How will I recognize you? The revolution is happening now, everywhere, in the bodies and faces that pass by in a blur. Our revolutionary potential is considerable. It has not been erased, so much as we have forgotten how to recognize it. Much works against us. A grotesquely swelling neo-liberal political economy blocks our potential to originate or live bountiful and joyous collective change, at any scale. What does revolution look like? This book is an attempt to teach ourselves how to see and how to be seen.
The book was conceived, written, and produced in a deeply social process, driven by friendship, conversation, mood, fatigue, hunger, laughter, and the pleasure of travel. Our work composing the texts was more like performance than like the writing processes we were accustomed to. We completed it in less than two months, beginning in August, 2011, in France. We spent a week in a house with hundreds of books on a long table, making our selections. We composed our annotations in September and October via Internet document-sharing, sometimes writing simultaneously from La Malgache, France and Portland, Oregon, watching distant words pop up on our computer screens as we both wrote across time zones. In Berkeley, David Brazil was compiling an annotated bibliography of revolution. In late October we met again in Bordeaux to produce the book with Thomas Boutoux and a dozen collaborators at Publication Studio Bordeaux.
Our choice of texts answered our desire to be faithful to our existing histories as readers, rather than any need to become historians of a category. So this book doesn’t represent revolution as a general concept, but it follows the specific revolutions we have experienced in our conversations with one another, in our friendships and communities,
and with the writers we love. Every one of these texts is in this book because we have been moved by it, emotionally, intellectually, and bodily. And it was our need to bring revolution home into our bodies, to experience the radical potentials of our limit, our human embodiment, that energised our work. The risk of embodiment is what these texts have in common too. We think that there is no public space that is not an embodied public space. We think that there is not a politics that does not begin in our desiring cells. We think that this corporal surplus, the movement beyond our biographies and our perceived or administrated limits, is the force that makes and changes worlds. One of us uses the word soul to name this surplus, and one of us doesn’t. But what we have learned from our intense performance together is that a common vocabulary is not necessary, and probably not desirable. For us, revolution will be the difference that each of us brings into living, the difference that resists the imperatives of markets and market ideologies, and that resists even the smoothing activities that can be part of community formation. It’s only by staying with the often difficult texture of difference that we can begin, that there can be a stance that opens into a movement beyond. We are committed to giving each other the space for such an opening, and we call this gift politics.
We organized our selections by stages in life—beginning, childhood, education, adulthood, death—because revolution is a lived process. This is an experiment in collectively reading through the body. All the parts and stages of life, which we recognize don’t happen consecutively, or even one at a time, are incipiently revolutionary. The change that we need to discover is already happening at every point in each of our lives. We are already in revolution, now, in the present, and every part of change, even infancy or death, is about to show us something completely new about collectivity and co-existence. So we bring our listening to the organism.
How will we see the revolution beginning every day? Who are our comrades? Are you that man who was kind to me in the library? Are you the meth addict who wants to mow my lawn? Are you the five-year-old licking my groceries? Are you jerking off in the stall next to mine? Are you sitting near me in the park, staring at my child with a foolish smile? Are you a goat farmer? Are you a dog?
Revolution: A Reader is less a collection and more, quite literally, a conversation about revolution. Annotations from Lisa Robertson and Matthew Stadler—composed simultaneously and in response to one another.
THE INVISIBLE COMMITTEE
“I AM WHAT I AM” AND “FIND EACH OTHER”
FROM THE COMING INSURRECTION 2007
“Fox News reviewed The Coming Insurrection likes this: ” It is a brand new book. It is a dangerous book. It is called The Coming Insurrection. It is written by the Invisible Committee. It calls for violent revolution. An anonymous group from France of all places called the Invisible Committee penned it. They want to bring down capitalism, the western way of life. They started in France and started to spread to countries like Greece and Iceland where people are out of work, out of money and out of patience. Now it’s about to come to America. The book was written after the riots in the Paris suburbs and it tore the country apart, do you remember that? That was before the economy got really bad.”
“I AM WHAT I AM”
“I AM WHAT I AM.” This is marketing’s latest offering to the world, the final stage in the development of advertising, far beyond all the exhortations to be different, to be oneself and drink Pepsi. Decades of concepts in order to get where we are, to arrive at pure tautology. I = I. He’s running on a treadmill in front of the mirror in his gym. She’s coming back from work, behind the wheel of her Smart car. Will they meet?
