Politicizing Sadness

More than five years after the insurrection of that Argentine December of 2001 we bear witness to the changing interpretations and moods around that event. For many of us sadness was the feeling that accompanied a phase of this winding becoming. This text rescues a moment in the elaboration of “that sadness” in order to go beyond the notions of “victory and defeat” that belong to that earlier cycle of politicization which centered on taking state power, and, at the same time, in order to share a procedure that has allowed us to “make public” an intimate feeling of people and groups. Sadness arrived after the event: the political fiesta-of languages, images, and movements-was followed by a reactive, dispersive dynamic. And, along with it, there arrived what was later experienced as a reduction of the capacities of openness and innovation that the event brought into play. The experience of social invention (which always also implies the invention of time) was followed by a moment of normalization and the declaration of “end of the fiesta.” According to Spinoza, sadness consists in being separated from our powers (potencias). Among us political sadness often took the form of impotence and melancholy in the face of the growing distance between that social experiment and the political imagination capable of carrying it out.

Politicizing sadness sums up our intention to resist, to re-elaborate what came to light in that collective experiment under a new dynamic of publicness, because far from shrinking or having stopped, the process which opened then is still an underlying dilemma within present-day Argentina. In this context and with that intention, a diverse group of collectives that shared the lived experience of political transversality in Argentina in recent years-Grupo de Arte Callejero (GAC), the educational community Creciendo Juntos, the Movement of Unemployed Workers (MTD) of the neighbourhoods of Solano and Guernica, the communication collective lavaca, and Colectivo Situaciones-met for several weeks at the end of 2005. Inevitably, we write this text from our own perspective on what was then discussed, which implies-also inevitably-to write in tune with a dynamic that is still under way.

I. Political Sadness

1. The logic of specialists. “If you do arts, then don’t do politics, because in the arts there are those of us who handle the visual language, aesthetics, and can say what is and what is not art.” The same kind of border is imposed from the social sciences and philosophy: a distinction drawn between those who are fit to invent concepts and to make legitimate use of social research and those devoted to “political propaganda.” Thus, after a period of “disorder” the categories of the specialists arrive to restore and resurrect classifications that-they assert-never completely dissolve. The analysis done in this way lacks the political operations that made a work, a principle for action, or a movement possible. There are also the experts in politics, who organize disorder in the opposite sense: “if you do not have a clear power strategy, ‘what you are doing’ is not politics, but ‘social activism’, philantropy, counterculture, etc.” Thus, the hybridity implicit in every creation of new political figures is intentionally confused with a costume party after which the old classificatory powers come back to distribute uniforms, ignoring the fact that those processes always have a dimension of irreversibility.

2. Repetition without difference. The key to the productivity (both expressive and organizational) reached at a moment of creative turmoil is that it makes personal and group “fusions” possible, along with a mixture of languages in which what matters is not the authorship of what is being created so much as the extent to which energies come together. Those efficacies do not resist their repetition outside the situations in which their meaning is rooted without becoming formulaic. Sadness appears with the certainty of extirpation, but is refined as a politics when pure repetition crystallizes and becomes established as a formula ready to be applied. The automation of the formula freezes our own capacity to temporalize the process. While the creation of time consists in opening possibilities, political sadness prevents the elaboration of lived experience as a present and future possibility. The crystallization of the living past interrupts its elaboration as political memory.

3. Duration as validity criterion. These were pervasive questions in the years 2001-2003: How do groups and movements relate to each other? Which joint efforts are the outcome of fusion and which ones do not allow such flexibility of connection? In each group or collective (artistic, political, social, etc.) a question came up about the practices taking place beyond the group, in a common outside. A key idea to make possible those encounters was the “third group”: groupings around tasks that undifferentiated the groups at the same time that made them partners in true laboratories of images, words, and organization. Sadness, in its eagerness to simplify, concludes that the temporal finitude of experimentation is enough to undermine its value, making invisible both the “common outside” and the procedures destined to shape it, thus dissipating the most profound sense of the process.

4. Contempt for the socialization of production. “Anybody can produce images or concepts, forms of struggle, means of communication or ways of expression.” These statements made sense while a sort of impersonal collective production managed to disseminate procedures and socialize creative experiments. A logic of “contagion” permeated forms of struggle, images, and research, questioning the control of businesses and their brands over the field of signs. The normalizing reaction arrived later to govern this viral expansion, recoding the significations in circulation and seizing command of them.

At this level several procedures helped normalization:
The emptying of collective slogans through literalization (violently severing them from their virtualities). For example, the “all of them must go” of December 2001;
the attribution of a hidden meaning, the product of “manipulation,” as the usual reading of phenomena of collective creation (“behind each autonomous and horizontal tendency there is nothing but a ruse of power…” or, every “apparently spontaneous” demonstration finds its “hidden truth” in the powers that “orchestrate” it from the shadows);
the most typical prejudices of “reactive economicism,” expressed in phrases such as “the piqueteros only want to earn money without working,” “the middle class only takes it to the street if something touches them in the pocket,” and all the ways of reducing the subjective interplay to the economic crisis;
the mechanical identification of the “micro” level with “small,” an a priori judgment according to which the concrete forms of the revolt are identified with a prior, local, and exceptional moment, cut out from a “macro” (“bigger”) reality, which must be run according to the guidelines that spring up from capitalist hegemony and its systems of overcoding.

