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?
17 thoughts on “The Ibn ‘Arabi effect”
Pro-revolutionary thought is negative thought because it criticises what exists and because it proposes a solution that is real only in the sense that it can be conceived of – it says no to reality and yes to what does not exist. At this juncture there has always been a separating of the ways as to what to do next, the most obvious solution is to attempt some kind of transfer or projection of the milieu’s consciousness onto the everyday consciousness of the masses. When this strategy fails, and for each successive generation of revolutionaries, it has failed, some small fragment of the milieu has recognised the negative character of milieu thought, its incommunicability, and then it rediscovers nihilism. This is the last position, it seeks only to give nothing back, to hold onto the negative, that there is something remaining, not bound in by the suffocating powers arrayed against it. It refuses to engage on any terms. The nihilist fragment seizes hold of the negative character and develops it as far as possible within the confines of the contemporary pro-rev framework.
This is a great conversation but I feel like it is flying a little over my head. I’d like to take part but to do so I will have to slow it way down.
I understand the tension around the social convenience known as “the milieu” but I am not sure there are two sides being argued for. Or perhaps I know enough about both of you that I doubt either of your in-the-world practices are that different. How you (SS) are framing the discussion is really interesting though and spikey enough that I’d like to see what tender bits you are protecting.
Lacan is an enigma to me. Most of the times he is referred to I don’t understand the connection, especially to our project. Perhaps he is will continue to be owned by scholars until someone breaks him out of the crystal palace.
I guess a sign of my disconnection but I hate describing what I do as “radical subjectivity”, “principled” or perhaps positively at all. It just seems like marketing, mostly for labels I am not married to. I guess, and boy do I feel like a practical american here, I just wonder about the specifics of where both of you are coming from. What do I do!?
A number of points that CG will need to expand to help clear things up (for me):
(1) What constitutes the milieu before the recuperation of its loss? Is it, for example, the common knowledge of those with shared identities and goals? Can there be multiple milieu’s (a “radical milieu” and a conservative milieu, etc) or is there one primary milieu defining the context as another word for paradigm?
(2) What is the place of knowledge? What is its function in relation to the milieu and in relation to its loss (the experiences of the recuperated radical subject)? Does knowledge grant coherence to the milieu’s epistemological system in order to mask its constitutive emptiness? Perchance might the milieu be an imaginary construction of wholeness (in relation to my first question) not actually there concealed by the knowledge of its loss as phantasy?
I have lots more to say about this but these two questions are integral to the discussion and we can’t make much headway until they are answered.
I do not particularly accept the lacanian schematic, I do not accept that the milieu is a case of either/or or even either/or/or/or or even either/and/or.
I attempt to think of the milieu as it actually functions, i.e. a rattle bag of competing, parallel or complementary, elective and interpellated, more or less formed, sets of ideas, formations, discourses, registers, factions, histories, lines of descent and practices which tend, even in throes of extreme hatred, to recognise each other as belonging to the same cloud. In other words, the milieu is an emergent property of a complex, chaotic, and unplanned set of relations between living people standing on the ground once occupied by departed people (some of whom have died, some of whom have burnt out, some of whom have turned away as if to be with their own laughter, some of whom have given up in disgust).
In other words, the milieu is the result of those relations which define a micro-environment, or a subset, or a smallworld type model. It is what it is and is regulated by its capacity to recognise what it is (i.e in events such as the anarchist bookfair, the long diatribing tracts fired off against each other, the different internet discussion lists, the links and correspondences between groups and so on). One of the things that the milieu is, is forgetful. Another thing, is that it is overly-judgmental. Another is that it is rather incontinent. Another is that its capacities for self-regulation are severely limited. Another is that it is a sort of archeological heap. Another is that it is a sort of archive.
It is possible to increase the proportion of the archive in relation to the heap by self-(a-hem)healing – there are certain benefits of self-therapy (which I have gone into above but which basically involve a greater command over inert materials).
If I close my eyes and try and picture the milieu, I see a tiny, shrinking, woodland scene in the middle distance that is conducting both an internal and external struggle for existence (conducted against other elements of itself and the total indifference of much of the world). The milieu-woodland is the result of all the relations, the insects, the mammals, the birds, the worms, the canopy, the undergrowth, the soil, the woodland pool, the sun, the rain, the process of photosynthesis, the yeasts, the fungus, the mechanism of evolution, the eruption of unexpected events and more and more and more. But if I push that image a little further, I see the woodland in a wider landscape, as an oasis set in an endless desert… I understand that the oasis is not just what it is, it also has a creationist or gardening dimension which sets itself the problem of what it should be and what it could be. It desires to be self-correcting, more in control of itself than it currently is. It is possible for the oasis to transform itself by its own effort. It is also possible, or so it appears to itself, that oasis has something written into its structure which proposes the transformation of the infinite desert along the lines of something like an infinite oasis.
