Post by keir

strummeractionfigures.jpegA new year arrives, we have a new project to be getting on with and I should be concentrating on that but I just can’t stop my head from turning backwards. To be more precise I can’t stop musing on those moments when music and politics collide and the effect they’ve had on my life. This was all sparked off by one of my Christmas presents: “The Future is Unwritten”, a documentary about the life of Joe Strummer. I found it pretty affecting. There was the recognition of similar experiences (to some extent) but more than that was a realisation of just what an inheritance the sensibilities of that history have been. I was powerfully struck by how the refrains re-ignited by watching that film had structured the territory upon which I’d lived out my life. Even Strummer’s vision of heaven as a series of campfires, that we are drawn towards and drift between, struck a real cord. Taking me right back to formative trips to 1980’s Free festivals.One of the things it sparked of in me was the re-occurrence of a sense of shared alternative history, formed out of collective experiences; political, musical or both. It’s a sort of minor history, in that it’s deviation from the standard history but I was reminded just how virulent and widespread it is. It might be a history that’s only sporadically actualised but it’s no less real than one David Starkey might write about.   That sense of a history was amplified by stumbling across blogs like History is made at night and Greengalloway and recognising in them a common narrative with shared interests, style and attitude rooted in common collective bodily experiences. I’m always interested in the effects such experiences have on a life, what they leaves behind and then what can be done with those effects that are left lying around inside different bodies. Interestingly one of the blogs, Greengalloway had previously got excited about some of our writing, even going so far as to say we’d kept him up all night. It was great, but not altogether surprising that he instantly recognised what we were talking about with moments of excess but it was even better that we had managed to re-ignite one of those affective refrains lodged in his body. 

I really like the image of affective refrains created in more intensive moments behaving like disorganising, destabilising barbs of other potential presents, pasts and futures lodged in our organised bodies and occasionally helping to dissolve them. And I want to say bodies not just subjectivities because as we know these refrains can be corporeal – how we hold our bodies, where our bodies end –Cue Hives anecdote 3a. One of the pitfalls with all this is it’s a little like looking at a photo album – a narrative constructed out of flashes means nostalgia must be guarded against. But then again we can’t just leave the past alone as though it’s all over. The past is unwritten or at the very least every present includes a re-writing of the past. Relatedly time is not homogenous, there are periods of intensification and drastic divergence when the future does seem unwritten and then there are periods of cloying, clagging impotence when the present seems utterly effaced by an unalterable but still fictional future.

 Anyway something else I watched last week was Paul Morley’s “Pop! What is it good for?” and one of the things I got from that was the idea that songs carry ‘invisibles’ around with them. The power of pop is that we can’t get it out of our heads. It enters by osmosis and provides us with the refrains out of which we build our worlds. There was a section where Richard X was commenting on his mash-up “Freak Like Me”. He claimed that the creativity of the mash-up is recognising and playing with the invisibles – the affects, feelings and associations that songs bring up. It’s the mashing up of these that are the element of creativity. More than just Mash-ups all pop trades on these invisibles As it eats itself. In another section Suggs talked about how the influence of vaudeville had unconsciously snuck into Madness, and punk, through the influence of parents and wider culture. This is another way of thinking about invisibles. In fact that same point was brilliantly made in Julian Temple’s other Punk film: “The Filth and the Fury” when he shows Max Wall’s influence on the Johnny Rotten persona.

Pop trades on possibilities, re-invention. On the creation of the new out of repetition and imitation. At its best it’s about the introduction of a strangeness into the everyday. That strangeness is a moment in the repotentialisation of everyday life but capital is about depotentialisation. Capital needs to subordinate all life and creativity to it’s own life, that is it’s need to grow. And surely that is the story of pop music – How the residue of moments of autonomous creativity are carried as invisibles into music made for purely commercial reasons. Then vice versa how the potential of those moments and affects are eaten by capital’s need for a novelty that changes nothing. Yet the whole idea of recuperation always seems too pat and easily done. What about the idea that capital constantly has to eat stuff that contain elements it finds indigestible. As capital circulates, as it has to, it also spreads those invisible indigestibles. As a quote from Howard Slater puts it:


What should be stated is that music is not revolutionary per se but carries with it many presuppositions of an awareness of a need for social change; not least in terms of its activation of desire in the listener, its opening up of unconscious and imaginary terrains and its proclivity towards social interaction. It can be rhetorical, propagandist and a source of optimism and hope, and from jazz scenes through anarcho-punk to rave and techno, music has always been attached to counter-cultural and political movements, exacerbating dissatisfaction with the status quo and working the contradictions between ideas of reality and what it could be transformed to be…          


