Embracing Fragmentation

Derrida famously opens Specters of Marx with a meditation on the motif in Hamlet that “time is out of joint.” This reference provokes many implications, but the core condition of time being out of joint is inactivity and passivity in the face of time. Time being out of joint for Hamlet touched both the register of his own capacity to act and it also affected a much wider condition facing his age. Politically, if the time is out of joint, we confront fatalism, which posits that no action can produce a change. But fatalists do act, and the most interesting form of action is that action which has accepted the condition of impossible change and still acts nonetheless.

Another implication of time being out of joint is that we are not in possession of time. But the time that rules over us must therefore be brought to an end before we start a new time. To speak of the now amidst a time that is out of joint is to try to find some clarity beyond fragmentation.

The motif of fragmentation is perhaps an even more useful description than out of joint; the latter assumes a broken body, where fragmentation assumes an asubjective set of fragments in flux; the consequences of time being out of joint brings about fragmentation beyond the body, the self, the community. Fragmentation entails a wider and deeper ecological fragmentation.

“Embracing fragmentation is what allows us to regain a serene presence to the world” write the Invisible Committee in Now, the 2017 postscript to their 2014 manifesto To Our Friends. These texts analyze the failure of the Squares movements from 2010 – 2014, including the various Occupy camps and other insurrections and they point to new trajectories of struggle beyond them.

Continuing the work begun with their provocative Introduction to Civil War, the Invisible Committee have built a theory of liberation that is without a subject and that is no longer concerned with the project of seizing power.

Thus, when they speak of now, or of the present, they are speaking from the vantage of a present that is not bound up with the present as such; their reflections are pitched from a different temporal perch than the daily rush of annoyance and perpetual frustration that has animated the first year of the Trump administration. This perspective, slightly out of the present makes reading the Invisible Committee a therapeutic exercise.

In Now, the Invisible Committee mark, with great accuracy, the end of the latest period of uprisings with the failure of the French movement known as “Nuit debout,” a social movement that brought a popular assembly to the streets of Paris after the Loi travail affair was proposed in parliament; an anti-union, neoliberal policy that aims to significantly undermine workers rights. This anti-union policy was eventually adopted by the French parliament in August 2016.

But the Invisible Committee had already given up on assemblyism and the main tactics of Occupy before Nuit debout came about. The long-term project of constituent power-grabbing, whether in Leninist or Negrist forms of dual power have reached a point of total exhaustion.

The Exhaustion of Power

I want to point out the commonality the Invisible Committee shares, albeit in a different way, to Baudrillard’s political writing in the late 1970’s and 80’s.

As the policies of neoliberalism began to set in during the late 1970’s, Baudrillard already anticipated a looming exhaustion with power on the left in western countries. For Baudrillard, socialism was to blame for this new, passive treatment of power happening as a result of the fusion of decayed social democracy and liberalism throughout western Europe.

Power was no longer animated by questions of Schmittian sovereignty; power was no longer capable of being thought in terms of spheres of power, hegemony or antagonism. Power had become a banal thing that must be managed. The socialist political functionary could thereby arrogate their ideological commitments and ‘manage’ power because power was unredeemable. Socialism latched onto the capitalist form like a parasite but a parasite that refused to contest the hosts vital forces; a total submission to the host of capital.

Baudrillard rightly saw that power had changed with this sad union of socialism refusing to contest the power of the capitalist form. The result was a total conflation of socialism with liberalism. The philosophical support for this refusal to contest power came in the ideology of the “nouveaux philosophes”, a collection of popular post 68 French philosophers who rejected political action in favor of abstract metaphysics. “To be in the world, but not of it” was the mantra of the nouveaux philosophes. The New Philosophers had given up on power in a philosophical and aesthetic sense long before this unity of socialism with liberal-capitalism took hold. 

These new socialists ostensibly abandoned the strategy of power-taking out of cowardice and in opposition to the more vulgar communist party, who were desperately seeking power grabs, all to no avail. Power thus became a slimy thing that no one quite possesses. Power was something that could paradoxically only be managed, it could not be put to the ends of realizing a break with the existing order. Elections of flawed functionaries and officials were permissible in such a scenario because those that manage power no longer need to possess a principled stand on much of anything. The left, in the absence of the communist party as a viable contender within western political struggles, had to learn to settle for compromises between socialists and liberals.

Embracing Fragmentation 

“The loss of every hope also forms the conditions for pure revolt.”

The Invisible Committee, Now (114).

We are straddling a precipice after the brief rebirth of history. Our now is happening at the conclusion of the first significant movements of invariance that have sought to disrupt time. There is no other way to see the insurrections of the 2011 – 2014 period as other than signs of rupture. But what is the way forward, what is to be done?

We must begin with an analysis of power today. The Invisible Committee argue that today, society no longer coheres in virtue of itself because it is not held together by its own powers. We must get at their controversial argument of late capitalism. The Invisible Committee does not offer us a reading of Marx which is centered on the reign of the commodification of all areas of life. Power has subsumed the worker in ways that are far more total than the reign of commodity capitalism.

They argue that the economy does not produce commodities, it produces workers. Wage labor is about the complete take over of existence for use value. We thus should no longer speak of the figure of “the worker” today; at best, the worker is converted into the “needy opportunist” (96). The worker has been subsumed and erased by the rise of human capital.

The implications of this subsumption of capital into the human domain is the well-known ‘biopolitical’ turn. The Invisible Committee must be read from this interpretation, but they have teased out the practical implications of it in ways that are far-ranging and often missed by academics interested in deploying biopolitics as an analytic mode of understanding the world.

