The Spheres of Insurrection: Suggestions for Combating the Pimping of Life

  • Posted on: 3 December 2017
  • By: Anonymous (not verified)

From e-flux - by Suely Rolnik

It is always a question of freeing life wherever it is imprisoned, or of tempting it into an uncertain combat.
—Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, 19911

The exhaustion of natural resources is probably much less advanced than the exhaustion of subjective resources, of vital resources, that is afflicting our contemporaries. If so much satisfaction is derived from surveying the devastation of the environment it’s largely because this veils the frightening ruin of subjectivities. Every oil spill, every sterile plain, every species extinction is an image of our souls in rags, a reflection of our lack of world, of our intimate impotence to inhabit it.
—The Invisible Committee, 20142

The world is in convulsion, and so are we. We are taken by a malaise, comprised of a mix of sensations. A dread in the face of the sinister landscape brought about by the rise of reactive forces everywhere, whose level of violence and barbarity reminds us of the worst moments in history. Along with fear, we are also taken by a perplexity in the face of another phenomenon, simultaneous with the first: the takeover of worldwide power by the capitalist system in its new version—financialized and neoliberal—which extends its colonial project to its ultimate limits, its globalitarian realization.

At first glance, the simultaneity of these two phenomena seems paradoxical, which blurs our comprehension and leaves us confused: the high degree of complexity and perverse refinement proper to the neoliberal way of life is light-years ahead of the narrow-minded archaism of the brute forces of this new conservatism. They are symptoms of radically different reactive forces, originating in distinct historical moments, coexisting in our contemporaneity. But after the initial shock, we understand that neoliberalism needs these rude subjectivities to do the dirty work of destroying all the achievements of democratic, republican culture, dissolving its imaginary and eradicating from the scene its protagonists—including the left in all its nuances, but not only. Lacking moral limits of any kind, reactive subjectivities fulfill their task at a dizzying speed and with intense violence—as soon as we recognize one of their coups, another has just happened. Carrying out this task gives them a perverse narcissistic juissance to the point of being pathetic. The ground is prepared for a frictionless and unencumbered free flow of transnational capital.

Added to the fear and astonishment, there is a deep frustration with the recent dissolution of several leftist governments throughout the world, especially in Latin America—which, not by chance, happens simultaneously with the rise of reactive forces of conservatism and neoliberalism, temporarily united. Such frustration mobilizes the traumatic memory of the unfortunate fate of twentieth-century revolutions. A state of alert settles into our subjectivity, as when the scarcity of essential resources exceeds a limit, putting life itself at risk. These are traumatic situations before which we either succumb (a pathological response that saps our vital potency) or widen the horizon of our gaze, which gives us more precision in deciphering the violence and inventing ways of fighting it (a response which preserves our vital potency, and even intensifies it, in certain cases). In the moments when, in the face of the trauma that we are experiencing, the second response wins, we can see an insurmountable limit against which left-wing projects stumble, especially institutional ones. Such a view imposes on us the task of problematizing this limit, in order to create the conditions of its overcoming.

First of all, we are forced to recognize that this barrier is not located only outside the territory of the left, imposed by adverse forces that are external to it. In fact, it is chiefly located inside the left’s own territory, whose horizon ends at the borders of the macropolitical sphere. This is the sphere of the shapes of a world, and its own modes of existance: the positions and functions set out in the social map, the modes of relation between them, as well as their codes and their representations. As the left-wing acts only in this sphere, its territory is confined to the dominant form of the world in which it has its origin and unfoldings: the colonial-capitalistic3 world. The perspective guiding the resistance of the left remains thus trapped inside the logic of the very regime that it (we) wants to overcome. Keeping this in mind, it is not surprising that left-wing actions are not only unable to fight the colonial-capitalistic regime, but also result in its dreary reproduction.

It is indisputable that within this regime, the left-wing positions are the fairest, because in different ways and to different degrees the left seeks a less asymmetrical distribution of places—not only in the political arena, but also in the social and economic ones—as well as a state that supports this extension of equality. If this fight is undoubtedly indispensable and has an undeniable value, the problem is that it leaves out the microsphere: the sphere of unconscious formations in the social field, to which corresponds a certain dominant politics of subjectivation and its respective politics of desire, with which any regime, of whatever kind, acquires its existential consistency, and without which it couldn’t be sustained.

