Becoming Noble: Time and Affect in the American Autumn and the Arab Spring

John Protevi’s recent essay in The Contemporary Condition on the role of affect in the Occupy Wall Street protests got me thinking about some musings I had over the role of time and pace in the Arab Spring. I’d like to suggest that of all that is made of the interconnections, and there are potentially many similarities between the Occupy movement and the Arab Spring, three points strike me as central:

1. The Arab revolutions were triggered by the self immolation of a Tunisian shopkeeper, and Occupy Wall Street was ushered in by the lethal injection of Troy Davis. Whether symbolic or causal, death permeates the movements. My favorite sign is “The Beginning is Near”, a spin on the drab end times fundamentalist discourse that has weighed down our politics for far too long. As Slojterdijk points out, we can think the end of the world in an array of films and books, but we can’t think small changes to capitalism. These martyrs have sparked something that represents the final needle that collapsed the camel’s back.

2. The parallels between the Arab Spring and the American autumn, when seen from the perspective of a theory of the political affects are striking. As John Protevi notes, the act occupying, of coming together face-to-face in our social media driven lives enables a break with the political layer of affects. Coming together with major numbers (numbers now matter) and occupying public spaces leaves an affective impact. It begins to erode layers of affect that have built up on our political psyches. As Marx noted, the realm of political change must occur first in the networks of family, civil society and private spheres. As Deleuze and Guattari point out in Anti-Oedipus, there is no difference between human nature and nature a such. The idea of bodies as desirous affective machines shows the degree to which political change and subjectivity is vulnerable to shifts, discontinuities and rapid changes.

3. The protests open up and ride with a new pace of time, of affective life that is distinct from standardized capitalist time. This new temporal space taps into a much deeper potential which Nietzsche discussed in his nobility forms and in his concept of self artistry. Since we are experiencing a new politics of becoming that is distinct from that dictated largely by Wall Street, I claim that these Occupy movements have opened a new relation to time by facing the rift of all social time.

One fatal error that social movements have committed was to slow time down to face the rift, (the traditional conservative approach). Connolly, in Neuropolitics argues that we must face the high velocity speed head on, yet there are others such as Wolin who argue that pace must be slowed down in order for democratic processes to function.

The challenge for the Arab revolutions, and to a degree, the problem of the Occupy movement is centered on how to embrace a pace of life where democracy does not fall into a Fascist reproduction of machines. Whether we still can glean insight from Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus schizoanalysis or not is worthy of questioning, or at the minimum of re-reading.

Occupy movement

Nationalist movements and religious fundamentalist movements tend to embrace not the rift, as does dynamic pluralistic democratic movements such as Occupy Wall Street, but they become captured in a slowing down of time to avoid the inevitable rift.

One way to see the division here is between a politics of recognition, versus a politics of becoming. The logic of recognition is to embrace tradition, to recall things that have been forgotten, while the politics of becoming consists of rapid changes to solid modes of identity and the system of recognition that it often eludes explanation or dialectical advance.

When pace increases it takes more and more political work to protect the assumption that the universal identities layered into us conform to a totalitarian leader. Connolly argues that it also becomes more challenging to identify with any master-signifier (nation, culture, etc). The problem for Nietzsche in building a society of increased tempo is that we must forego the ordered nature of roles for society. The problem wasn’t being determined by any master signifier (God mainly for Nietzsche) as such. When pace increases, we are no longer “material for society.” The problem is that many will seek to return society to a stone-like condition. In fact, the demand to obey strict commands may intensify. So the possibility opened up for democratic experimentalism immediately opens up the possibility of democratic fundamentalism.

Becoming Noble, Or Becoming an Artist
Interestingly, Nietzsche associates nihilism with fundamentalism, and both with the acceleration of speed. Nihilism occurs when people insist on bringing back a decayed moral order to replace the existing one.

Nietzsche resists the herd, by which he means the tendency to sink into the roles defined for oneself. Upon drawing up laws around a shared set of principles, man enters into virtuous stupidity.

You cannot attempt self-artistry until first stepping out onto the stage, without first embracing the rift opened up in time. Everything most noble about democracy is connected in some way or another to becoming a little more artistic in our relations with others and with diverse parts of ourselves.

Nietzche’s new nobility is divided into three parts:

1. Those work on themselves to overcome existential resentment against the lack of intrinsic meaning in life. To be noble is to be your own experiment.
2. The noble cultivate a grace and ease of conduct through practice.
3. By taking the “spiritualization of enmity” means that the noblest ones put forward their faith with the assurance that it could be the wrong one, or that it could be false.

So what Connolly seeks to achieve with his vision of democracy and time is to democratize Nietzsche’s noble ethos, which he sees as a state of pluralization. By folding into one the key values that Nietzsche privileges in the new nobility: self experimentalism, grace, and pluralism as the conditions appropriate to adaptation to democracy in a fast paced world. Connolly almost dogmatically applies a sort of democratized Nietzsche as the solution to promoting greater pluralism.

Connoly places the self’s relation to time as the central facet by which all else is adjusted. One’s sense of plurality and interdependence is sought via one’s conception of time. By positing that there is an inherent rift in time that must be realized, what’s more is he combines this with a Nietzschean art of the self-manual. The affirmation of existence that must be folded back unto life more robustly, and it is both this self-artistry and sense of time that he ties into his ethical project.

In a future post I intend to bring together my work on Badiou’s Theory of the Subject and some reflections on the #Occupy movement.

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