Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Plea: Colleagues, Come to City Hall at 5pm

Occupy Philadelphia faces eviction tonight. Its permit expires at 5:00pm. Most likely, police enforcement of the eviction will take place after 11:00pm. Many Occupiers plan to stay there, to remain in the commons that their co-presence produces. You should join them—us, I mean.

I make this request in particular to those of you who cannot stand behind the politics that Occupy seems to endorse—who do not feel represented by Occupy, who do not feel as if the issues that motivate you are represented by Occupy. At this moment, the politics of Occupy—its varied ideologies, desires, and aims—are less important than the question of the political itself. And it is in the name of fidelity to the political, of a receptivity to a futurity that has been breached but might be closed, that I ask you to come to City Hall tonight.

Most of us cannot recall a time at which the private has not enclosed, diminished, and ultimately dissolved the political. Two years after I was born, a British halfwit declared, “They’re casting their problems on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.” The sociality of the political was cast as a mis-citation, a fantasy, a mystifying dream. Just individuals and families, mommy-daddy-me. Meaningful sociality was reduced to whom one fucks (heteronomatively), the relations between mommy-daddy and the human product of their fucking (making genealogy, and thus race, a substrate of neoliberal sociology), and one’s self-responsible interactions with other self-responsible actors (a subjectivity derived from normative models of market sociality). That’s it. Three ways of being social. Nothing else could fit into the epistemic coordinates of neoliberalism, and we’ve been subjectivated to take this impoverishment of being-with as being real: “And, you know, there is no such thing…” Sure we do, Marge. Neoliberal realism codes any figuration of the social that exceeds the scope of these impoverished hermeneutics as merely ideological, merely cultural, an interested mystification of the real forces at work. In so doing, it reduces real antagonisms to administrative problems.

I don’t have time to write more right now. I just want to make two claims. First: The event of the political is constituted through the advent of being-with that cannot fit into given modalities of counting the social. The political fucks up the census; it introjects an excessive modalization of subjectivity into the quantified and integral space of administered being. Second: The excessiveness of the political to the given means that it is properly speaking incalculable. It cannot be contained, reined in, or reigned over by given hermeneutics. This includes our own radical practices of reading, our own mechanisms of critique. I’ll take myself as an example. I think that much of Occupy’s discourse is bourgeois-reformist in orientation; its focus on finance capital enables Occupiers to neglect class stratification within the “99%.” But this critique is feckless (at best) and conservative (at worst) if it is not made on site—in this place where one is not not an individual, a family member, etc., but where one is also more than that in an as yet undetermined, incalculable way. Even though Occupy might seem regressive or stupid from a given position (say, my open Marxist position), we have to accept that we can’t outsmart the political, because the emergence of the political puts what makes us “smart” into question. In negative terms, the political will always seem stupid, and this is because the event it marks cannot be contained within given frames of intelligibility. We can only use our pre-given modes of knowing (say, class critique) to help attune us to the incalculable event that comes. But we can’t use our modes of knowing to stifle the event.

There is not one radically oriented academic hermeneutic that does not have a basis in a real social movement—political actions where subjects faced the state and demanded that their complaint be treated as a political problem, a failure of the polity that puts the polity itself in question. The event of the political produces new knowledges, new modalities of reading the social. As academics, we come belatedly to the political—so many owls of Minerva—and transform the political work of others into knowledge. It’s a kind of appropriation; at least, it is a kind of division of labor, a stratification of primary producers (activists) and secondary, value-adding producers (academics). Bring the knowledges you possess, submit Occupy to immanent critique—a critique that quickens, a critique that opens Occupy to its full potential—and come be a primary producer of the political knowledges that will have arrived.

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