Theory & Event

Volume 14, Number 4, 2011 Supplement
E-ISSN: 1092-311X
Jodi Dean, James Martel and Davide Panagia - Introduction
Franco Berardi - Collapse and Uprising in Europe: The Right to Insolvency and the Disentanglement of the General Intellect's Potency
Wendy Brown - Occupy Wall Street: Return of a Repressed Res-Publica
John Buell - Occupy Wall Street's Democratic Challenge
William E. Connolly - What Is To Be Done?
Jodi Dean - Claiming Division, Naming a Wrong
Richard Grusin - Premediation and the Virtual Occupation of Wall Street
John Protevi - Semantic, Pragmatic, and Affective Enactment at OWS
McKenzie Wark - This Shit is Fucked Up and Bullshit
Slavoj Zizek - Actual Politics
Biographies

Theory & Event - Introduction
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Theory & Event
Volume 14, Number 4, 2011 Supplement
E-ISSN: 1092-311X

Introduction

Jodi Dean, James Martel and Davide Panagia

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Photo by Accra Shepp. Copyright © 2011 Accra Shepp.

As we go to press, the Occupy Wall Street movement is in its third month. Inspired in part by the Arab Spring and the acampadas in Madrid and Barcelona, the occupation movement has reinvigorated left politics in the US and spread to more than a thousand cities worldwide. In the place of hopelessness and stagnation, there is an open sense of possibility. Now, as a vivid and undeniable feature of our political setting, outrage over inequality, unemployment, debt, and the political power of money and corporations has a form for its expression. Occupation is that form.
Several weeks ago, we invited political and media theorists to reflect on the event of Occupy Wall Street. Given our intermediated setting as well as the open, horizontal, and practically viral nature of the movement, these reflections aren’t outside the event. Rather, they are part of it, pushing its momentum and understanding in some directions rather than others. Some of the contributions began their lives as blog posts. Some are interventions aiming to influence and advise. Some draw out the global dimensions of the movement. Some attend to the affective and sensory modes of being occupation enables. One was initially delivered as a speech in Zuccotti Park. Together the pieces collected for this supplement to 14.4 produce a theorization of a movement that is just beginning and that in this movement of beginning insists on, claims, and asserts, perhaps more than anything else, the freedom to configure its own space of action.
Although any account of the origins and growth of the movement will exclude moments crucial for shaping the event that it has and will continue to become, we offer a rough timeline as an incitement for future research.
InstigationJuly 13, 2011 Adbusters (a Canadian magazine that advocates culture-jamming as a weapon of struggle against corporate control), issues a call on its blog for people to flood lower Manhattan, bring tents, and occupy Wall Street. With an image of a ballerina balancing on top of the famous Wall Street bull, the call starts to circulate on the internet.1 August 2 The first General Assembly (GA) comes together for a meeting at the bull. About a week earlier, New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts, an activist group that had occupied sidewalks outside City Hall for three weeks in June to protest upcoming austerity measures in the city budget (thirteen people were arrested), had called for a People’s Assembly opposing cuts of any kind. They chose August 2 because of the looming “debt ceiling,” debate which had stalemated Washington.2 Rather than an actual assembly, however, the gathering was structured more like a rally. Artists and anarchists who had been discussing the September 17th occupation at the art collective 16 Beaver left the rally for conversations of their own in which they began putting a plan together in earnest.3 The group will meet, grow, adopt its horizontal, consensus-based practices, and form working groups over the next six weeks that will scout out a location (Zuccotti Park, because of its strange legal status as a privately owned public space), test the law regarding sleeping on the sidewalks, and conduct training sessions in civil disobedience. August 23 Anonymous posts a video announcing the occupation of Wall Street on the internet, drawing attention to the event and linking the hackers to the movement. The Guy Fawkes mask associated with Anonymous (because of its powerful association with resistance and revolution in the 2006 film, V for Vendetta) will become prominent in images of the occupations, marches, and demonstrations.4
Becoming PresentSeptember 17 A few thousand people show up for the march on Wall Street (significantly less than the 20,000 expected). Some do yoga in the streets. Over 500 stay for the GA. Since the police won’t allow them to use microphones, they use the “People’s Mic,” where people loudly repeat the speaker’s words so the rest of the crowd can hear them. AnonOps Communications and Global Revolution run live feeds from the occupation. A couple of hundred spend the night in the park. Sparse initial coverage of the event in the US media is limited and condescending.5 Outside the US, reports are enthusiastic, admiring of the protesters and relieved that US Americans seem finally to be waking up. September 22 Occupy Wall Street march converges with the march protesting Georgia’s execution of Troy Davis. September 24 Excessive police violence in NYC. Videos circulate of police penning and pepper-spraying protesters.6 September 27 Cornel West speaks at Zuccotti Park, saying “we should not be afraid to say revolution.”7 September 29 NY GA issues a Declaration of Occupation.8 September 30 The band Radio Head is rumored to be playing at Zuccotti Park, which brings in nearly a thousand new protesters. Approximately 700 people are arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Expansion and Struggle
By the beginning of October, occupations form in cities throughout the US, including Austin, Boston, Chicago, and Denver. The occupations are not coordinated with one another. Each develops its own local culture and concerns. Union locals, the Working Families Party, and Move On voice support for OWS. The movement is estimated to be doubling in size every three days.9 Coverage booms and with it pressures on the movement to explain itself. What does it want? What are its demands? At the same time, growing pushback leads to escalating police violence.October 1 First issue of the Occupied Wall Street Journal published and distributed free of charge at Zuccotti Park funds for the paper are raised through Kickstarter). October 9 Slavoj Zizek speaks at Zuccotti Park. October 10 Time poll shows Occupy Wall Street more popular than Tea Party. October 11 Hundreds of police in riot gear attack Occupy Boston in Dewey Park.10 October 12 Five hundred protesters march on NYC’s wealthy Upper East Side. October 13 Several thousand people mobilize to defend Zuccotti Park from eviction. NYC Mayor Bloomberg backs down and does not try to remove them. October 15 Over six thousand people occupy Times Square. Mass demonstrations against capitalism take place in cities across the world. Riots break out in Rome. Protesters gather to occupy the London Stock Exchange, move to occupy the grounds at St. Paul’s Cathedral. October 21 House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (VA, Republican) cancels planned speech at Wharton Business School because Occupy Philadelphia protesters were expected to gather outside the lecture hall. October 25 Oakland police fire tear gas canisters at protesters, injuring Iraq-war veteran, Scott Olsen.11 October 28 Spokes Council organizational structure accepted by NY GA. October 29 Denver police in riot gear use tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters. October 30 Angela Davis speaks at Washington Square Park in NYC. October 31 Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral resigns over occupation. November 2 General strike in Oakland shuts down port. November 3 Fifteen protesters arrested in attempt to occupy Goldman Sachs in NYC. November 7 First meeting of newly organized Spokes Council in NYC.12 November 9 Police beat Berkeley students with clubs to prevent them from establishing an occupation. November 12 Police arrest occupiers in Salt Lake City. They arrive at the camp with bulldozers. November 13 Police arrest occupiers in Albany. Mayor orders eviction of Occupy Portland. Resisting protesters are beaten with sticks and arrested. November 14 Hundreds of police in riot gear clear Occupy Oakland. November 15 At one a.m., police clear Zuccotti Park. They use LRADs (long range acoustic devices), sound canons. November 17 Massive day of action marking two months since the beginning of occupation in the US.

Jodi Dean  

Jodi Dean is co-editor of Theory & Event. Her most recent books are Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies (Duke 2009) and Blog Theory (Polity 2010). Her book, The Communist Horizon, will be published by Verso in 2012. Jodi can be reached at jdean@hws.edu

Copyright © 2011 Jodi Dean, James Martel, and Davide Panagia and The Johns Hopkins University Press

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Theory & Event - Collapse and Uprising in Europe: The Right to Insolvency and the Disentanglement of the General Intellect's Potency
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Project MUSE Journals Theory & Event Volume 14, Number 4, 2011 Supplement Collapse and Uprising in Europe: The Right to Insolvency and the Disentanglement of the General Intellect’s Potency

Theory & Event
Volume 14, Number 4, 2011 Supplement
E-ISSN: 1092-311X

Collapse and Uprising in Europe:

The Right to Insolvency and the Disentanglement of the General Intellect’s Potency

Franco Berardi

Austerity in Europe
“The German worker does not want to pay the Greek fisherman’s bills,” the fanatics of economic fundamentalism are saying, while pitting workers against workers and leading Europe to the brink of civil war.
The entity that is “Europe” was conceived in the aftermath of the Second World War as a project to overcome modern nationalism and create a non-identitarian union based on principles of humanism, enlightenment, and social justice. What is left of this original project, after the recent financial collapse that has stormed the American economy and jeopardized the Eurozone? Since the beginning of the European Union, the constitutional profile of the European entity has been weakly defined, such that economic goals of prosperity and monetarist financial constraints have taken the place of a constitution. In the 1990s, the Maastricht Treaty marked a turning point in this process. It sanctioned the constitutionalization of monetarist rule and its economic implications: a decrease in social spending, cuts in labor costs and an increase in competition and productivity. The effects of a narrow application of the Maastricht rules became evident in 2010: overwhelming Greece and Ireland and endangering other countries, the financial crisis exposed the contradictions between the desires for economic growth, social stability, and monetarist rigidity. In this situation, the Maastricht rules have been shown to be dangerous, and the overall conception of the EU, based on the centrality of economic competition, has revealed its frailty.
If we are to compete with emerging economies where labor costs are lower than those in Europe, we must lower European wages. To compete with economies where the working day never ends and where labor conditions are unregulated - with poor safety, crippling shifts, and lack of job security - we must abolish the limits on the working week, make overtime mandatory and renounce safety at work in Europe, too. Thus the evolution of capitalism requires not only the abrogation of the principles that derive from socialism, but also the revocation of the Enlightenment tradition and the humanist legacy, up to and including the abolition of democracy, if this word still means anything.
Is this the Europe we want? Is this the image of itself that Europe has decided to accede to? Obviously, we are not dealing here with principles but with power relations. In the last few years, the financial class, a now dominant group in the world’s economic government, has used globalizing technical powers to enormously augment the wealth that ends up in the pockets of a minority in the form of profit and financial rent. The working class and polymorphous cognitive labor could not resist the attack that followed globalization. This uneven wealth distribution is in conflict with the possibility of a further development of capitalism: the reduction of the global wage is bound to cause a decrease in demand. The result is an impoverishment that makes society more fragile and aggressive, and a deflation that makes it impossible to re-launch growth.
Financial Power and Capitalist Nihilism
The European leading class seems unable to think in terms of the future. They are panicking and, frightened by their own impotence, trying to reaffirm and reinforce measures that have already failed.
This European collapse is exposing the agony of capitalism. The flexibility of the system is over; no margins are left. If society is to pay the debt of the banks, demand has to be reduced, and if demand is reduced growth will not follow.
Nowadays, it’s difficult to see a consistent project in the frantic action of the leading class. A culture of “No future” has taken hold of the capitalist brain. The origin of this capitalist nihilism is to be found in the effect of the deterritorialization that is inherent to global financial capitalism. The relation between capital and society is deterritorialized insofar as economic power is no longer based on the property of physical things. The bourgeoisie is dead, and the new financial class has a virtual existence: fragmented, dispersed, impersonal.
The bourgeoisie which was in control of the economic scene of modern Europe was a strongly territorialized class. Linked to material assets, it could not survive without a relationship to territory and community. The financial class which has taken the lead of the European political machine has no attachment to either territory or material production. Its power and wealth are founded on the perfect abstraction of digital finance. This digital-financial hyper-abstraction is liquidating the living body of the planet and the social body of the workers’ community.
Can it last? Without consulting public opinion, the European directorate that emerged after the Greek crisis affirmed its monopoly over decisions regarding the economies of the different countries approaching default in 2011. It effectively divested parliaments of authority and replaced EU democracy with a business executive headed by the large banks. Can the BCE-FMI-EU directorate impose a system of automatisms that secures EU members’ compliance with the process of public-sector wage reduction, lay-offs of a third of all teachers, and so on? This order of things cannot last indefinitely as the final collapse of the Union is the point of arrival of the spiral debt-deflation-recession-more debt that is already exposed in the Greek agony.
Society has been late to react, its collective intelligence deprived of its social body, and the social body itself completely subjugated and depressed. At the end of 2010, a wave of protests and riots exploded in the schools and universities. Now that wave is mounting everywhere. But protests, demonstrations and riots seem unable to force a change in the politics of the Union.
Let’s try to understand why, and also let’s try to look for a new methodology of action, and a new political strategy for the movement.
A Movement for the Reactivation of the Social Body
The movement of protest has proliferated during the last year. From London to Rome, from Athens to New York, not to mention the North African precarious workers who have been part of the recent upheaval changing (for the good or the bad) the Arab world, this movement is targeting financial power and trying to oppose the effects of the financial assault on society. The problem is that pacific demonstrations and protests have not been able to change the agenda of the European Central Bank, as the national Parliaments of the European countries are hostages of the Maastricht rules, financial automatisms working as the material constitution of the Union. Peaceful demonstrations are effective in the frame of democracy, but democracy is over as techno-financial automatisms have taken the place of political decisions.
Violence is erupting here and there. The four nights of rage in the English suburbs, as well as the violent riots of Rome and Athens, have shown the possibility for social protest to turn aggressive. But violence, too, is unfit to change the course of things. Burning a bank is totally useless, as financial power is not in the physical buildings, but in the abstract connection between numbers, algorithms, and information. Therefore, if we want forms of action able to confront the present form of power, we have to start from the consciousness that cognitive labor is the main productive force creating the techno-linguistic automatisms which enable financial speculation. Following the Wikileaks example, we must organize a long-lasting process of dismantling and rewriting the techno-linguistic automatons enslaving all of us.
In the face of the financial assault, social subjectivity seems weak and fragmented. Thirty years of precarization of labor and competition have jeopardized the very fabric of social solidarity and weakened the psychic ability to share time, goods and breath. The virtualization of social communication has eroded the empathy between human bodies.
The problem of solidarity has always been crucial in every process of struggle, and social change. Autonomy is based on the ability to share daily life and to recognize that what is good for me is good for you and what is bad for you is bad for me. Solidarity is difficult to build as labor has been turned into a sprawl of recombinant time-cells, and consequently the process of subjectivation has become fragmentary, un-empathic and frail. Solidarity has nothing to do with an altruistic self denial. In materialistic terms, solidarity is not about you; it is about me. Like love, it is not about altruism, it is about the pleasure of sharing the breath and the space of the other. Love is the ability to enjoy myself thanks to your presence, thanks to your eyes. This is solidarity. As solidarity is based on the territorial proximity of social bodies, you cannot build solidarity between fragments of time.
I think that the English riots and the Italian revolts and the Spanish acampada should not be seen as consequential forms of revolution, as they are unable to really hit the heart of power. They have to be understood as a form of psycho-affective re-activation of the social body. They have to be seen as an attempt to activate a living relation between the social body and the general intellect. Only when the general intellect will have been able to reconnect with the social body will we be able to start a process of real autonomization from the grip of financial capitalism.
Right to Insolvency
A new concept is coming out from the fogs of the present situation: a right to insolvency. We’ll not pay the debt.
The European countries have been obliged to accept the blackmail of debt, but people are refusing the concept that we have to pay for a debt that we have not taken. Anthropologist David Graeber, in his book Debt the first 5000 years, (Melville House, 2011), and philosopher Maurizio Lazzarato, in La fabrique de l’homme endetté (editions Amsterdam, 2011), have started an interesting reflection on the cultural origin of the notion of debt, and the psychic implications of the sense of guilt that the notion of debt brings in itself. And, in his essay, Recurring Dreams The Red Heart of Fascism, the Anglo-Italian young thinker Federico Campagna locates the analogy between the post Versailles Congress years and the present in the debt-obsession:

