Thursday, February 14, 2013

Radical Neglect; Or, Did Dorner have an Addressee?

I stop somewhere waiting for you

We stop somewhere, waiting for one another, on the lookout for someone whom we will recognize as one of us. Sometimes we encounter one another and, in twos or threes but rarely more, read Marx or Kropotkin or whatever together. We hope and despair together about utterly fantastic things. More frequently, our encounters are fleeting: eye meets eye on a train over a copy of Tiqqun, and we share a recognition that we are less alone than we thought—a fact that only intensifies our loneliness when we disembark and head back to our jobs and wonder why we can’t spend all of our time around people with opinions on European insurrectionists. We know that there are more of us than we could know. We scan the world for signs that we are coming, and we tweet and blog in the hopes of finding one another. We hope that someone out there will have said, “I stop somewhere, I’m waiting for you,” that our address will have reached her, and that she’ll write back—leave some trace, some sign, that we’re out there. We know that most of our addresses will never find an addressee, that our writing is an unwriting, that our radicalism will never have taken root in the world. But we write—lonely and alone—within the horizon of a sublime vista of a democracy to come, one to be peopled by people like us. And so we keep writing. And reading.

We are told that Christopher Dorner was killed while hiding out from police. Sure, no doubt he was doing that, but something more, too: Looking out from his mountain cabin upon a fucked up democratic vista, Dorner had stopped somewhere, waiting for us, for we who might arrive, who might resonate to and with his manifesto. No doubt he wrote while he waited; the conflagration that consumed the cabin equally consumed an archive. The fugitive words of a fugitive that will never take root. Dorner killed to gain an audience. To secure an addressee. To become an addressor.

Dorner’s act is not an action that we—the vague we that we are, the inchoate dispersed multitude that fleetingly assembles itself in moments of ephemeral recognition—perform, or even contemplate. I don’t kill to gain an audience for my posts; I write, I leave traces, I let you, whoever you are, know that I’m waiting for you, for us, and I have faith that sometimes you will leave traces, too. I don’t kill to gain an addressee because I have access to an imagined super-addressee, the you that will have arrived, perhaps. It keeps me sane, it keeps me going, it transforms the holding pattern of my political despair into something more like a hopeful vigil, a waiting for our spectral multiplicity to materialize in the world. I want to ask: Did Dorner have access to this imaginary, to imagine his becoming-manifest in the horizon opened by a thought of a radical super-addressee? I’ll rephrase by citing some tweets from Project Cambio from February 13th (@ProjectCambio): “Sad that all these internet radicals are throwing #Dorner to the wolves for his lack of impeccable radical politics.” “Would you have let #Dorner into your radical spaces? Would you have shown #solidarity with a confused and angry ex-cop?” “#Dorner most likely had ZERO access to space to discuss any of the subjects that radicals hold so dear.” The “spaces” cited by Project Cambio are not simply material spaces—bookstores and infoshops, kitchens or apartments. These “spaces” include the imaginative spaces and spacings of our utterances and addresses. Is the imagined ambit of our address wide enough—perhaps even Whitman-esque enough—to have included Dorner as a possible addressee? Would Dorner ever have resonated to a radical text as if it were addressed to him, to him in his particularity? Prior to killing cops, could Dorner have imagined himself as occupying a position as and within the inchoate and dispersed “we” that we—you, me, and everyone we do not yet know—inhabit when we try to become manifest to one another?

I don’t think so. And that’s the lesson that we need to take from the brief public life of Christopher Dorner. Those radicals that aren’t critiquing non-radical aspects of Dorner’s politics applaud his burst of violence with infantile Tiqqun-lite phrases. I’m not against political violence at all, but we need to question the conditions of possibility that made Dorner’s solitary and isolated acts of violence necessary. On one hand, sure, Dorner’s violence testifies to the shrinking space of political legibility accorded to people (and certainly black men in LA) in a neoliberal world. In brief, neoliberal governance names the organization of a social formation wherein the speech of most can never become publically meaningful action. I call it neglect (etymologically, “to not read”): we write and speak knowing that our words will do nothing, that know one is reading them. No institutional mechanisms exist to make our speech acts felicitous. In such conditions, one’s speech only becomes efficacious through contingency or violence; violence becomes a perfectly rational mode of acceding to the airy world of communicative rationality. Dorner knew this; he realized it through his engagement with the LAPD. And so Dorner killed to gain an addressee, to gain a hearing, to become manifest in a world where the words of most do not come to light, where they have no phenomenality, where they are always already ash and cinders.

But, on the other hand, Dorner’s violence testifies to the non-availability of alternative sources of political legibility and alternative modalities of generating meaningful speech. It might be that you, me, and everyone that we do not yet know do not use violence to produce an addressee because we know that there are alternative sites of address, other forms and sources of attention to solicit. We stop somewhere, we wait for one another, and sometimes we connect in university reading groups and in infoshops, in groups writing letters to prisoners and in marches. We are imaginable to one another as an other world, and it’s this imaginary that allows us, jaunty and happy, to ironize the dominant as a source of political legibility, to say Fuck the State, Fuck Capitalism, Fuck the Police. I could be wrong, perhaps I can’t see the other words he inhabited, but I don’t think that Dorner understood himself as living in a world where some waited—even if he did not know them, even if he could not name them—to receive and resonate with his words. We need to ask why. Maybe our addresses can’t gain any traction in the lifeworlds of someone like Dorner, a former cop/naval officer invested in a certain notion of honor. Maybe our addresses never reached him, blocked off by the lines of race, class, and habitus. Maybe our addresses did reach him, but not in a meaningful genre of address. Maybe they reached him and he became resonant with them and he showed up, say, to Occupy, but we were not prepared to receive him; perhaps we turned him away, we said that we wouldn’t wait for him. And, finally, maybe our addresses did reach him and he just didn’t give a fuck about us, whoever we are, whatever we think we’re doing. The fact is, though, that Dorner’s addresses would not have reached us had he not killed. And when the conditions of possibility for legibility within a radical world are identical to the conditions of possibility for legibility within a neoliberal public, well—we’re fucked, people. We need to find a way to find the words not obviously intended for us, to encounter genres and lifeworlds that don’t come packaged in some bullshit Semiotext(e) “intervention,” that aren’t addressed to the U.S.’s radical milieu. We need a radical hermeneutics, one that always reads for whom it fails to read, and in this fashion incorporate into our imagined scenes of address those subjects anxiously bereft of an addressee. We need to stop and wait and see who comes and be prepared to be surprised by who appears.

