Invisible Committee and Tiqqun, from The Coming Insurrection and To Our Friends, 2007-2015
The uprising of Algerian youth that set all Kabylia aflame in spring 2001 managed to retake almost the whole territory, attacking the armed police, the courthouses, and all the representations of the State, and generalizing the riot until they caused the unilateral retreat of the forces of order, until they physically prevented the elections from being held.
At the end of June 2006 in the State of Oaxaca, the occupations of city halls multiply, and insurgents occupy public buildings. A month later, access is cut off to certain hotels and tourist compounds. Mexico’s Minister of Tourism speaks of a disaster “comparable to hurricane Wilma.” A few years earlier, blockades had become the main form of action of the revolt in Argentina, with different local groups helping each other by blocking this or that major road, and continually threatening, through their joint action, to paralyze the entire country if their demands were not met. For years such threats have been a powerful lever for railway workers, truck drivers, and electrical and gas supply workers. The movement against the CPE in France did not hesitate to block train stations, ring roads, factories, highways, supermarkets and even airports. In Rennes, only three hundred people were needed to shut down the main access road to the town for hours and cause a 40-kilometer long traffic jam.
Jam everything — this will be the first reflex of all those who rebel against the present order. In a delocalized economy where companies function according to “just-in-time” production, where value derives from connectedness to the network, where the highways are links in the chain of dematerialized production which moves from subcontractor to subcontractor and from there to another factory for assembly, to block circulation is to block production as well.
Liberate territory from police occupation.
If possible, avoid direct confrontation.
One of the results of these recent movements is the understanding that henceforth a real demonstration has to be “wild,” not declared in advance to the police. Having the choice of terrain, we can, like the Black Bloc of Genoa in 2001, bypass the red zones and avoid direct confrontation. By choosing our own trajectory, we can lead the cops, including unionist and pacifist ones, rather than being herded by them. In Genoa we saw a thousand determined people push back entire buses full of carabinieri, then set their vehicles on fire. The important thing is not to be better armed but to take the initiative. Courage is nothing, confidence in your own courage is everything. Having the initiative helps.
Everything points, nonetheless, toward a conception of direct confrontations as that which pins down opposing forces, buying us time and allowing us to attack elsewhere — even nearby. The fact that we cannot prevent a confrontation from occurring doesn’t prevent us from making it into a simple diversion. Even more than to actions, we must commit ourselves to their coordination. Harassing the police means that by forcing them to be everywhere they can no longer be effective anywhere.
Occupation of the Kasbah in Tunis and of the Syntagma Square in Athens, siege of Westminster in London during the student movement of 2011, encirclement of the parliament in Madrid on September 25, 2012 or in Barcelona on June 15, 2011, riots all around the Chamber of Deputies in Rome on December 14, 2010, attempt on October 15, 2011 in Lisbon to invade the Assembleia da Republica, burning of the Bosnian presidential residence in February of 2014: the places of institutional power exert a magnetic attraction on revolutionaries. But when the insurgents manage to penetrate parliaments, presidential palaces, and other headquarters of institutions, as in Ukraine, in Libya or in Wisconsin, it’s only to discover empty places, that is, empty of power, and furnished without any taste. It’s not to prevent the “people” from “taking power” that they are so fiercely kept from invading such places, but to prevent them from realizing that power no longer resides in the institutions. There are only deserted temples there, decommissioned fortresses, nothing but stage sets—real traps for revolutionaries. The popular impulse to rush onto the stage to find out what is happening in the wings is bound to be disappointed. If they got inside, even the most fervent conspiracy freaks would find nothing arcane there; the truth is that power is simply no longer that theatrical reality to which modernity accustomed us.
Power now resides in the infrastructures of this world. Contemporary power is of an architectural and impersonal, and not a representative or personal, nature. The cast of politicians is actually composed of clowns with varying degrees of talent—whence the phenomenal success of the wretched Beppe Grillo in Italy or the sinister Dieudonné in France. All in all, at least they know how to entertain you, which is their profession of course. So, in addition to stating the obvious, reproaching politicians for “not representing us” only maintains a nostalgia. Power is indeed somewhere else, somewhere other than in the institutions, but it’s not hidden for all that. Or if it is, it’s hidden like Poe’s “purloined letter.” No one sees it because everyone has it in plain sight, all the time—in the form of a high-voltage line, a freeway, a traffic circle, a supermarket, or a computer program. And if it is, it’s hidden like a sewage system, an undersea cable, a fiber optic line running the length of a railway, or a data center in the middle of a forest. Power is the very organization of this world, this engineered, configured, purposed world. That is the secret, and it’s that there isn’t one.
Anyone who means to undertake anything whatsoever against the existing world must start from there: the real power structure is the material, technological, physical organization of this world. Government is no longer in the government. The “power vacuum” that lasted in Belgium for more than a year is a clear example in point. The country was able to function with no government, elected representatives, parliament, political debate, or electoral issues, without any part of its normal operation being affected. Same thing in Italy, which has been going from “technical government” to “technical government” for years now, and it doesn’t bother anyone that this expression goes back to the Manifesto-program of the Futurist Party of 1918, which incubated the first fascists.
Power, henceforth, is the very order of things, and the police charged with defending it. It’s not simple to think about a power that consists in infrastructures, in the means to make them function, to control them and to build them. How do we contest an order that isn’t articulated in language, that is constructed step by step and wordlessly? An order that is embodied in the very objects of everyday life. An order whose political constitution is its material constitution. An order that is revealed less in the President’s words than in the silence of optimal performance. In the age when power manifested itself through edicts, laws, and regulations, it was vulnerable to critical attack. But there’s no criticizing a wall, one destroys it or tags it. A government that arranges life through its instruments and its layouts, whose statements take the form of a street lined with traffic cones and surveilled by overhead cameras, may only invite a destruction that is wordless itself. Aggression against the setting of everyday life has become sacrilegious, consequently; it’s something like violating its constitution. Indiscriminate smashing in urban riots expresses both an awareness of this state of things, and a relative powerlessness in the face of it. The mute and unquestionable order which the existence of a bus shelter embodies will not lie shattered on the ground, unfortunately, once the shelter is demolished. The broken windows theory will still stand after all the shop windows have been smashed. All the hypocritical proclamations about the sacred character of the “environment,” the holy crusade for its defense, can only be understood in light of this mutation: power has become environmental itself, has merged into the surroundings. It is power that we’re asked to defend in all the official appeals to “preserve the environment,” and not the little fish.
Everyday life has not always been organized. For that to be accomplished, it was necessary first to dismantle life, starting with the city. Life and the city have been broken down into functions, corresponding to “social needs.” The office district, the factory district, the residential district, the spaces for relaxation, the entertainment district, the place where one eats, the place where one works, the place where one cruises, and the car or bus for tying all that together are the result of a prolonged reconfiguration of life that devastated every form of life. It was carried out methodically, for more than a century, by a whole caste of organizers, a whole grey armada of managers. Life and humanity were dissected into a set of needs; then a synthesis of these elements was organized. It doesn’t really matter whether this synthesis was given the name of “socialist planning” or “market planning.” It doesn’t really matter that it resulted in the failure of new towns or the success of trendy districts. The outcome is the same: a desert and existential anemia. Nothing is left of a form of life once it has been partitioned into organs. Conversely, this explains the palpable joy that overflowed the occupied squares of the Puerta del Sol, Tahrir, Gezi or the attraction exerted, despite the infernal muds of the Nantes countryside, by the land occupation at Notre-Dame-des-Landes. It is the joy that attaches to every commune. Suddenly, life ceases being sliced up into connected segments. Sleeping, fighting, eating, taking care of oneself, partying, conspiring, discussing all belong to the same vital movement. Not everything is organized, everything organizes itself. The difference is meaningful. One requires management, the other attention—dispositions that are incompatible in every respect.
Referring to the Aymara uprisings in Bolivia at the beginning of the 2000s, a Uruguayan activist, Raúl Zibechi, writes: “In these movements, organization is not separate from daily life. In insurrectionary action it is daily life itself that is deployed.” He observes that in the neighborhoods of El Alto, in 2003, “a communal ethos replaced the old trade-union ethos.” Very cool, that, because it clarifies what a struggle against infrastructural power consists in. Say infrastructure and you’re saying that life has been detached from its conditions. That conditions have keen placed on life. That life now depends on factors out of its control, that it has lost its footing. Infrastructures organize a life without a world, suspended, expendable, at the mercy of whoever is managing them. Metropolitan nihilism is only a brash way of not admitting this to oneself. Contrariwise, Raúl’s statement also indicates what is being sought in the experiments that are underway in a large number of neighborhoods and villages throughout the world, and the inevitable pitfalls. Not a return to earth but a reinhabiting of earth. What gives insurrections their punch, and their ability to damage the adversary’s infrastructure in a sustained way, is precisely their level of self-organization of communal life. That one of the first reflexes of Occupy Wall Street was to go block the Brooklyn Bridge or that the Oakland Commune along with several thousand people undertook to paralyze the city’s port during the general strike of December 12, 2011, are evidence of the intuitive link between self-organization and blockage. The fragility of the self-organization that barely took shape in the occupations did not allow these attempts to be pushed further, apparently. By contrast, Tahrir and Taksim squares are central hubs of automobile circulation in Cairo and Istanbul. To block those flows was to open up the situation. The occupation was immediately a blockade. Hence its ability to throw the reign of normality out of joint in a whole metropolis. At a completely different level, one can’t help but draw a connection between the fact that the Zapatistas are currently proposing to link together twenty-nine defensive struggles against mining, highway, power-plant, and dam projects involving different indigenous peoples all over Mexico, and the fact that they themselves have spent the past fifteen years establishing their autonomy vis-à-vis the federal and economic powers.
The failure of the French struggle against retirement restructuring in the autumn of 2010 taught a bitter lesson on this subject. If the CGT had control of the whole struggle, it was due to our inadequacy in the technical sphere. All the union needed to do was turn the blockade of the refineries, where it was hegemonic, into the spearhead of the movement. That way it was free at any moment to signal the end of the game by reopening the refinery valves, thereby releasing all the pressure on the country. What the movement lacked at that point was precisely a minimal knowledge of the material functioning of that world, a knowledge scattered among some workers, concentrated in the egghead brains of a few engineers, and shared no doubt, on the opposing side, in some obscure military agency. If we had been able to cut off the police’s supply of teargas, or interrupt the televised propaganda for a day, or deprive the authorities of electricity, we can be sure that things would not have ended so pitifully. Moreover, it has to be concluded that the main political defeat of the movement was to have surrendered the strategic prerogative of deciding who would have gasoline and who would not to the State, with its requisitions at the prefectural level.