Last time, it took him decades to be born. First it was the war, and then, once it was over, it was debt, and all the ties that came with it. It was the time of industrialization, the time of modernity, and everything came in a mass scale. Mass impoverishment, mass unemployment, hyper-inflation, hyper-populism. Nations were cracking under the weight of what Marxists used to call ‘contradictions’, while capitalists were clinging to the brim of their top-hats, all waiting for the sky to fall to earth. And when it fell, they threw themselves down after it, in the dozens, down from their skyscrapers and their office blocks. The air became electric, squares filled up, trees turned into banners and batons. It was the interwar period, and in the depth of the social body, Nazism was still hidden, liquid and growing, quiet like a fetus.
This time, everything is happening almost exactly the same way as last time, just slightly out-of-sync, as happens with recurring dreams. Once again, the balance of power in the world is shifting. The old empire is sinking, melancholically, and new powers are rushing in the race to the top. Just like before, their athletic screams are the powerful ones of modernity. Growth! Growth! Growth! Their armies are powerful, their teeth shiny, their hopes murderous and pure. Old powers look at them in fear, listening to their incomprehensible languages like old people listen to young people’s music.1

The burden of debt is haunting the European imagination of the future, and the Union, which used to be a promise of prosperity and peace is turning into a kind of blackmail and threat.
In response the movement has launched the slogan: We’ll not pay the debt. These words are deceiving at the moment, as actually we are already paying for the debt: the educational system is already de-financed, and privatized, jobs are cancelled, and so on. But these words are meant to change the social perception of the debt, creating a consciousness of its arbitrariness and moral illegitimacy.
A right to insolvency is emerging as a new keyword and a new concept loaded with philosophical implications. The concept of insolvency implies not only the refusal to pay the financial debt, but also, in a subtle way, the refusal to submit the living potency of the social forces to the formal domination of the economic code.
Reclaiming the right to insolvency implies a radical questioning of the relation between the capitalist form (Gestalt) and the concrete productive potency of social forces, particularly the potency of the general intellect. The capitalist form is not only an economic set of rules and functions; it is also the internalization of a certain set of limitations, of psychic automatism, of rules for compliance.
Try to think for a second that the whole financial semiotization of European life disappears. Try to imagine that all of a sudden we stop organizing daily life in terms of money and debt. Nothing would change in the concrete useful potentiality of society, in the contents of our knowledge, in our skills and ability to produce. We should imagine (and consequently organize) the disentanglement of the living potentiality of the general intellect from the capitalist Gestalt - intended first of all as a psychic automatism governing daily life.
Insolvency means disclaiming the economic code of capitalism as transliteration of real life, as semiotization of social potency and richness. The concrete useful productive ability of the social body is forced to accept impoverishment in exchange for nothing. The concrete force of productive labor is submitted to the unproductive and actually destructive task of refinancing the failed financial system. If we may paradoxically cancel every mark of the financial semiotization, nothing would change in the social machinery, nothing in the intellectual ability to conceive and perform. Communism does not need to be called out from the womb of the future; it is here, in our being, in the immanent life of common knowledge.
But the present situation is paradoxical - simultaneously exciting and despairing. Capitalism has never been so close to the final collapse, but social solidarity has never been so far from our daily experience. We must start from this paradox in order to build a post-political and post-revolutionary process of disentanglement of the possible from the existent.

Franco Berardi  

Franco “Bifo” Berardi is an Italian autonomist philosopher and media activist. His recent books include Soul at Work (Semiotext(e) 2009), Precarious Rhapsody (AK Press 2009), and After the Future (AK Press 2011). Franco can be reached at franberardi@gmail.com

Note

Copyright © 2011 Franco Berardi and The Johns Hopkins University Press

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Franco Berardi. “Collapse and Uprising in Europe: The Right to Insolvency and the Disentanglement of the General Intellect’s Potency.” Theory & Event 14.4 (2011). Project MUSE. Web. 2 Dec. 2011. <http://muse.jhu.edu/>.

Always review your references for accuracy and make any necessary corrections before using. Pay special attention to personal names, capitalization, and dates. Consult your library or click here for more information on citing sources.

Franco Berardi. (2011). Collapse and uprising in europe: The right to insolvency and the disentanglement of the general intellect’s potency. Theory & Event 14(4S), Retrieved December 2, 2011, from Project MUSE database.

Always review your references for accuracy and make any necessary corrections before using. Pay special attention to personal names, capitalization, and dates. Consult your library or click here for more information on citing sources.

Franco Berardi. “Collapse and Uprising in Europe: The Right to Insolvency and the Disentanglement of the General Intellect’s Potency.” Theory & Event 14, no. 4 (2011) http://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed December 2, 2011).

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1. Available at http://kafca.eu/articles/en/recurring-dreams-the-red-heart-of-fascism

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Theory & Event - Occupy Wall Street: Return of a Repressed Res-Publica
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Project MUSE Journals Theory & Event Volume 14, Number 4, 2011 Supplement Occupy Wall Street: Return of a Repressed Res-Publica

Theory & Event
Volume 14, Number 4, 2011 Supplement
E-ISSN: 1092-311X

Occupy Wall Street:

Return of a Repressed Res-Publica

Wendy Brown

For three decades, American populist politics have been largely reactionary, instigated and instrumentalized by monied interests. What finally triggered this left revolt against neoliberal deregulation and corporately bought democracy? Why didn’t it erupt in 2008 when the government bailed out teetering investment banks but not their victims-those holding subprime mortgages or gutted retirement funds? Why not in 2009 when gigantic bonuses were handed around to the very investment bankers who had crashed the system with their derivatives games? Why not in spring 2011 when the Supreme Court overturned limits on corporate contributions to Political Action Committees (permitting corporations to flood the electoral process) and then essentially killed off class-action lawsuits (workers’ and consumers’ main line of defense against corporate fraud and abuse)? Why not at any point in the last decade as mass access to higher education collapsed, infrastructure rotted, real income for the middle class plummeted, health care costs skyrocketed, while corporations, banks and the wealthy feathered their nests?
The OWS events this fall are the twin gifts of, on the one hand, the inspirational Arab Spring and, on the other, the colossal failure of the Obama presidency to place even a light rein on neoliberal de-regulation or install a modest interval of separation between Wall Street and Washington. If the first was an obvious trigger, the second should not be minimized: Had any of the promised Obama “hope” been substantially realized—early withdrawal from Iraq war, closing Guantanamo, stimulating economic recovery with jobs creation, repealing the Bush tax cuts, tightening regulations on finance capital, expanding access to affordable higher education, reining in health care costs—many Occupy Wall Streeters, especially the young, might have remained wedded to the electoral political process that engaged them so intensely just three years ago.
In addition to the galvanizing effects of the Arab Spring and the Obama Autumn, almost half a decade of recession fueled the fire with staggering unemployment (25% among recent college graduates), deteriorating wages, vanishing pensions, home foreclosures, scandalous rates of poverty and homelessness (1 in 5 children in the US are born into poverty) and accelerated destruction of public goods and services already slimmed by two decades of neoliberal defunding and privatization. Together these effects pooled the predicaments of the poor and the middle class, the young and the old, the working and the under- and unemployed: all are sacrificed as capital is propped, bailed, and continues to feast. Put another way, what makes this era unique is the unprecedented mutual identification among working middle class families carrying under-water mortgages, unemployed youth carrying under-water college loan debt, laid-off factory workers facing contracting unemployment benefits, public workers forced to shoulder ever growing contributions to their own “benefits” or losing long-promised pensions, and skilled and unskilled workers—from pre-school teachers to airline pilots—whose salaries for full-time work cannot lift their families above poverty level.
If neoliberal economic policies eliminating state benefits and public goods while plumping the nests of the rich have paradoxically joined the fates of heretofore diverse and often divided generations, job sectors, races and classes, neoliberal political policies aimed at breaking social solidarities have similarly paved the road for broad-based democratic uprising. Recent years have seen a plethora of state and federal court decisions assaulting the organized power of unions, consumers, welfare recipients, seniors, public sector workers, and the electorate as a whole. From AT&T Mobility v. Concepion (the Supreme Court decision permitting corporations to avoid class action litigation) to State of Wisconsin v. Fitzgerald et al (the Wisconsin court decision upholding a state law gutting the collective bargaining power of public unions), the last decade has seen the steady ratification and implementation of Margaret Thatcher’s iteration of the neoliberal political ideal—”there is no such thing as society, only individual men and women ….”1 Yet paradoxically or perhaps (for those who still believe in it) dialectically, this very demolition of organized interest group power—combined with scandalous growth in income inequality, eye-popping wealth at the top and dismantling of public goods—has facilitated a new populist political consciousness. Out of broken traditional solidarities and assaults on democracy itself, a new ethos of the mass is being carved: modestly democratic, probably even more modestly egalitarian, but certainly contoured by more than individual, sectional or partisan interests.2
To put the problem a little differently, partly through these broken solidarities, partly through demonizing the 1%, and partly through explicitly forging this new populist ethos, OWS has managed in spirit, analysis and conduct to substitute justice talk for interest talk. And it has done so when the language of justice seemed nearly extinguished by a neoliberal rationality that refracts all conduct through the metric of human capital self-appreciation.3 “We are the 99%,” far from participating in a discourse organized by interest or difference, overtly rejects the seizing of the nation by a plutocracy, by private rather than public interests. If the slogan is sometimes mobilized to cast this seizing as an effect of corruption and greed rather than neoliberal rationality in late capitalism (including the complete imbrication of Euro-Atlantic states with the fates and imperatives of finance capital), this is consequent not only to the wealth extremes the epoch has generated but to the necessary personification and theatricalization of all potent political discourse. (Even the Bolsheviks needed to feature the czars as the enemy!) Yet how difficult it has been for the mainstream media to grasp this new formation as promulgating a vision of justice, as issuing from educated political conviction and not only personal circumstance or individual rancor! It is a sign of our profoundly depoliticized vernacular of citizenship today that the stock interview question of OWS participants, “what brings you here?” is always intended to solicit a story of personal hardship or calamity. From CNN to NPR to the New York Times, the interviewers never know what to do with OWS answers that reference a decent, equitable and sustainable way of collective life, a sense of right and wrong, and an account of what we political theorists quaintly call The Good for the polity.
As splendidly surprising as the OWS movement has been, equally astonishing is the level of national endorsement for it: recent polls indicate that 62% of the country supports the movement and that more than a third of the super-rich (the 1%) are sympathetic.4 Regardless of the strategic challenges ahead for OWS as a movement, these facts alone brighten future prospects for a critical national discourse about democracy and capitalism. Occupy Wall Street has already generated something extraordinary in its successful challenge to the neoliberal image of the nation on the model of the firm, where profit is the only metric, competition the only game, private property the only rule, winners and losers the only outcome, and hierarchy and inequality the only form of organization. In place of that image, OWS has revived the classical image of the nation as res-publica, the nation as a public thing. The struggle ahead? To make the image real.

Wendy Brown  

Wendy Brown is Class of 1936 Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley where she teaches political theory. Her most recent book is Walled States, Waning Sovereignty (Zone 2010). Her political work is currently focused on preserving public higher education in the United States, in particular the University of California. Wendy can be reached at wlbrown@berkeley.edu

Notes

Copyright © 2011 Wendy Brown and The Johns Hopkins University Press

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Wendy Brown. “Occupy Wall Street: Return of a Repressed Res-Publica.” Theory & Event 14.4 (2011). Project MUSE. Web. 2 Dec. 2011. <http://muse.jhu.edu/>.

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Wendy Brown. (2011). Occupy wall street: Return of a repressed res-publica. Theory & Event 14(4S), Retrieved December 2, 2011, from Project MUSE database.

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T1 - Occupy Wall Street: Return of a Repressed Res-Publica A1 - Wendy Brown JF - Theory & Event VL - 14 IS - 4 PY - 2011 PB - The Johns Hopkins University Press SN - 1092-311X UR - http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/theory_and_event/v014/14.4S.brown.html N1 - Volume 14, Number 4, 2011 Supplement ER -

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1. “Wisconsin Court Reinstates Law on Union Rights,” New York Times, June 15, 2011 http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/15/us/politics/15wisconsin.html
2. Sure, the unions showed up qua unions at Zuccotti Square for a few days in early October but to “seize on this “crystallizing moment” in “talking about what’s wrong with the system,” not to organize labor. “Seeking Energy, Unions Join Protest Against Wall Street,” New York Times, October 5, 2011 http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/06/nyregion/major-unions-join-occupy-wall-street-protest.html?pagewanted=all
3. Michel Feher, “Self-Appreciation; Or, the Aspirations of Human Capital,” Public Culture 21.1, 2009.
4. “Poll: Most Americans Support Occupy Wall Street,” The Atlantic October 19, 2011 http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/10/poll-most-americans-support-occupy-wall-street/246963/ and “Over Third of Millionaires Argue ‘Occupy’ Protestors Make ‘Good and Valid’ Point” Huffington Post, November 3, 2011 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/03/occupy-wall-street-poll-millionaires_n_1074551.html

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Theory & Event - Occupy Wall Street's Democratic Challenge
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Project MUSE Journals Theory & Event Volume 14, Number 4, 2011 Supplement Occupy Wall Street’s Democratic Challenge

