the life of the group vs. what the group accomplishes

occupy_london_tentThis Monday during Cihan Tuğal’s comparative analysis of revolts in North Africa, Southern Europe, and Turkey—part of the Berkeley Sociology Colloquium Series—he offered this gem about the occupation of Gezi Park:

Even though a non-commodified space monetarily redistributes resources among its participants, it does not result in an egalitarian world beyond the revolt itself. [from my notes of Tuğal’s presentation]

Cihan discussed multiple motivations for several kinds of participants. One key motivation that struck me—which I think relates to the above quote—was pleasure. Many bourgeois participants were motivated negatively by “the impoverishment of social life” caused by increasing commodification and positively by what Cihan described as “pleasure”. All this reminded me of Slavoj Žižek’s warning (to Occupy Wall Street) about “one of the great dangers the protesters face:”

…the danger that they will fall in love with themselves, with the fun they are having in the “occupied” zones. But carnivals come cheap— the true test of their worth is what happens the day after, how our everyday life has changed or is to be changed. This requires difficult and patient work— of which the protests are the beginning, not the end.

And both quotes remind me of a much older text, The Lonely Crowd, in which David Riesman et al discuss what they saw as a newly predominant character structure, embodied in the other-directed individual:

Thus the other-directed child is taught at school to take his place in a society where the concern of the group is less with what it produces than with its internal group relations, its morale.

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Falling in love with ourselves

Also published in Occupy! #5. Occupy! is an OWS-inspired gazette, published by n+1.

In late October of last year my cousin came down to Liberty Square, then home of a thriving Occupy Wall Street, to meet me for a drink. He arrived early so he could check things out for himself. I was eager to hear his impressions.

“What stood out to me,” he told me at a bar around the corner, “was how you all are recreating society—or creating a microcosm of society. It’s all there: a kitchen, a medical tent, a security force, a public library, and a whole alternative decision-making structure. It’s fascinating!”

Much has been made about the prefigurative aspects of Occupy Wall Street and the occupy encampments across the country, when they existed. The camps, for example, served as more than just a protest, more than just a tactic. Participants consciously prefigured the kind of society that they were striving to build. It was indeed a compelling moment for my cousin—or for any stranger—to witness. In the two months of the physical occupation of Liberty Square, newcomers like him could walk in off the street and join our world—could even speak up during a General Assembly meeting if they felt so moved. Everyone’s participation was welcomed. A modified consensus decision-making process is used in the General Assembly and in working group meetings so that decisions have to take into account everyone’s input and ideas, thus prefiguring a kind of direct democracy lacking in the wider world, particularly in the realm of mainstream politics.

“It’s kind of utopian,” my cousin suggested.

“I hope not!” I replied. Continue reading

TONIGHT in NYC: “Occupy Their Desire” discussion with Jodi Dean, Not An Alternative, and yours truly

Hey New York City-area friends, tonight I’ll be part of a discussion called Occupy Their Desire at the Austrian Cultural Forum. The panel will include Jodi Dean, the art/activism collective Not An Alternative, and yours truly — followed by a discussion. Here’s the info:

Tuesday, August 21
6:30pm – 8:30pm
Austrian Cultural Forum
11 East 52nd Street
New York, NY

It’s free, but you can make reservations. I hope to see you there.

Here’s the description from Not An Alternative:

Occupy Wall Street occupied mainstream media headlines via a question: what do they want, what are their demands? Philosopher Slavoj Žižek, pushed the question further when he enjoined occupiers not to be afraid to want what they desire — suggesting a gap between conscious want and unconscious desire. In effect, his injunction was for occupiers to occupy their desire; for us to occupy our desire.

Inspired by this, Not An Alternative will host a research discussion that investigates and inquires into the desires expressed by and repressed in Occupy Wall Street. The discussion explores questions such as:

  • How is the expression of desire a necessary element in building a movement?
  • Where has Occupy succeeded and failed in this task?
  • How might we contrast the movement’s expression of desire with that of the 2008 Obama campaign (Hope!), or traditional Left / progressive politics?
  • What role does representation play in the expression of desire — and relatedly, how do the disciplines of art, advertising and psychoanalysis inform this inquiry?

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