Saturday, 25 May 2013

William Rowe: The Danger We Face

'movement is to be in this place and not be in it' - Hegel

'the shit-money is not afraid'

The danger we face is that the enemy - call him IDS of the dictatorship - is fashioning forms of fascist subjectivity out of resentment and sacrifice. Resentment for the Daily Mail readers and sacrifice for middle-ranking State employees (Civil Service, NHS, Universities)  - not to mention the reduction of intellect to servitude in state schools by the Gove edicts. [i.e. that's a form  of sacrifice]

The danger we face is not the enemy's will to violence, the viciousness of his law-preserving violence, but that - now that social democracy is historically finished  - the preparations for mastery that he is making, in the sphere of policy and propaganda, are not matched by our own preparations and propaganda.

As the structure by which politics gave a meaning to space breaks down, so space is invaded now not so much by human replicants and zombies (Sean Bonney's The Commons showed how the abolition of the commons turned the dead into zombies) but by class hatred whose image is a death's head that stares at us from the future. 'Death digs most deeply the jagged line of demarcation between physical nature and significance.' (Benjamin, German Tragic Drama) Benjamin, of course, had natural history in mind. The IDS death's head is an image of the future. [physiognomy, as Jacob said]

(i) Fear is a major part of the current political paralysis. The logic of it is wait until a greater threat overcomes your fear. The danger there is that time plays into the enemy's hands, while he plans ahead. Our response should be fear is not something that has to be suppressed, but taken all the way.

(ii) See Hegel's dialectic of the Master and the Slave: 'For this consciousness has been fearful, not of this or that particular thing or just at odd moments, but its whole being has been seized with dread; for it has experienced the fear of death, the absolute Lord. In that experience it has been quite unmanned [melted], has trembled in every fibre of its being, and everything solid and stable has been shaken to its foundations. But this pure universal movement, the absolute melting-away of everything stable, is the simple, essential nature of self-consciousness, absolute negativity, pure being-for-self.'  (para 194) This unbinding is to be understood as the basis for emancipatory will. [can I find an image of this?]

Their law is not adequate to the situation they face, therefore they're changing it to archaic eschatology. (Thanks to Jacob Bard-Rosenberg for this) The proletariat, and any act that gives it an image, are simply evil, in the archaic sense.

(iii) What of the poem in this situation? Hegel's Master and Slave again: 'If consciousness fashions the thing without that initial absolute fear, it is only an empty self-centred attitude;  for its form or negativity is not negativity per se . . . If it has not experienced absolute fear but only some lesser dread, the negative being has remained for it something external . . . having a “mind of one's own” is self-will, a freedom which is still enmeshed in servitude.' (para 196)

For 'the thing' that consciousness 'fashions', read the poem, i.e. poetry based on fear which has become emancipatory will. And 'having a “mind of one's own”' is obviously bourgeois consciousness, rather than emancipatory consciousness. But why this passage through death?

(i) In around 1920 the Peruvian poet César Vallejo wrote (LV)

              Samain would say the air is calm and of a    
       contained sadness.

              Vallejo says today Death is welding    
              every frontier to every strand of lost hair, from    
              the dish of a frontal bone, where there's    
              seaweed, lemon balm singing sacred mastic    
              trees on guard, and antiseptic poems without    
              an owner.

Samain's poem, which Vallejo is quoting from, is set in front of a hospice - a place where people go to die - . His own poem, which is written against Samain's, presents disjoined things: ok, so it's the disjunctive poetics of the avant-gardism. But the poem says 'death is welding' these things together.  This can be read in two ways. 'Welding' takes us to the factory, so this is something like the dead labour which forms the time of capitalist production. But more precisely, death is welding 'every frontier', i.e. every limit, i.e. where things become other than what they are and pass through the negative. Here the meaning would be everything passes through the negative which for the Subject is death.

(ii) It's a question of drawing out, from death, the implication of un-binding, of 'absolute negativity' in Hegel's terms. When the historical order - its language and its narrative - breaks down, new and more virulent phantasms arise, even though dressed in farcical costumes. See UKIP for example: 'the Rumanians are coming' even though the Rumanians are not coming. These phantasms justify the detention centres for immigrants, where the law is suspended. The same goes for the imaginary hordes of disabled people who are destroying the society. In this situation, what's needed are new gestures, new meanings which we can stand by. But they will have to be placed on a ground that . . . reaches beyond the current order.

Who's not afraid, in our situation?  What's not afraid is the money itself. Therefore the money is the un-dead - of the dead labour of millions. It can't fear death. We have to get to the same place from the other side, i.e. not the side of dead labour. What is the other side? What poetry needs to be in this situation, changes.

Examples of preparation (there are many more?): Rimbaud's A Season in Hell, Benjamin's One Way street, and in our own time, the work of CADA and Raúl Zurita, during the dictatorship of Pinochet in Chile. The aim of CADA (which means Collective of Art Actions) was entirely to de-specialise art:  that the society itself should become the work of art. (?a [utopian] converging of the social in art and of art in the social). Members of CADA took enormous risks, because of the necessity of the situation. They painted the slogan NO + (no more . . . ) on walls, i.e. no more . . . for people to complete. A masturbation in public. Raul Zurita burned his cheek. And so on. As Benjamin wrote, 'Under these circumstances, true literary activity cannot aspire to take place within a literary framework.' (One-Way-Street)

The current period is similar to that of Chile in the 1970s with regard to literature: it will have to take new forms. I guess everyone will agree with that, in abstract. One of the things we have to think about - this is my sense of the situation - is how the massive loss of belief  - in politics, to put it at its most general, but, of course, also in capital - can take 3 forms. 1) cynicism or despair. 2) attempts in one way or another to hold on to where we are - this corresponds to 'the lesser dread'. 3) preparation in the face of the absolute fear. An example of this might be George Jackson's letters from prison.

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