Theory & Event
Volume 14, Number 4, 2011 Supplement
E-ISSN: 1092-311X

Occupy Wall Street’s Democratic Challenge

John Buell

Occupy Wall Street (OWS) has some lessons to teach us, not the least of which is the shear unpredictability of political events. With the European economy under the spell of the most dismal practitioners of the dismal science, the US Congress equally obsessed with deficits and austerity for the poor, and the Obama Administration’s hard pivot to jobs both long overdue and hardly audible, it seemed that progressives had little to hope for. In the face of these trends OWS has brought at least some prospect of positive political change. Features that in the eyes of the corporate media are weaknesses may well turn out to be enduring strengths of the movement.
Not surprisingly, some segments of the corporate media resorted to a familiar trope when characterizing the initial stages of the movement as a mob. It seems that any organization without a clearly designated leader and fixed principles must be an unruly and self-destructive mass. Pacific University political scientist Jules Boykoff calls our attention to this gem: “Right-wing columnist Rich Lowry offered an extreme caricature of the attack-dog punditocracy when he wrote, “The left’s tea party is a juvenile rabble, a woolly-headed horde,” a band of “stereotypically aging hippies and young kids who could have just left a Phish concert.” Notice what gets lost: actual ideas.” http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/10/12-1
Corporate critics of course should know whereof they speak. It would be hard to imagine more destructive mob behavior than the sub prime mortgage market and the shadowy derivatives world that enabled and in turn was fuelled by such toxic monstrosities as CDOs and CDSs.
Unlike the corporate finance mob, OWS insists on transparency and openness of deliberation, a voice for anyone. Not only is such radical democracy a check upon arbitrary power, it is also an occasion for ordinary citizens to develop a clearer sense of who they are and to explore and clarify new grievances. Fordham University sociologist Heather Gautney put it this way in a Washington Post op ed. (October 11): “This is not just a charming mess. We are all leaders represents a real praxis, and it has a real history. In the 1960s and 70s, feminists convened consciousness-raising meetings aimed at politicizing the various forms of women’s oppression that were occurring in private. Women in the ranks were tired of being excluded from the inner circles of leadership where the issues and demands were being decided. And, they were sick of the generalized hypocrisy regarding gender roles. For this reason, feminist consciousness-raising eschewed formal leadership because each woman’s experience and opinion had to be valued equally. The personal was the political.” http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/10/11-12
Whether consciously or not, OWS seems to have learned some valuable lessons from earlier movements. The corporate media accuse it of a lack of clear focus and cite the absence of specific demands as a debilitating weakness. Yet all the Occupy movements are clearly focused on one central concern, the vast imbalance in both political and economic power. Like the World Social Forum, occupiers are addressing neo liberalism in its US manifestations. But as with the World Social Forum, activists cannot help birth a new world through one issue or set of demands, certainly not ones of tax or finance policy alone.
OWS seems to understand that it cannot redress the vast inequality in our economic and political lives by ducking or excluding the controversial social issues that have often dogged the left. The late 19th century Populist movement initially embraced goals for more ambitious than elimination of the gold standard, but the movement’s more radical thrust lost out to a politics of race baiting that saw some of Populism’s loudest voices become strident advocates of Jim Crow. (See C Vann Woodward’s classic discussion of this theme in The Strange Career of Jim Crow.) The politics of immigration today plays a central role in shaping our economic agenda. OWS now seems open to all who will join and one hopes that this will curb the urge among some to scapegoat “illegal” immigrants for working class wage declines and population flows attributable to corporate trade treaties and central bank policies that served finance capital at the expense of export industries.
The corporate state is also sustained economically in part by a vast military establishment’s cost plus contracts. Even more importantly, on the rhetorical/ideological level the national security state translates critiques of the current corporate order into foreign or “terrorist” inspired attacks.
Barbara Ehrenreich reminds us of a moment in anti-war politics full of lessons and challenges for today: “At the absolute nadir of New Left-working class relations, in 1970, 200 union construction workers attacked a student antiwar protest near Wall Street—not far from where construction workers now take lunch breaks with the protesters in Zuccotti Park.” http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/10/13-3
Occupy Wall Street has reached out to unions to ask their support in rolling back the power and wealth of the pampered one percent. Many unions have lent their support and voices, leading Columbia University historian Steve Fraser to comment: “Community organizations, housing advocates, environmentalists, and even official delegations of trade unionists not normally at ease hanging out with anarchists and hippies gave the whole affair a social muscularity and reach that was exhilarating to experience.” http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/10/13-1
Nonetheless, the movement is unlikely to endure if it becomes the mouthpiece or adjunct of particular unions or established progressive organizations. Though I would be pleased to see Occupy Wall Street endorse a set of basic demands, including especially laws removing money from politics, the very foundation of democracy, the most important task is to continue to highlight the role of finance capital and multinational enterprises in manipulating markets and governments to their own advantage. The Flint UAW sit- down strikes of the thirties were successful in part because of a favorable—or at least non-interventionist—political climate, but they gained both community support and immense future economic leverage in large measure just by occupying places of business. As long as the Occupy initiatives can grow and can find new tactics to retain visibility during upcoming months, other progressive organizations can articulate demands responsive to their concerns. OWS’ greatest contribution has been to find a way to forge a public space for a continuing discussion of a set of crucial issues long excluded from our politics.
What may well emerge from these occupations and be the most enduring would be a loose coalition whose “members” share some goals even as they differ on other policies and fundamental principles. One can imagine an Occupy Wall Street or some loose and subsequent offshoots that endorse infrastructure projects, campaign reform, student loan and mortgage relief even as more fundamental economic transformation, such as broader worker control or long term commitments to progressive hours reduction and a different orientation to nature remain contentious. (See Michael Moore’s discussion of this on October 24 Democracy Now.) These coalitions will need leaders. Broad social transformation probably isn’t sustainable if its advocates automatically demonize the concept of leadership, leaders, and representative democracy in all its forms. Socialism, Oscar Wilde once famously quipped, would take too many evenings. (For discussion of this theme, see Michael Walzer, Obligations: Essays on Disobedience, War, and Citizenship.)
Citizens need some free time, not only from the demands of work but of citizenship itself. Nonetheless, models of representative democracy are not etched in stone. They can also build in direct elements, such as recall and referendum, instruments that have played a positive role in Midwestern resistance to the draconian Republican assault on unions and the social safety net. These instruments can be refined, especially to address the role of media and money in politics. In addition, in my ideal scenario, vigorous Occupy initiatives——even their possibility—may keep leaders more responsive to the base than has been the case even in most progressive organizations, let alone the corrupted and moribund Democratic Party.
Historically, many on the Left have shared with conservatives one underlying philosophical commitment, the notion that society endures only when most citizens can endorse one set of core principles. Even most American pluralists of the fifties assumed that pluralism was arboreal, that every interest group could negotiate with others because deep down all shared a common core root of moral and philosophical commitments. The core commitments may have changed, from belief in a Christian God to faith in individual reason and the orderliness of the universe, to left visions of community and a common good.
But what if, as William Connolly has suggested in A World of Becoming, a world of multiple domains (from climate to geology to economy and popular culture) and different scales of time interacting in complex ways cannot be comprehended through strict causal theories or unified along precise moral boundaries? David Schlosberg, working from similar perspectives, of course acknowledges there is a world “out there,” but it is grasped only though our particular concepts. There is no guarantee that these could ever be sufficiently unified to yield one overarching worldview. (See Schlosberg, “Resurrecting the Pluralist Universe,” Political Research Quarterly, September 1998.) The world of course is not utterly chaotic and some provisional guidelines and principles can be established and agreed to by wide, though not unanimous, segments of any population. Nonetheless, the best and most enduring forms of consensus may be based on a sense that the world is messy and indeterminate, that core convictions cannot be fully demonstrated to the satisfaction of all parties. Our best hope is a willingness to admit gaps in our own fundamentals, engage others across a range of policy and philosophical differences, cooperate in specific projects whenever possible, engage the ways corporate culture manifests itself in schools, workplaces, churches, and nonprofits, as well as the formal political stage. Just as importantly, even as we construct new coalitions and reforms we must remain attuned to new challenges and injustices even our best- laid plans may evoke.
Political reformers face a never finished task of creating the space and the political agendas that will allow disparate and evolving life styles, ethnicities, and worldviews to live and thrive together. It is much too early to determine whether Occupy Wall Street will represent a basic turning point in our politics. But for now this movement, this event may give us something more than a set of demands, a radically democratic way to embrace a world of difference and flux.

John Buell  

John Buell is a columnist for the Progressive Populist and a faculty adjunct at Cochise College. His most recent book is Politics, Religion, and Culture in an Anxious Age (Palgrave Macmillan 2011). He can be reached at jbuell@acadia.net

Copyright © 2011 John Buell and The Johns Hopkins University Press

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Theory & Event - What Is To Be Done?
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Project MUSE Journals Theory & Event Volume 14, Number 4, 2011 Supplement What Is To Be Done?

Theory & Event
Volume 14, Number 4, 2011 Supplement
E-ISSN: 1092-311X

What Is To Be Done?

William E. Connolly

Occupy Wall Street, or better described, the 99% movement, represents a delayed reaction to the political economy of inequality, crisis, military adventurism, and corporate authoritarianism of the last 30 years. It carries the potential to energize the democratic left, to pull Obama and Blue Dog Democrats toward the left, to mobilize local energies, and to awaken a yet larger section of the American populace. Its immediate adversaries are Wall Street, the volatility of unregulated capitalism, Republican blockage of corporate regulation, jobs programs and existing tax policies, the right edge of the evangelical movement, the lack of labor and consumer representation on governing boards of most firms, the diffidence of the democratic party, campaign laws that flood the air waves with right wing disinformation, the right wing majority on the Supreme Court, and a 24-hours news media that uses distraction and scandal mongering to draw attention from the plight of the urban poor. The dynamics of this critical movement deserve much closer attention, but that will not be my focus today.
One question the media poses, now that it can no longer simply ignore this movement, is, “What do these people want?” “What do they stand for, anyway?” Below are a few interim answers to such questions. The interim answers are definitely at odds with the pure market fantasies of neoliberal capitalism. But they are compatible with capitalism per se, understood as production for profit, contractual labor, the primacy of the commodity form, a significant degree of competition between firms, and a large role for the state. A large state? In actual fact, every advanced capitalist country has a large state; they vary in the extent to which they support egalitarianism, unemployment benefits, health care, and sustainable modes of consumption over huge prison expenditures, intensive crime control policies, and gargantuan military budgets on the other. Capitalism per se has serious problems, dangers and limits, but that is not the focus now. Some policy responses, then:

1.   A minimal objective is to transform the tax code so that capital gains taxes, now set at 15%, are equalized with other taxes. If you earn, say, over $300,000 in income, your capital gains will be taxed at the same adjusted rates as your income tax. This reform means that incomes gained from work and investment are treated equally. A much more progressive tax system is also required. And a transaction tax on derivatives is required that could bring in a few hundred billion over a decade, even as the myth that low taxes for the rich generate high productivity must be exposed. And the indispensability of the state must be acknowledged by the shape of a progressive tax system.

2.   Banks must be required to set aside much bigger deposits for the loans they make, to reduce the chances of another bank induced world collapse. Investment and savings banks must be separated once again, prohibiting the casino approach to investment by banks. Housing foreclosures, most of which have been created by a crisis started at the top, can be stopped by renegotiating loans. Unemployment insurance must be extended.

3.   State policies must be introduced to press banks and corporations to invest the huge amount of capital they have on hand. How? One approach would be to reward institutions that invest their funds in productive ways with modest tax breaks while hitting those which curtail growth with tax increases. As this is done, it is essential to publicize to the broader populace how the most immediate barrier to job growth today is the current unwillingness of private institutions to invest their capital.

4.   A general jobs program, alone, is not sufficiently focused. State action must aim at reconstituting the general infrastructure of consumption that now sets the frame of possibility in which everyday consumption is set. By building fast transit systems, trolleys, trains, and bike paths you shift a large portion of current state expenditures and subsidies from roads, highways and airports toward more egalitarian alternatives; you open up new possibilities of production; and you introduce less expensive consumer choices for travel. By creating a state health care system you increase the competitive position of America in the world (in which most advanced countries have such systems); you relieve these burdens from consumers and businesses; and you improve the long term health of the populace. By subsidizing and publicizing food production that is healthy you provide new jobs for many as you reduce the medical costs and health burdens of the populace. By providing incentives for sustainable and efficient energy production you increase the independence of the country, decrease pressure for military expenditures, speak to the desires of innumerable consumers, and take important steps to forestall climate warming. Such a list can be extended indefinitely, with each item to be judged by its capacity to equalize the ability of citizens to participate in the larger

5.   What else besides tax policy and significant shifts in the established infrastructure of consumption can be done to reduce the extreme inequality we now have? Well, one answer is to set up competition between firms in each large sector— including health care, automobile production, banks, universities, schools, police forces, and so on, so that the firms in each sector that make the most progress in reducing the gap between the highest and lowest paid workers receive tax credits. Then, as the most successful firms in each domain demonstrate the possibilities available, other firms in that zone can be given penalties and incentives to meet it. Think of this as policies aimed at the income distribution system that replicates some of those applied now, with so much fanfare, to welfare recipients. Given the examples of other countries, such as Denmark, Canada, Germany and Japan, there is ample room in the States to promote both a highly productive economy and a much less unequal one. In fact, the two go together, no matter what Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Mitt Romney keep saying everyday.

This, of course, is merely a preliminary set of programs. And the 800-pound gorilla of global warming has not even been mentioned. But even it will take a broad based, highly energized movement to push it through. It, of course, sounds outrageous to those who pretend that they favor a small state while in fact supporting a huge, punitive, military state system tethered to the fantasy of unregulated capitalism. But an unregulated economy and a small state is in fact discernible nowhere; the fantasy of it keeps getting punctured by each new crisis. And, increasingly, it has lost its power to convince. New experiments and adventures are required.
We have not noted here a series of small and local initiatives and movements that are also critical to the success of the 99% movement. They are at least as important, generating the initiatives and energies needed to keep this movement alive. It is when local initiatives, larger social movements, church assemblies, blog activity, university teach-ins, and state policies amplify each other that things will start moving.

William E. Connolly  

William E. Connolly is Krieger-Eisenhower Professor at Johns Hopkins University where he teaches political theory. His recent books include Capitalism and Christianity, American Style (2008); and A World of Becoming (2011). In Capitalism and Christianity, American Style, he argued that the “evangelical-capitalist resonance machine” is carrying us to a probable crisis, and addressed a militant politics to respond to it. He is currently working on a book entitled The Fragility of Things, the first chapter of which will appear in Theory & Event in early 2012, under the title “Steps toward an Ecology of Late Capitalism.” William can be reached at pluma@jhu.edu

Copyright © 2011 William E. Connolly and The Johns Hopkins University Press

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William E. Connolly. “What Is To Be Done?.” Theory & Event 14.4 (2011). Project MUSE. Web. 2 Dec. 2011. <http://muse.jhu.edu/>.