On July 3, 2011, in response to the eviction of the Maddalena, tens of thousands of persons converged in several columns on the construction site, occupied by the police and the army. That day, in the Susa Valley, there was a real battle. A somewhat adventurous carabiniere was even captured and disarmed by some demonstrators in the boschi, the woods. From the hairdresser to the grandmother, nearly everybody had equipped themselves with a gas mask. Those too old to go out cheered us on from the doorways of their houses, with words like “Ammazzateli!”—“Kill them!” In the end, the occupation forces were not dislodged from their nook. And the next day, the newspapers repeated the police’s lies in unison: “Maalox and ammonia: the Black Bloc guerilla,” and so forth. As a riposte to this propaganda via slander, a press conference was called. The movement’s response included this: “Well, all right, if attacking the construction site makes you a Black Bloc, then we’re all Black Blocs!”
When the most indiscriminate repression comes down on us, we should be careful, then, not to see it as the conclusive proof of our radicality. We shouldn’t think they are out to destroy us. We should start rather from the hypothesis that they’re out to produce us. Produce us as a political subject, as “anarchists,” as “Black Bloc,” as “anti-system” radicals, to extract us from the generic population by assigning us a political identity. When repression strikes us, let’s begin by not taking ourselves for ourselves. Let’s dissolve the fantastical terrorist subject which the counterinsurgency theorists take such pains to impersonate, a subject the representation of which serves mainly to produce the “population” as a foil—the population as an apathetic and apolitical heap, an immature mass just good enough for being governed, for having its hunger pangs and consumer dreams satisfied.
On February 22, 2014 at Nantes, during the demonstration against the airport project, the riot practice of acting in small masked mobile groups was so generalized that to speak of a “Black Bloc” was no longer anything but a way of reducing what was new to the already-known, when it wasn’t just the language of the Minister of the Interior. In situations where the police only discern the action of “radical groups,” it’s not hard to see that they’re trying to conceal a general radicalization.
Thus, our party is everywhere, but it’s at a standstill. With the disappearance of the anti-globalization movement, the perspective of a movement as planetary as capital itself, and hence capable of doing battle with it, was lost as well. So the first question we are faced with is the following: how does a set of situated powers constitute a global force? How does a set of communes constitute a historical party? Or to put it differently: it was necessary at a certain point to abandon the ritual of counter-summits with its professional activists, its depressive puppetmasters, its predictable riots, its plenitude of slogans and its dearth of meanings, and attach ourselves to lived territories; we had to tear ourselves away from the abstraction of the global. The question at present is how do we tear ourselves away from the attraction of the local?
What characterizes the situation that a commune faces is that by giving oneself to it unreservedly, one always finds more in it than one brought to it or sought from it: one is surprised to find one’s own strength in it, a stamina and an inventiveness that is new, plus the happiness that comes from strategically inhabiting a situation of exception on a daily basis. In this sense, the commune is the organization of fertility. It always gives rise to more than it lays claim to. This is what makes irreversible the upheaval that affected the crowds that descended on all the squares and avenues of Istanbul. Crowds forced for weeks to deal on their own with the crucial questions of provisioning, construction, care and treatment, burial, or armament not only learned to organize themselves, but learned something that most didn’t know: that we can organize ourselves, and that this capacity is fundamentally joyful. The fact that this fertility of the street was not mentioned by any of the democratic commentators is a rather clear indication of its dangerous potential. The memory of those days and nights makes the orderly everydayness of the metropolis appear even more intolerable, and exposes its pointlessness.
Robin James, from Resilience and Melancholy, 2015
Since it emerged in the enlightenment, classically liberal humanism has been the West’s dominant epistemic and evaluative paradigm. It organizes the world according to ideals of teleological (goal-oriented) development, authenticity, rationality, and autonomous agency of choices. In such a context, “no future” is a radically queer, punk claim because it challenges the value of progress. Similarly, “anarchy” is a radical response to modernity’s rigid insistence on arche. The tension between the musical structure and the lyrical content in The Sex Pistol’s “God Save the Queen” clarifies how “no future” functions as a negation of European Modernity’s arche of progressive development.
So what goes on, musically, in this track? Though its lack of guitar solo and stripped-down aesthetic make it a conventionally punk reaction to glammy excess, “God Save the Queen” — especially its harmony, formal composition, and instrumentation — is a rather conventional tonal rock song in the key of A. (The A chord is easy to play on the guitar, hence its common use in punk songs.) The song begins with a riff that plays the leading tone, G#, against the tonic A. A very powerful and common way of creating tension, the same strategy is used in the well-known Jaws theme. This riff also concludes the song. The journey from and back to this rif includes a foray into E in the two bridges with lyrics, and into B in the instrumental bridge near the end. E is the dominant (V) of A, and B is the dominant of E. So, the song uses a lot of very conventional harmonic gestures, like modulation to the dominan, to compose an even more conventional overall song structure. We being in one key, progress through a few key changes, and then return back to the original key. This harmonic narrative is the song’s musical arche: it teleologically progresses from home, through some obstacles, and back home again. It doesn't negate or reject the laws of tonal harmony so much as distills them to their essence. It begins in A major, modulates to E (i.e., to the dominant) in the choruses, and ends up back in A major, the outro elaboration the same D-C#-A riff that appears in the intro, except with a C# minor instead of a C# major. “God Save” isn't musically an-archic; it follows a conventionally teleological harmonic itinerary from tonic to dominant and back to tonic. However, this shift from major to minor at the end suggests that this order may be a front for something more insidious. The song doesn't end precisely where it began, but in a slightly darker place. The song’s arche leads it toward negation.
This negation is most evident in the song’s lyrics, especially the refrain “no future,” which is echoed in the title of Edelman’s book, No Future. This Pistols song is a parody of the British national anthem, also titled “God Save the Queen.” With lines such as “long live our noble Queen,” and “long to reign over us” the national anthem uses the image of the monarch’s future (her long life and reign) as a means to consolidate British national identity — the “we’ or “us” in the song. “We” are the ones whose future is realized with the Queen’s continued reign. In this context, “no future: is a powerfully resonant challenge not just to the Queen, but, more importantly, to the ‘we.’” The Pistols’ “we” are those who lack the future promised by the Queen’s reign, the people written out of post-industrial, neoliberalizing Britain — bare life, the precariat. But as neoliberalism renders everyone increasingly precarious, what happens to the ongoing stability (the future) of the State and the national “we.” That is what the last part of the song discusses: its not just “us” who have no future, but “you” and, indeed, that national imaginary itself. Wherears the national anthem creates solidarity through an imagined future, the Pistols’ song creates solidarity though the negation of that imagined future. “No future” negates the things that cohere through narrative of futurity, progress, and teleological development, like both songs’ (the Pistols’ and the national anthem) harmonic structure.
How does one negate the arche of traditional Western rock and pop music? And what would be queer about that sound? Edelman suggest what queer negation might sound like, musically. Working from Hitchcock’s The Birds, he argues that queer death sounds like meaningless repetition, “random signals,” white noise, or “electronic buzzing” — more like The Normal or Cabaret Voltaire than The Sex Pistols, really. For Edelman, queer death is the negation of teleological rationalist, the an in an-arche. This sounds like noise — anarchic, disordered sound, sound that does not trace a coherent narrative from one moment to the next.
The noise is queer because it refuses to conform to the imperative to reproduce, that is, to populate the future with phenomena that continue and develop established legacies (like, obviously, children). Queer sounds do not reproduce themselves (e.g., by developing variations on a theme); they merely repeat. Repetition is key to Edelman’s notion of queer anti-futurity and death. Following from what he identifies as the “repetitive insistence of the sinthome (No Future 56), Edelman argues that meaningless, un(re)productive repetition is what gives queerness (what he calls “sinthomosexuality”) its negative force. Traditional Western sexual, epistemic, and aesthetic structures over-emphasize “reproduction” in order to conceal the presence and importance of repetition (sameness and lack of progress).
This is more or less the exact claim that African-American Studies scholars Tricia Rose and James Snead make about the way Western music “secrets” repetition. According to Rose, “Snead claims that European culture ‘secrets’ repetition, categorizing it as progression or regression, assigning accumulation and growth or stagnation to motion, whereas black cultures highlight the observance or repetition, perceiving it as circulation, equilibrium…: ‘in European culture, repetition must be seen to be not just circulation and flow, but accumulation and growth. In black culture, the thing is there for you to pick up when you come back to get it. If there is a goal… it is always deferred; it continually ‘cuts’ back to the start…’
As Rose and Snead indicate, Afro-diasporic musics tend to foreground repetition and, rather than trying to create a sense of evolutionary continuity — what Edelman calls “the genealogy that narrative syntax labors to affirm” — use “cuts” to create loops, which are then repeated over and over again. In the same way that a DJ cuts into the breakbeat and loops it back to the beginning, sinthomosexuality is, as Edelman describes, a ‘textual machine... like a guillotine” that uses the cut to “reduce the assurance of meaning in fantasy’s promise of continuity to the meaningless circulation and repetitions of the drive.” The mutual privileging of repetition and “the cut” is one of the main ites between Edelman’s theory of queerness and Afro-diasporic cultural and cosmological views. The queer-critical potential of looping, cutting, and the rejection of teleo-evolutionary development is also central to J. Jack Halberstam’s work in queer/trans cinema. For example, “queer time” involves the refusal of “growing up” (subjective evolutionary development to “normal” adulthood), and the “reveal” of a transgender character breaks linear narrative development by forcing viewers to revisit prior scenes in light of new knowledge about a character’s gender identity.
The similarities among Edelman, Halberstam, and Snead and Rose should not be surprising. They are not just responding to the same interwoven networks of privilege and oppression, but to a specific way of understanding power: “reproductive futurity” and the European ideology of teleological “accumulation and growth” are both classically liberal frameworks whose centering of wholeness, resolution, development, and assimilation encourage the elision and misconstrual of “repetition.” Negation (like cutting) and repetition (like looping) are counter-hegemonic responses to a specific white supremacist, heteronormative arche, one premised on teleological development, accumulation and growth.
Sounds are meaningless, random and “noisy” only when evaluated against a specific standard of audiological significance, logic, and musically. Noisy an-arche sounds queer and illogical only to ears tempered by a logos that privileges development, teleology, euphony, virtuosity, and rationality. Neoliberalism, however, doesn't care about linear progress, teleology, or euphony; in fact, as I have earlier in the book, neoliberalism courts and incites damage, glitch, and imperfection. Neoliberalism co-opts classically queer negation and critical black aesthetics, redistributing their negative, critical force and putting it in service of privileged groups.
Resilience is a technique that organizes both social relations and musical practices for the benefit of Multi-Racial White Supremacist Patriarchy, its priorities and its values. It shouldn't be surprising, then, that the musical practices most closely tied to resilience discourse — the soar, the pause drop — are featured in genres targeted, demographically, to the populations expected to be most resilient: pop audiences, multi-cultural millennials, teen and college-aged girls (“Young Girls,” as Tiqqun might put it). Just as Multi-Racial White Supremacist Patriarchy co-opted and domesticated resistance strategies and turned them into resilience discourse, it co-opted and domesticated the music of oppressed groups and turned these noisy monstrosities into gag-style pop aesthetics.
