Fillip

Fillip — Folio B

Intangible Economies: Forum Discussion

November 19, 2011

Respondent: Clint Burnham

Identified Speakers: Lorna Brown, Juan Gaitán, Melanie Gilligan, Richard Ibghy, Olaf Nicolai, Monika Szewczyk, and Jan Verwoert

Clint Burnham – What I will do here is sort of an inverse Bataillian economy of surplus or waste, where I had done all this work beforehand from looking at two of the papers, and then there was one paper from today that I had not yet seen, so I took more notes on that, but I have two points for each paper and then we can maybe get a discussion going.

I will start chronologically, with Melanie Gilligan.

There are two things I was thinking about around affect in particular, and around affect and the economic, and shared affect, and so on. I tweeted about this yesterday, because I have been thinking about barebacking and the economic. Barebacking, of course, is having sex without proper protection, and it especially refers to men having sex with each other without proper protection; it is a subculture that—at least according to Tim Dean, the queer theorist—has been around for the past ten or fifteen years, and, in his book Unlimited Intimacy: Reflections on the Subculture of Barebacking (2009), Dean talks about barebacking as being much more common, say, in North America than in Berlin, apparently, where guys will use protection. Dean talks about this in terms of the death drive, and this kind of jouissance...or as my friend said, it is like “juggling with knives.”

Perhaps we can think about barebacking in terms of the subprime mortgage and volatility crisis since 2008. I bring this up in conjunction, in part, because I saw both the films Contagion (2011) and Margin Call (2011) in the same week. Margin Call is the film about the subprime mortgage crisis. To a degree, both films deal with the idea of how much you know about what you are transmitting, about how dangerous or toxic it is, and the way in which that knowledge is actually irrelevant in comparison to the affect that surrounds your actions. This would be an example of fetishistic disavowal—and I am going to talk about fetish in a little bit—that is to say, the people buying and selling subprime mortgages know very well that these things are toxic and yet they still buy and sell them, so knowledge is not educating, in the same way men barebacking know very well that it is a very dangerous thing to do, to have sex without protection because of the risk of HIV transmission, and yet they still do it. So education in terms of addressing our rational selves is not very effective.

But then I also wanted to address the relationship between affect or affect theory and psychoanalysis, because it is a very fraught relationship. In some aspects of affect theory, for example by Massumi and the Deleuzians, there is this notion of the poverty of psychoanalysis, and from a psychoanalytic perspective of things, critics, like for example Bruce Fink, argue that affect theory is a poor man’s psychoanalysis. This kind of debate is very productive and very useful, but when Melanie was talking about affect—and I cannot remember whether it was affect, feeling, or emotion...which is the membrane?

Melanie Gilligan – I called feeling a membrane.

Clint Burnham – Membrane—and we get back to barebacking—which is to say, affect would be the Real, feeling would be the Imaginary (that is, it is still personal), and emotion would be the Symbolic where things take on names and so on. Bruce Fink would argue that even affect is already Symbolic, it is already a language—you have to name things in some sort of way—that it is not before language. This is the critique of affect theory: affect theory proposes that affect is pre-individual or pre-language, whereas emotion, then, is social—it is shared in some kind of way, it is something in which we engage with the world.

Monika Szewczyk was talking about the Occupy movement earlier. When Antonia and I met earlier in the week, we were discussing the relation between this forum and Occupy. One interesting aspect of what Occupy is doing—which I think might be one of the most important legacies of the Occupy movement—is that it does not make demands. I presume everybody in this room has been in demonstrations where the problem is that you are asking the—whatever you want to call it—the “big Other,” or the government, or “The Man,” to do something, thereby giving them the ability to respond in a certain kind of way. In psychoanalytic terms, then, you are acting out as the hysteric. You are placing this demand onto the government or onto the private corporation or what have you. Whereas Occupy casts the media and the government in the role of the hysteric. It hysterizes the media and the government, causing them to ask: “What is your demand?” “What do you want?” The Occupy movement takes on the position of the analyst—to me, this is very interesting.

