While the politicians and the media scrutinise the weekly accounting of the number of demonstrators with each Act of the yellow vests’ movement, closely seconded by sociologists and political scientists, the movement persists, defying all predictions.
And even if it were to wane henceforth, it would remain the most durable and radical social upheaval of this young century, in a “developed” country. “Why?” and “how?” continue to echo; sadly, even among “Leftists”, of all stripes, with their a priori ideologies of the causes of social movements and the conditions of their success.
The movement however flouts tired recipes and frayed predictions: it lacks sociological and ideological “unity”, rejects representation (it is radically horizontal), refuses structured organisation, makes few or no demands that any government could meet, ignores the agencies (political parties, labour unions, etc) of institutionalised politics, and yet, it persists. And it does so for reasons that violate the standardised theoretical and ideological accounts of such phenomena.
It is not that we have the answers, for the the yellow vests are testimony to fundamental changes in the nature of capitalist social relations, changes that alter or shift the grounds of radical anti-capitalism.
For over three centuries, Capital has forcefully captured and commodified agencies (“resources”) that flourished beyond anything measurable by money. It did so in ways that were always challenged and contested, and Capital changed in response to each rebellion. More importantly, it has been able in the course of this time to “internalise” what were initially “external” resistances, such that today, Capital reigns over the greater part of the surface of the globe (indeed, it does so to such an extent, that it risks destroying the life conditions for the human species).
Rebellion or revolution can not come from within (the illusion of the “Left”); it never did. And today, that which fed the rebellions of the past is dead or dying. The crisis, or crises, are now permanent and existential. In other words, it is living time and space that must be recreated, such that we may, at the same time, re-make (and re-make …) ourselves. And this can only be accomplished by those who walk away from Capital.
To share …
Theses on the concept of the absence of an epoch:The uprising of the yellow vests to counter the impossible
(lundimatin#189, April 29, 2019)
It takes a lot of imagination to fight the system, as it takes a lot of naivete to hope to change the world and a lot of time to think it poetically. That’s good, I have nothing more urgent to do. Our task is to conspire events to give strength to all struggling peoples.
Sylvain Despentes, A yellow vest since Act II
(Photos taken from the series Diemocracie by Maya Paules)
For every image of the past that is not recognized by the present as one of its own concerns threatens to disappear irretrievably.
Walter Benjamin, On the Concept of History
Cut off from the past as from another galaxy and from the future as a dream that they are unable to remember, most human beings have access to history only in the form of flashes justifying the present of the winners, of their ideology. In spite of everything, there is no end to history as long as there are still relations of power, struggles, and a few homo sapiens able to speak of them. There is no clash of civilisations, there is a civilisation, called Western, on the verge of completing the eradication of all the others. There is no war for democracy or for peace, there are natural resources to loot, weapons to sell and enemies to buy.
The absence of an epoch is not the end of history, it is rather a moment of history where adventure and fate have lost their meaning. According to the most common meaning of the etymon, epocha is a stopping point, the absence of an epoch is a time – ours – which has made it impossible to stop.
Time, Nietzsche teaches us, is what the philosopher must constantly fight against. When we say “a time – ours – that has made it impossible to stop”, we mean above all a mode of governmentality, a network of powers. The network of powers in the absence of an epoch: a practical and acephalous thought of chaos, an imaginary and metaphorical topos that organises disorganisation, everywhere and nowhere at once, the medium as an immense apparatus.
It is not open to anyone to not belong to my lack of community.
An epoch expresses itself and can be sung following great dates, long confrontations, glorious combatants and brilliant heads of state. It is registered by the transmission of experience, from generation to generation, deciphering events, and is maintained only through the possibility of its reversal. An oral tradition finds its ground, values are born others die, civilisations reinforce themselves, kingdoms clash. The absence of an epoch appears when everything has disappeared; taste has been replaced by caprice, states of mind by immediate interest, the proletariat by the planetary petty-bourgeoisie, desires by projects, law by the spirit of the law (the State in each). The heavens have emptied, a model of life has spread everywhere. There are no longer any kingdoms or States fighting for the triumph of a political theology; there is only an empire that thinks its oikos financially, and thus which can only destroy it. The absence of an epoch is the figure of the impossible discovered, the total control of space, the dazzling speed of changes everywhere visible and yet barely perceived.
