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THE TIME WHEN WE BEGAN EXISTING

“It was a large room. Full of people. All kinds. And they had all arrived at the same building at more or less the same time. And they were all free. And they were all asking themselves the same question: ‘What is behind that curtain?’ You were born. And so you're free. So happy birthday...”

Laurie Anderson, Born, Never Asked

By Iskra Geshoska

The world is strange and not very promising. Sometimes I wonder what might be a sensible way to fix the world, to fix human nature, seeing as we’re hurting and killing one another every single day. Yesterday a whole Kurdish family was killed. Every day someone is hurt or their freedom endangered. How can we talk about freedom, democracy, human rights, solidarity and equality when the whole world is in a state of acute entropy?

Our image of humanity is arriving at a large unfamiliar building, in which we all feel alienated, but in which, through the idea of community, I guess, we search for the idea and experience of freedom. But we can never find out – or have no tools to fully discover – what lies hidden behind the curtains of this scene.

The writer Iskra Geshoska Photo: Vancho Dzambaski © Goethe-Institut And for this very reason, the alienation of the seemingly established community in the building called freedom, democracy, modern society, Europe is most probably a duration through which we wander, constantly trying to define our wandering and our feeling of being lost and to bring it to some conclusion – to discover the reasons, the consequences and the way out. We are all gathered in one place, pushed into the building, where we’re filled with hope, but also dissatisfaction and even grief. We want to get out or at least “redecorate” the place. Our bodies are in a state of constant resistance, disharmony and protest. We yearn for the experience of freedom, and whenever we discover a window and manage to crack it open to let in some fresh air, an air of change that promises freedom, we build new prison bars because we do not know what to do with the newfound aromas and flavours of freedom. Because freedom involves responsibility – unlike oppression, under which we may even start feeling comfortable after a while. Oppression is devoid of responsibility. Unlike freedom, it does not demand action.

Over the past decade, or perhaps even longer, we have been living in a building in which the experience of community was transformed into the experience of being pressed into a crowd, with no strategy for finding a way out in the long term through any of the windows that have yet to be barred.

SUMMARY – AN EPILOGUE INSTEAD OF A PROLOGUE

How can we resist? How can we protest? How can we redefine freedom, its criteria and boundaries? We can we provide a solid grounding for civil society in which individuals will break out of the culture of silence and find their real role, their place in society? It is all too clear that we are experiencing massive collective pain and trauma every day, our liberation from which may well involve coming together in a shared critical public space.

We need to take a step forwards, we need transgression, diversion, a sense of inclusion and unity, of shared responsibility, of some sort of subversion. The silent ones ought to be transformed into brave orators, and the inactive into drivers of the civil and social turbine. The pain ought to be shared and a cure discovered for our socially induced coma. The culture of silence and whispering in private ought to be transformed into a culture of public discourse. We should set out on a quest, on a campaign to find and create a “different scene” in which the citizenry become a political body that shows the initiative to map the corridors, the gateways, from this world into that “different scene”. However, whether because of our inadequate knowledge of social and political dynamics or our inability to create communities capable of clearly defining a higher goal, i.e. the public good as opposed to narrow individual interests, there are still plenty of reasons for many people to suffer from a feeling of pointlessness.

CONFRONTATION

A community based on a political culture of critical action and face-to-face confrontation is a community of freedom and mutuality, sailing bravely towards new horizons and surrendering to the temptations of creative confrontation and political imagination. The conclusion to be drawn from our modest activist and rebellious experiences is that civil society should be the main protagonist of an ongoing confrontation that will destabilize in order to ultimately bring about stability. Because confrontation is a mode of negotiation, of participation, of creation of new narratives.

HOW NECESSITY ENGULFED FREEDOM

The aim of rebellion and revolution can be nothing but freedom. It is frightening, however, that the very idea of freedom has somehow disappeared from the vocabulary of rebellion in the course of time, and then re-emerged in the debates about wars and terrorism in order to justify violence in politics. The revolutions of modernity are characterized by nothing but advocating for the rights of humanity. Robespierre said in his last speech that their revolution would fail because, in the history of humanity, they had missed the right moment to establish liberty, and not because of the ghosts of kings and tyrants, but because of the ghost of poverty that emerges as necessity in the course of action. In that very missed moment, the revolution changed direction. And since then, no one, or almost no one, has said that freedom is the goal of any revolution. Since then, the goals of revolutions have been the common good, the happiness of the people. We have sacrificed freedom to the “dictatorship of necessity”. It was the French Revolution that taught Marx that poverty, social injustice and oppression could be political factors of the highest order that would eclipse the principle of freedom.