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Theory & Event - Claiming Division, Naming a Wrong
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Project MUSE Journals Theory & Event Volume 14, Number 4, 2011 Supplement Claiming Division, Naming a Wrong

Theory & Event
Volume 14, Number 4, 2011 Supplement
E-ISSN: 1092-311X

Claiming Division, Naming a Wrong

Jodi Dean

The movement opened up by Occupy Wall Street is the most exciting event on the US political left since 1968. As in ‘68, the current movement extends globally, encompasses multiple grievances, and is being met by violent police responses. Also as in ‘68, an economic wrong, the wrong of capitalism, is at the core of the political rupture.
In May 1968, a general strike shut down the French economy. Students occupied the Sorbonne and workers occupied factories. In September 2011, inspired by revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, the occupation of the Wisconsin State Capitol, and the 15 May movement of the squares in Spain (as well as by the occupation movements that in recent years have accompanied protests over cutbacks in education and increases in tuition in California, New York, and the UK), protesters in New York occupied Wall Street. That Wall Street was actually the nearby privately owned Zuccotti Park didn’t really matter. What mattered, and what opened up a new space of political possibility in the US, was that finally people were waking up—after forty years of neoliberalism’s assault on the working and middle class and after a decade of rapacious class warfare in which the top one percent saw an income increase of 275% (their share of the national income more than doubling) while most of the rest of the country saw an income increase of roughly 1% a year.1 Instead of continuing in the fantasy that “what’s good for Wall Street, is good for Main Street,” the occupation claimed the division between Wall Street and Main Street and named this division as a fundamental wrong, the wrong of inequality, exploitation, and theft.
The movement’s early slogan, “We are the 99 Percent,” quickly went viral. It spread in part because of the Tumblr collection of images and testimonials to the hardships of debt, foreclosure, and unemployment, a “coming out” of the closet imposed by the conceit that everyone is middle class, everyone is successful.2 It also spread because of privileged carriers. Some spoke out against the inequality that had provided them their advantages and called for higher taxes. Another Tumblr collection, “We are the 1 Percent, We Stand with the 99 Percent,” featured their personal stories.3 Other privileged carriers were less sympathetic, even mocking, smug and dismissive. Conservative politicians and Fox News commentators wept crocodile tears of indignation at what they depicted as the unfairness of the many who were now refusing to accept the one percent’s seizure of an outrageously unfair portion of the common product. Why were the one percent being picked on, demonized, excluded? Isn’t exclusion wrong? Haven’t we moved beyond a politics of blaming and shaming? These carriers couldn’t quite grasp the change in the situation, the shift in the status quo whereby people no longer believed the myths that greed is good and inequality benefits everyone. They attempted to turn the issue around, making themselves into victims of exclusion and invective, as if the 99% were the criminals, as if our primary condition had been one of unity, community, and fairness until, out of the blue, some malcontents started to point fingers and cause trouble, as if class war were new rather than constitutive. The only effect of this tactic was continued accentuation of class division—precisely what the movement needs.
“We are the 99%” highlights a division and a gap, the gap between the wealth of the top 1% and the rest of us. As it mobilizes the gap between the 1% with half the country’s wealth and the other 99% of the population, the slogan asserts a collectivity. It does not unify this collectivity under a substantial identity—race, ethnicity, religion, nationality. Rather it asserts it as the “we” of a divided people, the people divided between expropriators and expropriated. In the setting of an occupied Wall Street, this “we” is a class, one of two opposed and hostile classes, those who have and control wealth, and those who do not.
The assertion of a numerical difference as a political difference, that is to say, the politicization of a statistic, expresses capitalism’s reliance on fundamental inequality—”we” can never all be counted as the top 1%. Differently put, the announcement that “We are the 99%” names an appropriation, a wrong. In so doing, it voices as well a collective desire for equality and justice, for a change in the conditions through which one percent seizes the bulk of collective wealth for themselves, leaving 99% with the remainder.
“We are the 99%” also erases the multiplicity of individuated, partial, and divided interests that fragment and weaken the people as the rest of us. The count dis-individualizes interest and desire, reformatting both within a common. Against capital’s constant attempts to pulverize and decompose the collective people, the claim of the 99% responds with the force of a belonging that not only cannot be erased but that capital’s own methods of accounting produce: Oh, demographers and statisticians! What have you unleashed? As capital demolishes all previous social ties, the counting on which it depends provides a new figure of belonging! Capital has to measure itself, count its profits, its rate of profit, its share of profit, its capacity to leverage its profit, its confidence or anxiety in its capacity for future profit. Capital counts and analyzes who has what, representing to itself the measures of its success. These very numbers can be, and in the slogan “We are the 99%” they are, put to use. They aren’t resignified—they are claimed as the subjectivation of the gap separating the top one percent from the rest of us. With this claim, the gap becomes a vehicle for the expression of communist desire, that is, for a politics that asserts the people as a divisive force in the interest of over-turning present society and making a new one anchored in collectivity and the common.
To be sure, the occupiers of Wall Street, and the thousand other cities around the world with occupations of their own, have not reached a consensus around communism (as if communism could even name a consensus). Most emphasize some kind of plurality of views, resisting all attempts to name or determine the movement (as if names had such determining power). In some of the groups working out of the New York General Assembly, for example, red-baiting frequently appears as a weapon wielded against proposals for a massive public works program for quality union-wage jobs. Some have responded to suggestions that the GA demand “Jobs for All,” with virtual screams of “but that’s communist!” and attempts to block discussion at every point. In the wake of a century of anti-communism in the US, these dismissals are not surprising. It makes sense that some activists have internalized anticommunist sentiments and that anxieties about communism might be more pronounced in the setting of a movement attacking inequality, unemployment, corporate power, economic inequality, and the rapacious speculation of an unrestrained finance sector. More important than the specificity of this contest of ideologies, then, is the way the conflict itself contributes to keeping open the fundamental division the movement expresses.
Counter-revolutionary tendencies work with all their might to close or conceal the gap of collective desire for collectivity, for collective approaches to common concerns with production, distribution, and stewardship of common resources. In the first days of Occupy Wall Street, the mainstream media tried to ignore the movement. When they first did acknowledge it, they reacted with condescension or dismissal.4 The occupiers were an angry, insignificant minority of activists; they were hippies and radicals; they were over-educated college and graduate students; they were unemployed people trying to blame others for circumstances that were no one’s fault but their own. The first media responders, in other words, did their best to ignore or dismiss the fact that the occupation emerged as an answer to fundamental economic and political failure.
After the movement was impossible to ignore, after the protesters had demonstrated determination and the police had reacted with orange containment nets and pepper spray, other efforts to efface the fundamental division opened up by Occupy Wall Street emerged. All tried to reabsorb the movement into the familiar and thereby fill-in or occlude the gap the movement installs. Three ways stand out: democratization, moralization, and individualization.
I use “democratization” to designate attempts to frame the movement in terms of American electoral politics. One of the most common democratizing moves has been to treat Occupy Wall Street as the Tea Party of the left. So construed, the movement isn’t something radically new; it’s derivative. The Tea Party has already been there and done that. Of course, this analogy fails to acknowledge that the Tea Party is astro-turf, organized by Dick Armey and funded by the Koch brothers. A further democratizing move immediately reduces the significance of the movement to elections: what does Occupy Wall Street mean for Obama? Does it strengthen the Democratic Party? Will it pull it back toward the center? This democratizing move omits the obvious question: if it were about Obama and the Democratic Party, it would be about Obama and the Democratic Party—not marches, strikes, occupations, and arrests.
A related democratization suggests that the movement pursue any number of legislative paths, that it seek Constitutional Amendments denying corporations personhood, change campaign finance laws, abolish the electoral college and the Federal Reserve. The oddness of these suggestions, the way they attempt to make the movement something it is not, appears as soon as one recalls what the protesters are doing: occupying. In New York, they are sleeping outside in a privately owned park, attempting to reach consensus on a wide range of issues affecting their daily life together (what sort of coffee to serve, how to keep the park clean, how to keep people warm and dry, what to do about the drummers, how to spend the money that comes in to support the movement, what the best ways to organize discussions are, and so on). Democratization skips the actual fact of occupation, reframing the movement in terms of a functional political system. If the system were functional, people wouldn’t be occupying all over the country—not to mention the world for, indeed, an additional effect of the democratic reduction is to reformat a global practice and movement against capitalism into US-specific concerns with some dysfunction in our electoral system.
Finally, an additional democratization begins from the assumption that the movement is essentially a democratic one, that its tactics and concerns are focused on the democratic process. From this assumption it raises a critique of the movement: occupation isn’t democratic and so the protesters are in some sort of performative contradiction. They are rejecting democratic institutions, breaking the law, disrupting public space, squandering public resources (police overtime can get expensive) and attempting to assert the will of a minority of vocal protesters outside of and in contradiction to democratic procedures.5 This line of argument has the benefit of exposing the incoherence in the more general democratization argument: occupation is not a democratic strategy; it is a militant, divisive tactic that expresses the fundamental division on which capitalism depends.
This division should in no way be assimilated into Claude Lefort’s idea of the empty place of democracy. The gap that Occupy Wall Street opens up cuts through democracy as the real of class antagonism, that is, as the division that necessarily exposes democracy under capitalism as a form of government for the sake of capitalism and that democratization seeks to repress, deny, displace, and conceal. Likewise, holding it open is neither for the sake of democracy nor for the sake of plurality, indeterminacy, and multiplicity (as if these were values rather than attributes that may or may not be worth valuing in a given setting). Rather, occupying the gap, maintaining it as the division between the very rich and the rest of us, is crucial for inciting and cultivating collective desire for collective approaches to common goods, resources, and responsibilities.
The second mode of division’s erasure is moralization. Myriad politicians and commentators seek and have sought to treat the success of Occupy Wall Street in exclusively moral terms. For these commentators, the true contribution of the movement is moral, a transformation of the common sense of what is just and what is unjust.6 This line of commentary emphasizes greed and corruption, commending the movement for opening our eyes to the need to get things in order, to clean house. Moralization occludes division as it remains stuck in a depoliticizing liberal formula of ethics and economics. Rather than acknowledging the failure of the capitalist system, the contemporary collapse of its neoliberal form and the contradictions that are demolishing capitalism from within (global debt crises, unsustainable patterns of consumption, climate change, the impossibility of continued accumulation at the rate necessary for capitalist growth, mass unemployment and unrest), moralization proceeds as if a couple of bad apples—a Bernie Madoff here, a rogue trader there—let their greed get out of control. It then extends this idea of corruption (rather than systemic failure), blaming the “culture of Wall Street” or even the consumerism of the entire country, as if the United States were a whole and as a whole needed some kind of spiritual cleansing and renewal. In short, moralization treats Occupy Wall Street as a populist movement, mediating it in populist terms of a whole people engaging in the ritual of repentance, renewal, and reform. Again, this approach to the movement proceeds as if the division Occupy Wall Street reveals and claims were a kind of infection to be cured rather than a fundamental antagonism that has been repressed.
The third attempt to eliminate the gap comes from individualization. Here an emphasis on individual choice displaces the movement’s collectivity. So on the one hand there is an eclectic, menu-like presentation of multiple issues. Occupiers, protesters, and supports are rendered as non-partisan individuals cherry-picking their concerns and exercising their rights of free speech and assembly. On the other hand there are the practices and tenets of the movement itself, particularly as it has been enacted in New York: decisions must be reached by consensus, no one can speak for another, each person has to be affirmed as freely and autonomously supporting whatever the GA undertakes. In each case, individualism not only supersedes collectivity, but it also effaces the rupture between the occupation and US culture more generally, a culture that celebrates and cultivates individuality and personalization. Given that the strength of Occupy Wall Street draws from collectivity, from the experience of groups coming together to occupy and protest, an experience amplified by the People’s Mic (the practice of collectively repeating the words of a speaker so that everyone can hear them), to emphasize individuality is to disavow the common at the heart of the movement. It reinserts the movement within the dominant culture, as if occupation were a choice like any other, as if choices weren’t themselves fantasies that individuals actually could determine their own lives or make a political difference in the context of the capitalist system and the class power of the top one percent.
Democratization, moralization, and individualization attempt to restore a fantastic unity or wholeness where Occupy Wall Street asserts a fundamental division. Whether as a democratic political system, a moral community, or the multiplicity of individuals, this fantasy is one that denies the antagonism on which capitalism relies: between those who have to sell their labor power to survive and those who do not, between those who not only have no choice but to sell their labor power but nonetheless cannot, because there are no buyers, or who cannot for wages capable of sustaining them, because there’s no such opportunity, and those who command, steer, and gamble upon the resources, fortunes, and futures of the rest of us for their own enjoyment.
The three modes of disavowing division miss the power of occupation as a tactic that asserts a gap by forcing a presence. This forcing is more than simply of people into places where they do not belong (even when they may ostensibly have a right). It’s a forcing of collectivity over individualism, the combined power of a group that disrupts a space readily accommodating of individuals. Such a forcing thereby puts in stark relief the conceit of a political arrangement that claims to represent a people that cannot be present, a divided people who, when present, instill such fear and insecurity that they have to be met by armed police and miles of barricades. It asserts the class division prior to and unremedied by democracy under capitalism.
That Occupy Wall Street brings to the fore the fundamental antagonism of class conflict is born out even in the slogan “Occupy Everything.” The slogan seems at first absurd: we already occupy everything, so how can we occupy everything? What matters is the minimal difference, the shift in perspective the injunction to occupy effects. We have to occupy in a different mode, assert our being there in and for itself, for the common, not for the few, the one percent. “Occupy Everything’s” shift in perspective highlights and amplifies the gap between what has been and can be, what “capitalist realism” told us what the only alternative and what the actuality of movement forced us to wake up to.7 The gap it names is the gap of communist desire, a collective desire for collectivity: we occupy everything because it is already ours in common.

Jodi Dean  

Jodi Dean is co-editor of Theory & Event. Her most recent books are Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies (Duke 2009) and Blog Theory (Polity 2010). Her book, The Communist Horizon, will be published by Verso in 2012. Jodi can be reached at jdean@hws.edu

Notes

Copyright © 2011 Jodi Dean and The Johns Hopkins University Press

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TY - JOUR T1 - Claiming Division, Naming a Wrong A1 - Jodi Dean JF - Theory & Event VL - 14 IS - 4 PY - 2011 PB - The Johns Hopkins University Press SN - 1092-311X UR - http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/theory_and_event/v014/14.4S.dean01.html N1 - Volume 14, Number 4, 2011 Supplement ER -

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1. See the Congressional Budget Office Report released in October 2011, available at http://cbo.gov/ftpdocs/124xx/doc12485/10-25-HouseholdIncome.pdf.
2. http://wearethe99percent.tumblr.com/
3. http://westandwiththe99percent.tumblr.com/
4. http://www.salon.com/2011/09/28/protests_21/
5. http://jdeanicite.typepad.com/i_cite/2011/10/anne-applebaum-trembling-before-occupywallstreet-london-style-this-is-what-the-fear-of-the-liberal-c.html
6. See, for example, Michael Kazin’s “Change the Public’s Thinking,” in the New York Times (October 7, 2011). Available at http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2011/10/06/can-occupy-wall-street-spark-a-revolution/occupy-wall-street-can-change-the-publics-thinking.
7. Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism (UK: Zero Books, 2009).