Resilience is a method for recycling noise into signal. Its also a form of labor — labor that, in the age of real subsumption and affective labor, is economic because it is cultural, affective, and psychological. Performed primarily by traditionally oppressed groups — above all, by the “multicultural” women Multi-Racial White Supremacist Patriarchy encourages to work their way up its ranks — resilience both naturalizes traditional forms of oppression and produces new ones. These new oppressions are what I call Multi-Racial White Supremacist Patriarchy. Because music aesthetics are deeply political, neoliberal upgrades to traditional white supremacist, patriarchal politics also impact aesthetics — “the male gaze” becomes Multi-Racial White Supremacist Patriarchy visualization, for example. This intertwining of political and aesthetics makes it possible to hear already-existing alternatives to resilience discourse in the structure of songs like Rihanna’s “Diamonds,” or in her performance in “Pour It Up.” We don’t have to imagine an alternative to Multi-Racial White Supremacist Patriarchy and to neoliberal capitalism — Rihanna’s already developed one for us. Her alternative is specifically targeted at the techniques that subsume privileged women into its political discourse. Instead of recycling noise into signal, Rihanna’s invests in noise, that is, in currents and currency that diminishes the viability of Multi-Racial White Supremacist Patriarchy. This practice of bending resilience so that it invests in “death” rather than “life” is what I call melancholy. Melancholic subjects are poor conductors of Multi-Racial White Supremacist Patriarchy power.
exmilitary collective, no choice but guerrilla insurrection
We decided to assemble the following after the weekend of January 20th, in the states understood as the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump. While minoritarian protest and their voices of discontent and practices of occupation have contextualized a rising american resistance, the black bloc continues to haunt the political — pointing to, at once, a radical anti-political engagement and an aesthetics of situational intervention, both of which illuminate a lack of contemporary radical politics in America.
The black bloc today — in a world of hyper-austerity, hyper-surveillance, necropolitics, police — is less a protest tactic than a mode of becoming. A way of coming to terms, through an active mourning, of the current situation and yet becoming resilient to domains of control and intelligibility. The modernist’s and enlightenment's public sphere shattered with the windows of bank of america, as did its promise of free and liberal exchange of thought and capital, indebted to its own burning limo on 13th and K.
The desire for autonomy is nothing more than the symptom of late financial capitalism, which has brought about the excessive control and determination of information, data, logistics and surveillance. The black bloc is its predicate response: autonomy, disappearance, acceleration.
Berlin, 2013: youth in black make a game of destroying CCTV cameras mounted on buildings, the u-bahn, traffic lights to directly contest the infrastructure of state and corporate surveillance. The flaneur-etat — the beat cop — is supplemented with the third dimension of pervasive, ubiquitous cameras. CCTV operates as a new policing, from topography to topology — the city grid is transfigured into a graph, a graphical model, that’s outliers are displayed, hood up, pixelated on wanted posters on the sides of bus stops. The confrontation with the CCTV camera is thus archetypical of confrontation with the state as a whole — the impotence of power is revealed when a hammer destroys the camera lens. From their ‘CAMOVER’ manifesto:
‘Comprehensive monitoring is the most visible manifestation of the ubiquitous eyes of the state, done under the guise of society’s basic need for security. Why does the state have such a huge interest in developing surveillance technology in general, and with CCTV in particular? A look at London could provide an explanation. Comprehensive supervision of the city followed the conflict between a generation of young people and the desperate state after the police shot a migrant worker to death. Using video images, thousands of protesters were identified and repressed. Imprisonment, fines, and ostracism completely shattered any hope of a movement.’
The composition of the black bloc is strategically tactical and tactically strategic. Logistically, it is militancy at its best. In performance, it disrupts and harmonizes, terrorizes and symphonizes. It is no coincidence Debord was a part-time strategist: “The strategist occupies, evacuates, or contests any territory at hand in pursuit of advantage,” the same task of a black bloc navigating the city center. The black bloc attempts to outmaneuver the cops, utilizing the terrain: running down side streets, breaking windows, rerouting, vacillating, creating a chaotic scene, overwhelming the cops so that they cannot contain or constrict the anonymous crowd.
January, 2017: in an act of collective effervescence, a collection of subjects become a crowd. 230 protesters are arrested for felony rioting. Before the procession of juridical commandments, there are symbolic forms of humiliation and punishment: the “kettle” contained between 12th and L are held in custody for 7-8 hours without arrest. People piss in the street, clothes soaked in January. But what makes the above arrest legally suspicious, is that it is an arresting of a crowd — individuation and subject formation(s) are abandoned as all subjects become riotous. Indeed, the same police chief ordered the illegal arrest of 400 marchers at a World Bank protest in 2002; in 2000, 700 more were arrested indiscriminately.
Paris, 1913: at the end of a history of bourgeois ballet, Futurists incite a riot. A packed audience stands in front of Igor Stravinsky’s staged composition of the Rite of Spring — a resolutely modern style for a uncompromisingly classical audience. Spontaneous and quite immediate, the audience begins to react: presumptuously anticipating more of the same bourgeois theatre, the destitute and cacophonous Rite of Spring provoked a unanimous swell of violent response; within minutes, the crowd becomes a riot. First, two factions in the crowd attack each other (let’s call them “democrats” and “republicans”) — it is only after this initial conflict do they direct their attention to the performance of the symphony — the riot’s primal scene.
What is the relationship between crowds, noise, and power? The riot.
How does one incite a riot? With cacophony, noise.
The growing tensions in this country do not designate a future to come, as the recently regular and normalized procession of national marches, rallies and protests may be set to determine, but hold a greater conceit: the transition of power was peaceful, and as has been said before, between rival factions of the bourgeoisie. The black bloc is a visualized affect of hatred towards capitalism and its democracy. The black bloc does not plead with the police to count the popular vote against trump, it dictates its own mandate in the street.
Fred Moten, necessity, immensity, and crisis (many edges/seeing things), 2011
There’s a more than critical criticism that’s like seeing things—a gift of having been given to love things and how things look and how and what things see. It’s not that you don’t see crisis—cell blocks made out of the general meadow, and all the luxurious destitution and ge(n)ocidal meanness, the theft of beauty and water, the policing of everyday people and their everyday chances. It’s just that all this always seems so small and contingent against the inescapable backdrop of constant escape—which is the other crisis, that is before the first crisis, calling it into being and question. The ones who stay in that running away study and celebrate its violently ludic authenticity, the historicity that sends us into the old-new division and collection of words and sets, passing on and through, as incessant staging and preparation. This necessity and immensity of the alternative surrounds and aerates the contained, contingent fixity of the standard.
The alternative, and the ones who stand (in) for it, can only be defended in what Mario Pedrosá calls its “experimental exercise,” which happens everyday, and in the recognition of its exercise, which is what I think Marx refers to when he speaks, in “Communism and Private Property,” of the everyday engagement in criticism that is an essential part of a communist way of life, and which sometimes he more than critically enacts when he engages in critique, in the elaboration of a general theory of crisis, and in the urgent address of specific instances of crisis. Questions concerning the theory and actuality of crisis are no less urgent now because crisis is always with us. Seeing things doesn’t hide the crisis that critique discloses; rather, it locates it more precisely, within a general tendency for upheaval that it constitutes. Seeing things, the alternative seeing of things, the seen and seeing alternative, which a certain deployment of crisis is meant to police, is the crisis of genuine disclosure and generative disruption.
The crisis of deprivation on a global scale is a function of policing that responds to a global ecologic of generation that regulative power brutally (mis)understands as a crisis of law. This is to say that crisis is not only a function of policing but that it has a policing function; it is also to say that crisis is ongoing, generative resistance to the regulation, the policing, that it generates. This poor description of the interplay of policing and crisis is trying reverently to disclose a reversal that already animates Policing the Crisis, the classic attendance of Stuart Hall, Chas Critcher, Tony Jefferson, John Clarke and Brian Roberts to the range and force of the generative social and aesthetic upheaval of the alternative in England since World War II. Hall and his fellows analyze the ideological manufacture of crisis as a mode of interpretive regulation. The racialization of already extant criminal activity allows its epidermalized “novelty” to be interpreted as crisis. But the criminalization of that activity, in its relation to the normalization of modes of propriation whose brutality and scale dwarf any and every instance of “mugging,” is the real problem because, in the end, it was never about this or that instance or collection of instances of law breaking; it was, rather, about the social self-defense of jurisgenerative capacity of which mugging can be said to be a particular manifestation, noteworthy not because of its brutality or venality or degeneracy but only because its enactment of self-defense through (re)propriative acts are susceptible to a condition in which they reinforce the brutal axioms of ownership and exception.
Criticism, the capacity to see things in their branching and unfolding and generative differentiation, attends to generation while critique, as Marx deploys it, attends to the regulation and policing of generation and while degenerate critique, which seems to be deployed today almost everywhere in the normal human sciences, is driven by its own implicit claims of national identity or political subjectivity that have themselves been made subject to a force, and been understood by way of a logic, of degeneration implying a mystery of loss and of what was lost. Here’s where the neoliberal lament regarding “the crisis of democracy” (which was, according to Samuel Huntington and his fellows, a function of there being too much democracy) can be understood as the animating trace of certain folks, claiming to be on the left, whose lament of the current loss of “our democracy” is driven by nostalgic fantasies of a democracy that supposedly was held within the structure of, rather than resistance to, American exclusion. It’s not coincidence that this convenient repression of American exclusion is usually accompanied by an assertion of American exception which either takes the form of an invocation of “our” best intentions or, more pragmatically, as the assertion of a right to do just about anything in the name of national defense, whose complete detachment from imperial aggression is sanctioned by the serial invocation of crisis.
When people respond to the suppression of the alternative—and Hall and his fellows brilliantly illuminate how state interpretation of the alternative as crisis is a fundamental element of that suppression—the word riot is deployed in order to augment that suppression; but when suppression of the alternative is more (im)properly understood as a response to the alternative it also becomes possible to understand that with regard to the insistent previousness of the alternative it is more accurate to say, over Sly Stone’s growl or Joe Strummer’s sneer, that there is, and already has been, a riot going on. This is about the anoriginary force of tumultuous derangement, a generative sociopoesis given in and as everyday sensuality. To rise to the defense of this sacred, ordinary, generative violence—to protect it from the ongoing murder—is often to risk a kind of appropriation of the very propriative force one seeks to combat with an otherwise animating fugitivity. Such uprising can take the form of burnin’ and lootin’ but, even more easily, such appropriation can take the form of a critical account of the justificatory causes of burnin’ and lootin’. Meanwhile, what always remains or, more precisely, what must be understood as the irreducible remainder that animates such physical acts as well as such critical accounts, are everyday and everynight things. It’s not about the looting of loot or the assault of persons who take shape as shops and wares, or about the insurgents’ loss of or exclusion from citizenship or belonging that supposedly makes the former inevitable; it is, rather, all about insurgence as the performative declaration of what we are and what we have and what we give. Put another way, the seemingly infinite production of crisis finds its limit in the infinite rehearsal of generative capacity, in the open field of a generative grammar, in the fecundity of a range of generative principles, all of which reveal the sclerotic constraints that are fostered by an empiricist attitude whose structuring force in the determination of Anglo-American intellectual identity can be traced back to a certain valorization of the grasp, and the philosophical nomination of the possessive individual to the office of manager of the enclosure, by way of the bloody fingerprints of a transcendental subject who is unable or unwilling to see things but who can neither let things go nor pass things on.
