Release to Us the Field!
In his consideration of Tiqqun's Introduction to Civil War, Frére Dupont identifies the group's self-perceived ‘radical subjectivity' as an elitist trap which has long plagued ultra-left and avant garde movements. As an ‘anti-political communist’ writer often identified with Tiqqun, he explores how their construction of a we/they polarity represents a crucial difference between them
Mary said to Jesus, ‘Whom are your disciples like?'
He said, ‘They are like children who are playing in a field which is not theirs. When the owner of the field comes, the children will say, "Release to us our field"'
- Monsieur Dupont's parable of the children in a field
There is a sect called the disciples. Of all the things in the world, they are most like a group of children playing in a field. And so it is that such children most resemble, of all things in the world, a militant religious sect. When it is demanded by the 'owner' of the field that the children remove themselves, they make a preternatural counter-demand, 'The field is ours because we are playing here; do not dispute with us the ownership of the field. Our continued playing takes precedence over your right to formal ownership.' The owner of the field has authority but is isolated. The children are a collectivity and that clinches the dispute in their favour (from their perspective). The power of the children's argument is derived from the exigency of their collective activity. And all this seems to fall into line with the romance-utilitarianism of 'communisation'.
Image: still from Leslie Daiken's film, One Potato, Two Potato, 1957
Tiqqun also resemble a group of children. That is, they would resemble some children if those children also happened to resemble players in the game of Tiqqun. Perhaps Tiqqun play somewhere in a field near the rural centre of France and their rough and tumble has given rise to a set of demands relating to the ownership of their field. It is a natural progression for them to translate the rules of their play into the real world and thus demand that the field of play itself be released to them. It is a natural progression, within the terms of their play, to assume that the field is theirs because they are there. And, by virtue of their presence in their space, this field of theirs, they are constituted as a collectivity. By a process of circular self-legitimation, Tiqqun has the power to enforce the parameters of its play, which thus takes the form of further, externally directed demands.
The collectivity of Tiqqun is the ‘us' formation which they propose universally as a contradiction to the owners of fields (who constitute an aggregate of isolated ‘them'). As a collective ‘us', Tiqqun is condensed in its own field and contemplates itself both as the recomposition of its own ‘radical singularity' and as the autonomous progenitor of its own identity.i The self-fulfilling prophecy of radical subjectivity, that all ‘theys' will either be initiated into a condition of Tiqqun by means of ‘contagion' or they will ‘stay where [they] are', amounts to the self-imposition of a quarantine.ii The problem of self-isolation, set out as the objective limit on influence for all radical subjectivities, is thus re-encountered by Tiqqun. Even where the owner of the field accedes to the collectivity's demands and releases the field to the self-defined radical subjectivity, ‘they' (i.e. everyone else) remain unmoved, and see no reason not to stay where they are. Without the tension of demand and counter-demand to sustain it, and whilst it recruits no others in order to expand its territory, the radical subject as soon as it successfully achieves its first demand, must then pass into a rapid state of decline; its radical example passing unconsumed by the indifferent masses. Tiqqun have achieved the status of life in a commune, and every ‘smallest detail' of their practice is a ‘heroic' victory and yet none of it makes any difference. It has no meaning for anyone but themselves.iii
Have Tiqqun forgotten that only the tragic hero is in possession of his own line of flight, and that the cost to him is utter isolation? As soon as they define the problem of the capitalist social relation in terms of the difference between what ‘we' do and what ‘they' do and infer from this that ‘we' are set against what ‘they' are, they initiate a tragic sequence of associations which end with their manifesting the conventions of everything they supposedly oppose.