Elsewhere, in the same place, a specter haunts the West, the specter of new forms of communism, without hierarchy or micro-states. The specter of those who suspend the suspension, destroy what destroys them, to live otherwise, through the ruins. The specter of those who can not continue, who would prefer to start all over again. A negative community, a community of refusal, that sees money as a means and not an end, something like the community of no community. The yellow vests’ movement comes from this community, belongs to it, belongs to nothing else.
We had no adventures to speak of.
There are no yellow vests, there are many lexical woes due to certain dominant trends within sociology and in the media. There is a new movement characterised first by its diversity, and by that very fact, by its indeterminacy, its intelligence, its unpredictability, its longevity. The wave of yellow vests fissure the history of the winners. For the first time in a long time, the nation is driven by the people and not by identity. In spite of everything, a major problem continues to arise: the fact that a certain number of those who resist claim their racism. Admittedly, the observation disturbs the bona fides of the anarchist obsessed with a purity that will always be lacking for him, as he questions the good conscience of the “alternative” petty bourgeois who only demonstrates with his friends, leaves his house only to feel a vague sense of community. This sociological truth – the assumed racism of some yellow vests – is by no means surprising given that Europe has been plundering other continents for more than five hundred years, meaning that most of its citizens consider their privileges as natural, and by that very reason think themselves superior, if only unconsciously. This sociological truth is not surprising if one comes to remember that the prevailing ideology has imposed anti-Arab propaganda for more than 20 years, the new figure of the enemy after the fall of the Berlin Wall, even more so after the attacks of September 11, 2001. This observation should not prevent us from appreciating the event, at least if we remember that from Tromso to Seville, from supermarkets to universities, everywhere fascism develops. This multiplicity of people must not prevent us from taking part in the movement, at least if we accept the idea that everyone can change, if we remember that most human beings have chosen, despite their position in the world, despite having decided so little. To change the world is not only to proliferate minority worlds, it is also to confront everything believed to be unchangeable.
Things can only happen to those who can recount them.
There was a time, not so long ago, when each word corresponded to a heavenly body, when each gesture resonated with more than a personal power, when each woman or man had her/his way of believing in the infinite. This time, if the duration of humanity has a direction, if it makes sense, this was yesterday. It was yesterday and yet we are losing our memory of it. The disaster is not so much our environment as it is the name of the beings wandering in time without being able to influence it, unable to recount it to each other. Nothing can happen to those who have lost their environment and the capacity to recite, to those who have lost, by that very fact, some cosmogony or their own imagination. Disaster is the ontological result of these losses. That faced with these dispossessions, traditional logic is blind or, at best, it gives up, is not surprising if we do not forget that it likes to believe in the economic-rational man, this being at the crossroads of Smithian and Sartrean subjects, supposedly free in its choices. That the disaster is our environment then means that henceforth, by dint of wandering, we never stop taking part in it, as it forms us, in passing through us.
What happens, what does not stop: the devastation and the wait, or the modern history of the will. The yellow vests’ movement disrupts this ontological realisation, or at least confronts it. To block roundabouts is not a choice but a decision, a break with the order of things. If the movement first rose up against a tax, it seems obvious that there is also an uprising against the proletarianisation of the world, the commodification of all beings and the absence of destiny that follows. This is an existential uprising. “You make metaphysical what in effect can not be more material!” Every human being is a philosopher if he is concerned about his future and stops to think about it, moreover by inviting his brothers/sisters and neighbours to think about it with him and to act accordingly. If the yellow vests do not actually belong to a class, they are all caught up in a proletarian future, at least if one appreciates the true value of Lukacs’ definition in History and Class Consciousness: “S/he is proletarian who is dispossessed and knows it.” The yellow vests’ movement is mainly composed of proletarians, idle bourgeois and a large part of the middle class with an ever more precarious future, not only from the socio-economic point of view, but also spiritually.
“The class struggle, which is always present to a historian influenced by Marx, is a fight for the crude and material things without which no refined and spiritual things could exist.” (Selection from the fourth thesis of On the Concept of History, Walter Benjamin)
The absurd is not so much the absence of meaning as the absence of effective meaning in the world.