Even when the left, especially the institutional left, talks about modes of existence, it tends to do so only from a macropolitical perspective. The left wing thinks of the oppressed as identitarian entities and tends to crystallize them, neutralizing the creating power (potency) of their subjectivity, thereby preventing this “creating power” from fulfilling its function: to respond to the need for change that emerges in the relational fabric of collective life. Worser still is when the focus is on groups of disadvantaged people who don’t fit into the category of the “worker”—the identitarian place where the oppressed are confined in the lefts imaginary, reduced to class relations. The lefts tend to fetishize these people or even to render them folkloric, giving to these figures turned into caricatures a lot in the official map of democracy, which will only allow access to civil rights. This is the central goal of the lefts resistence: what moves them in this operation is the an urge to promote the “inclusion” of such groups into the existing map, resulting in their submissive adaptation to the hegemonic mode of subjectivation. That is the case, for example, of the lefts approach towards indigenous peoples in Brazil. This focus on mere inclusion suggests us that left-wing not only assumes the dominant mode of existence as its reference, but also considers it as “the” sole and universal reference, denying any alterity. The consequence is that they lose the crucial opportunity to inhabit the relational fabric woven by these different modes of existence and, above all, to sustain its possible shifting effects that could render void the dominant cartography. More worryingly, when such effects happen and new modes of existence emerge within collective life, they are read by the left-wing through the same lens, and tend to be similarly confined to identitarian entities. This is the case, for example, with the current movements that disrupt dominant notions of gender, sexuality, race, etc. The singularization processes underway in these insurrections are ignored, thereby neutralizing their vital impulse for transmuting the dominant modes of subjectivation and the changes of the individual and collective forms of existence this impulse could unleash in such cartograpy. In short, what is ignored and neutralized is their strength for micropolitical resistance. Although some left-wing groups recognize these movements, their readings tend to reduce them to the issue of inequality, narrowing the focus of these uprisings to the class struggle. This persistent reduction of the vision and modes of action of the left to the macropolitical sphere is responsible for the left’s helplessness in the face of the challenges of the present, which keeps it (the left) imprisoned in sterile academic lucubrations on democracy. In such lucubrations the lefts insist on “demo” (people in Greek) in the notion of “democracy”, which they translate as “governement of the people”, denying a fondamental detail of its original sens in Greek which gives it the meaning of “self- governement” of the people. This leads to reduce the discussion on the current crisis of democracy to the question of how to reform the state machine in order to better represent the people.

The dreary fate of left resistance and the repeated frustration it provokes in us, added to the confusion and the fear mobilized by the current state of things, is what leads us today to become aware of the absolute limitations of the macropolitical horizon on the leftist territory. Here and there erupt insurrections with new strategies in response to the violence against life, in all its nuances, for which the pair right/left is no longer a sufficient operator to delineate the forces at stake and to hit the strugle target. Isn’t the presence of micropolitical insurrection what surprises us in the new resistance movements bursting everywhere mainly in the younger generations— especially in the metropolitan suburbs, in particular among the women, black, and LGBTQ people—, as in the indigenous comunities? Isn’t this precisely what fascinates us in these movements, despite the difficulty of deciphering and naming it? It is not exactly such movements that are preventing us from succumbing to the melancholic and fatalistic paralysis that would thrown us into the bleak landscape that surrounds us today? In these territories-in-formation which are gradually being populated, there is an effective change of the politics of subjectivation. Their horizon expands the reach of our vision, allowing us to foresee the micropolitical sphere. How does the violence of colonial capital operates in this sphere?

category: 

Comments

Oh dear. I expected better of Suely Rolnik.

Not sure if Brazil is different, but there isn't much "transgressing dominant notions" going on in idpol in the global North, it's all about minorities not minoritarianism (in Deleuzian terms), fixing the identities of others as "white", "male", "colonial", "western" and imposing reactive moralities of resentment, guilt, self-flagellation, and the purging of open spaces (because if you aren't part of the witch-hunt against this terf or that abuser, you're part of the evil white male colonial structure), all the time reproducing the Lacanian lackist ontology which is the main target of Anti-Oedipus. Look at the discussion in "Apparatus of Capture". These movements are only schizorevolutionary when they escape from the relationship between minority and majority, and become a line of flight in their own right (which is to say, movements of desire, not identity).

