Τετάρτη 26 Σεπτεμβρίου 2012

To the limits of “togetherness”

Kostis Stafylakis

The idol of this age is community. As compensation for the hardness and staleness of our life, this idea has compressed all sweetness into mawkishness, tenderness into weakness, and flexibility into the loss of dignity. Molded by this idea, what is repressed pushes the phantom of an overstrained heart under a gruesome cruelness. An immeasurable chilling of human relationships by mechanical, commercial, and political abstractions conditions an immeasurable reaction in the ideal of a shimmering community overflowing through all of its supporters.[1]   
Helmuth Plessner, The limits of community: A critique of social radicalism, 1924.

During the last years the Greek society experiences a revival of collectivities, collective forms of protest, self-organization and participation projects. Especially in the past one and a half years one observes an intense collectivization of life. Interpretations of its causes abound: the growing deficit of representation in the experienced parliamentary democracy, the need of supplementing the forced isolation of a difficult everyday life – supplements for the alienating pace of life, the demolition-loss of familiar spaces of gatherings/meetings/socialization, the loss of working space, the recession of entertainment and the repulsion towards forms of entertainment/relief that dominated over decades; and the Dionysian seduction of the collective protest, the glamour of “autogestion”, the ideological dominance of intellectual schemes for a post-anarchical micro-utopian radicalism, the ritual anathema upon the recent political history, the devaluation of parliamentarism, the “alternative way of life” culture with its oriental extremities verging on and submerging in paths of “wisdom”, the alternative vacations trend posed as anti-consumerism, the abrupt proliferation of electronic social networks, and the “exit” towards rural life.      