There is always in the voices that we listen to, an echo of those who are silent. As two, we are already numerous, attests this lover who whispers in the ear of her/his beloved: I am attached to the dead who carry your voice, as to the disappeared who taught me to tremble. With a thousand or ten thousand, the exchange of words for some purpose, or just for a few references to constitute a community, becomes more difficult.
During a demonstration of the Belgian yellow vests, on November 30, along the small belt road – the motorway that crosses Brussels – a protester, blocked by the police for too long, in other words, having-again-lost-the-use-of-his-body, began to speak to them, or at least tried; after all, his voice remained. After a few utterances destined for oblivion, she cried out this magic formula: “You are citizens like us, you bunch of dogs!” To consider the police as citizens, as oneself, while also as dogs, is to experience an unprecedented emotional imbalance: this being-in-struggle oscillates – as it simultaneously deploys – between an excessive hope (to speak to the hostis, so that it changes sides) and absolute cynicism (the qualification of dogs, the etymon of cynicism, granted equitably to the police and the demonstrators, united by citizenship). Unconsciously mingling hope and cynicism in one breath reveals an unprecedented confusion of being.
Confusion appears to be detrimental to the detached philosopher of experience, as it does to the rigid revolutionary. It is, a priori, indefensible. And yet what appears confused is more difficult to identify, to categorise, thereby more difficult to control. And yet when the confusion is felt, inhabited, experienced, it invites essential questions. What is the difference between what the movement carries with it and my intimate being? What do we reproduce without our knowledge and which we could discard? Where is our common power situated, headed? How to extend these meetings beyond roundabouts and demonstrations? Is there order – another disorder – to receive it?
Its indignation, become rage, we lived, a few breaths later; an at least exceptional riot in the “capital of Europe”.
Stupefied at the height of the moment,
The flesh is made verb, and the verb precipitates itself –
To know oneself banished on earth, being oneself earth,
It is to know oneself mortal.
Octavio Paz, Pasado en claro
The one who has lost everything has nothing to lose, obviously. The one who has nothing to lose risks more easily, even more so with some comrades. When social peace is wrongly bought – long live France! – the poorest are forced to aid each other. If there are more and more people who are resigned to their depression, there are also more and more men and women for whom the need to transform themselves becomes a necessity, the only thing that remains for those who prefer not to let themselves die. By dint of encounters and learning, from roundabouts to overcrowded high school classes, the yellow vests’ movement reveals an acute consciousness and a bias towards the burial of the Trente Glorieuse and its myth of the self-made man. In other words, rare are those who hope to surpass their condition. And if no emancipation looms on the horizon, even if only socio-economic, there is no longer any reason to defend this system-world, barren of values and without telos. The popularisation of the capitalocene equation has entered everyone’s heads: the more I produce for this system, the sicker becomes the planet, the sicker I am. The yellow vests’ movement shows that the desire to repair the world is growing, not for a minority but for most.
We are on the verge of disaster without being able to locate it in the future: it is rather always already past.
Maurice Blanchot, The Writing of Disaster
To make us accept the disaster – to accept ourselves -, a new paradigm dominates, that of general ecology. It is a question of forgetting the unsalvageable, or at least of taking it upon oneself. The time of general ecology is characterised by urgency, its unconscious ethics is at least worse … system, work, lover. In the generalised urgency, urgency as a regime of truth, as an apparatus, as the real of insurgents and the hungry, the main chronological-pathological tendency can only be hastiness.
The etymon of hastiness or to make haste comes from “to press in”, “to press oneself”, understood as to hurry oneself along. Let us read carefully the meaning of “pressing” which comes from the Latin pressare, this verb which is the intensive of premare. If it meant first “to exert pressure or force on”, “to sink in, to plant, to print”, and approaching in this respect certain senses of violare, its first transitive employment, towards 1160, had the meaning of ” torment, overwhelm”. Then, in 1302, there appeared the meaning of “harassing, persecuting, pushing someone to do something” and, in 1306, “to attack with vigor”. In 1552, for the first time, the meaning of “jostling someone” surfaced. Let us not forget its intransitive meaning, which appeared in the middle of the 14th century, “to be urgent, to allow for no delay”, which, of course, gives the meaning to the modern French of “to hurry”, as “to go fast”.
