Living in Mexico City in 2016, I attended several delicious communal meals at an autonomous art space. When I asked where the food had been grown, I was astonished to here they had been grown here in the city. “One day, I’ll take you there, to the chinampa,” my friend told me. Yesterday, I finally made it. I woke at dawn (or a little after) to travel to Xochimilco in the south to work in the chinampas. Just an hour by public transit from my home near the center of the city and the landscape was entirely transformed. The air is cooler, fresher and we were surrounded by trees, the klaxons replaced by birds and the distant hum of moto-tillers.Read More
The improvisational or experimental must remain firmly anchored to the present, neither stuck in a routine nor going out alone. The need to collaborate means that one is always seeking people who are getting together to make something and the need to experiment results in a constant disatisfaction with the given. The trick of remaining firmly in the present while opening new futures through the experimental and contingent work of improvisation requires attention, dedication, focus but also is a certain wild disposition, a willingness to try new things and play around.Read More
In the Eighteenth Brumiare, Marx famously wrote of the small-holding peasants that “They cannot represent themselves, they must be represented.” In taking us to Pacchanta, a place that emerges out of the in-ayllu relationality along with the runakuna and the tirakuna (earth-beings) whose relations compose that relationality, Marisol de la Cadena turns her ethnographic attention to the lives and worlding practices of those who cannot, will not, represent themselves (but not only?). In doing so, she weaves together a rich and complex set of stories that touch on various themes, some of which we’ve tackled in this class: the political agency of those who have been excluded from official historiography, the complex set of relations between projects of state-making, state-reform, modernization and indigenous people, and the limits of neoliberal multicultural recognition.Read More
I’ve recently been experimenting with freewriting as a way of entraining attention, of developing a certain practice that brings together making things, studying things and being in the middle of things. Much of it isn’t that great, but I am going to start putting some of it up on.
It feels mean and obscene, packed into the cattle car of a transatlantic crossing. Our seats assigned at random, pure chance and givenness. Some people recieve a gift of chance and then give it, the circulation is the principle – the means to take the stochastic distributions of life and turn it into sociality, to take chance and make relation. Others hold on to what is given as if it is deserved, to avoid the eye contact, to take.
Writing, Katie (or Lauren) says is something that can be done in snatches. It’s something to cultivate, a way of ekeing out a sort of wordly attunement, of trying to capture the gist, quickly, to better train attention.Read More
I’m ashamed to say that when I arrived new to Austin, I found myself seeking refuge for a few days in the Chipotle on Guadalupe. There was *something* comforting in its familiarity. There, for the time it took me to wait in line, request my sofritas burrito, surreptitiously fill my water bottle from the soda fountain and sit and eat, I didn’t have to deal with what I didn’t yet understand. Moving to a new place is challenging because we find ourselves confronted with a world that we are not yet part of: instead of pattern and routine, we are in a space that confronts us at every turn with puzzles.Read More
“If you think your free, there’s no escape possible.” The quote by Ram Dass, is scribbled on table at the cafe where I am sitting. At one level, I want to agree and affirm everything suggested: Freedom is an illusion and the search for escapes one of the greatest callings. Who wouldn’t want to have their blinders ripped off and see the world as it really is, and from here start looking for escapes, find others, and build some sort of real freedom. Yet, this quote is also extremely paranoid: you are brainwashed and live in a world of illusions that THEY have built. It suggests at once an objective reading of the world (your unfreedom) and a sort of orientation to that world that is desirable (thinking you are unfree).Read More
In pursuit of the elusive mastery of a foreign language, I've been writing small texts mosts days. It just occurred to me that I could share them here. The following is about the work of Cecilia Vicuña and this piece in particular: https://vimeo.com/153046632
Tenemos el mal hábito de pensar la historia desde arriba y tratarla como un obra de teatro, llena de personajes importantes y acontecimientos singulares. Lo que perdemos con esta concepción de la historia son los afectos y perspectivas de la mayoría de las personas -- las formas distribuidas de interpretar, percibir y sentir los cambios en el mundo que forman la textura, el material y trasfondo de la memoria histórica. Son estos actividades cotidianas las que dan significado a la Historia en mayúsculas. Sin estas formas de atención, de sensación y de interpretación, los eventos singulares que componen la Historia -- acontecimientos como el golpe de estado en Chile -- en lugar de ocupar un lugar privilegiado en la memoria colectiva no le importarían a nadie.
Los libros de la artista chilena Cecilia Vicuña son un archivo de esta experiencia personal de la historia. Hecho de objetos cotidianos -- una caja de cigarros, un periódico, el papel pintado de su casa --, la materialidad de los libros contiene su experiencia de vivir en Londres después del golpe de estado. Sus libros muestran que la experiencia de eventos singular y significante no sólo ocurre en la gran línea temporal de la Historia o en la mente, sino en la vida diaria, donde los afectos y sentimientos son provocados e inscritos en los objetos del día a día. Encuadernados en libros, estos objetos se transforman en un archivo cotidiano de la rabia, tristeza y soledad que provocó este golpe de estado y, en esta manera, muestran la construcción a través de la experiencia personal de memoria colectiva. En su particularidad y cotidianidad, la singularidad de la experiencia de Cecilia Vicuña, es tambien, de manera paradójica, una manifestación física de una experiencia histórica compartida y generalizada.
