The Black Bloc Which Was Not: Comments in the lead up to the Hamburg G20

the bride wore black 2Is she be a member of the black bloc?

In the 1 July copy of the German newspaper Taz one finds the statements of two leftist organizations – Campact and Interventionistische Linke  – each of which expresses their desire to be distanced from anything seen as ‘criminal’, and especially anything that can be associated with the black block. In the words of one Interventionistische Linke representative: ‘We want a colorful event. [But] Black is too colourful.’ A scene such as this seems to be something of a tradition within the German (reformist) left and rehearses a similar situation when, during the 1988 convention of the World Bank and IMF in Berlin, the Greens sought out discussions with world leaders while the Autonomen rejected any type of cooperation/reformism. Unlike today, one opens the September 1988 issue of Der Spiegel with a different tone being expressed regarding the arrival of world financial leaders to the capital: “While the Greens met to discuss alternatives to the existing world financial system…the Autonomen declined to cooperate with reformists vis-à-vis the IMF. Der Spiegel quoted one radical as saying: “A death machine can only be combated.” Just as it was the case for this ‘radical’ in 1988 so too is it the case for those of us in Hamburg. In light of all the media attention leading up to the G20 summit, all one can really gather from these reports is the anticipation of any agreement between the Merkel-Macron alliance and Trump, and the arrival of the ‘black block’ and their riots. However it must be said: against the temptation of treating riots as something that detracts from the legitimate form of peaceful protest, or as something doomed from the start due to a perceived limitation inherent to the riot-form, Hamburg should receive the G20 and its affiliates in nothing but riotous fashion. As Joshua Clover has helpfully shown in his study on the historical relation between the riot and the strike, riots are a mode of struggle that simultaneously address themselves to police, the state, and capital. That is to say, riots are not simply ephemeral and spontaneous expressions of discontent but are ‘a mode of survival that seeks to resolve the crisis of the reproduction of labor within the spheres of circulation and consumption.’ To détourn Stuart Hall’s formulation: riots are a mode through which class struggle is lived.

Regarding the police, however, riots respond to the reality of the function of policing understood as ensuring the security of an economic system that was born from, and needs to maintain, the subjugation of people of color, the poor, queers, women, migrants, and refugees. That is, the job of the police isn’t to ‘protect and serve’, or to help any citizen whatsoever when they are in danger, but rather, to secure, defend, and maintain lucrative economic conditions at the national level for value production, as well as enforcing the illegality of subsistence outside the legally acceptable market of waged-labour. Again, it is this defense of capital and criminalization of those who resist becoming part of surplus populations that is being encountered once more in Hamburg. And as if to corroborate this claim of the police’s inherent role in the protection of capital, Timo Zell, a spokesman for the Hamburg police helpfully puts to rest any remaining doubts: this year’s G20 will be “the biggest operation in the history of Hamburg’s police.” It is because riots are a form of struggle that is equally anti-state, anti-police, and anti-capitalist, that the particular combination of police and capital at this week’s G20 summit should be nothing short of a riotous affair.

So if riots should break out, don’t be fooled into thinking that these are the problematic ‘far left elements’ of this week of protests; that there has ever been such a thing as a ‘good’, as opposed to a ‘bad’, demonstrator. It is the State that divides the masses between the good-citizen and bad-criminal, especially since it is with these so-called ‘bad’ and ‘criminal’ elements that anti-police and anti-state struggles are most effective. And, in fact, there has never been such a thing as a good protester as opposed to a bad one, just as there has never been such a thing as a good cop as opposed to a bad cop: in the confrontation with 20 world leaders there are only those who are for and against the G20’s raison d’état (securing the existence and relative stability of global capital); there are only those who aim to preserve this world and those who want nothing short of bringing about its swift end. Even though it was the Invisible Committee who recognized the emerging consensus among various leftist currents regarding slogans such as ACAB or tactics such as riots, it is them who have also made recent attempts to reiterate the need for bringing about an end to this world with other slogans such as tout le monde déteste la police. While this slogan in English would read ‘everyone hates the police’, we find that a more literal translation is appropriate: the whole world hates the police.

The whole world hates the police because the police are the ones who, anywhere and everywhere, ensure the ‘stability of the global economy’, who call for ‘peaceful and reasonable protest’, and who even claim that hosting the G20 in a big city shows the world Germany’s celebration of liberal rights despite the fact that the police have built detention centres and prisons specifically for those arrested during the protests and at the camps. If police officers can prepare spaces of confinement for those who exercise their state sanctioned ‘rights’ (the right to voice dissent through public assembly being the most relevant liberty in question vis-à-vis Hamburg) it is only because the kind of society afforded by Capital and its nation-states is one where the State claims to act as the guarantor of a set of universal rights while simultaneously arresting its citizens when the exercise of these rights conflict with the interests of the State. Thus, what should be obvious by now is the fact that everyone on the streets of Hamburg are all potential criminals from the point of view of the police, the state, and of capital. It is for this reason that we should not be duped by a discourse on the ‘good’ as opposed to ‘bad’ elements of the demonstration, since everyone is potentially already one of the ‘bad ones.’ And what of the reports predicting the biggest black bloc in history? Surely those individuals who are only recognizable by their all black, masked up, attire would qualify as the rogue elements of civilized protest? For us, however, it would be better to ask the following: is there really such a thing as this so-called ‘black bloc’ that we hear of so often and have allegedly witnessed on our computer screens? We ask this for the simple reason that, to this day, we are not certain if we have ever seen a black bloc.