If there is pathology, it is first because the perpetual present – this succession of nows – leaves no truce, but it is also and above all because the new normality demands that one be stressed, nervous, to propose (according to the etymology) to jostle oneself, to attack oneself with vigor, to torment oneself and to overwhelm oneself, to push oneself to do something in the permanent urgency of one’s absence of a situation, all of this to show or to show oneself that one-has-things-to-do. And the sooner you do them quickly – what we like to call the supplement for the absence of a soul – the more you can do other things. The madness here, if any, is not to be sick, but to have to appear “overwhelmed”. “In another life, I would have …” undoubtedly done something important. Neurosis as a sign of mental health; we are well into the 21st century. “I can not help it, I do not have time.” Neurosis and hastiness are today signs of well-being, of full or complete life, whereas they are only the prerequisites of diffuse egocentric delusions. When we open a dictionary today on hastiness, it is therefore surprising that the first two definitions are: a) Attentive zeal, diligent and lively care, b) Enthusiasm. In other words, the novlanguage first transformed this world-illness into its opposite, something like taking care, then it defined it as a vital energy, a divine breath: in-theos-asthmos, a joyous etymon meaning to be in the breath of God. Whoever gives in on words gives way to things.
When there is a disturbance of the balance between motor impulses and sensory impulses, there is a disease, says Griesinger, a famous neurophysiologist of the 19th century; famous, as he inspired Freud. What is the disturbance of balance here? What is a being who no longer frequents the intermediary sphere between the sensory impulse and the motor impulse? Without a barrier between the immense outside and the intimate, we are dealing with beings incapable of suspension, of epoche, pure mirrors of their time, in other words, products of absolute automatism. We could call them decoration-beings, landscape beings says Agamben. Defying any notion of humanity, they would be “ontologically neutral”.
The yellow vests’ movement heals the world because it refuses automatism, and thereby discovers another relation to time. Whoever risks his life for his ideas does not struggle so much for better working conditions, better traffic conditions or better wages, but to have time to consider another life. To interrupt the dominant flows, on the roundabouts as in the heart of the metropolis, is to give oneself the means to operate this first work of consciousness, without which it is impossible to live a movement, a word or a singular gesture, without which it is impossible to invent some new collective thoughts or gestures. When there is almost everything to change, a revolutionary movement must not only make demands to entertain trade unionists, to make journalists hesitate, in other words, to calm down a little all kinds of police and preserve a minimum of democratic legitimacy. Nothing is missing from the yellow vests’ movement except, perhaps, between power and necessity, not a program but a revolutionary affirmation.
But where the danger is, also grows the saving power.
Friedrich Hölderlin, Patmos
The situation of the living is clarified when one begins to feel that even the dead are in danger.
My wing is ready for flight,
I would like to turn back.If I stayed timeless time,
I would have little luck.
Gerherd Scholem, Gruss vom Angelus
“A Klee painting named ‘Angelus Novus’ shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such a violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.”
Walter Benjamin, 9th thesis from On the Concept of History
Is it madness that leads to the absence of a way out or is it the absence of an exit that leads to madness?
This false question invites us to think of the difficulty of even imagining something like a dignified life after the Holocaust and Oppenheimer’s discovery put into practice. At this moment precisely, the Thor seminars (1966, 1968, 1969) draw up the last social contract, a contract formulated between one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century and one of its greatest philosophers. The first was a maquisard, the second had his National Socialist Party card as early as 1933. Very simply, what does this social contract say? How could two beings, apparently opposed politically, befriend each other? When Heidegger speaks of the end of philosophy, he situates himself, he situates us, after the end of time, and by this, and above all, at the end of politics, certainly the end of the belief in any city [as polis] that some politician could try to sell us. What Martin Heidegger and René Char have in common, beyond “a power to think poetically” and a certain attachment to the past, is to have lost the world.
