Plan C: Institute for Precarious Consciousness – ‘we are all very anxious’

I don’t think the state of things is readily reducible to bite-sized explanation-metaphors, nor that whole eras of the capitalist mode of production (this is of course not just a metaphor) should be understood under sweepingly simple code-words, but, unfolding better explanations by deploying such code-words as efforts to get us to think differently and in detail is of great use. And the corresponding tactical 1,2,3-step is also helpful, even if ’tis not the whole struggle – so having Plan C post this is very welcome, even for those times when I am neither miserable, bored, nor anxious (‘he’s behind you’ – the pantomime reflex).

Not anxious, but I am amazed, often variously amazed – even at the idea of posting this:

“Today’s public secret is that everyone is anxious. Anxiety has spread from its previous localised locations (such as sexuality) to the whole of the social field. All forms of intensity, self-expression, emotional connection, immediacy, and enjoyment are now laced with anxiety. It has become the linchpin of subordination.”

This public secret scales up into another Pantomime Terror. It starts with the kids, subjected to such performances, relentlessly – ‘it will be fun, you’ll see’. Then school, and eventually you get asked to love your work. Meanwhile:

‘public space is bureaucratised and privatised, and a widening range of human activity is criminalised on the grounds of risk, security, nuisance, quality of life, or anti-social behaviour’.

As they say on FB: read this, you’ll be amazed what happens next:

http://www.weareplanc.org/we-are-all-very-anxious/#.U0EqzWmDQ0j

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Previously on Plan C: https://hutnyk.wordpress.com/category/plan-c/

talk at RMIT Melbourne

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John Hutnyk
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Pantomime Terror: MIA’s lyrical opposition to Capital, Google and the Border Patrols.

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Monday 16 December 2013 4:30PM (room tbc)

Within the prevailing ‘keep calm and carry on’ conditions of the UK security regime, those who find safety in repressive complicity are also necessarily disabled from criticism of the war-effect as it appears everywhere. At best this turns anti-war opposition into performance, staged protest and the lyricism of music, song, drum and video. In this talk I examine the culture-inflected, low-intensity war alongside the shooting war. The video provocations of artists like M.I.A. (Mathangi Arulpragasam) can be read as dramatising difficulties that have occupied British South Asian musicians, writers, filmmakers and commentators in the context of a domestic civil liberties crackdown that replicates detention and terror security repression elsewhere.

talk is on the same day as one by Sophie Fuggle…

Flyers with room details:

GRC Seminar John Hutnyk 161213

GRC Seminar Sophie Fuggle 161213

 

cut

More sentences that did not make the cut (from chapter two of Panto Terror):

The insurrection in the suburbs is not directed against the theoretical posturing of the self-regarding masters, but where the street demands something more than theory, bad theory is tolerated only so long as it does not succeed. Unfulfilled as yet, there is a threatening promise here. A lumpen justice storms the stage. Critics superfluous, Adorno applauds.

These might be reflections and critiques of the more or less prejudicial ways codes are filtered and sequenced in the psychological structures of the authoritarian personality today There is always the possibility of extending the study to account for historical differences in the way authoritarianism takes differing forms in different periods. Exactly that missing theory of mediation for which Adorno berated Benjamin’s Arcades assemblage might also displace the tendency to think in terms of vision not sound, and to accept the old methods forever, the old masters, and new – as if the once radical theorists retain critical intensity for all times.

There is a battle for attention and the production of images on all sides is just a part of the workings of an ‘attention economy’ or an ‘attention theory of value’ (Beller 2006:201). I want this value to illustrate and be illustrated in the workings of this writing, the ways writing works…

This is an old story – music and politics back in the day: in the 1970s a band called ‘The Lumpen’ were a cultural offshoot from the Black Panthers: “comrades who liked to harmonize while working Distribution night in San Francisco to ‘help the work go easier’ (another tradition). We had all sung in groups in the past, Calhoun having performed professionally in Las Vegas, and it just came naturally. I don’t remember just how it came about, but Emory Douglas, Minister of Culture, suggested that this could be formed into a musical cadre. Elaine Brown had already recorded an album of revolutionary songs (‘Seize the Time’) in a folk singing style, and this quartet singing in an R&B or ‘Soul’ form could be a useful political tool. Some folks don’t read, but everybody listens to music”

More recent work on Chinese urban street culture continues in a similar manner. Michael Dutton’s great book Streetlife China applauds the organised creativity of lumpen criminal subcultures struggling to survive in the informal and black economy as China advances its new capitalist regime, with deformed Deng-ist characteristics (Dutton 1999).

