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Another Cold Year for the Warmth: Death and Redemption

From the IEF blog:

Theres a man goin’ round taking names and he decides who to free and who to blame. Everybody won’t be treated all the same.”

The fold of our history is either death or redemption. The history of the vanquished and the history of preemptive alienating and policing apparatuses yearn to conclude. We all have a door and a rotting carpet; a family and a dynasty of fuck ups; advanced social dissolution from worlds and senses to answer for. They say men make history, but not in conditions of their choosing. If it is our sensuous activity within a world, a praxis, which generates a world, then by what means do we confront the millions of potentialities which are taken from history? Those souls who are irrevocably lost, or worse yet, rendered bare life through processes of subjectivation, are prepared to be judged, not by history, but by the police. Each death is a tragedy because in “each” there is a shame of separation. The private life only becomes public in death. But this public death is itself a technique of exposure, which links the family and society to the church, to the school, to the prison. The tragedy which the living are constantly exposed to is not merely their own telos but capitalism’s continuous merciless holiday. In this society, no one dies. Everyone is murdered.

What is pathetic in death is not the loss of a container of memories and affects or the fleeting away of another productive member of the family, of society, but the loss of the capacity to speak. Death acts like a nightmare on the living. Conjuring images of “once upon a time,” the living attempt to answer for the horror of a brisk wind which extinguishes light in one subtle swoop. But the sad conclusive cough of a body judged guilty of living in capitalism is repeated and shared. Each voice is rendered mute. Each potentiality perfectly aware of what strangles it daily. The tears of the living for the dead, while representing a real sadness, never conjoin to form the flood which will redeem the past. Instead, the mouth opens, limbs shake with anxiety; our small, light-colored hairs stand up searching for a warmth which is not in this world. And in the end, what could be communicated—the single gesture of communicability itself—is once again lost, irretrievable, amidst blinking lights and the flow of commodities which live so much longer than any of us.

What is redemption in such circumstances? Is it forgiving our trespasses, and forgiving those who trespass against us? By what means do we admit a presence which annuls memories, scars, blood?

My family is connected through Facebook. The eulogy for my grandmother stumbled on her truth. She took on a predictable position of women married to husbands in the twentieth century. She mothered many children and formed the foundation to a family whose care was held by a second-generation Italian pater. She, and all the other shes of the family, suffered only the absence of en-courage-ment. It is not surprising: they all left. My grandmother quietly lived as if she had been redeemed, doing the books to my grandfathers photography business, never once elaborating her own passions for paint on canvas. The eulogy concluded, as my grandmother often would, that if anyone felt despondent, the eulogist would happily go shopping with them. The analogy to government orders following the events of September eleventh to go shopping is not lost on me. There were some really good sales at Macy’s

On the other side of the family, between drinks, and with far too many teenage mothers, I learned cousin Ian had been sentenced in ‘Oh-four. My absence from Facebook excluded me from hearing this bullshit earlier. Was it three-strikes you’re out? Did he have guns too? How long is a life-sentence? The silence of social death touches even the Midwestern Irish working class. My other cousin, who used hockey like how the black body uses football or basketball, or how southern whites use the military, received a terrible back injury and was sentenced to a fancy new oxycodone addiction. Again, if only I had Facebook… One of my sisters still clings to the myth that we’re different because we didn’t grow up in these fucked up conditions, but she conveniently forgot about all the suicides and boredom; the drive-by’s and the addictions, even the empty refrigerators, which painfully illustrate our miserable upbringing. We all ran too, and we ran for a reason.

The fold of this history is uncertain. On the one hand, everything about today, and even yesterday, just points toward the production of death. Enduring high school, when anarchy was merely a secret which Propagandhi attempted to whisper to me through power chords; or when struggle was just some band that that dude from the Locust was in, Columbine seemed perfectly reasonable. We sketched pictures of it all the time. We searched our history books, attempting to discover any time when the underdog wreaked its vengeance. We had no voice then, no words to call our own, and no world which affected us. We had only the conditions of all of that dissolving. In that time, many of us were quite literally unwanted children; and judging by the fields we set on fire, the plots to blow up schools, the churches we vandalized, and unfortunately, the animals which we tortured, we were capable of some fucked up shit. The youth of today are even worse.

On the other hand, maybe we can once more be affected by “Death to death!” Which is not to say, “peace.” But more specifically, our time, capitalist time, is a time of living-dead. Techniques of government expose life’s limits to itself and generate bare life. No one knows sovereignty better than the life which is judged not worth living by the police or the life which is let to live by its manager. And because of Biopower and the Spectacle, it’s increasingly difficult to separate any of these figures. Redemption in this world is not repaying a debt, atoning for guilt which we owe society. Capitalism is guilt. We owe them nothing. Redemption is giving them just that.

