Path to the Possible

New collectively produced book on squatting released

*Squatting in Europe: Radical Spaces, Urban Struggles*
Edited by the Squatting Europe Kollective

9781570272578

Squatting offers a radical but simple solution to the crises of housing,
homelessness, and the lack of social space that mark contemporary
society: occupying empty buildings and rebuilding lives and communities
in the process. Squatting has a long and complex history, interwoven
with the changing and contested nature of urban politics over the last
forty years.

Squatting in Europe aims to move beyond the conventional understandings
of squatting, investigating its history in Europe over the past four
decades. Historical comparisons and analysis blend together in these
inquiries into squatting in the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, France,
Germany and England. In it members of SqEK (Squatting Europe Kollective)
explore the diverse, radical, and often controversial nature of
squatting as a form of militant research and self-managed knowledge
production.

Essays by Miguel Martínez…

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Path to the Possible

I just re-read Michael Hardt’s introduction to the book Radical Thought in Italy.  Both the piece and the book are fantastic and recommended.  But what struck me this time was the beautiful job Hardt does of articulating the how the Italians tend toward a radical politics that focuses its attention not on the powers that be (what they often call constituted power), but rather on our own power (constituent power).  In autonomism this took the form, for example, of Tronti’s point that if all value is produced by labor (this is Marx), then the proletariat must be the leading class in society, the class whose activity shapes society.  The bourgeoisie, it follows, is thus continuously reacting to and trying to catch up to the action of the workers.  For the Italians, “the tasks of political theory,” while they do “involve the analyses of the forms of domination and exploitation…

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Brown Redux: Not So Bad!

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I had some disagreements with Wendy Brown based on reading the excerpt from her interview that Joshua posted earlier.  I think she errs in thinking that the deep-self realm is not a realm for democracy, that democratic politics and struggle “will not be able to reach to those Foucaudian depths…of the conduct of conduct at every level…”, and so Foucault’s or D&G’s explorations there are of no use for democracy.  I think we very much ] need to figure out how care of the self is linked to (or the same as) care of the community, how democracy is a personal struggle to remake oneself just as much as it is a collective struggle to remake ourselves…

But in the longer interview she also has some nice points that I very much agree with.  She takes the right position on the question of democracy: we should continue to struggle for a radical conception of democracy, rather than abandon it, with Jodi Dean, to the neoliberals.  Right.  And the most productive work to be done is probably, as she says, in the interval between democracy’s thin actualization in the liberal-democratic state and the promise of radical democracy.

She also thinks there is much to be gained from exploring the theoretical and political resonance between democracy and communism.  Again right.  And then she makes the important point that such resonance is easier to achieve at a small scale (e.g. worker-run factories) than at the national or global scale.  But that does not mean that we must–like Zizek, Harvey, and so many others–accept that we need a violent state to manage those larger political communities.  Rather we must work on the problem of how to think and realize communist and radical-democratic forms of life at larger scales.  Here I think Gene’s concept of free-market communism is one potentially promising avenue for further exploration, as is H&N’s thinking through the ongoing production of an emerging common and global multitude…

E-mail Subscribe

Hi all,

Quick announcement.  I added a “Follow Blog Via Email” link on the right sidebar.  When you click the “follow” button, it will send you an email whenever there is a new post.  Also, when you click the “follow” button, the dialog will change to “You are following this blog”.  You can then click “manage,” and then in the list that appears click “edit” next to Nomad Scholarship, and there you can ask it to send you an email whenever there are comments too.  That way you can keep track effectively of both posts and comments via email, if you want…

More Dangerous Thinkers, Please

GrilledCheese2

It seems to me there is a developing trend in political theory/radical studies that I would want to identify as broadly pragmatist.  It tends to like Dewey, it tends to be almost entirely negative in its critical account of other thought, and what positive visions it does offer tend to be very limited in their political ambition. The structure of the typical sentence seems to be something like: “neither extreme conservative strawperson x or extreme radical strawperson y, but rather my own moderate, reasonable, unassuming option z” (q.v. Mazzarella, p. 727).  Z of course avoids the terrible old ways of x, but it also avoids the supposed starry-eyed extremism of y, or whatever the most au currant radical theory is.  The author, in this tradition, takes absolutely no risks.  S/he critiques strawpersons, or the most extreme bits of a theory, the reader passively agrees, and then the author charts out an unobjectionable middle ground that seems pleasant and mild. The author can only seem smart, thoughtful, rigorous, and their ideas are almost entirely insulated from critique.

I don’t like this approach really at all.  I certainly don’t like the strawperson stuff, which usually is just a condemnation of an argument the theorist-of-the-moment never made anyway.  And I don’t find anything delicious in the mild–or really, bland–alternatives on offer.  The modern pragmatists, just for example, manage to write entire tracts without ever saying anything explicitly about (let alone decrying) capitalism or class domination.  (Of course there are improvements to be made to the class-reductionism of so much Marxism, but avoiding the entire issue is no solution–or rather, it is a pro-capitalist solution).

