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.

 

The Ibn ‘Arabi effect

Dear T,

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

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

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

Dear T,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aimiably,

frére dupont

Hey Italo, congratulations on your rediscovering the élan of molluscs!

A review of Calvino’s Complete Cosmicomics

’In the development of productive forces there comes a stage when productive forces and means of intercourse are brought into being, which, under the existing relationships, only cause mischief, and are no longer forces of production but forces of destruction (machinery and money); and connected with this a class is called forth, which has to bear all the burdens of society without enjoying its advantages, which, ousted from society, is forced into the most decided antagonism to all other classes; a class which forms the majority of all members of society, and from which emanates the consciousness of the necessity of a fundamental revolution, the communist consciousness, which may, of course, arise among the other classes too through the contemplation of the situation of this class. (…) Both for the production on a mass scale of this communist consciousness, and for the success of the cause itself, the changing of men on a mass scale is, necessary, a change which can only take place in a practical movement, a revolution; this revolution is necessary, therefore, not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it, can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages, and become fitted to found society anew.’
The German Ideology

Science fiction and pro-revolutionary literature share the same highest of high priorities, namely the separating out of moments of freedom from the reproduction of existing constrained relationships. Both discourses are most concerned with the image of an overflowing of activity which cannot be mapped back onto the co-ordinates of already established behaviour but which, on the contrary, defines itself on its own terms and may thus be presented as exceptional.

A review of Calvino’s Complete Cosmicomics

’In the development of productive forces there comes a stage when productive forces and means of intercourse are brought into being, which, under the existing relationships, only cause mischief, and are no longer forces of production but forces of destruction (machinery and money); and connected with this a class is called forth, which has to bear all the burdens of society without enjoying its advantages, which, ousted from society, is forced into the most decided antagonism to all other classes; a class which forms the majority of all members of society, and from which emanates the consciousness of the necessity of a fundamental revolution, the communist consciousness, which may, of course, arise among the other classes too through the contemplation of the situation of this class. (…) Both for the production on a mass scale of this communist consciousness, and for the success of the cause itself, the changing of men on a mass scale is, necessary, a change which can only take place in a practical movement, a revolution; this revolution is necessary, therefore, not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it, can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages, and become fitted to found society anew.’
The German Ideology

Science fiction and pro-revolutionary literature share the same highest of high priorities, namely the separating out of moments of freedom from the reproduction of existing constrained relationships. Both discourses are most concerned with the image of an overflowing of activity which cannot be mapped back onto the co-ordinates of already established behaviour but which, on the contrary, defines itself on its own terms and may thus be presented as exceptional.



Freedom is always novel and freedom always steps out of all established registers in its wilful creation of a new register. What is free is thus understood as traces of consciousness commingling with fragments of activity within a unified project; freedom is always to be evaluated on the terms it generates itself out of the mixing together of its constituent parts.

’The shock of freedom works miracles. Nothing can resist it, neither mental illness, remorse, guilt, the feeling of powerlessness, nor the brutalisation created by the environment of power. When a waterpipe burst in Pavlov’s laboratory, not one of the dogs that survived the flood retained the slightest trace of his long conditioning. Could the tidal wave of great social upheavals have less effect on men than a burst waterpipe on dogs?’
Vaniegem

But, once it has lost it glimmer, the image of freedom becomes that of caprice in relation to fate. As time lapses, the faded image of what it means to be free is transformed into the defining constraint on reproduced activity. Oppression is never more than freedom plus time.

Somewhere within that most esteemed collection of science fiction stories Cosmicomics Italo Calvino considers the freeing of shellfish from their submarine greyness. He notes that their achievement of colour is not complemented by their developing sight so that they might somehow gain benefit from their achievement. He represents this ‘just so’, the why it had to be, as a delicate process of accidental developments, of distribution of faculties, of the interplay of internalities and externalities, of constraints and the overcoming of constraints, of collapsing complexities and destabilised simplicities, of enticements and dead ends, of slow builds and sudden rushes.

In particular, Calvino presents the relationship of experimental engagements of the self (wherever this may be located on the circuit of material forces) within the context of a blank world as a series of subjectively achieved breakthroughs. He records how the evolution of sight does accompany the embodiment of visuality in the world but he also considers how the capacity to gaze is allocated to a different organisation’s line of descent than the developmental line of what is to be gazed upon – and yet, we discover, that far from having separate lineages the looking and the looked upon are necessarily integral to each other even if they do not inherit the same genetic patterning.

The object of my study here is Calvino’s displacement of the concept of work-activity from what is ordinarily understood as such (as encapsulated in the Theses on Feuerbach) to the works and activities of that which we have previously thought performs neither.

During those long moments of equilibrium in the world, when nothing much is happening, and everything slides gradually without a fanfare, my attention slides too and away from the agitations of those whose function it is to make a difference. Slipping further, my preparedness is then disconnected from the horizon where I had just now been looking for punctuating, emergent events, for extinctual crises and upfolding cataclysms, for any and all those eruptions which are going to shake new terms from out of the sky and down upon us. Quite unexpectedly, I pass into a state where I am neither looking for the signs nor listening for the prophets of the signs. And during such times I find myself engaged with, as if for the first time, all in the world that does not, and will not ever, change.