I also want to share three very quick little textual grabs, sound bites, about the fetish. From [Karl] Marx’s Capital (1867): “A commodity appears, at first sight, a very trivial thing, and easily understood. Its analysis shows that it is, in reality, a very queer thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties. So far as it is a value in use”—that is, use value—“there is nothing mysterious about it, whether we consider it from the point of view that by its properties it is capable of satisfying human needs, or that it first takes on these properties as the product of human labour. It is as clear as noon-day, that man, by his industry, changes the forms of the materials furnished by Nature, in such a way as to make them useful to him. The form of wood, for instance, is altered, by making a table out of it. Yet, for all that, the table remains to be that common, every-day thing, wood. But, so soon as it steps forth as a commodity, it changes into something transcendent. It not only stands with its feet on the ground, but, in relation to all other commodities, it stands on its head, and evolves out of its wooden brain grotesque ideas, far more wonderful than ‘table-turning’ ever was.” And of course you know, because you have read this, the footnote to this section of text [See footnote 26a in Karl Marx, “The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret Thereof,” part 1, chap. 1, section 4, of Capital, vol. 1, 1887, http://fillip.ca/yauo.] refers to the fascination with seances in 1850s Germany, so that is what is referred to by the “table-turning,” turning the table on its head.

And [Sigmund] Freud, from Fetishism (1927): “In later life, the fetishist feels that he enjoys yet another advantage from his substitute for a genital.”—I was really thinking about this in terms of art—“The meaning of the fetish is not known to other people, so the fetish is not withheld from him: it is easily accessible and he can readily obtain the sexual satisfaction attached to it. What other men have to woo and make exertions for can be had by the fetishist with no trouble at all.” So we will just say that in the art world, what was previously devalued takes on an interest for the artist or for the art world itself precisely because it was devalued, and is therefore more readily available.

And finally, this quote by [Slavoj] Žižek on fetishistic disavowal, from The Sublime Object of Ideology (1989), about “the way we behave towards the materiality of money: we know very well that money, like all other material objects, suffers the effects of use, that its material body changes through time, but in the social effectivity of the market we none the less treat coins as if they consist ‘of an immutable substance...’” The structure “of fetishistic disavowal is therefore the following: ‘I know very well, but still...’”

Moving on, finally, to the discussion between Olaf and Antonia; there were two things I pulled out of there: one was that Olaf kept talking in this very interesting way about the trope of the mirror, as both a conceptual hook in his work and also embodied, as it were, in the work itself. On the one hand, you [Olaf] made the reference to [Jean] Baudrillard and the notion of the simulation or the simulacrum—which, as I always tell students, is a copy with no original. That is to say, the idea of the commodity itself is a simulacrum; you go into Toys ‘R’ Us and there are all the dolls, or the video games, and you say, “I want the fourth one from the left, that is the original.”

I want to think about simulacra in Lacanian terms in relationship to the mirror. There is the mirror stage: you look in there and you see yourself, or what you think is yourself—it is an image; it appears more coherent, more capable than you yourself are. You identify with this image, but you are alienated from it at the same time, because it is not you, it is something that is over there. So this is Imaginary identification, whereas Symbolic identification is identifying with the point of view that looks at you from the outside.

At the very beginning of your conversation, Olaf, you talked about how, in 1996, you did not want to talk about the Eastern bloc. You wanted to resist that Symbolic identification, a Westerner’s fetishization of, “Oh, what was it like in 1989? Tell me about Eastern Europe, tell me about...”—whether the person was from the left (“tell me about how wonderful socialism was”) or from the right (“tell me about the horrors of totalitarianism”). I saw this as, in a way, a reaction against a kind of Symbolic identification.

Then what was very useful for me was your discussion around [Georg] Lukács. On the one hand Lukács argued against identifying fascism as rationalism in the 1930s. There was the Brecht-Lukács debate around that topic—“better the bad new days, than the good old days,” as [Bertolt] Brecht put it. That debate was picked up again by Habermas—I do not want to do the obvious Marx quote of “first time tragedy, second time farce”—but [Jürgen] Habermas repeated that argument in the ’80s with his resistance to French theory, seeing it as irrational; and I think he perhaps also identified Nietzscheism as a problem with French theory—its lack of humanism.

Of course, I haven’t read [Walter] Benjamin in German, but to say that Benjamin knew nothing about art, this is something I just cannot accept. I certainly think he knew something about photography when he discusses mechanical reproducibility and aura. In talking about reproduction, to my mind, he addresses exactly your point about the attempt on the part of the GDR to break social class reproduction, by determining that if you were the son or the daughter of a doctor than you should become a bricklayer, but if you are the son or the daughter of a bricklayer, then you would go on to have a university education and so on. Which is almost like the cultural revolution in China, that notion that the intellectual or city people should leave the city, go to the country and work. And of course we still have, I think, that class competition. It is the dirty secret of the art world, right? The very lack of a representative class composition in terms of who ends up at these microphones—that is problematic. I think that it may have been this ham-fisted, bureaucratic, non-communist attempt to deal with what in the West is still a very real kind of problem. So that is where I am starting and we can see where it leads us...