Don't they, or do they, see how this invocation of ‘us', manifesting in the field of ‘them', sets Tiqqun neatly within the history of every other recuperated avant garde of radical subjectivity which has first set out to propose itself as an example? They foresee that their engagement by the Bloom (those who know no 'community'iv), on Tiqqun's own terms as a radically singular form, will never exceed ‘predictable chatter'.v However, by means of this chatter, Tiqqun, as a singular formation, are already in the process of becoming Bloomesque. It is as though by making the initial separation of themselves as a singular ‘form-of-life', they condemn themselves to an abject state of defeat which the Bloom never have to suffer.vi
However, before this ritual submerging of the avant garde occurs, the isolation of 'us' from them is constituted first in terms of the rejection of the Bloom:
How can we extract ourselves from this dispersive mass of Bloomesque bodies, from this global Brownian motion where the most vital bodies proceed from one petty abandonment to the next, from one attenuated form-of-life to another, consistently following a principle of prudence...vii
But why would we want to extract ourselves from 'them' in the first place? As if in answer, Tiqqun exult in themselves as 'us':
Us - it is neither a subject, nor something formed, nor a multitude. Us - it is a heap of worlds, of sub-spectacular and interstitial worlds, whose existence is unmentionable, woven together with the kind of solidarity and dissent that power cannot penetrate; and there are the strays, the poor, the prisoners, etc., etc.. In short all those who, following their own line of flight, do not fit into Empire's stale, air-conditioned paradise. Us - this is the fragmented plane of consistency of the Imaginary Party.viii
But this is not a community. It is a gang. Or a congregation: ‘When I encounter a body affected by the same form-of-life as I am, this is community, and it puts me in contact with my own power.'ix Community is not electively asserted from the compatibility of its parts. Instead, the always secondary recognition of an ‘us' emerging in common struggle with similar others is just one formation amongst numerous other subject-fragments which, aggregated together, presuppose an earlier process. Always, just before the appearance of a recognisable community, the cumulative laying down and part-forgetting of earlier conflicts reaches a critical mass only to be dispersed by a representation of an ‘us', by the very ideology of community which Tiqqun affirm in this book. Community never exceeds the ideological representation of itself wherever it is proposed as people agreeing with each other.
In reality, any community is the unlooked for, accidental and arbitrarily accumulated depositing of long histories of different human traffics which have all passed through this same narrowing in the river. Tiqqun's urgent need for group consummation inhibits their grasp of the essential truth of community, which is that it is never achieved. Every subject-fragment which sticks to this place rather than another, proceeds to disrupt the ‘us' which might just then have been about to formalise. The presence of the new arrival causes the community as an aggregate to reorient towards a deferred and greater ‘us', the conditions for which are still not present and are always deferred. In short, a community is a positive representation of the binding together of conflicting interests in close proximity over long periods of time but it is never a community as such.
Whenever a ‘we group' such as Tiqqun condenses itself in the field, becoming the spectral embodiment of the project named ‘how is it to be done?', anti-political communists are made to feel uneasy.x ‘Tiqqun is, [...] the action that restores to each fact its how, of holding this how to be the only real there is.'xi But how can it be, anti-political communists ask, that this group is not only capable of locating the errors of all history as it manifests itself as Tiqqun in its field, but that the truth of the world is also already in its grasp? What likelihood is there, anti-political communists ask ask, given the expanse of what is and what has been, that the awareness of both error and truth should converge at the same moment in the same location and identify itself as that which could be?
Tiqqun means that ‘each act, conduct, and statement as event [...] spontaneously manifests its own metaphysics, its own community, its own party.'xii
Following a different ‘inclination' to Tiqqun's constant movement towards self-reference, certain 'anti-political' communists have developed a theology of ‘they'. It is assumed in the propositions of this theology that if the communists have the capacity to spot radical flaws and snags in the present ordering of things, then this knowledge is sufficiently damaging and compromising to the communist formations themselves that it must necessarily inhibit the communists' capacity to approach the innocent question of ‘how it is to be done'. And so, these communists conclude, the how of things must be addressed by an appropriate ‘they', or even an ‘it', which is organised, yes in part perhaps derived from the communists' findings, at an altogether higher order of recursion.