Hang on a minute wasn’t I supposed to be talking about the Strummer documentary? Well one of the interesting things about it was that the Clash weren’t really the main story. The stuff about the early Squatter, 101er days was great, it set up the DIY ethic and reminded you of the importance of that holey space where weeds can grow. Weeds of course are just plants that have escaped domestication. Then when it got to the Clash it was all a bit familiar and not quite as interesting. The real story of the film, though, was Strummer trying to recover from the harmful effects of fame. The beauty of it was that the recovery only came about when he engaged with rave, free parties and festivals – a new wave of that mix of music, politics and intense collectivity. The solution to celebrity is to dissolve into collectivity.A bit ironic then that the main fault with the film was that it was a bit star fucker. Loads of people were cut out of the story to be replaced by famous friends and admirer’s recollections.  Why does any of this matter?  Well one reason to talk about stuff like this is that it could help us deal with the danger of a new asceticism and purism the possibility of which can be detected in some climate change activism. The idea that ordinary people are the problem. An appreciation of how widespread the affects of revolutionary politics go may help with this. Also those affects have to be part of any calculation of what is possible. But also I think these sort of experiences are central to how we need to think about the role of the political militant. At least partly because the Strummer story is about how at certain times the creation of the common moves through a singular event. Such as the way Johnny Rotten’s style, his innovations, become the repository of people’s changing desires and then the means of their transmission. This can be a destructive experience for the people caught up in such singular events. John Lydon has obviously never recovered or dealt with its inheritance but Strummer did, or at least he made a good fist of it. Militants, and others, need to avoid getting trapped in the transcendent fictions of fame, which Strummer came to realise is illusionary. Just look at the elevation of Joss Garman from Plane Stupid as the latest activist celebrity. But it also relates to what Argentinean militants have called political sadness. Once you’ve been caught up in a singular moment – where you were an activist in your own life – how do you cope with its passing. When possibility closes up and you move from the joyful affect of powerfulness and increased collective capacities into the sadness that comes from those capacities and potential closing up. A life is made from such singular moments and “The Future is Unwritten” ends on a nice commentary from Joe when he offers us an ethic for living: 

“ And so now I’d like to say: People can change anything they want to and that means everything in the world… greed is going nowhere They should have that on a billboard in Times square. Without people you’re nothing. Anyway that’s my spiel.” 

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Ok, seeing as we’re posting quotes about punk this one from “Rip It Up and Start Again” needs flagging up and reflecting on:

“Devo had been hippies, of a sort. Gerald V. Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh, the group’s conceptual core, were among the anti-war students protesting at Kent State University, Ohio, on 4 May 1970 when the National Guard opened fire. Two of the four slain students – Alison Krauss and Jeffrey Miller – were friends of Casale. ‘They were just really smart liberal kids, eighteen and nineteen, doing what we all did back then,’ he says. ‘They weren’t crazy sociopaths.’ He recalls the dazed, slow-motion sensation when the guns started firing, ‘like being in a car accident’; the blood streaming down the sidewalk; the eerie sound of moaning from the crowd, ‘like a kennel of hurt puppies’. At first, even the National Guard was frozen, freaked out. Then they marched us off campus and the university was shut down for three months.’ That date in May 1970 is one of several contenders for ‘the day the sixties died’. ‘For me, it was the turning point,’ says Casale bitterly. Suddenly I saw it all clearly: all these kids with their idealism, it was very naive.’ Participants in SDS – Students for a Democratic Society – like Casale reached a crossroads. ‘After Kent, it seemed like you could either join a guerrilla group like The Weather Underground, actually try assassinating some of these evil people, the way they’d murdered anybody in the sixties who’d tried to make a difference. Or you could just make some kind of whacked-out creative Dada art response. Which is what Devo did.’”

Of course this is great for several reasons. Firstly, as we’ve argued before punk’s a continuation of hippie. In fact it was both a reaction to hippie’s failed revolution and its renewal.

Secondly, it helps us to reflect on the relation between excess and exception by bringing up Kent State again. We have to remember that Dada was a reaction to the horrors of WW1. Is the resort to Dada a retreat into art caused by the closure of the space for politics or is it best to see it as a sidestepping of a problematic that had become saturated by the states excessive violence. Punk as well as Dada ultimately reopened the space for politics, at least for a time.

A word of warning, you can’t keep that space open for ever you know.


As hinted at by Brian I’ve been wanting to post on the tension between identity politics and politics based on affinity.

