Guy Debord and Giorgio Agamben – Dialogues III: The ethics and politics of cinema

In an intensely rich dialogue, Giorgio Agamben has engaged with the work of Guy Debord in ways comparable to few.  With our recent post on football and the society of the spectacle (click here), we share below the third and last of a series of such encounters between the two writers.

Below, we share a translation of a lecture by Giorgio Agamben, delivered on the occasion of the “Sixth International Video Week” at the Centre Saint-Gervais in Geneva in November 1995.  (Click here for the original text in pdf).

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The struggle against fascism: Charottesville, Virginia

From the Crimethinc collective …

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Guy Debord and Giorgio Agamben – Dialogues II: Marginal Notes on Comments on the Society of the Spectacle

The situation is neither the becoming-art of life nor the becoming-life of art. We can comprehend its true nature only if we locate it historically in its proper place: that is, after the end and self destruction of art, and after the passage of life through the trial of nihilism. The “Northwest passage of the geography of the true life” is a point of indifference between life and art, where both undergo a decisive metamorphosis simultaneously. This point of indifference constitutes a politics that is finally adequate to its tasks.

Giorgio Agamben

In an intensely rich dialogue, Giorgio Agamben has engaged with the work of Guy Debord in ways comparable to few.  With our recent post on football and the society of the spectacle (click here), we share below the second of a series of such encounters between the two writers.

Giorgio Agamben’s notes on Debords Society of the Spectacle and its follow up Comments on Society of the Spectacle: a politics of the anonymous. (From libcom.org)

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Guy Debord and Giorgio Agamben – Dialogues I: The Prologue to The Uses of the Body

To bring to light—beyond every vitalism—the intimate interweaving of being and living: this is today certainly the task of thought (and of politics).

Giorgio Agamben

In an intensely rich dialogue, Giorgio Agamben has engaged with the work of Guy Debord in ways comparable to few.  With our recent post on football and the society of the spectacle (click here), we share below the first of a series of such encounters between the two writers.

Below is the “Prologue” of Giorgio Agamben’s recent essay The Uses of the Body (posted on the site, communists in situ); a text in search of a politics beyond the separations of private and public, bare life and politically in-formed life 

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The politics of football

As a complement to our last post on the spectacle of football

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The spectacle of football: A somnambulist’s reflections on a man called Neymar

As long as necessity is socially dreamed, dreaming will remain a social necessity.  The spectacle is the bad dream of a modern society in chains and ultimately expresses nothing more than its wish for sleep.  The spectacle is the guardian of that sleep. (21)

Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle

The following reflection was born of the coincidental encounter of a reading of Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle and the spectacle of the sport of football …

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The order of the urban: “Metropolis: A film”

Universal history was born in cities, and it reached maturity with the city’s decisive victory over the country. For Marx, one of the greatest revolutionary merits of the bourgeoisie was the fact that it “subjected the country to the city,” whose “very air is liberating.” But if the history of the city is a history of freedom, it is also a history of tyranny — a history of state administrations controlling not only the countryside but the cities themselves. The city has been the historical battleground of the struggle for freedom, but it has yet to host its victory. The city is the focal point of history because it embodies both a concentration of social power, which is what makes historical enterprises possible, and a consciousness of the past. The current destruction of the city is thus merely one more reflection of humanity’s failure, thus far, to subordinate the economy to historical consciousness; of society’s failure to unify itself by reappropriating the powers that have been alienated from it.

Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle

 

The city as a space of freedom, always precarious, has given way to an open tyranny of ordered, normative spaces and times; the city as a space of encounter, contingency, has been pushed aside by omnipresent and layered apparatuses of surveillance and control; the city as a place of counter-cultures, dandyism, of dérives and détournements, is crushed by and reproduced in relations of discipline and normality.  The cities of our time, the metropolises, or the hyper-spectacular urban nodes of global capitalism, are increasingly little more than concentrated and obligatory points of passage of contemporary value and power: pillaged nature (“natural resources”), alienated human energy and creativity (“labour” and “consumption”, “human capital”, “the knowledge/immaterial economy”, “entrepreneurship”), corrupted and commodified mutual aid (“cooperation”, “collaboration”, “team work”), pleasure domes of frustrated joy (“entertainment”, “pornography”, “social media”, “pharmaceuticals”)  and control (“security”, “anti-terrorism”), and the like.  This is the substance of our urban condition.  And though of course not fully realised (resistance is everywhere!), the goal is announced and made effective.

The metropolis is civilised order, born of the chaos of the wild, dependent upon it, and yet also in a permanent war against it.  The battle ground is life itself, and our fate as a species, as creatures capable of freely and collectively creating, depends on whether the metropolis or the “wild” triumphs.

From the the Tides of flame collective (2012), a visual essay-intervention in our metropolises …

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Jacques Rancière: Reflections on equality and emancipation

“Autonomy” has been a key concept in modern emancipatory politics. But it must be understood correctly. It does not mean the autonomous power of a subject as opposed to external forces: it means a form of thinking, practice and organization free from the presupposition of inequality, free from the hierarchical constraint and the hierarchical belief. 

Jacques Rancière

A further intervention in the anarchist debate between insurrection and organisation, and much more so.  The following text is the speech of Jacques Rancière at B-FEST (International Antiauthoritarian Festival of Babylonia Journal) that was held on 27/05/17 in Athens with the title “Democracy, Equality, Emancipation in a Changing World”. The Greek translation can be found here.

