In Defense of Cruelty

NightOfTheHunterIncluded below is part of the Hostis Journal presentation that we gave at the Seattle Anarchist Bookfair last weekend. Expect audio of that talk to made available soon.

“The Night of the Hunter” (1955) fits the bloody mold of a southern gothic family drama in which an eccentric cheat exploits a small West Virginia community stricken by the Great Depression. Self-anointed Reverend Harry Powell is a serial killer that goes town-to-town ‘doing God’s work.’ The film tells the story of Powell’s ill-fated attempt to insinuate himself into the family of an ex-cellmate to find the hidden loot from a bank robbery. On the one hand, Powell’s fiery public sermons win him the respect of the townsfolk, who are eager to be assured that they are on the righteous path. While on the other, young, fatherless John is an unrelenting critic of authority.

Continue reading “In Defense of Cruelty”

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Feminist Mappings of the City

What is a feminist “image of the city”?

The city is often experienced negatively by women. Easily measured causes for negativity include criminal violence, physical and sexual assault, and street harassment. Less easy to measure are the effects of these and other negative experiences, which are often registered rather subjectively.

This paper proposes a new mapping of gendered experiences of the city based on Kevin Lynch’s environmental images. My proposal is informed by feminist art projects that measure and represent women’s negative experiences in the city. My goal is to develop a new environmental image that reflects these experiences. Continue reading “Feminist Mappings of the City”

From Tarnac: The Fighting Commune Asks For Assistance & Asks Us 2 Help Orselves

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Down and dirty translation (not mine) of a recent Tarnac text:

Dear friends,

We haven’t given you any news for almost a year and a half.  If everything follows its subversive course quietly on the Millevaches Plateau , the least we can say is that on the national scale the political and existential climate has become become execrable. A phenomenon so totalizing that it obviously defies all of our categories lies behind the “crisis .” We once talked about the “ravages of neo-liberalism ” and “resource depletion,” the “spiritual void ” or the ” social implosion ,” we now feel that we have still missed essential thing. All this is very similar to a civilization running straight into the wall at breakneck speed, seeking by all means to avoid questioning of it ways of life and thought. In this imperceptible “every-man-for-himself,” the first instinct is to cling to anything that floats in the middle of the shipwreck that is Europe, including the nation state. The return of old fascistic  clichés first expressed the illusion that this frame is a path to salvation, but they only express the sheer scale of our impotence. The miserable little desire to exterminate the”foreigners” who get into the country reflects this self-confinementat the national level, and the instincts of social cannibalism arising fromthis famine. In short : the ship is taking on water everywhere, it is nothing but leaks.  Continue reading “From Tarnac: The Fighting Commune Asks For Assistance & Asks Us 2 Help Orselves”

Part 2 – Crisis


metropolis
Unlike the mythic State, governance today is no longer a question of divinity or even mastery. Empire is instead the force of prevention. What Empire prevents is the future, which it claims is only full of horror, chaos, and disappointment – where apocalyptic monsters or dystopian nightmares come true. The present, we are told, is in crisis. Paradoxically, Empire’s solution is to deepen the crisis in order to save the present. The experience of this drawn-out present is a combination of the profusion of difference paired with the vague notion that nothing is really changing. To achieve this confusing state – where the more that things change, the more they stay the same – Empire undertakes two abstract processes: circulation and management. These two processes are its essential modes of operation. Continue reading “Part 2 – Crisis”

Chapter 5 – Anonymity

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Insinuation, The Underground Current of Incoherence
Radicalism’s tame but dignified existence in the early parts of nineteenth century America was a triumph for well-reasoned order. Immigrant intellectuals spread the heady ideals of socialism across the newly-opened frontier, founding mutualist or collectivist factory towns across Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana and establishing revolutionary societies and educational clubs in New York City, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Chicago. Allergic to lawbreaking and violence, the communalists set out to foster the best-ordered and most-moral dimensions of utopian society. But as corruption and industry grew inseparable, a new radical energy gathered in the darker corners of society. While the socialists kept outrunning the company mines and industrial looms, a growing underclass either unwilling or unable to escape the greed of indecent men toiled away.

Only a short decade after the Great War, the polite pretensions of American radicalism fell away. This shift was due to two things: first, the Panic of 1873, which threw hundreds of thousands of workers into destitution and unleashed their fury; and second, the arrival of anarchists. It takes the entrance of a protagonist, Johann Most, a fiery German anarchist, to give shape to the turbulence. Inspired by Most, a persuasive orator with scorching rhetoric, anarchists and other radicals brought ‘propaganda by the deed’ to America. ‘Propaganda by the deed,’ an idea on the lips of the European radicals of the time, is derived from the earlier Italian socialist Carlo Pisacane, who argues that “Ideas spring from deeds and not the other way around,” so that “conspiracies, plots, and attempted uprisings” are more effective propaganda “than a thousand volumes penned by doctrinarians who are the real blight upon our country and the entire world” (Graham, Anarchism, 68).