In ” No Logo Naomi Klein (not someone regularly cited here) critiques the identity politics of her college days. She tells a familiar story of fracturing micro-struggles around representation of identities within both institutions and language. And how these were fundamentally outflanked by capital. As she puts it: “The need for greater diversity – the rallying cry of my university years – is now not only accepted by the culture industries, it is the mantra of global capital. And identity politics, as they were practiced in the nineties, weren’t a threat, they were a gold mine.“ If it’s an identity you’re after then capital is always selling.

Although identity politics had valid, minoritarian moments they also fitted too neatly with the rise of neo-liberalism in the 1980’s and its tendency to separate politics from economics. Another angle on this can be seen in New Social Movement theory. It was also tied to the identity politics of the 1980’s and early 90’s with its “post-material” concerns. I had to read some recently and it seemed so hilariously out of date I kept imagining it on one of these list programs alongside leg warmers and Spangles. For Klein, escape from the inward looking paralysis of those politics was one of the achievements of the anti-globalisation cycle of struggles.

Not that I’m saying identity politics are no more, I’m not even sure that it’s something that can be totally escaped but I present a couple of stories to illustrate potential problems. A couple of years ago I went to a talk by Jane Flax, a Freudian, Foucauldian, feminist psychoanalyst (don’t ask how she squares that circle). A big point she made was that you shouldn’t say either race or gender. The two oppressions overlapped so much that you had to say race/gender. I asked her why you didn’t have to say race/gender/class or (to stop the list growing and making page long sentences the norm) just power relations. She replied that she hadn’t come across a good analysis of class. Yeh, well whatever but she then went on to psychoanalyse the film “Monster’s Ball” and the failings of the race/gender category became uncomfortably apparent. Her analysis gave the impression that the problems of the world were caused by redneck men whose relationships with their fathers made them all psychologically abnormal. Now I’m not a shit-kicking country music type myself but it was so easy to see how this all worked out. By keeping class out of the analysis everyone in the room could declare themselves normal/healthy/pure but definitely not part of the problem. It fitted right into that wider liberal idea, we’re already saved and all we need to do is turn the rest of the world into us. Change the world without changing ourselves.

I should say though that simply (re)introducing class, as a category, doesn’t necessarily solve the problem. It can be easily subsumed into the identity game. Class has always had a very culturally based definition in the UK and class as identity was one of the central strands of the 1980’s – 90’s class struggle anarchist scene that we were part of. At it’s worst this tendency fell into deeply reactionary and fucked up positions, denying that there was a ruling class or even such an abstract thing as capital. Instead it declared that “the enemy is the middle class” because they denied a voice to the working class. One of the names the tendency gave itself was “openly classist” putting class alongside a list of isms, racism, sexism, speciesism. It was pure liberal identity politics. It’s funny to think back on that now and recognise it as an offshoot of the politics of woolly jumper wearing, middle class feminists (sic) but of course that was one of the political environments it emerged from and in reaction to.

Another strand that fed into the “enemy is the middle class” tendency was the quite necessary critique of the power held by experts. Unfortunately neo-liberals (or public choice as it was known in this context) were also attacking professionals seeking to replace their power with, the more easily manipulable, judgement of the market.

In fact the parallels get even worse. I was reading Thomas Franks book “What’s the matter with Kansas?” which charts the rise of the US conservative movement. In a way that story is more of a straight out ideological trick where the re-assertion of class power and a huge increase in inequality is achieved through the misdirection of attention on to cultural issues. It’s based on class as cultural identity although, of course, class can never be mentioned in the US of stateside. Still “the enemy is the liberal elite” is the US version of a disturbingly familiar world-view. It should act as a marker of just how fucked up identity politics crossed with ‘class as identity’ can get.

That doesn’t mean that there is an easy outside to identity politics. The whole counter-globalisation cycle of struggles can be partly seen as an attempt to escape liberal politics, trace out the links between the economic and the political and escape the paralysis of identity politics. There was a shift towards identifying a common enemy in neo-liberalism or even capitalism and an emphasis on working through problems by acting together. It’s a politics based on affinity, with movements grouping together through shared affect rather than shared ideology. What was important is what you do, not what you say. The priority became moving, taking risks, acknowledging the messiness of politics. Not worrying about shoring up behind you meant you could move faster and take more audacious leaps. I think that’s what the Zapatista slogan “walking we ask questions” means, we sort things out on the road, work out the destination as we go.

Identity politics can be seen as a compensatory power move that ends conversation in a certain direction. The aim is to deny a voice to certain people in order to allow the usually silent to speak, to let the sub-altern speak. That’s how it’s in tension with affinity politics. Identity politics is anti-affinity, its logic is to isolate and cut off conversation along ever deepening gradations of power imbalances. Until you have battles over who is the most oppressed. Which oppression counts most becomes important to work out because it determines who has the right to speak at all.