Audience Member 1 – Thank you, Clint. I am just going to ask you first to explain what you just said at the end. I do get your point that the “dirty little secret” of the art world is that everybody is of a certain class, but then...I think you were trying to say more than just that.

Clint Burnham – I think in some ways the “dirty little secret” plays out as a fantasy of an identification with Occupy, with the people, or the masses or whatever—in a sort of fetishistic disavowal. With academics for example, it is a similar kind of situation where in the past couple of weeks we have been saying “We are the 99%,” and yet as an academic—I mean, I have a job and if I get tenure in a few years, I am making a, say, six figure salary—I may be part of the 99% strictly speaking, but I am also part of the, say, top 5% within North America. The reason why there is a fantasy of identification, I think, on the part of intellectuals, artists, or academics—and I realize that there is a different economic status in which a lot of artists and probably everyone in this room finds themselves in comparison—but that identification (and this is Bourdieu 101) comes from the fact that intellectuals, artists, academics, what have you, are the oppressed class of the oppressing class. They are the bottom of the top, and so therefore they identify with the bottom of the entire spectrum, because they have the feeling that “Oh, well, I’m not as rich as George Soros, therefore I have more in common with somebody on the Downtown Eastside [of Vancouver].” That may be true objectively, and yet that ignores the role of cultural capital, of being in places like this on a Saturday, and having the time and education to think about things, and so on.

Audience Member 2 – I was really interested in your discussion of barebacking, mostly because I have been doing some reading around this as well. Tim Dean talks about it in the sense of sharing this virus, as embodying a community that has this kind of new concept of intersubjectivity. In Melanie Gilligan’s discussion, she mentioned the horizontal decision-making process happening at Occupy as a new type of intersubjectivity.

Clint Burnham – The horizontality of decision-making at sites like Occupy is super interesting. I think there are two things that are interesting to me about what has happened in terms of what Occupy is doing itself, as opposed to attempts to oppress it or evacuate it. On the one hand, like I said, it creates a public space by taking over a public space. On the other, it creates new possibilities. People complain about the process of decision-making—like on the first day of Occupy in Vancouver, there were three hours of deciding what hand signals to use. Even though I am a Leninist, I still think that those things are very important. I think you can short circuit those things, but the fact that the Occupiers are engaging in that kind of discussion, for me, is tremendously productive and useful.

Melanie Gilligan – This point about a virus—i.e., an agent that is supposed to be damaging—also being something that could cohere a community, or that at least speaks to something that has cohered a community, I think that is interesting. It really picks up on Clint’s point about how there are affects around fears that can be in excess of the thing you are afraid of. You were making this kind of parallel between, on the one hand, crises, bad debts, and, on the other hand, HIV. These are interesting parallels—they both can somehow cohere a community and, at the same time, there are affective fears for both; this multivalence is really interesting.

Juan A. Gaitán – This is more about Clint’s earlier discussion.... First of all, I do not think it is a secret by any means that the intellectual world is a class that exists and continues to exist as an offshoot of the bourgeois principle. Once you acknowledge that, as you are asking us to do, what is the point?

Clint Burnham – To try to change it.

Juan A. Gaitán – But the way you present it, you are basically saying that intellectuals and artists are incapable of forming solidarity with the people in the Occupy movement. I do not know what your point is—the class issue is like all these pragmatic issues: the moment we start presenting them in this way, we are actually fragmenting society, approaching it from the point of view in which people are unable to communicate with each other. Of course we are on some level incapable of understanding each others’ conditions, but an intellectual says, “I am part of the 99%.” They know they are not, but they are existing in solidarity with—what do they call it—“the great minority.” It is a way of approaching a problem while realizing that you are not necessarily the subject of its condition.

Clint Burnham – Yes, okay two things, Juan. I think that maybe it is an issue of disavowal. A concrete example of this would be this article I read in the Chronicle of Higher Education, which is the trade journal for postsecondary education in America. There they talk about the schools, about Cornel West and Žižek having gone to, or lectured at, Harvard or Boston, but there is no discussion of, for example, the role that tuition plays in the US in maintaining class division; no mention of the fact that those intellectuals themselves are very well compensated for their intellectual transgressions. I like their intellectual transgressions and I hope to do some of my own, and maybe even make some of that money that they make, although it is not very likely, but the point is that the discussion does not always acknowledge these factors. And it is not a guilt trip I am talking about—there are structural inequities that are part of how that system itself works. And so what do we do about it? We try and create a society in which class does not play that kind of determinate role. Unlike other identity politics, the point is to get rid of class, not to celebrate class, not to have class culture day and class pride day. There should be no class pride day. Getting rid of class should be part of a left agenda, a critical intellectual artistic agenda.