The riot that’s goin’ on is a party for self-defense. The question concerning its causes, its sources, shouldn’t be left to liberal or neoliberal pundits and prime ministers, even when their more or less racist and ageist elitism leads them to say, with a kind of ignorant and imprecise accuracy, that the causes are cultural. What they don’t mean is that culture is the imprecise word we give to regenerative resources of insurgent social life. There’s another way of living that exhausts imposed arrangements. It’s where and how people fight. When seemingly random and unorganized acts of self-defense erupt against the violence of the state and capital, the only important question is how to maintain their connection to the social field they are meant to defend. This is a question concerning the corrosive, reconstructive force of certain practices that Michael Herzfeld thinks of in terms of “cultural intimacy—the recognition of those aspects of a cultural identity that are considered a source of external embarrassment but that nevertheless provide insiders with their assurance of common sociality, the familiarity with the bases of power that may at one moment assure the disenfranchised a degree of creative irreverence and at the next moment reinforce the effectiveness of intimidation.” But what if we begin to consider, against the grain and over the edge of whatever combination of the critique of authenticity and the appeal to upright, paralytic sovereign recitations of the citizen consumer, that the social poetics Herzfeld is after is an undercommon intellectual project that begins to emerge precisely when the distinction between insiders and outsiders breaks down, when a certain kind of communal claim is made in a certain kind of walking down certain city streets, and when that claim is given in and as an active disruption of the nation-state, in and as a kind of masque in which the very habits of the damned are taken on and, thereby, altered in their free, constant and already given alteration. Meanwhile, we confront the emergence of new black acts—of the kind E. P. Thompson describes in Whigs and Hunters—now outlawing autonomous cybersocial organization for self-defense emerge under the self-regulating cover of the ones who internalize the embarrassment they refuse, the generativity non-citizens claim.
The notion that crisis lies in the ever more brutal interdiction of our capacity to represent or be represented by the normal is as seductive, in its way, as the notion that such interdiction is the necessary response to our incapacity for such representation. Their joint power is held in the fact that whether abnormality is a function of external imposition or of internal malady it can only be understood as pathological. Such power is put in its accidental place, however, by the ones who see, who imaginatively misunderstand, the crisis as our constant disruption of the normal, whose honor is given in and protected by its representations, with the ante-representational generativity that it spurns and craves. This is the crisis that is always with us; this is the crisis that must be policed not just by the lethal physical brutality of the state and capital but also by the equally deadly production of a discourse that serially asserts that the crisis that has befallen us must overwhelm the crisis that we are; that crisis follows rather than prompts our incorporative exclusion.
There’s a connection between poetry and violence that Amiri Baraka, among others, began to explore by way of these terms and which now needs to be re-explored in the full awareness that Baraka’s movement extended, rather than disavowed, that antinomian opening of the field that can be traced back through Charles Olson and Sun Ra, Emily Dickinson and Harriet Jacobs, Anne Hutchinson and Tituba, and beyond. The poetics of the open field, especially when performed in the narrow cell, was always tied to the sociopoetics of riot, of generative differentiation as a kind of self-care, of expropriative disruption as a kind of self-defense, of seeing things as a performed social theory of mind. Baraka took it out, and sometimes tried to take it home, which drove it through him and even further out, in the name of an enformant poetics, spreading the news and the new in the giving and taking of form, as lemons, and people, piled on steps, disarrayed inappropriately against every propriative and counter-propriative intention that claims to have put them there. We still enact, because we desire and cannot live without, the immense poetry of war, by which Wallace Stevens meant and didn’t mean a poetics of social pregnancy, the international, anti-national embarrassment of seeing things and making things. The poetics of the alternative is funereal and venereal, surviving in denotative self-defense and the righteous distortions it enacts in rough advent. There’s a This is England poetics, a Luv ‘n Haight poetics, miving without moving in and against the brutal smallness of imposed needs and nationalized histories with the kind of out lyricism that only comes from being constrained to be somewhere else, that will have already come from the other side to keep on going, that had already come with those of us who are the other things we see.
Luigi Russolo, The Art of Noise, 1913
My dear Balilla Pratella,
great futurist musician,
On March 9, 1913, during our bloody victory over four thousand passé-ists in the Costanzi Theater of Rome, we were fist-and-cane-fighting in defense of your Futurist Music, performed by a powerful orchestra, when suddenly my intuitive mind conceived a new art that only your genius can create: the Art of Noises, logical consequence of your marvelous innovations. In antiquity, life was nothing but silence. Noise was really not born before the 19th century, with the advent of machinery. Today noise reigns supreme over human sensibility. For several centuries, life went on silently, or mutedly. The loudest noises were neither intense, nor prolonged nor varied. In fact, nature is normally silent, except for storms, hurricanes, avalanches, cascades and some exceptional telluric movements. This is why man was thoroughly amazed by the first sounds he obtained out of a hole in reeds or a stretched string.
Primitive people attributed to sound a divine origin. It became surrounded with religious respect, and reserved for the priests, who thereby enriched their rites with a new mystery. Thus was developed the conception of sound as something apart, different from and independent of life. The result of this was music, a fantastic world superimposed upon reality, an inviolable and sacred world. This hieratic atmosphere was bound to slow down the progress of music, so the other arts forged ahead and bypassed it. The Greeks, with their musical theory mathematically determined by Pythagoras, according to which only some consonant intervals were admitted, have limited the domain of music until now and made almost impossible the harmony they were unaware of. In the Middle Ages music did progress through the development and modifications of the Greek tetracord system. But people kept considering sound only in its unfolding through time, a narrow conception so persistent that we still find it in the very complex polyphonies of the Flemish composers. The chord did not yet exist; the development of the different parts was not subordinated to the chord that these parts could produce together; the conception of these parts was not vertical, but merely horizontal. The need for and the search for the simultaneous union of different sounds (that is to say of its complex, the chord), came gradually: the assonant common chord was followed by chords enriched with some random dissonances, to end up with the persistent and complicated dissonances of contemporary music.
First of all, musical art looked for the soft and limpid purity of sound. Then it amalgamated different sounds, intent upon caressing the ear with suave harmonies. Nowadays musical art aims at the shrilliest, strangest and most dissonant amalgams of sound. Thus we are approaching noise-sound. This revolution of music is paralleled by the increasing proliferation of machinery sharing in human labor. In the pounding atmosphere of great cities as well as in the formerly silent countryside, machines create today such a large number of varied noises that pure sound, with its littleness and its monotony, now fails to arouse any emotion.
To excite our sensibility, music has developed into a search for a more complex polyphony and a greater variety of instrumental tones and coloring. It has tried to obtain the most complex succession of dissonant chords, thus preparing the ground for Musical Noise.
This evolution toward noise-sound is only possible today. The ear of an eighteenth century man never could have withstood the discordant intensity of some of the chords produced by our orchestras (whose performers are three times as numerous); on the other hand our ears rejoice in it, for they are attuned to modern life, rich in all sorts of noises. But our ears far from being satisfied, keep asking for bigger acoustic sensations. However, musical sound is too restricted in the variety and the quality of its tones. The most complicated orchestra can be reduced to four or five categories of instruments with different sound tones: rubbed string instruments, pinched string instruments, metallic wind instruments, wooden wind instruments, and percussion instruments. Music marks time in this small circle and vainly tries to create a new variety of tones. We must break at all cost from this restrictive circle of pure sounds and conquer the infinite variety of noise-sounds.
Each sound carries with it a nucleus of foreknown and foregone sensations predisposing the auditor to boredom, in spite of all the efforts of innovating composers. All of us have liked and enjoyed the harmonies of the great masters. For years, Beethoven and Wagner have deliciously shaken our hearts. Now we are fed up with them. This is why we get infinitely more pleasure imagining combinations of the sounds of trolleys, autos and other vehicles, and loud crowds, than listening once more, for instance, to the heroic or pastoral symphonies.
It is hardly possible to consider the enormous mobilization of energy that a modern orchestra represents without concluding that the acoustic results are pitiful. Is there any, thing more ridiculous in the world than twenty men slaving to increase the plaintive meeowing of violins? This plain talk will make all music maniacs jump in their seats, which will stir up a bit the somnolent atmosphere of concert halls. Shall we visit one of them together? Let’s go inside one of these hospitals for anemic sounds. See, the first bar is dripping with boredom stemming from familiarity, and gives you a foretaste of the boredom that will drip from the next bar. In this fashion we sip from bar to bar two or three sorts of boredom and keep waiting for the extraordinary sensation that will never materialize. Meanwhile we witness the brewing of a heartrending mixture composed of the monotony of the sensations and the stupid and religious swooning of the audience, drunk on experiencing for the thousandth time, with almost Bhuddist patience, with elegant and fashionable ecstasy. POUAH! Let’s get out quickly, for I can’t repress much longer the intense desire to create a true musical reality finally by distributing big loud slaps right and left, stepping and pushing over violins and pianos, bassoons and moaning organs! Let’s go out!
Some will object that noise is necessarily unpleasant to the ear. The objection is futile, and I don’t intend to refute it, to enumerate all the delicate noises that give pleasant sensations. To convince you of the surprising variety of noises, I will mention thunder, wind, cascades, rivers, streams, leaves, a horse trotting away, the starts and jumps of a carriage on the pavement, the white solemn breathing of a city at night, all the noises made by feline and domestic animals and all those man’s mouth can make without talking or singing.
