A Dialogue on World Civil War

The Institute for Experimental Freedom
& The Institute for the Promotion of Learning-Disorders
 

THE IRON AGE

"Not by speeches and majority votes are the great questions of the day decided - that was the great error of 1848 and 1849 - but by blood and iron."
– Otto von Bismarck
The American system is the most ingenious system of control in world history. With a country so rich in natural resources, talent, and labor power the system can afford to distribute just enough wealth to just enough people to limit discontent to a troublesome minority. It is a country so powerful, so big, so pleasing to so many of its citizens that it can afford to give freedom of dissent to the small number who are not pleased.

There is no system of control with more openings, apertures, lee-ways, flexibilities, rewards for the chosen, winning tickets in lotteries. There is none that disperses its controls more complexly through the voting system, the work situation, the church, the family, the school, the mass media – none more successful in mollifying opposition with reforms, isolating people from one another, creating patriotic loyalty.

One percent of the nation owns a third of the wealth. The rest of the wealth is distributed in such a way as to turn those in the 99 percent against one another: small property owners against the propertyless, black against white, native-born against foreign-born, intellectuals and professionals against the uneducated and unskilled. These groups have resented one another and warred against one another with such vehemence and violence as to obscure their common position as sharers of leftovers in a very wealthy country.
– Howard Zinn

IEF: World Civil War | Gloss 1


Civil war presupposes the modern state. In some ways, civil war can be read as both what was outside of history and then, with the development of the modern state, what became included in history. A comment like 'The history of societies thus far is the history of class struggle' has a secret intelligence contained within it when we read it through our magic decoder matrix: civil war.

History and society were only really unified with the development of the modern state. The modern state in Hegel became the subject of history for his philosophy. Marx, among other Young Hegelians made this their object of critique. However, lurking bellow the surface of such idealism in Hegel was Hobbes and the concept of sovereignty. The state of nature in Hobbes was a sort of permanent potential of war of all against all. Law, enforced by the state, would create a clear divide between what was inside the law and what was outside of it; generating 'civil society' (or 'the civil state') on the inside, and civil war on the outside. This meant that living beings would only be included in human society (and thus, history) once they became subject to the rule of law; all manner of imperial practices come with ease. However, even in Hobbes's hypothesis, there remained a permanent problem. Law, which gives human society its so-called order, can only be enforced through means which appear indistinguishable from civil war. What Marx discreetly references is not that class struggle is the history of living beings on the planet, but that class struggle is civil war inside the gates; and is the general conditions of capitalism.

The concept of a 'world' may be important in some of the ways 'world civil war' is used. 'The evident is not merely a matter of logic or reasoning. It attaches itself to the sensible, to worlds' (p4, Call). A world is a zone of meaning, sense – 'before time, absolutely, there is sense.'(Ok, War it is Tiqqun 1) History is the reification of time as Man's time, and perhaps even the concealment of civil war. It locates a living being as subject to the sensuous praxis of generating and reproducing human society. Civil war is the free play of bios, of forms of life; life which acts in a world. 'Civil,' because worlds are not limited by the boundaries or laws of nation-states and because conflict can take place in myriad of spheres, with a multiplying array of techniques. 'War,' because the potential for doing violence to the most just must not be discounted, ever. On a terrain with a multiplicity of worlds, only forms of life who feel their power can act decisively.

Even in Hobbes, if there were not civil war, there would be no need for Leviathan. Leviathan wasn't a god on earth, as much as the political equivalent of someone who's afraid of the dark. The modern state therefore had as its object the warding off of an ever present civil war. It coded civil war as 'evil', and put religious apparatuses to work. We could say the modern state's practices of government had the character of a war against civil war. The development of techniques of governing which corresponded (liberalism) excluded and disciplined dangerous elements. At certain times these elements were juridically coded as 'the hostis' (hostile, unknown, outside), and came in the way of invading parties, but also in the way of crime, and later, sickness.

What we call 'world civil war' develops out of the modern state's failure, and each and every elaboration of civil war. Reading its history religiously, we learn that good does not triumph over evil; moreover we learn that coding the state as the hand of god reaches a threshold because its techniques of power continuously collapse into the terrain of evil. Law cannot be enforced without the possibility of doing violence to the most just. Civil war is then the omnipresent aporia of the modern state. It cannot prevent transgression and revolt and yet it is logically demanded to develop itself to do just that.

On the other hand, we can read 'world' synonymously with 'global.' World civil war develops as the excess of liberal techniques of power. Capitalism generates a fracture in the being of Man's time, elaborating the fracture caused by the state. Two representations develop. On the one hand, the bourgeoisie, who managed, tuned, and attempted to master capital, and on the other hand, the proletariat, who produced all value and whose subjugated existence pulls the two into an intense conflict. Because war between nation states is governed by international law, a war between non-state actors forces both parties to develop techniques of war which are out-side the law. From the moment the first partisan disrupted the separation between solider and civilian, the development of an exceptional and irregular technique of war was set into motion. Whereas capitalism created the conditions where the state was no longer the authorizer of the political, and in fact becomes another technology for the bourgeoisie to deploy in order to neutralize intense political relationships, class struggle within capitalism returns the question of the political to forefront and cuts across national boundaries by deploying the figure of an irregular fighter in the image of the proletariat across the earth. Class struggle was the prior most intense configuration of civil war, because of its international dimensions, its ethical character which transforms any conflict into absolute enmity, and because of the proletariat's capacity to hold the threat of a self-negation: The proletariat is the class which abolish class society through its own self-abolition. However, if the proletariat who came in the way of the working class general strike, and later the diffuse irrationality of autonomous armed joy were defeated – as it was – then what would survive this condition was the representation of the bourgeoisie (at a planetary level) with a new paradigm of war without the limits of national boundaries and international law; who stood on a new terrain without a stable enemy but rather a globe of hostilities which could be intensified, if need be.