Juan A. Gaitán – Of course we should get rid of class, but you are not the only one who wants this. There are right-wing politicians that want to get rid of class—basically eliminating those who are not part of their own class.

Monika Szewczyk – I am just going to piggyback on what [Juan] is saying. Not bareback [laughter].... I was really struck by what Olaf said about considering himself an entrepreneur—or the general notion of the artist as entrepreneur. It seems that a lot of people who are part of the Occupy Wall Street movement are in that kind of strange category also. They are quite entrepreneurial in a way that is not necessarily separate from the intellectual and the proletarian, but then these terms name quite antiquated notions of how class is divided. I think the situation is more messy, because of course we look around us and there are a lot of affluent people in the art world, but there are also a lot of very poor people with aristocratic pretentions. There are really weirdly configured class categories. So maybe it is more interesting to consider that mess: the beginnings of the breakdown and the possibility of a solidarity in some ways. I guess I am agreeing with Juan and I want to hear a bit more of this notion of entrepreneurship.

Jan Verwoert – I find this discussion around class very interesting because it is a way of situating oneself within an economic scenario that is also a historical scenario. For example, how has profit been distributed in society? And people? I think in German history, the one force that almost pushed the class system to collapse was the Nazis. The Damned [Luchino Visconti, 1969] is a great film that analyzes this. By pushing the military-industrial complex to the point of absolute overproduction followed by the entire destruction of the country, Hitler also kind of destroyed [German] “old money.” As a result, the upper class, after two lost world wars, was left relatively disempowered. That did not happen in Britain, for instance.... The reason why someone like [Claus von] Stauffenberg tried to stop Hitler was because Stauffenberg was part of a conservative resistance and he saw that Hitler would eventually destroy the class system. The class system in Britain was always a force of containment against modernism, but also against fascism. That is the irony. So on the one hand I would also, of course, be against class repression, but the idea to abolish the class system—when I look at the past of my country—I have bit of an ambivalent feeling towards that.

Thinking about the intellectual (not the academic), I had this experience last year when I was being audited. I had to explain to the tax people why I was working and travelling like a business man, but had a salary approximating something like [makes gesture to indicate something very small]. “How can that be?” And it’s not that the question is, “Why would you want to work like that?” I had to prove that the money I was not making actually did not exist. So my poverty was making me suspicious. If I had an academic job, tenure track and everything, these questions would not be raised. This is not a way of saying [my position] is subversive or in any way heroic—but you are suddenly faced with the consequences that someone is really fucking you up the ass, because you refuse to operate according to certain principles.

Berlin, in particular, has a kind of nasty feeling to it. The city is shit poor and tries to pretend that art—because it creates so much activity—will also create income. It is the lie that everybody thrives on and they are refusing to see that art is this constant activity that creates absolutely no income; it costs money, this activity. So suddenly someone has to pay for politicians desperately searching for the fiction of a new economy. It is particularly bitter when you think, “I’m lower middle class and my ability to talk is really my only ticket.” I have nothing to fall back on apart from my skills. There are two historical figures that were also in the same position—unmoored from any class position through their sheer skill to speak, to observe, and to travel—and that is the liar and the fool. In the beginning of Spanish literature, there is a picture of Lázarillo who is a poor man’s son, who gets kicked out, travels throughout society, always accompanying other liars, and who is, therefore, able to describe society. The other is Candide, who also gets kicked out of paradise because he has a love affair. He is an idiot; he gets tossed around the world and sees everything. I feel that these are the people I am strangely condemned to be solidaric with: liars and fools.

Clint Burnham – This is an issue in the current municipal election—that artists are the biggest subsidizers of art, in the Canadian context at least. There is a debate about whether there should be state subsidiary, and yet most of the subsidies come from artists themselves working after-hours, or having another job, or having a spouse, or having a low income level, and so on. But I think in the art world, as in the academic world, there are some people who make a certain level of income, and then there are a lot of people who do not, and then end up leaving the field. So, in some ways, both systems depend on people who do not make money to maintain that system itself, exactly in the way that you are talking about. But then, cleaning ladies are not flying from one continent to another to be at conferences—or maybe some of them are?