One important feature of the “revolutions” of the 20th century is that they speak the language of necessity.

THE EVENT AND THE POLITICAL ORGANIZATION

The historical value of an idea is first clearly confirmed through revolt, through protest. But the political value of that revolt, that protest, is confirmed by an organization that is faithful to the idea, because a revolt can only affirm an idea through a well-founded organization. A political organization is a means of disciplining the event, it is order employed by disorder, “an uninterrupted preservation of the exception” as Alain Badiou would put it. It is the mediation between the world and changes in the world. The organization must deal with the subjective question: How can we achieve a political awakening of history, changing the world into the world itself? How do we adjust utopia to praxis?

So how do we organize the idea? How do we organize the revolt? Organizing the idea involves opening the gate, initially through protest, to achieve a kind of historical projection of some future policy. Politics becomes credible through everything that protest, resistance and revolt have brought to light by bringing into existence what was previously non-existent, thereby marking the awakening of history.

WAS IT A REBELLION OR A REVOLUTION?

Karl Marx insisted on constant and persistent rebellion, not revolution, which usually fails because the state apparatus co-opts reform in a set of laws and documents. To put it in Marx’s words, all previous revolutions have merely “perfected this [state] machine instead of smashing it”. Rebellion, the longing for freedom, solidarity and justice, according to Hannah Arendt, entails rejection of the status quo.

ANGER AND US – A FEW DILEMMAS

We have never experienced a mass articulation of anger (at least not since the articulated struggle against Fascism during the Second World War). Pain and grief have always been articulated through individual outbursts of revolt, tentative public displays of emotion and a few social and cultural practices. Resistance has almost always been confined to the intimate sphere of individual initiative. The self-organization of anger has always been an ahistorical category that does not belong to the public sphere, but remains deep within the labyrinths of the unconscious, or is kept secret.

Why do I believe that this is one of our biggest problems, giving rise to a “culture of silence” built on the principles of the entropic spirit of the subjected, on conformism and a refusal to accept responsibility for the public good and common interests? The self-organization and articulation of anger is a symptom of a certain consciousness of the world as a community of differences that are looking for their place under the sun as social beings and can sense the vital importance of community, as well as the fact that individual interests will never suffice if responsibility for the common good is ignored.

The amount of suffering, misery and injustice around the world today ought to spark ten times more rage than back in 1917 (Russian Revolution), especially with the far better means of communication available to us now. And yet, this indignation has not given rise to a “global idea” – except, that is, on the level of discourse. Radicalism has been reduced to the level of an aesthetic attitude or perhaps a philosophical habitus, and has lost its meaning as a political strategy. With great consistency, “the centre”, “balance” and “levelling”, the most amorphous of monsters, have learned the rules of the day and proclaimed themselves the stars, the only stars on this posthistorical dunghill. Everything around the “centre”, that misinterpreted Aristotelian middle way, has become like it: impersonal, mediocre, characterless, despotic, authoritarian. Yes, we are oppressed by the despotism of the middle, of balance, by the dictatorship of the moderate, of opportunism and conformism. The agents of yesterday’s extreme impatience seem to have become “idle”, since the zeitgeist fails to offer them any role to play. It is the boring and mediocre and balanced who are called for now. They are expected to sit around big round tables and find a global formula for “equability”. Eros does not defy Thanatos.

If we were to try to express in a single sentence here the most powerful psycho-political situation in the world, it should be formulated as follows: We have entered an era in which there is no room for the kind of concentrated anger that might usher in fundamental worldwide changes in matters of freedom, human rights and welfare. Neither here on earth nor up in heaven “does anyone  know what could be achieved with the ”just anger of the people”, writes Peter Sloterdijk in Rage and Time: A Psychopolitical Investigation (2012, Columbia University Press, translation by Mario Wenning):

The sacred fureur from which Jean-Paul Marat, one of the most vicious and greatest agitators of 1789, expected the creation of a new society, leads today to nothing. It creates only dissatisfied noise and brings about hardly more than isolated symbolic actions

If we try, without any pathos or elation, to “conceive of the contradictory potentials of the present” for resistance inspired by anger, whether in the developed and democratic “countries of the centre or those at the peripheries” (which is where we are), we will have to find something ”big”. But, Sloterdijk continues,

they no longer unite in the historically known forms of radical parties or in international oppositional movements, which put pressure on the bourgeois centre or on an authoritarian, that is, quasi-liberal state with a view to producing a radically new value.