There's more schizorevolution in squatting, graffiti, hippy "appropriation", rewilding, land occupation, hacking and open source, even base unions and workplace occupations than a century of idpol guilt and shame will ever bring us.

So everything in your last paragraph is definitely what activity should look like! BUT that activity has to be informed by a decent application of intersectionality and identity, you can't just ignore it either.

Folks around here always talking as if IdPol is a form of demonic possession instead of a misuse of identity. Everyone just needs to learn to navigate the new terrain, the passive-aggressive liberal types are enjoying a few years of waving IdPol around like a kid that found daddy's gun but it won't work that way forever. Just keep calling bullshit on the individuals who misuse or abuse the tool.

Better to ignore it than to do it the way it's done nowadays. It really is poison at the moment.

We really don't need guilt-tripping for being from a group which isn't shat-on quite as hard as someone else, we don't need linguistic/cultural determinism, and we certainly don't need etiquette policing and safe space crap. Take some "capitalism oppresses everyone", add a bit of "identities are spooks, social roles oppress people" and quite a lot of "everyone's different and that's OK", and you've pretty much got what you need to deal with real oppressions. And honestly, all this etiquette and banning and tiptoeing around one another is really very exclusionary towards a lot of oppressed people.

I'll start being open to "anarchist theories of intersectionality" or whatever, when someone writes one which doesn't end up as guilt-tripping, security-enforcing, passive-aggressive bullshit.

Well we're talking about the same thing then, once you strip away everything toxic and/or authoritarian, which includes bad-faith use of guilt, all that's left is what you already described.

I'm poor, I'm visibly disabled. I'm part native so anti-colonialism is like stating the painfully obvious. These things aren't ME but they inform my perspective, mostly because of negative interactions I had with other people.

Intersectionality is built around the oppression spook which is a bad Marxist born stand in for SUBMISSION which is the real issue as far as being a foundational driver of power.ID is the reified spooky stand in for personalization. IDPol is a decadent derivative of 'personal is political' which when taken in a Stirnerian anarchic direction is a desire imperative not an identity one.

IDPol fails because identity is a perversion of personalization.

Identity is neutral, just an analytical tool, the problems come from the user.

Until it takes on reified collective ellective weight. Throw in the inherent problem of politics and you have an impediment(among many) to anarchy.

If you read the essay properly, I think Rolnik is being critical of the same things you are.

For instance: "The left wing thinks of the oppressed as identitarian entities and tends to crystallize them, neutralizing the creating power (potency) of their subjectivity, thereby preventing this “creating power” from fulfilling its function: to respond to the need for change that emerges in the relational fabric of collective life."

Doesn't sound like an endorsement of idpol to me.

Besides, we also have to remember to read the chapter on faciality ;-)

That's a reply to the original comment btw, not SirEinzige.

She's a Deleuzo-Guattarian psychoanalyst, best-known outside Brazil for her collaboration with Guattari on “Molecular Revolution in Brazil”, though she's written some (in my view brilliant) pieces on the affective/emotional structure of neoliberalism. One of these is “The Geoolitics of Pimping”: http://eipcp.net/transversal/1106/rolnik/en to which this piece seems to be a sequel.

The reason I'm worried about idpol here is that aspects of her framing echo those of academic postmodernists (including Deleuzians) who've gone over to idpol. I'll explain why:

>widen the horizon of our gaze, which gives us more precision in deciphering the violence and inventing ways of fighting it
>we can see an insurmountable limit against which left-wing projects stumble, especially institutional ones. Such a view imposes on us the task of problematizing this limit, in order to create the conditions of its overcoming
>As the left-wing acts only in this sphere, its territory is confined to the dominant form of the world in which it has its origin and unfoldings: the colonial-capitalistic3 world... it is not surprising that left-wing actions are not only unable to fight the colonial-capitalistic regime, but also result in its dreary reproduction.
>This is the central goal of the lefts resistence: what moves them in this operation is the an urge to promote the “inclusion” of such groups into the existing map, resulting in their submissive adaptation to the hegemonic mode of subjectivation