Let’s walk together through a great modern capital, with the ear more attentive than the eye, and we will vary the pleasures of our sensibilities by distinguishing among the gurglings of water, air and gas inside metallic pipes, the rumblings and rattlings of engines breathing with obvious animal spirits, the rising and falling of pistons, the stridency of mechanical saws, the loud jumping of trolleys on their rails, the snapping of whips, the whipping of flags. We will have fun imagining our orchestration of department stores’ sliding doors, the hubbub of the crowds, the different roars of railroad stations, iron foundries, textile mills, printing houses, power plants and subways. And we must not forget the very new noises of Modern Warfare. The poet Marinetti, in a letter from the Bulgarian trenches of Ariadnople described to me as follows, in his new futurist style, the orchestra of a great battle:
1 2 3 4 5 seconds the siege cannons gut the silence by a chord-Tamtoumb! Immediately echoes, echoes, echoes, all echoes-quick! take-it-crumble it-spread it-infinite distance to hell. In the center, center of these flattened TAMTOUMBS-width 50 square kilometers-leap 2 3 6 8 splinters-fisticuffs-headrammings-rapid firebatteries Violence, ferocity, regularity, pendulum game, fatalitythis grave bass apparent slowness-scan the strange madmen very young-very mad mad mad-very agitated altos of the battle Fury anguish breathless ears My ears open nasals! beware! such joy is yours o my people to sense see ear scent drink everything everything everything taratatatatata the machineguns shouting twisting under a thousand bites slaps traaktraak cudgellings whippings pic pac POUMTOUMB juggling clowns’ jump in full sky height 200 meters it’s the gunshooting Downwards guffaws of swamps laughter buffalos chariots stings prancing of horses ammunition-wagons flue flac zang chaak chaak rearings pirouettes patatraak bespatterings manesneighings i i i i i i i medley tinklings three bulgarian batallions on the move crook- craak (double bar slowly) Choumi Maritza o Karvavena officers’ shouts copper plates knocking against each other pam ici (vite) pac over there BOUM-pam-pam-pam here there there farther all around very high look-out goddamnit on the head chaak marvelous! flames flames flames flames flames flames flames crawl from forts over there Choukri Pacha telephone orders to 27 forts in turkish German hello Ibrahim! Rudolf hello! hello! actors roles blowing-echoes odor-hay-mud-manure I can’t feel my frozen feet stale odor rotting gongs flutes clarinets pipes everywhere up down birds twitter beatitude shade greenness cipcip ip-zzip herds pastures dong-dong-dong-ding-bééé Orchestra Madmen keep hitting orchestra professors they bent beaten playing playing playing Great fracas far from erasing drink tiny noises revomit them precise them out of their echoing mouth wide open diameter 1 kilometer Debris of echos in this theater of laying rivers sitting villages standing mounts recognized in the audience Maritza Tungia Rodopes 1st and 2d rows loggias groundfloor boxes 2,000 shrapnels gesticulation explosion zang-toumb white handkerchiefs full of gold toumbtoumb clouds-gallery 2,000 grenades thundering applause Quick quick such enthusiasm pulling hair very black hairs ZANGTOUMB-TOUMB war noises orchestra blown beneath a note of silence hanging in full sky captive golden balloon controlling the fire.
We want to score and regulate harmonically and rhythmically these most varied noises. Not that we want to destroy the movements and irregular vibrations (of tempo and intensity) of these noises! We wish simply to fix the degree or pitch of the predominant vibration, as noise differs from other sound in its irregular and confuse vibrations (in terms of tempo and intensity).
Each noise possesses a pitch, at times even a chord dominating over the whole of these irregular vibrations. The existence of this predominant pitch offers us the technical means of scoring these noises, that is to say to give to a noise a certain variety of pitches without losing the timbre that characterizes and distinguishes it. Certain noises obtained through a rotating movement can give us a complete ascending or descending scale through the speeding up or slowing down of the movement.
Noise accompanies every manifestation of our life. Noise is familiar to us. Noise has the power to bring us back to life. On the other hand, sound, foreign to life, always a musical, outside thing, an occasional element, has come to strike our ears no more than an overly familiar face does our eye. Noise, gushing confusely and irregularly out of life, is never totally revealed to us and it keeps in store innumerable surprises for our benefit. We feel certain that in selecting and coordinating all noises we will enrich men with a voluptuousness they did not suspect.
Although the characteristic of noise is to brutally bring us back to life, the art of noises must not be limited to a mere imitative reproduction. The art of noises will extract its main emotive power from the special acoustic pleasure that the inspired artist will obtain in combining noises. Here are the six categories of noises for the futurist orchestra that we intend soon to realize mechanically:
noises of falling water
percussive noises using metal, wood, skin, stone, baked earth, etc.
animal and human voices:
shouts, moans, screams,
laughter, rattlings, sobs
We have included in these 6 categories the most characteristic fundamental noises: the others are hardly more than combinations of them. The rhythmic movements of a noise are infinite. There exists not only a predominant pitch, but as well a predominant rhythm around which more secondary rhythms are equally perceptible.
1 — We must enlarge and enrich more and more the domain of musical sounds. Our sensibility requires it. In fact it can be noticed that all contemporary composers of genius tend to stress the most complex dissonances. Moving away from pure sound, they nearly reach noise-sound. This need and this tendency can be totally realized only through the joining and substituting of noises to and for musical sounds.
2 — We must replace the limited variety of timbres of orchestral instruments by the infinite variety of timbres of noises obtained through special mechanisms.
3 — The musician’s sensibility, once he is rid of facile, traditional rhythms, will find in the domain of noises the means of development and renewal, an easy task, since each noise offers us the union of the most diverse rhythms as well as its dominant one.
4 — Each noise possesses among its irregular vibrations a predominant basic pitch. This will make it easy to obtain, while building instruments meant to produce this sound, a very wide variety of pitches, half-pitches and quarter-pitches. This variety of pitches will not deprive each noise of its characteristic timbre but, rather, increase its range.
5 — The technical difficulties presented by the construction of these instruments are not grave. As soon as we will have found the mechanical principle which produces a certain noise, we will be able to graduate its pitch according to the laws of acoustics. For instance, if the instrument employs a rotating movement, we will speed it up or slow it down. When not dealing with a rotating instrument we will increase or decrease the size or the tension of the sound-making parts.
6 — This new orchestra will produce the most complex and newest sonic emotions, not through a succession of imitative noises reproducing life, but rather through a fantastic association of these varied sounds. For this reason, every instrument must make possible the changing of pitches through a built-in, larger or smaller resonator or other extension.
7 — The variety of noises is infinite. We certainly possess nowadays over a thousand different machines, among whose thousand different noises we can distinguish. With the endless multiplication of machinery, one day we will be able to distinguish among ten, twenty or thirty thousand different noises. We will not have to imitate these noises but rather to combine them according to our artistic fantasy.
8 — We invite all the truly gifted and bold young musicians to analyze all noises so as to understand their different composing rhythms, their main and their secondary pitches. Comparing these noise sounds to other sounds they will realize how the latter are more varied than the former. Thus the comprehension, the taste, and the passion for noises will be developed. Our expanded sensibility will gain futurist ears as it already has futurist eyes. In a few years, the engines of our industrial cities will be skillfully tuned so that every factory is turned into an intoxicating orchestra of noises.
My dear Pratella, I submit to your futurist genius these new ideas, and I invite you to discuss them with me. I am not a musician, so that I have no acoustic preferences, nor works to defend. I am a futurist painter who projects on a profoundly loved art his will to renew everything. This is why, bolder than the bolder professional musician, totally unpreoccupied with my apparent incompetence, knowing that audacity gives all prerogatives and all possibilities, I have conceived the renovation of music through the Art of Noise.
Milano, March 11, 1913.
Direction of the futurist movement: Corso Venezia, 61, Milano.
Jodi Dean, from Crowds and Party
The crumbling of capitalist realism—the shaking off of Margaret Thatcher’s destructive mantra that “there is no alternative” to unfettered capitalist competition—has led to mainstream acknowledgement that capitalism is a system that takes from the many and gives to the few. 66 Today no one denies the fact that some always lose in the capitalist economy. The system produces losers—the unemployed, the homeless, the indebted, the conned, the wiped out, the abandoned, the sacrificed. It runs on debt, foreclosure, expropriation, eviction, dispossession, destruction—these are just other words for privatization. But then what? Ever since the Left started looking at itself and the world in terms of individual specificity and the efficiency of markets, it has seemed easier to imagine the end of capitalism than it is to imagine an organized Left.
Characterized by a perspective foreshadowed by Marxism Today’s debate over the new times, a left realism has congealed around a set of loosely held suspicions. This left realism may not be endorsed in its entirety by any particular political or theoretical tendency. No one that I know of has published an explicitly developed left realist position. Yet the fragmenting of left politics into an ever-expanding array of populist, liberal, progressive, trans, pluralist, green, multiculturalist, anti-racist, radical democratic, feminist, identitarian, anarchist, queer, autonomist, horizontalist, antiimperialist, insurrectionist, libertarian, socialist, and communist persuasions is symptomatic of such a realism, the premises of which manifest as suspicions time and again—in arguments among activists and academics, retorts at meetings, and rejoinders in social media. These premises are that collectivity is undesirable and that collectivity is impossible.
Collectivity is undesirable because it is suspected of excluding possibilities, effacing difference, and enforcing discipline. “What do you mean ‘we’?” is one slogan of this suspicion, typically lobbed into contexts and discussions deemed insufficiently attentive to the specificities of each person’s experience. “Diversity of tactics” sometimes comes up as another such slogan, particularly when invoked to secure space for small-group confrontations with the police at the expense of broader political coordination.
If the subject is interpellated as an individual, the strengths of many become the imaginary attributes of one. The individual appears as the locus of a capacity for innovation and interruption that is only ever an effect of collectivities. If bourgeois ideology is the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence, as we learn from Althusser, these conditions will be represented repeatedly as individual matters of individual preference and choice, belief, and circumstance. The contradictions constitutive of capitalist relations will exist side by side, appearing as so many dreams or neuroses. Collectivity, in turn, will be figured derivatively, in the shadow of the individual such that the subjectivity it evinces fails to appear as an effect of a subject. Rather than as the dynamic force of the crowd, desire appears as personal longing. Rather than an inescapable circuit of activity, drive appears as addiction. While the subject of psychoanalysis is not the reasonable, self-aware subject of liberalism, when the unconscious is rendered as that of an individual, psychoanalysis is drafted into its service as covert support for an individuated subjectivity conceived in terms of a rational and knowable will. Recognizing the collective as a subject becomes all the more challenging because the terms of what counts as the act of a subject are truncated and distorted. Rather than heterogeneous, conflictual, temporary, unbounded, and in need of support from objects and figures that exceed it, the subject as individual is impossibly, fantastically independent and enduring. The crowd becomes unconscious again in the continued operation of enclosure effected by the individual form.
Althusser asks why the relation given to individuals of their collective material life is an imaginary relation. My answer is that it is imaginary because it is given to them as individuals. Althusser, though, tries a different explanation, one that emphasizes practices of belief—kneeling, praying, shaking hands. He wants to get at the material dimension of ideology in practices, but he misses the ways these practices are collective, generic. In themselves, they are not individuating but rather the practices of a body of believers, a collectivity. Deploying Freud as backup, Althusser nevertheless asserts that individuals are always-already subjects, particularly to the extent that they are born into a family, a place: “it is certain in advance that it will bear its Father’s Name, and will therefore have an identity and be irreplaceable.” 102 His assertion points not to the inevitability of subjection but to the specificity of interpellation as an individual in the bourgeois family. In this regard, Althusser intermixes generic and naming practices, failing to distinguish between those that involve groups and those that single out an individual by name.
