Thursday, May 17, 2007
The radical Italian political theorist and philosopher, Giorgio Agamben, once wrote: "The goal of revolutionary politics is the destruction of politics itself". What he meant was the destruction of politics as an autonomous sphere; something separated out from the rest of society, and from everyday life; something transcendent which has become the domain of "specialists" whom we call "politicians". In effect, when we separate out politics from everyday life, we leave so-called "democracy" up to the politicians. They say "Shut the hell up, and just let us do our job - let us rule over you", and we consent, most of the time. Though, I believe, of course, that politics is far too important to be left up to the politicians. That's why the abolition of politics as an autonomous sphere would be an act of radical democratisation. It would mean dismantling the very state apparatus of rule, so that we may govern ourselves; so that we may be full participants in society, and not merely spectators and consumers. This is the goal of anarchy; "anarchy" simply meaning "without rulers". Instead of a state, we would have a federation of freely-cooperating collectives - and these collectives would collectively and collaboratively own and manage workplaces, schools, neighbourhoods, and the like. This would be a post-political politics. Forget outdated notions of communism. This is simply RADICAL DEMOCRACY. The division of labour under capitalism has not only carved out an autonomous domain for politics in the form of the state, but it has also carved out autonomous domains for artistic and intellectual activity. Hence, I wish to apply the same critique to bourgeois art and bourgeois intellectualism that Giorgio Agamben applies to bourgeois politics. Let's begin with the figure of the intellectual. For a long time, I proudly considered myself a radical intellectual or "scholar-activist", but now I am beginning to rethink this. I always disliked the term "academic", as to me this conjures the image of an "embedded intellectual" - embedded, that is, in the university system, just like embedded journalists in Iraq are beholden to the institution of the United States military. Opportunity for genuine critique thus becomes stifled. And so, the term "intellectual" always seemed more democratic to me, as there are plenty of intellectuals who don't work in academia: these include writers, poets, political activists, armchair theorists, and the like. But just as I advocated a post-political politics above, maybe we also need a post-intellectual intellectualism. By this I mean that we have to abolish the idea of an elite specialised stratum of people who we allow to produce knowledge, which then, by default, dictates what we are to know and not know. Just as the politician rules with power, so does the intellectual rule with knowledge. To democratise society, surely we need to democratise knowledge production. This would mean refusing the illusion that self-proclaimed "intellectuals" have a monopoly on knowledge production, and instead valorising the knowledge that EVERYONE produces, and allowing that to proliferate and flourish. The figure of the Intellectual has largely been construed as white and middle-class. What, then, of indigenous and Third World knowledges? These are precisely the knowledges that have been marginalised by the capitalist division of labour which has marked out knowledge production as the specialised domain of intellectuals. We are all intellectual in our own way, and we need to find new ways to pool our knowledge and learn off each other. This would mean calling into question the entire education system, the media, and the elitist nature of the publishing industry. When it comes to book publishing, who decides what constitutes valid knowledge worthy of publication? Only a small circle of elite editors, who aren't accountable to us! And so we need new democratic forms of knowledge production. Wikipedia and Indymedia have been very early and inspiring examples of this! With these two sites, EVERYONE is an intellectual! Lastly, I wanted to talk briefly about art. I contend that art does not belong in the dead spaces of galleries, but rather, that it belongs in everyday life. Destroying art as an autonomous sphere separate from the rest of society would mean infusing artistic production into the quotidian fabric of our very existences. And all of us are already artists! As Hakim Bey writes: "Artists are not special kinds of people. Each person, rather, is a special kind of artist". Dada was a very early example of a radical critique of bourgeois art. In fact, the Dadaists labelled their works as "anti-art"; Anti-art, that is, in the same sense that Giorgio Agamben is anti-politics. And so a "post-art art" would mean the democratisation of artistic production. Rather than a few specialists producing art, and the rest of us passively consuming it, all of us would become producers and creators. And the powers of aesthetic creation need not solely be deployed in the fashioning of traditional works-of-art! These powers of creation could also be deployed in politics and in the business of living! We could envisage each of us as paintbrushes, and reality as our canvas! This would mean destroying the distinction between art and life itself! And so, in a nutshell, I am calling for a political, intellectual, and artistic project that seeks to abolish the figures of the politician, the intellectual, and the artist as transcendent, specialised roles. Instead, we would have the rule of all by all. We would govern ourselves and all of us would be free to produce knowledge and art that would circulate in the commons for the mutual enrichment of humankind.
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