>From the upcoming "Revelation" issue of Fifth Estate
(http://www.fifthestate.org), Spring 2007 Volume 41 Number 375 .

Revelation Vertigo
Stevphen Shukaitis

Autonomy is both the goal sought after and that whose presence--virtual--let
us say, has to be supposed at the outset of an analysis or a political
movement. This virtual presence is the will to autonomy, the will to be
free. -- Cornelius Castoriadis

There exists a tendency, shared across different strains of radical
political thought, to see the horrors of our present as comprising a false
totality, that when torn asunder, will reveal a more liberatory existence
hidden beneath. This is to understand revolution as revelation; as the
dispelling of the conditions of false consciousness, and a reclamation of
an autonomous existence that continues to live on, albeit deformed, within
this world we must we leave behind.

For the autonomist, this comes in the form of the working class for itself
whose existence was disrupted, not destroyed, by the violent upheavals
that formed the economic basis of capitalism (a process which Marx
observes plays the same role in political economy that "original sin" does
in theology). In primitivist thought, this becomes a reclaiming of a
mythical ancestral past crushed, but never fully destroyed, by the weight
of technological development and the machinations of alienation.

As powerful as such lines of argument can be, one danger in the politics
of revelation is that every act of revealing not only illuminates the
existence of certain processes and phenomena, but also effectively
conceals others that do not fit within the structure of the revelation. It
is when revelations become dogmatic, when they become "churchly" one might
say, that they blind the true believer to all that falls outside the
blinkers they have placed on their intellectual vision.

To question the process of questioning is to return to the etymological
root of the concept of revolt, one based on a process of returning,
discovering, uncovering, and renovating; one that is a state of permanent
questioning, of transformation, of change, an endless probing of
appearances. For it must be remembered that every act of revelation is not
simply a discovery of what is, but also a construction of that which is,
through a process of shared perception and understanding. Thus, to speak
of an autonomous self-determining capacity that existed before the advent
of capitalism providing the seeds and routes going through and beyond it,
is not simply to uncover its existence, but also to take part in its
collective construction. It is the presupposition of this autonomy, based
on a perhaps mystical foundation, which enables the struggle for its

The danger, or at least one of them, contained within such a style of
argument, is the risk of projecting back into history some sort of
prelapsarian subject that only needs to be reclaimed to bring about the
end of alienation and the failings of our current existence. Fetishizing
this sort of imagined past contains very real risks, as nearly none who
proclaim the benefits of such an existence have ever experienced it
themselves (except those who have racked up a good bit of frequent time
traveler miles).

Perhaps there is a different dynamic at work here—a process that seeks to
avoid the pitfalls of creating and projecting forth static utopias of
imagined futures with no methods for attaining them in the here and
now—although clearly this is not the only meaning of utopianism. But this
is a process based rather on what Antonio Negri calls a "constitutive

In other words, a process based on the constituent power of the dysptopic
nature of the present. A dream of a different future through the rejection
of current constraints, and an implicit understanding of a life lived
without those dynamics. After all, what is really so negative about this
kind of backwards projection anyway? Yes, there might be pitfalls involved
in that kind of mental process—but there are far worse things that could
develop. One could argue that this sort of process involves a form of what
postcolonial theorist Gayatri Spivak calls "strategic essentialism," or to
stipulate an essence in a way that is useful to those engaged in a social
struggle, regardless of whether it is necessarily a true statement or not.

The danger of creating totalizing concepts, narrations, and frameworks
isn't necessarily the totalization itself. There is no need to be followed
by a Lost in Space style robot that obediently intones. "Totality, Will
Robinson, totality!" at the first sign of one's appearance. For all
attempts to understand the social world and its transformations, to
participate in trying to pull this shaping in a particular direction,
necessarily relate to some conception of totality, even if only implicitly
stated. The level and scope of this totality, however, varies widely—from
the often and unfortunately assumed frames of the nation-state and
political revolution premised upon seizing power at this level—to a
broader and more encompassing notion of social space that can vary from a
very local to a global (or beyond) scale.

The concepts of the temporary autonomous zone and the intergalactic
encuentro, associated with Hakim Bey and the Zapatistas, are extremely
valuable especially in how they expand the breadth and range of the
radical imagination. From fleeting and temporary moments perhaps taking
place between only two people (in the midst of a riot or in each other's
arms), to possible relations with beings from other galaxies we are not
even aware of yet, are all part of an expanding and open totality of
possibilities. The same can be said for the Situationist idea of the
society of the spectacle and the autonomist notion of the social factory,
except that these operate based upon the rhetorical force of a constituent
dystopia to work their expansion of the radical imagination.

