Radical Publishing: What Are We Struggling For?
ICA, Saturday 19th March
You have to formulate a response somehow. The absurdity of the result should be a measure of the difficulty of the task.
We have wedding panels, presented one after another. Everyone gets their water glass filled. The ceremony is in its dark theatre, the tables draped with black according to custom. There are anticipatory remarks about poorly articulated demands, but there is also an avoidance of directly discussing the role of print – it is enough to marry off those who work at publishing houses it seems. The panels are disproportionately male, not to mention white – but looking at the guests, it’s a white wedding. A first speech is made in a lilting accent, according to a lyrical pace, pressing a weirdly smothering effect into what is said. These word are the first to grace the ceremony, it is announced, before the speaker intones “rage… rage” into the microphone, claiming this as the basis for all that should follow. This is all very well, but these nuptials have been pre-announced – we all know why we are here. Our resentment sits on our stomachs like bile, ready for the moment when it will blow out of all these ceremonial blackouts. And if it the case, as one guest will later spout, that ideology dictates which of our behaviours count, we all already feel that we are here to knock it back, obsessed with but isolated from a dark, marauding cuticle of ideological vandalism, a blatant looting and profit mongering. We can hear them outside. Still there is something about this dark ceremonial chamber that also feeds the anger, which underlines the lack of any applicable vocabulary of action.
Yet, even if it is easy to agree with much of what is said early on, these general sentiments risk falling into a sentimentality that is better suited for later in the evening. The courting of applause gets us nowhere. Already there are coiled criticisms seeding in the stalls, somewhere toward the back aisles, dressing down the appeal that familial relations can act as a springing resistance to capitalism – woo yeah, we don’t buy that – we already get the picture that we’re attending a ceremony where there is going to be no effective marriage. We have been tracking this engagement for some time and we’re sceptical. It’s not likely we will witness lasting bonds this afternoon. We might secretly know that the system outside the walls is crumbling, or so it goes, from the start instituted as an unworkable slant toward the privileged, and in fact slowly consuming itself, making its way to an abyss to await the next crisis through which it will spin down, crying for a bail out. But first we must sit through a slightly soft-eyed appeal for resistance against the rule of money, good advice for any young couple, even if they are phantoms here and now, in this darkness. Bride and groom are nowhere to be seen. Yet can it be claimed that moments such as those that bring us here today, our shared concern and outrage, addressed to our spaces of personal relation – all our declarations of trust and love this seeks to protect or resemble – are instances where capitalism is abandoned according to more fundamental communistic interactions. Are we in such a state of emergency that necessity will dictates that monetary exchange value has no place here, begone! we won’t allow those jackals here, on our wedding day…that such dictates of value and accumulation are unwelcome here, as we wait for solidarity to take its place.
But it’s not polite to discuss finances on the special day. Even if we think that the rule of money has momentarily been refused, here in the dark, so the barman (perhaps) will suggest that these instances of so-called communistic behaviour are not genuine points of resistance against capital’s relentless flow (but, he spits, lifting ice, could they not become so?) but merely surface effects of fully functioning, unchecked neo-liberalism… He takes a lime up in his fingers, describing bruises on the skin which nonetheless point to underlying, undamaged flesh. Yes, he says, these interruptions we attend, these spaces of non-capitalist modes of production, are crucial to its continuing dominance. We should recognise this, he calmly states, as he places a circular mat underneath the ordered glass. His immediate task is complete and he shuts up as he computes the done deal, wiping the bar with a towel as he retreats. He has a long night ahead of him.