Along with the revival of collectivity, the idea of community, as a different form of organization of the sociopolitical life, yet again appears to be glamorous in the eyes of certain social strata and groups, mostly among the urban youth, which since 2008 has “been subjected to” or claimed an abrupt politicalization. Turning towards collectivity doesn’t only signify a reaction to the established democracy, but also a rekindling of the ineradicable schism between society and community. Today, the radical discourse (regardless of its ideological stamp) reclaims community as the fruit of social radicalization and the “exit” from the mass political society of late capitalism. A brief research shows that the radicalized subjects lack any care for distinguishing in a conceptual level between collectivity and community while using the two terms. This lack of distinction concerns not only various trendy discourses but also the essayist-type theorized writing. For instance, groups of subjects criticizing, in the most original way, the established gender identities of the Greek society conceive of their strategy in terms of a bastion-like rhetoric of community and not in terms of social participation-alienation.[2]  
The referral to community isn’t always that direct. It is no coincidence that the political-ideological vocabulary of contemporary radicalism is organized on the basis of the newly imported terminology of “the commons” – that is, a new super-humanistic take on “community” that, nonetheless, obscures its origins. No matter how much Hardt and Negri, the prominent ideologues of the commons, and their worshipers, the contemporary commoners, avoid the classical sociological problematique of community, they don’t succeed in hashing up the basic secret of their updated theory: nothing is common unless it is something we share in common – that is, the “common” remains unthinkable without a concept of “community”, which is left to the randomness of “love”, of the immanent resistance to late capitalism; the writers consider such forms to be good by definition since, on a deeper level, “evil” is nothing but a carrot proposed by theological thought.
A brief overview suffices for us to reach the conclusion of a medley of collectives that nowadays define themselves using the conceptual and semantic field of community: groups of action for “the public benefit”, groups of urban intervention, political collectives of the autonomous or antiauthoritarian space, self-managed stamping grounds and parks, artistic collectives (visual art, theatre, music) etc. Even in the passive domestic art field, the ideas of participation and community have surely gained points comparing to the more academic ones about the artistic subject. By the end of the 1990s and the beginning of the new century, new artistic collectivities came about (Diadromi 49, Astiko Keno, Omada Philopapou), which put in use open participation processes of artistic action, challenging the traditional artistic corporatism and the institutionally mediated relation of production and acceptation of the artistic action. Today one can hardly count the number of groups-collectives acting in the domestic art field. Some of them claim a purely sub-institutional space of action, consciously avoiding contact with institutions. Others put in use a more “nomadic” model of entering and exiting the institutional environment according to almost unaccountable conjunctures. But regardless of any particular strategies, the thematic of “community” and the commons is not anymore some “alternative” speculative occupation but an institutionally accepted problematique. Recent exhibitions such as “Mapping the Commons” in the National Museum of Contemporary Art, curated by Daphne Dragona, show that the problematique of “commons”, as alternative strategies of exiting late capitalism, is not a marginal-sub-institutional questioning but a firm node in the discussion about the contemporary radical artistic action. But in the context of such a change in the conditions of discussion one may ask: how is this process of collectivization experienced by the subjects that are summoned to participate? Does the non hierarchical action of the collective really “represent” them? If so, to what degree? And for what reason?
The exhibition “To the limits of togetherness” seeks to register and display a certain “failure” of the integration in the community or the collectivity, and the reasons of an always partial “failure”, which is nonetheless a partial “success”. We choose the sharpness of the word “failure” in order to highlight the quite significant emotional consequences of the collectivization of life. Yet failure doesn’t express a relation already decided, but the fundamental dimension of any primary traumatic contact with the other and the desire of the other, the “symptom” of any community – the always partial repression of the desire misfiring on the altar of coexistence. As attested in any period of collective mobilization, the always traumatic contact with the desire of the other can lead no less to the sublimation of social relations, social change, than to the denial of difference, the identifying love of community. To a remarkable degree, the regressive nostalgia of community harmony, the reflective representation of community as a harmonious environment for the fatal rendezvous of desire with its object, echoes even in updated radical narratives that idealize “libertarianism”, immediatism and the lack of representation.
This idealization echoes even in the context of an elaborated “post-anarchism” that informs contemporary radicalism. The surpassing of the psychoanalytical “ethics of desire” by the “things” themselves is considered to be a fact by this post-anarchism – surpassing by the new political actions that inspire the collective subjects and by a kind of “ethics of the real” delineated by the definitive collapse of the hope that the institutions of late capitalism, the politics of identity and integration can bring about a certain emancipation.[3]  Distancing itself from the tradition of utopian socialism, post-anarchism rejects the idea of a definitive utopian scheme and counter-suggests the contemporary social experiments of alternative ways of social, political and economic organization. This post-anarchism does challenge the messianic expectation for the redemptive moment of the revolution, yet avoids to challenge an ideology of millenniarist origin – the deification of “here and now” as a defined salvational becoming. Clearly, the contemporary community building is the jubilation in limbo of post-anarchism – the substitution of the present administration of everyday affairs by the phantasm of a radical exit (under some precautions here, one can exclude the post-anarchist thinking of Saul Newman).   
This exhibition, realized in the allegorical space of an old hospital in Amfissa, turned into a folklore museum, aspires to highlight intersubjective obstructions inside a collective process. These barriers haunt us all – regardless of the tension of the experience and the degree of participation in the undergoing collectivization of life. The exhibition tries to achieve this through the narratives of the artists themselves. The artists were asked to contemplate on the experience of the last one and a half years, to recall moments, points, meetings, friendships, conflicts, thus contributing to a puzzle game that may underscore something about the new glamour of “togetherness”.

