"Les mauvais jours finiront" - Jean-Baptiste Clément
Content Warning for feelings.
LOOKING AT DESERT
When I look at the future with me in it, I can’t imagine a world at peace.
I’m not hopeless, nor delusional(I hope), I just can’t imagine utopias and think them as plausible ; or at least I can’t seem to fit my bodymind into an imaginary of healthy routine, close interpersonal bonds, fulfilling work (besides writing), it’s not that i consciously refuse it, rather my imagination has been domesticated by routine pain.
I do understand there’s no road to a place called utopia, these things we create are images. They’re ideas, not physical spaces.
Talking about Utopia and dystopia here, I will try not to talk about false utopias which are generally stories about so-called perfect societies that reveal themselves to be horribly dysfunctional and are generally just stories meant to say "see, our world is not that bad compared to how terrible it could be if we let ourselves make our dreams of a perfect society real”.
Here I want to think, among other things, about stories and visualisations that specifically posit fulfillment and remediation as necessaries of the social process.
When I look at the future I can only think of constant struggle, I can only think of worlds where Us hasn’t fused enough to only have conflict to Us-self, I can’t drop Them out of my futures. I can’t seem to imagine a world beyong this binary-mode. The repairing and the destroying, the complexity and the simplicity baked into each others.
The Them in question being capitalists, bourgeois, cissies, heteros, men, white folks, settlers, abusers ect. Some abusive by circumstance and conditions, others by function and all by interest.
I can’t seem to detach my self from fear and disgust, which doesn’t mean I reject their insights, I’ve been conditionned by my experiences with men to not trust them and these experiences were not vain or lying, they’re just experiences.
Experience is not solid proof, it’s just structured data, situated information your bodymind has collected and stored. Your instinctual mind maps models to predict or confront obstacles based on past experiences.
These models are internally coherent, made of organised knowledge, what we live again we tend to know a bit better, which generates a soothing feeling: familiarity. Routine. Threading the same path again and again brings comfort and eventually any path of thorns or pit of fire can become homely.
I’m afraid I’ve gotten used to this path I’m on. I’m afraid of not being able to change into something else when the circumstances require it.
To add to this, my current habits of ideological self-reaffirmation have rendered me more and more tired as I don’t have many spaces to vent to, I have been in need of catharsis because in my militant life I never cede to expressive despair even as things turn to shit quicker and quicker. I smile and I laugh at our defeats, knowing well that crying won’t change things.
I keep to myself, basically.
The fact that I’m not on the majority of social media platforms and don’t have a hobby bringing me in regular contact with other people are both consequences and intensifiers of this, obviously.
And I’ve been making connections here and there as much as I could.
I cultivate internet bedrooms where I can partake in slow-acting pajamas parties with other weirdoes. Away from the quickfire of Twitter’s trashfire-newsroom temporality, away from the strange streets of facebook, I sometimes stroll through tumblr’s ruins. I have spaces in discord and I regularly attend the Academy’s exchanges.
I’m trying to build groups of friends and acquaintances but I’m always doing so in the fire of activity, trying to make a living, struggling with comrades, writing things that could never birth and things that will come about in pieces. I feel functional yet disorganised and I want to change that.
COUNTER HEGEMONIC RESPONSE
And now an interruption of your regularly scheduled self loathing navel gazing spectacle to look at an excerpt of a text I’m writing that I don’t know If I can finish or even share in the future :
designates the removal of quantity so as to create gaps, voids waiting to be filled. =>
is the practice of structuring space according to certain specifics so as to generate or reinforce dynamics.
The spaces discussed here are social spaces : the area of work, of the family-structure, of citizenship both localised and digital, the military barracks, the prison, the electoral scene, the museum, the newsroom etc.
In the text I try and think about the method of spacemaking : this action of structuring social spaces according to the norms and ideas of your ideology ; spreading within society a particular “common sense” and set of practices. For this action to be effective, there’s a need for making space, gaps : emptying places of the legitimacy of the ruling status quo, pushing away certain ideas embodied by public personalities or objects and organisations. Making people realize there’s more than one Grand Narrative to either follow or reject.
That last part I’m describing is specifically called by Gramsci the Hegemonic Crisis.
He frames it as the moment the Authority/State/Bourgeoisie of a particular place and context no longer has a hold on the main narrative driving a society’s culture. No more status quo, leaving a gap where “Normal” used to be, the Overton Window becomes less and less fixed as both far right and far left attempt to fill the gap left by an unfocused “Public Discourse” with their own ideas and particular “common sense”.
The French Right-wing has been applying these methods very effectively, with Rassemblement National/Front National’s Marine Lepen getting 17,9% of voices at the first round of vote for the 2016 election and then 33,9 % in the second round, losing to Macron’s 66%. Far Right vs “socially progressive” neoliberalism.
The position of the Front National, even as a reknowned far-right party, is of being the not-quite-nazi party. The party that’s always there, ready to become more normal, the option you don’t think about until you’ve had it of neoliberals and so-called socialists.
