(Thirteen theses + 1) On destituent power

Grisha

Destituent power is the political gesture of rejecting sovereign violence, a gesture capable of interrupting the normal course of things. Destituent power is neither a political programme nor a philosophical exercise. It is a conceptual repercussion, a backlash: it reflects the reality of our present condition.

1. Destituent power has an ontological dimension. From nothing, it manifests itself, in the absence of any foundation.

I do not know
but
I do know that

space,
time,
dimension,
becoming,
future,
destiny,
being,
non-being,
self,
non-self,

are nothing to me;

but there is a thing
which is something,
only one thing
which is something,
and which I feel
because it wants
TO GET OUT:
the presence
of my bodily
suffering,

the menacing,
never tiring
presence
of my
body;

however hard people press me with questions
and however vigorously I deny all questions,
there is a point
at which I find myself compelled
to say no,

NO

then
to negation;

and this point
comes when they press me,

when they pressure me
and when they handle me
until the exit
from me
of nourishment,
of my nourishment
and its milk,

and what remains?

That I am suffocated;

and I do not know if it is an action
but in pressing me with questions this way
until the absence
and nothingness
of the question
they pressed me
until the idea of body
and the idea of being a body
was suffocated
in me,

and it was then that I felt the obscene

and that I farted
from folly
and from excess
and from revolt
at my suffocation
.

Because they were pressing me
to my body
and to the very body

and it was then
that I exploded everything
because my body
can never be touched.

(Antonin Artaud)

2. Destituent power reveals political greatness in those who are normally excluded from politics, among those who act and work on the thresholds of exclusion designed and administered by law, among those who are indifferent to the dialectic of recognition, among those who, by displaying this distance, remove themselves from any hold or influence of power. It is for this reason that these people have an unheard of political power.

He roams the alleyways of Naples, day and night, in good weather and bad. He has no face, he has no name. If I could represent him with the smoke from which Palazzeschi’s Perelà is made, I would give him a physiognomy, a body. But our specter is neither a shadow nor an abstraction: it is something which at the same time is not. I have nevertheless to warn that Nothingness in Naples is never quite nothing. It is always the negation of a negative fact, a non-disease, namely, a non-death, a non-hunger, a non-misery, a non-catastrophe, and so on, endlessly. The figure of No-one rises sovereign in this Kingdom which always awaits the worst.

(Carlo Bernari)

3. Destituent power is realised in the event, in an unpredictable temporality, which suspends the order of history and opens up a politics of the “not-yet”. Its nature is enduring and spectral. The event is the impossible: it is that which cannot be anticipated and which cannot become the object of any pre-understanding.

May 68 showed that, without a project, without any conjuration, in the suddenness of a joyful encounter, like a festivity which upset the social forms admitted or hoped for, explosive communication could assert itself (assert itself beyond the usual forms of affirmation), the opening that gave permission to everyone, without distinction of class, age, sex or culture, to mix with the first comer as if with an already loved being, precisely because s/he was the unknown-familiar. “Without a project”: this was the trait, at the same time distressing and fortunate, of an incomparable form of society which did not allow itself to be grasped, which was not called upon to subsist, to settle, even through the multiple “committees” by which a disorderly order was simulated, an imprecise specialisation. Contrary to “traditional revolutions”, it was not only a question of taking power to replace it by another, nor of taking the Bastille, the Winter Palace, the Elysee or the National Assembly: unimportant objectives. It was not even a matter of overthrowing an old world, but rather one of allowing a possibility of being together to be manifested, apart from any utilitarian interest, which restored to all the right to equality in fraternity through the freedom of speech which aroused everyone. Everyone had something to say, sometimes to write (on the walls); what? it didn’t matter. The saying took precedence over the said. Poetry was an everyday affair, communication “spontaneous”, in the sense that it seemed unrestrained, was nothing other than communication with itself, transparent, immanent, despite the fights, debates, controversies, in which the calculating intelligence expressed less than the almost pure effervescence (in any case, without contempt, without haughtiness or baseness) -, this is why one could sense that, with authority overthrown or rather neglected, what declared itself was a communism never before experienced that no ideology was able to recover or claim. There were no serious attempts at reform, but an innocent presence (and because of this, supremely unusual) which, in the eyes of the powerful and escaping their analysis, could only be denigrated by sociologically typical expressions, such as chienlit, that is to say, there was the carnivalesque redoubling of their own confusion, that of a command which no longer commanded anything, not even itself, contemplating, without seeing it, its inexplicable ruin. Innocent presence, “common presence” (René Char), ignoring its limits, political by refusing to exclude anything and the awareness of being, as it is, the immediate-universal, with the impossible as the only challenge, but without specific political desires and, thereby, at the mercy of any impetuousness from formal institutions against which one was forbidden to react. It was this lack of reaction (Nietzsche could pass here as the inspiration) that allowed the adverse manifestation to develop, which it would have been easy to prevent or fight. Everything was accepted. The impossibility of recognising an enemy, of taking into account a particular form of adversity, it was this that invigorated, but which also precipitated towards the denouement, which, moreover, did not need to untie anything, once the event had taken place. The event? Did it take place?