But it’s been pointed out in an article in Turbulence there are no shortcuts, that a politics based on affinity can’t sidestep the problems identity politics tries to address. Unless we address the material and structural basis of the old hierarchies they will just reassert themselves.

Of course striation is necessary and at certain points you need rupture to get things moving again. We can’t just all get along, as Rodney King put it. But rupture is a dangerous thing involving destruction. There is a smell of corruption that hangs over identity politics; it is an assertion of power that stops potentially productive encounters. Perhaps the way to avoid that corruption solidifying into paralysis is to recognize that there is no pure outside. We have to all change ourselves as we change the world.

In the news today is the discovery of a tape recording of the 1970 Kent State Massacre. It reveals that the National Guard troopers who shot four students dead were ordered to open fire. This is important because it shows a degree of deliberation in the massacre. The story kept to at the time was of spontaneous shooting triggered by panicking soldiers. The event had a huge effect, triggering a national student strike in the US involving university and high school students. The slogan of the protests was: They can’t kill us all.

I’m not reporting this naively believing that revealing the violence of the state, the iron fist in the velvet glove, is enough to save us but it does make me wonder about the mechanism that triggers this sort of phase shift into new levels of violence and how they relate to wider shifts in regimes of power. This relates to a debate we’ve been having in the Turbulence collective on the idea that this century has seen a strategic deployment of generalised war as a means of overcoming the failings of neo-liberalism.

Of course the Kent State shootings make you think of the turn of the century shootings of demonstrators, first in Gothenburg and then in Genoa. I remember thinking about Kent State on first hearing about the Gothenburg shootings. I was reading a newspaper report flying back from a Football tournament in Germany. I turned to a friend (little Matt) and said “Christ they’ve moved to bullets so quickly.” I wasn’t so much shocked at the level of violence but how early in the cycle of struggles the police had escalate to that level and were soon to tip over to a murderous one.

Apart from the speed of the escalation the other shocking thing over the next few months was that this new hyper-violent attitude towards protests appeared to be imposed right across Europe and North America at the same time. It was like a globalised race to the bottom in power relations, with Third World policing exported to the west. This wasn’t just the use of guns but the early and undiscriminating use of violence against protests seen most comprehensively at Genoa. Over the next few years it begged the question of the relation that this militarization had with the Neo-conservatives’ open strategy of imposing war – not as a continuation of politics by other means but as a means of managing society.

That last phrase is a bastardisation of Foucault in “Society must be Defended” and perhaps the problem might make a little more sense if we conceptualise it with the dispositifs of power he examines. The exemplary violence against the protests and then the imposition of war both show a movement towards sovereign forms of power. Of course Guantanamo bay fits with this and taken together might explain the popularity over the last few years of the concepts of sovereignty, and exception as the foundational outside of sovereignty, that Agamben has reintroduced.

I’m interested in the idea that there is a link between exception and excess. Negri criticises Agamben by saying his lack of social movement experience leads him to start with the structures of power over, constituted power. This makes him unable to make the leap downwards to connect it with the animating constituent power. I agree but think that Negri (who started life as a constitutional theorist) also starts with Empire and not with Multitude.

I’d argue that the state of exception could be produced out of a moment of excess. That the fear and uncertainty caused by moments of excess can provoke recourse to sovereignty from above and political sadness from below. The latter is a term that Collectivo Situationes use to describe the drawing back and closing of off potential experienced after the high point of struggle in Argentina. It refers to the temptation to allow the re-establishment of sovereign power because of an inability to cope productively with uncertainty. Then again, of course, neo-liberalism contains it’s own precarity and so carries its own potential to resort to sovereignty. Perhaps the narrative runs like this:

The first ‘heroic phase’ of the movement of movements is an attempt to escape the dispositifs of neo-liberal governmentality. The moment of excess within the movement runs into a sovereign response which is then reinforced by the excessive counter-sovereign violence on 9/11, which provides the neo-conservatives with the big opening they take advantage of to escape neo-liberalism’s gathering problems. This raises the idea that exception is produced by the challenge of either a constitutive moment of excess or sovereign violent excess. Perhaps it doesn’t matter which one of these it is from the sovereign’s point of view.