The oasis sets itself the problem of the desert over and over again. It has become an organic computer. We are talking neural pathways here. Synapses finger-snapping. All of the information that is running through this computer’s circuits engages with the question of models of transformation. (of course, I am also able to perceive in my minds eye a reversal of the relation between desert and oasis – in which the milieu is in reality a shrivelled tiny desert, the horrible seed of a terrible desert left over from the reformation, that is attempting to impose its desertification strategy on a complex world of multiple environments. Historically, this practice of transformation has not got beyond an experimental capacity for manifesting a rapid and disruptive decomposition of itself into other people’s lives. Such is the contribution of the little desert that takes itself to be a little oasis.)
Sweeping other matters up into a little pile: I did not mention the subject… I have checked, so the question is a side issue. The term I used was ‘subjective’, this does not refer to the subject as such (by which I understand a commanding, or actively engendering entity that engages with the context to which it is bound… (Men make their own history but not in circumstances of their own choosing)) as to a more or less subjected function. My use of the term subjective relates only to a sufficiently coherent level of conscious awareness, and the structures belonging to that awareness as it goes about its business of registering, recording and relaying. A robot explorer on the surface of Mars behaves subjectively, but it is not a subject.
To bring it back to the thing. My proposition then, as it pertains to both individual life and the milieu, is to increase the number of registers and discourses to the optimum level in order that the self and the milieu is better able to process what is going on. The more complex and sophisticated, the less brittle and over-specialised, the more able the self (and the milieu) will be able to cope with what assails it. Please note, I use the word optimum rather than maximum because it seems to me that the task of both the self and milieu require a sense of coherence and definition which would suggest that we cannot exponentially increase the number of registers and discourses (as many would not be relevant and others would be harmful to the project). Therefore it is a matter of relaxing certain inhibiting and destructive binds without going anyway near so far as ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.’
If we consider the issue of becoming prisoner to one’s ideas in pseudo-clinical terms… an individual alleviates the symptoms of his crippling anxiety through crippling self-harm but when he is relieved of the means for engaging in crippling self harm, he becomes prey to the crippling anxiety and therefore seeks by any means possible self-regulated harm to himself in order to diminish the anxiety. This individual has the capacity to regulate himself, but the homeostasis established is itself unhealthy… seen from the outside, he needs to expand the number of registers and discourses of coping in order to engage the world and himself in different terms. The optimised number of these different registers and discourse will, through the increased number of behaviours and relations they induce, relativise the mere either/or compulsions to which he was previously subjected. What used to be his only choice, and which became a vicious circle or self-fulfilling prophecy, now becomes just a minor path in a wider garden.
From the dessert of the real,
A little PS.
Consider the actual history of Marxism and Stirnerism (as I understand you are influenced by Stirner’s thought). Where Marx devoted 500 pages to Stirner (i.e. engaging him as an equal), Marxism itself has not had to deal with him at all… in fact, those 500 pages have been erased from Marx’s published work because they have become irrelevant. They are irrelevant because nobody has remembered Stirner within the context of “Marxism”. Marxism itself has been remembered and has been self-correcting because of the high level of conscious engagement with itself, it is a garden that has weeded itself (but it has corrected itself within a reduced register and has gone into feedback runaway, becoming a monster). Nobody has done the gardening for Stirner, no live relations have been maintained around his findings. If his ideas had been retained within the marxist context, even as a irreducible rival, how much richer and more humane the history of both the milieu and the perhaps even Western history could have been.
Response to CG/A!,
I respectfully enjoyed reading your comments—as always—even where I find them needlessly complex (and I am prepared to mark this as a fault of my own reading abilities much rather than your writing abilities) and, at times, rather elliptical; here, I would distinguish “elliptical” writing from obscure writing. While the former refers to an intensive economy of expression that does not amount to much of anything (save a beautiful piece of poetry and enough possible readings as to satisfy most divergent sensibilities within the ultra-left milieu) the latter invites the reader to dig out meanings which have been embedded in ostensibly meaningless paragraphs. Lacan’s writing, for example, dramatizes that feature of everyday communication that has previously gone unnoticed: the retroactivity of meaning. At the risk of digressing too much from my main point, I would say that this is an answer of sorts to Aragorn!’s charge that Lacan is an enigma. I am in odd agreement with him here: Lacan’s work is an enigma, it demands hard work and careful attention to find its meaning. It is a riddle. It performs rather than merely describes its subject matter. But this is not about Lacan and the ideas that I have been touching on have only been slight adaptations of Lacanian ideas. I am interested in the milieu and in the place of knowledge and loss. And I am interested in why you have rejected “radical subjectivity” out of hand and how this feeds into all of your writing that I have read up until this point.