(Maurice Blanchot)

4. Destituent power occurs everywhere in space, where generic singularities collectively elude and destroy the apparatus of capture and control by power. Although the geography of places can provoke destructive forms of struggle, it is only refusal that makes space a place of liberation. Destituent power erupts in the mobile thresholds of the contemporary world: suburbs, slums, borders, streets, bodies; the factories interrupted, the silences of the call centers.

One can love a city, one can recognize its houses and streets in our dearest and most distant memories. But it is only at the moment of revolt that the city becomes our city. Our city, because it is both mine and “other’s”; our city, because it is the battlefield that we have chosen and that the community has chosen; our city, because it is the circumscribed space where historical time is suspended and where each act has significance in itself, in its immediate consequences. A city is less our own when playing there as a child or when going for a walk later with a girl than by fleeing or advancing between police charges. At the time of revolt, we are no longer alone in the city.

(Furio Jesi)

5. Destituent power is a stranger to any logic of the subject and of identity. It is the ability to recognise that the only political subjectivity that is equal to the times is that which manages to revoke itself. It is the generic singularity, without consciousness, that cannot be represented. It is the destituting singularity that becomes destituting at the very moment when it constitutes itself, with others, in the struggle.

The I/me representor-creator seen in its solidity, and in its central fixity which is precisely that of the dowel that it is, surrounded by inane and inert time, destined to light up the darkness and gloom like a projector in nocturnal terrors, this I/me is in my eyes a tattered idol. This puppet of Ptolemaic credulity has nothing to do with my identity as a wounded man, as a helpless, poor type, a “noetic dissociate”. Around me, around us, the storm of deadly events, the pain, the slow torment of years turn. The very idea of wanting, of desiring, is abolished, in the soft impossible, in the ocean of stupidity.

(Carlo Emilio Gadda)

6. Destituent power rejects the modern idea according to which there is politics only where there is the State or the police. On the other hand, destituent power thinks power beyond any form of government, any political theology. Its destituent dimension has nothing to do with forms of passivity, rather it determines its strength in political action and decision-making. It denies all productive activity based on capital; the wildcat strike as a suspension of the domination of what is.

Good morning director.
– Here the situation is disastrous.
– Really? Is there no arrangement?
– It seems to me that it has failed.
– This is terrible.
– The most basic government function no longer exists in Milan.
– I understand.
– There is no longer anything, absolutely nothing that looks like a government.
– But what can be done in this situation?
– Give power to the General Confederation of Labour.
– But that’s the end of everything!
– No, no, this is much better than what is happening now. We cannot continue like this, my dear sir!
– So what you are saying is this: let us carry out the revolution and farewell! It’s over! But to avoid it, what can be done?
– Precisely, to avoid it, the only way is to give power to the General Confederation of Labour.
– And to do what with?
– The factory council, whatever they want… But at least an order will be re-established (…) here the industrialists say: let the government take away the ownership of the factories from us, let it make cooperatives, in sum, anything, but that there be a government that governs, a socialist government, or another, but we have never seen such a catastrophic situation.