Of course all concrete assemblages are mixed. There are many different strategies being followed at any one time. They may just exist with a small circle of cranks until their time arrives, just look at the history of neo-liberal ideas. It’s important to resist a conspiracy view of power, where great men sit in a room and decide the time is now right for 10% more sovereignty in the mix. From the angle outlined above the mechanisms of power still seem obscured and slightly mystified, we can’t make the leap up, but the important thing is to retain the point of view of the movements. The problematic from this perspective becomes: how can we defend our moments of excess from sovereign violence without ourselves finding recourse in the sadness of sovereignty?

Back in 1974 Malcolm McLaren, Vivienne Westwood and Bernie Rhodes collaborated on their famous T-shirt: “You’re going to wake up one morning and know what side of the bed you’ve been lying on!” It carried a list of hates on the left side and loves on the right. It’s a ranting manifesto dispatching the likes of David Essex/Bryan Ferry/Salvador Dali/Sir Keith Joseph and his sensational speeches and embracing the likes of Valerie Solanis/Jamaican Rude Boys/Coffee bars that sell whisky under the counter/Kutie Jones and his SEX PISTOLS/

1974 was a moment that cried out for rupture and polarisation. The possibilities of the movements of 1960’s had already began to close up, solidifying into a new orthodoxy just as stifling as the dreary post-war world that 1960’s veterans thought they were leaving behind. Social movements aren’t distinct entities but selections from a continuous dynamic. They are like waves in a continually changing substance. Human subjectivities, that were fluid in times of great motion can suddenly solidify into clag unable to struggle free of itself. It’s at times like this that new ruptures can take hold, a moment of hard stratification to break free of the clag and light out into new territory.

One of the mechanisms used in these moments is a dip into the past to pull out some new antecedents but is all this still possible within the ever re-devoured remains of pop culture? In fact we need to rework that for it to even begin to make sense. Seeing as pop will eat itself as a means of things staying the same, as a means of homestatic reproduction, can it eat itself unhealthy? Are there any antecedents that when eaten will make pop feel a little queasy? That might break pop out of its self-referential reproduction and reconnect with wider social movement.

Fucked if I know, but perhaps we can detect signs in the latest incarnation of the “side of the bed” T-shirt – Thou shalt always kill The song by Dan Le Sac Vs. Scroobius Pip currently getting airplay and column inches and scraping into the top 40.

Here’s the lyrics, print your own shirt:

Thou shalt not steal if there is direct victim.
Thou shalt not worship pop idols or follow lost prophets.
Thou shalt not take the names of Johnny Cash, Joe Strummer, Johnny Hartman, Desmond Decker, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix or Syd Barret in vain.
Thou shalt not think that any male over the age of 30 that plays with a child that is not their own is a peadophile… Some people are just nice.?
Thou shalt not read NME.
Thall shalt not stop liking a band just because they’ve become popular.
Thou shalt not question Stephen Fry.
Thou shalt not judge a book by it’s cover.
Thou shalt not judge Lethal Weapon by Danny Glover.
Thall shalt not buy Coca-Cola products.
Thou shalt not buy Nestle products.
Thou shalt not go into the woods with your boyfriend’s best friend, take drugs and cheat on him.
Thou shalt not fall in love so easily.
Thou shalt not use poetry, art or music to get into girls’ pants. Use it to get into their heads.
Thou shalt not watch Hollyoakes.
Thou shalt not attend an open mic and leave as soon as you’re done just because you’ve finished your shitty little poem or song you self-righteous prick.
Thou shalt not return to the same club or bar week in, week out just ’cause you once saw a girl there that you fancied but you’re never gonna fucking talk to.
Thou shalt not put musicians and recording artists on ridiculous pedestals no matter how great they are or were.
The Beatles – Were just a band.

Led Zepplin – Just a band.
The Beach Boys – Just a band.
The Sex Pistols – Just a band.
The Clash – Just a band.
Crass – Just a band.?

Minor Threat – Just a band.
The Cure – Just a band.
The Smiths – Just a band.?

Nirvana – Just a band.
The Pixies – Just a band.?

Oasis – Just a band.
Radiohead – Just a band.?

Bloc Party – Just a band.
The Arctic Monkeys – Just a band.
The next big thing – JUST A BAND.