...we are the pariahs of Empire. Anchored somewhere within us, there is a lightless spot, a mark of Cain filling citizens with terror if not outright hatred.xiii
The ‘we' of Tiqqun, even as it denounces subjective formations and identity politics, nonetheless still locates in its own practice a transcendent alternative to the lives of the ‘them', the herd, the spectators, the sometimes silk but usually plastic and always contemptible Blooms of conventional existence: ‘They are born collaborators.'xiv Tiqqun belong to the tradition of that greater ‘we' which has descended through time as the small group, as the sect, which extrapolates from the fragment of the world which is itself into a potentially generalisable condition. With Hellfire Club style exultations in images of ‘abandoning ourselves to our inclinations', Tiqqun set themselves qualitatively against the masses who are to be understood in terms of ‘Fake self-control, restraint, self-regulation of the passions...'.xv Tiqqun define the ‘us' form-of-life, their civil war, as an exponential increase of excitations, a contagious sense of their ‘being carried away'. Grand gestures of relinquishment sets their ‘us' apart from the acquisitiveness of others.
It is not difficult to identify the presence of historical traces of modernist misanthropy by which previous subject formations in the multiple traditions of Nietzsche, Lenin, Heidegger, the Surrealists, Sartre and Vaneigem (amongst so many others) have all constructed small-group, avant-garde leadership ethics in contradistinction to the cracked and passive masses of the many.
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.
- T.S. Eliot, ‘The Waste Land'
‘... the resentful ones, the intellectual, the immunodeficient, the humanist, the transplant patient, the neurotic are Empire's model citizens'
- Tiqqun, Introduction to Civil Warxvi
Hatred of the weak and sick is a crude rhetorical device which has also been deployed by the Futurists, Lawrence, H.G. Wells, Nietzsche, Leiris. In fact it has become a Bloomesque commonplace.
Tiqqun do not produce the field in which they appear, it produces them. They are not able to reach behind themselves and release either themselves or the relations that have strangely caused them to burst into life here, in this field of dreams. They are characters in a tableau vivant, they are a fragment within a clockwork scene - they are very far from their self-representation as singular. It has been arranged that an avant garde will appear, and it is set in motion by the gesture of a hand seen from the windows of the chateau. It has been arranged that the avant garde always appear as themselves to function within their landscaped role. It seems that they are condemned by the wider relations of the field to demand perpetually that it be released to them. They are stuck at the point where they propose abandonment to inclinations and yet find that this recipe for extremity has become the epitome of ‘fake self-control, restraint, etc.' Don't they, or do they, know that release will never be theirs - no matter how contagious they are?
The tension created by the field's boundaries are productive, and constraining, of Tiqqun's specific (not singular) form-of-life. Without the tension of exterior relations through which their call resonates, there is no Tiqqun. As with every other form-of-life, Tiqqun appears at that curious edge of a capacity to face up to the problems which it alone brings into focus, and of which it is the unique expression. The ‘anti-political' communist notes that every form-of-life is capable of inhabiting its comfort zone and thereby recognises the edges of itself..., but it is rare, so rare, for a form-of-life to accept that it is also the embodiment of other problems which it will never master, or, that it is the very problem which must be faced up to by unknown others.
For a ‘how to' manual, Introduction To Civil War is surprisingly biased towards the framing of an abstract ethical theory rather than to the description of practical techniques which might be deployed in the field. There is a lengthy description of what we are expected to recognise as an unprecedented form of power which Tiqqun describes as ‘Empire' and which should be understood as an immanent mode of governance, or an infinite, depthless network of discreet normalising techniques which realise the categories of biopower and spectacle. Empire, as Tiqqun describe it, permits no ‘outside'.xvii They insist that this Empire defines our reality and that it has supplanted the state (which it has 'turned inside out').xviii They also helpfully indicate that the ‘Manichaeist' Empire which they oppose bears no more than a passing resemblance to the historically ambivalent Empire of Hardt and Negri.xix ‘...imperial domination can be described as neotaoist...'xx
The tendency for conceptual reframing of power relations obviously has its libidinal rewards; there is always a fetishistic kick to be derived from a fevered portrayal of the exquisite degree of totality. But there is also a long post-Enlightenment precedence for describing power in terms other than those which power itself deploys, and Tiqqun's metaphor for current productive relations does enable them to conjure some just-so assertions worthy of Rousseau. And yet, the usefulness to others of the term Empire is uncertain as plainly what Tiqqun describes is not actually an ‘empire' in any historical sense. It is a metaphorical empire of interconnectivity which has as much conceptual grip as the term ‘Multitude'.