 “Togetherness” in the new radicalism
The “climax” of collectivization under description is certainly the emergence of the so-called  “Indignant Citizens Movement” and the collective processes taken place in 2011 in Syntagma Square (let us not distinguish between the “upper” and the “lower” part of the square). A narrative familiar to us all describes a linear course, with intermediate stations, from the civic uprising in December 2008 to the current of indignation. Everybody confesses that: the void in the field of political representation and the gradual bankruptcy of various social strata contribute to a highly flammable mixture that triggers radical processes. Even more frequently, the “model of councils” put in trial by the participatory processes of the (lower) part of the square tends to be hailed as the progeny of the autogestion ethos that surfaced as the “legacy” of December 2008.   
Yet one wonders: is the history of social changes a linear process where radicalization keeps up with emancipation and vice versa? Whereas any possible answer is clearly difficult, one can experiment with different interpretations regardless of the narrative she gets to prefer. If, for instance, one studies the forms of insurgence based on their symbolic languages, she may reach the conclusion of a non linear representation of the social process. Some time earlier we proposed that the purely subversive moment of December 2008, as a kind of symbolic representation of the social rupture, was the setting on fire of the [municipal] Christmas tree – an act of arson attributed by witnesses to a groupuscule of lesbians. This burning down was not an immediate gesture of cruel destruction but the climax of a gradual desecration of a symbol. Setting that fire was not the outcome but the very introduction of a new “politics of aesthetics” with respect to the public image of symbols. It was an act of separation from the “old”, and a farewell for that matter. A symbolic castration. It might seem to be a supra-performative act but, in reality, it was a fairly discursive gesture.     
If the December movement managed to produce a rupture in the symbolic order, a breakup in the moral self-image of society, materialized in the symbolic pseudo-luxury of the municipal Christmas tree, the recent uprising of the Greek Indignant Citizens produced the exact opposite. If the symbolic gesture of December was the Christmas tree set on fire, then the central gesture of the indignant movement was the traditional “moutza” [hand gesture of insult] towards the Parliament. If the gesture of December induced a sense of breaking up with a traditional representation, with the boring circularity of the traditional petit-bourgeois social time, then the “moutza” by the Indignant Citizens was exactly the confirmation of an established “togetherness” by means of a traditional anathema – self-entrapment in a vicious circle of a traditional resentful relation with anything that neighbors the I, the self. The togetherness of social ressentiment. 
It thus becomes difficult to represent the progressive collectivization of social life by means of a linear course from an established vita contemplativa to a vita activa of movements. The discourse that understands contemporary radicalism by opposing the indignant-insurgent citizen to the medial “stupefaction” of the 1990s may be falling prey to its own solipsistic radicalitology. A similar kind of discourse characterizes various attempts of anthologies and surveys of the uprising events by authors and/or publishers. It is a discourse that, on the pretext of the self-understanding of the insurgence instrumented by such anthologies, deploys directly constructive tactics – something relevant, up to the point that is not formulated as a dogma of interpretation. In their introduction to the volume Revolt and Crisis in Greece: Between a Present yet to pass and a Future still to come the two editors describe the “primitive scene”, the event ground  for the insurgence of December 2008, in terms of a free revival of old-historical divisions and identities.
 ‘You are a child growing up in Greece in the nineties. There is a high likelihood that one of your distant relatives, or even your aunt, your uncle, your grandfather, or your mother or father may be haunted by the memory of a few years in their life from whence no bedtime stories will ever arise. “Exile”, “dictatorship”, “civil war”: these strange words ring about, yet remain lost behind the veil of the untold. Silent grandfathers with lingering gazes, voters-for-life of a party that would repeatedly betray them over the course of a lifetime too far along to change its course. These were times passed, hidden by the thick screen onto which the capitalist spectacle projected itself. By the mid-2000s, the spectacle has grown to Olympic proportions. The Games were here: development fever, a certain euphoria mixed with longing, the longing to become “Western”, to finally “make it”. For a brief moment in time it actually seemed to happen.’[4]

One can imagine the way this text continues. The explosion of December will tear apart any social lethargy. In the authors’ introduction one finds inscribed the coordinates of a selective-rhetorical atavism. The very first sentence of this introduction confronts us with a forced identification with the past, which is represented as dramatic yet glorious. One can very well ask whether a youth brought up in the 1990s has really configured the symbolic horizon of her political and social conscience based on some silent picture frame of the civil war, the exile, and the dictatorship? Surely, through silences or cries, every family can carry some traumatic experiences that either have healed or left their mark for life. But can anyone believe that the symbolic horizon of a teenager growing up in Greece in the nineties consists of memories of political history in the civil-war and the post-civil-war periods – such as the “Varkiza [treaty]” implied in the watery eyes of the grandfather? Truth to be told, is this the compass of the newly founded radicalism? Or is this constructed narrative offered as a compensation for the growing disillusionment about today? In any case, isn’t this narrative stamped by a nostalgic representation of the past as an era where political and social identities appear to be pure, lucid and redemptively heroic? Maybe the most ironic part of this introduction is the rhetorical devaluation of the capitalist spectacle coming from a generation brought up in the company of the private television, a generation that considered any code of “resistance” to be closely related to the super spectacle, the music industry and the mass production (and why not?). In the phrasings of this introduction lies the construction of a generation as “togetherness”. The true spirit deep inside such a venture is captured in the following lines by the well known anarchist zine “ta paidia tis galarias” concerning the climate of December:
 ‘In the first days of the insurgence you could almost smell in the air all those speeches and then all those texts, articles, pamphlets that were to follow, written by the insurgents or by sympathizers and “commentators” trying to acknowledge that there was indeed “something deeper”. This “deeper thing” everybody was talking about was the need to surpass the individual isolation from the real, communal life [gemeinwesen], an isolation created by all the above historical reasons.[5]