‘THE BLACK BLOC WILL NEVER HAVE BEEN IN HAMBURG’

black bloc vending machines (Marais)Perhaps this could be the black block?

Already in 2007, the ready-made artist Claire Fontaine identified why we feel the need to inquire into the existence or non-existence of this thing called black bloc. As Fontaine writes, ‘the black bloc is you, when you stop believing in it.’ And what led Fontaine to draw such a conclusion about this thing we hear so often about are the very reasons that allow us to say, in good faith, that we haven’t seen a black bloc. For us as well as Fontaine, the black bloc is defined as ‘that which exists only insofar as everyone stops believing in its existence’ because, today, it seems one can encounter the black bloc everywhere one goes. This includes everything from the evening news (“4 February 1007, on the 8 o’clock news I see what appears to be a male figure…throwing stones in a night lit by flames. He is wearing a very elegant Dolce & Gabbana bomber-jacket with a big silver D&G on the back and an immaculate white ski-mask”) to mundane yet unexpected places such as one boutique brand name (as pictured above) in the Palais de Tokyo (“While my eyes follow the footsteps of customers going to the Black Bloc boutique at the entrance to the Palais de Tokyo…Agamben’s words about the souls in Limbo automatically pops into my head: ‘like letters without addressees…they remained without destiny”). In other words, the black bloc exists insofar as we understand that it is a word without image, a word that can be tied to any number of images and regardless of whether the images we associate with this term contradict the very things it comes to signify. Thus, if it is to be anything, the black bloc is that term that exists without an image:

…giving a place like that a name that evokes transgression or even the destruction of merchandise, while here we are selling our merchandise at high prices and we’re loving it. Or maybe the black bloc sounded a bit like the opposite of the white cube, or the idea of a block bloc is suggestive, martial, what do I know?…It’s not just appearances one shouldn’t trust, one shouldn’t trust words either. Or more specifically, the link we imagine exists between words and images…For example, we believe we’ve found the illustration of this concept in photographs of marching people dressed in black, black bloc is a word with an image. The term black bloc alludes to a manifestation of desire for collective opacity, a will not to appear and to materialise affects that are increasingly hard to take. The black bloc is not a visual object, it’s an object of desire. (‘Black bloc’, 18)

Thus it is not a question of what black bloc really means and rather a question of subjective utterance: who is it that speaks about a so-called black bloc, and by doing so conjures up a correlating image to give meaning to their discourse? And for Fontaine, it is the State, more often than not, that has a vested interest in constructing the political significance of this term by relating word to image:

Instead let’s ask what ‘this is the black bloc’ means? Who says that? Wouldn’t that be a definition like an imaged filmed from a window, like the one from the 8 o’clock news…a definition shot from above, taken from the viewpoint of a watchtower, from some panopticon? What we are describing is always a block of ant-men, cockroach-men, a black block, which is black like the earth because it is seen from afar. But the carabinieri, they are also a black bloc. Baudelaire said that his contemporaries dressed in dark clothes that no painter enjoyed depicting, were an army of undertakers, that they were all celebrating some funeral. Enamoured undertakers, revolutionary undertakers. (‘Black bloc’, 20)

Just as we shouldn’t be fooled by the State’s discourse on ‘riots’ and its participants from the ‘hardcore fringe of the left’, we shouldn’t be duped into the State’s paranoia surrounding the arrival of the black bloc as well; especially since it is the State that has constructed what this term has come to be known as in the popular imagination. That is, the ‘black bloc’ that we have come to know through news reports and media outlets are the images of window smashers characterized as rogue individuals acting opportunistically in the midst of the majority of good, peaceful, law abiding citizens. And, according to the State, it is these individuals that come to stand in for what it once meant to dress in all black. If this is so, then what it means to dress in all black, to wear masks, to de-arrest friends and fight to ensure their safety, what it means to engage in our mutual defense and a collective attack against the various ways this world does violence to us, means that these modes of composition are not the black bloc. It means that this thing we do with each other in the night where all demonstrators look alike isn’t and never was the black blocToday, then, it would be better to say that the one’s who arrive in Hamburg dressed in all black and take to the streets to protect their friends and comrades, that they too are not the black bloc. And if these actions and images are not the black bloc, then, we would do well to recognize the fact that, perhaps, the black bloc will never have been in Hamburg at all. So, when you read some article about the black bloc at this weeks G20 summit, or when you overhear strangers talking about masked up hooligans destroying the city, or when you see images taken by helicopter of far away bodies shown to be causing chaos in the streets, remember that you are hearing about something other than what dressing in all black actually meant; and particularly what it meant not for the ‘black bloc’ but for what, at one time, went by another name:

On the other hand, schwarze Block means something, it roots us in a history of resistance bound with the two 20th century Germany’s […] I could tell you that schwarze Block was a tactical form, that it was a means of preventing the police from identifying and isolation who committed what gesture during a riot. I could tell you that dressing in black meant: we are all comrades, we are all in solidarity, we are all alike, and this equality liberates us from the responsibility of accepting a fault we do not deserve; the fault of being poor in a capitalist country, the fault of being anti-fascist in the fatherland of Nazism, the fault of being libertarian in a repressive country. That it meant: nobody deserves to be punished for these reasons, and since you are attacking us we are forced to protect ourselves from violence when we march in the streets. Because war, capitalism, labour regulations, prisons, psychiatric hospitals, those things are not violent, however you see those of us who want to freely live our homosexuality, the refusal to found a family, collective life and abolition of property as the violent ones. So, if you want to arrest me instead of my comrade just because we are wearing the same clothing, go ahead, I accept that, I don’t deserve to be punished because he doesn’t deserve it either… I could go on like this, and even provide you with more specifics, by supplementing it with the history of demonstrations, of victories, with dates to back it all up and everything, like the time a band was playing around the rioters in the deserted streets, or the time when the police took off running… I could go on for pages and pages, but that’s not the issue here. All this isn’t the black bloc. (‘Black Bloc’, 19-20)

hafenstrasse 1987 hamburg
the black bloc is you, when you stop believing in it.