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Theory & Event - Premediation and the Virtual Occupation of Wall Street
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Project MUSE Journals Theory & Event Volume 14, Number 4, 2011 Supplement Premediation and the Virtual Occupation of Wall Street

Theory & Event
Volume 14, Number 4, 2011 Supplement
E-ISSN: 1092-311X

Premediation and the Virtual Occupation of Wall Street

Richard Grusin

Nearly two weeks into the occupation of Wall Street I had suggested in an initial analysis1 that no matter how the occupation turned out it was already successful insofar as it had premediated the occupation of Wall Street and other occupations across the world.2 In particular I argued that “Insofar as premediation generates potential or virtual futures as a way to mobilize individual and collective affect in the present … #occupywallstreet opens up paths to potential futures in which the occupation of Wall Street (or the political occupation of other sites) is actualized.” As the occupation approaches the two month mark, I want to develop this claim further to argue that it is precisely its virtuality, its resistance to making specific demands or adopting a platform, that makes #occupywallstreet successful and that will keep it growing and thriving.
The virtuality of the movement is evident in its very name, which calls for the occupation of Wall Street even while not occupying Wall Street per se. The occupation of Zuccotti Park is near Wall Street, but Wall Street—as stock exchange, city street, or geographical place—is not physically occupied. It is, however, virtually occupied, as Times Square has been, as Chicago or Los Angeles or the London Stock Exchange have been, and so forth. While some veterans of earlier protest movements have argued that occupation involves going inside buildings and taking possession—as Wisconsin protesters did in the State Capitol—it is the potentiality of these occupations, I would argue, their premediation of greater and more numerous and powerful potential occupations in the future, that vitalizes the Occupy movement and marks its continued success.
The virtuality of the Occupy movement is evident as well in the widespread feeling that the movement should not at this point make explicit demands, for doing so would prematurely and unnecessarily constrain or limit the movement’s gathering strength. Despite increasingly vocal appeals by many politicians, intellectuals, and members of the chattering class of the mainstream political media for the Occupy movement to develop a list of specific demands, there is an even broader consensus that such demands would be premature. In a brief video interview Wallace Shawn gives voice to the widely shared belief that the movement is in the preliminary stage.3 Judith Butler plays off of this belief in her recent speech at Washington Square Park about demanding the impossible, which is another way to refuse actualizing or realizing any particular demands, but rather of encouraging the proliferation of informed, half-formed, nascent or potential exams.4
I have argued elsewhere that premediation works by mobilizing affect in the present. Premediation deploys multiple modes of mediation and remediation in shaping the affectivity of the public, in preparing people for some field of possible future actions, in producing a mood or structure of feeling that makes possible certain kinds of actions, thoughts, speech, affectivities, feelings, or moods, mediations that might not have seemed possible before or that might have fallen flat or died on the vine or not produced echoes and reverberations in the public or media sphere.
As an event of premediation, #occupywallstreet is working to change the mood or collective affective tone in the media, in public discourse, in social networks, and in the political sphere so that talking about amnesty for college or mortgage debt or demanding increased taxes on the wealthiest individuals and corporations or thinking about restructuring property relations and economic becomes not only permissible, but indeed begins to appear as common sense or received wisdom. For example, on the NBC Nightly News on October 27, Brian Williams reported on a 300+ point rise in the Dow Jones Industrial Average not with the customary celebratory affect the mainstream media usually invoke for such news, but with a question about whether this gain in the price of securities would have any effect on the American people.5 Similarly in less than two months Occupy Wall Street has changed the public mood in such a way that Obama has been emboldened to issue executive orders improving (albeit minimally) conditions for struggling homeowners6 and students with outstanding college debt.7 By continuing to premediate a variety of potential alternative economic futures, #occupywallstreet has made it possible for mainstream media figures and politicians to take positions they could not have taken before, by providing cover, or clearing the ground, by means of the shaping of collective moods or structures of feeling out of which more intense feelings about economic injustice are generated.
Before any specific goals or demands can be formulated, and perhaps even if they never are, #occupywallstreet must continue to do what it is already doing—fostering and intensifying what Jonathan Flatley would characterize as “a revolutionary counter-mood.”8 The heart of this revolutionary counter-mood can be found in what the opening lines of the September 29 Declaration of the Occupation of New York City call a collective “feeling of mass injustice.” “As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies”9 (emphasis added).
The initial aims of #occupywallstreet seem clear—to produce and intensify a mood of occupation or civil disobedience, a shared feeling of injustice towards such developments as income inequality, the foreclosure crisis, workplace discrimination, student loan debt, and a host of other 21st century developments. I would argue that it is too early to have the kind of specific list of grievances, demands, goals, but rather this is the time to try to spread and complexify the networks of revolutionary feelings, to try out the power of popular assembly, to let it grow and mutate and mobilize to see how powerful or extensive it might get. To develop a list of specific demands will run the risk either of containing or limiting what the movement might accomplish, of breaking what is increasingly a global movement into local or national ones, or, if demands are not meant, of weakening the movement in the eyes of the media, politicians, and the worldwide public.
Less than two months into the occupation, #occupywallstreet is perhaps best understood as still becoming a movement. Or to play off of Erin Manning’s recent book on movement and sensation10 I would suggest that #occupywallstreet might best be understood as a becoming movement, still in a stage of preacceleration or incipient movement. Or perhaps put differently I might say that as a virtual movement #occupywallstreet remains in an ongoing process of inventing what a global social and political movement can be in the 21st century. In so doing Occupy is producing its own rhythms, its own temporality, through stages of preacceleration and intensification and emergence and articulation—only then to return to another interval of preacceleration and re-intensification and re-individuaton. “When articulation becomes collective, a politics is made palpable whereby what is produced is the potential for divergent series of movements. This is a virtual politics, a politics of the not-yet… These are not politics we can choreograph but politics in the making…. These are politics of that many-bodied state of transition that is the collective.”11
It is precisely this collective incipience, this preacceleration, that makes #occupywallstreet so frustrating to politicians and political commentators, who are trapped within neoliberalism’s calculus “of the rational modern subject,” according to which the Occupy movement does not compute—does not even compute exactly as a movement, since it does not apper to have a clear aim or goal. This incipience can be both powerful and frustrating for those participating in the occupation, as expressed in this recent piece from Harrison Schultz: “For the sake of keeping your head sane and your heart still engaged, be aware: we are not in control. You are not in control. We at the NYC occupation are not in control. The website hosts are not in control. No one is in control of this hurricane.”12 As Schultz implies, not unlike recent geotechnical, political disasters like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the BP Oil Spill, or the Sendai quake, or the occupation’s more immediate precursors in the University of California student protests, the Arab Spring, or the labor protests in Madison, #occupywallstreet is emerging as a complex 21st-century media event, with its own temporality, its own affectivities, and its own scale.
In a recent blog post on “Lessons from #occupywallstreet,” Jodi Dean addresses the movement’s incipience and its untapped potential, the fact that “the movement exceeds any single occupation.” Dean writes: “We will start learning the different tonalities and variations of this movement. Some sites might become more intensive as others regroup. Some might abandon one site in order to occupy new possibilities. Regrouping is an opportunity: an opportunity to build outside of the prying eyes and presumptive expectations of a 24/7 media cycle concerned only with pumping content through feeds.”13 The police brutality in Oakland, California, which generated the November 2 general strike, is evidence of the movement’s mobility. The “regrouping” that Dean speaks of functions similarly to what Manning describes as the “interval.” “Political philosophy has not made space for the interval within the vocabulary of the rational modern subject,” writes Manning, “yet the interval has nonetheless leaked into the complex iterations of pure plastic rhythm’s political becomings.”14
Insofar as #occupywallstreet in fact creates such an interval in the daily rhythm of business as usual, it has the ability to open the political space for potential becomings whose scope and power remain untapped and unsounded. Dean sees the arrival of winter in the northern hemisphere as providing for an opportunity to regroup, an interval, from which the Occupy movement can emerge with even greater vitality than it currently possesses. Indeed, how #occupywallstreet handles the winter months will have much to say about the future of the movement. It is crucial for the movement to keep control of the narrative of the winter by premediating it before the politicians or the mainstream media do. The freak late October snowstorm on the East Coast has already generated media narratives about the difficulty of surviving the winter. And indeed, if there is an attempt to continue the occupation through the winter months, it will be crucial for the movement to deploy narratives like those of Valley Forge. Alternatively, and this would be my preference, #occupywallstreet should remain virtual, distributed, and deterrioralized, electing, for example, to move south for the winter, then come back and reclaim public space in the north in greater numbers and force as spring arrives. In either case #occupywallstreet needs to control the narrative by premediating its movement through and beyond the winter months.
At the end of October, police crackdowns in Chicago, Atlanta, and most violently Oakland brought about state-generated intervals which will almost certainly have the result of intensifying the movement. And insofar as Atlanta and Oakland are relatively temperate in the winter, it would not be surprising to see those nodes on the Occupy network intensify in the coming months. As a virtual occupation of Wall Street and hundreds of other sites around the world, the Occupy movement should use whatever intervals it can find to premediate potential futures for social and political opposition and a more just world in order to mobilize and intensify collective affectivity towards a revolutionary counter-mood of occupation.

Richard Grusin  

Richard Grusin is Director of the Center for 21st Century Studies and Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His latest book is Premediation: Affect and Mediality After 9/11 (Palgrave 2010), argues that in an era of heightened securitization, socially networked US and global media work to pre-mediate collective affects of anticipation and connectivity, while also perpetuating low levels of apprehension or fear. Richard can be reached at grusin@uwm.edu

Notes

Copyright © 2011 Richard Grusin and The Johns Hopkins University Press

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TY - JOUR T1 - Premediation and the Virtual Occupation of Wall Street A1 - Richard Grusin JF - Theory & Event VL - 14 IS - 4 PY - 2011 PB - The Johns Hopkins University Press SN - 1092-311X UR - http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/theory_and_event/v014/14.4S.grusin.html N1 - Volume 14, Number 4, 2011 Supplement ER -

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1. http://premediation.blogspot.com/2011/09/occupy-wall-street-premediates.html
2. The concept of premediation is developed in my recent book, Premediation: Affect and Mediality After 9/11 (New York: Palgrave, 2010).
3. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gg8pZh07yRk
4. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rYfLZsb9by4
5. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3032619/#45069001
6. http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2011/10/obama-offers-mortgage-relief-plan-we-cant-wait-for-congress/
7. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/need-to-know/the-daily-need/obama-announces-measures-to-ease-student-loans/12109/
8. Jonathan Flatley, “Black Leninism; Or, Newspapers and Revolutionary Attunement from Lenin to the League of Revolutionary Black Workers,” unpublished lecture delivered at Center for 21st Century Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, September 30, 2011; http://www4.uwm.edu/c21/pages/events/abstracts/11fall/flatley_news.html
9. http://www.nycga.net/resources/declaration/
10. Erin Manning, Relationscapes: Movement, Art, Philosophy (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009)
11. Manning, Relationscapes, p. 27.
12. http://www.deliberatelyconsidered.com/2011/10/the-view-from-zuccotti-park-on-the-post-political-thrust-of-ows/
13. http://jdeanicite.typepad.com/i_cite/2011/10/lessons-from-occupywallstreet.html
14. Manning, Relationscapes, p. 28.

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Theory & Event - Semantic, Pragmatic, and Affective Enactment at OWS
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Project MUSE Journals Theory & Event Volume 14, Number 4, 2011 Supplement Semantic, Pragmatic, and Affective Enactment at OWS

Theory & Event
Volume 14, Number 4, 2011 Supplement
E-ISSN: 1092-311X

Semantic, Pragmatic, and Affective Enactment at OWS

John Protevi

Housecleaning
The Occupy movement shows us how the semantic, pragmatic, and affective - meaning, action, and feeling - are intertwined in all collective practices. The intertwining of the semantic and the pragmatic - what we say and what we accomplish in that saying - has been a topic of interest in the humanities and the critical social sciences for almost 50 years, since its thematization by Austin and its codification in Speech Act Theory; widespread interest in affect has been more recent, but the interplay of its twin roots in Tompkins and Deleuze - producing a sort of evo-neuro-Spinozism - has been usefully explored in The Affect Theory Reader (Gregg and Seigworth, 2010). It’s now time to bring speech act theory and affect theory together in understanding the role of political affect (Protevi 2009) in the Occupy movement.
To do that, we’ll need some housecleaning. The first thing that needs to go is the concept of ideology. Deleuze and Guattari say in A Thousand Plateaus: “Ideology is a most execrable concept concealing all of the effectively operating social machines” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987: 68) I take that to mean that we have to thematize political affect to understand “effectively operating social machines.” From this perspective, the real “German Ideology” is that ideas are where it’s at, rather than affect. It’s political affect that “makes men fight for their servitude as stubbornly as though it were their salvation.”
Why won’t “ideology” cut it? It doesn’t work because it conceives of the problem in terms of “false consciousness,” where that means “wrong ideas,” and where “ideas” are individual and personal mental states whose semantic content has an existential posit as its core, with emotional content founded on that core, so that the same object could receive different emotional content if you were in a different mood.1
Thus to take up the great OWS poster, “Shit is fucked up and bullshit,” the core act posits the existence of shit, and then we express our emotional state by predicating “fucked up and bullshit” of it, whereas we could have predicated “great and wonderful” if we were in a different mood.
But that is “execrable” for Deleuze and Guattari, because it’s far too cognitivist and subjectivist.
It’s too cognitivist because it founds emotion on a core existence-positing act, and too subjectivist by taking emotion to be an “expression,” something individual that is pushed outward, something centrifugal. For them, emotion is centripetal rather than centrifugal, or even better, emotion is for them the subjectivation, the crystallization, of affect. Now DG do have a coporeal/Spinozist notion of affect involved with the encounter of bodies, but they also have what we could call a “milieu,” or “environmental” sense of affect. Here affect is “in the air,” something like the mood of a party, which is not the mere aggregate of the subjective states of the party-goers. In this sense, affect is not emergent from pre-existing subjectivities; emotional subjectivities are crystallizations or residues of a collective affect.2
Enacting the Political
Having done away with “ideology” as an analytical concept, we can turn to a simple, powerful talk by Judith Butler at OWS (Butler 2011a), which calls upon the classic “very well then, we demand the impossible” trope, and ends with the wonderful line, “we’re standing here together, making democracy, enacting the phrase, ‘We the People’.”
A longer talk by Butler in Venice (Butler 2011b) discusses constituting political space while acknowledging the material precarity of bodies, developed alongside a critical analysis of Arendt’s notion of a political “space of appearance.” The overall aim is set forth here, where Butler states, “a different social ontology would have to start from the presumption that there is a shared condition of precarity that situates our political lives.”
A brief excerpt from the beginning of Butler’s Venice talk sets out some of the main lines of thought that would go toward this “different social ontology”:

… assembly and speech reconfigure the materiality of public space, and produce, or reproduce, the public character of that material environment. And when crowds move outside the square, to the side street or the back alley, to the neighborhoods where streets are not yet paved, then something more happens. At such a moment, politics is no longer defined as the exclusive business of public sphere distinct from a private one, but it crosses that line again and again, bringing attention to the way that politics is already in the home, or on the street, or in the neighborhood, or indeed in those virtual spaces that are unbound by the architecture of the public square ….
But in the case of public assemblies, we see quite clearly not only that there is a struggle over what will be public space, but a struggle as well over those basic ways in which we are, as bodies, supported in the world - a struggle against disenfranchisement, effacement, and abandonment.