(Police Archives. Telephone conversation between Giovanni Amendola, elected member of the Liberal Party in Rome, and Luigi Albertini, Director of the Corriere della Sera in Milan, about the factory occupations movement in northern Italy. September 15, 1920, 9:00.)

7. Destituent power arises and asserts itself in the age of the tendential coincidence between production and existence, at a time when the valorisation process assumes an immaterial character. However, this link does not imply the immediate existence of social wealth. In effect, the sophisticated nature of global bio-power is able to promote, retain, calculate and govern the desiring excess of existence. It is only by rejecting the control apparatuses of neoliberalism that the link between production and existence manages to express its excessive and biopolitical character; at the moment when the political destitution of the current state of affairs creates the conditions for learning to desire in a different way.

Companions, comrades,
– it should come back to me – said Mayakovsky –
a monument in my lifetime! –
I am the very one that you do not explain to yourself
yesterday again then last night or never
I am this general familiarity, the statue
a center-forward from the azzurra squad running
head between the feet without a ball.
One hundred per hour of the field,
I am the breathlessness that is losing interest
by finding everything round in the net
not at all adversary
a world already marked by no one
other than me when I was not born.
And so is done what I do not do
and so say what I said
so is rewarded what I wanted
precisely to tell me that I am not precise.
So I am dead when I lived the most –
Tactic – the stars answer me –
you do not know how to hold on to the game of running –
– Oh, to reveal oneself! – Come back, but tonight,
if you want to come back after the game
because white green red beyond Montale
it’s over you know why it’s over
within a single common nap
it is the exception that you believed to be such:
an occasion of reduced crowds
your late arrival
brings the game of a lifetime back into play
won the other night at the bottom of the sea.
And the hope is so great
that it is no longer enough for me
but it is as I still have, musical,
life.

(Carmelo Bene)

8. Destituent power can shatter the gregarious condition of the human. It can break this destiny to which the liberal economy abandons us. This offense is the eruption of another animality: fierce and savage. Incalculable. Only the emergence of this animality generates an irreparable rupture, which cannot turn into a reconstituting crisis for bio-capital. Rather, it is a catastrophe, the opening of a rift in the temporality of the world. It is a party that breaks the dark routine of power. And yet there is nothing miraculous about its uprising. It is, on the contrary, a possibility of existence. The opportunity may even seem trivial, but it always reveals the intolerable condition of those who are nailed and fixed to being who they are.

Tenderness it welled: slow, swelling, full it throbbed. That’s the chat. Ha, give! Take! Throb, a throb, a pulsing proud erect.

Words? Music? No: it’s what’s behind.

Bloom looped, unlooped, noded, disnoded.

Bloom. Flood of warm jamjam lickitup secretness flowed to flow in music out, in desire, dark to lick flow invading. Tipping her tepping her tapping her topping her. Tup. Pores to dilate dilating. Tup. The joy the feel the warm the. Tup. To pour o’er sluices pouring gushes. Flood, gush, flow, joygush, tupthrob. Now! Language of love.

(James Joyce)

9. Destituent power does not pose the question of violence. Violence exists only for the State. A stranger to the logic of friend/foe, destituent power is a force which is realised in the contingency and the praxis of where one decides each time and again for violence or non-violence.

… racing towards the Al Quds hospital on one of the few brave taxis which, zigzagging, still defied the targeted bombs, I saw a group of children stopped at the corner of a street . They were dirty, with patched clothes, like our post-war sciuscià [shoe shine boys]. With slingshots they hurled stones skyward at a very distant and unapproachable enemy who mocks at their lives. The mad metaphor photographing the absurdity of these times and places.

(Vittorio Arrigoni)

10. Destituent power is an event of politics. It opens up the chance for a revolutionary politics. At the same time, it denounces any revolution that betrays its principles to become an apparatus of government.

At night, all of Berlin is a trading and exchange market. Everyone mixes and then some isolate themselves. Espionage is easy, the slightest collapse is obvious. Everyone is keen to get rid of their secret, to deliver their information, to sit down at the table during the interrogation. Everyone now has everyone on their backs and no one can control the bill being passed onto one in the dark. Outside, the morning has already returned, suddenly it’s too bright. No more bills. Except for the transvestites, no one knows in what form or with what seal sealing their made-up lips they will go home to fall asleep, joyful, every day.