This isn’t simply a liberal bid for inclusion. To the contrary: Redressing neglect is the minimal demand that we can make of radical politics. Indeed, proliferating sites of political legibility is the positive, constructive work of anarchy. We undertake the negative labor of anarchy—fucking up the “state,” which is nothing more than a catachresis for any form of hierarchized sociality—in order to free up the possibility of proliferating worlds. CLR James excelled at this, at finding new genres to transform the desperate lifeworlds of workers, sharecroppers, colonial peoples into something glowing with political import. The radical possibilities of Occupy inhered in its formation of a space wherein the quotidian, desperate worlds of people could come into contact, wherein complaint—about banks, about debt, about the racism and sexism of the movement itself—could become politically legible speech. At encampments we stopped and waited for one another…and waited and waited, and the speeches got too long, yes, and the GAs became shit-shows, yes, but for a while we waited and listened and, addressed and addressing, we fell into a new world of care. It’s indeed surprising that, after the police destroyed our world, there have not been more Dorners, more subjects craving to feel once more the glow of another’s attention. They are no doubt out there, speaking in genres and idioms and modes of address that we do not know we don’t know. We desperately need to proliferate sites of address for these missives, to incorporate neglected subjects into our not-yet-inclusive democratic vistas.

Dorner stopped and waited. Perhaps he had waited before—not in cabins, no, but in the knowledge that his political speech had meant nothing to the LAPD, in the loneliness of governed urban space, in the racialized castle of his skin. Back then, Dorner did not know that we were waiting for him. We didn’t, either. As Dorner lammed it, as Dorner hid in his cabin, I like to think that he was writing, that he was preparing a new text to manifest himself. This time, though, he wrote knowing full well that his text had an addressee, that people stopped and waited for his words. And did we not all stop and wait as the helicopters circled the cabin, as the pigs closed in, as they burned the cabin down? Archived in the ash, archived as ash, are the only words Dorner wrote with the certitude that someone would read them. Too late, we waited for his words to arrive. Missing him in one place, it remains for us to search another.

To all of you who will have read this address—and, above all, to you whom I will have always neglected to intend.


Tim Fong said...

You can't reach someone like Dorner because your writing is overly complex, opaque and completely orthogonal to the way of the warrior. And I think you know this. The very fact that you write "[m]aybe our addresses can’t gain any traction in the lifeworlds of someone like Dorner, a former cop/naval officer invested in a certain notion of honor." You may not like such things. You may think that personal honor is a joke, or unsophisticated, or "not leftist" or whatever snarky term of approbation you prefer. But the fact is that successful leftist revolutionaries, or even leftist labor organizers historically depended on things like personal relationships and yes, debts of honor, if they are going to prevail when the full forces of the state and oligarchy are deployed against them.

I met people like you at Occupy, English and film professors and graduate students full of themselves, with their skills at close reading and deconstruction. They donned some black clothing and shitkicker boots, yelled out "solidarity," and "security culture" and smashed shit. It didn't mean they knew the first thing about how to know when they were being peeped out by plainclothes cops while waiting to pay a bail bondsman. It didn't mean they knew jack shit about how to confront the riot police and win, when they didn't have 40,000 people backing them up. It didn't mean they knew anything about organizing broke-ass people of color who have the police on them every day. Oh no.

The skill set of hermeneutics is not the same as applying strategy and tactics. One is about constructing an argument that will be plausible to your peers. The other is about prevailing in struggles of life and death, where the only judge is the sharp edge of reality cutting you down in your tracks if you fuck up.

Chris Taylor said...

I think that you're kind of writing past me, Tim--or, more accurately, writing with me, but our registers are different to the point that they seem antagonistic. In terms of "honor," for instance: my point was precisely that to take such terms as "a joke, or unsophisticated, or 'not leftist'" is to foreclose the revolutionary possibilities that might be embedded in such terms. I'm after a reading practice that makes such possibilities visible. A hermeneutic. No doubt such a reading practice isn't the same thing as a tactic for confronting riot police (did I suggest that? I didn't mean to), but I hardly think that interpretations of the social are useless for social struggle. And, unless you think the work of politics can only begin after a lobotomy, you know that, too. Political activity necessitates careful attention--a close reading of a given distribution of forces, a careful interpretation of life circumstances of those whom we meet. The holier-than-thou gesture to the field of practice is really too much when we consider that your "warrior" Dorner was himself invested in offering an interpretation of his social world. At the very least, Dorner saw thinking, interpreting, writing as a technology of political practice. So, let's can the obvious professor-bashing shite and try thinking more productively about how we can draw together varied and discontinuous idioms of interpreting our worlds.