February 25, 2010

Hospitality & Resistance



The energy of the market-place, at times, possesses an astonishing versatility, diversity, creativity and inventiveness, in the realm of ideas as well as actions.

The neo-liberal, turbo-capitalism – in which we currently live – is the emptied out, apocalyptic perversion of this potential.

We are integrated into this system at the level of our desires. When I want something, or have a fantasy, this want or fantasy are shot through with capitalism.

I don’t know about you, but speaking for myself, I am totally fucking in it. I behave, not like a capitalist, but like capitalism itself. And I am against capitalism. So I am against myself.

The only accurate proof of how I feel will be my suicide. So perhaps there will be no proof. This is what one might call a generational break. Science requires proof, for everything else there is activism, wishes or prayer.

The greater the margin of economic profit, the more people’s lives are destroyed, the more completely people’s lives are destroyed. This is why I prefer only a little bit of profit. (While secretly hungering for larger conquests.) How can one honestly look at the world, have a good heart, and still not be didactic. The fear of empty words, or worse, of hypocritical gestures, is far greater than the fear of doing nothing. But there is no pleasure, no risk, in being only consequent.

I started writing this in Geneva. Now I am writing in Madrid.

There is an incredible electric charge, an overwhelming surge of perverse empowerment, in consciously or unconsciously doing something that one knows is wrong. Good deeds cannot match this pleasure, they have only a tepid narcissism with which to rally.

Acts of kindness are plentiful in the world, but most often take place on a modest scale. Acts of malice can be monumental. I don’t know if this is even true. And if true I don’t know why. But I wrote it and as I was writing could feel it resonate.

Monumental acts of malice often require a great deal of technology. What are the technologies of kindness? A genocide is a monumental, terrifying act of malice. What is the equivalent in the realm of kindness?

But perhaps kindness is beside the point. To witness a monumental act of malice (the French revolutions descent into terror, the Holocaust, Hiroshima, Cambodia, Rwanda, etc.) is to experience a violent, equally out of proportion, sense of disillusionment.

Then again, perhaps freedom is always connected to disappointment. If one can do anything, what is the single, concrete thing that can match the potency of endless possibilities. Even building pyramids falls short.

A little bit of freedom is a thrill. A little bit of freedom equals a little bit of exploitation. A little bit of freedom equals a little bit of disappointment. A little bit of freedom creates the hunger for more.

This isn’t what most people think of when they hear the word poetry.

Cancer is to our times as lead poisoning was to the Romans. A clear sign that the empire is falling. Evidence of the ‘planned obsolescence’ of all current models of industrial production. (The previous two lines equal wishful thinking.)

People are an astonishing mix of complexity and non-complexity. Subjectivity is produced. What I think of as myself in fact doesn’t really come from me. It comes from advertising, television, pop songs, magazines, the odd book, half understood social conventions and taboos, the failures of my education and, I suppose, my parents. A hodge-podge, a bricolage.

This is the self with its endless patterns I can see myself repeating endlessly though it remains elusive just exactly where they came from or why. Of course there are answers, theories, therapy. But like all useful reductions, they fail to grapple with the fullness of the struggle. A struggle not only with myself but with the world. With the marketplace of the world.

What is the direct connection between the pauper and the billionaire? Does the billionaire own the company from which the pauper was downsized, from which he never managed to recover? Does the fact that there are billionaires, that we allow the existence of billionaires, also mean, at the level of our conception of the world, that there will never be enough to go around? Why when I write about these questions, which in fact affect our political lives more ferociously than any others, do I feel naïve and trivial?

Subjectivity is produced. Deep in our consciousness we are given a challenge: either you attempt to become rich or you will end up poor. This has nothing to do with Darwin. Nature is chock-a-block full of symbiotic relationships. Animals help each other survive. Neither the billionaire nor the pauper are animals. We invented this madness.

As I am writing this, the fact that I know I can write anything and it will have absolutely no effect on the larger social world is the most striking example of what I am speaking about. This is another kind of poverty.

As now I am writing in Montreal, the most charming city in Canada. (I dare you to tell me that its not.) I struggle to call it home.

A frenzy of dissatisfaction: in which one feels any attempts at improvement will only lead to further disappointment, yet the dissatisfaction is so intense that one must, nonetheless, continuously strive towards new frontiers. The self-aware hungry ghost.

The self-aware hungry ghost. But the hungry ghost is something within ourselves that can and must be overcome. While this self-awareness, for some reason, has nothing to do with change or wanting to change. It is self-awareness in service of everything remaining, more or less, the same.

This dissatisfaction has nothing to do with wanting to change and yet everything within it screams out that things must, that the situation cannot go on. Like a Chinese finger trap, the more it struggles towards change, the more fixed and rigid the trap becomes. The greater the knowledge that what one must actually do is relax, let go, let some things take their natural course, the more fierce and violent come the surges of futile resistance. Spitting in the face of your torturer when you are exhausted, chained down, and he has all the tools.

The entire model of opposition needs to be re-thought. Yes, fascism must be opposed and fought against in all instances. (The fascism of capital, the fascism within ourselves, the crypto-fascism of everyday life.) But perhaps it must be fought against using a model somehow other than opposition.