The category of man is composed of a cluster of capital; man cannot be thought outside of capital. But in the industrial economy, man was formally something different from what he sold. There was a preserved space of something un-alienable. The turn to human capital is what they name “the anthropomorphis of capital” and this turn means that the economy is about the policing of the place of subjects within the order of the economy. 

In this framework of understanding capitalism today, capital valuation can only flow or continue by the implementation of control mechanisms over populations. If we accept this premise, the consequence is damning to the Accelerationist flirtations with Universal Basic Income. For the Invisible Committee argue it is only to a population totally under control that UBI can come about.

Furthermore, this thesis of human capital presents a major challenge to the Hardt and Negri embrace of social entrepreneurship forms of resistance by the multitude. Such proposals will face the challenge of finding a way to create rival forms of valuation in the context of a global system that has converted valuation to a system of control and accountability of all that is not yet accountable.

Thus, we can see the consequences of this reading of contemporary capitalism is twofold: develop lines of escape from capital valuation/societies of control and to harness a destituent power mode of resistance.

Attempts to Form Unity Amidst Fragmentation: Cybernetic and Fascist 

Before we breakdown destituent power, we must note two forces in our world that aim to bring about unity in the face of fragmentation: the cybernetic order and the neo-fascist movements. The liberal capitalist order has entered a period of the decline of its efficacy in facilitating unity. The election of Trump, the massive decline in trust among citizens across the globe are two obvious signs of this collapse. Interestingly, the police and especially the brutal assault on dissent that the police demonstrate in cracking down on demonstrations around the world, goes to show the brutal un-naturalness of the liberal order; every time the police seek to impose order, the opposite tends to ensue (118).

A visual diagram of the two primary forces attempting unity amidst fragmentation brought about by capitalism.

The Invisible Committee present the scene of a demonstration to evoke the type of clarity they are seeking. It is worth considering why they invoke the spiritual terms such as “serenity” to describe the clarity they are after. But clarity comes in the tear gas smoke of the riot. The imagery of a demo with smoky haze looming amidst a series of fragmented parts is the best vision of how we must think clarity.

Where the police are scattered and the assemblage of insurrectionaries must move amidst fragmentation. But the insurrectionaries must aim beyond the law of the police ultimately. They warn their readers not to make the police the fetish of the riot. But what then lies beyond the scattered fragments of the law of the police? It is not clear, but I want to suggest it is the beyond the law that opens the spiritual dimension of their thought, the ‘serene’ and the ethical dimension of their thought.

Yet to effectively answer this question of the beyond the law is to engage in the destituent power game itself. For Agamben, the beyond the law is often associated with motifs of play, or a place where new forms of use-value are made possible such as we find in the forms of life within the Franciscan movement.

Conceptually, the Invisible Committee writes from this perch beyond fragmentation. How else might we account for the clarity of their proposals?

To get at their vision of destituent power, the Invisible Committee argue that there must be a division within the idea of insurrection; a division between those that act on behalf of some thing outside of the insurrection such as “the people” etc. This is what they call the ‘constituent itch’ which must be avoided. On the other hand, you have emerge a ‘constituted itch’ which seeks to seize power in a direct fashion.

This distinction is reminiscent of Joshua Clover’s distinction between the riot as practical activity and the riot as a vehicle of communication, where the constituent itch serves as the side that aims to represent some interest or group, where the constituted side aims to seize power more directly, and in that sense, it aims to contest power more directly.

A proper conception of destituent power is one set on escaping and refusing to take hold of either of these two options. It fastens onto the struggle’s positivity, but it does not disengage from struggle. The Invisible Committee deploy the metaphor of Deleuze’s lines of escape, of dance and the idea of finding a weapon. It is not a matter of fighting for communism, it is a matter of engaging with the communism that is lived in the struggle (79 – 80).

The Future of Struggle: Communication Beyond the Discourse 

The strategy of destiuent power they propose is arguably the most refined and practical extensions of the thought of Giorgio Agamben in our current militant milieu. The proposal of withdrawal from institutions should not lead us to nihilist confusion. Withdrawing from institutions does not leave a void; it suppresses them in a positive way (80). They note, for example, that to destitute the university is to create alternatives outside of it that are even more demanding.

The concluding pages of this manifesto raise a number of deeply challenging statements on the relation between the strategy of withdrawal and the self. Attentive readers to the work of Gilbert Simondon and his work on individuation, the Invisible Committee seem to conclude that the Christian legacy of the self is linked to the project of left autonomy projects, from Negri to Lenin. They thus abandon horizontalism and the wider effort to “organize autonomies” as a failed project. The task is to organize the fragments, to seize situations.

In the interim of our present now, after the brief rebirth of history, new forms of communication directed not towards ‘the discourse’ but towards sensibility, towards the body, towards something other than the subject present the way forward. This form of communication, outside of discourse, is centered around denying or disabling the constant affirmation of an autonomous self.

It is difficult to not think of this form of communication as something other than a spiritual form of communication. It is no surprise that they continuously toy with Heideggerian language of the self beyond the ontic dimensions of human capital. This spiritual or ethical turn in the Invisible Committee may be the aspect of their thought that makes me the most curious about continuing to follow their work.

 

The Invisible Committee, Now, Translated by Robert Hurley. MIT Press, 2017. Paperback $13.95 ISBN: 9781635900071

One Reply to “Embracing Fragmentation”

  1. There is no such thing as “fragmentation of time”. What’s fragmented, or out of joint, is the human capacity to adapt to the ravages of time on the material world. And there is only one phenomenon responsible for this: the carbon industry.

    This is not a psychological or spiritual problem. It is simply a worldwide addiction to the substance of fossil fuels.

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