Because nothing is happening, my attention is drawn rather to the work, which is not a work at all, of that which is acted upon – to the stoney ground. That is to say, my attention is attracted to the passive role in the relation of the revolutionisers to the revolutionised.

My interest begins to attach itself to the receptor unit in communication, to the cloud of reactions which does not appear of its volition but is perhaps only ever defined by the actions of external forces. This cloud is divisible into two distinct modes:

A. affectiveness – by passivity, by reaction, susceptibility, suggestibility, responsiveness, pliability, permeability, mutability;

B. impermeability – by neutrality, by resistance, by inertia.

My interest in nothing doing, is primarily located in that substrate through which active principles either percolate down or flow across. Why is it that so much of the world does nothing but is content to either be changed from the outside, or even remain as it is? To focus the question more sharply, why is it that the communism as proposed by communisers is vulgar, forced, artificial whilst that which appears spontaneously within the communised is subtle, natural, well-proportioned? Why do we naturally prefer to find instances of communism than instigate it?

My interest then, is directed towards the work of receptor units, the passive bodies, the inert materials, the mute objects, the acted upon, in-themselves, subjects.

’I’m talking about sight, the eyes; only I had failed to foresee one thing: the eyes that finally opened to see us didn’t belong to us but to others. Shapeless colourless beings, sacks of guts stuck together carelessly, peopled the world around us, without giving the slightest thought to what they should make of themselves, to how to express themselves and identify themselves in a stable, complete form, such as to enrich the visual possibilities of whoever saw them. They came and went, sank awhile, then emerged, in that space between air and water and rock, wandering about absently; and we in the meanwhile, she and I and all those intent on squeezing out a form of ourselves, were there slaving away at our dark task. Thanks to us, that badly defined space became a visual field; and who reaped the benefit? These intruders, ho had never before given a thought to the possibility of eyesight (ugly as they were, they wouldn’t have gained a thing by seeing one another), these creatures who had always turned a deaf ear to the vocation of form. While we were bent over, doing the hardest part of the job, that is creating something to be seen, they were quietly taking on the easiest part: adapting their lazy embryonic receptive organs to what there was to receive: our images.’
The Spiral (from The Complete Cosmicomics)

The narrator, an unidentified mollusc, is describing how he has evolved a beautifully coloured and perfectly proportioned spiral shell. It is strange is it not, he observes, how his shell, this calcareous exoskeleton secreted from ectodermic cells within that part of his anatomy called the mantle, and supposedly developed as a mode of defence against predation, should also realise itself in terms of a visually pleasing logarithmic spiral growth, and an equally aesthetic complementary set of colours when he and his kind do not possess sight.

The narrator, and his kind, are visual objects and yet cannot see themselves. He goes on to explain, first in terms of love, and then in terms of the external evolution of sight, the work, his work, of passivity; he describes how the loved draws forward the lover, how the image catalyses the development of the eye.

The mollusc’s account of evolution here shifts its focus from the ‘active’ work of genes and instead emphasises the passive role of environment – sight is drawn out of bodies by the establishment of a visual field. Living beings develop the capacity to respond to visual stimuli, and this responsiveness enhances their existence, because there are things in the world to stimulate them visually.

By the same means, whilst the things I think about do not have to possess the capacity for thought for me to think of them, it is still the case that what seem like my thoughts actually belong to them as much as to me. And by extension, whilst the process of my existence is attuned to change in the world I do not record my attempts at change as changes but only as a continuation of the same terms of my self. So it is that whilst change is my project I am not able to satisfactorily effect it. I am waiting to be changed by that for which change is not, as far as I can make out, the project.

Why do we prefer to find instances of communism than instigate it? This has something to do with the law of unintended consequences. Every intervention into a complex system will produce outcomes that are both unpredicted and undesirable… we find we cannot successfully unify our plans with the actions which were supposed to realise the plans.

Whilst we are greatly satisfied with that which is undesigned (the shells we disinterestedly find on the beach whilst deep in thought on other matters) and whilst we are heartily pleased with that which we encounter outside of our own projects, that which surprises us and throws us back into a simple and unreflected upon relation with it, we are to the same degree discontented with that which we have authored – because it has spiralled irregularly beyond our intentions, because we are responsible for it. And we feel most responsibility for that which we are least contented with.

Transformation is typically described in terms of the actions of agents of transformation, and yet nothing would change at all if the passive figure in the relationship were not susceptible to the actions of that agent.

The world in which we live is not changing in response to the efforts of communisers and would-be revolutionaries and this has little to do with either the quality of their efforts or their selection of incorrect opportunities for intervention.

The world is not changing because the great passive, unchanging mass, is not receptive to, or even commensurate with, the messages of the agents who are attempting to act upon it.

And strangely, as soon as the work of passivity has been undertaken, that is, as soon the world becomes receptive to the works of would-be revolutionaries, it has already passed into a state of transformation in advance of the buzzing, exhortatory messages intended for it. And therefore, from the perspective of the agents of change, who would seek to lead it, the world remains equally impervious, passive, inscrutable even at its most revolutionary junctures.

frére dupont

The Theory Of Bloom

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

-Roberto Bolaño

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

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

-Roberto Bolaño

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

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

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

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

KEEP A GOOD FACE, before the domain of ruins.

-Tiqqun

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Tiqqun

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

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

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

-Tiqqun

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

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

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

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

-Tiqqun