How do we face the future? The same way we face the past…
Maybe it’s because time’s dragging at the moment (the sun’s out and I’m slaving away at work), but I’ve been thinking about the way time works – how it speeds up, slows down, and occasionally crosses over on itself. And I’ve been trying to link that to our recent work on antagonism.
Part of the motivation for writing about antagonism is (obviously) to get us thinking about rupture. How do we punch our way out of this world? In this respect, antagonism isn’t something we’re trying to will into existence (as if we could!), because it’s simply a condition of living in this world. It’s all around us, facing us at every turn. But it’s a case of “water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink”. In this war of all-against-all we experience antagonism in our relations with our work colleagues, our families, our neighbours, rather than as fractures with capital as a social relation. If we’re guilty of voluntarism, I guess it’s a recognition of the need to recompose the antagonism we face all the time into something more productive.
Which leads on to this: thinking about antagonism also means thinking about continuity. Hatred of the rich and movements to overthrow this shitty world are a constant thread running through history. Sometimes those threads get lost or covered up or simply forgotten, and it’s always useful to bring them to the fore. I’ve just finished reading Norman Cohn’s brilliant book. The liberal way to read Cohn is to regurgitate his conclusion that the “totalitarian ideologies of the 20th century” (ie Stalinism and nazism) share a “common stock of European social mythology” with apocalyptic medieval movements. But actually his conclusion is quite jarring, running counter to the 300-odd pages that precede it. Guy Debord (admittedly not someone you’ll run into a lot on this blog) has a much better take on this:
The great revolts of the European peasants are also their attempt to respond to history – which was violently wrenching the peasants out of the patriarchal sleep that had guaranteed their feudal tutelage … The social revolt of the millenarian peasantry defines itself naturally first of all as a will to destroy the Church. But millenarianism spreads in the historical world, and not on the terrain of myth. Modern revolutionary expectations are not irrational continuations of the religious passion of millenarianism… On the contrary, it is millenarianism, revolutionary class struggle speaking the language of religion for the last time, which is already a modern revolutionary tendency that as yet lacks the consciousness that it is only historical…
Of course the other great thing about Cohn’s book is that it leads straight to the astounding Q and from there to the brilliance of Wu Ming. There’s an interesting thread on what in the hell which touches on history, and Nate at one point brings up Wu Ming’s declaration at the time of Genoa. It’s fantastic stuff and well worth re-visiting:
We are the weavers of Silesia who rebelled in the year 1844.
We are the fabric printers that set fire to Bohemia in the same year.
We are the proletarian insurgents of the Year of Grace 1848.
We are the spectres that tormented popes, tzars, bosses and footmen.
We are the populace of Paris in the Year of Grace 1871.
We have gone through the century of revenge and madness, and we keep on marching
This is the way that time turns back on itself, the way the threads through history are constantly picked up and rewoven. And it’s in those flashbulb moments that the past becomes the present becomes the future.