The role of the body in social ontology need not be limited to shared precarity, however, as important as that is to emphasize in order to break down notions of individuals as disembodied bundles of rights. We can also think the positive affective contribution of public assemblies. In this case, the city government of New York unwittingly helped OWS tap into the affective potential of collective “bodies politic.” I’m talking here about the human microphone, which works, quite literally, to amplify the constitution of political space by assembled bodies.
The human microphone thus offers an entry into examining political affect in the enacting of the phrase “We the People” at OWS. It shows us how direct democracy is enacted by producing an intermodal resonance among the semantic, pragmatic, and affective dimensions of collective action. It also shows how the production of contemporary neoliberal subjects (homo economicus as self-entrepreneur, as individual rational utility maximizer) is so successful and so pervasive as to be invisible. The city thought they were hurting OWS by banning bullhorns when in fact they helped them immensely by allowing the affect produced by entrained voices, a collective potential they could not grasp.3
Entrainment
For some time now I’ve been fascinated by William McNeill’s Keeping Together in Time: Dance and Drill in Human History (McNeill, 1995). McNeill studies the political affect dimension of entrainment (the falling into the same rhythm) by collective bodily movement as in communal dance and military drill. The neuroscientist Scott Kelso has studied all sorts of small-scale examples of entrainment (toe-tapping and so on) by using dynamic systems modeling (Kelso 1995). A famous macro example of spontaneous entrainment is the Millennium Bridge episode in which the unconscious synchronization of walkers produced a resonance effect on the bridge that caused a dangerous lateral sway (Newland, no date). The developmental psychologist Colwyn Trevarthen has studied mother-infant inter-corporeal rhythms in terms of “primary intersubjectivity” (Trevarthen 1979).
The upshot of this research is that humans fall into collective rhythms easily and that such collective rhythms produce an affective experience, a feeling of being together, an eros or ecstasis if you want to use classical terms, the characteristic joy of being together felt in collective action.4
So I wonder if the human microphone (Ristic 2011), an invention of the OWS assembly when NYC banned electric bullhorns, doesn’t contribute a little to the joyful collective affect of OWS. (Needless to say, the prospect that the human microphone might aid in the production of such collective joy frightens the right-wing commenters [Dyer 2011].) It’s not quite a choir, but it’s a chorus, and so the bodies of the chanters (their chests, guts, throats, eardrums) would be vibrating at something close to the same frequency, something close to being in phase.
Now I’m not a reductionist; the semantic cannot be reduced to the corporeal; the message isn’t dissolved into the medium. What interests me is how in the human microphone the message (enact the phrase “We the People”) is resonant with and amplified by the medium (collective rhythm). In her Venice talk Butler analyzes the Tahrir Square chant translated as “peacefully, peacefully” in these terms:

Secondly, when up against violent attack or extreme threats, many people chanted the word “silmiyya” which comes from the root verb (salima) which means to be safe and sound, unharmed, unimpaired, intact, safe, and secure; but also, to be unobjectionable, blameless, faultless; and yet also, to be certain, established, clearly proven. The term comes from the noun “silm” which means “peace” but also, interchangeably and significantly, “the religion of Islam.” One variant of the term is “Hubb as-silm” which is Arabic for “pacifism.” Most usually, the chanting of “Silmiyya” comes across as a gentle exhortation: “peaceful, peaceful.” Although the revolution was for the most part non-violent, it was not necessarily led by a principled opposition to violence. Rather, the collective chant was a way of encouraging people to resist the mimetic pull of military aggression - and the aggression of the gangs - by keeping in mind the larger goal - radical democratic change. To be swept into a violent exchange of the moment was to lose the patience needed to realize the revolution. What interests me here is the chant, the way in which language worked not to incite an action, but to restrain one. A restraint in the name of an emerging community of equals whose primary way of doing politics would not be violence.

(Butler 2011b)

This is an insightful, eloquent analysis of the pragmatics and semantics of the chant. So it’s not to undercut it that I call attention to the material dimension of the resonating bodies that accompany the semantic content and pragmatic implications of this chant. It’s to point to the way in which an analysis of material rhythms reveals the political affect of joyous collectivity, and the inter-modal (semantic, pragmatic, affective) resonance such chanting produces.
Shame and Joy
Joy in entrained collective action is by no means a simple normative standard. There is fascist joy; the affect surging through the Nuremberg rallies, building upon and provoking even more feeling, was joyous. If there is to be any normativity in political affect it will have to be active joy rather than passive joy; active joy I understand as “empowerment,” the ability to re-enact the joyous encounter in novel situations, or to put it in semi-California-speak, the ability to turn other people on to their ability to turn still others on to their ability to enact active joyous collective action, on and on in a horizontally radiating network, or, to use Deleuze and Guattari’s term, a “rhizome.”
Now political affect doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It’s not a matter of implanting a new feeling in any empty body; it’s a matter of modulating an ongoing affective flow. So the joy of OWS has to convert a mood of shame.
What counts in the “effectively operating social machine” demonizing welfare in the USA is the shame attached to receiving public aid without contributing to society with your tax dollars. It’s shameful to have lost your job or your home; you’re stupid, a loser to have been in a position to lose it, and you’re a lazy, stupid loser if you haven’t found another one, or if you never had one in the first place. You don’t arrive at this American shame by aggregating individualized, subectivized, packets of shame; you get shamed subjects as the crystallization of the collective affect of shame in the American air.
And so you don’t combat this shame by trying to change individual people’s ideas, one by one, with information about unemployment trends; you combat it by showing your face, by embodying your lack of shame, by putting a face on unemployment or homelessness. You counteract the existing collective affect by creating a positive affect of joyful solidarity. Shame isolates (you hide your face); joyful solidarity comes from people coming together. Its joy is released from the bondage of shame, to follow up on the Spinozist references.
What’s especially heartbreaking, then, about the wearethe99percent.tumblr site, is that so many people still have some shame, as they only peak out from behind their messages. Hence the importance of the Occupy meetings; shared physical presence, showing your whole face: these create the positive affect, the shamelessly joyful solidarity needed to fully overcome shame.
Fighting the residual shame, the half-faces of private pictures sent to a website: that’s what makes the collective occupation of space so important: bodies together, faces revealed, joyously.5
So I’m going to propose that a full enactment of direct democracy means producing a body politic whose semantic (“we are the people, we are equal, free, and deserving of respect in our precarity and solidarity”), pragmatic (the act of respecting and supporting each other the assembly performs), and affective (the joy felt in collective action) registers resonate in spiraling, intermodal feedback.6

John Protevi  

John Protevi is Phyllis M Taylor Professor of French Studies at Louisiana State University. His latest book, Political Affect: Connecting the Social and the Somatic (Minnesota 2009), reflects his recent research on Deleuze, dynamical systems theory, and the cognitive and biological sciences. Recent articles in this field have appeared in Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences and Journal of Consciousness Studies. John’s website is www.protevi.com/john

Notes

Works Cited

Butler, Judith. 2011a. “Judith Butler at Occupy Wall Street.” YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVpoOdz1AKQ Accessed 5 November 2011.

Butler, Judith. 2011b. “Bodies in Alliance and the Politics of the Street.” http://www.eipcp.net/transversal/1011/butler/en Accessed 5 November 2011.

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Félix. 1987. A Thousand Plateaus. Translated by Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Dyer, J. E. 2011. “The Human Microphone Tactic: Scary or Just Moronic?” http://theoptimisticconservative.wordpress.com/2011/10/09/%E2%80%9Chuman-microphone%E2%80%9D-tactic-scary-or-just-moronic/ Accessed 5 November 2011.

Gregg, Melissa and Seigworth, Gregory. 2010. The Affect Theory Reader. Durham: Duke University Press.

Kelso, J. A. Scott. 1995. Dynamic Patterns: The Self-Organization of Brain and Behavior. Cambridge: MIT Press.

McNeill, William. 1995. Keeping Together in Time: Dance and Drill in Human History. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Newland, David. No date. “Vibration of the London Millennium Footbridge.” http://www2.eng.cam.ac.uk/~den/ICSV9_06.htm

Ostrom, Elinor. 2005. “Policies that Crowd out Reciprocity and Collective Action.” In Herbert Gintis, Samuel Bowles, Robert Boyd, and Ernst Fehr, Moral Sentiments and Material Interests: The Foundations of Cooperation in Economic Life. Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 2005: 253-275

Protevi, John. 2009. Political Affect: Connecting the Social and the Somatic. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Protevi, John. 2010. “Adding Deleuze to the Mix,” Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 9.3 (September): 417-436.

Ristic, Igor. 2011. “The Human Microphone #OccupiesWallStreet.” http://igorristic.wordpress.com/2011/10/11/the-human-microphone-occupieswallstreet/ Accessed 5 November 2011.

Trevarthen, Colwyn. 1979. “Communication and cooperation in infancy: a description of primary intersubjectivity.” In Margaret Bullows, ed. Before Speech: The Beginning of Interpersonal Communication. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Copyright © 2011 John Protevi and The Johns Hopkins University Press

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1. There are many ways of relation cognition and emotion, without even bringing in the relations of this “analytic” vocabulary with that of the Husserlian noesis/noema scheme. Still, I hope this will suffice just to get some traction on the problem.
2. When I was unemployed, some 15 years ago, for six months, I was often overcome with shame, no matter how often I reminded myself of the objective factors, the nonsensical nature of the affect, etc. But where did I pick up this shame? I can’t see how it was transmitted to me by another actual instance of shame. You could say I had been socialized so that I carried a latent disposition to shame that became occurent in the right circumstances. But that’s hardly less “metaphysical” than an account of virtual or environmental collective affective with shamed selves crystallized out of that. I don’t think we’ll escape metaphysics that easily; there’s a lot of potential vs. actual metaphysics to be worked out there in the latent vs. occurent disposition scheme, as I try to do in Protevi 2010.
3. Another topic for analysis would be the bike generators being set up at OWS. In another possible blunder, recalling that of the banning of bullhorns, the city confiscated gasoline generators prior to the late October snowstorm. The brilliant OWS response was to acquire bicycle generators. Will there be an analogous affective supplement from taking turns on the bikes to generate electricity?
4. We touch the question of emergence here, which is notoriously difficult, as it intersects methodological individualism. But that is not just a method of the social sciences. It’s all too often the source of policy prescriptions, so that methodological individualism tends to slide into ontological individualism; as the quip goes, “methodology becomes metaphysics” (Ostrom 2005).
5. Faces are an extremely important factor is political affect. In analyzing OWS we’d have to consider the use of the Guy Fawkes / “V is for Vendetta” masks; “faceless corporations”; and the “faciality machine in Deleuze and Guattari 1987.
6. Many thanks to the New APPS Borg, authors and commenters alike, for help with this essay.

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Theory & Event - This Shit is Fucked Up and Bullshit
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Project MUSE Journals Theory & Event Volume 14, Number 4, 2011 Supplement This Shit is Fucked Up and Bullshit

Theory & Event
Volume 14, Number 4, 2011 Supplement
E-ISSN: 1092-311X

This Shit is Fucked Up and Bullshit

McKenzie Wark

Look, I understand that some people find the notion that we’ve become an oligarchy — with all that implies about class relations — disturbing. But that’s the way it is.