”Here and there, there are protest marches”, which we always insist on defining pompously as “great” or “mass” demonstrations, or we catch sight of a lucid and attractive banner, or “burning cars expressing the rage” of class, race, gender or sex. The rage takes on an emblematic, symbolic value that has no capacity to bring about a real change in values. “Opportunist waves of indignation” transform into “debating clubs in which one scandalizes for weeks” about injustices, about analogies with the ghosts of Fascism, about criminogenic ministers and bureaucrats. “At times, isolated and more sophisticated political projects or networks” of local or “regional significance” emerge. “However, nowhere do we find an articulation of a vision” and strategy that would allow for a radical transformation of the cries and the pain that are not merely local (Macedonian, in our case), but global. So it is high time that we admitted our weakness compared to the Achillean rage that Homer sings about in the opening lines of the Iliad and that amounted to a utopian vision of freedom and opposition to injustice.

ATTEMPTS AT CLARIFICATION: WHAT IS THE REVOLT?

It seems that the world-political and socio-cultural reality of the past fifteen years has been going through an extremely reactionary period. The destiny of the world’s citizens, European claims to the contrary notwithstanding, has been in the hands of a few politicians running corrupt, clientelist nationalistic regimes, criminal regimes that foment hypocrisy towards the principles of justice, freedom, equality. What kind of society can be based upon the cruel self-interest of a camarilla of parvenus and their successors? Are we not right in branding them “bandits” if profit is their only imperative, their behavioural norm, for the sake of which they are prepared to crush hundreds of thousands, even millions, underfoot, to trample their dignity, knowledge, their very existence? Where will these new post-colonial, post-transitional projects in biopolitics lead? In the meantime, the destiny of millions of people depends on the interests and designs of these corrupt politicians and bureaucrats, and our acceptance of this “reality”, of the continuance of these unscrupulous self-dealing policies and regimes, is shocking and increasingly agonizing.

We are living in barbarism and risk drowning in it. The social landscape has devolved into a mass of people with little chance of surviving in a world of corruption, oppression and exploitation. These people are present in the world, but absent from its historical significance and the decisions that will affect its future. These people are from a “non-existent” world. We cannot change the world until that non-existent world begins to fully exist. And this is exactly what the protestors were saying: “We did not exist before, and now we do. We now have a say in our nation’s history.” This subjective fact carries tremendous affective power. The non-existent got going, stood up for themselves.

The importance of resistance, revolt and protest (I’d be wary of using the word “revolution”) may lie in according existence (presence and political relevance) to the non-existent (disregarded citizens) through an event. Real change can create new realms of existence in the world: the public square, the street, the itinerary of a group of angry marching protestors is the realm in which these people, who seemed non-existent to the state just a short time ago, now exist. The body public proclaims its existence by acting on its need to participate and attain visibility.

The recent political revolt that brought about a new reversal of the political map of contemporary history – though it is still too early to say whether they/we have succeeded in achieving that reversal – is characterized by a momentary exaltation that elicits two types of reaction. One is an intellectual reaction to a specific regime and to performative articulated narratives of the revolt, while the other leads to a wildfire of mass clashes, often dangerous, even lethal, in which the body is not only politically, but physically, exposed.

We used to fight for differences, but now the immutably “soft” median turns everyone into a hybrid.  Let us recall the anarchist rallying cry: “I irritate, therefore I am!” The importance of this issue comes to the fore when the irritation, the upshot of critical capacities for thinking about the world and ways to change it, suddenly metamorphoses into an institution with highly visible spokespeople and permanent associates, with a customer service, experts and reports. The critical agon for the purpose of reflexive irritation smothers the anger and acknowledges the pre-eminence of the billboard as the place where changes in the world are advertised.

When resistance, or protest, “sacrifices” its anger to the billboard, to a “brand”, then it certainly cannot be considered a strategy to fundamentally change the world, but merely a moment of exaltation that might well take a few small steps forwards, but will not get beyond the familiar matrices of human behaviour.

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