“I AM WHAT I AM.” My body belongs to me. I am me, you are you, and something’s wrong. Mass personalization. Individualization of all conditions — life, work and misery. Diffuse schizophrenia. Rampant depression. Atomization into fine paranoiac particles. Hysterization of contact. The more I want to be me, the more I feel an emptiness. The more I express myself, the more I am drained. The more I run after myself, the more tired I get. We cling to our self like a coveted job title. We’ve become our own representatives in a strange commerce, guarantors of a personalization that feels, in the end, a lot more like an amputation. We insure our selves to the point of bankruptcy, with a more or less disguised clumsiness.
Meanwhile, I manage. The quest for a self, my blog, my apartment, the latest fashionable crap, relationship dramas, who’s fucking who… whatever prosthesis it takes to hold onto an “I”! If “society” hadn’t become such a definitive abstraction, then it would denote all the existential crutches that allow me to keep dragging on, the ensemble of dependencies I’ve contracted as the price of my identity. The handicapped person is the model citizen of tomorrow. It’s not without foresight that the associations exploiting them today demand that they be granted a “subsistence income.”
Identity is a market mechanism. What if “I” is elseness? (Lisa Robertson)
The injunction, everywhere, to “be someone” maintains the pathological state that makes this society necessary. The injunction to be strong produces the very weakness by which it maintains itself, so that everything seems to take on a therapeutic character, even working, even love. All those “how’s it goings?” that we exchange give the impression of a society composed of patients taking each other’s temperatures. Sociability is now made up of a thousand little niches, a thousand little refuges where you can take shelter.
The flip side of this tyranny of therapeutic chit-chat is that socially marginalized people are often sparred its full impact. There are many who never get asked “how’s it going,” and their lives wind and unwind along paths no one bothers to chart. Maybe there’s revolutionary potential in seeing those lives; not straightening their paths, but caring enough to see. (Matthew Stadler)
Where it’s always better than the bitter cold outside. Where everything’s false, since it’s all just a pretext for getting warmed up. Where nothing can happen since we’re all too busy shivering silently together. Soon this society will only be held together by the mere tension of all the social atoms straining towards an illusory cure. It’s a power plant that runs its turbines on a gigantic reservoir of unwept tears, always on the verge of spilling over.
“I AM WHAT I AM.” Never has domination found such an innocent-sounding slogan. The maintenance of the self in a permanent state of deterioration, in a chronic state of near-collapse, is the best-kept secret of the present order of things. The weak, depressed, self-critical, virtual self is essentially that endlessly adaptable subject required by the ceaseless innovation of production, the accelerated obsolescence of technologies, the constant overturning of social norms, and generalized flexibility. It is at the same time the most voracious consumer and, paradoxically, the most productive self, the one that will most eagerly and energetically throw itself into the slightest project, only to return later to its original larval state.
“WHAT AM I,” then? Since childhood, I’ve passed through a flow of milk, smells, stories, sounds, emotions, nursery rhymes, substances, gestures, ideas, impressions, gazes, songs, and foods.
This list is a good indicator of what to look for. (Lisa Robertson)
What am I? Tied in every way to places, sufferings, ancestors, friends, loves, events, languages, memories, to all kinds of things that obviously are not me. Everything that attaches me to the world, all the links that constitute me, all the forces that compose me don’t form an identity, a thing displayable on cue, but a singular, shared, living existence, from which emerges — at certain times and places — that being which says “I.”
Don’t form an identity, form an existence. (Lisa Robertson)
Our feeling of inconsistency is simply the consequence of this foolish belief in the permanence of the self and of the little care we give to what makes us what we are.
It’s dizzying to see Reebok’s “I AM WHAT I AM” enthroned atop a Shanghai skyscraper. The West everywhere rolls out its favorite Trojan horse: the exasperating antimony between the self and the world, the individual and the group, between attachment and freedom.
Politics is investigative relationship—it’s that simple really. This is the terrain Shelley was mapping with his concept of the creative imagination as the perception of relations. (Lisa Robertson)
Freedom isn’t the act of shedding our attachments, but the practical capacity to work on them, to move around in their space, to form or dissolve them. The family only exists as a family, that is, as a hell, for those who’ve quit trying to alter its debilitating mechanisms, or don’t know how to. The freedom to uproot oneself has always been a phantasmic freedom. We can’t rid ourselves of what binds us without at the same time losing the very thing to which our forces would be applied.
“I AM WHAT I AM,” then, is not simply a lie, a simple advertising campaign, but a military campaign, a war cry directed against everything that exists between beings, against everything that circulates indistinctly, everything that invisibly links them, everything that prevents complete desolation, against everything that makes us exist, and ensures that the whole world doesn’t everywhere have the look and feel of a highway, an amusement park or a new town: pure boredom, passionless but well-ordered, empty, frozen space, where nothing moves apart from registered bodies, molecular automobiles, and ideal commodities.