A determined Most found propaganda by the deed straightforward and published fiery celebrations of the growing practice of anarchist regicide – and these writings often landed in him jail. After a year and a half stay in an English jail for praising the assassination of Alexander II of Russia, Most immigrated to the United States and soon published a pamphlet entitled Science of Revolutionary Warfare–A Manual of Instruction in the Use and Preparation of Nitroglycerine, Dynamite, Gun-Cotton, Fulminating Mercury, Bombs, Fuses, Poisons, etc, etc. Among these tools of destruction, he had a clear weapon of choice: dynamite. Writing in the Parsons’s Alarm, Most declared his love: “Dynamite! Of all the good stuff, that is the stuff! Stuff several pounds of this sublime stuff into an inch pipe (gas or water pipe), plug up both ends, insert a cap with a fuse attached, place this in the immediate vicinity of a lot of rich loafers who live by the sweat of other people’s brows, and light the fuse. A most cheerful and gratifying result will follow. … It is a genuine boon for the disinherited, while it brings terror and fear to the robbers. A pound of this good stuff beats a bushel of ballots all hollow – and don’t you forget it!” So with the arrival of Most, his dynamite, and propaganda by the deed, the anarchist siege against robber barons and the forces of the State commenced.

Striking fear in hearts of the three enemies of classical anarchism – The Church, The State, and Capital – radicals committed a remarkable number of regicides and other assassinations from the late 1870s through the early twentieth century. Yet the practice was not universally accepted in radical circles: pacifists, social democrats, and pragmatists hotly debated the principles and effectiveness of attacks on power.  Paul Rousse, French socialist and the first to coin the phrase propaganda by the deed, plays down violence when describing the concept’s realization. “Propaganda by the deed is a mighty means of rousing the popular consciousness,” he writes, because it serves as the pragmatism of the possible: as the masses are naturally skeptical of any idea as long it remains abstract, one must actually start a commune or a factory and “let the instruments of production be placed in the hands of the workers, let the workers and their families move into salubrious accommodation and the idlers be tossed into the streets,” after which the idea will “spring to life” and “march, in flesh and blood, at the head of the people” (Graham, Anarchism, 151). Echoing Rousse’s possibilism, Gustav Landauer argues that “no language can be loud and decisive enough for the uplifting of our compatriots, so that they may be incited out of their engrained daily drudgery,” and thus the seeds of a new society must be prefigured in actual reality to entice others the join (139). Propaganda by the deed thus has two intentionally distinct valences as either creative violence or persuasive prefiguration; one masks its anonymous force to avoid capture while the other loudly boasts about itself.

Our contemporary times are replete with radicals who have found their own boastful propaganda. Anarchists such as David Graeber speak about a new generation of activists that came of age during the anti-globalization movement who practice propaganda by prefiguration that ‘builds a new society in the shell of the old’ (as the popular IWW phrase goes). These ‘New Anarchists,’ as they are called, practice social justice and deep democracy although they cannot hum even a bar of The Internationale. Yet missing from this description are many radical tendencies that draw on the first valence of propaganda by the deed – to name a few, there are civilization-hating anarcho-primitivists, destruction-loving anarcho-queers, democracy-averse nihilists, and anti-organizational insurrectionists. There are many reasons why those elements are often disavowed or even denied by their radical relatives but one is obvious: these dissident tendencies draw their power from a dangerous source that resists legibility. Rather than constructing their propagandistic appeals on images of a well-ordered society constituted by a moral majority, these hidden elements draw on deeper and darker desires of nonexistence and disappearance. However, this opposition – the reasonable proposals of social anarchists and the excesses of their darker offspring – is stale, so perhaps there is a way to break through.

Is there a power of truth that is not just the truth of power? asks Gilles Deleuze (Foucault, 94-95). Written alternately in the language of anarchism: what is the propaganda by the deed if it is not just the deed of propaganda? The answer is found in a mode of communication whereby actions ‘speak for themselves’ – actions that need not be owned, named, or explained. Actions as expression without speaking subjects. Expressions that speak reason but do not prefigure. Expressions that speak passions but are not feelings. The expression that lingers when the thing expressed is nowhere to be found. In short: the force of anonymity. That is today’s dark propaganda by the deed. Continue reading “Chapter 5 – Anonymity”