Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Anarchy is Not Enough

I recently picked up The Coming Insurrection at Barnes & Noble. If you buy it on Amazon, you only have to pay $8.21, which is a savings of $4.74 (37%)! However you get a hold of it, remember: "No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior permission of the publisher." This is a review, and I intend to reproduce parts of the book. The MIT Press can get bent.

If you can't tell, I'm not impressed. In fact, I'm fed up with these anarchist calls to action. I want to be an anarchist, I really do, but this is not (good) enough. As a critique, Insurrection is inconsistent. As a program for action, it's downright regressive.

On economics: "All things considered, it's not the crisis that depresses us, it's growth" (63). Fine. Capitalism is an assemblage of metastatic machines (a teleology without telos, I've characterized it elsewhere). But then the Invisible Committee (IC) goes on to write, "[N]egative growth would preserve [economics] as a morality" (68). So they don't want growth, but they also don't want negative growth. They want pure destruction. They want stasis. They want death. "[W]e dream of an age that is equal to our passions," they write. Their passions are affirmative, but affirmations of what, exactly? I suspect the age which is equal to the intensity of affect IC valorize is precisely a dream, a hallucination. It's nothing short of the Apocalypse (capitalized to emphasize religiosity). The IC recognize that "[t]o be disappointed, one must have hoped for something" (45). Prepare to be disappointed.

The IC want us to believe that while "[n]othing appears less likely than an insurrection, [...] nothing is more necessary" (96). I wish that were the case. But it is precisely insurrection which is not necessary. The IC should want to advocate for the insurrection as a way out (and they do in fact characterize capitalism as a system with no exits), but instead they call it necessary, which makes it the means and end of freedom. Remember what Kafka writes in "A Report to an Academy": "[A]ll too often men are betrayed by the word freedom. And as freedom is counted among the most sublime feelings, so the corresponding disillusionment can be also sublime." Consider me disillusioned.

The IC conceive of philosophy as parallel to the police, a technique of social destabilization which undermines commitment and universal truth in favor of a radical relativism which supports the metropolis. This is how they can get away with writing, "There's nothing more to say, everything has to be destroyed" (86). Of course, they do have more to say and there is always more to say. And since they're going to say more, they should have spent more time reading the philosophers they disparage (although Insurrection's philosophical influences are fairly obvious). Take the IC's criticism of those they call "post autistic economists," that they are "ultimately doing what religions have always done: providing [sic] explanations" (65). The IC is sick of analysis because they think it produces only false consciousness, that there's nothing left to explain. But most of Insurrection is analysis — 71 pages of it, in fact. This strain of anarchism is dogmatic, and that's why it's powerful (or poses as though it were). But strength of conviction is dangerous when it suppresses inquiry. (Insurrection is committed to Truth, which is a first indication that they might have a hard time distinguishing themselves from other groups struggling for radical change, like Neo-Nazis.)

The central theme that runs through the various chapters ("Circles," for some reason) is placelessness. The Invisible Committee renounce the nomadism championed by postmodern theories of the network society, a term the IC would rightly call redundant or misleading (society has been replaced by networks). But herein lies the deepest contradiction. Anti-globalization activists know better than anyone how to navigate global flows. After railing against capitalism's erasure of place, the IC reminds its readers that travel is an effective way to foster and sustain communes (which they refuse to recognize are another name for Temporary Autonomous Zones, a significant oversight because the comparison would presuppose the failure of insurrection as a total revolution).

The tension between nostalgia for rootedness and ecstasy in levity comes to a head in Insurrection's meager explication of a definite program for action. The success of the insurrection depends on maintenance of lines of communication, but the insurrection itself is nothing if not a contagious take-down of the network. The best commentary on this problematic is the IC's usage of the word "complicity," which seems to correspond most closely to standard usage of "affinity." Lesson learned: one can be complicit without knowing what "complicity" means, or what complicity means.

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