That which cannot get worse continues to worsen; thus is announced the very impossibility within which human beings have survived with difficulty for a hundred years. The yellow vests’ movement has not only the intelligence to have appropriated one of the fundamental conclusions of this last social contract – politics begins where politics ceases to silence -, it has above all the courage to face the impossible, namely the world-system that gave birth to it.
For the dawn, disgrace is the day that will come; for the twilight, it is the night that engulfs. There were once people of the dawn. At this hour of nightfall, perhaps we are present. But why crested like larks?
René Char to Martin Heidegger
It is customary for the eleventh thesis to be an explanation of the tenth. We lost the world means: we lost the means to change it from the inside. Succinctly, this is to say what? For Char and Heidegger, it had become absolutely undesirable to be the adviser of some prince, “crested like larks”. For the people, here and now, it is a question of placing one’s desires elsewhere, or, when desire fails, one’s will. Politics begins where politics ends. The yellow vests’ movement continues to destitute the government by forcing it to show what it is: an organ of disaster management, controlled by financial logic. It persists in reminding the labour unions what they were a hundred years ago – a revolutionary force among others -, without them. The movement goes on without the institutions because it understands that the institutions despise it.
From there, without any other option, the government will let go of and will continue to let go of the crumbs of direct democracy to pacify the movement. New practices appear, Juan Branco does his yoga on TV: “the Référendum d’Initiative Citoyenne would be a deepening of democracy”. Do we need a renewal of democracy for “true democracy” ? Decision-making voice and power to co-manage the disaster? Perhaps. Certainly there has never been a “true democracy”, as regrettable as it may seem, and there never will be. It certainly always seems undesirable to manage anything, and at the same time the RIC is a path among others, to try to limit certain ravages of capital, then to fail, and thereby, to realise-still-a-little-more-experientially – that it is the whole system which must be gotten rid of. To be able to reappropriate some capacity to think, to love, to decide, we have to make sure that we are lost to the world.
Do not bend, except to love.
In the same way that the exploitation of nature is inseparable from the exploitation of workers, the ecological disaster corresponds intimately with our existential dramas.
What matters in any upheaval, in any excess with regard to normality, is not so much the dramas and exploits of those who have already taken sides, as the way in which that which upsets is received, affects and passes through everything that surrounds it, those who are witness to it and who let themselves be carried away by it, like sharing a common aspiration. The people – the people in struggle – are nothing but dispossessed beings who find each other and who organise themselves to confront the causes of their dispossession, beyond all legality, to struggle against what weakens them, beyond all legitimacy, an infinite attempt to have other worlds emerge.
The people are made up of those who are still in the street, “because it is too small at home”. Those from nowhere, with nothing, the abandoned, but also, all the isolated who try to put an end to this private person that they were assigned to be and have become. It is you and I, who are separately looking for ourselves, it is yesterday and tomorrow, as long as tomorrow is expected beneath and beyond any will. The people are composed of those who, from almost nothing, find means, and thereby some ability to be moved. An almost nothing, “we deplore”: everyone dispossessed of the possibility to consider each, for the other. A common wandering, from one a-grammaticality to another, sometimes understanding each other.
The profanation of the unprofanable is the political task of the coming generation.
Giorgio Agamben, Profanations
The capitalist West has destroyed so many civilizations, rites, dialects, legends, myths, festivals, human, animal and plant life forms that what it teaches its subjects best is amnesia. At a time when post-industrial animals called men-women were about to forget the forgetting of the question of being – just before being dispossessed of absolutely everything and self-exterminate themselves as a species – it was given to some to remember. And in this society struck by amnesia – where most men have chosen, for example, to entrust their memory to a machine – every memory imposes self-rising. This is why a wise man who committed suicide in 1940 repeated that the past must be saved to save the present, this is why school history textbooks repress all the greatest messengers. Notre-Dame on fire is the beginning of a long series of fires, essentially because in the absence of an epoch, there is no ultimate destructive gesture, because, precisely, we have thousands of worlds to rebuild. And if we prefer to see the leap of the tiger in the present rather than the pretext of an umpteenth [article] 49.3. for more security, an extension of the gesture of Thomas Müntzer rather than a September 11 again, it is because, symbolically, bodily, we feel that this gesture gives more force to the yellow vests’ movement and to all of the minorities in struggle on our sick planet, than to the imperial police.