ON DESTROYING WHAT DESTROYS YOU: Hostis interviews Thomas Nail

'Close The Detention Centers!' - Sans Papiers Image

An interview with Thomas Nail. For original piece click here.

Hostis: One may see the aims of Hostis and feel a tinge of moral discomfort when it begins to ask questions regarding the status of migrants, of refugees, and of exiles [1], if only for the very reason that there remains some commitment on our part to the idea that to be content with a politics of recognition and a strategy of representation perpetuates the illusion of emancipation when all that can be achieved is Statist inclusion. In other words, once recognition as political strategy is exhausted, the very people who are indexed by this representation are left wanting. In this same vein, then, we might say that the question of representation, recognition, and the figure of the migrant forces us to go one step furtherto say that “the real content of the demand ‘citizenship papers for all!’ could also be formulated as: everyone must have citizenship papers so that we can all burn them.”[2] How does your concept of “migrant cosmopolitanism deal with the potential merits and many shortcomings of this exhaustive and truncated application of Statist inclusion?

Thomas Nail: Historically, there have been numerous figures of the migrant. For example, the nomad, the barbarian, the vagabond, and the proletariat are four major kinds of migratory figures. For me, the figure of the migrant is not a class or identity; it is a vector (a position in motion). As such, anyone can move into and out of it as territorial, political, juridical, and economic factors change. This position is one defined by the primacy of movement and can be formulated in the following way: the figure of the migrant is the political figure who is socially expelled or dispossessed as a result, or as the cause, of their mobility. The migrant is the collective name for all the political figures in history who have been territorially, politically, juridically, and economically displaced as a condition of the social expansion of power.

Migrants are the true movers of history and political transformation, but this does not mean their movements are immune from cooptation by states, capital, or other forms of expulsion. In fact, it is their captured motion that is the very condition of social power in the first place (slavery, serfdom, waged labor, and so on). In this sense I think it is too simplistic to say that all of their movements are either antistate or reformist, in part because the difference between reformist acts and revolutionary acts is not an essential or formal one, it is a contingent and material one. An act is revolutionary when it results in revolution. Burning passports may or may not be revolutionary; it depends on the collective effects.

However, what is interesting to me about the figure of the migrant is that it has produced some pretty incredible collective effects that are completely outside territorial, statist, juridical, and capitalist circuits of social motion (slave and maroon societies, vagabond collectives, workers communes, and so on). If we want to think seriously about the possibilities of some kind of social organization distinct from the reactionary forces of territorial nation-states and capitalism, then we should start with those historically invented by migrants. Cosmopolitanism is the name often taken by the reactionary forces of states toward “including” migrants. This is not the worst thing that could happen, but it also does not accurately describe the tendency of what I am calling “migrant cosmopolitanism” to create nonexpulsive social structures outside such structures of representation.

H: Do you see “migrant cosmopolitanism as something distinct from more reformist and liberal notions of seeking the inclusion of, and the granting of rights to undocumented persons? The occupation of the Saint Bernard church, which you have thought a lot about and which lasted from June 28 to August 23, 1996, strikes one as being something more than a politics of recognition. You also mention the No One Is Illegal migrant justice group based in Toronto as embodying the subversive and more radical aspects of the struggles around immigration, political refugees, and exiles. Obviously the tenacity of these struggles came from their level of self-organization and their ability to gain various forms of popular support, both materially and symbolically. What is it about these examples of migrant struggles that point beyond the shortcomings of a type of liberal approach to piecemeal reformism?

TN: What is so exciting to me about these movements is that they are not just asking for rights, they are demanding the abolition of citizenship altogether in a very specific way: by creating autonomous communities open to anyone regardless of their status. The slogan “Status for All” can be interpreted in two ways: “Everyone who lives here should have legal status within the juridical nation-state” or “If everyone has status, no one has status.” The latter is consistent with No One is Illegal’s demand for the abolition of nation-states and borders. Universal status undermines the territorial and national aspects of the state, and therefore undermines the state tout court. I have written elsewhere about the details of their Solidarity City campaign in Toronto.[3] The aim of this campaign is to bypass the state altogether and organize migrants, social service providers, and allies into mutually supportive relations, regardless of status. Another example I have written about in Returning to Revolution is the Zapatistas.[4] The Zapatistas are indigenous people in Mexico expelled from their land. As migrants in their own country, they have decided to not simply demand rights from the state or migrate to the United States, but to build autonomous communes with their own nonexpulsive social structure.