As an alternative to Tiqqun's category-collapsing hyper-manichaeism, social critics, using a phenomenological approach, are still able to bring social relations clearly into focus without resorting to immediatist myths of Empires and Multitudes. As an alternative to the collapsism, metaphorical periodisations and lack of recursion (rendered as ‘immanence') within Tiqqun's concepts, the 'anti-political' communists perceive the social relation as fundamentally unchanging in nature throughout the period of real domination by capital (even though this domination has often undergone periodic exacerbations). In opposition to this frozen world, social critique has continued to make fragmentary conceptual tools available (even where these tools are encrusted with reifications) which make it possible to grasp and reveal the stations of capitalised existence without lapsing into either immediatist metaphor or objectivist ‘explanation'. It is still possible to get one's bearings.
There is no Empire as such, only a continuing social relation based on the mechanism of commodity production which is subjected to fluctuating internal pressures: the rising organic composition of capital; the tendency of the rate of profit to fall; the increasingly complicated process of extracting surplus value from a shrinking industrial proletariat; the resetting of the productive relation via value destruction, crises and write-offs. These pressures, alongside resource depletion and proletarian disenchantment, require the intervention within the productive apparatus of a hyper-vigilant governance and a corresponding planned integration of all productive functions. There has been no shift in regime from state to Empire, only a cycle where phases of hyper-intensification of process are followed by periods of laissez-faire drift.
To this relatively simple understanding of the pressures inherent within the capitalist system the 'anti-political' communists could add a correspondingly simple therapeutic approach based, to use some currently useful examples, on: Stephen Jay Gould's account of how different laws apply to different scales of (in Tiqqun's terms) forms-of-life (Size and Shape); Stafford Beer's theory of recursion and viability (Think Before You Think); Maturana and Varela's theory of autopoietic cognition (The Tree of Knowledge); and Gregory Bateson's theory of binds, correctors, reinforcers and releases (Steps to an Ecology of Mind).
None of these are anti-political - or communist texts, they belong to what Tiqqun consider a 'they' practice. However, these texts illuminate in their different ways (as do millions of other fragments of accumulated insight) aspects of the nature of the world and how it might be changed. They are therefore more useful than compromising to us. It is important for pro-revolutionaries to overcome the rudimentary error of radical subjectivity (that Tiqqun fall into) which assumes that both the problem, and the solution to the problem, must be formulated by the same subject formation and that there is some sort of mission failure if there is not produced a unified general 'theory of everything'.
In short, there are whole other literatures of social transformation quite different in character to that presented by ‘revolutionary' theory. The examples given above are derived from clinical and economic practice and have been developed so as to place utilisable conceptual tools in the hands of others. They do not offer an explicit critique of the problems of capitalism as such but are applicable to that end. In the hands of the ‘anti-political' communists such ideas have been moulded together into a therapeutic form of knowledge which looks for the release of bound phenomena from frozen social relations. Within this frame it is understood that reified phenomena do not constitute Blooms ('creatures of imperial society'xxi) who are complicit with capital so much as expressions of higher order relational contradictions. It is this higher field of relations that must be modified in order to release what has become so contemptibly frozen from the perspective of Tiqqun.
It is this form of practical knowledge of releases and triggers, rather than the military blowback metaphors of Tiqqun and their insurrectionist contemporaries, which the anti-political communists orient themselves towards. And yet, and it is so strange to observe this, as it falls into the hands of the anti-political communists, this practical knowledge developed by systems theorists and biologists is once again translated into parables and metaphors representing frozen confrontations and insurmountable obstacles. Do the anti-political communists also resemble most of all, the recalcitrant children playing against the owner of a field? Is the avant garde formalisation of radical subjectivity the fate of all who seek to oppose the state of things?
It is so strange to observe how this transformational effect, this becoming before parables, in which our writing has come to resemble, above all, that of Tiqqun's. So strange then, this process by which we, the self-identified anti-political communists, are condensed into a ‘we', and by means of that identification have become associated in the minds of others, with the ‘we' of Tiqqun. On anecdotal evidence, we understand that, by force of some unknown-to-us readership, we are read with them; and that for this readership, Tiqqun and anti-political communism have become a recognisable form-of-life.