The limits of community

There is really no particular reason to doubt that the discourse on community is one of the consequences of the extended precarity in the post-war prosperity societies. This precarity is stratified inside the social body, yet concerns a general feeling of discomfort that runs across social norms. This is to be mostly attributed to the slow pace of “precariatization” and to the fact that potentially any of us is a candidate for entering the “precariat” (if she isn’t already a member). Economist and labor law specialist Guy Standing has offered a quite clear view over the social consequences of global changes in the field of labor. Apart from the few becoming rich, the neoliberal policies bring about an emerging class characterized by the uncertainty of labor precarity. Up to a certain degree, there remains today a class of employees and a class of professionals with volatile work identities stamped by the ephemeral character of projects they get to be appointed on. Underneath this class there is an ever diminishing working class that is gradually mortified – along with the welfare state of the 20th century designed for this class. Further below one can discern the growing precariat and, even further below, the class of the permanent unemployed, the class of a lumpen precariat.    
But, for Standing, the precariat should not be understood as a collateral damage of the greater economic transformation. It itself was the target, the objective of the global capitalism that needed it. The precariat isn’t a class in the Marxian sense but a class under construction. It consists of subjects not having some clear social-class target but being on the move in a nomadic way, under the reign of necessity. Constant changes of work, professional occupation of limited time, and the absence of any work identity amounts to the precariat lacking any kind of “narrative” for their lives, and the introduction of a clearly cunjunctural and ephemeral dealing with social relations. The precariat is characterized by the absence of “social memory”, sociopolitical homelessness and lack of empathy for the rest of society – a form of apathy caused by being unable to identify with others. Some parts of the working class also pass over to the precariat. The lack of education and cultivation makes them especially vulnerable to right-wing populism, which has an easy way to manipulate them. Another part of the precariat consists of “nomads” and immigrants, who in fact are excluded from the political sphere and its institutions. A third category of subjects belonging to the precariat is the significant number of young educated people that, while they can’t easily get carried away by a right-wing/conservative political agenda, nonetheless they experience intense stress and develop an anomic stance of generalized disgust for the political sphere. [6]   
Standing underlines the fact that the generalized fear of the candidates for the precariat favors the agenda of Neo-Fascist populism, since the latter can easily point their fingers to “enemies” and target various minority groups.  But here one reaches the political limits of an economy-centered approach to the crisis, such as the one proposed by Standing. This is because the emergence of the right-wing populism is clearly subject to many factors and related to the consolidation, over the years, of anti-modern traditions in the public sphere of local societies. Recently, Nikolas Sevastakis pointed out that, with respect to the impressive rise the Neo-Nazi far right wing in Greece, the reference made by the radical discourse to the social, the appeal to social radicalism (in our own formulation) is unable to reverse the invasion of nationalistic/racist discourses and practices. As Sevastakis observes:
To put it simply: the social is not enough because the far right wing, as it evolves hereafter in its brutal “Kasidiaris” version, is in its own way social and plebeian, protective and resting under the “anti-Occupation” sign· that is, it claims its own version of communitarianism and popular-friendly “societism”, arguing for a chauvinist welfare state, in the context of an aggressive challenging of the elites and their institutional equilibrium states. That means that the anti-Neoliberal front and the constant focus on the social destructions caused by the memorandum-dictated policies do not touch on the subterranean dynamics of a cruel anti-liberal radicalism: the latter actually attempts the reversal/reappropriation of values shared by the contradictory movements of the squares, a model of popular insurgence alternative to the one proposed by the left wing.[7] 