These lines of thought employ a visceral argument about the total
colonization of the present as a means to ferment a scream against
existing conditions, very much in the way that philosopher John Holloway
describes "the scream" as a moment of dislocation, critical reflection,
and the building of vibrating intensities with the potential to undermine
the conditions that cause the scream in the first place.

The difficulty of such an argument is, if all of everyday life has been
totally colonized, as Guy Debord and others often argued, then how would
there be any grounds for resistance? Who would resist and how could they
possibly resist if they had been completely colonized by the logic of
capitalism? Similarly, if the existence of the social factory is
totalizing, (where there is a unifying logic of command in which relations
of the factory have extended all throughout society in one unifying logic
of domination) from where would it be possible to contest this logic?

What exists is a rhetorical strategy where force is given to the screaming
calls for resistance to forms of domination by presenting them as
contesting totalizing systems of control. That is to say that the argument
is not really that everything has been totally colonized, because if that
were so it would make putting forth strategies for contesting capitalism
to stand on rather shaky ground precisely because it is quite difficult to
make arguments for forms of resistance based on an analysis that
stipulates the existence of total control while at the same organizing in
ways that are based upon existing cracks and spaces where this control is
not totalizing, or at the very least not to the degree that the analysis
tends to imply.

It is this imaginative move, which might indeed sometimes be of the
necessary delusions of resistance, which is described by cultural theorist
Gavin Grindon as the "breath of the possible," one which is premised upon
making a certain leap of faith whose history one can trace as it evolves
through interconnected movements.

The danger of totalities is not that we construct or employ them, but
rather that we take them for the world itself, as it actually exists,
rather than as conceptual tools to understand the world. The risk is that
we, to borrow from Situationist phraseology, take our totalities for
reality. Revelations can induce a sense of conceptual vertigo, as we
dangle far from the earth, precisely because of the distance introduced
and enlarged by taking ideas for the things themselves. The world, after
all, is always messier than the concepts we create to understand it. The
danger is when such concepts, which are a part of the reality they attempt
to describe and take part in shaping, leave us blind to existing dynamics
that do not fit into the conceptual scheme; when it constitutes a misstep
that forecloses other possibilities that could exist outside of these

Concepts are products of the imagination. That is, they result from the
body's interaction with the world around it. Affective traces of these
interactions compose the body and what it can do through the imagination.
Thus, understanding them is absolutely essential as a basis for any
adequate understanding of the world, our place within it, and attempts to
increase our collective capacities and forms of self-determination: to
spread forth lived joy and abundance of life.

In this way, perhaps the similarities in dynamics of thought between
strands of Marxism and Christianity is not so surprising. Both involve the
creation of a totalizing scheme useful in making sense of the everyday
experiences and affects upon the bodies of those involved, and explaining
them within this conceptual scheme. For the Christian, the suffering of
the present, this "veil of tears," is explained as a result of a fall from
grace eventually to be overcome through ascension into heaven.

For Marxism, the transformation of the pre-capitalist world by the bloody
expropriation of primitive accumulation is a condition to be overcome by
the eventual destruction by proletarian revolution. Both are premised upon
what the Christian Marxist Ernst Bloch, a clever synthesizer of the two
lines of argument, refers to as the "not-yet," which indeed operates as a
principle of hope for those enmeshed within such a framework, but often
does precious little for those alive in the here and now. And, just as it
doesn't take a weatherman to tell you which way the wind is blowing, it
doesn't take a Keynesian to remind you where we all end up in the long run
(i.e., dead).

Opposed to these worldviews that promise a brighter future "someday" to
excuse the misery of the present one also finds bursts and outbreaks of
demands for the creation and realization of liberated life in the here and
now: from the English radical Christian visionaries, the Diggers, Ranters,
and the brethren of the ever-renewing free spirit, those clamoring for the
creation of heaven on earth now, to those who working toward creating
spaces of insurrection, insurgency, and autonomy in the present. The
totality and march of historical time is broken, ripped away to reveal
modes of collective experience and joy inscribed on the bodies of those
rising up.

And, as one of Flannery O'Connor's mad, wandering prophet outcasts might
correct her (emerging from the warped realm created by her gothic Southern
Christian imagination), all that rises up does not necessarily converge,
even if the patterns of strange attraction of the gravity of Eros to tend
to warp time and space around them. A total and unitary frame of
reference, time or experience—whether the spectacular time of the
commodity or the spectral time of religion—is shattered and begins to
become replaced by what Debord describes as the mutual federation of
freely reversible forms of time. It is striving towards creating
conditions for the realization of autonomy as the independence of social
time from the temporality of capitalism.