It must often occur to such readers of experimental works that the massive conceptual machinery which has to be deployed in order to achieve a break from conventionality, the pages and pages of re-definitions and descriptive shadings, are productive only of a small output of practical and communicable knowledge of divergence. Tiqqun's findings, and we must not doubt the great expenditure of their energies on the project, have about as much relevance to most people's lives as, for an equivalent, Bataille's concept of ‘The Accursed Share'. True, a few people to my knowledge have directly quoted variations on the theme of, ‘The state of exception is the normal regime of the Law', but where that gets them, I am still not sure.xxii
This tireless work of early adopters should not be underestimated, and even now these will be redeploying such conceptual formulations as, ‘The Imaginary Party is the Outside of the world without Outside', in sometimes more and sometimes less directly practicable frameworks.xxiii But it is difficult not to conclude that Introduction to Civil War, despite the efforts of its authors to the contrary, is still too much a permissible, even exemplary, work in the style of Anti-Oedipus and (of all the fields of applicability in the world) it is probably most fitting to the radical philosophy departments of French academe. Even so, and beyond theories of redundancy, signal to noise ratios and interpellation, Tiqqun are in the same place as other pro-revolutionaries. They accurately describe some of the disconnections that constitute our radical subjectivity even as we seek to oppose that formalisation.
Bound by incompatible inclinations, our milieu is still not a community as such but rather recycles its gang-like forms which are grounded in primitive, pseudo-elective, unreflexive, non-dialectical and bewilderingly arbitrary allegiances. Historically, like anti-political communism, Tiqqun's purpose condensed within the anti-capitalist spectacle of the late 1990s whilst, and like anti-political communism, belonging to earlier (and perhaps played out) tendencies within the milieu. This historical dimension alone suggests that, despite what are for us their misinterpretations of the milieu's field, they are to the anti-political communists, as primary school children a few weeks ago were in the habit of saying, a brother from another mother - and as such, we cannot completely sever the ties of community with them.
A woman stepped out from the multitude and said to Jesus, ‘fortunate is the womb that conceived you and the breasts that suckled you.' He said to her, ‘There will be another day when you will say; "fortunate is the womb that did not carry me and the breasts which did not nourish me".'
- Monsieur Dupont's parable of the woman from the multitude
Tiqqun, Introduction to Civil War, Semiotext(e)
i Tiqqun, Introduction to Civil War, Semiotext(e), 2010, p.185.
ii See ibid, pp.175, 179 and 177.
ii iIbid, p.181.
iv Ibid, p. 43. [Editor's note.The Bloom is a term used to describe ‘the colorless existences, indifferent presences, without depth' which characterise the ‘Last man, man of the street, man of mobs, man of the masses, mass-man [...] catastrophic son of the industrial era' produced by (late) capitalist social relations. See Tiqqun's The Theory of Bloom, http://zinelibrary.info/files/newer%20Bloom%20II.pdf , first published in French in the first issue of Tiqqun, 1999.]
v Ibid, p. 193
vi [Editor's note: ‘form-of-life' is a term used by Giorgio Agamben to mean ‘a life that can never be separated from its form, a life in which it is never possible to isolate something such as naked life. [...] It defines a life - human life - in which the single ways, acts, and processes of living are never simply facts but always and above all possibilities of life, always and above all power.' See Agamben's ‘Form-of-Life' in Means Without End: Notes on Politics, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000, pp 3-4.]
vii Ibid, p.25.
viii Ibid, p.174.
ix Ibid, p.44.
x Ibid, p.194.
xi Ibid, p.189.
xii Ibid, p.181.
xiii Ibid, p. 174.
xiv Ibid, p.175.
xv Ibid, pp. 187 and 85.
xvi Ibid, p.175.
xvii Ibid, p.133.
xviii Ibid, p.129.
xix Ibid, p.159.
xx Ibid, p.164.
xxi Ibid, p.112.
xxii Ibid, p.130.
xxiii Ibid, p.133.