There is a well known anecdote told by Adorno about a seminary by Max Horkheimer. When Horkheimer criticized Heidegger, some student objected that, at least, Heidegger was the thinker who once again put human beings on the perspective of death. Horkheimer replied: “Ludendorff did it better.” In an analogy, the Golden Dawn succeeds today in expressing the need for a “community” in the most “authentic” way, by means of the hypocritical participation in the parliamentary proceedings no less than the “action” in the streets – the relief-inducing and participatory action of the “storm detachments”. Sevastakis discerns the visible probability of a contemporary radicalism deviating towards the tradition of the “conservative revolution” of the interwar period, towards right-wing radicalism. The fervent rhetoric of national alienation dominates yet again the discourse of various rebel subjects. But Sevastakis doesn’t refer openly to something that, in our view, is an “event”, at least from the point of a qualitative account of far right radicalism. 
Before the gradual rise of the Golden Dawn one could observe a remarkable disintegration inside the far right wing, of a character that is less a massive than a “qualitative” one. From the wider body of the domestic far right wing there emerged (maybe for the first time) groups of Autonomous Nationalism (Strasserians) – groups that delineate their ideological identity by referring to early National Socialism and right-wing anarchism, the anti-capitalist national communitarianism of dissident Nazis during the Interwar. This trend, gaining ground today in Germany, Italy, Poland, USA, Great Britain, Russia and Australia, counts years of presence over the Web and has found a new audience in Greece after the events of December. This commonality hosted not only Neo-Fascists but also certain anarchists, maybe of the “free-floating” kind. The domestic autonomous nationalists, drawing from the thought of Otto Strasser, Ernst Jünger, the Italian representative of the radical traditionalism Julius Evola, the National Bolshevik of Weimar Ernst Niekisch, no less than from more contemporary versions of the conservative revolutions – such as the post-war Neo-Fascist Francis Parker Yockey and the Terza Posizione by Roberto Fiore – belonging to the trendy current of Third-positionism or Querfront. The autonomous nationalists, the same as their comrades, the Nazbols (National Bolsheviks) in Russia, were physically present in the “square” of protest. Their presence came as a little surprise, next to the contemporary mouthpieces of the Popular Front tradition, scattered all over the left wing, next to the “Spitha” movement and the followers of the prophet-economist Kazakis. All these were nothing more than a mainstream domestic version of “Third-positionism”. In any case, a blend of conspiracy theories, anti-Semitism and anti-West polemic has dominated the public sphere for decades, horizontally traversing political and partisan identities, and paving the way to the “aleatory” patriotism of indignation. 

The aforementioned trends cannot but get acknowledged as the most “authentic” cry for a community. It is worth referring to a text that, even today, is able to inspire a critical analysis of the contemporary radical communitarianism. This same text served as a central source of inspiration for the thematization of this exhibition. It is the classic work by social philosopher Helmuth Plessner, The limits of community: a critique of social radicalism (published in 1924). The work is written during the turbulent years of the Weimar Republic, designed for deconstructing the glamour of the idea of community among intellectuals and the youth. The pressure put by the industrial capitalism and the shortcomings of the secularization in a fragile and, up until recently, incompletely consolidated nation-state such as the German one, brought about a composite subterranean current of anti-liberalism, anti-parliamentarism, national communitarianism, racism and ultimately fascism. Plessner quickly singled out that the dominant political culture led to the rise of autocracy and the quest for a leader. Against the dominant current of political-philosophical expressionism, he made the case for the value of emotional contraction, interpersonal distance, even social alienation, as positive characteristics of the modern society. The alienation, the “investment” of a social role, the social form, the non authenticity, a certain coldness and privacy are indispensable elements of the modern life. The state has to mediate between the society and the community for the purpose of not letting the one crushing the other. The modern subject, if she doesn’t want to regress to the more autarchic social norms of the past, needs to accept a certain schism: on the one hand, she cannot but search for the protection of a disguise that secures for her a distance from the others, while, on the other hand, she has to claim the attention and the significance of others inside the social field. The subject is the bearer of a de-realization that composes reality and illusion.      

