… the second time as farce

Hey brits-
Have any of you lot ever read the novel A Wrinkle In Time, by Madeleine L’Engle?

That book popped into my head on my busride the other morning as I was thinking about Brian’s calling 70s squatting a nascent biopolitics and my calling it a resurgent biopolitics. What follows is a reconstruction of my train of thought, only I’ve replaced all the “I remember this one thing I read once where it said something like, no wait, it was – oh fuck! this is my stop!” parts with quotes I googled for.

So, my first thought was of this Midnight Notes quote, which is from Toward The New Commons:

“[C]apital cannot be society.

We might envision capital as a power grid overlaid on a vast nebula, with the working class as that nebula.(15) Workers are captured by and in some ways defined by the grid. That is the sphere of exploitation. However, the nebula is life: capital must draw on it and cannot survive without it, but the workers have life and can survive without the grid. As others have discussed it, this is the sphere of everyday life, however corrupted and influenced by capital, which seeks to control it and tap its energy and creativity — but no matter how controlling, capital cannot be everyday life, which thus remains a great reservoir of energy against capital. This is in some ways more visible when, as with the Zapatistas, everyday life incorporates social structures and relations that pre-date capital and have visible anti-capitalist potential. But such potential is everywhere — though being everywhere is no guarantee it will be mobilized against capital.

Let us put this just a bit more formally (c.f., Caffentzis, in press). Capital creates identity via work and commodities. Workers sell their labor power and purchase consumer products, thereby creating identities as workers and consumers. Refusal and resistance move in all these circuits. More, it is only because workers can resist and refuse that they have the ability to negotiate to sell their labor power. If they have no autonomous space, if they are fully capital, they cannot negotiate and therefore cannot sell their labor power.

This is another way of saying that capital depends on the life energy of the working class — but that life energy cannot be reduced to capital nor fully possessed by capital. This harkens back to our earlier discussion of homogeneity and diversity: capital must have access to diversity, but must reduce that diversity to a usable homogeneity to control it, while maintaining the diversity in a capitalist, hierarchical form in order to have productive energy.

As capital attempts to control all aspects of life, the logical end of capital is pure machine (as science fiction writers often suggest). Ironically, the total triumph of capital would be the end of capitalism.

It is the space outside of capital, the space of human life not defined by capital, that is the fundamental source of power against capital as well as the basic source of capital itself. That is, working class struggles necessarily come also from outside the working class’ existence as working class and move not only within the circuits of capital but also extend or create spaces outside of capitalist circuits. “

It’s the part about life as a nebula over which capital is a net that I had in my head. To my mind, if we agree with this then I think it is the case that struggle against capitalism can potentially always take a biopolitical form, in the sense that Brian used the term biopolitics about the 70s squatters in the documentary you all watched.

From there, I started to think about what the Event Horizon pamphlet called composition, as opposed to opposition:

“Reclaim The Streets is an excellent example of a shift towards a more compositional approach. But what do we mean by composition? Maybe it’s as simple as acting as though we already exist in a different reality – we reclaim a street and recompose it according to a logic different to that of cars and capital. Without exception, every political organisation in the UK has been left flat-footed by this switch, as the dreamers out on the streets suddenly became the realists. From here on in, compositional tactics are the only ones worth having. “

My friend and translation buddy Sebastian Touza has also used the term composition, he gets it from some Argentine sources and/or Deleuze… he used it for instance in a discussion on Virno:

“Horizontal” relations among the many (what I would call ‘composition’) In one sense, this dimension refers to the types of bonds between the many. A fundamental question is when those horizontal relations define a bond that does not lead to the formation of a One separate from the many, to which the many delegate their power. Another aspect to consider is the “structure” of those bonds and the subjectivity they relate to. For instance, linguistic communication (including Virno’s “common places”), common notions, money, commodities, etc. Which compositions make the many powerful as many and why? Another question arises regarding the universality of what connects between the many and how it relates to the formation of a political subject, i.e. to emancipatory struggles. For instance, does the formation of a political subject originate in the search for communication with other the members of the multitude? Or does it originate in the concrete forms of life a group within the multitude build in their locale (e.g. Zapatistas, autonomous piquetero groups in Argentina, etc.)?

I think there something in common between what we mean by the squatters and related stuff as biopolitics and compositional politics. I think it’d be worth exploring this further.