Le Bon is an odious reactionary. The Crowd sounds the alarm, alerting elites to the threat of mass power and giving the rest of us a window into the will formed, expressed, and unleashed as that of a collective subject. Collectivity brings with it a sense of invincibility, an immense courage and capacity to put self-interest aside. It is accompanied by an unshakeable equality, a demand for justice that Freud acknowledges even as he derives it from an original envy. The “exciting causes” of the crowd’s directed intensity are unpredictable and temporary, which adds to the anxiety of elites endeavoring to hold onto the privilege they associate with their individuality before they are themselves swept up, compelled into thoughts and actions they abhor. Destructive, creative, unpredictable, temporary, and intense: the crowd expresses the paradoxical power of the people as subject.
Crowds exert force or, better, they are a force of desire exerted by collectivity. When they amass in spaces authorized by neither capital nor the state, they breach the given, installing a gap of possibility. The presence of a crowd is a positive expression of negation. People act together in ways impossible for individuals, a phenomenon that preoccupied the early twentieth-century crowd theorists. Pushing against dominant arrangements, the crowd prefigures a collective, egalitarian possibility—but “prefigures” in a completely literal way: “prior to figuration.” The crowd by itself, unnamed, doesn’t represent an alternative; it cuts out an opening by breaking through the limits bounding permitted experience. It mis-assembles what is present and threatens what is not yet there (I say “mis-assemble” because “assemble” would imply order and “dis-assemble” would imply destruction without subjectivization). People are there, but, through the active desire of the crowd, differently from how they were before, combined into a state of such absolute equality that “differences between individual heads and arms are irrelevant.” 13 Together, previously separate people impress the possibility of the people as the collective subject of a politics.
The energy of the crowd opens to political subjectivity, but it is not the same as political subjectivity. It’s necessary but insufficient, an incomplete part of a politics not yet the politics of a part, half a split subject. For the crowd to become the people, representation is necessary, representation faithful to equality, to the “blessed moment” of the discharge. Some on the Left—autonomists, insurrectionists, anarchists, and libertarian communists—so embrace the energy unleashed by the crowd that they mistake an opening, an opportunity, for an end. They imagine the goal of politics as the proliferation of multiplicities, potentialities, differences. The unleashing of the playful, carnivalesque, and spontaneous is taken to indicate political success, as if duration were but a multiplication of moments rather than itself a qualitative change. For the fantasists of politics as beautiful moment, any interpretation of a crowd event is to-be-contested because of its unavoidable incompleteness, its partiality. They forget, or disavow, the fact that the non-all character of the people is the irreducible condition of struggle. And so they treat organization, administration, and legislation as a failure of revolution, a return of impermissible domination and hierarchy rather than as effects and arrangements of power, rather than as attributes of the success of a political intervention.
The politics of the beautiful moment is no politics at all. Politics combines the 80 opening with direction, with the insertion of the crowd disruption into a sequence or process that pushes one way rather than another. There is no politics until a meaning is announced and the struggle over this meaning begins. Most of us have experiences in everyday life that confirm this point: we come across a bunch of people in an unexpected place and want to know what’s going on. What are they doing, what is everybody looking at, why are police there? Have we come across a protest, a crime, an accident, a film set? Explanations of what is happening may diverge. Their divergence, the conflict between accounts, marks the political division. Insistence on remaining within the infantile fantasy of the beautiful moment of indeterminacy attempts to forestall politics and its necessary division. Even more, it denies or even betrays the crowd’s expression of equality, the collective desire for collectivity that incites the crowd.
A crowd provides an opportunity for the emergence of a political subject. It doesn’t determine this emergence. It can’t control the politics to which it gives rise. But this politics can itself proceed with more or less fidelity to the crowd event, attempting to carry on and out its equality or trying to repress, deny, and dissipate it. The crowd’s chaotic moment is indeterminate, but to fetishize this indeterminacy dematerializes the crowd, extracting the affective intensities rupturing a given setting from the rupture itself, as if a crowd event were nothing more than semantic confusion. The cacophony of impressions and transports of the unknown among the unknown releases a sense of the many channeled in the everyday along set paths, igniting possibilities that will appear in retrospect to have been there all along. The political challenge is maintaining fidelity to this sense of the many—the crowd discharge—without fetishizing the cacophonous rupture. The party is a form for meeting this challenge, maintaining fidelity even as its position is itself an effect of the crowd. In Marxist theory, treatments of the Paris Commune—a key touchstone for grappling with the political form of rule by the working people—illustrate this point.
The people as a collective subject appear through the disruption of the crowd insofar as there is something about the insurrection that was unimaginable prior to its enactment. The impossible happens, compelling Marx to take a stand: whose side is he on? The subject forces a previously unimaginable interpretation of an event; the crowd doesn’t look like what it had been before. Now it looks like the people. With the appearance of the people as a political subject, the entire situation changes.
The crowd event is the Real that incites the people as a collective, partisan subject. The party is the body that renders the subjectivizing crowd event into a moment in the subjective process of the politicized people. The people as subject is neither crowd nor party but between them, in the overlap of anticipation and retroactive determination with respect to a political process. Lissagaray, Lenin, Marx, and Badiou—from them we see in the Commune the movement of a subject. Their perspective is not reducible to a static place or position. It is instead a consequence of the appearing of the subject to which this perspective responds. More than a stationary moment pregnant with potential yet exhausted in the crowd’s dissipation, the Commune erupts to surprise and mis-assemble the social with the certainty of justice. We see this mis-assembly in the reaction of the other forced to respond, to react, to do things differently from the ways they were done before. As Badiou writes, “There is no subjectivization without anticipation, which in turn can be measured by the subjective process.” 68 It’s the people as political subject that concerns the party. How can it hasten their advance, how can it not stand in their way, how can it inscribe and extend their victories?
More than a body focused on the state, the party is a form for the expression and direction of political will. It concentrates disruption in a process in order to produce political power: these acts are connected; they demonstrate the strength of the collective. It endeavors to arrange the intensity unleashed by the crowd, to keep it present as fervent desire. Ross’s attention to the crowd in the Commune enables her to draw out the opening of collective desire, the lack that maintains it as a desire to desire. This attention rightly prevents us from reducing the Commune to an arrangement of offices or list of edicts, focusing us instead on the disruptive presence of the people where they should not be. At the same time, the Marxist tradition crucially sees the people as a subject and its struggle as enduring. The subject that expresses itself in the Commune event is not the diffusion of creative individuality; dominant power always allows for the carnivalesque. It is rather the people as a political subject manifest in the 98 closure of directed intensity within the revolutionary opening. Because the party looks for them, the people are found. As Badiou writes,
When Marx takes it upon himself to listen to the revolutionary activity of his time, to the popular historical disorder, it is a matter of pinpointing in the latter, pursuant to harsh theoretical and practical work, the dialectical form of the political subject as such. The deduction of its general activity presupposes only the riots of the nineteenth century.
Whether he names this subject people, proletariat, party, or Paris, Marx finds it where it will have been.
Elias Canetti, from Crowds and Power, 1978
The destructiveness of the crowd is often mentioned as its most conspicuous quality, and there is no denying the fact that it can be observed everywhere, in the most diverse countries and civilizations. It is discussed and disapproved of, but never really explained.
The crowd particularly likes destroying houses and objects: breakable objects like window panes, mirrors, pictures and crockery; and people tend to think that it is the fragility of these objects which stimulates the destructiveness of the crowd. It is true that the noise of destruction adds to its satisfaction; the banging of windows and the crashing of glass are the robust sounds of fresh life, the cries of something new-born. It is easy to evoke them and that increases their popularity. Everything shouts together; the din is the applause of objects. There seems to be a special need for this kind of noise at the beginning of events, when the crowd is still small and little or nothing has happened. The noise is a promise of the reinforcements the crowd hopes for, and a happy omen for deeds to come. But it would be wrong to suppose that the ease with which things can be broken is the decisive factor in the situation. Sculptures of solid stone have been mutilated beyond recognition; Christians have destroyed the heads and arms of Greek Gods and reformers and revolutionaries have hauled down the statues of Saints, sometimes from dangerous heights, though often the stone they wanted to destroy has been so hard that they have achieved only half their purpose.
The destruction of representational images is the destruction of a hierarchy which is no longer recognized. It is the violation of generally established and universally visible and valid distances. The solidity of the images was the expression of their permanence. They seem to have existed for ever, upright and immovable ; never before had it been possible to approach them with hostile intent. Now they are hauled down and broken to pieces. In this act the discharge accomplishes itself.
But it does not always go as far as this. The more usual kind of destruction mentioned above is simply an attack on all boundaries. Windows and doors belong to houses; they are the most vulnerable part of their exterior and, once they are smashed, the house has lost its individuality; anyone may enter it and nothing and no-one is protected any more. In these houses live the supposed enemies of the crowd, those people who try to keep away from it. What separated them has now been destroyed and nothing stands between them and the crowd. They can come out and join it; or they can be fetched. But there is more to it than this. In the crowd the individual feels that he is transcending the limits of his own person. He has a sense of relief, for the distances are removed which used to throw him back on himself and shut him in. With the lifting of these burdens of distance he feels free; his freedom is the crossing of these boundaries. He wants what is happening to him to happen to others too; and he expects it to happen to them. An earthen pot irritates him, for it is all boundaries. The closed doors of a house irritate him. Rites and ceremonies, anything which preserves distances, threaten him and seem unbearable. He fears that, sooner or later, an attempt will be made to force the disintegrating crowd back into these pre-existing vessels. To the crowd in its nakedness everything seems a Bastille. Of all means of destruction the most impressive is fire. It can be seen from far off and it attracts ever more people. It destroys irrevocably; nothing after a fire is as it was before. A crowd setting fire to something feels irresistible; so long as the fire spreads, everyone will join it and everything hostile will be destroyed. After the destruction, crowd and fire die away.
Hugo Ball, from Kandinsky
Three things have shaken the art of our time to its depths, have given it a new face, and have prepared it for a mighty new upsurge: the disappearance of religion induced by critical philosophy, the dissolution of the atom in science, and the massive expansion of population in present-day Europe.
God is dead. A world disintegrated. I am dynamite. World history splits into two parts. There is an epoch before me and an epoch after me. Religion, science, morality—phenomena that originated in the states of dread known to primitive peoples. An epoch disintegrates. A thousand-year-old culture disintegrates. There are no columns and supports, no foundations any more—they have all been blown up. Churches have become castles in the clouds. Convictions have become prejudices. There are no more perspectives in the moral world. Above is below, below is above. The transvaluation of values came to pass. Christianity was struck down. The principles of logic, of centrality, unity and reason were unmasked as postulates of a power-craving theology. The meaning of the world disappeared. The purpose of the world—its reference to a supreme being who keeps the world together—disappeared. Chaos erupted. Tumult erupted. The world showed itself to be a blind juxtapositioning and opposing of uncontrolled forces. Man lost his divine countenance, became matter, chance, an aggregate animal, the lunatic product of thoughts quivering abruptly and ineffectually. Man lost the special position that reason had guaranteed him . . .