This is the movement of movements, or the movement of movement itself; the
constantly shifting and transforming of the radical imagination, social
relations, compositions, and affections. And, this is not just the
movement of what are usually considered as forms of social movement (which
tends to give too much emphasis to the technicians and specialists of
political action, the seeds of tomorrow's bureaucratic class) and their
recognized forms of visibility, but social movement as just that: the
movement of the social. Transformations occur constantly and in
often-imperceptible shifts, minor revolts and mutinies that disguise their
importance beneath their seemingly insignificant forms.

This movement of an infinite totality, composed of many elements and
machinations of desire that in many ways can be regarded as totalities in
their own right (this is the exact point made by Hakim Bey when he argues
that we begin as the sovereigns of our own bodies, but that this is a
sovereignty which is socially constituted in a relation between bodies),
is described with great skill by none other than Spinoza.

Beneath the veneer of what seems to be an overwhelming religiosity, the
framing of his argument that nothing is possible without god, is his
heretical view of what that means. For Spinoza, god or nature, is this
infinite totality of which we are all parts. The foundation of his
argument is an understanding our position within and in relation to this
all-encompassing and infinite totality. From this he proceeds to describe
the joyous and happy life, the blessed life of liberation, which is
founded upon such an understanding of what is possible for the free
individual. This sort of argument finds great resonance with the ideas of
someone like Raoul Vaneigem (as well as Deleuze, Guattari, Negri,
Castoriadas, and many others), who, like Spinoza, see desire as the
essence of humanity. Whether understood as the living of happy life or
increasing affective capacities through the liberation of desire, the
unfolding of the everyday life of revolution, of liberation, is built upon
how the everyday connects and relates to, as well as embodies, the
totality of social relations and processes.

Whether a statement or conception is in itself true or false does not mean
that cannot be useful to ongoing struggles. There are times where a claim
of an argument being false, particularly in relation to core notions, what
one might call the myths we live by, is not even necessarily an objection
to it. Indeed, for false judgments themselves often are still
life-advancing and necessary. As that old German malcontent Nietzsche
argued, "To recognize untruth as a condition of life: that is, to be sure,
means to resist customary value-sentiments in a dangerous fashion, and a
philosophy which ventures to do so places itself, by that act alone,
beyond good and evil."

To live the everyday life of revolution is certainly a dangerous task, one
fraught sometimes with very necessary illusions, allusions, and delusions.
The presumption of an already existing form of autonomy that Castoriadis
describes in the quote that opens this article might indeed not have
existed until those acting based upon it already existing by their actions
take part in creating it. Whether this autonomy really existed is not
necessarily important compared to how this presumption, resting on a
virtual and undetermined capacity for autonomy, takes part in the process
of its actualization.

Such a process is not necessarily positive or negative, but depends on
other processes and dynamics involved, and from whose perspective this
judgment is being made. The task then is to work through how these
formations occur, and whether they tend to move in directions we want them
to go, or whether they come to be objectified and turned against us, where
the tools and notions that once were helpful are nothing more than baggage
at best, and phantoms and specters that continue to haunt us.

You and I return to the scene of the crime
Let's go out and wash our sins away
Everyone's an actor in this play
Trading lines with broken phantoms
-- Mission of Burma, "Fever Moon"

Gavin Grindon (2007) "The Breath of the Possible," Constituent
Imagination: Militant Investigations // Collective Theorization. Ed.
Stevphen Shukaitis + David Graeber. Oakland: AK Press
John Holloway (2003) "In the Beginning Was the Scream," Revolutionary
Writing: Common Sense Essays in Post-Political Politics. Ed. Werner
Bonefeld. Brooklyn: Autonomedia
Antonio Negri (1999) Insurgencies: Constituent Power and the Modern State.
Trans. Maurizio Boscagli. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press
Friedrich Nietzsche (1990) Beyond Good and Evil. Trans. R.J. Hollingdale.
New York: Penguin Books
Baruch Spinoza (1949) Ethics. New York: Hafner Publishing

Stevphen Shukaitis
Autonomedia Editorial Collective

"Autonomy is not a fixed, essential state. Like gender, autonomy is
created through its performance, by doing/becoming; it is a political
practice. To become autonomous is to refuse authoritarian and compulsory
cultures of separation and hierarchy through embodied practices of
welcoming difference... Becoming autonomous is a political position for it
thwarts the exclusions of proprietary knowledge and jealous hoarding of
resources, and replaces the social and economic hierarchies on which these
depend with a politics of skill exchange, welcome, and collaboration.
Freely sharing these with others creates a common wealth of knowledge and
power that subverts the domination and hegemony of the master's rule." -
subRosa Collective

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