The Front National is the human face of the french fascist milieux, it’s an ugly face but it’s there and it’s human and it speaks to a lot of white french people.
On the Transnationalist-fascist-coalition side, Generation Identitaire has several well established buildings in different french and european cities. When it established its first building, and general headquarter, it was in the city of Lyon, France.
Lyon which rarely votes right-wing but is still very well known in the french antifascist milieux for its consistently high number of far right groups and especially activists who are not afraid of engaging in physical violence. Up until recent history groups such as Lyon Populaire or Action Française went around at night as they pleased in search of activists, racialised and queer looking folks to beat up.
Antifascists had to reorganise themselves in order to push these groups away from the everyday nights of popular neighborhoods and even now they’re still the numerical minority in this fight. Now the fascists haven’t stopped going out but they know that they could get beat up too when they do so. The presence of fascists in that city and other metropolitan areas is not an abstraction but a concrete reality for many-a-militants and folks who’ve never engaged in politics in their whole life but got dragged into the mess through the pure bad luck of looking like the kind of person these fascists target.
Gramsci states that the gaps of the hegemonic crisis are not necessarily created but are definitely reinforced and intensified by a barrage of explanatory practices, commentaries from “thoughtleaders” or organisations that act as mediators between people and the News, this project of capturing public attention away from Mainstream channels is called a counter-hegemony.
The exemple of the french right-wing can inform us on how counter hegemonies can operate on several fronts: the french right makes its ideas palatable to the general public through public-facing entities like Generation Identitaire(which operates primarily on the youth front) and the Front National/Rassemblement National(the “adult” and “respectable” ideological hub) while at the same time allowing and (discretly) supporting the direct violence enacted by Action Française and Lyon Populaire goons against the same populations the suit-and-tie fascists try to eradicate structurally. The different groups and organs of this right-wing obviously try and make themselves appear distant even as numerous accounts and leaks inform us of their deep ties and complicity.
And in a way the fascists are always already dystopian, in their racist calls to deporting chinese populations because of their so-called ties to the covid19, in their support behind cohersive state measures even as they denounce that same state as a decadent elitist state. Fascists are painting a picture of a degenerated society that needs a new lead and a new ideal and they create the images of that ideal and proliferate them.
Once the status quo’s Grand Narrative has been destroyed by either people or circumstances, you have a gap and obviously when you make a Grand-Hegemonical-Narrative shaped hole you can expect something to fall in it at some point. Except, we’re not the only ones trying to push for something new here. We should remember that this is not a 1 on 1 fight. Crises are times of opportunity, if one enemy falls there’s plenty other parasites ready to pick up its mantle.
THINGS I’VE SEEN AND ENJOYED :
Margaret Killjoy(feminazgul) has a podcast called Live Like The World Is Dying and you’re gonna listen to all of its episodes because while topical they’re neither alarmist nor headlessly optimistic and what you need right now is breathe and thought and to hydrate yourself.
Half Assed Disabled Prepper Tips for Preparing for a Coronavirus Quarantine By Leah Piepzna-Samarasinha
Another great text from Chuang about the convergent causes which allowed the emergence of covid19 : Social Contagion
Leveler: peer to peer wealth redistribution, aka venmo but better
Check out this list of free quarantine e-books from VersoBooks, more specifically check out The old is dying and the new cannot be born by Nancy Fraser if you’re interested by the American liberal hegemonic crisis
A while ago I wrote down a sketch-idea for an alternative history/plot where a ukrainian protagonartist haunted by the Holodomor would drift through some model-utopian retrofuturist USSR city, I had loose ideas for making a link between the looping temporality of trauma and the circular shape of the classic image of Utopia : self-sustained, self-propelled, self-generated and consumed, no beginning, no end, no direction. All of it filtered through alternate-history Gibson/Sterling style design-obsessed speculative fiction.
I didn’t write it because I didn’t feel a connection to it and also, no time. I’d much rather someone with actually Ukrainian heritage, knowledge and willpower write that.
But it did make me think about the fact that I’ve never been utopian.
In the 189th episode of the Srsly Wrong podcast, the Wrong boys talk about the perils of criticism and future-visualisation from The Left™ because even when correct, it tends to adopt the attitude of describing negation : “our post-Revolution world will be different from this one because you won’t have [bad thing] and you won’t depend on [toxic social relation] and you won’t have to do [horrible thing]…”, rather than establishing a concrete basis for what will happen, for what has to and will be constructed.
Even the perfect, can-do-no-wrong, always correct anarchists have this tension at the center of their ideal : Anarchy = No-rulers. An ideal named after a negation !
When you’re in pain it’s far easier to say “I don’t wanna feel this pain” rather than “I want to feel this pleasure”, and as expected current leftists, as propagandists, are generally dystopian in their critique of the establishment, they create elaborate images to describe the mecanisms and horrors of our predicament but don’t necessarily offer a way out, only the possibility of a gap. This gap waits to be filled.