H: Between 2008-2010 there was some publicity around the notion of migrant struggles taking up the idea of “demanding the right to stay home.”[5] This idea of trying to force a situation on the State where migrants don’t have to leave, don’t have to live the vicissitudes of migration itself also strikes us as something of interest, primarily for two reasons. First, the demand is situated in terms of an initial refusal to migrate, the demand to not be forced to live the life and fate of migrants moving from the global south to the global north; and second, because this initial refusal also refuses what capitalism has increasingly gained ahold of, namely, public imagination and a people’s way of investing and/or desiring a certain future. As Guattari said, “In my view, this huge factory, this mighty capitalistic machine also produces what happens to us when we dream, when we daydream, when we fantasize, when we fall in love, and so on.”[6] So this initial refusal of being forced into the life of a migrant also acts as a refusal of investing in a future that coincides with whatever capitalism codes and reformulates as a desirable life for everyonemoving to a Western country, living a suburban lifestyle, replicating the heteronormative narratives found in Hollywood/Blockbuster cinema in one’s own personal life, or what have you. Simply put, this “demand for the right to stay home fights at the level of “forms-of-life, and not simply at the level of Statist recognition of certain rights. What, if anything, has your work on these issues helped you clarify for yourself and others regarding this difference between struggling for State inclusion versus struggling for a ‘form-of-life’? Or do you perhaps find this distinction unhelpful, outdated, conceptually ineffective, and so on?

TN: This is a great example and I deal with it at more length in The Figure of the Migrant.[7] But in short, let me make two points. First, the “right to stay home” is a migrant movement and not the rejection of migration. Most folks involved in this movement are people who have already been expelled from their homes at one point or another. “The right to stay home” could just as easily be called “the right to return home” since most are already migrants. Take for example the millions of Mexican migrants in the United States who would much rather be back home in Mexico with their families. Or think of the millions of indigenous people around the world who are being expelled from their land by the capitalist accumulation of agricultural land. Even if they are not yet territorially expelled, they are already juridically, politically, and economically expelled from their social status in order to facilitate their geographical displacement. Even if some people are allowed to stay, what does this mean if everything around them has been destroyed by mining companies, monocrop farms, hydroelectric dams, and so on. One can become a migrant even if it is only the environment that changes.

Second, the idea of a migrant social movement around the right to stay or return home is a very old one. This strategy was the invention of the ancient figure of the migrant: the barbarian. The ancient world (Sumer, Greece, Egypt, Rome) is absolutely filled with slave revolts by captured barbarians, only a fraction of which were recorded in any detail, unfortunately. The primary demand of almost all of these revolts was the same: to return home or find a new home. In fact, this is the etymological meaning of the world “revolt” in the context of mass slavery: to return home. There is a fascinating reason why this becomes the dominant form of counterpower in the ancient world. For me this is less an issue of “form-of-life” than the “form-of-motion” proper to the migrant.

H: In Means Without End, Agamben presents the refugee as a figure of the threshold. Agamben’s other chosen figures are quite tragic, the most famous being Bartleby and the muselmann of the camp. This is all to say that theoretical takes of the refugee routinely associate them with the power of incapacity. We’re curious about why popular media seems all too ready to also characterize them in this way. Most high-profile news events, such as the recent migrant boat disasters in the Mediterranean, depict them as helpless. What is the form of power you find most useful in your analysis?

TN: Ah, yes. Agamben has this great line in his essay “Beyond Human Rights” that is very inspiring to me. He says, “It is even possible that, if we want to be equal to the absolutely new tasks ahead, we will have to abandon decidedly, without reservation, the fundamental concepts through which we have so far represented the subjects of the political (Man, the Citizen and its rights, but also the sovereign people, the worker, and so forth) and build our political philosophy anew starting from the one and only figure of the refugee.”[8] It’s too bad he never followed up on this claim. I agree with the spirit of his point but I disagree about the content and method of this claim. This quote is one of the reasons I wanted to write The Figure of the Migrant. Agamben is on the right track, but he does not see the refugee as only one among many other figures of the migrant as I do, and therefore as part of a much larger philosophical project focusing on political motion and migrant counterpower.

But to your question: The refugee is an ancient figure of the migrant related to the barbarian. The two emerge at roughly the same time in history in the context of widespread slave revolts. Only when there is barbarism and slavery can there be the escaped slave who seeks asylum. The refugee (from the Latin word fugere) is the one who reflees: first being forced to flee one’s homeland as a captured slave, and then having to flee one’s captor in favor of the refugium, or ἄσυλον (asulon, asylum). But the political limit of the figure of the refugee is that it does not follow the same imperative to revolt or “return home” as with barbarians like Spartacus, the Goths, and others who tried to fight their way to freedom. Instead, the refugee remains tied to the refugium. In this way the refugee was simply bound to a new master: the god, temple, and priests that managed all the first refugee asylums for escaped slaves in the ancient world.

Of course, I do not want to say that this means all refugees are helpless! My point is simply that the political figure of the refugee has a long genealogy that is still active today and tends to imply in its genealogy someone who is simply looking for a new master, a new nation-state, church, or refuge. Nation-states prefer dealing with this figure and would like to keep this historical meaning. Compare this to the refugee’s historical twin, the barbarian! The barbarian is wild, chaotic, destructive, mobile, active, powerful, and so on: the destroyer of civilization. Historically, the barbarian is to be feared and the refugee is to be pitied by the gods. On this point I am against Agamben and on the side of Nietzsche, Benjamin, Hardt, Negri, and many of the anarchists of the nineteenth century: we need a new barbarism.

H: We are quite inspired by migrants’ penchant for burning down the detention centers in which they are held captive. High-profile events include riots where inmates have taken over or destroyed large parts of facilities, as in Texas, Australia, and across the EU. Most political commentators have nothing positive to say about these events, though sometimes a litany of abusive practices come to light. Hostis is happy to celebrate these moments as a collective demonstration of the anarchist principle “destroy what destroys you.” What do you see in this insistent desire to rebel?

