The autonomy of the apolitical

Creative destruction, in its distinctly non-Bakunin version

A few related comments of autonomous zones, ecological concerns, and the aesthetics of occupation.

First, a discussion over at Frugal Me that my attacks on pseudo-salvage ideology provoked, at least in part. And more so given that the owner of a company I singled out (mostly for its typicality and its laying bare of the trumpeting eco-pretensions underpinning much of the "green" commodity market, not for being particularly green-evil) got involved. He seems like a thoughtful guy, albeit one I disagree with on many things. You can read the back and forth in the comments there.

However, I think these issues are thought better in a wider context, one raised by Owen in his quite good account of the two fairs, the fun-fair and the Climate Camp. Furthermore, in a dark - or rather day-glo fur and neon body-paint - mirror of the bastard child of the Climate Camp and the fun camp, the Burning Man festival is going on in the States right now. Indeed, that might just be the bridge between that two of ethics and jouissance, of the community of the like-minded (the bonded group of the eco-minded) and the occasional group (the heterogeneous mish-mash of all those who come to the fair, whether to watch antiquated machines hurl tweens around or to smell funnel cake). Or, it might be that bridge if the way it is talked about wasn't such an unholy hybrid of messianic fervor and the fetid remnants of hippiedom.

Two men enter (with foam swords), two men probably leave

That is actually a shame, because taken on its own terms (and not as a scalable exercise in autonomous political/social zones), there is much to celebrate there, mostly, the real ingenuity, construction, and non-work time that goes into making the art works/bicycles made to look like titanium unicorns shooting confetti out of the horn. My neighbors are devoted Burning Man types, and I've been genuinely impressed by how much work they've done to make a giant human hamster wheel. And while my impulse is at times to say, fuck, you could have built housing for the homeless with that much effort, I'll support efforts toward the production of the frivolous as long as it escapes the logic of leisure time as the mere shadow of the working day, as Adorno claims, rather snarkily, about the D.I.Y. fad. And indeed, even the "creative destruction" of the objects - again, an odd mirror for the autophagic creative destruction of capital in crises of overproduction/underconsumption - is something I could get behind. Not the form that my Dionysian impulse takes, but go for it. Personally, I will never go. Living in Santa Cruz is already too much of the Burning Man ethos for me. I like my countercultural impulses with more black, grime, and bile, on one end, and the razor sweep of the modern, on the other. (And, lastly, they do have, at Burning Man, a very serious Thunderdome. Which I can get very much behind. Perhaps they will let Dominic bring a locally sourced lightsaber.)

However, it is the fetishization of a deep, utopian content that betrays all that, particularly taking the form of "it's an economy without money, mutual aid, just people sharing." No, it is the appearance of such, and not least because you have to buy a ticket (from about $200 on up, it seems) and because people bring supplies that they already purchased. (That's like saying that you and your friends live free of the money form because you all buy groceries separately, and then sometimes have a potluck.)

The point of all this is that we should consider two forms of appearance of TAZs (temporary autonomous zones) as a way of considering both their political usefulness and the harder question of: do they want the world to look like this? There is, first, the appearance that is concerned with a fantasmatic microcosm image of how the world should look, ranging from the powerfully collective (modes of group housing and eating, genuine forms of skill sharing and mutual aid) to the goofy and inane (naked dancing with feathers glued to your ass, pissing on hay bales to "rural it up a bit," the misrecognition of how money spent is money spent). Such a model should be rejected, not because some of things done are silly or a waste of time. Rather, because it inevitably falls into the problem of representation, of how you are perceived by those not involved (those fucking kooks), of how you perceive your own involvement (does the presence of such kooks necessarily invalidate the real radical work we are trying to do?), and of what such a zone "represents" in the face of a capitalist totality (a welcomed subtraction of those for whom the government must provide social services and, more than that, find jobs in the long downturn period of the general crisis of manufacturing and overproduction).

Ssangyong factory occupation

The second kind of appearance, the one crucial to our strategy, is that of appearance as tactic, as a weapon of negation, in which how one appears - as a TAZ - does not "represent" anything about how we think the world should look, at least in a direct micro to macro telescoping. The model here would be factory (or other) occupations that do not say, "camping out in our workplace and defending it against the police is a desired model of the world to come." (Although, in a unsettling sense, it is perhaps a far more accurate depiction of what the zones and spaces of resistance will continue to look like for quite a while.) The TAZ is propaganda, in the best form, a sort of spatial shock troops who might prove not that we could live like this but we could stop living like this. How to live otherwise, to live beyond capitalism, is to be determined elsewhere, in hard discussions and innovated practices of everyday life. But here is a way to hasten that end, through forcible, non-scalable autonomy that knows itself and its enemy better.


Savonarola said...

Very sharp post, especially on scalability: from propaganda by the deed to propaganda by social relations? How to pass from urgency and necessity to creations that destroy the agencies that impose those urgencies and necessities is indeed the (formidable) problem. Carnivals of simulated austerity are no substitute. I think this also goes some way to complicating how a related family of strategic and organisational problems - dual power, prefiguration, defensive violence - get formulated.

z said...

Burning Man is a TAZ? Does anyone really beleive that?

Closest thing to a real TAZ in North America would be the dirty freetek hippies and the two big gatherings every year..

but burning man?

socialism and/or barbarism said...


in my opinion, it absolutely isn't (it is the managed spectacle of a TAZ). But you'd be surprised the number of people who think of it is as such. Seriously. (That said, I do live in the epicenter of that kind of thinking.)

socialism and/or barbarism said...


indeed, and a double-back on the problem of the necessity to destroy agencies that impose necessity: does one aim for dismantling, which all its problematic fantasies of purgative violence (and being caught in a cycle of resistance dictated by your enemies, whoever they may be, so that you just play into their hands), or for supplanting (in something closer to dual power, in negation via construction of better agencies, better networks)?

Phrased as such, the latter seems infinitely preferable. Yet... as always, that older problem: those alternate constructions, despite appearances, are rarely any more scalable than the work of antagonism, threat, and resistance. As we know, simply seceding from the world to a collective social experiment has all the effect of a muffled fart. Perhaps what we need, now as before, is to find a way to make construction of social life a threat. (For a start, insisting on it as occupation, not creation ex nihilo in the wastelands.)

And to, for once, not a dialectical reversal: keep threats as negative, not as the hollow threat that "if you don't watch out, we'll really make something better..."

And a dual power that doesn't fall into the carnival of austerity and sacrifice, perhaps. Dragging the clunking, flashing hulks of the funfair back into it.

z said...

I ve posted some of the "world traveller adventures" videos up on youtube if you ever had any interest in the .eu free party techno scene

socialism and/or barbarism said...

Thanks, I'll take a look.