Walter Benjamin writes: “For we have been expected upon this earth. For it has been given us to know, just like every generation before us, a weak messianic power, on which the past has a claim. This claim is not to be settled lightly.” The day after my grandmother died, I set off for New York to do a panel about the messianic analogy within the proletariat. The day before my grandmother’s funeral, I spoke of becoming sensitive to the imperceptible civil war which has taken place as class struggle and now takes place as social war. In the conditions of social war, this civil war can be felt as a war between normality and its cracks. The proletariat within this civil war is a force who is contingent on history but whose possibility lies outside of it. The proletariat cancels and fulfills history through its own self-negation. At one time, in the conditions of industrialization, classical politics, and a strategically positioned portion of the oppressed, the proletariat took form in the messianic-gesture, what Benjamin called the “divine violence” of the general strike. The proletariat, who was contingent on “a class of civil society but not of civil society,” was expressed as the industrial working class using their own labor-power—what produced value—to negate value and class society itself: redemption.

Benjamin continues, “nothing that has ever happened should be regarded as lost for history. Only a redeemed humankind receives the fullness of its past. Which is to say, only for a redeemed humankind has its past become citable in all moments. Each moment it has lived becomes a citation a l’ordre du jour [order of the day]—and that day is Judgement Day.”

The hairs on your arm will stand up. At the terror in each sip and in each sup. For you partake of that last offered cup, Or disappear into the potter’s ground. When the man comes around.

Hear the trumpets, hear the pipers. One hundred million angels singin’. Multitudes are marching to the big kettle drum. Voices callin’, voices cryin’. Some are born an’ some are dyin’. It’s Alpha’s and Omega’s Kingdom come…

Whoever is unjust, let him be unjust still. Whoever is righteous, let him be righteous still. Whoever is filthy, let him be filthy still.”

The horror of death in capitalism must be met with a greater horror. Hollywood produced this a representation of this horror some forty-two years ago. How appropriate that in a world, where all death is murder and all life is bare life, the dead would come to life to feed on the living. The death which the proletariat brings with it is the reversal of the operation which lets bare life live or die. The violence of redemption fulfills all past antagonisms. Its operation returns everything to use, especially our fragile bodes, especially the rot of the world. The proletariat—who perhaps takes us, affects bare life—strikes against being human when human progress is analogous to capitalist development. It turns all things which have been given value above life to toys to be ruined. It makes common everything, and like the Spanish militias who danced with the corpses of nuns, it brings our dead grandmothers to share in the collective arson of beauty salons.

The insurrection which comes is not generated from the desire for a better world: there is none. It is not even the accomplishment of democracy. It is the nightmare of the past holding the future hostage, and publicly killing and feasting on it on youtube, over and over again. In our conditions, that of an absolute social war, insurrection and its total extension is the rhythm we must collectively write and impose on capitalist society. Through these experiments and repeated gestures we develop a new sentimental intelligence and different sensuous praxis which no longer accepts our shameful conditions. We impose different collectivities beyond family, nation, and society exactly at the point of their negation. We find we are not alone, exactly at the point we lose our selves. We share exactly at the point when we begin to seize. When each funeral loses what was attempting to kept it a private affair—when newspapers are terrified to write a single obituary because the will of the dead keeps leaving ruin in its wake—then we will begin to know what redemption entail.

-Liam Sionnach | IEF | Jan ’10


9 Comments so far
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Why all this interest in shame, guilt, and redemption?

Is insurrectionary anarchism following one of the typical trajectories of social movements? Y’know the veer towards suicide cult.

Comment by Ben Turk

I wouldn’t say that this is a trend of insurrectionary anarchism necessarily, nor is Liam speaking as an insurrectionary anarchist. I think the shame (/guilt) focus reflects a personal deconstruction of a Catholic upbringing and redemption has Benjaminian inspiration (tiqqun, messianism,etc).

How else does it veer?

Comment by toutniquer

The idea that “the proletariat cancels and fulfills history through its own self-negation” is a holdover from one of Marx’s biggest flaws. It’s the place where Marx’s materialist rejection of Hegelian idealism wears thin. Giving the proletariat this utopian role is irrational and stupid. Couching this utopianism in positive religious language (messianic redemption) embraces this irrational stupidity. Cults embrace irrational utopias and then suicide when it becomes clear the utopia is not going to happen.

Also, the paragraph on columbine comes close awful close to admiration. Especially since that’s the obviously but as-yet unstated model (in america anyway) for the whole insurrectionary lead-by-example tactic.

Comment by Ben Turk

We always get in funny arguments about the proletariat.

I never usually take talk of the proletariat to literally mean “the proletariat”, but instead proletarianized humanity, when used in this context. Here it is to mean the negation of proletarian conditions, life and representation, as opposed to the mentality that gives rise to “an image of the proletariat arose in direct opposition to the proletariat.”