TN: This brings us to another figure of the migrant: the vagabond. The masterless men and women of the Middle Ages (serfs, peasants, beggars, witches, rogues, and so on) significantly developed the migrant art of rebellion in its strictly etymological sense: turning back in direct violence. Since barbarians are kidnapped from their home, their counterpower is related to their desire to return home. All violence is a means to the ends of escape. While barbarian slaves could potentially escape the limits of their empires, by the Middle Ages there were fewer and fewer places left to flee outside the jurisdiction of some lord or another. Thus, vagabonds increasingly began to directly confront authority from within, by rebelling. This is not to say that there were not also raids or revolts of some kind, or that direct violence was missing from raids and revolts in previous ages, but simply that during the Middle Ages the primary goal of most migrant counterpower was less about supplies (raiding) or radical escape (revolt) than about direct assassination, political murder, burning, revenge, and desecration from within society without the goal of leaving it. Today the figure of the vagabond persists in migrant attacks on detention centers, the burning of passports, squatting, theft of electricity, property destruction, violent battles with police, and so on.

H: To hazard a deceptively straightforward postcolonial question: what does the migrant tell us about ourselves?

TN: Well, for one, we are all becoming migrants.[9] People today relocate to greater distances more frequently than ever before in human history. While many people may not move across a regional or international border, they tend to change jobs more often, commute longer and farther to work,[10] change their residence repeatedly, and tour internationally more often.[11] Some of these phenomena are directly related to recent events, such as the impoverishment of middle classes in certain rich countries after the financial crisis of 2008, subsequent austerity cuts to social welfare programs, and rising unemployment. The subprime mortgage crisis led to the expulsion of millions of people from their homes worldwide, 9 million in the United States alone. Foreign investors and governments have acquired 540 million acres since 2006, resulting in the eviction of millions of small farmers in poor countries; and mining practices have become increasingly destructive around the world, including hydraulic fracturing and tar sands. This general increase in human mobility and expulsion is now widely recognized as a defining feature of the twenty-first century.[12] “A specter haunts the world and it is the specter of migration.”[13]

However, not all migrants are alike in their movement.[14] For some, movement offers opportunity, recreation, and profit with only a temporary expulsion. For others, movement is dangerous and constrained, and their social expulsions are much more severe and permanent. Today most people fall somewhere on this migratory spectrum between the two poles of “inconvenience” and “incapacitation.” But what all migrants on this spectrum share, at some point, is the experience that their movement results in a certain degree of expulsion from their territorial, political, juridical, or economic status. Even if the end result of migration is a relative increase in money, power, or enjoyment, the process of migration itself almost always involves an insecurity of some kind and duration: the removal of territorial ownership or access, the loss of the political right to vote or to receive social welfare, the loss of legal status to work or drive, or the financial loss associated with transportation or change in residence. For all these reasons, the migrant is becoming the political figure of our time.

Thomas Nail is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Denver and author of The Figure of the Migrant (Stanford University Press, 2015) and Returning to Revolution: Deleuze, Guattari, and Zapatismo (Edinburgh University Press, 2012). His publications can be accessed at: udenver.academia.edu/ThomasNail

Hostis is a journal of negation. Fed up with the search for a social solution to the present crisis, it aspires to be attacked wildly and painted as utterly black without a single virtue. Hostis Issue 1: Cruelty is available from Little Black Cart. It is currently accepting submissions on the topic of “Beyond Recognition.” More information can be found at incivility​.org.

 

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Endnotes

1. For instance, in the CFP for issue 2 we begin by asserting the following: “Seeking recognition is always servile. We have little interest in visibility, consciousness raising, or populist pandering.”
2.Tiqqun, Untitled Notes on Immigration
3. Thomas Nail, “Building Sanctuary City: No One is Illegal–Toronto on Non-Status Migrant Justice Organizing,” Upping the Anti: A Journal of Theory and Action no. 11 (2010): 149–162.
4.Thomas Nail, Returning to Revolution: Deleuze, Guattari, and Zapatismo (Edinburgh University Press, 2012).
5. See David Bacon’s 2008 article ‘Immigration and the Right to Stay Home’ (http://www.alternet.org/story/92639/immigration_and_the_right_to_stay_home) & his 2010 piece ‘All Over the World, Migrants Demand the Right to Stay Home’ (http://inthesetimes.com/article/15793/all_over_the_world_migrants_demand_the_right_to_stay_at_home)
6. Félix Guattari, Molecular Revolutions in Brazil
7. Thomas Nail, The Figure of the Migrant (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2015).
8. Giorgio Agamben, “Beyond Human Rights” in Means Without Ends (Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), 16.
9. With the rise of home foreclosure and unemployment people today are beginning to have much more in common with migrants than with certain notions of citizenship (grounded in certain social, legal, and political rights). “All people may now be wanderers”: Zygmunt Bauman, Globalization: The Human Consequences (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), 87. “Migration must be understood in a broad sense”: Nikos Papastergiadis, The Turbulence of Migration: Globalization, Deterritorialization, and Hybridity (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2000), 2.
10. World Bank’s World Development Indicators 2005: Section 3 Environment, Table 3.11, http://www.worldmapper.org/display.php?selected=141.
11.International annual tourist arrivals exceeded 1 billion globally for the first time in history in 2012. World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), “World Tourism Barometer,” vol. 11, 2013, http://dtxtq4w60xqpw.cloudfront.net/sites/all/files/pdf/unwto_barom13_01_jan_excerpt_0.pdf.
12. I use the word “expulsion” here in the same sense in which Saskia Sassen uses it to indicate a general dispossession or deprivation of social status. See Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014), 1–2. Many scholars have noted a similar trend. For an excellent review of the “mobilities” literature on migration, see Alison Blunt, “Cultural Geographies of Migration: Mobility, Transnationality and Diaspora,” Progress in Human Geography 31 (2007): 684–94.
13.Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), 213.
14. Bauman, Globalization.

