Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Re-shuffling some of the TERMS we used during this discussion...

ON THE TEMPORAL: NOW, HISTORY and the tyranny of the FUTURE

If GEOGRAPHICAL SCALE leads to a discussion about the TOTALITY of DYNAMIC SYSTEMS, possibly even about SELF-ORGANIZATION in space, mention of a TEMPORAL SCALE occasions a very different discussion.

The MARKET VALUES’ Achilles heel hides in the (im)possibility for the collective unconscious to sustain an experience of the present moment, free of future projections. These speculations annihilated, the values of the market lose ground against those of DIRECT AESTHETIC EXPERIENCES— themselves un-speculatable. As theorists of EVERYDAY LIFE have claimed, PLAY is a powerful mode of resistance. While the homo-faber insures the survival (futures) of the community, the HOMO-LUDENS temporarily escapes the chains of the SOCIAL CONTRACT by exiling him/herself deep into the maquis of the here and now, unconcerned with the consequences of the there and later.

Homo-ludens in mind, we could establish three distinct sets of STRATEGIC PRACTICES available to the URBAN ACTIVIST. Each set relies on and is assessed proportionally to the fluctuation of market UNVALUES, such as disorganisation, productive INNEFFICIENCY, waste of time, will to live, passion for creation, forgiveness of friendship, lovesickness, etc...

1. The Bacchanalian Festival:
Transmuting the pscychogeographical dérive into a TEMPORARY AUTONOMOUS ZONE, the parade offers a stronghold inside the instant present. It also showcases examples of EMERGENT patterns triggering critical BIFURCATIONS in dynamic systems. A good example: the international monthly parade/protest led by the velorutionaries of the Critical Mass movement. John Jorden, of the British direct action network Reclaim The Streets , has theorized on the revolutionary power of such practices. From the specific issue-oriented street party to alternative recuperations of the PUBLIC REALM, from the more violently penalized examples of civil disobedience to the fully institutionalized but ludic—if disruptive—urban strolls, the threat-level difference between street festival and riot only exists in the mind of those seeking safety. Issues aside, any good strike (physically manifested in the protest) enables not only the collective experience of solidarity, but a disruption in the pattern (glitch in the matrix) that incapacitates past or future considerations, leaving the present center stage.

2. Ironic Distancing:
Let’s not undervalue the unvalue of disruption, independently of its source. Inscribed within a range that spans from corporate sponsorship to acknowledged civil disobedience, all forms of CULTURE JAMMING open gates to public awareness. As the pranksters of Improv’ Everywhere have understood, the use of humour can very well camouflage activist intentions. Also targeting the Urban Public realm, the British Space Highjackers more overtly broadcast their politics while offering a good time. Note that the tactics of the culture jam were previously defined as those of a hijack (détournement in French), which were inspired by a method for alienating (Verfremdungseffekt in German), drawn from a wish to “make strange” (остранение in Russian). The “defamiliarisation” process however, could surely be perceived as a “refamiliarisation” rather, especially when it comes to our experience of the urban environment, the reception of which is consummated by a collectivity in a state of distraction. The use of public space in terms other than those whose familiarity has been forced upon us enables, temporarily, a certain consciousness of those negating terms. These alternatives aren’t limited to full-on public performances. Invisible and often anonymous street artists have contributed their share. But the limits of subversion are delineated, and negating the negation has been renegated, ad infinitum. Now what?

3. The Unreal-Anti-Aesthetic
Is there a form of counter-culture left with power to resist re-appropriation by aestheticisation? When’s the last time we saw a form of aestheticisation that did not inscribe itself directly into the logic of the market? Is the reversal of values into an a-, un-, anti- value still a plausible mode of resistance or has the antithesis really become an obsolete concept? (i.e. is dialectical reasoning as dead as art, theory and God?) After a century of artistic production meant to continuously counter-, only to end up neatly gift-wrapped and price-tagged, is it really reasonable to quit trying? Again, the answer depends upon the temporal framework through which the question is asked. Observed over a collapsed history, all critique transforms—i.e. dies and changes form. Pretty irrelevant in its flattened form... But observed at a given point in time, the critique should be gauged not by a timeless notion of its current form, but by the continuity/dynamic rate of its mutation. What was revolutionary then is commercial practice now, sure, but this should not invalidate the reality of its effect at a specific moment, nor should it exclude its current altered form as part of the trajectory. The souls of Tristan Tzara and Johnny Rotten will keep on resuscitating, just like the proclamation of their obliteration will continue to be broadcast (along with the branding of their names).

How does this introduce the notion of the UNreal estate? For one, I think it’s important to foresee the obvious pitfalls: how will the unreal avoid the destiny of the real if they are two sides of the same coin (cf. the biography of reality per Baudrillard and Zizek)? And when it comes to the specifics of the urban landscape, is the aestheticisation embedded in the Detroit images Andrew Herscher described as an URBAN SUBLIME anything other than the commodification of the anti-aesthetic (cf. Ignasi de Solà-Morales’s classic Terrain-Vague essay, or Gilles Clément’s Manifesto of the third-landscape for the territorialized version of the same argument)?

The call for alternatives is on.

“Dans le monde réellement renversé, le vrai est un moment du faux.”
Guy Debord, La Société du Spectacle