Paul Krugman

I’m a worker. I go to work every weekday. I get paid. Most of that money goes to support my family. There’s a little left over for fun. There’s some for small acts of generosity. This makes possible a pretty good life. Will my students get to have that life? Or my kids?
In his novel Dead Europe, Christos Tsiolkas imagines a man exiled from his country, who dies in another land. On his tombstone are three words: Worker, father, husband. Husband is a bit too patriarchal for me. Perhaps mine would say: Worker, father, lover. Lover, in different ways, of different people: my partner, my kids. But a lover too, in another way, of my class. The class - or is it classes? - of people who work, with some part of their bodies. People who work with eyes and hands and backs and voices, and so on.
I take pride in my work. Sure, there are good days and bad days. Nobody gives “110%” When you hear that sort of bullshit you know it’s coming from people who aren’t workers. It’s the language of the Donald Trump types, who managed not to squander an inheritance and think that makes them a genius. They’re so proud of themselves and have no barriers to telling you about it. The pride of the worker is mostly silent. You get up, go to work. You get up, go to work again. Until you can’t get up any more. That’s all there is to it.
With luck, you get to work at something that won’t kill you, and that you might even like. I got lucky. I like my work. I like teaching. I like writing. I have a secure job, doing something I like. This is not something my people took for granted. On the other hand, I refuse to see this through the reactionary language of ‘privilege.’ To have work, security, a little left over at the end of the week. This is not privilege. It’s a right.
This was the most brilliant move of Occupy Wall Street: We are the 99%. Of course we’re the 99% of the 1% of the planet, but let’s not get sidetracked back into the language of privilege. The slogan is all about the remainder, about what is left out. It’s a way of saying: we are not the ruling class. Our solidarity, that fragile thing, orbits what it is not.
Maybe it’s an Australian thing, or part of an almost extinct antipodean way of thinking, but to be doing well is not something to take too much personal pride in. You can always “fall back” so don’t “sell tickets on yourself.” Let’s recall, just for a minute, that the late Steve Jobs was adopted. The story is usually told from his point of view - how remarkable his success is, given that he was adopted. Nobody stops to think about the extraordinary act of generosity of the people who chose to provide the enormous, thankless labor of being his parents. The success of Steve Jobs comes from a lot of things - but one of them is ‘communism.’
I’m no Steve Jobs, but I am doing alright for myself. Things happened in my life that taught me how much work it takes for anybody to even get by at all. I can walk because a now-famous surgeon, by trial and error, worked out how to hack my club feet into something that would support bipedal life. Three months in a hospital bed at the age of seven will impress upon you just how many people it takes to make a world where that doctor can operate on that child. The nurses, the kitchen staff, the lady who came to mop the floor. My older brother and sister bringing me books and toys.
They were worried how I would stand up to institutional life, I think. But I wasn’t the kid who screamed all night for his mother. My mother was dead. Since the age of six I spent the afternoons after school at the house of a childhood friend. My family was not close to that child’s family, but they had me over every afternoon anyway, until my big brother could come and get me. And all things considered, regardless of what had happened, I had a pretty good childhood. It was good, once again, because of something one could call communism. Because people did things for each other and made a ‘community.’ All they had in common, in this case, was caring for a child.
So I got by. I emigrated. Found work in a new country. Fell in love, got married, had kids. Life goes on. I do my job For me to do it the guys in grey overalls have to keep the building running. The women behind the desks have to push paper and quietly network with each other to do the social maintenance. Not to mention the MTA employees who keep the subway running to get me to the New School. Or the people who run the cafes all over the neighborhood where I actually get work done. We depend on each other. If I forget my wallet, the guy in the café waves me away. He trusts me to pay next time.
Not everybody wants the same things. Negotiating how to accommodate different desires is one of the great challenges of modern life. Still, it’s surprising how common certain core desires are. A lot of people want something like the life I am describing - at least for a start. To love and be loved. To belong somewhere, with others. To work at something that seems worth working at. To not have all this taken away.
And it could be taken away. Could my family survive a medical emergency? The untimely death of either me or my partner? How would my family get by? Would the apartment have to be sold? Would the debts mount beyond the point where they could ever be paid back? What if there was no work? It can keep you up at nights. And there’s no comfort in the fact that living hand to mouth, without proper medical care, under looming waves of debt is the life lived now by millions of Americans.
Theodor Adorno put it well: “There is tenderness only in the coarsest demand: that no-one should go hungry any more.”1 That children go hungry, that they will be cold and starving, and uncared for this winter, right here in New York, condemns every fine word said in favor of the current social order by the sock puppets whose fine, well paid job it is to find excuses for it.
I have never cared all that much about equality. I don’t want to bring anyone down. I find it mildly comic that some people, even people I know, don’t feel motivated or valued unless they have been showered by great gushers of money. I saw contemporaries of mine take truly awful, soul crushing jobs that held no promise other than that one day they would have great piles of money. Some made it; some didn’t. I have compassion for the successful ones, who having come into money, have no idea what to do with it. They buy big houses. Take endless vacations. Buy ‘contemporary art’. Become patrons of something or other. These things are all they have, and all they can talk about. I don’t see anything to envy in that.
On the other hand, I know too many people who also do awful, unpleasant, soul consuming jobs who hardly get paid for it at all. They juggle bills. They screen their phone calls. They cross their fingers and hope for the best. Money is a problem for these friends of mine, but it isn’t really a desire. They want it to stop being a problem so they can do things that are more interesting. Make art, or have time for friends, or teach their kids the language of their homeland. These are the things that seem so tenuous and impossible.
There’s a tumblr blog called We Are the 99 Percent, on which people hold up home made signs that tell their stories. The stories are mostly about two things: debt and jobs. Most people don’t really care all that much about what the 1% has. They are not concerned about someone else’s wealth, they are concerned about everyone else’s impoverishment. They are concerned about going hungry.
The promise of all those fine words, of deregulation, of financialization, was that things would get better for everybody. It didn’t. It seems to come as something of a surprise to the sock puppets that anyone actually believed any of the promises. The promises were just ways to make us all feel better. In reality, the 1% expects its cut no matter what. And all the talk about rewarding risk was also not supposed to be believed by anybody either. It’s the 99% who take the risks. The 1% expects its bad bets to be covered by the rest of us.
Nobody is quite ready to call the 1% what they are: a ruling class. Nor are they quite ready to identify what kind of ruling class they are: a rentier class. It’s not important. It is only ever a minority who are attracted to an analytical language to explain their circumstances. Popular revolt run on affect, and affect runs on images and stories. Still the instincts of Occupy Wall Street have been pretty keen. It has identified its own problems: jobs and debt. It has provisionally identified the problem causing their problems: the 1%.
The idea of a rentier class can be traced back to David Ricardo. Joan Robinson had a keen analysis of it in her The Accumulation of Capital.2 That’s an old book, but its language has hardly been bettered. A rentier class owns some kind of property that everyone else needs in order to invent or create or build anything else. The original rentier class of Ricardo’s day owned land. If land was the choke-hold on the rise of industry, these days its capital itself. The part of the surplus diverted to an unproductive ruling class isn’t rent any more, its interest.
My personal slogan for Occupy Wall Street would be: “put the ruling class back in charge!” Despite the violence of the class struggle that characterized the United States in its great period of growth and dynamism - from the nineteenth century robber barons to the rise of Fordism - most of that period is dynamic and forward-looking.
The railways were built over the bones of thousands of Chinese workers. But they were built. The iPhone was built on the backs - once again - of a small army of Chinese workers. But they get built, and they are a damned sight more impressive than the Bakelite rotary phone I remember from my childhood home. The railways and the tech industry had their bubbles. But at least in the aftermath of those exuberant parties there were pools of skilled labor, bits of infrastructure, new techniques lying around waiting for more productive employment. But after the housing bubble of 2008? What to we have except the rotting carcass of suburbs nobody needs, and a great pile of debt that working people are going to have to shoulder to keep the rentier class in rent? The rentier class makes even those murdering thugs and thieves the robber barons look good.
What makes our current rentier class even worse than the robber barons is that they are not even building anything. They are not interested in biopower. Their MO is ‘thanopower.’ They have no interest in the care and feeding of populations. All they care about is extracting the rent. It doesn’t matter to them if we get sick, if we can’t read, if we are not being raised up and developed to our full capacity. We’re just peons. We owe the 1% the vigorish not because they’re going to invest it in anything useful and productive. We just owe it. Or else.
There are three components to this struggle. The Marxists are right. It’s a class struggle, and we workers have been losing it. When the rise in the rate of productivity slowed down in the 70s, class struggle in the workplace became heated but futile. Wage rises out of line with rising productivity just led to inflation, as businesses just passed on the costs. What broke the cycle was not so much some new breakthrough in productive efficiency, as shipping the work off to newly-available pools of cheap labor - they symbol of which is China.
The problem is that there’s a mismatch between the rise of productive capacity in the underdeveloped world and a decline in real wages in what the Situationists called the ‘overdeveloped’ world. The gap was covered, among other things, by rising levels of indebtedness. To have a ‘middle class’ life in America now means at least two people in a household have to work fulltime and hope or pray that no disaster - medical or otherwise - befalls them.
The ruling class in the United States is less and less one that makes things, and more and more one that owns information and collects a rent from it. Sometimes this is productive, in that it at least designs new things and creates new markets for them. Apple and Google: the commodity economy at its finest. But in other respects the ruling class becomes one that just seeks rent without really doing much to earn it.
Apple and Google employ engineering and design and even cultural talent to make things people get to use in their everyday lives. But a lot of that talent gets employed to make pilotless drones and other weapons of mass destruction for the Pentagon. In an age of permanent austerity where the state disinvests from everything, the siphoning of talent into the toys of war is somehow sacrosanct.
The first branch of our new ruling class in the overdeveloped world at least still designs and markets things, but it doesn’t really make them. The second branch makes things, but they are designed to kill people. The third branch makes its money out of money - the vector perfected. Its game is fiancialization. It’s the expansion of the scale of social relations that take a financial form, from the insinuation of commercial credit into everyday life at one scale to the global financial trading infrastructure on the other. Is this ruling class really capitalist any more? Perhaps we could call it vectoralist. It collects a rent by controlling the ‘vectors’ along which information shuttles, not to mention that information itself.
Occupy Wall Street targets one of these three branches of the ruling class with clear and powerful images and stories - the financial wing of vectoral power. It’s a perspective from which to start thinking about the other branches of power in the United States - and elsewhere. But perhaps it might take a bit of an update on the old Marxist diagram of class forces. This is not your grandparents’ ruling class. Take my hometown: it used to be a steel town, which of course means it was near coal mines and on a working port. It still has coal mines, but the coal is shipped to China. The land where the old steel mill was is fallow, and the port now houses office blocks for the regional offices of insurance companies and the like. Perhaps we need to extend and refine - rather than overturn - granddad Karl’s analysis of what was once capitalism to understand what these familiar landscapes of the overdeveloped world are all about.
A powerful alternative analysis can be found in David Graeber’s monumental Debt: The First 5000 Years.3 He makes debt, rather than work the central category of analysis. After a quick debunking of Adam Smith’s myth of ‘barter’, and through careful use of ethnographic and historical material, he shows that credit came before money. Most people, most of the time, have managed careful relationships of debt and credit. From time to time these become lopsided, debt becomes the permanent indebtedness of the peon. The peons revolt. The ruling order declares a debt jubilee. Life returns to some pattern of stability and integrity.
Money in the form of ‘coinage’ arises out of warfare. Soldiers are by definition not creditworthy. They need to be paid in something that seems more tangible than a promise. With soldiers, a ruling class can conquer territory, enslave populations, and not least impose a cash economy on its subjects in which taxes have to be paid in coin. The necessity to come up with the cash then drives everyone at least partly into the cash economy.
Like anyone with a solid grounding in ethnography, Graeber sees all social formations as hybrid structures, not reducible to the simple-minded abstractions of the economists - or for that matter the political philosophers. At the risk of caricature, this complexity has at least three components: communism, exchange, and hierarchy. Debt works differently in all three.
Communism knows no debt. The one to whom one extends generosity in not the other. That one is one of ‘us’ and as we hold ourselves to be ‘in common’ there’s no externality with whom to be in credit or debit. Hierarchy has asymmetric debts. Those below owe something tangible to those above; those above repay that debt with something symbolic. The peasant owes his the or its equivalent in coin. The lord or the bishop - as Vaneigem would say - owes a debt only to the totality.4 His debt it to the ‘order’ he upholds.
Exchange is not among ‘us’, it is with the ‘other.’ There are two kinds of exchange and hence two kinds of debt that exchange creates. One can be quantified. Debts of this kind can be canceled on repayment. But there is another kind of debt, the debt of gift exchange. It is always qualitative. Paying it back is something of an art form. You can’t pay it back too quickly, or in too exact an amount. The whole point of the gift as debt is that it can’t be canceled on repayment. There is always some incommensurability between one gift and another. Gifts are stratagems for binding people through time.
Graeber draws on a rich tradition which sees money in the form of coinage as foundational social practices on which both philosophy and religion developed both their theories but also their practices. Whether it was Buddhist temples or Christian monasteries, the withdrawal of gold and silver from circulation to make idols of the saints converts one form of measuring debt into quite another. Our founding categories are caught up in a series of metaphors drawn from ancient amazement at how money works.
The period since the 70s, since the breakdown of Fordism, represents something of a break in Graeber’s narrative. Until then most histories oscillate between money as coinage and money as debt accounted without coins between people in more stable relationships. Coinage and debt payable in coins usually coincides with the kind of state apparatus that uses coins to finance wars to acquire slaves to make more coins to finance more wars, and on. Situations, in other words, which foreclose the dense web of social relations - communism, exchange, even hierarchy - which prevail in more stable periods.
The key moment in this narrative is Nixon taking the United States off the gold standard, in order to finance the Vietnam war while continuing to pacify populations at home with state largesse. But Graeber doesn’t linger much on what made this possible. He pays attention to early technologies for recording and transmitting information that might work to support all kinds of debt relations. But he stops paying attention to this material dimension as his story gets closer to the present. The missing piece is what I call the vectoral. The underlying story in Graeber’s masterful book is the steady improvement and occasional leaps in development, of the means of recording and transmitting information - the vectoral. Nixon had his reasons, but what he realized was an inevitable break between the transmission of information and its embeddedness in materiality.
Still, Graeber’s work is a useful parallel to the Marxist tradition and its focus on labor. Clearly debt is the other constant in the popular sentiment behind Occupy Wall Street. Its just unfortunate that in Debt The First 5000 Years Graeber so gingerly treats the boundaries between his own perspective and the Marxist one. It is present, barely acknowledged, in the text and the footnotes. There’s a space between these two perspectives Graeber is perhaps constitutionally incapable of ‘occupying.’
I want to suggest there’s actually three perspectives one needs to put together to understand the Occupation. The third can help bridge the other two. The first is classically Marxist, and is about labor. The second is anarchist, if of an original kind, and is about debt. The third was pointed out by Gar Alperovitz, and in his terms is abut the privatization of the knowledge economy.5
An analysis in the journal Occupy! of the We Are the 99 Percent tumblr shows that the words ‘jobs’ and ‘debt’ are the two most frequent salient terms in people’s handwritten notes about their lives and what makes them part of the 99%.6 Also in the top ten are ‘college’ and ‘student’ and ‘school.’ A few things to note here: firstly, one of the big issues, and not just for young people, is student debt. This is perhaps the next big crisis after housing debt, and as powerful a motivation as the debt and bankruptcy forced upon people by medical expenses in the United States. Trying to get a piece of the ‘knowledge economy’ through study is just not a sure thing any more.
Secondly: its worth paying attention not just to the content of the We Are the 99 Percent tumblr but the form. The internet is old news. Its hardly ‘new media’ any more. But one can forget that something like a tumblr is a tool that simply wasn’t available to an early era of social movements. If since Nixon the 1% used the vector to untether the financial wing of the vectoral class from anything as tangible as a gold reserve, then social movements too have consistently learned how to occupy whatever abstract means of communication are at their disposal.
Marx said that the people make history, but not with the means of their own choosing. A corollary is that the people make meaning, but not with the media of their own choosing. Occupy Wall Street not only ‘occupies’ Zuccotti park. It also occupies an abstraction. In Henri Lefebvre’s terms it took the struggle out of mere language and onto a more properly symbolic terrain. Or, as the Situationists would put it, what transpired is a brilliant example of détournement. Both an actual place in the city of New York, and the symbolic place it occupies in the global spectacle as a symbol have been appropriated as if they were common property, as if they belonged to us all. That’s the essence of détournement: that both the space of the city and the space of culture always and already are a commons.7
The third component to analysis then, alongside work and debt, is the struggle over the means of inventing and communicating, a struggle over knowledge, culture and science, over the ‘general intellect’ if you like. Only it is not just about ‘intellect’ as ideas in people’s heads. It is about the form of the relations which mesh human and machine intelligence together. It is not just about ownership and control of these means, although that is crucial. It is about the design of these very means themselves. Or sometimes the redesign. The people hack tech, but not with the tools of their own choosing. Sometimes you have to kludge together whatever you can. ‘Occupying’ tumblr might not be a bad example.
So: the ruling class has three components. One is financial, one military, one in the business of the control of a consumer economy of things through intellectual property. Occupy Wall Street has identified one aspect of it - financialization and debt. To talk about jobs one would have to talk about how the resources of the state are now directed far more to maintaining the military wing of the vectoral class, while the idea that the state could invest in anything that might provide jobs for anyone else is somehow now unthinkable.
Perhaps its because exotic fighter jets are so sublimely useless in any tangible sense that subsidizing them is somehow acceptable to the powers that be, whereas it would condemn to nonsense the whole reigning ideology to point out that states frequently use public money, and quite successfully, to secure investment and create jobs that the private sector might provide but is for some reason incapable of creating. This was, after all how both the railways and the internet got built. A lot of private interests were involved in both cases, but underwritten by public investment and authority.
As for the third component of the ruling class, it is hard to get a critical perspective going on Apple or Google when those are the best examples anyone can point to of new kinds of investment, product development and employment. Hackers like Anonymous align themselves with popular movements. Ordinary people with even basic tech skills hack the social media environment to make it a platform for a social movement. Yet at the same time the ‘entertainment’ wing of our military entertainment complex is pressing on Congress some of the most punitive and restrictive ‘intellectual property’ legislation imaginable. Even the most seemingly ‘enlightened’ wing of the vectoralist class are not our friends.
Financialization is just part of a wider ‘vectoralization’ in which all social relations are caught in a threefold vice. Relations of culture are replaced by intellectual property. Relations of obligation and gift are replaced by consumer debt. Relations of trust and community are replaced by security and surveillance. The danger is three-fold, and Wall Street is just the most visible part of it.
To the Marxist and ‘anarchist’ forms of analysis I want to add a third, which for want of a better term I’ll call post-Situationist. The theory and practice of the Situationist International have been absorbed in different ways into both the Marxist and anarchist perspectives. Debord’s famous book The Society of the Spectacle can be read, if somewhat partially, as an Hegelian-Marxist classic. As Graeber notes elsewhere, the anarchist milieu in the United States is steeped in Situationist literature.8 Yet I think there’s other ways of reading this legacy.
The first Situationist tenet of relevance comes from Vaneigem: “People who talk about revolution and class struggle without referring explicitly to everyday life, without understanding what is subversive about love and what is positive in the refusal of constraints, such people have a corpse in their mouth.” Hence the significance of the stories on tumblr, on the taking of space in Zuccotti park, of the generosity of so many people in making the occupation a reality. Enough said.
The second comes from René Vienet: “our ideas are on everybody’s minds.” Boredom and revolt are always present, and lacking nothing except a pretext. The theoretical elaboration always comes after, not before, the revolt itself. If a theory is any good, it provides a language for what the movement already knows. Or in short, the intellectual’s role is an adjunct one. The Leninist fantasy of ‘leading’ a movement is mostly tragedy and farce.
The third tenet is of course Debord: “the whole of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles.” Or in short, we live inside an ‘aesthetic economy’, not a political one. One has to question whether politics even exists. Is it not a special effect of the spectacular organization of appearances? Of course: exploitation exists, oppression exists, and unnecessary suffering exists. But one cannot take it for granted that there is axiomatically a ‘politics’. Its very possibility has to be invented. This is a less well known lesson of Debord’s famous text.
A fourth tenet might come from the even less well known writings of Asger Jorn.9 The tragedy of the commodity economy for Jorn is that is separates form from ‘content’ - indeed, it creates ‘content’ where none otherwise exists. The commodity economy makes concrete a ‘tin can philosophy’ where so many identical cans are filled with equivalent quantities of seemingly formless goop - tomato soup, for example. Jorn, the artist, the maker of new forms, finds this devaluing. In the great romantic tradition of William Morris, he wants to restore the role of the creation of form to the center of collective human endeavor.
This would mean an alliance of the interests of those who labor to make forms and those who labor to fill them with content: artists and workers, in short. Scientists, designers, artists, hackers - the form makers - are artificially separated as a class from labor. The distinctiveness of Jorn is to understand this in class terms. While ‘tin can philosophy’ might seem archaic in a world that prizes artisanal organic cheeses and other yuppie wonders, consider this: what if the iPad was just a soup can? What if the problem with the vectoral as we now have it is that we are supposed to think of the device as just a form to hold ‘content’. Gone is the possibility of the device as configurable, of technological space as something everyone can hack and share.
A fifth tenet is from Situationist practice: the worker’s council. This too may seem a bit archaic. While I think of myself as a worker, not everyone does. The idea of the General Assembly revives the structural principles of the councilist tradition and mixes it with some others, learned along the way. The Situationists were ‘horizontalists’ before there was such a term. This surprises people who know only Debord’s self-constructed glamor and not the actual practice of the Situationist International and other groups with which it bears a family resemblance.
Finally, one might turn to the Situationists’ account of why May ‘68 in France failed. At least two lessons seem salient. One is the inability of workers to articulate their desires. Our ideas are on everybody’s minds, but not the access to language and images with which to communicate. It’s a question then of proposing, but not determining, some possibilities. Secondly, the occupied factories could not communicate with each other or with the student movement. This is less of a problem in the overdeveloped world in our time. Certain technical and legislative initiatives may yet foreclose what is left of the great vision that was the ‘internet’. But for now the vector can be occupied.
It’s not just that the tools are now available that the tactics of horizontalism seem to work. It’s that labor is not what it was either. Most jobs in the overdeveloped world require not just the filling of forms but the invention of forms as well. We all hack the workplace, just to make it work at all. We might not know much about factory work, let alone harvesting the fields, but we know how to organize information, people and things in productive and more or less harmonious ensembles.
Everybody knows. It was so articulately put by the person at Occupy Wall Street whose sign read: THIS SHIT IS FUCKED UP AND BULLSHIT. We know it’s broken; we know the sock puppets have nothing to say. What has to frankly be described as a neo-fascist backlash was already underway even before Occupy Wall Street began. It can only intensify.
Expect more attacks on reason and science. Expect more demands that someone be made to suffer so some imagined silent majority might feel good about themselves. Expect more pseudo-religious language about spiritual ‘debts’ and ‘sacrifices’, to be made by everyone except the ruling class itself. Expect more ‘threats’ to ‘security.’ Expect a few occupiers to become cops and a few cops to be come occupiers. That’s what neo-fascism looks like.
But perhaps, with luck, the Occupation can continue to occupy enough of symbolic space, in part by occupying physical space, in part by occupying the vector, to shift the range of possibilities within the aesthetic economy of the overdeveloped world a few inches leftwards. Perhaps it can put back on the agenda the only worthy goal modernity ever had: the incremental overcoming of unnecessary suffering.
Even if it is defeated, and neo-fascism has its day, the best university is now open, and it is, if not free, taking donations in kind. The Occupation is a living workshop in ‘communism’, but also in the gift economy of exchange. Every day, people buy stuff and covert it back into gifts to total strangers. Every day, people discover solidarity through camping together, cooking together, and picking up the trash. All that is as valuable as the General Assembly. Every day, people take time out from their jobs or caring for their families to just be in an occupied space.
Not a few will have an existential crisis there. In those moments when the cops are not there to confront, and there’s nothing to buy - what the hell is one supposed to do? What is one supposed to be? This is the source of the strange psychogeography of occupied space. These spaces are poorly equipped, shoddily built exemplars of something remarkable. That there could be other social relations, besides finance, security and the commodity. That if any of this stuff is remotely scalable, then why do we even need this ruling class at all?