Thou shalt give equal worth to tragedies that occur in non-English speaking countries as to those that occur in English speaking countries.
Thou shalt remember that guns, bitches and bling were never part of the four elements and never will be.?
Thou shalt not make repetitive generic music

Thou shalt not make repetitive generic music

Thou shalt not make repetitive generic music

Thou shalt not make repetitive generic music

Thou shalt not pimp my ride.
Thou shalt not scream if you wanna go faster.
Thou shalt not move to the sound of the wickedness.
Thou shalt not make some noise for Detroit.
When I say “Hey” thou shalt not say “Ho”.
When I say “Hip” thou shalt not say “Hop”.
When I say “he say, she say, we say, make some noise” – kill me.
Thou shalt not quote me happy.
Thou shalt not shake it like a polaroid picture.
Thou shalt not wish your girlfriend was a freak like me.
Thou shalt spell the word “Pheonix” P-H-E-O-N-I-X not P-H-O-E-N-I-X, regardless of what the Oxford English Dictionary tells you.
Thou shalt not express your shock at the fact that Sharon got off with Bradley at the club last night by saying “Is it”.
Thou shalt think for yourselves.
Thou shalt always kill.

Of course some of these are not objectively, revolutionary more in the nature of directional demands but it was the mention of Crass as ‘just a band’ that peeked my interest. Clips of the song’s video on youtube have kids asking “who are Crass?” “who are Minor Threat?” on the coments.

I suppose the Crass brand is ripe for re-discovery as an authentic outside to commodification (pay no more than £3.50) but it’s only when you check out the facial hair on the video that you discover what’s really radical about Scroobius Pip.

If there is hope it lies with the beards.

The problem before us comrades is winning. I’m not telling you to go back to your constituencies and prepare for power rather the Free Association has undertaken to write an article for the new journal Turbulence which takes the slogan “We Are Winning” — famously sprayed on a wall in Seattle during the 1999 WTO protests — and ask, “What, actually, would it mean to win?”

In fact more than just the article, several of us are involved in the editorial team and so are each editing a couple of other articles on the same theme.

Anyway this means we need to start using this blog to help us think through the topic. So here’s some thoughts and links. Firstly there’s an article by our good friend Olivier de Marcellus which interestingly suggests that the cycle of anti-summit protests of the turn of the century and beyond has actually won. Stating that: ”it’s a strange but frequent phenomenon – when movements finally win them, they often go unnoticed.” Which leads me to think that perhaps all movements ever get from “winning” is movement. Or perhaps what we get is movement from one problematic to another. Perhaps, at best, ”winning” results in us having new expanded fields of problematics through escaping previous, artificial, limits.

So I suppose what I’m putting forward here is the idea that social movements form around problems. Not in a simple functionalist fashion, as though there is a pre-existent problem that then produces a social movement that, in turn, forces the state or capital to respond which solves the problem. Rather social movements produce their own problematic at the same time as they are formed by them. I think this works in a couple of different ways.

Firstly there has to be a moment of rupture that creates a new problem, one that didn’t fit into the ‘sense’ of contemporary society. Social movements create their own sense, they create their own worlds, they world. That process of worlding is accompanied by an affect which is experienced as close to victory. The “we are winning” of Seattle was a victory full of potential, where the possibilities seem unlimited. “Another world is possible”. This is winning in the intensive register.

But the winning of the demands that accompanied the formation of the movement happens at a different time. Demands are met in the realm of extensity and representation, which is enemy territory. It only really charts counter attacks from the movement’s enemies. A counter attack that sets up new constraints and therefore new problematics. This is winning in the extensive register or the realm of representation.

This introduces the need to distinguish the difference between demands and problematics and to clarify the role demands play. Laclau in his book “Populist Reason” sees demands as the foundation of politics but he also sees populism fulfilling that role. Both of these, of course inscribe the state at the centre of politics. The thing is Negri and the basic income advocates also seem to put demands at the centre of politics or as the basis of movements. I think the do see a different role for demands to Laclau but I’m still not sure what that is.

The point, for me, is that problematics move faster than demands because they are based on how a movement acts. So by the time we have victory on the level of demands the movement problematics have moved on. At that time there isn’t an affect of emergence within the movement but a cramped affect struggling for a new moment of emergence or excess.

Another thing to think about here is that the movements problematics change as the movement moves. So the experience and subjectivities created within the movement provoke a movement of problematics. I haven’t put that very well but think about how second wave feminism emerges out of the experience within the new left. This creates expanded problematics that are a remove away from dialectical struggle where the movement and the state dance around each other.