Jan Verwoert – Yes, of course, there is a difference. But this difference is no longer one of income necessarily, but rather of a kind of circulation paradigm. Sometimes I feel like, “What is this pretense of cultural capital?”

Melanie Gilligan – What you are describing is a generalized condition in which a lot of people who earn a middle range of income are increasingly finding out that they are proletarianized. A lot of protests are happening because of this.

Clint Burnham – Student debt.

Melanie Gilligan – Yes, exactly—student debt. In North America, or at least in the US, a lot of the discussion around the Occupy movement or around the problems of the US economy right now are referring to middle class problems not being addressed, and yet, in a way the problems I am hearing about have a lot to do with what I would associate with the working class.

Audience Member 3 – This discussion is making me feel an intense sort of frustration. I was thinking about my own experience in what has been this sort of ideological fight. I grew up in this place where intellectualism was looked down upon, and so it was a constant fight growing up to push past that in a way. Within the art world, I experience what I would call “ethical boundaries”— trying to continue to make work in an honest sort of way without compromising myself or feeling like I need to inhabit some sort of a higher class position.

Clint Burnham – Again, this reminds me of [Theodor W.] Adorno, who said something like “criticizing privilege becomes a privilege—the world’s course is as dialectical as that.” And yet we are all glad that these [forums] can happen. We know it takes a great deal of work in order to make them happen, and it is this volunteerism that we all provide that makes them possible.

Jan Verwoert – It is also important to hear from those who argue that there are different sources for determining value. Something like: “Okay. I am here because I want to do this. Period.” No? Because all other values are then created through contextual analysis—a commitment to something. That, then, creates value.

Audience Member 1 – I guess you could call Walter Benjamin a fool, because I think he was a fool in a lot of ways—like the way he tried to live and continue living in Paris when everybody else had gone, including Adorno. He kept doing things that were foolish, like going back in time, and following the scent of [Charles] Baudelaire everywhere as if he was going to tell him something about the late ’30s.

Richard Ibghy – I would like to bring the discussion back to something that Olaf said. You mentioned that, at one point [within the GDR], when people stopped using things either in quantity or things that were desired, money became useless and yet, people continue to have desires even though all their needs were met. What is interesting is that it is not money that is permitting them to get these things, it is other forms of behaviour. I would argue that the economy is fundamentally social—it is part of the social sphere, it is about behaviour and getting things that you want, but also about the spread of desires. So I am wondering, was there ever any thinking about these ways that people get what they want without money as actually being fundamentally part of economy and an integral part of economic forms of behaviour?

Olaf Nicolai – If you look at how Marx describes the transition from a feudalist to a capitalist economy, he emphasizes the transformation of social dependencies in this shift from a feudal economy based on social behaviours and relations to an economy based on the production and exchange of commodities, as in capitalism. The more personal relationships in feudalism are replaced by abstract relationships. When you create an economy based on social exchange—it often is a poor economy, with no development. You have an economy that has no dynamics anymore—it is a mafia economy, a godfather economy: “I take care of you—behave! Do not worry, we manage things.” It is the opposite of an economy based on money—which produces alienation. The ambivalent character of money appears as the contradictory connection between alienation and freedom, so freedom is a very difficult thing: freedom for what or from what, that is the question. What I want to suggest is a kind of dialectic, not simple oppositions, meaning that the opposite poles are mutually dependent with regard to their existence. If the proletariat disappears, the bourgeoisie is also gone. And that is what we have today. We have this kind of elaborate system where it’s difficult to really say, “This is the proletarian in me, and this is the bourgeois in me.” A lot of people who are now a part of the Occupy movement are not criticizing the system, or making demands, because they do not know what to demand. It is not about being smart; it is just that they do not know what to ask for. It is just a helpless moment and that is frightening, because, in these moments—like, as Jan pointed out, in the case of Germany in the twentieth century—the easiest answer to that helplessness is offered by right-wing politics. Often its answer lies in a critique of modernity: go back to the simple life, take care of your community. This is a populist answer that often carries quite a bit of weight within politics, and I am afraid of all these kinds of constellations. If you read what some of this movement—the so-called multitudes—put out, sometimes you cannot believe it—not just because it is foolish, but because it’s reactionary.