The act of the professional policeman (Republican) is carried by a power of thought. The very contrary, then, of the pure and simple use of force, that is to say, of the irruption through her/him of an omnipotence, of an everything is permissible.
Sidi Mohammed Barkat
Considering that the State has the monopoly of legitimate violence (Weber) and that the “state of exception” in which we live has become the rule (Benjamin), it is a question of perceiving that the network of powers is, potentially, always already exceptionally violent and this without losing its legitimacy. And in societies of control, what is potentially the case is already in act/actual, as thousands of seemingly neutral apparatuses cover the entire territory “for our good”, from police to cameras or drones, but also to the different forms of repression present in each citizen, to something like the state of exception in her/him.
Whether temporal or spiritual, any law is a priori worthy of interpretation. The figure of the professional or republican policeman disappears when the state of emergency is permanent, its capacity of discernment comes to an end. S/he does not interpret a situation according to laws and rights, from man to woman, s/he annihilates all life that tries to unfold, a death machine blindly obedient to the instructions of a war machine, hardly less blind and obedient, exemplified in the Minister of the Interior.
From this point, it is easier to understand, – even though we have not drawn the genealogy nor announced the next challenges of the military-industrial complex – that the network of powers lies, in the same way it it seeks to earn money at every moment. From this point, it is easier to understand that those who are called the rioters [the casseurs, those who break things] confront the police, destroy, sack, plunder, in other words develop an implacable mechanism of negation not for the sake of gratuitous acts nor for the beauty of the ruins, nor to establish their abode in the realm of contradiction nor in virtue of the natural need for resistance, but because they experience the immemorial identity between consciousness and refusal, against all representation, between rejection and recommencement of the world.
“When you consider a September 11 bis, the year is Afghan and our mood is Syrian.” The hatred of self and others is matched only by the determination of the revolutionaries to transform the world.
The oldest: – When we refer to past struggles, it is not first to belong to the tradition of the vanquished, to make legible all these actions that have made and unmade our politico-emotional education, it is not therefore primarily our practical library against the centuries, but rather an umpteenth attempt to live what, in these insurrectional periods, did not happen.
The youngest: – When you say ‘an umpteenth attempt’ in this way, I have the impression that we have no chance, that you make us depart defeated, and that what counts for you is above all to add a trace in this tradition of the oppressed. Why not tell us that this is the final attempt, the last, and that victory awaits us. How does one win if one does not depart victorious?
-It all depends on what we mean by winning. When friends say, for years, that the revolution is no longer an absolute goal, they do not say so much that they do not want to take power or that they want to preserve some aspect of their princely life, they say above all that the great night, as a total upheaval of the conditions of existence, is impossible, among other reasons, because power is everywhere and especially in everyone.
-If it is a question of the total upheaval of the conditions of existence, there was only one ‘human revolution’, and it was that of capital.
-All the more reason to no longer fantasise about this term, or in any case, to no longer believe in its power of instantaneity. Transforming life or changing the world involves a process, and when one says ‘yet another attempt’, it is to insist that this process began long ago.
-In other words, there is nothing to gain. But then, why were you talking about play the other night?
-Because we have always already won if we accept the idea that we have lost for a long time.
-It’s joyful like an unstoppable power, as long as the last hope is gone. A serious and endless game, to take what we can take and share it. Like a voice would say from elsewhere …
“Recognize who and what, in the middle of hell, is not hell, and make it last, and make room for it.”
A suicide of society
from la Plaine de Massilia Plain in the heart of Brussels
April 19-24, 2019
 What we allow ourselves to name, within this therapeutic society, is the duty-to-be-a-little-sick to enjoy the right-to-be-able-to-complain.
 The expression is Juan Branco’s. “Revelations about Assange, Macron and the yellow vests.”
 “The free citizen of democratic-technological societies is a being who obeys unceasingly in the very act by which he gives a command.” Giorgio Agamben, What is a commandment?
 Italo Calvino, Invisible cities
Strasbourg 27/04/2019, Act 24
Paris 1/5/2019, Demonstration 1st of May 2019