The artists of these times have turned inward. Their life is a struggle against madness. They are disrupted, fragmented, dissevered, if they fail to find in their work for a moment equilibrium, balance, necessity, harmony . . . The strongest affinity shown in works of art today is with the dread masks of primitive peoples, and with the plague and terror masks of the Peruvians, Australian aborigines, and Negroes. The artists of this age face the world as ascetics of their own spirituality. They live deeply buried lives. They are forerunners, prophets of a new era. Only they can understand the tonalities of their language. They stand in opposition to society, as did heretics in the Middle Ages. Their works are simultaneously philosophical, political, and prophetic. They are forerunners of an entire epoch, a new total culture. They are hard to understand, and one achieves an understanding of them only if one changes the inner basis—if one is prepared to break with a thousand-year-old tradition. You will not understand them if you believe in God and not in chaos. The artists of this age turn against themselves and against art . . . They seek what is essential and what is spiritual, what has not yet been profaned . . .
John Berger, The Nature of Mass Demonstrations, 1968
The official casualty figures were 100 workers killed and 450 wounded. One policeman was killed accidentally by a soldier. There were no army casualties. (Two years later Umberto I was assassinated because after the massacre he publicly congratulated General Beccaris, the ‘butcher of Milan.’)
I have been trying to understand certain aspects of the demonstration in the Corso Venezia on 6 May because of a story I am writing. In the process I came to a few conclusions about demonstrations which may perhaps be more widely applicable.
Mass demonstrations should be distinguished from riots or revolutionary uprisings although, under certain (now rare) circumstances, they may develop into either of the latter. The aims of a riot are usually immediate (the immediacy matching the desperation they express): the seizing of food, the release of prisoners, the destruction of property. The aims of a revolutionary uprising are long-term and comprehensive: they culminate in the taking over of State power. The aims of a demonstration, however, are symbolic: it demonstrates a force that is scarcely used.
A large number of people assemble together in an obvious and already announced public place. They are more or less unarmed. (On 6 May 1898, entirely unarmed.) They present themselves as a target to the forces of repression serving the State authority against whose policies they are protesting.
Theoretically demonstrations are meant to reveal the strength of popular opinion or feeling: theoretically they are an appeal to the democratic conscience of the State. But this presupposes a conscience which is very unlikely to exist.
If the State authority is open to democratic influence, the demonstration will hardly be necessary; if it is not, it is unlikely to be influenced by an empty show of force containing no real threat. (A demonstration in support of an already established alternative State authority – as when Garibaldi entered Naples in 1860 – is a special case and may be immediately effective.)
Demonstrations took place before the principle of democracy was even nominally admitted. The massive early Chartist demonstrations were part of the struggle to obtain such an admission. The crowds who gathered to present their petition to the Tsar in St Petersburg in 1905 were appealing – and presenting themselves as a target – to the ruthless power of an absolute monarchy. In the event – as on so many hundreds of other occasions all over Europe – they were shot down.
It would seem that the true function of demonstrations is not to convince the existing State authority to any significant degree. Such an aim is only a convenient rationalisation.
The truth is that mass demonstrations are rehearsals for revolution: not strategic or even tactical ones, but rehearsals of revolutionary awareness. The delay between the rehearsals and the real performance may be very long: their quality – the intensity of rehearsed awareness – may, on different occasions, vary considerably: but any demonstration which lacks this element of rehearsal is better described as an officially encouraged public spectacle.
A demonstration, however much spontaneity it may contain, is a created event which arbitrarily separates itself from ordinary life. Its value is the result of its artificiality, for therein lies its prophetic, rehearsing possibilities.
A mass demonstration distinguishes itself from other mass crowds because it congregates in public to create its function, instead of forming in response to one: in this, it differs from any assembly of workers within their place of work – even when strike action is involved – or from any crowd of spectators. It is an assembly which challenges what is given by the mere fact of its coming together.
State authorities usually lie about the number of demonstrators involved. The lie, however, makes little difference. (It would only make a significant difference if demonstrations really were an appeal to the democratic conscience of the State.) The importance of the numbers involved is to be found in the direct experience of those taking part in or sympathetically witnessing the demonstration. For them the numbers cease to be numbers and become the evidence of their senses, the conclusions of their imagination. The larger the demonstration, the more powerful and immediate (visible, audible, tangible) a metaphor it becomes for their total collective strength.
I say metaphor because the strength thus grasped transcends the potential strength of those present, and certainly their actual strength as deployed in a demonstration. The more people there are there, the more forcibly they represent to each other and to themselves those who are absent. In this way a mass demonstration simultaneously extends and gives body to an abstraction. Those who take part become more positively aware of how they belong to a class. Belonging to that class ceases to imply a common fate, and implies a common opportunity. They begin to recognise that the function of their class need no longer be limited: that it, too, like the demonstrations itself, can create its own function.
Revolutionary awareness is rehearsed in another way by the choice and effect of location. Demonstrations are essentially urban in character, and they are usually planned to take place as near as possible to some symbolic centre, either civic or national. Their ‘targets’ are seldom the strategic ones – railway stations, barracks, radio stations, airports. A mass demonstration can be interpreted as the symbolic capturing of a city or capital. Again, the symbolism or metaphor is for the benefit of the participants.
The demonstration, an irregular event created by the demonstrators, nevertheless takes place near the city centre, intended for very different uses. The demonstrators interrupt the regular life of the streets they march through or of the open spaces they fill. They ‘cut off these areas, and, not yet having the power to occupy them permanently, they transform them into a temporary stage on which they dramatise the power they still lack.
The demonstrators’ view of the city surrounding their stage also changes. By demonstrating, they manifest a greater freedom and independence – a greater creativity, even although the product is only symbolic – than they can ever achieve individually or collectively when pursuing their regular lives. In their regular pursuits they only modify circumstances; by demonstrating they symbolically oppose their very existence to circumstances.
This creativity may be desperate in origin, and the price to be paid for it high, but it temporarily changes their outlook. They become corporately aware that it is they or those whom they represent who have built the city and who maintain it. They see it through different eyes. They see it as their product, confirming their potential instead of reducing it.
Finally, there is another way in which revolutionary awareness is rehearsed. The demonstrators present themselves as a target to the so-called forces of law and order. Yet the larger the target they present, the stronger they feel. This cannot be explained by the banal principle of ‘strength in numbers,’ any more than by vulgar theories of crowd psychology. The contradiction between their actual vulnerability and their sense of invincibility corresponds to the dilemma which they force upon the State authority.
Either authority must abdicate and allow the crowd to do as it wishes: in which case the symbolic suddenly becomes real, and, even if the crowd’s lack of organisation and preparedness prevents it from consolidating its victory, the event demonstrates the weakness of authority. Or else authority must constrain and disperse the crowd with violence: in which case the undemocratic character of such authority is publicly displayed. The imposed dilemma is between displayed weakness and displayed authoritarianism. (The officially approved and controlled demonstration does not impose the same dilemma: its symbolism is censored: which is why I term it a mere public spectacle.) Almost invariably, authority chooses to use force. The extent of its violence depends upon many factors, but scarcely ever upon the scale of the physical threat offered by the demonstrators. This threat is essentially symbolic. But by attacking the demonstration authority ensures that the symbolic event becomes an historical one: an event to be remembered, to be learnt from, to be avenged.
It is in the nature of a demonstration to provoke violence upon itself. Its provocation may also be violent. But in the end it is bound to suffer more than it inflicts. This is a tactical truth and an historical one. The historical role of demonstrations is to show the injustice, cruelty, irrationality of the existing State authority. Demonstrations are protests of innocence.
But the innocence is of two kinds, which can only be treated as though they were one at a symbolic level. For the purposes of political analysis and the planning of revolutionary action, they must be separated. There is an innocence to be defended and an innocence which must finally be lost: an innocence which derives from justice, and an innocence which is the consequence of a lack of experience.
Demonstrations express political ambitions before the political means necessary to realise them have been created. Demonstrations predict the realisation of their own ambitions and thus may contribute to that realisation, but they cannot themselves achieve them.
The question which revolutionaries must decide in any given historical situation is whether or not further symbolic rehearsals are necessary. The next stage is training in tactics and strategy for the performance itself.
F.T. Marinetti, The Variety Theater, 1913
We are deeply disgusted with the contemporary theater (verse, prose, and musical) because it vacillates stupidly between historical reconstruction (pastiche or plagiarism) and photographic reproduction of our daily life; a finicking, slow, analytic, and diluted theater worthy, all in all, of the age of the oil lamp.
Futurism Exalts the Variety Theater Because:
1. The Variety Theater, born as we are from electricity, is lucky in having no tradition, no masters, no dogma, and it is fed by swift actuality.
2. The Variety Theater is absolutely practical, because it proposes to distract and amuse the public with comic effects, erotic stimulation, or imaginative astonishment.
3.The authors, actors, and technicians of the Variety Theater have only one reason for existing and triumphing: incessantly to invent new elements of astonishment. Hence the absolute impossibility of arresting or repeating oneself, hence an excited competition of brains and muscles to conquer the various records of agility, speed, force, complication, and elegance.
4.The Variety Theater is unique today in its use of the cinema, which enriches it with an incalculable number of visions and otherwise unrealizable spectacles (battles, riots, horse races, automobile and aeroplane meets, trips, voyages, depths of the city, the countryside, oceans, and skies).
5.The Variety Theater, being a profitable show window for countelss inventive forces, naturally generates what I call 'the Futurist marvellous', produced by modern mechanics. Here are some of the elements of the 'marvellous': (a) powerful caricatures; (b) abysses of the ridiculous; (c) delicious, impalpable ironies; (d) all-embracing, definitive symbols; (e) cascades of uncontrollable hilarity; (f) frofound analogies between humanity, the animal, vegetable, and mechanical worlds; (g) flashes of revealing cynicism; (h) plots full of the wit, repartee, and conundrums that aerate the intelligence; (i) the whole gamut of laughter and smiles, to flex the nerves; (j) the whole gamut of stupidity, imbecility, doltishness, and absurdity; insensibly pushing the intelligence to the very border of madness; (k) all the new significations of light, sound, noise, and language, with their mysterious and indexplicable extensions into the least-explored part of our sensibility; (l) a cumulus of events unfolded at great speed, of stage characters pushed from right to left in two minutes ('and now let's have a look at the balkans': King Nicolas, Enver-bey, Daneff, Venizelos, belly-blows and fistfights between Serbs and Bulgars, a couplet, and everything vanishes); (m) instructive satirical pantomimes; (n) caricatures of suffering and nostalgia, strongly impressed on the sensibility through gestures exasperating in their spasmodic, hesitant, weary slowness; grave words made ridiculous by funny gestures, bizarre disguises, mutilated words, ugly faces, pratfalls.