Back to Paris in 1848 then. In his book on that city, economist geographer David Harvey spends very little time with Marx on the streets, and rarely mentions the Eighteenth Brumaire, perhaps reluctant to draw anything but the most general macro conclusions. Conversely, but similar, his critique of readings of Benjamin cannot relate fragments of the Arcades project to the whole – echoes of Adorno but without the close comradely involvement or ‘Arcades orthodoxy’ (Adorno to Benjamin 10 November 1938, Benjamin/Adorno 1994/1999: 284). Nevertheless, Harvey shows that after the revolutionary disturbances of 1848 came Baron Haussmann and his wider streets project, which has to be understood as the policy response of the ruling class (Harvey 2003:3). Of course this was not simply straightforward – even if the roads, the new boulevards cutting through working class areas, were. In a somewhat hyperbolic mode, Harvey writes of 1848: ‘Before, there was an urban vision that at best could only tinker with the problems of a medieval urban infrastructure; then came Haussmann, who bludgeoned the city into modernity’ (Harvey 2003:3). This for Harvey: ‘Tradition has to be overthrown, violence is necessary, in order to grapple with the present and create the future’ (Harvey 2003:15).

Harvey points to a ‘greater degree of spatial segregation, much of it based on class distinctions’ in the wake of Haussman’s remodelling of the city (Harvey 2003:239).

The point is not to perfect a history of 1848 or 1871, but to explore ways in which the events of that time might help us think differently about our own. I am thinking then of the boulevard as ramparts, and the way this offers a perspective marked by class and militarism. What is it to look along the vista of the new Paris in the 1860s? Just as today the view of New York has been remodelled in significant ways, as Joel McKim argues in his studies of memorial and architectural competition over the Twin Towers site (McKim 2008:83). Indeed, what was it to look up at the planes as they hurtled into the twin towers, or, equally, as they fly far above, the planes that drop what Habermas calls ‘electronically controlled clusters of elegant and versatile missiles’ (in Borradori 2008:28). To get New Yorkers to stop and stare was significant, but it is also a privilege compared to those who do not have the time to do anything but run for cover.

The intellectuals, sociologists and commentators want a more inclusive France. The meaning of the former is secured by the latter – the secret dependence of democratic politics upon nationalist enjoyment takes varied forms, whether it be the novelty of the ‘third way’ politics, the love-thy-neighbour posturing of multicultural tolerance, or ‘radical’ reforms – drop the debt campaigns perhaps – even ‘Struggles for cultural recognition … [are] secretly supported … by compliance in deed, if not in words, with nationalistic rituals’ (Boucher 2004:160). The best these modes of ‘politics’ can claim is to be the human face of the obscene enjoyment generated by the capitalism-nationalism nexus. Žižek points to the need to break from these supplements to destroy the logic of their excessive unconscious attachments – discursive unity is secretly supported by venal enjoyment (Žižek 2004b:164) and he would have done with this kind of ‘rainbow coalition’ against populist fundamentalism in order rather to ‘aggravate’ class difference into class antagonism (Žižek 2004b:186).

In 1972 Eldrige Cleaver wrote:

“The real revolutionary element of our era is the Lumpen, understood in its broader sense. What is lacking is a Lumpen consciousness, consciousness of the basic condition of oppression being the Lumpen condition and not the proletarian condition. In order for the revolutionary movement to progress, the Lumpen must become conscious of themselves as the vast majority, and the false proletarian, working class consciousness must be negated.” (Cleaver 1972)