With the development of a War on Terror and permanent counter-insurgency, world civil war now returns to its initial terrifying presence. Capital, liberated from the tyranny and stupidity of bourgeois management acts as its own sovereign force and subsumes all hostile forms of life: The phase of real subsumption. The state as an appendage of capital is deployed to give meaning to the world of images by imposing the category of enemy on any one of its own excessive consequences. The ontological character of this gesture is completed once the enemy has been reintegrated into the symbolic-order, either through rehabilitation (democratization) or exclusion (a fair amount of killing).

However, perhaps the proletariat has not been defeated. Perhaps the proletariat is still the class, or vocation, which abolishes class society – and elaborates civil war. In the conditions of civil war against the bourgeoisie with the development of industrialism, the proletariat's force of negation was contingent on a strategically positioned portion of workers: the industrial working class. However with the dissolution of the both the factory and its inhabitants, and with the integration of subculture and all manner of past 'revolutionary subjectivities' into the rationality of commodity production; perhaps there are different conditions and different contingencies from which a more terrible proletariat is awaiting to be revealed. In these different conditions, civil war is elaborated by an equally diffuse, almost imperceptible irregular fighter. The pure negative potential of a planetary multi-cultural petite bourgeoisie. An impure hostis humani generis. An army of sleeper cells with allegiance to no identity; with no more statist fascinations or illusions of a just society; and with no use in the economy of superfluous labor, already begins to advance civil war to its logical and redemptive conclusion: the dissolution of society, social war.

IPLD

Curious how this novel radicality (really?) stands incorporating a rather archaic, if persistent notion of nature itself as that red and green tapestry on a black fabric of ubiquitous war, (or could we say "violent struggle") still disseminated from a time well before Hobbes but systematized and articulated loudest by that philosopher, and to this day foundational to the perseverance of Calvanist as well as Machiavelian discourse on the control, suppression or manipulation of one's own (or everyone else's) inner violence, the struggle, competition and conflict still seen to intertwine neo-darwinist and neo-fascist avant gardes. But rather than suppress or negate, we are to embrace the war of all against all. Either way, life sucks and then ya die. How does one end a vicious cycle emerging from a root a priorism by iconizing or joining with it? If life itself is such a nasty, brutal and short affair, do you think folks will willingly embrace anything beyond banal survival, murder or immolation? Or is that the plan? Are you saying art is the supersession of survival and the only consistent art is an expressive sado-masochism? Or do I misinterpret?

The global civil war has always been between the dazzling urbanite and not only the rural hick, but the countryside itself. It is the transformation of the country to resemble the city in order to prove (in the sense that alcohol is "proved" through it's burning) the self-fulfilling prophecy. The citizenist project (war) thereafter becomes self-evident, open to neither question nor negation.

IEF

The perspective of civil war is the perspective of "the political." It's no mistake that, if you read into the American neoconservative movement, it accompanies a specific critique if the modern state. Through them, we can see Schmitt's perspective[1] of the this fight: practices which make democracy and totalitarian governance appear indistinguishable. However, I don't think that means utopian thought is completely negated, but it may mean in these conditions our fantasies change. I think nothing about the present would suggest otherwise. It's been said, but I'll say it again: in post-industrial democratic societies, if you want to rebel, it would appear that the thing to do is to run up in the crowd and start shooting – whether at work, school, or in public spaces.

The perspective of civil war, is sort of indifferent to whether or not we accept war of all against all. The point is, this is just Hobbes' bad dream. If techniques of governance have been advanced through this rubric; a war against civil war, then its worth looking into what makes the bourgeoisie tremble, to understand by what means we supersede those limitations. All of this in order to help proliferate and communiucate between self-organized forces of pure negation – so as to elaborate a position beyond the production of death.

All this aside, I think perhaps "art is the suppression of survival, and it is only consistently expressed in a sadism and masochism." Or perhaps I would say "erotic practices of power." Either way, there would appear to be a lot of potential, even in our stupid milieu, for experimenting with consensual practices of power and violence, and developing non-verbal methods of communication.

The last thing you said about "the citizenist" project. I'm not sure if I follow you, and if so, I'm pretty sure I don't agree. I don't think we're merely talking about inside vs outside; precisely because that was a fiction, that our time makes very clear. The metropolis is a network which links the urban, and the suburban, the so called city and the country. There is no outside precisely because the imperial logic of policing and governance, but more specifically because capital nurtures all of our utterances into the shared language of value.

