Friday, November 4, 2011


A problem that has propelled my interest—and participation—in Occupy is the scission between the discourse it produces and the sociality it activates. The categories through which Occupy interprets itself in the media are typically the categories of power: one would believe it to be little more than a critique of finance capital and a demand for the return of a Keynesian state seeking to promote full employment. (These weak reformist demands are only radical to the extent that they are structurally not realizable.) We will miss the radical nature of Occupy if we limit ourselves to asking how effective it may be in producing reforms to the state, to finance, to capitalism in general. The new question—“What will victory for Occupy look like?”—is a trap. Asking Occupy to articulate a set of aims transcendent to itself is a means of asking Occupy to get innocuous, to fall in with official discourse before it produces a genuinely political, and even socio-ontological, event. Luckily, this event has already taken place, and it takes place everyday. We can descry a radical sociality that exceeds discourses of reformism in the repertoire of practices now common to the Occupy movement—practices that have not yet, but certainly will, find a conceptual language. The point now is to take this radical potential in hand, to begin to interpret the world from the concepts implicit in Occupy’s praxis. We need to become preoccupied with ourselves in order to limn the outline of the other world we might make.

What follows is something of an ethology, notes taken while on site. If the potentiality immanent to the movement is exorbitant to the outer world it critiques, we need to get a read on this potentiality, to see what we ourselves are doing in our average everyday interactions at City Hall. This is one attempt to build a set of keywords by which we might see the social logic implicit in Occupy’s modality of dwelling.



Oct. 6. Drumbeats, then, and subtle movements as I, we, stand around. A carnival atmosphere, as if the future we would like to make is already present. And in many ways it is: there is something of a Sunday taking place here as we gather. No one is working; rather, we are coordinating ourselves around a single site, sharing space, fashioning a new being in common. The tragedy inheres here: a communist sociality advenes at City Hall, enabling the critique of capitalism we put forth, but this advent of the commons seeks its own enfolding into non-revolutionary time. As if the truth of Sunday consisted in looking forward to Monday. But one should ignore the reformist discourse—more jobs, regulated Wall Street, and so on. One should instead listen to the drums and participate in this non-purposive sociality. Really, one cannot help but do so, for the laughter and shouting and clapping touch one, and one claps in response. The circulation of this affect encircles one; it figures the demos as a circle.

Affect indexes the state of the social. One is enraged, frustrated, hopeful, indifferent…But the communicability of affect means that it exceeds its indexical function (as sign) and produces events (as force). The telos of early utopian socialists—Fourier in particular—understood freedom as little more than the freeing of affect. Fourier desired the unimpeded flow of affect, passional energy linking man’s materiality to the world in common. Passions here literally make the world, which is defined as a set of energetic forces. The Fourierist phalanstery was to both prefigure this world (serving as an index of the future) and produce it (its example and sheer power forcing all to mimic its arrangements). In demarcating a site for being in common (like a phalanstery, like City Hall), a space is opened to coordinate the flow of affective intensities. Feeling makes this world; the movement is thus irreducible to slogans, cognized self-reflections—indices without force. It is for this reason that the movement’s assertion (“This is what democracy looks like”) is a failed apperception. “This is what democracy feels like” would be closer, but the dangling simile keeps the statement in the realm of the theoretical-reflective. It would be best to say: “This is democracy, and it feels.”

Feels what? The impossible “This” of the utterance, the force of its taking-place that is irreducible to indexing what-takes-place. It feels itself, gives itself to itself to be felt. But there can be no moment of reflexivity (the “this” and the “like” of the slogan assuming a phenomeno-political Subject-who-feels-and-knows). For the “this” that indexes the affectivity of democracy indexes nothing more (or less) than its spacing, and thus is striation, inadequation, and non-totality. The “this” of the slogan is an open broken space in which affect shares itself out—the kratia of the demos. It is not identical to itself, it is not like anything else: this “this” cuts open a space to let us share and play, one with another. And so, once more, drums and dance.

The origins of democracy (re)produce its telos. Democracy literally gets ahead of itself: the pulsation of affect, its sharing and intensification, intend nothing more than the extension of this intension through time. It neither begins nor ends: it performs its telos in its origination, in the cut of the “this.” And so the dialectics of the telos make no sense here. What “this” wants is to continue, but moreso—a process that entails continually extending the referent of the “this,” transforming the bare punctum into an expanding scene of circulation.

Circles, circulation, the circularity of ending at a beginning, the shape of a drum, the circles in which we sit—democracy figures itself circularly. This makes sense: I am describing the passage of non-purposive time, a social time with no transcendent aim or object that would cut a path out of the circle. (As Heidegger always claims, the difficulty is not getting out of a circle, but getting into one.) The revolutionary aim is “this”: to continue to revolve around and circulating through this aimless, auto-referential, auto-telic site. Democratic autoaffection is circulation, it affects itself as a circle, and it only desires itself. Which means others.

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