Opposition always leads to one of two things: to being absorbed or being destroyed. It is true that when ones ideas are absorbed one does – in some sense – alter the status quo. However, if the original model was less about attacking and more about something else, I am once again thinking along the lines of symbiotic relationships found in nature, than perhaps a greater degree of change might be possible, one that does not create the insidious distortions beneficial to power that absorption so often entails.

Fierce opposition always leads to something akin to a cycle of revenge: positions on both sides harden, become further ingrained, more rigid, the longer the antagonism continues to escalate. Both sides become less likely to soften, shift or change.

And yet the more I think about such questions, the more unclear I become as to what this other model might look or feel like. Might it be a model based on listening?

Listening to the enemy? Not dialogue, not some naïve belief in the power of communication. Simple listening as the first step before any move. But what if, as you are listening, all you hear are lies? What if, as you are listening, you receive three bullets in the back of the head (when one bullet would have been utterly sufficient.) How to transition from a state in which listening is dangerous and foolish towards a state in which it is, once again, constructive? Listening for the insecurity behind power. Thinking if there are other ways, less violent ways, to make it feel secure. And once again, as I write, I feel naïve.

Where is power in capital? In the things it makes us do? In the things it allows us to do (to ourselves, to others)? In the things it makes possible: the organization, hierarchy and destruction? The overwhelming imbalances of power that simply could not exist without it.

It seems misguided to attempt to make ‘power feel secure’, but if power is little more than a savage over-compensation for the most violent forms of insecurity, then perhaps there is no other way. But why do I think power is like that? Is it little more than projection. Or is it only because I don’t believe in evil. (No, Hitler wasn’t evil, he was just really, really, really insecure.)

Evolution doesn’t explain everything, no key can unlock every door. Capital is not omnipotent, cannot absorb every single resistance.

Where is the power in capital? In the fact that nothing seems possible without it, without a bit of dosh, that even the homeless panhandle, and must feel they have no choice, that it seems nearly impossible to imagine our world organized in some other way? Capital is not omnipotent, but neither does it have to be in order to maintain a fairly consistent and spectacular control.

Now I am writing in Toronto, the city that instilled in me a deep, but cautious, antipathy towards business, sports and post-modernism.

Nature is not based on competition, it is organized through and around ecosystems. In some sense we could make an analogy between ecosystems and listening.

Competition isn’t natural. Competition is produced like everything else. In the natural world they don’t compete because of some implicit ideology that competition lends value. Animals hunt for food out of necessity. Where is the necessity in everything around us? Where is the necessity in writing overly-earnest, anti-capitalist very long poems that will change nothing and will likely not even compel the average reader to continue reading even up until this point? Where is the average reader?

The overwhelming disillusionment of the atrocities of recent history. The overwhelming disillusionment of reading the newspaper on an average Wednesday. And the concurrent knowledge that, no matter what, people continue to fight and to hope and fucking beautiful things continue to happen all the time.

How to imagine deep, structural change, happening slowing over decades, overcoming the continuous onslaught of insurmountable obstacles and continuing to push through. Beginning with subtle but ongoing shifts in our most basic understanding of ourselves and of the world. Is that a place to begin? What would it mean to listen to the insecurity behind the savagery of power abused? It is possible to begin a dialog with people who only want to fuck up your shit? A series of rhetorical questions is cheap writing but cheap writing must not be dismissed. How rigid our personalities, our understanding of the world, becomes over time.

At the door of Kafka’s castle you can’t haggle. At the Wall Mart and gas station you cannot haggle. But in the marketplace, the dirty marketplace of ‘early capitalism’, my romantic misconception of a marketplace before the hard shock of industrial production, there was still a certain one-to-one level of give-and-take. What would that marketplace look like without a king, without a church, growing out of some improvised combination of barter and local currencies?

If they can have the psychotic fantasy of a pure, unregulated free market, why can’t I have the idyllic fantasy of some future, down-to-earth, flexible, generous marketplace of necessities and ideas?


They’re ideologues, and ideology is like an addiction to one’s own position. Ideologues don’t stop until someone stops them. But how to stop them without becoming equally, negatively tenacious and single-minded yourself.

We all have fixations, obsessions, things about which we are absolutely stubborn. But ideologues want everyone under the boot of their own infinite stubbornness, which they view as noble discipline, and they keep coming back.

Are these the ones I’m suggesting we listen to?

But it’s easy to call your enemy’s names, easy to demonize them, infinitely more difficult to find the miniscule point from which some degree of communication might begin.

Resistance is always unfinished, always a work-in-progress, because if you win then you’re in power, and somebody else has to resist against you. Might such an idea ease the inherent frustration involved in any act of sustained resistance?


1 comment:

gabe said...

I don't know if it would be possible to persuade you, but I think you over estimate the extent to which markets and capitalism are based on exploitation. Also the idea of turbo capitalism compared to earlier eras is overdone, and is somewhat a case of the left taking at face value the rhetoric of the business world.

Down to earth flexible markets have also been just as historically effective in degrading the environment, whatever their benefits in terms of reduced alienation.

I haven't watched this, but the relevant book is good:

I don't know what it means for art if one no longer believes that the current moment is apocalyptic and that everyday social solidarity like well funded schools and childcare is where attention should be directed. High profits can be and are redirected for social good by being taxed, and they don't always or even usually depend on destroyed lives.