For Plessner, the modern society can be saved as much as it puts in use a series of strategically significant values and practices such as the “ritual”, the “prestige”, “diplomacy” and “tact”. The “ritual” dances like an acrobat on the very limits of community – these are performances that secure the public sphere while staging a social play on the precondition of a certain self-restraint on the part of participants. It is also related with the avoidance of being ridiculed: it answers the question “how can we coexist without being totally naked?” The prestige, the subjective glamour, is also a strategy for the subject to avoid being ridiculed: the emphasis is placed on what distinguishes her. The diplomacy doesn’t refer only to the relations between state representatives but it is diffused inside commercial and professional relations in order to disarm crueler tactics by means of bargain, negotiation and argument.[8] The tact refers to the unofficial contact in the sphere of everyday affairs, and serves the need for flexibility and lightness in interpersonal relations.
Plessner made his argument against neo-paganism and Nietzscheism of his days. He observed that “The unmasking of the conscience did not return to the strong a pagan-like, indeed, prehuman insouciance· instead, it is more likely that it paralyzed the will from being used as a higher, more spiritual, and thereby more powerful weapon – indeed, as a weapon more powerful than any to be found in nature itself.” [9]  Yet, while condemning the Nietzschean idealization of “power”, he explained that he doesn’t reject any experience of community but the advancement of community to the humane par excellence and dignified form of social life – the reduction of community to a privileged way of life, the radicalism of community.[10] Such a critique is especially meaningful yet again in a time where radicalism seeks refuge to the à la Hardt and Negri theory of the “commons”. That is, to a theory that openly promises that can reestablish an experience of community they way it existed before the capitalist-private appropriation of the “common goods” and their socialist-statist administration. The thing is that the vision for such a community was and remains the fundamental phantasm of any anti-modern interwar ethnic communitarianism. The multi-communitarianism of the contemporary commoners predates them long before, to be sure. Otto Strasser had clashed with his fascist comrades for the exact same reason. Strasser (this Trotsky of the right wing) and equally Evola was interested in a revolution of the European “ethnic communities” against the monopolistic capitalism and the dictatorship of the proletariat. Unlike the new commoners, Strasser and Evola were ethnicists – something very probable for someone in their time. But Hardt and Negri also flirt with contemporary ethno-communitarianism – they understand postmodern “cultural differentialism” as a useful stage towards the formation of the multitude. For the super-humanists Hardt and Negri, the driving force of community is not the nation as “ethnos”, of course, but love. But, as they say, “love can go bad, blocking and to destroying the process. The struggle to combat evil thus involves a training or education in love.” [11] That is, certain failure.

[1] Helmuth Plessner, The limits of community: A critique of social radicalism, transl. Andrew Wallace, New York, Humanity Books, page 65.
[3] This belief is deftly expressed by Richard J. Fray in “To telos of igemonias: Anarchikes taseis sta neotata koinonika kinimata”, Athens, Eleftheriaki Koultoura, page 26.
[4] Adonis Vradis & Dimitris Dolakoglou, “Introduction” in Adonis Vradis & Dimitris Dolakoglou (eds.), Revolt and Crisis in Greece: Between a Present yet to pass and a Future still to come, AK Press & Occupied London, London, 2011, page 13.
[5] http://www.tapaidiatisgalarias.

[6] Guy Standing, The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class, Bloomsbury academic, 2011.
[7] Nikolas Sevastakis, I orati akrodexia in http://www.rednotebook.gr/details.php?id=6702
[8] Ibid, page 23.
[9] Helmuth Plessner, The limits of community: A critique of social radicalism, transl. Andrew Wallace, New York, Humanity Books, page 68.
[10] Ibid, 81.
[11] Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri, Commonwealth, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2009, page 195.

Some of the artists of this exhibition may share some of the above thoughts. Others may not. This brings us “to the limits of togetherness”. And, of course, a lot can be done in those limits.

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