I think you could argue that there is an autonomous tendency to all social movements, or perhaps a tendency towards exodus, which tries to break with the dialectical relationship within which they are initially actualised. We might think here of how social movements are constantly moving to avoid capture by the state and they way we need to continually insert new moments of rupture to escape the twin apparatuses of capture the state deploys. The first way the state captures is through incorporation into the states logic of sense. Here we can think of how the police tried to incorporate the land squatted climate camp into its own logic of legality by offering to be helpful and just wanting to walk around the camp once. However when you are nice and legal you are within their sense not ours and so we can’t possibly refuse constant patrols. A new rupture was forced by the tension between the two logics. Accompanying this machine of incorporation is one of repression. Both strategies force us to move in response to them and these responding moves can sometimes be productive for us and sometimes not. However our moves need to tend towards exodus away from this dual embrace that the state forces on to us. Sometimes this means that social movements need fresh ruptures and new starts

To finish lets go back to the idea of extended problematics. This might even translate to winning on the level of scale needed to think through such unfashionable words as revolution or even liberation. After all we’re not religious we’re anti-capitalists. Even if we could imagine a post-capitalist society we would still need to constantly ward off capital as an apparatus of capture as well as deal with a whole series of new and old problems unrelated to capitalism or at least not articulated through capital. In fact one of the good things about the question “What does it mean to win is that it operates on several levels of scale.

I really like this photo. A friend who suggested it illustrated smooth space sent it to me. If you look at desert part though it’s not smooth like a pool table but is marked by the flow of sand. It’s a space of flows but unlike the striated space on the right which has a transcendent grid imposed on it, the deserts dunes are self organised according to an immanent logic. It’s the flow of energy, transmitted as wind and gravity, through a substance whose cohering traits lead to the formation of dunes.

The overlaying of the body of the earth with a grid relates to a wider hylomorphism and paying attention to the self-organising traits of matter is the difference between an architect and an artisan for Deleuze and Guatarri. Sometimes when you’re flying on bright days you can be really struck by the gridding that marks the body of the earth. Flying over towns and villages is the only times that you get an architects eye view of town plans, the viewpoint (and judgement) of God. I remember flying over Spain on a clear day and seeing a wind farm on a mountain range. It looked quite unlike a man made design, a very odd shape. Then I realised that it was about harnessing flow and it had to take the dynamics of that flow into account in its design. So the wind turbines were positioned at highpoints that had uninterrupted wind flow and this dictated the shape of the roads servicing them. Of course all assemblages are mixed and the wind farm still had an architect who was bound up by wider flows of capital and indeed the flows of our struggles and desires. Anyway nothing ground breaking but a couple of pretty pictures none the less.

This post is in the spirit of tidying up the blog and making it intelligible to any poor bastard who happened to stumble across it.

The Free Association is, amongst other things, a collective writing project. The way of working that we’ve settled on is to decide on a vague area for a project and then blog on topics that seem related. We then have a discussion meeting on the general area. We record that discussion and then transcribe the recording, précising it a little as we go. The last few entries on the blog have been such transcriptions, which is why they don’t make much sense.

What we’re aiming for is a boiling down process where we discuss the previous transcript, transcribe that discussion and then discuss that. This goes on until it gets to the stage when someone has to go away and write a first draft, but when they do they have a lot to draw on. It always seems to be that we’re struggling to grasp the problem we’re approaching and it’s only during the actual writing process that it starts to become clear. For many years we were a reading group. The book we were reading was the object around which we transformed ourselves but making the move to collective writing makes the transformation much more active. Although, the turn to collective writing was bound up with a more interventionist, re-engagement with social movements on our part, so I suppose that inevitably would be more active.

Anyway the piece that we produced is here; it’s sort of the final installment of a trilogy. We’ll now return to occasional posts on things that come up.

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In an article “On the New Philosophers” Deleuze sticks the boot into Bernard-Henri Levy , et al, saying:

“We’ve been trying to uncover creative functions which would no longer require an author-function for them to be active (in music, painting, audio-visual arts, film, and even philosophy). This wholesale return to the author, to an empty and vain subject, as well as to gross conceptual stereotypes, represents a troubling reactionary development… That’s how things go: precisely when writing and thought were beginning to abandon the author-function, when creations no longer require an author-function for them to be active, the author-function was co-opted by radio and television, and by journalism. Journalists have become the new authors, and those writer who wanted to become authors had to go through journalists or become journalists themselves.”

Well this immediately made me think of some of the YBA’s (Young British Artists) Tracy Emin, Sam Taylor-Wood, et al. Just as contemporary art practice and theory does away with the author-function then it’s re-imposed in an emptied out and corrupted form as a subsection of journalism.

Interestingly the artist as producer has been proposed by some as a paradigmatic figure of immaterial labour and precarious work, just look at this snippet from a larger interview

“Atelier Europa Team: One of your theses is that conceptual artists are “the blueprint’s for today’s “affective labourer”. Why do you focus explicitly on the conceptual artists?