And to be clear, this is just our thoughts on world civil war. We may depart from other comrades because we think world civil war is fulfilled through its supersession or interruption by social war (I understand this is sort of convoluted). Social war, on the other hand, can be seen as our sort of positive project which is still negation (sort of how others talk about communization) – the production of the real existing impure hostile worlds which, through war-like practices, ward off the state everywhere. war-machines who are the enemy of mankind, and through their own gifts of enmity to this or that figure of the planetary multicultural petty bourgeoisie, impose their own terms of engagement and their own rhythm of conflict – their own kairos within chronos; a poem of decisive moments.

Civil war is important to class struggle because it forms a different mode of intelligence, for us to collectively develop a new political education. A Messianic view (see: 'Another Cold Year for the War-mth') of Class struggle is important to social war because it poses the terms of engagement at the level vocations – operations rather than identities. Class struggle describes the relation of capital to the proletariat, civil war describes the relations of inside to the outside, social describes the struggle for the contingencies and possibilities of the social, but in the conditions of world civil war, all of this reaches a threshold. There is no longer an outside, there is no longer a real-existing classical proletariat with his homeland of liberty and equality, and there is no longer even a social which conditions can contest. In world civil war, there is either annihilation or redemption.

The challenge that world civil war poses to the sleeping insurgents is not: 'life or death?' or 'how do we justify our violence?' its rather a question of 'the production of death?' or 'the death of production?' By what means do we lose ourselves through a collective production of ourselves as the monsters we want to be? And how do we return the violence, the power, the collective faculties which produce the modern state and police to use? These are far more interesting and decisive questions than 'by what means do we wish to hide under our beds or suppress the dark,' don't you think?

IPLD

Thank you Liam. I see your point. But it may be that civil peace which is defined as the absence and suppression of civil war, and civil war as defined as transgression against the "peace process" do not live in a binary space. Stepping outside of dialectics, we see that civility rests insuperably upon violence and exploitation (without regard to its virtual or material forms), although we call this capitalism and those who recognise it label the oppositional stand "class struggle" in an attempt to reduce it down to us versus them. "Us" never seem able to come together for very long.

Capitalism thrives on all war, whether all against all or any part thereof. It is only an Orwellian peace the capital promotes. It is an illusion, spectacle, hyperreal or hypocrisy. It is a clever disguise, so clever that many of its enforcers, at least in an older day, actually believed that maintaining order and peace were identical concepts. In this day, a non-violent cop (a "peace officer") would never graduate the training school. It is an oxymoron or a profession for morons who cannot tell the difference between a living, breathing body, a maggoty corpse or a cardboard pop-up.

Peace in this world is only a euphemism for regimentation eminating from the center, the ego-position, synonymous with "social order". When I said "the citizenist project – war", I meant, among other things, that through the self-fulfilling prophecy, "authentic" peace is impossible and 'Utopianists' are deluded fools. Henceforth, archaic words are bound tightly to eliminate the possibility of a semantic opposition: war is peace; freedom is slavery ("Honest Abe" saw to that – in "freeing the slaves", all men were made equal in the eyes of the foreman); smack is better than sex; the party is a political organisation; hospitality is a mere form of hostility (the idea that a horse and its rider can never merge as among "the hostiles") and life is merely a violent spasm or extravagant expenditure just prior to the blissful void. This is not a paraphrase from Orwell, Baudrillard or Jack Kerouac, but, to the best of my recollection, from my sixth-grade roman catholic catechism, and in more secular studies, The Life and Times of George Armstrong Custer.

You said "The metropolis is a network which links the urban, and the suburban, the so called city and the country. There is no outside..." The country exists well beyond the visual horizon of the suburb. Millions live there and although we are seeing gentrification of the rural by the suburban and do speak variations on Imperial language (except maybe in Wyoming where, although the pronunciation of English may sound familiar, the semantic domain only superficially overlaps) there is probably more revolutionary consciousness here than in the city. Think "Wild West" and you'll see we do have a transgressive historical tradition which still values autonomy over federation. Much is already being negated. The law of value is even starting to slip, as we have already begun to "progress" into a barter-style local economy with a growing self-managed production of goods (and food), and even blue-haired old ladies in walkers are giving cops dirty looks. But yes, it will take something extraordinary to phase the exchange paradigm. Exchange itself is a form of warfare.

But I agree, there is much which still needs negated. Tit for tat unifies (justifies) both left-liberal justice and redneck vigilanteism. The reason the surrealist option to fire a machine gun into a crowd on the street seems so attractive is because, along with suicide, that is the only free transgression we have been permitted. It is an optional investment with a guaranteed payback. It's a great economic stimulus for funeral directors everywhere, and gives street cred to every cop on every street, every paranoid legislator in every capital and every news media personality selling Wheaties on the tube. Extreme antisocial behaviour is proved by the media once again to be human nature when constraints are removed. Handcuffs are recouperated from the police and latched to sex. Right where they belong, or so they would have us believe.

