The Benefits of Tiqqun

Over at Nate’s blog, we’ve been having an ongoing conversation about Tiqqun.  It’s blossomed and so I’ve decided to repost some of my comment here.  A short description I’ve come up for the Tiqqun project (in very wooden marxist language): a attempt to construct a metaphysics for a mode of production capable of overtaking the capitalist one…

The main point I’m reading these texts for:

A form of composition that isn’t dependent on self-identification or consciousness.

Practical concerns:
I’m interested in political movement that doesn’t mobilize traditional Hegelian categories (identity, recognition, consciousness, education, discipline, militancy, etc). I think the ‘models’ employed by most contemporary American activists follow this Hegelian schema to a T.

An article I have never been able to get out of my head is Michael Hardt’s “Withering of Civil Society”, which I read as a junior in college (it’s an elaboration of part of a chapter in Labor of Dionysus). In it, he argues that 18/19c conceptions of the ’social’ and the politics that emerges are hopelessly caught up in strategies that may have been useful in their time, but that modes of governance and social control now anticipate and even deploy for their own use. [the article was published in “social text”]

One of the faculty that I work with is an Italian who uses a mixture of autonomist and post-colonial theory to consider Africa. He has an elegant problematic that brings nearly all of my last decade of ‘activism’ into perspective:
In what ways are the newest social movements deployments of the western nation-state model by other means? [And in an African or post-colonial context, how do they extend the modernizing projects that the colonial authorities began?]
Especially given the context of social movements claiming to offer ‘better’ or ‘more sensitive’ governance models than the state or capital, I am consistently challenged to think of what is distinctly different about their approaches than a ’socially conscious corporation’ or a ‘human needs oriented state.’

We know what traditional left activism looks like. It takes a few different forms — a vanguard party advocated for class (or identity) interest, a social democratic mass movement, community and/or populist base-building, a variety of anarchist de-centralizing approaches, and a few more if i took the time to actually typologize them.

Key parts of each one of those approaches is to 1) identify a constituency, 2) create a structure in which those people can advocate for their interest, and 3) to create ways affiliating with others to enhance strategical benefits. In the process, groups often have to identify blockages to their success and find ways to ‘overcome’ them (whether by negation, subversion, marginalization, or overwhelming them). The Hegelian approach I am trying to avoid should stand out clearly here, all as syntheses of antimonies resolved to a higher plane: the Party rules over (educating and disciplining, instilling consciousness in) the working class, etc etc.

Positive Approach:
In the event we want to retain a lot of the same terminology, but rework it to avoid the need to overcome problems by ‘resolving them to a higher plane’. This, by most accounts, has been the anarchist project. For instance, in what ways can affiliation avoid the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ and instead employ a model of collectivity that creates a positive interaction without creating a synthesis (or a synthesis that is reflexive)? So there is consensus decision-making, spokescouncils, federations, platformism, etc etc.

What I find useful in Tiqqun is an attempt to think composition/affiliation otherwise. Idiotic anarchists sing the praises of the Unabomber. Most of us reject him as being an anti-social misanthrope. There is an undoubted complicity between us and him. So is there a third way? What is the secret solidarity between anarcho-communists and anti-sociality?

[here comes the cites, references, names, etc, sorry if it gets too ‘dense’]

This is where The Coming Insurrection’s language of ‘resonance’ has become so suggestive. Previously people talked about ‘memes’ but the baggage from Dawkins ’selfish gene’ is difficult to separate from the importance of ideas being contagious. In Tiqqun’s ‘Cybernetic Hypothesis’, they mention Deleuze and Guattari’s semiotics of ‘insinuation’ – whereby words and concepts are valued for their ability to catch on and spread, rather than for their logical content. This is the Spinozist idea of power that was found most prolifically in Fouacult but is now found more disseminated in recent cultural theory work on ‘affect’. The bottom line being: how do the actions of people who aren’t in direct communication, don’t ‘organize’ together, but undertake similar actions build a compossible politics that resonates through important layers of society (the media spectacle, the bodies politic, etc etc).

There are a few important elements, as outlined by the constellation of approaches that emerged from the Tiqqun work:
1) A Party that never becomes a Party, but is still a form of affinity:
This is the ‘imaginary party’.