Marina Vishmidt: To be quite concise and general, conceptual art heralded the de-materialisation of the art object, focusing instead on the symbolic mediations that instantiate art as an event and mode of communication. The object has also been displaced from contemporary capitalist production as it concentrates on branding, differentiation, lifestyle marketing, attention management and so forth. Both share the feature of valorising information, and some conceptual artists practices were in many ways prototypes of today’s standard IP regulations. In fact, it could be argued that the de-materialised object is actually information, as it is subject to the same forms of proprietary relations.”

Perhaps this opens out more widely onto the role of the celebrity in our culture. Just as immaterial labour and the dissolving of the object reveals all production to be collective and all of life to be creative then the author-function or even the genius-function is killed but comes back to haunt us, zombie like, through the figure of the celebrity. I mean, what is the celebrity but the hollowed out genius-function, famous for being famous, for being empty, for being non-productive or rather corruptive of the collectivity of production.

The celebrity and ‘intellectual property rights’ are partners in crime. Our regulatory and juridical systems but also our political imaginaries haven’t escaped the outdated figure of the abstract, autonomous liberal individual. But let’s not underestimate the unholy power of Paris Hilton’s rotting corpse. Just because these forms are corrupt and are, to some extent, based on an illusion, doesn’t mean they aren’t concrete. There’s no easy way out. Zombies can be brought down with a bullet to the head but don’t take this too literally, tempting though it may seem to Dando a few celebs, the only real answer is to separate our heads from their bodies and dissolve them into the living flesh of the multitude, something much more monstrous. In fact perhaps we’re living a B-movie, fuck ‘Aliens versus Predator’ this is ‘Zombies versus the Blob.’

Such comment as there has been in the mainstream UK press has uniformly cast the current French anti-CPE struggles as wrong headed and conservative. As the editorial in the Independent puts it:

“This is not the expansive internationalism of 1968. Rather this modern leftism is inward-looking; it wants state intervention to preserve a jobs-for life system.”

Lets ignore the revisionism in how such a paper would really have covered 1968, what’s important here is the ever-familiar voice of TINA. Neo-liberal capitalism is the only future that is even thinkable let alone possible. All struggles against it are merely anachronistic, last man spasms.

The trouble is history refuses to end. “History isn’t a straight line. It moves in a series of uncontrolled breaks, jolts and ruptures.” And it’s precisely events like this French movement, such ‘Moments of Excess’ that can snap history in half and force it to re-organise. The starkness of the Independent’s editorial shows that a little glimpse of this has crept into the journalist’s peripheral vision. During such moments all subtlety and ambiguity is dropped, all pretence at objectivity vanishes and they openly state that they are neo-liberals and that there is no alternative. Like Simon Bates smashing a Sex Pistol’s record, such starkness is partly born of the unsteady wooziness brought on by history moving.

I’m getting that feeling full in the face, a vertiginous exhilaration that’s being held in check because I can’t find a way to concretise it in my habitual life. But I can still feel it re-casting recent history. It’s hard to look at last November’s riots in the banlieue as a clash of civilisations any more because there is an obvious potential for commonality between them and the present anti-CPE struggles. And even more directly the whole cycle of Counter-globalisation struggles really comes into focus. Owl of Minerva flies at dusk, sort of thing. To paraphrase an abstract I wrote last week for an unwritten paper:

“In recent years the counter-globalisation movement has been able to constitute itself by finding, in international summits, a figure that could stand in for the abstraction of neo-liberal global capital. While this provided the moment of focus through which the common of the movement could emerge, it also imposed a particular form on the movement, namely that of existing through a series of events. The problematic then becomes: how do such events relate to the experience of daily life? How can the common of the movement be concretised outside of those events to find resonances in wider society? How can the movement overcome the limits of its form?”

A series of social movements in Europe proposed precarity as a concept to solve this problematic and now the anti-CPE struggles have pushed that on to a whole other level. We can now see that the Anti-war movement couldn’t find a way out of the counter-globalisation movement’s problematic because it also moved from event to event. Struggles have to resonate into habitual life if foundational rupture is to occur. Increased precariousness in habitual life is how the global north experiences neo-liberalism and what provides the potential of a commonality with struggles in the global south.

Let’s be clear on this, precarity isn’t a sociological category. It’s a political concept; it deals with the potential for resonance of struggles. It isn’t (or shouldn’t be) about an already existing common condition in the world around which a unified struggle can be created. Rather it’s a sense that different struggles, starting from the particular circumstances people find themselves in, might have the chance of entering a relationship of resonant amplification.

And this brings me to the main point about Moments of Excess and the reason they can re-cast history – They are moments of intense creativity and generation. It’s only the cauldrons of social movements that can give birth to the new social forms that can provide an exit from the binary of Neo-liberalism or post-war Fordism.

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.