The law of gravity suggests opposing forces inevitably become the same, that their distinctive qualities were an illusion in the first place, that everything which comes together subsequently falls apart only to come together again in a new but somehow familiar pattern. I've been thinking the last few years that democracy and totalitarian governance are indeed indistinguishable. Some would say the war or political (or antipolitical) stand against governance itself is democracy. Civil war could indicate a war for more civility, a war among/between the civil, or against civilisation itself. Clearly we are all consulting different dictionaries. I'm with you on the death of production, but I have more beefs over management and social planning and orderly conduct. I used to try to be careful with my metaphors. There are so many who only seem to have access to automated spell-check and the literal interpretation of the King James Dictionary. I often find myself there as well.

What makes the bourgeoisie tremble are all phantoms lined up on one side and on the other, the threat of losing their hold on the mass delusion and having to not only witness, but perform on reality's stage without a script. This other side is ironically labeled chaos and precarity. It does not come with a money-back guarantee. It is thought to contain even more monsters, yet we go on to criticise the Hibi Jibies for their superstitious or magical thinking. We go on to attempt moving a hundred-fifty ton traffic jam by honking our horn. Great Caesar's ghost, Batman! If this is considered sane, go crazy! And have a disorderly day! Chaos only means we may never be aware of all the consequences of our behaviour, so even a sociopath should take care when infringing upon others. A little compassion ain't such a bad notion. Democracy is such a confused topic. If it is anything to hold on to, it would be the recognition of other humans. Everyone wants to be acknowledged. It is the main source of encouragement among social beings. A nod or a wink still go a lot further than any number of committee meetings.

Without management and social planning, which are the teleological construction of the future ("productivism") – an impossible task if there is such a thing as chaos or chance happenings of unforeseen events – any other notion of democracy falls by the wayside without a good deal of luck, violence or slight of hand (the Spectacle). The idea that progressive science and technology eliminates or works around intervening variables (and to the extent that it has already been successful) ironically eliminates freedom in the process, where freedom represents the arrival of simultaneous alternative turning points.

One of the current arguments against the coherence of cultures and the possibility of doing any kind of systematic ethnography is that, like a certain famous philosophical river, cultures are always changing. Such is the flux that one can never step in the same culture twice. Yet unless identity and consistency were symbolically imposed on social practices, as also on rivers, and not only by anthropologists but by the people, there could be no intelligibility or even sanity, let alone a society. So to paraphrase John Barth, reality is a nice place to visit (philosophically), but no one ever lived there.
– Marshal Sahlins

The anarchist or libertarian "project" must rely on subjectivity, or rather, personal aesthetics. This sort of subjectivity does not discount the idea of it being broadly shared, and that is culture. The more alternatives available, the more culture resembles a voluntary association. More tradition-minded cultures incorporated rather than rejected difference. It is only ironic from our western-rational lens that in the process, they superficially appeared to remain unchanged. An egalitarian community is one in which everyone is mutually recognizable, even the occassional oddball or poet. If not recognised, the "excluded other" is asked to take his business elsewhere, if s/he hasn't already noticed there is no niche available for this much difference. The recognition factor is almost always a matter of shared language rather than antagonistic (political) discourse. Cross-cultural sensitivity is only a matter of the pataphysical recognition of the equivalence of all absurdities, where both war and economic exchange can only occur between enemies. Without maintaining difference (that is, letting your "enemy" go home after the battle), "trade empires", federations or extralocal distribution systems collapse and empire is reborn with its ideas of hegemonic identity, or universalism.

How easily we forget knowledge and semantics are the same cat; that common usage is author of more definition than all the academics and houses publishing dictionaries and cross-word puzzles placed in the same bag. There remains much in our language which predates imperial logic. And it is true that even with the archived dictionary, when folks stop talking about a "thing", when their incantations stop giving it power, it disappears into the same realm of cruel jokes and humorous anecdotes, where now reside the entire Greek Pantheon and Grimm's fabulous faeries.

IEF: Even feminism? Yes even feminism desires the text of power

Theory is another word for nothing left to lose. The Institute for Experimental Freedom is beyond masochistic with its bodies, murmurs and texts. We publish, print and distribute works foolishly against their future renditions. The typo or technical error pale in comparison to the shame we experience the moment our desire codified in digital mappings of vectors and typography brushes against the docile or eager appetite of whoever reads PDFs, blogs or printed zines. This shame, a sort of abjection, reverses onto us as it returns ten-fold in so many little confusions: a misinterpretation of a key term, a refusal to love our refusal to be governed by value in its textual form, an anxiety regarding one's own capacity to be acted on by the text, or feeling outside of the ironic horror we cannot help but know as a world we are attached to. Years ago, we might have simply turned deaf ears to these confusions which come in the way of half-critiques. We may have been mobilized as yet another faculty of the impoverished subversive text apparatus. We could – and have, in other incarnations – modify our words, and our practices of the text as a text of pleasure, in order to suffice as rational discourse. We could be resubjectivized by the grammar of ideology and its pathetic cry for attention; the 'ideas matter' of the infant in an IWW shirt who just won't shut up about Noam Chomsky, or that of the internet forum poster who believes that he might not be such a lonely loser if everyone would just read The Coming Insurrection and talk to him about it. But, we'd prefer not to.