The Tragic Community: Nietzsche and Philosophy as A Treatise on Politics (Part I)

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(A year old paper that I still mean to return to)

“Of what account is a book that never carries us away beyond all books?”– Friederich Nietzsche

In a 1990 interview with Gilles Deleuze, Antonio Negri poses a rather interesting question regarding Deleuze’s early monographs on key figures in his personal canon: “Already in the years leading up to ‘68, in your work on Nietzsche and a bit later in Coldness and Cruelty, you’d given a new meaning to politics-as possibility, event, singularity…How should we understand this universality of the untimely?”(Negotiations, 170). What follows are close readings from Deleuze’s text Nietzsche and Philosophy, to give us a sense in which Nietzsche’s thought holds the potential for thinking through the cultural, socio-economic, and material milieu we have come to find ourselves in.

There is an unspoken assumption of my reading which needs to be made explicit: if we are to think and read Nietzsche in terms of what he has to offer the “Left,” we must search through his texts and his interpreters for potential tools of resistance to, and subversion of, Capital. Is this shift from a close reading of Nietzsche’s corpus to an emphasis on the social and political an appropriate one? Given Gilles Deleuze’s own biography, he began his philosophical career by writing texts dedicated to readings of Hume, Kant, Spinoza, Bergson, and of course Nietzsche. Even one of his major philosophical works Difference and Repetition, a post-structuralist study of ontology,  remained a close study of Deleuze’s personal philosophical canon. But given the events surrounding May/June of 1968, and his befriending of radical psychoanalyst Felix Guattari, Deleuze’s own thinking began to turn. His post-68 writings (most notably Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus) took as their subject matter society, politics, language, art, and everything in between.

Thus, I want to offer a shift in our own thinking of Deleuze’s Nietzsche and Philosophy (1962). If we are to dwell on the question of an “appropriate” way to approach this text, I only offer Deleuze and Guattari’s own words in reply: “We will never ask what a book means, as signified or signifier; we will not look for anything to understand in it. We will ask what it functions with, in connection with what other things it does or does not transmit intensities… A book itself is a little machine; what is the relation… of this literary machine to a war machine, love machine, revolutionary machine, etc.” (D&G, ATP, 4)

Sense

“There is no event, no phenomenon, word or thought which does not have a multiple sense. A thing is sometimes this, sometimes that, sometimes something more complicated – depending on the forces (the gods) which take possession of it.”(Nietzsche and Philosophy, 4). The irreducibility of sense to a unity is related to the fact that “every force is essentially related to another force. The being of force is plural,”(NP, 6) and simultaneously related to force’s own double movement: “A force is domination, but also the object on which domination is exercised.”(NP, 6). Force is that which gives the phenomena its sense. Force appropriates, exploits, possess the thing or expresses itself in it. Moreover forces determine how a thing is and thus one phenomena can have a variety of identities given a variety of forces. We can also say that force is whichever collection of material conditions the event, subject, word, or phenomena is located in: “The same object, the same phenomenon, changes sense depending on the force which appropriates it.” (NP, 3)

The example of Saussurian linguistics (while I’m well aware is not what Deleuze is after, but nonetheless presents an entry into understanding what is at stake here) is the easiest entry point into this understanding of force and its relation to sense. For Saussure, language is solely constructed of differences and nothing else. Any sign can be inserted into any series of signs to produce meaning. Likewise, signs can be rearranged, withdrawn, or substituted to produce a variety of other meanings. In this way, language produces a variety of senses (sens). Sense, in this regard, is what is created from the relation between the phenomena and the forces which constitute, appropriate, and take possession of it. So when Deleuze writes “a phenomenon is not an appearance or even an apparition but a sign, a symptom which finds its meaning in an existing force,” he is highlighting the fact that sense is constituted and derivative from a play of forces.

It is also important to note Deleuze’s insertion of ‘the gods’ in a parenthesis. If the forces are equivalent to the gods, which is what this sentence seems to suggest, it is the equivalence of the variety of forces with their respective divinities: Dionysus and Christ. A force can become either active or reactive depending on which god gets a hold of it (which force appropriates, subjugates, etc.) The active/affirming force is embodied in Dionysus who suffers from a “superabundance” of life, whereas Christ is the embodiment of the reactive/negating force for whom the superabundance of life results in an impoverished being; life is too much for Christ, but for Dionysus it is never enough.

Essence

“For evaluation of this and that, the delicate weighing of each thing and its sense, the estimation of the forces which define the aspects of a thing and its relations with others at every instant-all this (or all that) depends on philosophy’s highest art – that of interpretation. To interpret (sense) and even to evaluate (values) is always to weigh. The notion of essence does not disappear here but takes on a new significance, for not every sense has the same value. A thing has as many senses as there are forces capable taking possession of it.”(NP,  4).  To begin interpreting this passage, it would be fruitful to begin by asking about the relation between weighing and a thing’s ‘many senses.’ If not every sense has the same value, that is to say if not every object, event, phenomena, subject, etc., created from the play of forces (differences) has the same value, it is because each created phenomena is not created with the same quantity of force. Or, given the example of Saussure, we could say that each sense is not created equally since its sense is contextually determined by its sentence, text, genre, language, environment, etc.. But how does one determine (weigh) from which context an essence is derived, if every sense is determined and dependent on the series of forces (signs) which constitute it? By determining which relation(s) of the multi-sensed phenomena enhances its power the most.