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Insurrectionist or organisational anarchism?: A false dilemma

We cannot conceive that anarchists establish points to follow systemically as fixed dogmas. Because, even if a uniformity of views on the general lines of tactics to follow is assumed, these tactics are carried out in a hundred different forms of applications, with a thousand varying particulars.

Therefore, we don’t want tactical programs, and consequently we don’t want organization. Having established the aim, the goal to which we hold, we leave every anarchist free to choose from the means that his sense, his education, his temperament, his fighting spirit suggest to him as best. We don’t form fixed programs and we don’t form small or great parties. But we come together spontaneously, and not with permanent criteria, according to momentary affinities for a specific purpose, and we constantly change these groups as soon as the purpose for which we had associated ceases to be, and other aims and needs arise and develop in us and push us to seek new collaborators, people who think as we do in the specific circumstance.

When any of us no longer preoccupies himself with creating a fictitious movement of individual sympathizers and those weak of conscience, but rather creates an active ferment of ideas that makes one think, like blows from a whip, he often hears his friends respond that for many years they have been accustomed to another method of struggle, or that he is an individualist, or a pure theoretician of anarchism.

It is not true that we are individualists if one tries to define this word in terms of isolating elements, shunning any association within the social community, and supposing that the individual could be sufficient to himself. But ourselves supporting the development of the free initiatives of the individual, where is the anarchist that does not want to be guilty of this kind of individualism? If the anarchist is one who aspires to emancipation from every form of moral and material authority, how could he not agree that the affirmation of one’s individuality, free from all obligations and external authoritarian influence, is utterly benevolent, is the surest indication of anarchist consciousness? Nor are we pure theoreticians because we believe in the efficacy of the idea, more than in that if the individual. How are actions decided, if not through thought? Now, producing and sustaining a movement of ideas is, for us, the most effective means for determining the flow of anarchist actions, both in practical struggle and in the struggle for the realization of the ideal.

We do not oppose the organizers. They will continue, if they like, in their tactic. If, as I think, it will not do any great good, it will not do any great harm either. But it seems to me that they have writhed throwing their cry of alarm and blacklisting us either as savages or as theoretical dreamers.

Giuseppe Ciancabilla, Against Organisation

 

To oppose insurrection to organisation, with one or the other being held up as the correct way of “doing” anarchism, is of interest only if to clarify questions of substance; madness, if raised to the level of principle.  As a complement to our last two posts, and as a temporary last word on the subject, we share a critical essay on the subject by Peter Gelderloos.

That all of this might seem somewhat arcane and of concern only to anarchists is understandable.  But is to ignore that what is at stake in this dispute is the extremely difficult issue, not only for anarchists, of the relation between autonomy/freedom and its institutionalisation.  The debate remains open … and perhaps this is as it should be.

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The politics of cruelty: Hostis and the apology for insurrection

In an eloquent defense of insurrectionist politics, the Hostis journal critically dismisses all moralising forms of anarchism, eulogising of democracy and pacifism.  Caught in a religious-theological past, anarchists fall far too quickly into self-mutilating performances of virtuous and moral superiority and/or impotent prefigurative politics.  In seeking to refashion the social, anarchists do little more than lay the ground for future forms of control.  The social is the problem, and any effort at “socialising” reform only perpetuates the illusion of “society” as a space for possible peace and justice, while at the same time, generating novel forms of domination.

“Civil war is the alternative to the social.”  And it is against this that politics must be understood and acted upon.  What then do morality and ethics have to do with this?  Or worse, social reform?  Nothing.  “When it comes down to it, the point is not to be better than our enemies but to eliminate them. And such a task is completed on the field of politics, not ethics.”

Politics as war; politics embraced as constituted of immoral acts; politics as the bond of partisans in insurrection against domination: “Our enemies can never be forgiven. Instead, we say to punish and forget. Continue until you ‘destroy what destroys you.'”

Nothing would seem to be further from our sensitivities at Autonomies, we who have also so often celebrated insurrection, but who have also defended the weaving of new “social” relations in strikes, urban and rural okupations, cooperatives, and the like.  Why then share Hostis‘ “Politics of cruelty”?  Because whatever differences there are, there is also much in this short essay that also resonates with us: the moral arrogance of some anarchists, the blindness to the dangers of organisational, prefigurative politics, the refusal and/or ignorance of even the possibility of conflict, the suppression of spontaneity and desire, in sum, the destruction of autonomy.

And yet the Hostis essay ignores at least two issues.  That there can be no insurrection without territorialisation, or to state it more simply, that insurrection builds upon the “organisational” work of anarchists and others in social movements and collectives that insurrectionists are sometimes too quick to dismiss (e.g. the “insurrectionist” politics of greek anarchists would not exist without the dense fabric of “alternative” social relations that characterise the Athenian neighbourhood of Exarcheia, for example.  In other words, it is in the alternative social fabrics of equality and freedom that rebellious subjectivities are forged and sustained).  Neither in fact can exist without the other.  And secondly, the field of politics as a field of civil war does not eliminate the risk of identity forming, institutional politics, for war is also constitutive of social relations (e.g.  consider how much “insurrectionist” politics is male centered or masculinist).  What both issues point to then is the need to consider politics as ethics, in the sense of a form of life.  That is, the central question that confronts any radical politics is not “how to do it?” (precisely the kind of technical question that continues to perpetuate purely and irrelevant ideological sectarianism), but “how are we to live?” (“we”: those desirous to live outside/beyond capitalism).

With and against Hostis

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