Thinking about it now (digressing a bit from my reconstructing my train of thought…) it seems to me that some aspects of at least some presentations of class composition analysis present the working class at given points in time as having limited abilities to practice composition, which is a flawed way to talk about history. There’s questions to ask as to why politcs takes the forms it does at different places and times, but I think it’s important not to say that people at certain times didn’t have the ability to practice composition (to compose?). Not composing doesn’t mean inability to compose… There’s a sort ambiguity in Event Horizon about this too – it says that composition is the best idea from here on out, when it was probably a better idea from the beginning. End digression…

From composition and all this past-present-future stuff I thought about this section in Event Horizon:

” in 1955, in Montgomery, when Rosa Parks refused to obey a public bus driver’s orders to move to the back of the bus to make extra seats for whites, she wasn’t ‘making a protest’. She wasn’t even in ‘opposition’. She was in a different reality. It’s a reality that can be traced back to the Diggers and the Paris Communards. We can trace it across the world to Buenos Aires or Chiapas. It’s the reality underlying the slogan ‘Don’t Strike, Occupy!’ of May 1968 and the auto-reduction practices of 1970s Italy. And this reality re-emerges here at Gleneagles”

And this is also linked to the bits with the Smiths quote and about the bodily feelings of these moments – hair standing on end and all that. It’s all connected, I think, in moments of time that connect different moments in time together. That’s where the book A Wrinkle In Time comes in. In the book they use a form of space and time travel called a “tesseract”, the verb form is “to tesser”.

I found a brief explanation of the idea here, which summarizes a conversation in the book:

“Imagine holding up a string with two hands, stretching that string so it is a straight line.

A hypothetical ant on your left hand (point A) could reach your right hand (point B) by walking on that straight-line string.

But is there a quicker route? Yes there is. Bring your two hands together so that the string’s tips touch each other, and there you have the shortest route from point A to point B… and it isn’t a straight line.

It’s a wrinkle.

That is a tesseract.

The theory is that one may tesser through the fabric of time-space in order to get to places quicker. “

Some googling turned up a bunch of science stuff related to this that is way beyond me… Among that was this from some blog which compared the tesseract to time travel stuff involving worm holes (burrows dug by moles/tribes of moles?) and black holes –
like I said the science is all beyond me, but I found it a nice piece of resonance that, from what I remember from science back when I used to know a bit about it, black holes are also called singularities, and they have a part called an event horizon. Nifty.

Anyway, I think the tesseract is a nice metaphor for the type of relationship between past and present, history and politics that I’m keen to see more of and to try and develop both as an idea and practice… instead of just slagging off stuff that doesn’t do this, like the periodizing impulse in Negri and others. It’s like, you know, instead of complaining about what’s on the radio you can just go start a punk band instead, to compose rather than just oppose. (Do I get a point for that? It’s a bit of a thin punk reference but a reference none the less…)

Lastly, I found a long quote from the book here, which if my memory serves follows directly after the conversation quoted above:

“Oh, dear, ” Meg sighed. “I guess I am a moron. I just don’t get it.””That is because you think of space only in three dimensions,” Mrs. Whatsit told her. “We travel in the fifth dimension. This is something you can understand, Meg. Don’t be afraid to try. Was your mother able to explain a tesseract to you?”

“Well, she never did,” Meg said. “She got so upset about it. Why, Mrs. Whatsit? She said it had something to do with her and Father.”

“It was a concept they were playing with” Mrs. Whatsit said, “going beyond the fourth dimension to the fifth. Did your mother explain it to you, Charles?”

“Well, yes.” Charles looked a little embarrassed. “Please don’t be hurt, Meg. I just kept at her while you were at school til I got it out of her.”

Meg sighed. “Just explain it to me.”

“Okay,” Charles said. “What is the first dimension?”

“Well—a line:—— ”

“Okay. And the second dimension?”

“Well, you’d square the line. A flat square would be in the second dimension.”

“And the third?”

“Well, you’d square the second dimension. Then the square wouldn’t be flat anymore. It would have a bottom, and sides, and a top.”

“And the fourth?”

“Well, I guess if you want to put it into mathematical terms you’d square the square. But you can’t take a pencil and draw it the way you can the first three. I know it’s got something to do with Einstein and time. I guess maybe you could call the fourth dimension Time.”

“That’s right,” Charles said. “Good girl. Okay, then, for the fifth dimension you’d square the fourth, wouldn’t you?”

“I guess so.”

“Well, the fifth dimension’s a tesseract. You add that to the other four dimensions and you can travel through space without having to go the long way around. In other words, to put it into Euclid, or old-fashioned plane geometry, a straight line is not the shortest distance between two points.”

For a brief, illuminating second Meg’s face had the listening, probing expression that was so often seen on Charles’s. “I see!” she cried. “I got it! For just a moment I got it! I can’t possibly explain it now, but there for a second I saw it!” “

So I figure, I’m going to start telling people I’m a commonist, an otherworldist, and a tesseractivist.

Them’s my thoughts. Hope this doesn’t you regret inviting me into the blog. (David was worried about nutters from outside the group, I assume this means nutters who are already in the group are allowed to say, right?)

take care,

Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things.