One could write a formula as such: the greater in quantity of force, the more pronounced that particular relation between abundance of force and event, subject, phenomena, object, etc. is effected into an essence. Thus Deleuze writes: “Essence…will be defined as that one, among all the senses of a thing, which gives it the force with which it has the most affinity.”(NP, 4). This redefinition of essence is Deleuze asking us to think the event, the phenomena, the subject, with caution. Essence, is related to both sense and force, and by this very relation Deleuze aims to steer us away from any common notions of the term (ousia, substance, the as such, etc.). Essence, understood here, is influenced by a variety of forces but only appears as an essence as that tendency of an object to exhibit itself most powerfully.

Apollo and Dionysus – The Triumph of Active Forces

Deleuze tells us that Apollo and Dionysus are not contradictory terms but rather two solutions to the same problem. The problem, is the triumph of reactive over active forces; the triumph of ressentiment, bad conscience, and the ascetic ideal; or what Deleuze calls the suffering of individuation. What the triumph of the reactive forces means is the domination of a “utilitarian force of adaptation and partial limitation; 2) force which separates active force from what it can do, which denies active force (triumph of the weak or the slaves); 3) force separated from what it can do, which denies or turns against itself (reign of the weak or of slaves).”(NP, 61). Reactive forces means substituting chance and necessity for probability and finality, denying a force to go to it’s limit, and substitutes the affirmation of difference for its negation. Thus, Deleuze can say, echoing Nietzsche’s untimely madman that “The fact remains that we do not feel, experience or know any becoming but becoming-reactive. We are not merely noting the existence of reactive forces, we are noting the fact that everywhere they are triumphant.”(NP, 64). But even though all we have known is the force of reaction/negation, it does not necessarily imply a fatalism.

Deleuze claims that reactive forces cannot return (they have no being) since, if reactive forces were to become-active; that is to say if they were to go to their limit, it must be able to at once affirm its action (dice which are thrown) and affirm that which returns (dice which fall back). But reactive forces find their essence in the will to nothingness. The will to nothingness cannot affirm the being of becoming (eternal return) nor can it affirm becoming itself. The essence of reactive forces is negation and nihilism, for whom life is that which must be put on trial.# Reactive forces find their embodiments in Hegel and Christianity: “For Christianity the fact of suffering in life means primarily that life is not just, that it is even essentially unjust, that it pays for an essential injustice by suffering, it is blameworthy because it suffers. The result of this is that life must be justified, that is to say, redeemed of its injustice or saved.”(NP, 15). For Hegel, “the slave only conceives of power as the object of a recognition, the content of a representation, the stake in a competition, and therefore makes it depend, at the end of a fight, on a simple attribution of established values.” (NP, 10).

Christianity is the reactive force which accuses life for failing to tend to human proclivities. Hegel’s dialectics are the reactive forces that at once are incapable of affirming difference by framing life in terms of a negative movement of competition, and at the same time fail to carry out a true critical thought, which thinks both the origin of values and the value of origins. And one can only say yes when Deleuze asks us, “And what is there at the end of all this if not a subtle way of deprecating existence, of subjecting it to judgment, moral judgment and above all God’s judgment?” (NP, 20).

The solution to the problem of reactive forces (suffering of individuation) are Apollo, and Dionysus. “Apollo is the divine incarnation of the principle of individuation,” who “overcomes the suffering of the individual by the radiant glorification of the eternity of the phenomenon.” (NP, 11). Dionysus is “the affirmative and affirming god. He is not content with “resolving” pain in a higher and suprapersonal pleasure but rather he affirms it and thus turns it into someone’s pleasure. This is why Dionysus is himself transformed in multiple affirmations, rather than being dissolved in original being or reabsorbing multiplicity…He affirms the pains of growth rather than reproducing the suffering of individuation.” (NP, 13).

To think Apollo and Dionysus is non-oppositional since both are solutions of creation (willing) and affirmation (will). The Apollonian is a territorializing solution while the Dionysian is a deterritorializing one. The Apollonian appeals to the forces which constitute its essence (pain being just one constitutive force), and using this essence as its center of gravity to free itself from suffering. The Apollonian gesture is not opposed to the Dionysian, which ‘rumbles’ beneath it. Rather, in its appeal to its constitutive forces for its solution, it affirms the Dionysian excess. Thus the Apollonian is said to be territorializing since it constructs its own grounding from the Dionysian and finds its center within it.

The Dionysian solution can be said to be an extra-subjective solution which, too, appeals to the forces – flows, relations, material conditions – which constitute its essence in order to enhance its own power. It is the extra-subjective solution (deterritorial) since it finds its enhancement of power outside of itself in the very forces which constitute it. Moreover, to enhance one’s own power is not a self/ego driven enterprise, but an affirmation of the will’s relation and place within a network of forces. To enhance one’s power, in the style of Dionysus, is to affirm difference and multiplicity. The difference between Dionysus and Apollo, then, is not a difference of opposition but a difference in the expressivity and concentration# of power: the territorial and deterritorial, the crystallization of power (Apollo) and the dissemination of power (Dionysus). For Apollo, power grows at its center while for Dionysus its power grows at its limits; both affirming difference.
The Tragic Community

Beginning to think a Left Nietzsche, a thought which is a resistance and subversion of Capital, we must begin with the principle that thought is never separable from its form-of-life. That is to say, we must realize one of the greatest gifts Nietzsche offers philosophy: the understanding that the daily activities of life are not neutral. Deleuze is right to say that “affirmation is the product of a way of thinking which presupposes an active life as its condition and concomitant,”(NP, 102) and to emphasize that “evaluations… are not values but ways of being, modes of existence of those who judge and evaluate.”(NP, 1).  From this understanding of the non-neutrality of a form-of-life, we can then ask the question, what is the potential for a Left Nietzschean thought today? The answer is Dionysus and the Tragic Community.