Of course, it is a recurring theme of the ceremony – a theme which appears in a different form in every successive speech – to express the desire and necessity for transforming and rehabilitating terms in order to move forward. But there are always those who purposely start an argument, albeit not unreasonably, this time according to a pattern of provocation that many other guests won’t adhere to. A younger figure – but is he a guest of the bride or groom? – suggests that a ‘dictatorship of the people’ can be reclaimed, rescuing the unfortunate word by emphasising its role in defending the ‘outline’ of a ‘city’ (which is, we mutter, the living diagram of the coming insurrection…), and that what is needed is the force to push through revolutionary ideals, actions. Still, he appeals to violent incidents in the past, reigns of terror and blood baths, even going so far as to invoke other ceremonies conducted in Jacobin dress. The crowd smells the odour of reenactment societies. The young man has surely cracked a black joke, in all seriousness, and has almost emptied the room. In-laws might get upset. When he is out of earshot, sections of the crowd will criticise him for being backward looking, toying with dangerous ideas and failed precedents. Yet these critics themselves will almost immediately suggest their own outlines for who or what needs to be revisited and re-examined in the light of what is outside the walls of the theatre. Perhaps they silently admit, however, that something of this implied violence is always there on the edge of the tongue; that we should all acknowledge the prospect of defending revolutionary momentum in order to allow for the possibility of it being sustained. In awkward conversations in the toilets, there will be mention of category errors and the dangers of trying to secure any perseverance of what is new by unknowingly turning it into what is already old and forgotten.
But every one of the guests knows what is still going on outside the dark walls, away from all this talk. One says that the noises are those of blind, undirected attacks; but are they really without strategy? Eavesdropping for a moment, it is possible to hear a discussion of neo-liberalism as having only been ‘effective’ in its complete annihilation of the imagination of those who oppose its tenets – i.e. implicating the emptiness of ceremonies such as this, designed to articulate a secure response or alternative to it. A back row that is all too pleased with itself. Another voice pipes up, itself claiming that advanced capitalism might well be on its knees, but it has worked so effectively on snuffing out threats against it that it cannot be dealt a killer blow. Guests feel they might suddenly be in a zombie film.
Another guest, overdressed and confident, suggests that the problem is actually how to make sure that revolutionary thinking, or a believable testimony of the sicknesses currently being perpetrated, penetrates into public discourse. It is difficult to reconcile these ideas in the surreal rigmarole of the ceremony, what with everyone dressed up, on their best behaviour (at least until the evening drags on and tongues are loosened…), and when the language it is apparently acceptable to use is largely esoteric, obscure, always held at a distance to a common public. At this point a member of the band, in a ill-fitting tuxedo, suggests that considering the inhumanity of capitalism, what is needed are equally inhuman and impersonal institutions through which to combat it – he is about to explain what these would be, and how they would operate, but is forced back to the stage to play. He can be seen for the rest of the evening, blowing through a machine of burnished brass. There is usually a crank, a clever cynic, at the back of the hall – perhaps one of those figures that has escaped out the back, having a smoke sitting on a car bonnet – who points out the ‘voluntary servitude’ of the masses, explaining between puffs that domineering power relies on tacit acquiescence of the people. His is all his own ego talk. He blows a ring and smirks, saying that the revolution needs to be a physic and subjective one, triggering a form of disengagement (an indiscipline, he says) where we all must recognise and resist our complicity in our own domination. He is drunk, no doubt, having lost track of which car is his, but goes on insisting that if we work on ourselves, the domineering power that we ourselves engender will inevitably transform. As soon as he finished his cigarette, he lights another.
What else comes out of this but a sense of regret at the insignificant scale of the ceremony? One last guest, lingering in the doorway, affectionately describes another recent wedding, but that time dominated by action and dancing, enormous crowds. That occasion was apparently a mass event, pulled into focus on an Egyptian square according to rumour; it was built around a ceremony not carefully organised like this one, but was instead freewheeling, properly deadly, displaying the emergent self-organisation of the masses. Certainly a bloom was fought for, and it produced a city within a city – described by the exhausted guest, his tie now removed and his shirt open, called a “prototype commune” that embodied emergent systems of co-operation, solidarity and self-governance. This man’s face is what lingers after the event has come to an end and the evening extends for a few according to stamina and constitution. In his face is read the feeling that although there might have to be distinctions drawn between ‘revolution’ and ‘insurrection’, and that there will still be a need to gather together in these dark spaces, to talk, to force the issue – to try and marry each another off – the real ceremony is to come without being called, without being addressed, somewhere outside in the continuing chaos.
*An aside by Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi, one of the speakers at the above event, concerned the lyrics to a song written for the 1993 Emir Kusturica film, Arizona Dream. All images are taken from a scene deleted from this film.