The Institute for Experimental Freedom practices a text of pleasure and text of power, both on paper and on the body. The CrimethInc jabs in Rolling Thunder are no misnomer. We are experimental material, and we're in it for us, our friends and the friends we have yet to meet. However, this is not to say we are not a part of a stupid milieu like everyone else, nor is it to say we are not trying to find the exit; we are, carefully.

We take the practice of thought, the practice or writing, the practice of power, the questions of 'what is an artist?' 'what is a writer?' 'what is history?' 'what are our conditions?' very seriously. And we think through a ruthless experimentation with our lives – by subjecting ourselves and our friends to high frequencies of cruelty, banality, joy, and sadness – we might stumble upon something which we would carefully put close to our hearts and share – with the milieu and with what survives it. Which is perhaps another way of saying, although ideas don't matter, the practices of a discourse require critique and provocation with which we will lovingly shock the face of any of our comrades or opponents. We have been hoping this would be reciprocated. Alas, still we sit on our knees, while our 'insurrectionist' and anti-state communist peers merely stumble on their dirty-talk in front of the mirror.

Nonetheless, The Institute is a warm calculating assemblage. The comments between stories on anarchist websites which have nothing to do with it, the subtle jokes of our friends and hostiles, and the horror of our lovers' Fathers do a rudimentary violence to our corporeal topographies. From the tidy paper cuts, we excrete just a little red – enough to paint our lips or a small American flag. However, perhaps we underestimate the force of nagging slits on the skin – whether it be political or otherwise. Nothing itches more than a thousand paper cuts.

So we scratch; we'll give in a little bit. But, rest assured we have no illusions that scratching will make the itch go away. On the contrary, we're hoping to pull the wounds open just a bit more.

From these rips in our texture we'll offer these humble gifts: a series of elaborated descriptions of the terms we hold close to our hearts, which demand to be shared.

Still very much wanting the text inscribed against our unsurprisingly thick skin,

A few clarifications on key concepts within many of the texts we publish and distribute in the way of a series of complex glosses to be irregularly posted online.

Without further adieu: Politics is not a Banana.

IPLD:

Metaphysical discourse had to be suspended in the nineteenth century, the blossoming stage of the industrial revolution, as it might put to question any of our established categories ("Dominant ideas"). Co-conspirators on the gallows were on one flank, Philology, the documentation of semantic changes imposed over time by the dominant idea-logists. On the other flank stood Aesthetics, that area of inquiry into "taste" which, in itself, suggested the likelihood of "choice".

Dialogue has little need to imply notions of agreement or disagreement if it stays within the same terrain of the linguistic context. Resolution or even negotiated synthesis, the announcement or imposition of an answer, puts an end to questioning and experimentation. If there are no final answers (or absolutism, truth), where is there room for antagonism (or politics) except against those who would hinder our quest? Where there is agreement, both may travel the same direction. If not, they will part company. Freedom to me means a fork in the road, the existence of options or turning points. Some call the left or right turn, despite the sign which says "One way Street", the exercise of power.

Antagonism denies the provisional nature of the decision, denies the situational context. It demands permanence. The decisions as to directionality must be the same, and this identity creates the democratic leader and democratic follower (without any sense of contradiction) by virtue of the politics of persuasion (rather than an aesthetic choice), or it declares any potential reunuion an hypocracy. Most call this power – the freedom to not be moved, which is often merely the freedom from movement. Once the ways are parted, they must remain so, hence, the police, the political stand and the blood feud. The insistance on permanence and finality is the great absurdity of modern times.

On the other hand: A Banana is not absurd, except to a dandy lion.

Sado-masochism in the modern world

In a cruel world, masochism is diving into a self-inflicted wound head-first. Sadism is merely the sharing or distribution of the experience in poetry ... or living on to tell the story of it ... finding it was everyone's wound without proprietary inclination:

Christopher Wood: The Wound *


You've kept it bandaged properly all day and into the night. Not to protect it, or to be socially responsible, but to hide it. From them. The wound has knowledge others want. Now, beneath the late night lamp, the wind singing out the window, you unwrap it. The bandage unfolds slowly, like memory flayed. That done, you see it clearly. With two fingers you pry it open afresh. You ignore the new blood and peer inside. You can see the passage, even glimmers of light visible from the other side. Slowly, with utmost care, you begin crawling, pushing, never stopping to consider the impossibility of it, to climb inside oneself. If you stop to think about it, you know the magic will evaporate. You pass through the red forest, beneath the white mountain range, obsessed with the concept of beyond. By the time you stop to rest you are already in another country. In a town, in fact. You wander the streets which are filled people carrying balloons. Music in the air. A fair of sorts, though you have no idea what is being celebrated. In any case, you do not feel a need to be part of the festivities. At random, you select a building and go inside. Climb what seems like endless spiral staircases until you feel you have finally escaped the noises below. You open a door and find yourself standing in an office. Desks, files, many machines. You find what you are looking for, a desk where a man sits, playing with a scab on his arm. You watch as he pulls it off, then holds his own wound for you to see. You do see it, the unbearable sadness, in his eyes. You have seen it in your own eyes. You feel an unspoken kinship with him. So it does not surprise you when he pries his old wound open with a shiny brass letter opener. You step forward to see it more clearly. He is making the passage clear. All you need to do is to decide if you want to continue the journey alone, or if you want to take the man along with you. You search his eyes for trust. It's there or not, in one person or another, one town to the next. It can make all the difference in the world. Trusting, yes or no. You finally decide he cannot be trusted. It's nothing more that intuition, but it is strong. You back away as he begins to crawl inside his own wound. In seconds, he's gone. You sit down in the chair at his desk. You begin shuffling unfamiliar papers in an unknown language. You attempt to appear proper and professional. But you cannot ignore the letter opener left there with blood on the tip. You pick it up and run it along your arm. It grazes the skin so gracefully. Then, as though it had a mind all its own, the letter opener dives into the flesh. You pry open the new wound, see a dim light in the distance. Through another red forest, over the next white mountain range. Always a promise of a civilized world. Beyond. Always seeming closer than it is in reality. Than it can be. But a slim hope is better than none. You bend over. You go head first.