McKenzie Wark  

McKenzie Wark is the author of The Beach beneath the Street (Verso 2011), Gamer Theory (Harvard 2007), A Hacker Manifesto (Harvard 2004) and various other things. He is Professor of Liberal Studies at the New School for Social Research. McKenzie can be reached at warkk@newschool.edu

Notes

Copyright © 2011 McKenzie Wark and The Johns Hopkins University Press

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1. Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia, New Left Books, London, 1973, 156.
2. Joan Robinson, The Accumulation of Capital.
3. David Graeber, Debt: The First 5000 Years, Melville House, Brooklyn NY, 2011.
4. Raoul Vaneigem, ‘Basica Banalities’, in Ken Knabb (ed) The Situationist International Anthology, Bureau of Public Secrets, Berkeley CA, 2005. Graeber acknowledges the influence of Vaneigem, glancingly, and only in a footnote. He quite rightly avoids being entangled in the pro-situ world as much as he resists the Marxological one.
5. Gar Alperovitz, ‘How the 99 Percent Really Lost Out’, Truthout, 29th October 2011.
6. Mike Konczal, ‘Parsing the Data and Ideology of the We Are the 99 Percent Tumblr’, Occupy!, October 2011, p28ff.
7. See McKenzie Wark, The Beach Beneath the Street, Verso, London, 2011 on both Lefebvre and détournement.
8. David Graeber, Direct Action: An Ethnography, AK Press, Oakland CA, 2009.
9. Asger Jorn, The Natural Order.

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Theory & Event - Actual Politics
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Project MUSE Journals Theory & Event Volume 14, Number 4, 2011 Supplement Actual Politics

Theory & Event
Volume 14, Number 4, 2011 Supplement
E-ISSN: 1092-311X

Actual Politics

Slavoj Zizek

Don’t fall in love with yourselves, with the nice time we are having here. Carnivals come cheap - the true test of their worth is what remains the day after, how our normal daily life will be changed. Fall in love with hard and patient work - we are the beginning, not the end. Our basic message is: the taboo is broken, we do not leave in the best possible world, we are allowed and obliged even to think about alternatives. There is a long road ahead, and soon we will have to address the truly difficult questions - questions not about what we do not want, but about what we DO want. What social organization can replace the existing capitalism? What type of new leaders we need? The twentieth-century alternatives obviously did not work.
So do not blame people and their attitudes: the problem is not corruption or greed, the problem is the system that pushes you to be corrupt. The solution is not “Main Street, not Wall Street,” but to change the system where main street cannot function without Wall street. Beware not only of enemies, but also of false friends who pretend to support us, but are already working hard to dilute our protest. In the same way we get coffee without caffeine, beer without alcohol, ice-cream without fat, they will try to make us into a harmless moral protest. But the reason we are here is that we had enough of the world where to recycle your Coke cans, to give a couple of dollars for charity, or to buy Starbucks cappuccino where 1% goes for the Third World troubles is enough to make us feel good. After outsourcing work and torture, after the marriage agencies started to outsource even our dating, we see that for a long time we were allowing our political engagements also to be outsourced - we want them back.
They will tell us we are un-American. But when conservative fundamentalists tell you that America is a Christian nation, remember what Christianity is: the Holy Spirit, the free egalitarian community of believers united by love.
We here are the Holy Spirit, while on Wall Street they are pagans worshipping false idols.
They will tell us we are violent, that our very language is violent: occupation, and so on. Yes we are violent, but only in the sense in which Mahatma Gandhi was violent. We are violent because we want to put a stop on the way things go - but what is this purely symbolic violence compared to the violence needed to sustain the smooth functioning of the global capitalist system?
We were called losers - but are the true losers not there on the Wall Street, and were they not bailed out by hundreds of billions of your money? You are called socialists - but in the US, there already is socialism for the rich. They will tell you that you don’t respect private property - but the Wall Street speculations that led to the crash of 2008 erased more hard-earned private property than if we were to be destroying it here night and day - just think of thousands of homes foreclosed.
We are not Communists, if Communism means the system which deservedly collapsed in 1990 - and remember that Communists who are still in power run today the most ruthless capitalism (in China). The success of Chinese Communist-run capitalism is an ominous sign that the marriage between capitalism and democracy is approaching a divorce. The only sense in which we are Communists is that we care for the commons - the commons of nature, of knowledge - which are threatened by the system.
They will tell you that you are dreaming, but the true dreamers are those who think that things can go on indefinitely they way they are, just with some cosmetic changes. We are not dreamers; we are the awakening from a dream which is turning into a nightmare. We are not destroying anything; we are merely witness how the system is gradually destroying itself. We all know the classic scene from cartoons: the cat reaches a precipice, but it goes on walking, ignoring the fact that there is no ground under its feet; it starts to fall only when it looks down and notices the abyss. What we are doing is just reminding those in power to look down.
So is the change really possible? Today, the possible and the impossible are distributed in a strange way. In the domains of personal freedoms and scientific technology, the impossible is becoming increasingly possible (or so we are told): “nothing is impossible,” we can enjoy sex in all its perverse versions; entire archives of music, films, and TV series are available for downloading; space travel is available to everyone (with the money); we can enhance our physical and psychic abilities through interventions into the genome, right up to the techno-gnostic dream of achieving immortality by transforming our identity into a software program. On the other hand, in the domain of social and economic relations, we are bombarded all the time by a You cannot … engage in collective political acts (which necessarily end in totalitarian terror), or cling to the old Welfare State (it makes you non-competitive and leads to economic crisis), or isolate yourself from the global market, and so on. When austerity measures are imposed, we are repeatedly told that this is simply what has to be done. Maybe, the time has come to turn around these coordinates of what is possible and what is impossible; maybe, we cannot become immortal, but we can have more solidarity and healthcare?
In mid-April 2011, the media reported that Chinese government has prohibited showing on TV and in theatres films which deal with time travel and alternate history, with the argument that such stories introduce frivolity into serious historical matters - even the fictional escape into alternate reality is considered too dangerous. We in the liberal West do not need such an explicit prohibition: ideology exerts enough material power to prevent alternate history narratives being taken with a minimum of seriousness. It is easay for us to imagine the end of the world - see numerous apocalyptic films, but not end of capitalism.
In an old joke from the defunct German Democratic Republic, a German worker gets a job in Siberia; aware of how all mail will be read by censors, he tells his friends: “Let’s establish a code: if a letter you will get from me is written in ordinary blue ink, it is true; if it is written in red ink, it is false.” After a month, his friends get the first letter written in blue ink: “Everything is wonderful here: stores are full, food is abundant, apartments are large and properly heated, movie theatres show films from the West, there are many beautiful girls ready for an affair - the only thing unavailable is red ink.” And is this not our situation till now? We have all the freedoms one wants - the only thing missing is the “red ink”: we “feel free” because we lack the very language to articulate our unfreedom. What this lack of red ink means is that, today, all the main terms we use to designate the present conflict - “war on terror,” “democracy and freedom,” “human rights,” etc. etc. - are FALSE terms, mystifying our perception of the situation instead of allowing us to think it. You, here, you are giving to all of us red ink.

Slavoj Zizek  

Slavoj Zizek is a Slovenian philosopher. His recent books include First as Tragedy, Then as Farce (Verso 2009), In Defense of Lost Causes (Verso 2009), and Living in the End Times (Verso 2011). Slavoj can be reached at szizek@yahoo.com

Copyright © 2011 Slavoj Zizek and The Johns Hopkins University Press

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Theory & Event - Biographies
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Theory & Event
Volume 14, Number 4, 2011 Supplement
E-ISSN: 1092-311X

Biographies

  

Franco “Bifo” Berardi is an Italian autonomist philosopher and media activist. His recent books include Soul at Work (Semiotext(e) 2009), Precarious Rhapsody (AK Press 2009), and After the Future (AK Press 2011). Franco can be reached at franberardi@gmail.com

  

Wendy Brown is Class of 1936 Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley where she teaches political theory. Her most recent book is Walled States, Waning Sovereignty (Zone 2010). Her political work is currently focused on preserving public higher education in the United States, in particular the University of California. Wendy can be reached at wlbrown@berkeley.edu

  

John Buell is a columnist for the Progressive Populist and a faculty adjunct at Cochise College. His most recent book is Politics, Religion, and Culture in an Anxious Age (Palgrave Macmillan 2011). He can be reached at jbuell@acadia.net

  

William E. Connolly is Krieger-Eisenhower Professor at Johns Hopkins University where he teaches political theory. His recent books include Capitalism and Christianity, American Style (2008); and A World of Becoming (2011). In Capitalism and Christianity, American Style, he argued that the “evangelical-capitalist resonance machine” is carrying us to a probable crisis, and addressed a militant politics to respond to it. He is currently working on a book entitled The Fragility of Things, the first chapter of which will appear in Theory & Event in early 2012, under the title “Steps toward an Ecology of Late Capitalism.” William can be reached at pluma@jhu.edu

  

Jodi Dean is co-editor of Theory & Event. Her most recent books are Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies (Duke 2009) and Blog Theory (Polity 2010). Her book, The Communist Horizon, will be published by Verso in 2012. Jodi can be reached at jdean@hws.edu

  

Richard Grusin is Director of the Center for 21st Century Studies and Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His latest book is Premediation: Affect and Mediality After 9/11 (Palgrave 2010), argues that in an era of heightened securitization, socially networked US and global media work to pre-mediate collective affects of anticipation and connectivity, while also perpetuating low levels of apprehension or fear. Richard can be reached at grusin@uwm.edu

  

John Protevi is Phyllis M Taylor Professor of French Studies at Louisiana State University. His latest book, Political Affect: Connecting the Social and the Somatic (Minnesota 2009), reflects his recent research on Deleuze, dynamical systems theory, and the cognitive and biological sciences. Recent articles in this field have appeared in Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences and Journal of Consciousness Studies. John’s website is www.protevi.com/john

  

McKenzie Wark is the author of The Beach beneath the Street (Verso 2011), Gamer Theory (Harvard 2007), A Hacker Manifesto (Harvard 2004) and various other things. He is Professor of Liberal Studies at the New School for Social Research. McKenzie can be reached at warkk@newschool.edu

  

Slavoj Zizek is a Slovenian philosopher. His recent books include First as Tragedy, Then as Farce (Verso 2009), In Defense of Lost Causes (Verso 2009), and Living in the End Times (Verso 2011). Slavoj can be reached at szizek@yahoo.com

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