The only way a proletarianized humanity can end capitalism is to negate itself as a condition, to be not a worker, woman, communist, etc, but instead whatever we desire. The utopianism and religious language are just metaphor, because this is the only practical direction we can go in – and thus is far from utopian.

The columbine bit seems to say that it was expressive of a kind of being lost and full of tantrums that are an inherent reaction to the bewilderment of modernity. To say that it was reasonable is to recognize ourselves as part of this reaction, not that it is necessarily admirable.

Comment by toutniquer

I don’t like the linguistics of “proletarianized humanity”. Turning humanity into proletariat and then saying that redemption is death of the proletariat seems like a weird circuitous metaphysical approach, inelegant, full of marxist and catholic baggage, and ultimately more obfuscating and intellectualizing than useful. (but then, so is most of what comes from Liam)

Why not simply say: we need to become a radically different class in order to overcome the capitalist class relationships? That seems like a far more straightforward practical way of saying basically the same thing.

Being full of tantrums is reasonable. Failing to channel that energy into something useful and choosing instead to attack what is most immediately available (including yourself) is not reasonable. It’s immature.

Comment by Ben Turk

It’s not that humanity is “the proletariat” it’s that their life is so thoroughly alienated. Humanity as commodity is essential for the reproduction of capital and must become completely subordinate in its intimate and innocuous ways.

“Why not simply say: we need to become a radically different class in order to overcome the capitalist class relationships?”

It’s because being a class is the logic of capital. And it’s not the same thing.

Redemption / tiqqun has Jewish etymological origins, not Catholic.

Failing to channel that energy into something useful and choosing instead to attack what is most immediately available (including yourself) is not reasonable. It’s immature.

Attacking what is immediate (including yourself) is possibly the key to attacking the production / technique of the self, where deconstructing our “selves” is the main terrain of biopolitical civil war.

Comment by toutniquer

See, that’s where it gets all silly and distasteful for me. When we start deconstructing the self through mystical frameworks (whether catholic or jewish or whatever) it starts looking more like an intellectual exercise (or worse, a spiritual one).

If i were interested in purely intellectual exercises, i’d go to the library. If i were interested in spiritual exercises, i’d go find “peace” by meditating. Either way, i’d end up in pretty much the same place as if i had “deconstructed myself” (ie right here in capitalist society).

When we assume that all production is capitalist production and all logic capitalist logic, we close off any possibility of working in material or social reality, and consign ourselves to solipsism and that doesn’t go anywhere.

Comment by Ben Turk

The problem is that the “deconstruction of the self” is not a mystical framework or purely intellectual exercise. It’s something that must happen, otherwise we simply reproduce ourselves as capital.

I don’t think I ever said that all production or logic was capitalist. However, as capital is the dominant form of relating, it defines both our material conditions and the immaterial (that soul at work) which also reproduces the relation. But only until we can honestly be critical about everything can we even distinguish what an anti-capital might look like.

It’s not so simple to just say let’s operate within these familiar spaces, to just do more organizing, more consciousness raising, more action, etc. More of the same gets us nowhere.

Comment by toutniquer

Well, it sure sounds like a spiritual exercise, with all this talk of redemption and shame. If it’s more straightforward, why couch it in such language?

You might not have explicitly said “all production is capitalist” but whenever I mention logic or production I hear something like “reproducing ourselves as capital”. Every time. Regardless of context, without fail.

I think there’s an inverted causal relationship here (I don’t know who inverted it, Liam, Benjamin, or you). When Marx concluded that the proletariat, through revolution negates itself, his logic was sound, but his premise (the proletariat is a revolutionary class) was flawed. When you (or liam, or walter, or whoever) conclude that the negation of the proletariat is a cause or precondition of the revolution you invert the causality and invalidate the logic. You still maintain the flawed premise, though.

I’m certainly not advocating more of the same, but to think we can operate in anything other than capitalist space is a pleasant fantasy. Sure, wiping the slate clean looks easier, but it’s not.

I’d argue that we cannot know what anti-capital might look like until we’ve already established it. As difficult as it sounds, we must try to establish it where we stand not in a blank-slate fantasy. We have to continually experiment with alternative economies amongst the familiar spaces of capitalism. We have to practice. Attempt various communalized relations until one sticks. If one effort is recouperated or re-establishes capitalism, we try another, or we try it again from a different angle. This is not “more organizing, more consciousness raising” those are exclusively political projects. At this point our project is primarily economic (or i should say: the economic aspect of our project has been most neglected and needs most development).

This is not to renounce confrontation with the status quo. Our experiments will sometimes require carving out spaces or gaining materials with which to work. But these confrontations should be tactical, intentional, undertaken as our experiments necessitate. Or we should find ways to turn spaces carved out by confrontations into practice space.

Comment by Ben Turk

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