Rachel Levitsky: The Story of My Accident Is Ours

If I no longer exist, if in fact I may never have existed in the first place, then do I have a name? What is in a name? Certainly we can ask these questions about such a name as Jane.

It was in my thinking about our names that I began to tell this story. Perhaps that is the origin, or rather, the originary root, of my accident. But my accident, which may have begun when it occurred to me that I did not know my name nor the name of any of us, came after the events of this story, which began to be written at the time that I began to think this way about our names.

* * *

From Almost Any Angle

We'd woken to the world like characters you'd see in a science fiction movie, the ones without parents, cloned for the purpose of replacing the organs of the rich, or jailed indefinitely or repeatedly for our child-bearing abilities. We had the appearance of arriving whole, the sets of our features predetermined and complete.

We were defined by limitation. We'd been kept away from history by serial clearances: the slums, the streets, the poor, then the rich, then the home, then the street, then the neighborhood, then the mall, and then the mall. The mall.

We recognized each other by the vacant look in our eyes and the sophistication of our speech, when we had the energy to speak. We were not quite like the creatures in Zombie movies that were popular again in our time, we didn't join in the common cause of destroying another or making them more like us, for we didn't have killer instincts, nor did we think that what we were should necessarily be multiplied, though we were confused about the ways we did have, what they were and how they'd come to be. What we knew better than what we were was what we were strange to. We were strange to the ways of smiles possessed by the ones on television[1] and outside in front of the church. Or of the two passing each other while one is on the sidewalk and another is driving to deliver a package from a truck. We did not mean to be unfriendly nor dour though I can now see we most certainly appeared so/were so. We ourselves didn't know how else to be; we were mostly all one way.

* * *

We by Ourselves

We ourselves walk around puzzled by the feeling or the knowledge that we are left by ourselves although we have not made ourselves. That is, we have by default been given responsibility for ourselves in those places (at times entire areas) which those that made us control neither by nuanced suggestion nor explicit design. The vast absences that conjoin us to each other are ironically, and I'm of the strong opinion that this was not foreseen by those who'd made us and cleared these spaces, the basis of our moral and political formation. In retrospect it sounds abstract but there was so much we did not know. There is still so much.

For example, we were incapable of competition. Or of unkindness, or kindness for that matter. There was nothing abject about our material circumstance—we were provided the instruction and the means to go through the motions of living in the middle class. Yet there were gaps, moments we felt ourselves reaching for a thing that was neither there nor named.

It was in these gaps something told us something wrong was being done to us. Something, but not the thing, and so began us on the way, irretrievably, toward my accident.

* * *

The Accident

The first thing we tried was to examine our world from every angle. We were made uncomfortable by the notion of blind spots. The revolutions had suggested a science so advanced as to be unlimited by science and therefore capable of presenting something true, though momentary. We liked the momentary, it provided us the rare breaks we took from responsibility. We tried to see the world from every angle. We did not think that meant we were in charge.

To look at the world from almost any angle you would believe that it is true; we are universally submerged, into the deepest darkest depth of our spectacle of consumption and it is nearly impossible not to be that way since not to be that way would mean making enemies with those you would need to have as friends. That is why we go to the movies. We can say this in the movies, we can be anyone, be strong, because in addition to superhuman brains, we achieve superhuman bodies (hearts). We think humor must be grand, for we observe how an idea can be taken and stretched into a visual image that can mimic the funniest exaggerations, and make it last for twenty-two minutes with breaks. There.

Or here. Where it begins with Baudrillard or Benjamin. No, with Bataille. Most certainly it begins with Bataille. For it was he who saved the Project for a later date.

* * *

The Project is very courageous and some of us continue to attempt it and fail. To attempt it is obviously to fail. Even in death, we fail. However, and so, we have taken to doing something we call "our best." Our Best keeps us going with some degree of hope and calm. It does not make us smug, but our anxiety, were we not to do "our best," would be deadly.

We try our best to make sense of death when anxiety kills. At first. Then we try talking to it, then fighting with it. Finally we do it all—but with the knowledge that we are exactly where we started, and go back to doing it, the best we can. This is why we are called radical.

You cannot know right away if you are able to do it. We live in a way which both holds you accountable and forgives you for your inability. There is a resignation about us, we have watched the revolutions carefully and have not come up with anything fresh, anything that will not be anticipated nor is not destroyed before it has been thought of.