These are rephrasings of the general “decolonial” argument that left-wing, revolutionary and insurrectionary politics and anti-politics are necessarily part of “modernity” or “capitalist coloniality” - a system which is primarily epistemic (and only secondarily material or socio-economic), which primarily oppresses not “the 99%” or “the workers” or “the individual” but particular groups (women, subaltern, colonised, black, LGBTQI+, indigenous...); and corresponding to this, that the “left” viewpoint is too narrow, and never escapes the limits of the modern-capitalist-colonial way of seeing. And because of this, the “left” is 1) not really revolutionary, 2) actually part of what they claim to fight, and 3) “less radical” than idpol-groups (whatever they happen to believe). Make no mistake – I've had lengthy dialogues and arguments with people who hold this position, and they invariably include not only left-anarchism but also the post-left, primitivism, insurrectionism, Stirner, indeed, anarchism as an entire tradition (with the possible exception of “black” or “indigenous anarchism”) in this condemnation. The closest we have here to this position is Emile's endless drivel about destroying the ego and “dualism” instead of fighting the system. This is also what the typical decolonial-pomo critic believes: all action-oriented world-changing beliefs are products of an ego-desire for power, all ego-desires for power are effects of modernity and capitalist-coloniality, and therefore, left and post-left politics/anti-politics need to be replaced by epistemic challenges to modernity and “the ego” - which is to say, mysticism and therapy.

>First of all, we are forced to recognize that this barrier is not located only outside the territory of the left, imposed by adverse forces that are external to it. In fact, it is chiefly located inside the left’s own territory

This is a standard idpol claim that the most urgent problem is “racism in social change movements” or “patriarchy in anarchist spaces” or other kinds of “internal oppression” inside the movement – a position which leads to absurdities such as the London Anarchist Bookfair shutdown and the attacks on CrimethInc and the Bay Area bookfair. It's tied-up with a pseudo-Foucauldian way of talking about oppression which denies that there is an external “system” we can fight against, or which stems from the power of a ruling-class, elite, or state, and instead locates power in thousands of microsocial relations, generally considered to operate along idpol lines visible to elite scholars able to identify them. This handily derails political struggle and replaces it with self-change and struggle amongst ourselves.

>The left wing thinks of the oppressed as identitarian entities and tends to crystallize them, neutralizing the creating power (potency) of their subjectivity
>Worser still is when the focus is on groups of disadvantaged people who don’t fit into the category of the “worker”—the identitarian place where the oppressed are confined in the lefts imaginary, reduced to class relations. The lefts tend to fetishize these people or even to render them folkloric
>More worryingly, when such effects happen and new modes of existence emerge within collective life, they are read by the left-wing through the same lens, and tend to be similarly confined to identitarian entities. This is the case, for example, with the current movements that disrupt dominant notions of gender, sexuality, race, etc. The singularization processes underway in these insurrections are ignored, thereby neutralizing their vital impulse for transmuting the dominant modes of subjectivation and the changes of the individual and collective forms of existence this impulse could unleash in such cartograpy

This is the bit which sounds most like a critique of idpol, and it clearly draws on Deleuze and Guattari's minoritarianism (the valuing of flows of becoming vs fixed minorities), but in context, I think it means something more like: the prioritises working-class issues over idpol issues, and the left focuses on material oppressions affecting women, black people, etc., rather than the (supposed) transformative power of their epistemologies and “micropolitics” (which are also, from the idpol point of view, disruptive of the left).

>Isn’t the presence of micropolitical insurrection what surprises us in the new resistance movements bursting everywhere mainly in the younger generations— especially in the metropolitan suburbs, in particular among the women, black, and LGBTQ people—, as in the indigenous comunities?