Similarly with Mazzarella.  I’ll take H&N’s challenge to continually find ways to flee structures of representation and institutionalization, thank you very much, rather than Mazzarella’s undefended acceptance of those structues as “fundamental” (p. 722) and subsequent agenda to merely add to “the richness of our investment in them” (p. 727).

What is this trend away from dangerous, tightrope-walking thinkers (whether they be Nietzsche or Kant) and toward safe, mild-mannered ones (like Dewey or Habermas)?  Better I think to be confronted with the thrilling challenge of Kant’s argument, and then decide what to do with it, rather than be drugged by someone like Mazzarella’s unobjectionable middle ground.

Harvey (arrgghh!) and Holland (phew!)

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OK, I am able to breathe a little easier after reading the Holland piece.  The Harvey chapters had me wanting to give up on the left.

The Harvey chapter on Occupy Wall Street is 99% ressentiment. He rails obsessively against the powers that be. They are evil, and we must resist. He gives no attention to what we are, what we are capable of, what kind of potentials the 99% has. In the chapter it seems we can only be good by negation, because we are not the 1%, and the 1% is evil. This is precisely the kind of thinking Nietzsche decries in Beyond Good and Evil because, he says, it blinds us to our own powers.

Harvey characterizes people in Occupy as gathering together to talk about…the powers that be, about what the 1% is doing and how we can oppose them (p. 161). He says those that gathered wanted their opinions heard and their needs attended to (p. 162). He entirely misses the unique power of the movement: in Egypt, in Spain, in Greece, and also in NYC. The key was that people gathered not only to speak to, make demands on, and oppose the 1% (many did, to be sure), they also gathered to encounter each other.  Holland does well to emphasize the ways participants made real an alternative democratic society, though food provision, libraries, and general assemblies. So many participants did not come to make demands on the liberal-democratic state, because they knew, as Holland puts it, that the system was hopelessly corrupt (or, as the Spanish put it, que se vayan todos, (echoing the Argentinians ten years before)). So many came instead to ask each other what alternative they wanted to begin building together. The Greeks said this loud and clear in the First Declaration of the assembly in Syntagma:

For a long time decisions have been made for us, without consulting us. We…have come to Syntagma Square… because we know that the solutions to our problems can only be provided by us. We call all residents of Athens…and all of society to fill the public squares and to take their lives into their own hands.  In these public squares we will shape our claims and our demands together.

I guess we can’t give Holland too much credit for stressing this.  It was crystal clear and hard to miss.  How Harvey fails to see it is a mystery.  Ostrich-like.

But the thing I like most about the Holland is what I think D&G are particularly vital for now, what H&N pick up to a degree and what Virno’s idea of exodus gets at very well: that we absolutely must turn toward ourselves now.  We must wean ourselves from our obsession with the apparatuses of capture and their endless power to contain us.  We must leave off rubbing ourselves raw against the bars of our cage.  We must begin paying far more attention to what we can do, to the kinds of worlds we can make on our own, that we are already making on our own.  We must withdraw from capitalism, from the state, in a thoughtful and critical manner (lodge yourself on the strata, learn them, and then experiment with escapes), and we must, at the same time, begin-and-continue building the other worlds we want instead.  These other worlds must spread by contagion, as in Holland, or as I like to say, with Spinoza and Calvino, they must grow and spread according to their own internal drives.  Withdraw-and-create; exodus-and-invention.  Importantly, and true to D&G, I think, Holland hopes for a tipping point beyond which capital and the state begin to wither away because they are no longer necessary.  I share this hope, and I am currently trying to argue that this vision is something D&G offer that Ranciere doesn’t, despite the many strengths of the latter.

Speaking of spreading, though, I would push back on Holland on at least one point that I think is not insignificant.  He implies in several places that OWS was somehow a starting point from which similar movements spread.  That is true within the States perhaps, but I think it is important to remember that OWS was a very late comer in a wave of such democratic desire that washed across the world.  Tunisia, Egypt, and other Arab countries; Greece and Spain; Israel; Chile; all were at a full boil while NYC looked on.  The Spanish (May) had been loudly pleading with the US for months to join their revolution when OWS finally got off the ground (September).  I remember thinking, that September, that finally something had begun in the US (though I wrongly expected it not to amount to anything).  It is very important not to narrate the Greeks, Spanish, Egyptians, Tunisians, etc. into the background.  They were the first, the loudest, the most creative, and the best.  They faced the more dire political and economic situations.  They deserve pride of place in the narrative about the democratic uprisings of 2010 and ff.  OWS should be celebrated energetically, but it should also, to an extent, always stand humbly in the shadow of the other extraordinary movements that came first.  Sometimes America is last and least.