6. Today the Variety Theater is the crucible in which the elements of an emergent new sensibility are seething. Here you find an ironic decomposition of all the worn-out prototypes of the Beautiful, the Grand, the Solemn, the Religious, the Ferocious, the Seductive, and the Terrifying, and also the abstract elaboration of the new prototypes that will succeed these.
The Variety Theater is thus the synthesis of everything that humanity has up to now refined in its nerves to diverty itself by laughing at material and moral grief; it is also the bubbling fusion of all the laughter, all the smiles, all the mocking grins, all the contortions and grimaces of future humanity. Here you sample the joy that will shake men for another century, their poetry, painting, philosophy, and the leaps of their architecture.
7. The Variety Theater offers the healthiest of all spectacles in its dynamism of form and color (simultaneous movement of jugglers, ballerinas, gymnasts, colorful riding masters, spiral cyclones of dnacers spinning on the points of their feet). In its wift, overpowering dance rhythms the Variety Theater forcible drags the slowest souls out of their torpor and forces them to run and jump.
8. The Variety Theater is alone in seeking the audience's collaboration. It doesn't remain static like a stupid voyeur, but juins noisily in the action, in the signing, accompanying the orchestra, communicating with the actors in surprising actions and bizarre dialogues. And the actors bicker clownishly with the musicians.
The Variety Theater uses the smoke of cigars and cigarettes to join the atmosphere of the theater to that of the stage. And because the audience cooperates in this way with the actors' fantasy, the action develops simultaneously on the stage, in the boxes, and in the orchestra. It continues to the end of the performance, among the battalions of fans, the honeyed dandies who crowd the stage door to fight over the star; double final victory: chic dinner and bed.
9. The Variety Theater is a school of sincerity for man because it exalts his rapacious instincts and snatches every veil from woman, all the phrases, all the sighs, all the romantic sobs that mask and deform her. On the other hand it brings to light all woman's marvellous animal qualities, her grasp, her powers of seduction, her faithlessness, and her resistance.
10. The Variety Theater is a school of heroism in the difficulty of setting records and conquering resistances, and it creates on the stage the strong, sane atmosphere of danger. (E.g., death-diving, 'Looping the loop' on bicycles, in cars, and on horseback.)
11. The Variety Theater is a school of subtlety, complications, and mental synthesis, in its clows, magicians, mind readers, brilliant calculators, writers of skits, imatators and parodists, its musical jugglers and eccentric Americans, its fantastic pregnancies that give birth to objects and weird mechanisms.
12. The Variety Theater is the only school that one can recommend to adolescents and to talented young men, because it explains, quickly and incisively, the most abstruse problemsn and most complicated political events. Example: A year ago at the Folies-Bergère, two dancers were acting out the meandering discussions between Cambon and Kinderlen-Watcher on the question of Morocco and the Congo in a revealing symbolic dnace that was equivalent to at least three years' study of foreign affairs. Facing the audience, their arms entwined, glued together, they kept making mutual territorial concessions, jumping back and forth, to left and right, never separating, either of them ever losing sight of his goal, which was to become more and more entangled. They gave an impression of extreme courtesy, of skilful, flawlessly diplomatic vacillation, ferocity, diffidence, stubbornness, meticulousness.
Furthermore the Variety Theater Luminously Explains the Governing Laws of Life:
(a) the necessity of complication and varying rhythms;
(b) the fatality of the lie and the contradiction (e.g., two faced English danseuses: little shepherd girl and fearful soldier);
(c) the omnipotence of a methodical will that modifies human powers;
(d) a synthesis of speed + transformations;
13. The Variety Theater systematically disparages ideal love and its romantic obsession that repeats the nostalgic languours of passion to satiety, with the robot-like monotony of a daily profession. It whimsically mechanizes sentiment, disparages and healthily tramples down the compulsion towards carnal possession, owers lust to the natural function of coitus, deprives it of every mystery, every crippling anxiety, every unhealthy idealism.
Instead, the Variety Theater gives a feeling and a taste for easy, light and ironic loves. Café-concert performances in the open air on the terraces of casinos offer a most amusing battle between spasmodic moonlight, tormented by infinite desparations, and the electric light that bounces off the fake jewellery, painted flesh, multicoloured petticoates, velvets, tinsel, the the counterfeit colour of lips. Naturally the energetic electric light triumphs and the soft decadent moonlight is defeated.
14. The Variety Theater is naturally anti-academic, primitive, and naive, hence the more significant for the unexpectedness of its discoveries and the simplicity of its means. (E.g., the systematic tour of the stage that the chanteuses make, like caged animals, at the end of every couplet.)
15.The Variety Theater destroys the Solemn, the Sacred, the Serious, and the Sublime in Art with a capital A. It cooperates in the Futurist destruction of immortal masterworks, plagiarizing them, parodying the, making them look commonplace by stripping them of their solemn apparatus as if they were mere attractions. So we unconditionally endorse the performance of Parsifal in forty minutes, now in rehearsal in a great London music-hall.
16. The Variety Theater destroys all our conceptions of perspective, proportion, time, and space. (E.g., a little doorway and gate, thirty centimeters high, alone in the middle of thestage, which certain eccentric Americans open and close as they pass and repass, very seriously as if they couldn't do otherwise.)
17. The Variety Theater offers us all the records so far attained: the greatest speed and the finest gymnastics and acrobatics of the Japanese, the greatest muscular frenzy of the Negroes, the greatest development of animal intelligence (horses, elephants, seals, dogs, trained birds), the finest melodic inspiration of the Gulf of Naples and the Russian steppes, the best Parisian wit, the greatest competitive forces of different races (boxing and wrestling), the greatest anatomical monstrosity, the greatest female beauty.
18. The conventional theater exalts the inner life, professorial metidation, libraries, museums, monotonous crises of conscience, stupid analyses of feelings, in other words (dirty thing and dirty word), psychology, whereas on the other hand, the Variety Theater exalts action, heroissm, life in the open air, dexterity, the authority of instinct and intuition. To psychology it opposes what I call 'body-madness' (fisicofollia).
19. Finally, the Variety Theater offers to every country (like Italy) that has no great single capital city a brilliant résumé of Paris considered as the one magnetic center of luxury and ultrarefined pleasure.
Futurism Wants to Transform the Variety Theater into a Theater of Amazement, Record-Setting, and Body-Madness
1. One must completely destroy all logic in Variety Theater performances, exaggerate their luxuriousness in strange ways, multiply contrasts and make the absurd and the unlifelike complete masters of the stage. (Example: Oblige the chanteuses to dye their décolletage, their arms and especially their hair, in all colors hitherto neglected as means of seduction. Green hair, violet arms, blue décolletage, orange chignon, etc. Interrupt a song and continue with a revolutionary speech. Spew out a romanza of insults and profanity, etc.).
2. Prevent a set of traditions from establishing itself in the Variety Theater. Therefore oppose and abolish the stupid Parisian 'Revues', as tedious as Greek tragedy with their Compère and Commère playing the part of the ancient chorus, their parade of political personalities and events set off by wisecracks in a most irritating logical sequence. The Variety Theater, in fact, must not be what it unfortunately still is today, nearly always a more or less amusing newspaper.
3. Introduce surprise and the need to move among the spectators of the orchestra, boxes, and balcony. Some random suggestions: spread a powerful glue on some of the seats, so that the male or female spectator witll stay glued down and make everyone laugh (the damaged frock coat or toilette will naturally be paid for at the door). — Sell the same ticket to ten people: traffic jam, bickering, and wrangling. — Offer free tickets to gentlemen or ladies who are notoriously unbalanced, irratable, or eccentric and likely to provoke uproars with obscene genstures, pinching women, or other freakishness. Sprinkle the steas with dust to make people itch and sneeze, etc.
4. Systematically prostitute all of classic art on the stage, performing for example all the Greek, French, and Italian tragedies, condensed and comically mixed up, in a single evening. — Put life into the works of Beethoven, Wagner, Bach, Bellini, Chopin, introducing them with Neapolitan songs. — Put Duse, Sarah Bernhardt, Zacconi, Mayol, and Fregoli side by side on the stage. — Play a Beethoven symphony backwards, beginning with the last note. — Boil all of Shakespeare down to a single act. — Do the same with all the most venerated actors. — Have actors recite Hernani tied in sacks up to their necks. Soap the floorboards to cause amusing tumbles at the most tragic moments.
5. In every way encourage the type of the eccentric American, the impression he gives of exciting grotesquerie, of frightening dynamism; his crude jokes, his enormous brutalities, his trick weskits and pants as deep as a ship's hold out of which, with a thousand other things, come the great Futurist hilarity that should make the world's face young again.
Because, and don't forget it, we Futurists are Young Artillerymen on a Toot, as we proclaimed in our manifesto, 'Let's Murder the Moonshine', fire + fire + light against moonshine and against old firmaments war every night great cities to balze with electric signs. Immense black face (30 meters high + 150 meters height of the building = 180 meters) open close open close a golden eye 3 meters high smoke smoke manoli smoke manoli cigarettes woman in a blouse (50 meters + 120 meters of building = 170 meters) stretch relax a violet rosy lilac blue bust froth of electric light in a champagne glass (30 meters) sizzle evaporate in a mouthful of darkness electric signs dim die under a dark stiff hand come to life again continue stretch out in the night the human day's activity courage + folly never to die or cease or sleep electric signs = formation and disaggregation of mineral and vegetable center of the earth circulation of blood in the ferrous faces of Futurist houses increases, empruples (joy anger more more still stronger) as soon as the negative pessimist sentimental nostalgic shadows besiege the city brilliant revival of streets that channel a smoky swarm of works by day two horses (30 meters tall) rolling golden balls with their hoofs gioconda purgative waters crisscross of trrrr trrrrr Elevated trrr trrrrr overhead trrombone whisstle ambulance sirens and firetrucks transfomration of the streets into splendid corridors to guide, push logic necessity the crowd towards trepidation + laughter + music-hall uproar folies-bergère empire crème-éclipse tubes of mercury red red red blue violet huge letter-eels of gold purple diamond fire Futurist defiance to the weepy night the stars' defeat warmth enthusiasm faith conviction will power penetration of an electric sign into the house across the street yellow slaps for that gouty, dozy, bibliophile in slipers 3 mirrors watch him the sign plunges to redgold absses open close open close 3 thousand meters deep horror quick go out out hat stick steps taximeter push shove zuu zuoeu here we are dazzle of the promeande solemnity of the panther-cocottes in their comic-opera tropics fat warm smell of music-hall gaiety = tireless ventilation of the world's Futurist brain.