e-flux journal issue no. 30: Americans against capitalism? Arab nations toppling autocrats through peaceful protests? 2011 has been a year of massive popular uprisings — on a completely unexpected scale and from populations that were thought to have been thoroughly subdued. Commentators have predicted that discontent in the Arab world would soon come to a head for so many years that it was beginning to seem unlikely, just as others had begun to dismiss the political potency of popular demonstrations in fiscalized Western democracies. For those who started to think that large-scale, radical optimism was naïve or nostalgic, the events of the past year should be sufficient to prove them wrong.
But as winter takes hold in many parts of the world, another kind of doubt begins to set in, with a tinge of disappointment that circumstances in many places that saw the most intense uprisings have not actually been significantly transformed for the better. The removal of dictators has only peeled back the top layer of societies with endemic problems that must be addressed by a renewed sense of civic society. The 99% remains at the mercy of the 1%. The military crackdown in Syria remains unbelievably bloody. An enormous swell of hope that was felt throughout the world earlier this year now seems like it could be orphaned by setbacks, by the scale of brutal realities that seemed as if they were starting to crack open.
The weight of these unforeseen challenges have produced a peculiar moment of social upheaval marked by a nagging sense of stasis — a feeling that, in spite of constant pushing, nothing is in fact moving, or that we are collectively going in circles. This makes it necessary to reluctantly face up to a choice that the current situation poses: whether to religiously believe in a general historical movement towards a change for the better, or resolve ourselves with the fact that things will always remain the same. But this is a false binary.
Perhaps emancipation should not only be considered a matter of reclaiming power and occupying spaces, but of occupying time (as the work of Philippe Parreno helps us to see). A temporal, durational occupation is not only a matter of good intentions and radical gestures, but of patience and persistence — an integration of one’s demands into one’s own circumstances, with the hopes that those demands will one day be inscribed into law. Could it be that the secret technology of leaderless movements and occupations without clear lists of demands is precisely that they do not build themselves upon a single telos, and cannot be easily dissolved? If so, the strategy would be modest in the short term, but resilient in the long term. A moment of stasis would not necessarily be a sign of failure, but part of a broader way of revolving with the revolutions, a way to occupy ourselves in the meantime and reclaim our own lives as we continue…
In this issue:
Franco Berardi Bifo — The Future After the End of the Economy: So how can semiotic labor be valued if its products are immaterial? How can the relationship between work and salary be determined? How can we measure value in terms of time if the productivity of cognitive work (creative, affective, linguistic) cannot be quantified and standardized?
Hito Steyerl — Art as Occupation: Claims for an Autonomy of Life: An occupation keeps people busy instead of giving them paid labor. An occupation is not hinged on any result; it has no necessary conclusion. As such, it knows no traditional alienation, nor any corresponding idea of subjectivity. An occupation doesn’t necessarily assume remuneration either, since the process is thought to contain its own gratification. It has no temporal framework except the passing of time itself.
Claire Tancons — Occupy Wall Street: Carnival Against Capital? Carnivalesque as Protest Sensibility: While some commentators and journalists have dismissed Occupy Wall Street as carnival, lawmakers and police officers did not miss the point. They reached back to a mid-nineteenth century ban on masking to arrest occupiers wearing as little as a folded bandana on the forehead, leaving little doubt about their fear of Carnival as a potent form of political protest.
Grant Kester — The Sound of Breaking Glass, Part I: Spontaneity and Consciousness in Revolutionary Theory: During periods of political repression, the relationship between aesthetics and politics, and between private and public expression, undergoes both erosion and reconsolidation.
Paul Chan — A Lawless Proposition: By using the compositional struggle between what the artist wants and what the material is willing to be as the basis and principle for aesthetic development, art begins to follow another way. Over time, this internal tension transforms both the artist in mind and the matter at hand; it pushes and pulls the work toward becoming something neither fully intentional nor completely accidental. And yet by ending up being what it isn’t supposed to be, a work becomes something more.
Jalal Toufic — The Resurrected Brother of Mary and Martha: A Human Who Lived then Died!: To be fully alive and then die physically, a state most people mistakenly view as being ours in general, a given, is actually an exceptional state. What would it take to achieve what we assume our condition to be?
Sotirios Bahtsetzis — The Time That Remains, Part II: How to Repeat the Avant-Garde: Realizing this avant-garde sensibility consists of a change of perspective within given conditions, not necessarily in the change of the conditions. It opposes the passive nihilism of society’s death drive, and the fundamental tendency of the symbolic order to perpetuate the same through continual displacement. In doing so it contests the basic conceits of linear time: the fetishization of history, mythologies that celebrate novelty and dynamic change, and the overriding imperative toward modernization.