Dionysus is the essence of the tragic and is the one who creates meaning, identity, community, by affirming the forces which constitute essences and by multiplying its own relations of constitution (its own lines of flight): “Affirmation is tragic because it affirms chance and the necessity of chance; because it affirms multiplicity and the unity of multiplicity. The dicethrow is tragic. All the rest is nihilism.” (NP, 36) Through this affirmation, which is at once gay and a multiplication, power begins to grow along every relation; the life related to which takes greater intensities (larger quantities of virtual meaning – that is to say a wider range of possible senses and values). A formula could be stated as such:

1) The more one multiplies its constituting forces, the more one enhances power.

2) The more one enhances power, the more one “overcomes the SUFFERING of the individual” since affirmation and enhancement of power entails the increase in the production of an ESSENCE and the DISSEMINATION of further power.

                    2.1) Suffering here meaning succumbing to the abyss (radical nihilism) and also  denotes    the inversion of this very process; we can name this inversion Capital.

                     2.2) The essences here being Apollo, community, territorialization

2.3) Dissemination here meaning a forces ex-propriation of force and sense

And the greater power grows along every relation a truth continually becomes exposed:

“Whatever singularity, which wants to appropriate belonging itself, its own being-in-language, and thus rejects all identity and every condition of belonging, is the principal enemy of the State. Wherever these singularities peacefully demonstrate their being in common there will be a Tiananmen, and, sooner or later, the tanks will appear.” (Agamben, Means Without Ends, p.89)

The principal enemy of Capital is community. And it is the most radical forms of community, where Capital finds its most powerful enemy. This community, is what we would call the Tragic Community. Within a Tragic Community, power grows along every line of flight and at once embodies the gesture of subversion: the crystallization and dissemination of power, the deterritorialization and territorialization of forces which constitute it. Moreover, the Tragic Community is not only in solidarity with Dionysus but also with Heraclitus who “makes existence an aesthetic phenomenon rather than a moral or religious one.” (NP, 23).

If we repeat the Deleuzean question with a slight shift, “what can the Tragic community do?”, we must reply with his own equation of “we the artists” = “we the inventors of new possibilities of life.” (NP, 103). The Tragic Community is the community which is an active/affirming force; it doesn’t suffer from the impoverishment of life but rather from its superabundance. And in this style, the Tragic Community is incommensurate to Hegel and dialectics. It does not ask for its power to be represented. How could Capital recognize values which aim to overthrow it as anything but “base,” “terroristic,” “violent,” or even better “utopian”? The Tragic Community opposes the negative values of Hegel, the moral values of Christianity, and the global-economic values of Capital. In its place, the Tragic Community only upholds aesthetic values – any creative activity which makes everything in life fuller, richer, more perspicuous and more necessary: the enhancement of force and the feelings of plenitude.# And by doing so, the Tragic Community attempts an escape from Capital’s accommodation of those desires which remain incommensurate to Capital’s essence (reactive) and values. And thus, the real question of my reading: in what sens (way? line? front? meaning? and direction?) does the Tragic Community respond?

If we can assume this language of the crystallization and dissemination of power, we must ask ourselves: What ‘form-of-life’ will the Tragic Community exhibit? How will it resist Capital? One example of the deterritorializing nature of the Tragic Community may take the form of the harassment of State power: “Harassing the police means that by forcing them to be everywhere they can no longer be effective anywhere.”(The Coming Insurrection, 127). A Tragic Community may take the form of territorialization, which is at once a crystallization and a dissemination and can be conceived as such:

“It’s not about possessing territory. Rather, it’s a matter of increasing the density of the communes, of circulation, and of solidarities to the point that the territory becomes unreadable, opaque to all authority. We don’t want to occupy the territory, we want to be the territory […] the rule is simple: the more territories there are superimposed on a given zone, the more circulation there is between them, the harder it will be for power to get a handle on them. Bistros, print shops, sports facilities, wastelands, second-hand bookstalls, building rooftops, improvised street markets, kebab shops and garages can all easily be used for purposes other than their official ones if enough complicities come together in them.”(CI, 108).

A Tragic Community can even be started by raising a question as simple as this: “We should not ask whether it is a crime to ‘steal’ a piece of property, but whether it is a crime to charge rent.” (No Trespassing, 20). And thereby a Tragic Community “super imposes its own geography over the state cartography, scrambling and blurring it: it produces its own secession,”(CI, 108-109) ushering in it’s own transvaluation of values. A Tragic Community is not afraid to establish values by destroying old ones, whether symbolically or materially, since “the creator of values cannot be distinguished from a destroyer, from a criminal or from a critic.” (NP, 87).

Simultaneously, a Tragic Community’s relation to itself grows in quantity of force. But this enhancement of force, the Community’s growth in power, is inseparable from its moment of resistance to power. Thus, thinking both powers growth and resistance at once, a Tragic Community counts “on making that which is unconditional in relationships the armor of a political solidarity as impenetrable to state interference as a gypsy camp […] “becoming autonomous” could just as easily mean learning to fight in the street, to occupy empty houses, to cease working, to love each other madly, and to shoplift.”(CI, 42). And finally, a Tragic Community does not spend time feeling guilt or doubt for any act of love, sabotage, theft, etc. because it knows, that which doesn’t kill power is killed by it.