We take comfort in the most predictable, unfettered human habits.

We reject the institutional, it makes us, quite literally, itch.

* * *

We are limited emotionally. Our anxiety is fear, not inverse to the depressive fear of anxiety, not a fear of depression. Hell, we are just so sad and heartbroken we wear it like fashion, urban fashion, nothing that would come from a sunny climate, we depend on rain to bring it down a notch or two.

Our fear is a fear so great it freezes us away from the things we love most, from the things we love to do, including fucking but far from limited to fucking. Making. We are in our minds at least involved in the Project of Making.

It is a terrible fear. We stall it when we can.

* * *

The sun is out in the morning after a night of rain hitting the roof above. It doesn't matter, every scene of the accident must be recalled over and over ad infinitum because its revelations are slow and endless, each one leading to less thinking than the one before it. Not thinking does nothing, makes for no difference in the story which begins with thinking correctly and acting exactly the same as if your actions had been innocent.

We walk into the accident knowing it will happen. It is afterwards we feel a sense of uncertainty. Should we call the police?

* * *

To look at the uncertainty from another angle one could feel shame. But we are innocent. The only method we had for avoiding the accident was offered by those who had made us. Who had made such a long and hollow space of us.

* * *

I then, of course, saw my death before I died, though by then it is true, I could not stop it, I'd already walked into the accident, yes, knowingly, but by the time my death was about to happen, I and the others had fully and completely set our course; there was no outcome other than my death.

I appreciate the way, in the movies free with killing, death takes on a different logic. If everyone in her life is killed in front of her, we don't mind so much the noise she makes that will lead the killers to killing her as well. What would be worse would be to think about the reality of her life alone, with this blood before her eyes always.

Because what we'd empathized with was the possible future life of a little girl appearing for twenty seconds in a film.

We are born of an abstraction, we are not made uncomfortable by the idea of where we end and our abstraction begins. We are not yet made of our abstraction. Not, and not entirely.

Therefore, I can assure you that when I speak of my death I am speaking of an actual death, neither abstract nor metaphorical.

I have not gotten ahead of myself but I would like now to return to the Project. The Project of Making. We'd considered naming it the Project of Doing but for the connotative pitfalls of that half of the verb's meaning. Still confronting abstraction. We wanted an inherent assurance of our material intentions.[2] Looking back on this, I do not think we knew what we were in for. Though of course we were afraid. We are still afraid. Perhaps it's true there is a different quality of sagacity inhabiting our fear now. But language and knowledge are not mutually exclusive and I suspect that what we know now we knew then but could not utter, for then our makings would be utterances rather than material objects and like I said, we were clear in our intentions.

For we thought, if the future belongs to those who envision it why not accelerate the future by modeling it.[3] We were certainly ambivalent. I cannot stress it enough, afraid. We knew there was great danger but thought the alternative was surely worse. That is apparent to nearly all. I believe it is practically universally understood.

It's beautiful, clear and cold today. The view is nearly complete.

* * *

We did not define ourselves. Earlier we had gone through the many iterations of how to act under the watchful eye of the state. The development of surveillance is by now understood by just about anyone so I do not need to describe it. Strange how few would be able to describe it well with language though we all have a nearly physical understanding, simply that the networks are persuasive and eventually resistance is/was pointless. We needed a new approach.

* * *

I often wonder what was it that drove me, and by me, I want to explain, someone like me, toward that imminent disaster, for I am neither self-destructive nor suicidal. Most of us were neither of those things. Occasionally, one postured, urged on by the loneliness, but even they, fools as they are, soon could see the mistake in their ways, they didn't understand the loneliness and usually became deeply embarrassed by their behavior. Obvious, this last comment, and this next: that another common distraction was drink, perhaps even more common and oblivious than the false suicides. Tedious. The drinkers became tedious—in part because, by the century's definitions they would enter program.[4]

It wasn't an impulse toward suicide or self-destruction that led me to my accident (I should say “The Accident’ because officially, it was not mine alone). I have come to think of it rather as disorientation. Not of sexual disorientation, or sexual orientation, for that matter, because like the German "heimlich" and "unheimlich" they are more alike than opposite. For to be overly sexually orientated was understood as a repressed disorientation, or the opposite, I cannot remember. Either way, on this issue, which was a popular centerpiece of conversation in our time, I was well-balanced or disoriented, it is hard to say which. I'd had two loves in my life—many lovers but two loves and one had been a woman and one had been a man. Neither made sense in any way but that story is still to come.[5]

* * *

Opposition, or The Opposite of Opposition

In these times I speak of it had become common to switch bodies: from woman to man or man to woman. Though there were many paths, some started first with dressing up in drag, others went quickly toward surgical alterations. Whichever way a person approached it, it was, like anything, a purchase. People became inured of such changes as they had of changes to the eyes, mouths, chins, and hips. It was put on TV to erase inhibition, despite the growing dangers on the street. What I am describing refers directly to the beginning of the story when I said one could not oppose this thing. To oppose this thing would mean to be against our people who consumed it, which would appear as being unmoved by our suffering. Which we were not.[6]

In order to buy this thing we were required to sign our agreement to an ideology the best of us opposed vehemently and towards which the worst of us were ambivalent. For many years I have told people that words, spoken or written, do matter—each one has some sort of impact if not "meaning" so to speak. Obviously, Black and White mean many things. Therefore, we had to be particularly careful when using these words, even if we thought we could be comfortable in the context, or trust those amongst whom we found ourselves. Signing such documents to achieve the bodies we yearned for put the machinery of our own slow demise into our very own hands. We willingly operated that machinery, for a cheap wage, and later racked up debt at the company store. I'd learned not to get hysterical, for all I could hope to achieve by acting out the true dimensions of my sense of urgency was to be called hysterical.