From this observation, the hosts of the podcast lay out Library Socialism: a utopian visualization linked to a concrete practice and set of social relations based on the concept of the irreducible minimum (Paul Radin by way of Murray Bookchin), the usufruct and complementarity :
Everybody needs and therefore is granted a certain necessary minimum of ressources and then the obvious surplus that comes from a collectively organised productive system is handled through a system akin to a loaning-library that creates a condition of commons.
Everybody has the usufruct on everything but the community itself has ownership over this everything. Not one person singularly owns things with the right of life and death over products and ressources but everybody can use everything when it’s available and has the right to enjoy the profit of that everything.
From that, a state of collaboration is both necesary and facilitated, distribution of work-time according to capacity can slide little by little into distribution of work according to desire thanks to education rates going up and automation being implemented to get rid of the most grueling work. The realm of labor becomes mainly fueled by passion, not just obligation.
Utopianism, as a socialist project, seeks to visualize an ideal future and to establish possible bridges towards this outcome of socialist, anarchist, communist, libertarian practice(s).
Utopianism builds an image and attempts to conjure it into existence, it pins down an intention and pushes its believers to bring it about. It’s magick.
A photo from outside.
FUNCTION OF DYSTOPIA
It’s become redundant to talk about Dystopia now, so much so that sometimes I feel like an ass writing down another definition of it, I feel like people will just skip over the paragraph to get to the juicy bits and some unfortunate folks will just keep reading the wannabe wikipedia entry I delivered in the hopes of finding some insights there. The only thing that really changes from articles to articles is “what is to be done with dystopia?”
With answers ranging from praising the genre as a great tool or saying it should be abandonned because it distracts from the real-life problems we should be solving instead of imagining fantasy ones. The problem boils down to substance : is your story really about the possibility of Artificial Intelligence rioting against its masters and taking control or is it just a sci-fi dramatization of mass slave revolt, capital and labor turning against their oppressors to inflict vengeance over them ?
And that substance is deeply tied to the function of Dystopia, what is it then ?
When deployed as effective criticism, the genre can help us pinpoint knots of Power as it exists and unfolds in our interpersonal life, dystopia can make dramatically visible the chokehold of certain entities and institutions on the implementation of technologies, it can reveal the potential violence humans inflict on each others through ignorance, mediation, indifference, need, fascism and how techologies of social control accentuate or occult all of these consequences.
In that, this genre provides us with a voluntarily distorted portrait of our current predicaments and, in its most interesting examples, will focus on the mechanics that allow Power to expand. It may also trace out a trajectory from Now to the Visualized Then of the story, not quite as a prediction but rather as a warning.
Dystopia is a map that points to the cliff . Escape routes are not necessarily as visible as the void.
Then again, as all genres and aesthetics, if displayed through a churn of low-effort, easily-made, easily consumed, big-budget blockbusters and unimaginative distracted labor, it will and has generally only created a HD look into the miserable suffering of forgettable human-looking shells. You may get a bit of entertainment from it but will you get anything new ?
If you’re writing something and intend to share it with the rest of the world as a work of Art, you should ask yourself : Are you doing anything necessary and useful with that story ? Are you saying anything new ?
(this doesn’t apply to writing as a focused practice, exercise or masturbation. No one can tell you what to write for yourself. The question of function only comes into play once you’re making something people will engage with. You’re entitled to what you create.)
What has been the practice of this newsletter so far?
If I’m not mistaken I’ve mostly shared criticism, insightful I hope, but still criticism. And I won’t lie: there is something cathartic about constructively shitting on things I find interesting but lacking, or gripping but damaging or just plain weird…
Is this gonna be a critique of my critiques?
I don’t know, i don’t know that i know what to say.
I just think about whether I’ve been stuck in a dystopian-critique-mode, just pointing out the flaws and dynamics in already existing things : unhealthy internet habits, prude genre-work, luxury fashion trends, paranoias…
I wonder if this is useful.
I want to make interesting failures, useful failures. I’ve got so much I want to share but don’t know how to, and there’s forms I want to practice but there’s no substance I can attach to them yet, it doesn’t feel right.
I’m still working through the quarantine though work regime has been drastically reduced and the quarantine lockdown means that most things I used to do on the militant side are on hold or shifting. I have a lot of time to myself, almost as much as when I was unemployed, miserable and working on a foolish doorstopper of a novel. The difference is that I’m functional now, I have both routine and income. Even as my writing practice’s rhythm has changed the things I’ve learned still serve me.
I’ve walked into a place I’ve been to before but I’m not longer me, whatever that was.
I want to state an intention for a future work but this is not where I will set it, I must have time to think.
What is needed is a Utopian vision linked to a concrete reality or practice in order to attach itself to minds.
We don’t need the story of “Fully Automated Luxury Communism” yet,
We don’t need electoral wishful thinking.
What we need precisely I don’t know, I’m not We, I’m just me.
All I can do is try and bridge me to some We and see what that conjures within.
PART 1 of a X-parts Distraction
Send me your fears, I will answer//////////////////////////////////// email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org Find or create your solidarity network, remember who needs what and who can help how; there’s no shame in getting help and there’s no glory in giving it. No merits, only needs. No shame, only ressources.