As I said, communicative performances by law retroactively create meaning where none previously existed. A simple premise but let me demonstrate: aragorn! has said the following as if it were true of our discussion: “I understand the tension around the social convenience known as ‘the milieu’ but I am not sure there are two sides being argued for” which was then assumed as truth by CG: “I do not particularly accept the lacanian schematic, I do not accept that the milieu is a case of either/or or even either/or/or/or or even either/and/or.” As if it were as simple as a decision I would suggest the destruction of the milieu once again. But as it can not be decided because the object in question does not actually exist (or, for that matter, it is so complex that it can never be delimited) I begin with ontology: I return to my original meaning now in the future: even if the milieu existed it would be necessary that it be destroyed. Because it does not exist, and yet the belief that it does compels it to exist even for me, I am interested in the way unique individuals relate to the milieu rather than its function or agency. I propose that the milieu is but a symptom and that we move toward an analysis of sinthome: the milieu is a sign of our weakness and it hinders a move toward a collective positive nihilism.
You begin with a decidedly functionalist definition (I believe you are saying that the milieu performs the function of some sort of discursive community). Machines function, people function, but are ideas equipped with the ability to function? Perhaps. You personify the milieu, giving it the ability to ‘remember’ (like a machine self-programming, a neural network, a human; or perhaps like the state and the texts which enable it to encode law) and then the ability to discern and judge. I am under the impression that you have merely replaced the human subject with the milieu as subject. Is this your nihilism? “Do Nothing” seems to fit with this interpretation, but perhaps the better approach is to “be nothing”. But what is more you appear here to raise the milieu up high, not even an ecosphere can compare to your preliminary description, perhaps not even the environment: can god? But then the definition shrinks, it is an oasis, a sanctuary: I don’t know about you, but some of my worst enemies are supposed to be my best friends. I don’t need to worry about cops when my life might end at the hands of fellow anarchists in the milieu.
I understand that you did not write about the “subject” per se and yet it seems implied. I wonder if you mean that there are no subjects; but then how can knowledge be handed over to the milieu (and is this what we are doing right now?!) – you appear to write prescriptively when there appear to be no patients left with symptoms. If you dispense with the subject (i.e., radical subjectivity) then perhaps you have replaced it with the ‘self’ – but by what distinction? Is not the subject also the self? Subject, in its original psychoanalytical understanding, means ‘to be subjected’ as if by an external force or environment. It does not necessarily presume ‘agency’ (i.e., ‘free will’) but rather the ability to resist the environment, the ability to reject being subjected to external impositions; this is what I mean by ‘the subject’. It is nothing like children playing, nothing like creating new wor(l)ds. It is ‘subtraction’ (http://www.lacan.com/badpas.htm). It seems to me Lacan’s ‘subject’ is precisely what nihilists need.
Apologies for the poor writing, I am not as hostile as my writing makes me sound,
When first reading this I thought that we might be speaking ahead of one another. Coming back to it today I can see that we have obvious different starting points. My egoist approach is entirely at odds with your communist approach (or perhaps, if only strategically, we are operating from two directions toward the same object) but I am sympathetic with what you are saying and am interested in reading more from you in the future. I think we’ve brought the discussion as far as we can, and I appreciate you humoring me.
Yes, your definition is appropriate for the subject as subjected, i.e. the assemblage of those affects which are the result of constitutive forces (Althusser uses the term, ‘interpellation’). In hegelian/sartrean terms this is an ‘in-itself’ subject, a conscious formation that is the ‘object’ of external forces.
The question set by Hegel in terms of the human species and by Sartre in terms of the individual is the possibility/necessity of a ‘for-itself’ subject, i.e. a subject for whom its affects are the result of its own autonomised consciousness and who is capable of transforming the world into its object. Only a ‘for-itself’ subject can transform the world because only a for-itself subject has overcome the determination of its characteristics by external forces.
The question of the pro-revolutionary milieu is this… it is not the big S subject and has no particular powers of agency. It has no means of transforming the world, it is rather a more-or-less organised repository of thoughts of those who are able to perceive the necessity of change but who cannot effect that change. Thus there is a relation or sequence between (i) the individual subject who perceives the necessity for social change, (ii) the pro-revolutionary milieu which aggregates the thoughts and activities of these individuals, and (iii) the revolutionary, for-itself subject. The exact relation between the second and third elements in this relation is extremely unclear… does the for-itself subject even need the milieu? The answer cannot be known.
All that is open to individuals who perceive the necessity of social change is to deposit their experiences as in-itself subjects in the milieu’s memory bank in the hope that some totalising process is at work which will redeem them.
I think the question of the extent to which the individual should identify with the revolutionary subject is also a question that is worthwhile exploring. Typically, it manifests as a sort of patriotism, which obviously is not an adequate relation. Even in a revolutionary situation the individual remains relatively subjected, relatively powerless within the context of great convulsions. In this situation, the mediating role of the milieu, i.e. as it attempts to think the role of both the subjected and the Subject, could be vital.