2) A form of biopolitical strike
This is the ‘human strike’ — check out the Claire Fontaine piece starting on page 73 of this document:

3) An inside/outside politics where the inside relations are communist (and qualitatively evaluated as such) and external relations are anarchist

There is much more to their approach than this, but those are the one’s I’ve spent the most time with so far. More soon.

As to the ‘line by line’ of your comments:
1) The history of Tiqqun:
A group of young people in France took part in the 97-98 Movement of the Unemployed. It was an experiment in the whatever singularity. [one member who would go on to form half of Claire Fontaine, had been involved in politics in Italy and therefore knew Agamben and his work well] There is an article in We Are Everywhere about the struggle. The demands were ‘impossible’, the actions involved lots of reappropriation, and they were met by surprisingly little repression. A group of people from this movement came together and started a collective.

The collective had many manifestations and members. They came out with a number of texts (Bloom, Young Girl), and then finally two self-entitled journals ‘Tiqqun’ – which is a name they gave to an event (not the collectives name). To the extent that they saw themselves as an assemblage, they took Foucault’s notion of the author to the extreme, when combined they were no longer individuals but a chorus of voices writing on a constellation of concepts. The first journal had an ‘editorial committee’ with names attached to it. The second did not.

There is some other biographical information that I’ve found out about, but there’s only a few more scraps of it that I find important. First, most of the members of the group were educated in elite french institutions. Second, the group maintained a strong connection to ongoing struggles (some of them, very militant). And third, personal dynamics often influenced the direction of their work.

In 2001 the group split. I’ve heard a million different reasons. One nouvelle obs article says it was over disagreements over how to react to 9/11. Group dynamics has to have been a big reasons. Others say it was because of a choice to ‘life the theory’ differently. I do know that they recognized that their approach to that point was intelligible mainly to academics. They really wanted to be relevant to comrades rather than scholars and so had discussions about finding a style/medium more suited to general audiences.

When the group split in 2001, one part of the collective moved to places in the French countryside that have are still politically communist. The recent journal piece in Vice probably gets it more or less right. It has been alleged that these groups compose the Invisible Committee – which has been talked to death about because of its legal implications for Sarkozy’s ongoing terrorism charges against them. From what I gather, a lot of the people involved there are former anarchist/squatter/militant types who have grown older and are looking for something more long term. This group retained Tiqqun’s affiliation with La Fabrique, a small press that published radical philosophy and political texts. There are a some small disputes over the republishing of Tiqqun that became public, I have a post on it on my blog entitled “Tiqqun Apocrypha”.

One major member split off and founded the art group Claire Fontaine. They do art installations and lots of textual production (most of it not on their website). Their philosophical focus overlaps mainly with Tiqqun and their intellectual influences in order of importance are probably: Foucault, Benjamin, Autonomist Feminism, Agamben, and Ranciere. I like their work better than the Invisible Committee because the feminism tends to temper a lot of the practical questions of internal group dynamics, especially in times of repression. Additionally, it doesn’t have any of the ‘back to the land’ stuff (which friends have tried to argue isn’t in the IC stuff, but I’m still not sure…).

Two films came after the 2001 split. Bernadette Corporation’s “How To Get Rid of Yourself” is absolutely amazing. I have a few short comments about it (comparing it to ‘Breaking the Spell’) on my blog. Invisible Committee’s “The War Has Just Begun” is very Debordesque. I find it pretty boring but you might find it more exciting.

The Bloom Stuff —
I haven’t worked out the Bloom stuff enough to place it. It is in very close proximity to Ranciere’s work on democracy. As the argument goes — sociological classification of people is part of the disciplinary cartography of modern governance. Its most intense articulation is now biopolitical governance, and even ostensibly radical sociologists like Bourdieu are guilty of extending its logic. Ranciere’s The Philosopher and His Poor, for instance, argues that Bourdieu’s theory of Distinction does keeps people incarcerated within their class — as exhibited in French Socialist use of Bourdieu when instituting multicultural education policies in the 80s.

I don’t think this should be too terribly controversial. According to a traditional Marxists, Frank Parkin’s ‘distributionalist’ Weberian critique of Marxist class theory doesn’t focus on the ‘hidden abode of production’ where all the magic happens. Similarly, sociological accounts of class seem to black box the relations of production which is where everything important lies (and i would be remiss not to note that this is where D&G get all their traction).