It also occurs to me that growing up gay turned this grim “war cry” into a sort of foolish comedy, since nothing projected at me ever got even close to “what I am.” No one could hit my target market. Two things: boy was I pissed when the 1980s and ’90s brought my demographic into the fold, and I got inundated with products for gay people. Still, they never got me right. Second, I think most people are peculiar enough that he market is always stupid about them. The easiest to fool are the straight men, but the rest of us get to spend out time laughing. (Matthew Stadler)
France wouldn’t be the land of anxiety pills that it’s become, the paradise of anti-depressants, the Mecca of neurosis, if it weren’t also the European champion of hourly productivity. Sickness, fatigue, depression, can be seen as the individual symptoms of what needs to be cured. They contribute to the maintenance of the existing order, to my docile adjustment to idiotic norms, and to the modernization of my crutches. They specify the selection of my opportune, compliant, and productive tendencies, as well as those that must be gently discarded. “It’s never too late to change, you know.” But taken as facts, my failings can also lead to the dismantling of the hypothesis of the self. They then become acts of resistance in the current war. They become a rebellion and a force against everything that conspires to normalize us, to amputate us. The self is not some thing within us that is in a state of crisis; it is the form they mean to stamp upon us.
Yes! This is such a useful and accessible tactic. Mostly we do fail to be the self, that self, or sometimes any self at all. It’s a sign to turn our speculative activities to face a different direction. (Lisa Robertson)
They want to make our self something sharply defined, separate, assessable in terms of qualities, controllable, when in fact we are creatures among creatures, singularities among similars, living flesh weaving the flesh of the world. Contrary to what has been repeated to us since childhood, intelligence doesn’t mean knowing how to adapt—or if that is a kind of intelligence, it’s the intelligence of slaves. Our inadaptability, our fatigue, are only problems from the standpoint of what aims to subjugate us. They indicate rather a starting point, a meeting point, for new complicities. They reveal a landscape more damaged, but infinitely more sharable than all the fantasy lands this society maintains for its purposes.
What’s flawed can be shared. Perfection has no face. (Lisa Robertson)
We are not depressed; we’re on strike. For those who refuse to manage themselves, “depression” is not a state but a passage, a bowing out, a sidestep towards a political disaffiliation. From then on medication and the police are the only possible forms of conciliation. This is why the present society doesn’t hesitate to impose Ritalin on its over-active children, or to strap people into life-long dependence on pharmaceuticals, and why it claims to be able to detect “behavioral disorders” at age three. Because everywhere the hypothesis of the self is beginning to crack.
FIND EACH OTHER
Attach yourself to what you feel to be true.
An encounter, a discovery, a vast wave of strikes, an earthquake: every event produces truth by changing our way of being in the world. Conversely, any observation that leaves us indifferent, doesn’t affect us, doesn’t commit us to anything, no longer deserves the name truth. There’s a truth beneath every gesture, every practice, every relationship, and every situation. We usually just avoid it, manage it, which produces the madness of so many in our era. In reality, everything involves everything else. The feeling that one is living a lie is still a truth. It is a matter of not letting it go, of starting from there. A truth isn’t a view on the world but what binds us to it in an irreducible way. A truth isn’t something we hold but something that carries us. It makes and unmakes me, constitutes and undoes me as an individual; it distances me from many and brings me closer to those who also experience it. An isolated being who holds fast to a truth will inevitably meet others like her. In fact, every insurrectional process starts from a truth that we refuse to give up. During the 1980s in Hamburg, a few inhabitants of a squatted house decided that from then on they would only be evicted over their dead bodies. A neighborhood was besieged by tanks and helicopters, with days of street battles, huge demonstrations — and a mayor who, finally, capitulated. In 1940, Georges Guingouin, the “first French resistance fighter,” started with nothing other than the certainty of his refusal of the Nazi occupation. At that time, to the Communist Party, he was nothing but a “madman living in the woods,” until there were 20,000 madmen living in the woods, and Limoges was liberated.
Don’t back away from what is political in friendship
We’ve been given a neutral idea of friendship, understood as a pure affection with no consequences. But all affinity is affinity within a common truth. Every encounter is an encounter within a common affirmation, even the affirmation of destruction. No bonds are innocent in an age when holding onto something and refusing to let go usually leads to unemployment, where you have to lie to work, and you have to keep on working in order to continue lying. People who swear by quantum physics and pursue its consequences in all domains are no less bound politically than comrades fighting against a multinational agribusiness. They will all be led, sooner or later, to defection and to combat.