5. Machines of capture. The classical dilemma about institutions-to participate or to subtract oneself?-was in a certain way overcome at the moment of greatest social energy. The resources that the collectives and movements wrenched from the institutions dictated the “sense” of neither their use nor their operation. On the contrary, they became cogs of a different machine, which imbued the way of relating to these institutions with a different meaning, without naivety, verifying in practice how that dynamic depended on a relation of forces. The rise of all these extra-institutional procedures, simultaneous to the moment of greater presence and voice in the public stage, aspired to a radical democratization of the relation between creative dynamic and institution, meaning and resources. The institutions that sought to register the meaning of these novelties in general did not go beyond a partial renewal: not so much because they negated prodedures brought into play by the movements and collectives, as because they forgot the implications of the reorganization of the institutional dynamic that such instances pursued; not so much for trying to give an opposite meaning to the aspirations of the movements, as for the underestimation of the plane of the movements itself as the locus in which the problems regarding the production of meaning were posed.

6. Autonomy as corset. Up to a certain moment autonomy was almost equivalent to transversality among the collectives, movements, and people. That positive resonance functioned as a surface for the development of an instituent dialogue outside the consensus of both capital and the alternative “masters” of the party apparatuses. But, once turned into a doctrine, autonomy becomes desensitised about the transversality from which it nurtures itself and to which owes its true power (potencia). When autonomy turns into a morality and/or a restricted party-line, it drowns in a narrow particularity and looses its capacity for opening and innovation. To the autonomous groups and movements, sadness appears also as a threat of cooptation or giving up the quest. It appears also as guilt for what they did not do, for that which they “were not capable of,” or, precisely for that paradoxical becoming of normalization, which brings about as a consequence a certain form of resentment.

7. Sudden appearance in the limelight. The performance of the masses that during the explosion of counterpower in Argentina at the end of 2001 was accompanied by a violent change in the map regarding who were the relevant actors, but also of the parameters for understanding and dealing with this new social protagonism. The (perhaps inevitable) spectacularization spectacularizes: it institutes stars and establishes recognized voices. The consumerist relation with the “hot” spots of conflict led to a colosal change of climate, in which the collectives and movements went from being observed, applauded, and accompanied to being suddenly ignored and even scorned, which is usually experienced with a mix of extreme loneliness, deception and guilt.

II. Politicizing sadness

A politics “in” and “against” sadness cannot be a sad politics. The reappropriation and reinterpretation of the event presupposes:

1. Elaborating the event in the light of memory as power (potencia). The process does not end in defeats and victories, but we can indeed be frozen and removed from its dynamic. To learn to dismantle forms and formulae, successful in days gone by, cannot turn into a kind of repentance or simulation. Leaving behind a formula can only mean to recover all of them as possibilities; to equip ourselves with a true political memory.

2. No victimizations. Sadness only points to our momentary disconnection in a dynamic process, which need not be thought about as a long phase (of stabilization) periodically interrupted (by crisis of domination), but rather as a process that political struggle goes through. Not only is sadness a politics of power, but also-and above all-the circumstance in which the politics of power become powerful.

3. Power (potencia) of abstentionism. If the power (potencia) to do is verified in the democratic sovereignty we manage to actualize in it, the politicization of sadness can perhaps be understood as a form of wisdom in which apparent passivity radically preserves its active, subjective content. A readiness “despite everything” that prevents us from being swept along with the current or simply conquered.

4. New public spaces. Public existance is instituted in our mode of appearing, and a way of appearing that interrogates is radically political. The institution of new public spaces in which we appear with our true questions, ready to listen the content of the situations, does not need exceptional conditions, but it does need a non-state institution of that which is collective. This is what Mujeres Creando call “concrete politics.”

5. The reelaboration of the collective. The collective as premise and not as meaning or point of arrival: like that “remainder” that emerges from a renewed effort to listen. The collective as a level of political production and as accompanying one another’s experiences. We are not talking about group formulae (of incitement or self-help, its opposite): the collective-communitarian is always a challenge of opening with respect to the world. It is not merely looking “outside,” in terms of a classical topology that would distinguish a “communitarian inside” and an “external outside,” but rather the collective as complicity in the adventure of becoming a situational interface in the world.

We would like to end with an hypothesis: the ongoing dynamic in Argentina gives rise to what we could call a “new governability” (new mechanisms of legitimacy of the elites; innovations in the conception of the relation between government and movements, between international and “internal” politics; regional integration and global multilateralism). To prolong sadness leads to isolation in this new phase of the process.

As a “translation” of the event, the “new governability” distributes recognitions among the instituent dynamics and opens spaces that were unimaginable in the previous phase of bare-knuckle neoliberalism. However, all this is simultaneous to an effort to control and redirect those dynamics. There is no room for a feeling of “success” for the former or “defeat” for the latter. With the drift from political sadness to the politicization of sadness we intend to take up the dilemmas opened by the ever present risk of getting lost in fixed, and therefore illusory, binarisms, which confront us as victory-defeat. Paolo Virno summarized what is opening in front of us this way: beyond the vitiated oscillation between cooptation and marginalization, what is at stake is the possibility of a “new maturity.”
Colectivo Situaciones,
Buenos Aires, Thusday, February 13rd, 2007.

Translated by Nate Holdren and Sebastian Touza


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