Ive been doing some reading recently around the post-political – largely contexualised as post-cold war political philosophy.
I’m trying to apply some of the insights offered by the likes of Jacques Ranciere and Slavoj Zizek to the contemporary situation we find ourselves in in early twenty-first century Britain, and how/whether we can find a way out of the current throes of capitalism.
Then an interesting thing happened, a handful of really prescient stories and ideas converged on me. Here’s a summary…
I was stirred to recap on the post-political by the excellent blog post by Dan McQuillan who examines the seventeenth-century English radical Antinomians in light of the contemporary Anonymous and – to an extent – #Occupy movements.
Fascinatingly both groups seem to reject any attempt at formal, strategic opposition to dominant structures and forces. Instead, such groups adopt a tactic of detachment in which they go about their aims without giving credence to authority’s anticipated or expected responses. far from entering into power structures, both the Antinomians and Anonymous envision and produce another world. And this in turn is their strategy. It’s a de-strategy.
Highlighting this tactically productive approach, Dan’s post draws a lineage from the heresy of the medieval proto-antinomians, the Free Brethren of the Free Spirit, through to the radical seventeenth-century Antinomians and on to contemporary hackers. A timely reminder that struggles against authority and oppression are nothing new and that revisiting previous excursions into sites of radical action may bring new ideas and new ways of acting.
Then, just as I’m getting into the post-politics at a more contemporary level I come across the excellent chapter, On Fairy Dust and Rupture, in the even more excellent book, Occupy Everything: Reflections on Why its Kicking Off Everywhere.
Penned by the The Free Association the chapter seeks to account for the intrinsic faith people have in capitalism as viable system – a faith that, on the face of it, could be considered a ‘magic’ quality – and how this internalised logic can be tackled and shown for what it is: a sorcery created and maintained by a range of forces operating explicitly and implicitly; at a structural level and at an individual level.
For the authors, the fairy dust refers (via The Troggs!) to an unknown quality that can transform something mundane or everyday into something that exceeds the sum of its parts. “Fairy dust,” they argue “invokes the need for a gamble, a roll of the dice, an experiment.” [p.29].
The authors go on to map out ways this fairy dust can be sprinkled on actions and events and how these one-off ‘ruptures’ can be built upon to spread greater and deeper social and economic change. The spark of nature’s fire that could trigger new antinomian movements, so to speak.
And finally, coming hot on the heels of reading this a friend shared Adam Curtis’ latest blog post on the Soviet stagnation of the 1970s/80s and the responses undertaken by a disaffected youth.
Curtis’ prescience and the dimensions through which he explores seemingly mainstream topics generally unnerves me, and this post is no exception. In it, Curtis plots similar themes tot he ones I’ve been tracing – but from a different angle: the post-political Soviet end of history as The Plan began to fail.
Curtis’ piece is amazingly timely as it looks at how soviet art and cultural movements of post-political Russia sought to reject soviet communism and, realising if offered an equally – if more subtle – totalitarian system, liberal democracy.
Curtis presents a critical appraisal of the economic and social (i.e. human) failures of the soviet system in ways that cannot fail to generate resonance with the reality of our Western society today.
This is especially powerful as Curtis succeeds where others (save for the radical left) have failed. Offering a genuine critique of Britain in the here and now is difficult as The Free Association’s ‘sorcery’ of capitalism maintains its hold creating either a denial or an awe of the system.
Yet Curtis’ analogy is hugely powerful as it shows how the great Soviet Plan entered into increasingly illogical and absurd spasms as it attempted to predict and manage the complex demands of the population.
It would be easy to laugh at the examples given by the scientists and economists as they explain their predicament were it no for the increasingly absurd lengths we see capitalism going to in its attempt to shore up the yawning gap between the economic, material reality and the glossy, consumer driven fiction all around us.
Curtis concludes with the somewhat bleak transition of Soviet Russia to a pseudo-Liberal Democratic Russia where the radicals of the post-political 1970s have either committed suicide (quite a few seemed to go that way, interestingly) or embraced the far-right or liberal democracy or, in the case of Vladislav Surkov, both.
That is is why Dan’s post and The Free Association are so important. They point us towards practical tactics and ideas for conjuring a way to another world.
Back to the post-political and searching for ways out.