Christianity posed another such problem, making us the author of a tragedy that would, to those who could not know, seem destined to occur. It was hard for me to tell if we knew what we were doing when we took for ourselves the phrasing of the missionaries. “God Bless Everyone’ became in the mouths of a group from which we'd split “Love Everyone.’ It overcomes me with a great sadness—naive[7] resignation to the enemy camp. Something like the governments and people in the countries of long ago "kneeling like sheep" when facing invasion in the desperate hope the invasion would benefit their interest. The implications of these radicals' turn to religious phrasing was most significant to us who loudly resisted. It became on the Left so totalizing that we decided to refuse such language, especially when speaking of Love, in which we'd had little experience yet fantasized about as the one uninhibited extreme we thought we could legitimately hope might enable us to exceed our emotional limitation. Holding onto this idea, that Love was nuanced and potentially meaningful, made us look angry and marginal, for if we were not so, the other side argued, what did we have against it, against loving everyone.

Christopher Alexander: Explanations to a Boat (After Salamun)

I

Naming is mere designation, as distinguished from fact.
Naming is the orientation of stars leaning eastward.
Naming is the way the sun glints off your deck and changes
in the point of the bow, giving way to waves in succession.
Naming is the scratch your statuette received upon your
christening. Naming is your claim to the ports where you have
stayed, crying for the ones you’ve lost as you draw close to open seas.
Naming is the tension put on you by every aggressive swell.
Naming is the constant shift in the eyes of the young,
who look upon your departure as something new.
Naming is the sheen, that distant shimmer barely visible
from the shore, the slightest glimpse of you.
Naming is so much pondering; this takeover of us by you.
Giving our-land-selves-up,
we find need in names to attain a home in you.
Naming segregates us from the men on your brother boats.

II

Should you be chosen, let it pull you a measured
Anchor’s length into the bays. Should you be chosen
run when the lights are high and tread ever so quietly
when the clouds have come between you and the sun
Should you be chosen let the lines be rigid
and debris free, release the dull gray barnacles
from you hull; let the skyscraper become fully filled
and falter only in the heaviest of squall winds.
Should you be chosen forget the marinas sins,
you cannot be afraid of breaks, or quarrel with
lighthouses. Should you be chosen you cannot
let the tides grip you like a mother’s guiding hand.
Should you be chosen listen to your captain’s heed.
Should you be chosen curve cautiously and let your wake sleep.
Should you be chosen, you will be the sea, the sky,
the pneumatic breaths in between.

 


Notes:

[1.] Carl Schmidt, as political philosopher, is the author of modern fascism (the "Globalised Eurocentric Order" initiated with the conquest of indigenous "New World" cultures) and the redefinition of the partisan as terrorist (the insurgent, guerrilla or revolutionary who "fights irregularly"), as an enemy who persists in his difference despite legislation against difference itself (being the chief attribute of "criminal": a measureable variance from "the norm"). Through Schmidt, the neo-liberal and neo-conservative movements are unified – "neofascism".

[*.] The last three sections are from Read Some Poems

Rachel Levitsky: 'The Story of My Accident Is Ours'

[1.] Though on television something is different. There, smiling is something for an audience; it is bigger, more radiant as though doing it infuses the smiler with all the light in the room from which her image is cast.

[2.] For a longer treatment of "intention" see chapter "All Intentions are Good."

[3.] There was an inherent danger in this idea for we were of a generation whose imagination had been systematically starved of the images and of sensory input that might fertilize a vision for modeling. One day one of us enthusiastically talked about "the good mess to be in" and a pall of dumbfounded confusion fell over the group. It seemed meaningless yet took up all the space in the tight urban room.

[4.] I don't mean to be hard on us and the means of getting by. Program of course was a useful tool, but like the others offered up to us, an empty one. We were incapable of lightness, the language and laughter that we would have taken to, which we would have needed to formulate an alternative response to our addiction, was another. There was a huge gap between ourselves and the world in which we found ourselves to which we felt a terrible responsibility, but could not easily enjoy.

[5.] I should say a version of the story, or rather, its curious result.

[6.] An impulse to change our untenable situation was critical to the fact of our activism. This surgical method was one of the few compelling escape routes that presented itself. Additionally it, like the other occasional and captivating options, offered us an opportunity to share an action with the world in which we found ourselves, thus seeming to be preventative of our ultimate collision, for like I said, we were neither self-destructive nor suicidal.

[7.] I may be wrong here—it could have been/it could be more sinister that that. The problem is once again that opting for the negative explanation—they are, unfortunately, polar—would make us once again look bad.

 

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