Regarding what I said about Benjamin: I want to be very clear, I am not calling him a fool. I disagree with Benjamin correlating political progress with the development of artistic means of production. That was a direct link for him, and, as an artist, I do not agree. It limits art to a social welfare activity, and art is not that; I mean it can be that, but it is much more. I experienced exactly this, living in a system in East Germany where art transgressed all the time—and it was a totally bourgeois art. It had to do with concepts of beauty, for example. There was a very nice short story by Chyngyz Aitmatov about a couple living under the conditions of capitalism whose love is not working out. What we learned in school is “OK, under socialism, this would not happen.” [laughter] And I went: “Stop! No love troubles under socialism?” The real trouble starts when the social problems are solved.

Monika Szewczyk – I want to raise a bit of an issue with regard to this connection between today’s moment and the ’30s. I tend to make that connection, too—I am also afraid of the populists and, in a way, it does feel like late Weimar in Europe right now. It is freaky. But I also think that we [make this comparison] too much. It is actually very complicated. You [Olaf] were speaking about Lukács and the critique of irrationality in the Nazi cause, though there was an incredible emphasis on order and rationality in Nazi pageantry and propaganda, so we must assume that it could be both that can lead us down the path to the gas chambers. I think this kind of logic is really not productive.

Olaf Nicolai – I never mentioned gas chambers; I just was talking about totalitarianism.

Monika Szewczyk – Okay, take out the gas chambers, then. Just totalitarianism.

Jan Verwoert – Socialism—there are different kinds of socialism. If we discuss the history of socialism and radical social change—there is Marxist Socialism and National Socialism—and in all of the fantasies of revolution and the moments when revolutions are really enacted, there are historical examples of revolutions put into place by socialist movements, one being...

Monika Szewczyk:...of course. But I am seeing the discussion here, and there is a tendency to say, “What you are saying led us down that path.” I am trying to acknowledge that logic, and say, “We have to open it up a bit.” Maybe this is too constricting, because [the Nazi] example is so powerful that it makes everybody look extremely sad and freaked out...

Jan Verwoert – The point I am also trying to make, Monika, is that we are not so far apart from each other. I was just using irony as a way of saying I do not think flirting with radicalism is the answer. I am arguing for a more moderate path. I am against this flirtation with radicalism or flirtation with the idea of revolution, because I think that if you look at history, we might have to look at more complicated models of how to negotiate or renegotiate structures.

Lorna Brown – But is not the message of Occupy, affect? There is no rational, logical sound bite. The reason that it is capturing people’s attention is that it encapsulates anger, this dissatisfaction. Its message is not articulated in ways that whoever—the “big Other”—actually recognizes. And so it comes back again to this conversation around affect, emotion, and the membrane. Right?

Clint Burnham – And also, I think, blankness—the lack of affect in some ways, too. That is, not the people standing there holding signs being angry all day long; they are just setting up a tent and trying to figure out how to feed people—very boring kind of stuff, which, I guess, is another kind of affect. But I think that there is that side of things, around the notion of affect, and then the other side of things, around issues of spatiality and blankness.

Richard Ibghy – With respect to the silence of the Occupy movement, there is another way of reading it—through the logic of the “loaded question,” where, no matter what answer you give, you are accepting the terms of the question. Sometimes the demands are so fundamentally radical, you want change on such a deep and epistemological level, that to even articulate something that could be changed is to accept the foundation that you want to disrupt to begin with. There is a way of thinking about protest in this way: we do not really know what this new space looks like because we have not even begun to change the kinds of desires that permit the manifestation and the propagation of the system that we live in now.

Melanie Gilligan – Thank you, Richard. I agree with you that we cannot really know what the appropriate way is to realize the kind of profound change that people feel needs to happen, how that should come about. I also wanted to respond to Jan’s last point. As I interpreted it, you were arguing that having the picture of revolution in mind is not necessarily productive, because of the sort of violence and rupture it can produce. I think that is an interesting point. What came to mind though, was the political system that we have today, despite what we were discussing regarding feudalism and how there were interesting things about pre-capitalism—it was overthrown and became, I think, a much better situation after the French Revolution. And that was a revolution that was creating incredible ruptures, incredible violence in everyday life, in a lot of ways, but also liberation of a lot of things in people’s daily lives as well. A whole new evolution of society could happen from that point onward. In a way it is kind of what Olaf was saying before about capitalism: that it evokes this strong image in one’s mind, and so in serving up a particular picture, more nuance may not be possible; in some way revolution might be a similar term. I feel like I can use both the words “capitalism” and “revolution” and that I could have a nuanced discussion, but I also understand that it may seem like an un-nuanced term in other contexts or for other people.