For a while, I have been thinking about the epochal shift that radical political struggle is currently undergoing. The concept of revolution that was dominant in the 20th century was one in which a political movement seized control of the state apparatus of a nation and sought to remake society. The concern was fundamentally one about representation –– who could speak for the general interest, who understood it, who could enact a national program to do so.
The conception of power was thus abstracted from the conditions of reproducing life -- the land and labor from which the activity of living springs. Exceptions certainly existed along side this dominant strain: syndicalists in Spain sought to immediately transform the organization of work, numerous popular councils and assemblies sought to reimagine the terms of political participation and a vibrant sense of anti-imperialist struggle united guerrilla movements in a struggle that transcended the boundaries of nation-states.
Despite this, the end of struggle tended to be oriented around the revolutionary event -- equated with the seizure and establishment of a new nation state. It was the storming of the palace, the symbols of power, that were the object of revolutionary struggle.
It is my hypothesis that this was a distinctly "modern" form of revolutionary activity and is being supplanted in the 21st century by a return to what has variously been called the "subsistence perspective" or the cries of "Land and Freedom". With the betrayal of political parties, the rise of para- and non-state actors and the increasing importance of transnational logistical networks (extraction & transportation of resources & labor) in governing particular areas, the nation has lost its central importance in struggles.
Instead, we see movements that are primarily oriented towards taking and holding territory, whether it is a city square, an area in the path of a pipeline or an entire region. Here, the goal of taking land does not primarily invoke juridical claims to rule over a particular region but serves a practical purpose: to seize the space necessary to open up other political and ethical possibilities.
First and foremost, the insight of these movements is one that power stems from the earth and that the object of struggle is not to seize the symbols of power but to regain the capacity to reproduce life -- whether literal spaces of agricultural production or to open spaces for other forms of communal life (the camp, the general assembly). Going by different names (struggles for Autonomy, democratic confederalism, occupations, "the square" etc.) these movements all display an increasingly unified logic, suggesting the territorial and local nature of struggle in our epoch.
Mirroring this struggle in the academy are an increased attention to "world building" and the ontological activity. On one hand, this reflects the sort of ecological concerns brought about by the anthropocene (a turning to face the conditions of life after so long disavowing them) but it also reflects a certain failure of a modernist project and a global reorganization of labor (post-fordist, precarious).
My suspicion is that this is not something novel but really a return to something that was experienced at the advent of capitalism -- struggles against dispossession in both its european and colonial forms. Two areas of historical investigation suggest themselves: one being an exploration of the conditions of what I would call the "modern" form of revolutionary struggle. (These conditions being a certain organization of labor in national economies, a promised growth and development of the middle class, a faith in technological progress to solve social problems). The second would be an investigation of the peasant and decolonial forms of struggle that, grounded not in an imaginary of representative power but struggles for the immediate conditions of life, bear strong relation to the struggles of today.
We are already in it and its moving. I once wrote that crisis is the moment of indistinction between diagnosis and decision, observation and intervention. What’s key here is that it’s a moment, a temporal state bound to a certain form of intervention which is only possible because of what its urgency pushes from the frame. In crisis time the world suddenly appears flat, everything totally determined and necessity crowds out possibility and makes all things totally governed by seemingly intractable laws. You gotta act fast, or rather, step back and let the experts act because otherwise it will be too late and you’ll be sorry then.
Crisis time isn’t entirely flat though because it depends on the projection of a sense of threat onto a body, a body that has depth, that requires an intervention, an operation, and must suddenly become open before the experts. Everything is up for grabs and nothing is stable. Cutting, opening and all revealing the innards and how things work, that slow and tedious labor of critique is performed by an unwavering hand with an urgency that never allows a cautious evaluation of that operation’s necessity, which is already a foregone conclusion.
Crisis time is thus linked to the future anterior to justify its urgent necessity but then banishes past and history in the name of an imperiled future which is summoned with such urgency that no one can doubt the sincerity and severity required.
The sovereignty of things, be they states or people or other fictive objects, is always ever fleetingly realized but that realization always takes place in crisis time. This is because crisis time banishes the indecision which haunts the necessary with the double inflection of the contingent. In other words, crisis time is an operation even as it performs an operation. This operation is a sovereign action without an actor but the action always is retroactively marshaled to focus to the efficacy of the cause, a metonymic substitution which reaffirms the fiction of presence which remains absent until the next crisis summons it to act again.
Call it ethics or anarchism, the ungovernable or whatever -- there is a notion that goes by many names that describes a way of being in the world where there is a coherence between theory and practice. Such a move seeks to dismantle the forms of domination that seek to capture and direct lives such as hierarchical organizational structures or ideological formations. This type of activity is one that is subject to deep contemplation and reflection but does not fall prey to an aloof academic quietism. The way of being in the world and relating to others are a direct manifestation of one's own personal contemplation and one's contemplation does not take part in a realm apart from action.Read More