Here we see a clear statement that the “real” site of radical struggle today is primarily the familiar idpol categories (black, indigenous, women, LGBTQ), and that these groups are already immanently engaged in everyday “insurrections” which are not visible to “the left”. What's missing here is any awareness that 1) idpol groups are themselves subject to the effects of capitalist ideology, 2) everyday survival strategies are often conservative or reformist, and 3) idpol in its present form is basically a reformist tendency. Any discussion of these issues is foreclosed by the assumption that the inability to see such radical insurrections in everyday life is an effect of the insufficient, narrow perspectives of “the left” - and not of the absence of such insurrections. To take an example, decolonial theorists typically take the setting-up of state-supported Maori schools in New Zealand, which teach in Maori language and using Maori epistemology and cosmology, to be a revolutionary challenge to modern epistemology and thus to capitalist-coloniality. Never mind that these are still authoritarian schools with homogenising curricula and practices, and thus many steps back from Summerhill or the Modern School, let alone deschooling; never mind that they still prepare Maori children for submissive incorporation in modern multicultural capitalism. If “leftists” (including post-left deschoolers) can't see the “radicalism” and “insurrection” in this, it's supposedly because our “horizons” are too “narrow” and we're still “trapped” inside “modern colonial ways of thinking” (a kind of get-out which will be resorted to, whenever anyone disagrees with the decolonial argument). Of course, these “radical” effects and the path by which they lead out of capitalism are conveniently impossible to express in language we might be able to understand.

>In these territories-in-formation which are gradually being populated, there is an effective change of the politics of subjectivation. Their horizon expands the reach of our vision, allowing us to foresee the micropolitical sphere. How does the violence of colonial capital operates in this sphere?
>they lose the crucial opportunity to inhabit the relational fabric woven by these different modes of existence and, above all, to sustain its possible shifting effects that could render void the dominant cartography... Although some left-wing groups recognize these movements, their readings tend to reduce them to the issue of inequality, narrowing the focus of these uprisings to the class struggle

The first of these claims suggests that the everyday actions and beliefs of idpol-recognised groups involve 1) a privileged access to knowledge of how the violence of capitalist-coloniality operates, and 2) distinct types of “subjectivation” (identity-formation) which are revolutionary, with effects which could “render void the dominant cartography” (i.e. destroy capitalism and the state). The second claim insists that “the left” is losing the opportunity to learn from these groups because its frame is “too narrow” - meaning, because it rejects the idpol view. There is also a claim that the radical gesture is not to support concrete struggles against oppression, but to “inhabit the relational fabric woven by these different modes of resistance” - i.e. to submit and submerge oneself uncritically in whatever idpol-recognised groups happen to be doing, “unlearning” one's own desires and preferences in the process. I've seen this articulated in claims such as: militant protest is exclusionary, it's more radical to engage in care work (because this is a “feminised” practice vital to women and people with disabilities); or, relational communication (not hurting people's feelings) is more important than logical communication (aka “feels over reals”). I don't find it plausible that existing everyday practices of marginalised groups are revolutionary, a lot of people from these groups are quite bigoted, reactionary and/or consumerist actually, and I don't find it plausible that these identifiable, nameable groups are “more radical” than the less-nameable socially-excluded or drop-outs. Idpol movements often reproduce quite familiar forms of realpolitik, top-down leadership, us-them violence, and other familiar dynamics of capitalism/statism – Perlman is closer to the truth when he portrays them as movements of store clerks who want to be manager, security guards who want to be chief of police. There's very little evidence that either the everyday practices or the idpol struggles are subverting capitalism (if they are, then it's the underground “criminal” stuff the idpols don't like to talk about). And there's nothing radical about educated, thinking anarchists subordinating our own politically aware intuitions to the naïve, semi-conformist common sense of marginalised groups, or the realpolitik of idpol leaders.

Of course I don't support the reformist “institutional reform” or the leftist “reducing everything to class struggle” dynamics either, but it's pretty common for idpols to use a parody of “the left” as a straw-man to attack everyone and everything non-idpol.

By the way, I don't think there's much idpol at all in Deleuze and Guattari. The faciality chapter is principally a critique of Levinas - and by extension, of Derrida, Spivak, Bhabha, and Butler, although they hadn't even written their stuff back then. Levinas believes there's a "face of the Other" which one directly encounters intuitively, in which is embedded an ontological "call" which is "constitutive of the self", through which the Other's absolute otherness and thus the absolute otherness of God is manifested, in the form of a command to provide "justice" to the Other even though this is impossible... Deleuze and Guattari call bullshit on this, the face is a rhizomatic construct relative to particular contexts just like everything else.

Add new comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.
CAPTCHA
Human?
9
Z
T
f
5
7
j
Enter the code without spaces.