Juan A. Gaitán – I think I agree with you in a way. There was a discussion we had earlier this year with a group of friends who are from Egypt about the use of the word “revolution” and its relationship to what was happening in Tahrir Square. Some of us thought that word should be avoided, because it is immediately linked to a historical continuity to which it does not necessarily belong. As Lorna was suggesting, the Occupy movement’s lack of demands does not mean that it also lacks a point. Their point has been made, in a certain way—they are just making it in person, by choosing Wall Street as the site of their protest. Perhaps, if there were demands, it is very possible that the group of people would have disbanded. Their presence and their solidarity depends on a kind of temporary suspension of other aspects [of their identity, or politics] that would make them an irreconcilable group if fully expressed. This is how this movement of solidarity functions right now and this is why they need to remain, in some way, beyond the grasp of the segmented categories of normal society.

Melanie Gilligan – The absence of a demand also preserves the potential of their individuality to a certain extent. They do not have to assimilate to one particular identity for the group, or something. I also think—even though I am not sure if my presentation fully communicated this—the problem is, in a lot of senses, to be able to think of what is good for the collective at the same time as preserving one’s individuality and subjecthood.

Jan Verwoert – Just one quick comment to this. It is true that it is not helpful to drag things back to a particular past. Yet when we talk about feeling, there are particular feelings in a family that kind of give a certain colouring to the way you hear specific words. I am only bringing this up now because I am curious about the emotional resonances of other people. My two great grandfathers were both working class, my two grandfathers wanted class mobility, and that is why they joined the Party...

Clint Burnham...the Nazi Party or the Communist Party? ...They joined the Nazi Party?

Jan Verwoert...The Nazi Party. They had better-looking uniforms and they had better technology. It was nothing to do with their rationalism, just the promise of entrepreneurial life and new technologies. The promise of revolution for my one grandfather was very concrete, very material. It had to do with motorcycles—fast revolving, no? And the whole Nazi promise.... And then he got a motorcycle and rode for them, and he crashed it and died. And so I think he probably made the wrong choice there, no? And so I am not going to make that same choice: fast-revolving vehicles? I am not going to get on a bike like that. That is what I hear when I hear the word “revolution.” I am interested in these concrete emotional resonances, because I think on that level we understand what a word means.

Olaf Nicolai – I remember this nice story by Benjamin, who said that revolution is not characterized by speed, but rather it is embodied by the emergency break on a train—it is exactly the opposite, it is the stopping of movement.

Jan Verwoert – Getting back to what Melanie and Juan were saying: on the one hand, it is incredibly important to identify that a suspension of identity categories or representational claims allows for solidarity—it is amazing. [Giorgio] Agamben, in the Coming Community, writes that Tiananmen was a moment when people just wanted democracy as a manifestation of a historic singularity. And that is very, very true. But at the same time, Agamben also realized even within a generation skeptical of authority models and representing claims—that there seems to be also a problem that there is no potential spokesperson. We see that in Egypt now and also with Occupy.... It can’t be [Julian] Assange, or Slavoj Žižek doing his Daffy Duck routine.... So, to a certain degree, even given our own skepticism, there is a general crisis of authority or authorship. What would it even mean? Who would be the voice? Who could authorize a voice that would then formulate a demand?

Monika Szewczyk – This crisis of authority is perhaps tied to the kind of drab procedural element of Occupy Wall Street. It seems to me that there is a real discipline there—trying to get around the problem [of authority], to formulate a way of pressing on without a strong figurehead. What that movement has understood is that it is a matter of practice, it is not about “How are we going to nominate the new authority?” The thing is its own authority and it somehow works through practice.

Jan Verwoert...or authorship ...

Monika Szewczyk – Authority and authorship—I think both can be a real problem. This is exactly what happened in the Eastern bloc after the solidarity movement in Poland. If you claim authority too quickly, then you are finished—the thing is to delay that claim as long as possible, I think, and in the meantime, commit to a kind of practice that somehow resolves this condition not as a crisis but through an actual understanding of the condition itself. It is perhaps a bit of a lame thing to invoke, but we are living in a networked world that provides a kind of opportunity for practicing this lack of centralized authority.

Audience Member 4 – I am wondering: the Occupy movement seems to be so specifically, and by design, leaderless—but I am not quite sure that there is a real question of authority. I think there is quite a bit of design around how authority is being played out. For example, you have the hashtag of Occupy, “#OWS,” and that becomes the stand-in for the figurehead, or the [Guy Fawkes] mask that was so humorously taken up in the Spanish revolution last May. There is this hilarious picture of one of the police commissioners there looking very blank, very puzzled, and holding up this mask and saying, “We have captured him!”