So the problematic: why is it that rich kids are often the most radical? why is it that the working class doesn’t always act in their class interest? and as the Bloom Theory goes — why do some of the petite bourgeois feel like they are such terribly desperate circumstances that they are willing to kill themselves and take as many bourgeois with them as possible?

The argument put forth by Tiqqun (and probably Ranciere) would be that to psychologize, criminalize, or otherwise explain away these ‘exceptional’ cases is to empty them of their political potential. For instance, the recent suicides at the Apple supplier factories in China can be _politicized_ (not exactly petty bourgeois, but bear with me). It becomes immediately intelligible to anyone with even the most shallow understanding of classic workplace struggles. Why are they committing suicide? Time, speed, pay, benefits, conditions, etc etc… But why did Ted Kaczynski bomb professors (why not compare him to Alexander Berkman?)? Why did that Texan fly a plane into the IRS building (why not compare it to the hundreds of government building bombings in the late 60s/early 70s)? Why do suburban teenagers shoot up their high schools (and what about postal workers)?

So on a simplistic level, we can see that just about everyone is subject to the same sort of anti-social behavior. For the remnants of the US working class whose production is still socialized, their ‘anti-social’ behavior is immediately translatable into a point of struggle. But for all of those whose production isn’t socialized (or using other language, who are ’socialized’ in the similarly vulgar sense of being stupidly connected without any affiliation and without meaningful decision-making capacity), what happens when they commit anti-social behavior?

The end result is the ‘human strike’ that Claire Fontaine is still working on. A way to connection revolt to the plane of biopolitics rather than the workplace, which is overdetermined.

5 thoughts on “The Benefits of Tiqqun

  1. I’m not sure that TCI contains a summons to return ‘back to the land.’ Much of the work seems to come out from a highly personalized field of vision; and so if some people decided to experiment with a collective existence in a rural setting, one that is ultimately governed under the same paradigm like everywhere else, it is from there where terms such as growing carrots, or maintaining junk cars as an art form gets produced, including the discourse about learning how to farm properly. It seems to be more about what is seen in the immediate surroundings, transposed to a political statement about the appropriation of means, technology and knowledge in general, which could occur in any setting.

  2. That comment on the working class versus the rich is some of the most unintelligent things I have read in a long time. How about you try and reformulate that question? Or just think it through one more time? Isn`t it quit obvious why the working class will never be the revolutionary class? They don`t have the resources, the education, the information and so on. In a world based on consumption, its quit obvious to me that the working class also wants to be part of that. And so, yes, they will stab each other in the back until that changes. Try reading something else than Tiqqun…

    “Social change can only be realized with the support of precisely those people who cannot identify with their work.” Andre Gorz

    1. The working class question is perhaps more Ranciere than Tiqqun… Regardless – where do you propose we look (sociologically) to find the real militants? I feel like the logical conclusion to your argument would suggest that revolution will only come from the rich and powerful, but that is such a strange proposition that I’m at a loss. Or are you proposing that it’s nobody?

  3. To be honest, I don`t have an answer to that either. Very often I encounter smart, educated (usually middle-class) people with all the right intentions, who unfortunately lack a basic understanding of what working class culture really is. Lack of solidarity between working class people is also a problem, as you say, but I think it`s wrong to blame them for not being able to transcend their own vulnerable position. In any case, the revolution needs to come from within, not above.

    Less work for everyone, would be one way to even out the inequalities that we have in society. One result of that would be more time on your hand, and maybe that would trigger a working class revolution? As it is today, I would say the worker has no time but to work. With no time to think, read or educate yourself, how are you going to do anything?

    1. Agreed. The Coming Insurrection has an argument that comes from Italy’s Movement of 77, which is that labor is less socially useful today than it ever has been but it is even more ubiquitous because it is so effective as a form of control – they go on to repeat the wonderful Nietzsche phrase: there is no better police than work. Within Tiqqun, then, we find a critique of work – the invisible committee realization of Tiqqun is commune living, however, which I find to be a non-starter.

      What I find personally convincing are arguments in favor of a new lumpenproletariat. The lumpen are hard to theorize, however, because Marxists have attacked them as a category for so long, and other attempts to systematize them have often fallen short (Fanon, Black Panther Party). So as an alternative to this calcified debate, I think there’s a theory of class embedded in Tiqqun that is interesting to consider (Bloom being part of it but not the whole thing).

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