Cultural Terrorism: Poetic Potential for Subversion
By Julian Langer
“Quotations are useful in periods of ignorance or obscurantist beliefs” Guy Debord
In The Revolution of Everyday Life, Raoul Vaneigem stated that human beings are in a state of creativity 24 hours a day, but freedom of choice has been lost; that spontaneity is the true mode of creativity, and true artists of the future will create new situations. “Poetry” claims Vaneigem, “is an act which engenders new realities; it is the fulfilment of radical theory, the revolutionary act par excellence”.
The loss of freedom of choice within neo-liberal capitalist civilisation is abundantly obvious. Political choices are reduced to 1 party or the other, while the Ed Sheeran effect dominates the market of available music: songs that simply repeat the same sound of the last hit, as a mass-produced vacuum-packed injection of notes, drums and vocals.
Does the Leftist/revolutionary movement Vaneigem was involved in, the Situationist Internationalists, hold any relevance for our contemporary post-modern British society (whatever that may mean)?
Situationism was a huge influence on the early punk milieu in the late 1970s in Britain, with its rejection of the boredoms and restrictions of the age. But punk too has largely been reduced to a mass production line of commodified unfashion, of songs that largely sound exactly the same.
The Situationists also influenced the events that took place in 1968 Paris. Volatile civil unrest led to a legislative election, seeing the Gaulist UDR party taking power, with the leftist parties failing due to their passivity. The British anarchist group, The Angry Brigade, inspired by the Situationists, launched a bombing campaign between 1970 and 1972 that targeted banks, Tory party MPs and embassies, as acts of property damage (though one person was slightly injured during the campaign).
But we are no longer living in the late 1960s or early 1970s, nor are we living in France in 1799. As I type this I am in the English countryside, in 2017, and I am assuming that most of the people reading this piece will also be living in Britain in the late 2010s.
I am going to assume that you, like me, are living in a near totally different world to those times: one with far more surveillance; technology and cultural conditioning; more effective weaponry for the police and army and less for the revolutionaries. A vastly different socio-economic-political landscape is in place, dominated by the neo-liberal postmodern cultural narrative for as long as many of the people reading this will be able to remember.
So is this(/the) Leftist/revolutionary project really relevant or applicable to our current historical conditions?
We’ve seen the failures of the Occupy movement; Anonymous; Arab Spring; of the Sanders and Corbyn revolutions and others over recent years. We know the history of Communist dictatorships and the genocides and ecocides they commit; so maybe it isn’t a project for contemporary radicals.
But maybe we can learn from it.
One of main methods of the Situationist project is the Dérive. In Theory of the Dérive, Guy Debord explained the Dérive as a technique of rapid passages through varied ambiences, involving playful-constructive behaviour and awareness of psychogeographical effects.
This involves, for the Situationists, a point of departure from the spatial field (part of the Unitary Urbanist Project – the project before their focus turned to what Debord called Society of the Spectacle, his seminal text). This can deploy détournement – subversive Situationist pranks – a practice that developed into the now well Established practice of culture jamming. Examples of this which can be considered Dérive techniques are parkour, flash mobs and free hugs actions.
After the Manchester terrorist attack, Backtash Noori’s free hugs action struck a particularly tangible chord with many of us.
Could this be because, as we become culturally and psychically immersed in what sociologist and postmodern philosopher Baudrillard termed the simulation of hyper-reality, with the news becoming more and more like green screen films we long for something as tangible and immediate as the touch of another’s embrace?
Perhaps it is a romantic notion, but equally perhaps not! Maybe, the immediate, the intimate, is our best means as radicals of creative approach and political attack.
Post-left anarchist and post-Situationist philosopher Peter Lamborn Wilson, also known as Hakim Bey, wrote about a type of project he call the Immediatist project, in his 1994 book by Immediatism.
This is, as the name suggest, an art project based on the creation of immediate situations and T.A.Z.s (Temporary Autonomous Zones) for radicals to subvert our contemporary cultural narratives and dogmas. In his book The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism, Wilson describes a type of activity he later describes as an Immediatist activity as (surprise surprise) Poetic Terrorism (shocking I know). Wilson describes Poetic Terrorism as –
“WEIRD DANCING IN ALL-NIGHT computer-banking lobbies. Unauthorized pyrotechnic displays. Land-art, earth-works as bizarre alien artifacts strewn in State Parks. Burglarize houses but instead of stealing, leave Poetic-Terrorist objects. Kidnap someone & make them happy. Pick someone at random & convince them they’re the heir to an enormous, useless & amazing fortune–say 5000 square miles of Antarctica, or an aging circus elephant, or an orphanage in Bombay, or a collection of alchemical mss. Later they will come to realize that for a few moments they believed in something extraordinary, & will perhaps be driven as a result to seek out some more intense mode of existence.”
and states that –
“The audience reaction or aesthetic-shock produced by PT ought to be at least as strong as the emotion of terror– powerful disgust, sexual arousal, superstitious awe, sudden intuitive breakthrough, dada-esque angst–no matter whether the PT is aimed at one person or many, no matter whether it is “signed” or anonymous, if it does not change someone’s life (aside from the artist) it fails.”
Perhaps Immediatism and Poetic Terrorism could be a potential means of radical art projects challenging this culture. And perhaps not.
Noori’s simple acts though, admittedly through the medium of a cultural spectacle, touched many of us who only encountered his action through screens. I can only imagine how it would’ve impacted those he created an immediate affect in. Within the hyper-real spectacle/simulation, and given the failings of the Leftist/revolutionary project, this may be a tangible means radical action through art.
“Only the dead are truly smart, truly cool. Nothing touches them. While I live, however, I side with bumbling suffering crooked life, with anger rather than boredom, with sweet lust, hunger & carelessness…against the icy avant-guard & its fashionable premonitions of the sepulcher. ”
― Hakim Bey
I personally play various Dérive games whenever possible and write about these types of Situationist and post-Situationist mediums, as a means of psychic rewilding, in my book Feral Consciousness, and believe they hold immense value as a means of disrupting the everyday normality of this culture. So I invite you to play and create, should you wish to try.
“If love is under siege, it is because it threatens the very essence of commercial civilization. Everything is designed to make us forget that love is our most vivid manifestation and the most common power of life that is in us. Shouldn’t we wonder how the lights that glimmer in the eye can blow a fuse for a time, even as barriers of oppression break and jam our passions? Yet despite a life stunted and distorted by mediated Spectacle, nothing has ever managed to strip love of its primal force. Although the heart’s music fails to overwhelm the cacophony of profit efficiency, bit by bit it composes our destinies, according to tones, chords, and dissonances which render us happy if only we learn to harmonize the scattered notes that string emotions together.” Raoul Vaneigem