Regarding this notion of the blank—it is interesting that you have a very strong Occupywallst.org, which is a central location for a kind of reflective practice, carefully documenting all of the activities [of OWS], putting up links to images, trying to create a kind of reflection of what is happening, to create a kind of narrative, to self-narrate the movement. As someone who is following this through Facebook, what I find interesting is that I have to force myself to go to the New York Times and other news sources to see what everyone else seeing. It seems to me that the Occupy movement—or the image of the Occupy movement in the collective imagination—is being produced by two opposing media engines. And it seems to me that within those two kinds of apparatuses and mechanisms you have the opportunity for a kind of blank: this space between these two perspectives creates an opportunity for a change in how people think. There was a Washington Post article a day or two ago that showed polls of what people think about the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street movement, and what is interesting is that the vast majority of people, at least in the US, do not agree with either. It [OWS] is very unpopular, but, at the same time, there is an enormous percentage of people in the US who think that it would be very good for the rich to be taxed in order to help [the broader population]. So, what I am wondering is whether within this blank space between these two perspectives—this kind of ambiguity between what the mainstream media is saying and what the Occupy movement is saying about itself—if there is potential to influence the opinions of the voting public.

Lorna Brown – I am really appreciating what you have to say about this. I think this blankness has to do with the vocabulary and rhetoric that is developing out of the Occupy movement—like “mic checks,” and various other types of tactics. With mic checks, its clear that what’s about to unfold is a discourse around resistance. And yet any voice can say “mic check,” and in any kind of context—so suddenly everybody is a performance artist.

Going back to Juan’s comments about identification—in the injunction that came down yesterday [in Vancouver], the city and the courts are trying to say “yes, but.” They are allowing people to go back to the space [they are occupying in Vancouver] during the day and so what they are really banishing are the tents. So is the issue staying overnight, or is it about the visible occupation of space? In every jurisdiction of every Occupy, the regulatory conditions of each particular space are being articulated in much more detail [than before], and people are starting to understand the conditions of public space much better. Thinking about this broader question of a possible identification between those involved and those not in­volved in the Occupy movement, it might come back to this question of the right to public space. People in privileged positions have never questioned their right to be in public space—and this new articulation of regulations around public space may force them to engage in this kind of questioning.

Melanie Gilligan – I wanted to put together two different points that came up in the audience around Occupy: on the one hand, the question was raised about a crisis of authority...

Juan A. Gaitán...Jan was talking about authorship...

Melanie Gilligan...Yes, a crisis of authorship that got converted into a crisis of authority—it still works for my point. And on the other hand, somebody suggested earlier that within the movement, the figurehead has been replaced by the meme, or a hashtag. It was interesting, there were these really heavy-duty protests just the other day in New York, and on TV they were discussing the new meme that came out of it—something like, “You cannot evict an idea.” It occurs to me that, in some ways, the ways in which celebrity and authority are constituted might be changing. This slightly different configuration has to do with a changing scale of time in general of our lives. We have an ever-expanding population, there is also less and less a sense of a centre. On a micro-scale, you look at the art world and the way it has transformed: there used to be a much more stable star system not that long ago. And I remember that, at some point in the early 2000s, it felt like things were becoming much more multiple. This bandwidth [of stardom] was becoming shorter and shorter. I honestly think that there is a transformation that has been happening for quite a while related to the role of authors and figureheads.

Jan Verwoert – Can I just clarify the difference between authorship and authority, because it might be interesting. Benjamin writes about the author as producer, because authorship—if you dissociate it slightly from authority, or claims to representation—can also be a skill set, one that you can put at the disposal of a collective. I just had a super positive experience with a political group in Berlin where it was actually possible to formulate collective demands. You just have to spend some time, be patient, get everybody to write something, and then someone who has trained themselves to write, like myself, can sit down and write a coherent text out of it—which does not represent my authority, I am just using my authorship as a skill that is then put at the group’s disposal. With the process that you are describing, things become more multiple on the one hand, but, also, certain skills are lost that could be put at the disposal of such a situation. That is the moment when it is not necessarily about personality, it is not necessarily about leadership, but it is almost about techniques—techniques for constructing a voice that, if it is authorized, does not even have to be the voice of one person, but rather, perhaps, that of a collective subjectivity created through a particular kind of skill set of authorship.

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