Worse even. Friendship has been infantilized. Its image is now a receptacle for the sentimentality that even the family, with its messiness and rage and radical asymmetry, can’t stomach. This image is a decoy; the truth is potentially dangerous. Friendship is the basic political unit. Its economy is passional and dissolves when affinity dissolves. As such, it can never become a milieu or an institution. Friendship is an incendiary alliegance; the most extreme experiments in relationship are conducted in its charged space. That betrayal may be one of its features is realistic. The terms of experiment play themselves in the scale of the world, not the household or the jobsite or the reproductive contract. To learn how not to betray our friend is the lifework. The revolution situates itself in this orbit. (Lisa Robertson)
The pioneers of the workers’ movement were able to find each other in the workshop, then in the factory. They had the strike to show their numbers and unmask the scabs. They had the wage relation, pitting the party of capital against the party of labor, on which they could draw the lines of solidarity and of battle on a global scale. We have the whole of social space in which to find each other. We have everyday insubordination for showing our numbers and unmasking cowards. We have our hostility to this civilization for drawing lines of solidarity and of battle on a global scale.
Expect nothing from organizations.
Beware of all existing social milieus,
and above all, don’t become one.
It’s not uncommon, in the course of a significant breaking of the social bond, to cross paths with organizations — political, labor, humanitarian, community associations, etc. Among their members, one may even find individuals who are sincere — if a little desperate — who are enthusiastic — if a little conniving. Organizations are attractive due to their apparent consistency — they have a history, a head office, a name, resources, a leader, a strategy and a discourse. They are nonetheless empty structures, which, in spite of their grand origins, can never be filled. In all their affairs, at every level, these organizations are concerned above all with their own survival as organizations, and little else. Their repeated betrayals have often alienated the commitment of their own rank and file. And this is why you can, on occasion, run into worthy beings within them. But the promise of the encounter can only be realized outside the organization and, unavoidably, at odds with it.
Far more dreadful are social milieus, with their supple texture, their gossip, and their informal hierarchies. Flee all milieus. Each and every milieu is orientated towards the neutralization of some truth. Literary circles exist to smother the clarity of writing. Anarchist milieus to blunt the directness of direct action. Scientific milieus to withhold the implications of their research from the majority of people today. Sport milieus to contain in their gyms the various forms of life they should create. Particularly to be avoided are the cultural and activist circles. They are the old people’s homes where all revolutionary desires traditionally go to die. The task of cultural circles is to spot nascent intensities and to explain away the sense of whatever it is you’re doing, while the task of activist circles is to sap your energy for doing it. Activist milieus spread their diffuse web throughout the French territory, and are encountered on the path of every revolutionary development. They offer nothing but the story of their many defeats and the bitterness these have produced. Their exhaustion has made them incapable of seizing the possibilities of the present. Besides, to nurture their wretched passivity they talk far too much and this makes them unreliable when it comes to the police. Just as it’s useless to expect anything from them, it’s stupid to be disappointed by their sclerosis. It’s best to just abandon this dead weight.
All milieus are counter-revolutionary because they are only concerned with the preservation of their sad comfort.
Communes come into being when people find each other, get on with each other, and decide on a common path. The commune is perhaps what gets decided at the very moment when we would normally part ways. It’s the joy of an encounter that survives its expected end. It’s what makes us say “we,” and makes that an event. What’s strange isn’t that people who are attuned to each other form communes, but that they remain separated. Why shouldn’t communes proliferate everywhere? In every factory, every street, every village, every school. At long last, the reign of the base committees! Communes that accept being what they are, where they are. And if possible, a multiplicity of communes that will displace the institutions of society: family, school, union, sports club, etc. Communes that aren’t afraid, beyond their specifically political activities, to organize themselves for the material and moral survival of each of their members and of all those around them who remain adrift. Communes that would not define themselves — as collectives tend to do — by what’s inside and what’s outside them, but by the density of the ties at their core. Not by their membership, but by the spirit that animates them.
A commune, here, is another name for friendship. Two may group together, or more than two. The number is not important. What is important is that deep mutual recognition should find its chronotope and expand in the scale of that specific intensity. Friendship is the charged site where otherness erupts into history. Nothing other than necessity gives it power. (Lisa Robertson)
A commune forms every time a few people, freed of their individual straitjackets, decide to rely only on themselves and measure their strength against reality. Every wildcat strike is a commune; every building occupied collectively and on a clear basis is a commune, the action committees of 1968 were communes, as were the slave maroons in the United States, or Radio Alice in Bologna in 1977. Every commune seeks to be its own base. It seeks to dissolve the question of needs. It seeks to break all economic dependency and all political subjugation; it degenerates into a milieu the moment it loses contact with the truths on which it is founded. There are all kinds of communes that wait neither for the numbers nor the means to get organized, and even less for the “right moment” — which never arrives.
Lisa Robertson & Matthew Stadler
Revolution: A Reader
Paraguay Press & Publication Studio 2015