‬They also both utilize borrowed illustrations.‭

As if that wasn’t enough,‭ ‬upon first perusal I felt like the font used in‭ ‬Work had a similarity to the one used in‭ ‬Against His-Story,‭ ‬Against Leviathan‭!‬ although font nerds might put my head on a stick for suggesting that.‭ ‬Having read‭ ‬Letters of Insurgents so many times,‭ ‬I reserve a special place in my heart for what I call Black‭ & ‬Red font,‭ ‬which is also in‭ ‬Against His-Story,‭ ‬Against Leviathan‭!‬ I don’t know what the font is called,‭ ‬nor do I care to substitute my own naming for the historically accurate one.‭ (‬If I really wanted to know,‭ ‬I would just ask Lorraine.‭) ‬After careful comparison however I realized that although the‭ ‬Work font—‭ ‬revealed in the colophon as RePublic‭ ‬—‭ ‬does bear some resemblance to Black‭ & ‬Red,‭ ‬they are not the same.‭ ‬The italics for example are quite different,‭ ‬and Black‭ & ‬Red doesn’t contain any ligatures.

During this closer look at fonts and such,‭ ‬I noticed that‭ ‬Work cites‭ ‬Against His-Story,‭ ‬Against Leviathan‭!‬ as a source.‭ ‬I decided to read the books concurrently rather than in tandem.‭ ‬Many factors led me to have many hours of reading time on this particular trip,‭ ‬both during the day and at night.‭ ‬I traded off reading from each of them,‭ ‬and ended up finishing them both by bedtime on my last night.‭ ‬That’s almost‭ ‬700‭ ‬pages of non-fiction in the span of five days,‭ ‬speedy even for me.

Reading them together has fused them in my mind.‭ ‬We all read books within contexts,‭ ‬and reading two books in such proximity puts them in a sort of conversation with each other.‭ ‬Ever since my friend handed me‭ ‬Work,‭ ‬the two books have been together constantly,‭ ‬and I’m finding it hard to imagine separating them physically.‭ ‬They’re definitely not the same book but rather complementary slices of the same pie.

It’s a pie of criticism thrust into the face of that which some call the Spectacle,‭ ‬others Leviathan,‭ ‬and still others the Totality.‭ ‬There are many names for this hydra,‭ ‬including…‭ ‬Hydra.‭

One of the main differences between these similarly sized polemics are matters of chronology.‭ ‬Perlman wrote‭ ‬Against His-Story,‭ ‬Against Leviathan‭!‬ nearly thirty years before‭ ‬Work came onto the scene.‭ ‬This is not to say that‭ ‬Against His-Story,‭ ‬Against Leviathan‭!‬ is outdated‭; ‬rather,‭ ‬it is a narrative told in a different era.‭ ‬The reason that many of my friends can’t get through the book is because of the omnipresent references to ancient history.‭ ‬I think past generations studied ancient history a lot more.‭ ‬For anyone who was out back smoking during high school history class and never caught up on their own time,‭ ‬a criticism of civilization citing numerous examples from Ur to the Pilgrims would seem not unlike a string of nonsense words,‭ ‬things that would have to be looked up or else just not understood.‭ ‬Perlman starts with the Sumerians and gives a survey history of Western Civilization,‭ ‬epoch by epoch,‭ ‬describing how each step that civilization takes is the Leviathan destroying all that is human and replacing it with its own burrowed tentacles.‭ ‬Whether a worm or an octopus,‭ ‬Leviathan goes only one direction,‭ ‬and that is toward destruction.‭

Maybe because I wasn’t smoking during history class or maybe just dumb luck,‭ ‬I happened to remember enough about the history of Western Civilization to make it through this book without having to look anything up to understand what was going on.‭ ‬I’m no scholar,‭ ‬but I was successfully indoctrinated in high school to the point that I have some idea about the Etruscans,‭ ‬Byzantine Empire,‭ ‬the era of the two Popes,‭ ‬and the Crusades.‭ ‬I don’t believe it’s necessary to be fluent in this knowledge,‭ ‬but some familiarity helps.

Work tells a similar story but in the present.‭ ‬The Leviathan is named as Capitalism,‭ ‬but it’s clear that it’s not just an economic system but force of occupation in all aspects of our lives.‭ ‬The book breaks down capitalism into every category in which it touches us,‭ ‬changing who we are inside and out.‭ ‬I can’t think of any facet that the book doesn’t cover.‭ ‬I’m not saying I agree with everything in it,‭ ‬but the analysis is pretty total.

The question of course is why write a polemic at all.‭ ‬If someone is sympathetic enough to read a book in the first place,‭ ‬wouldn’t they be already one of the converted,‭ ‬so to speak‭? ‬And does anyone hostile ever change their views based on something they read‭? ‬My answer would be,‭ ‬eh,‭ ‬sometimes and sometimes.‭ ‬Or maybe eh,‭ ‬often and rarely.‭ ‬Or on some days eh,‭ ‬who cares and fuck‭ ‘‬em.‭

As for me,‭ ‬I feel good about having spent the time to read both of them together.‭ ‬They bring me some sorrow about the pervasiveness of the damage already done and its continuance on a daily basis.‭ ‬However,‭ ‬they both remind me of why I’m an anarchist in the first place.‭ ‬This is important because I’ve been losing my way in the past few years.‭ ‬Not because I’ve changed my opinion on the way things are,‭ ‬but because anarchists have been a source of havoc in my life.‭ ‬My question is always why I do anything at all,‭ ‬if my reward is bad friends.‭ ‬Maybe it’s the occasional good friend,‭ ‬but what ended up being a five-day reading retreat for me renewed my passion in not just the things I do but the way I do them,‭ ‬the tense but mindful approach.‭ ‬I won’t be able to tell Fredy Perlman about this experience,‭ ‬but I’ll have the writer(s‭) ‬of‭ ‬Work know that in true Crimethinc fashion,‭ ‬I read two-thirds of‭ ‬Work while on a farm and the other third while sitting on the roof of an urban punk house.

Back at home,‭ ‬I had a conversation with a couple of friends about my experience with the books that are now cousins in my mind.‭ ‬One friend asked me what‭ ‬Against His-Story,‭ ‬Against Leviathan‭!‬ was getting at.‭

“It’s a history of Western Civilization,‭” ‬I said,‭ “‬and how it’s fucked‭! ‬It’s all fucked‭!”
“Well,‭ ‬what about‭ ‬Work‭?” ‬he said.
‭“‬It’s about how capitalism has invaded all aspects of our lives‭!” ‬I said,‭ ‬sort of laughing at this point.‭ “‬and how it’s fucked‭! ‬It’s all fucked‭!”

My friend said he’d give‭ ‬Against His-Story,‭ ‬Against Leviathan‭!‬ another try.‭ ‬A second friend offered to loan him his never-finished copy.‭ “‬Oh no,‭” ‬the first friend said,‭ “‬I have my own never-finished copy.‭”
Perhaps that’s why we write books.‭ ‬And why we table them at shows still.‭ ‬People still do read them.