(Ingeborg Bachmann)

11. Destituent power inherits the experience of past revolts and desertions. Struggles disappear leaving traces. Their concealed legacy is to be found in places and bodies wherever we avoid the hold of power. The destituent event – the opening up of a world, its political novelty – collects the invisible echo of insurgencies and refusals that have tormented the historical order.

I

Truly, I live in dark times!
An artless word is foolish. A smooth forehead
Points to insensitivity. He who laughs
Has not yet received
The terrible news.

What times are these, in which
A conversation about trees is almost a crime
For in doing so we maintain our silence about so much wrongdoing!
And he who walks quietly across the street,
Passes out of the reach of his friends
Who are in danger?

It is true: I work for a living
But, believe me, that is a coincidence. Nothing
That I do gives me the right to eat my fill.
By chance I have been spared. (If my luck does not hold,
I am lost.)

They tell me: eat and drink. Be glad to be among the haves!
But how can I eat and drink
When I take what I eat from the starving
And those who thirst do not have my glass of water?
And yet I eat and drink.

I would happily be wise.
The old books teach us what wisdom is:
To retreat from the strife of the world
To live out the brief time that is your lot
Without fear
To make your way without violence
To repay evil with good —
The wise do not seek to satisfy their desires,
But to forget them.
But I cannot heed this:
Truly I live in dark times!

II

I came into the cities in a time of disorder
As hunger reigned.
I came among men in a time of turmoil
And I rose up with them.
And so passed
The time given to me on earth.

I ate my food between slaughters.
I laid down to sleep among murderers.
I tended to love with abandon.
I looked upon nature with impatience.
And so passed
The time given to me on earth.

In my time streets led into a swamp.
My language betrayed me to the slaughterer.
There was little I could do. But without me
The rulers sat more securely, or so I hoped.
And so passed
The time given to me on earth.

The powers were so limited. The goal
Lay far in the distance
It could clearly be seen although even I
Could hardly hope to reach it.
And so passed
The time given to me on earth.

III

You, who shall resurface following the flood
In which we have perished,
Contemplate —
When you speak of our weaknesses,
Also the dark time
That you have escaped.

For we went forth, changing our country more frequently than our shoes
Through the class warfare, despairing
That there was only injustice and no outrage.

And yet we knew:
Even the hatred of squalor
Distorts one’s features.
Even anger against injustice
Makes the voice grow hoarse. We
Who wished to lay the foundation for gentleness
Could not ourselves be gentle.

But you, when at last the time comes
That man can aid his fellow man,
Should think upon us
With leniency.

(Bertolt Brecht)

12. Destituent power does not recognise the legitimacy of the institutions representing the interests of contemporary capitalism. For this reason, it contributes to their extinction. At the same time, destituent power helps to create the conditions for the emergence of new institutions which would remain faithful to contingency and would guarantee the ungrounded nature of generic singularity; institutions capable of taking into account the provisional status of generic singularity and of safeguarding the value of political action as a refusal.

… the essence of society is not the law but rather the institution. The law, in fact, is a limitation of enterprise and action, and it focuses only on a negative aspect of society. The fault of contractual theories is that they present us with a society whose essence is the law, that is, with a society which has no other objective than to guarantee certain preexisting natural rights and no other origin than the contract. Thus, anything positive is taken away from the social, and instead the social is saddled with negativity, limitation, and alienation. … The institution, unlike the law, is not a limitation but rather a model of actions, a veritable enterprise, an invented system of positive means or a positive invention of indirect means.

(Gilles Deleuze)

13. Destituent power rejects the name ordering global violence and the suffering of generic singularity: the government of democracy. However, democracy is also the name of an unfounded politics, devoid of an arche. This is why destituent power is naturally democratic. We could call this ontology communism.

Only in communist society, when the resistance of the capitalists have disappeared, when there are no classes (i.e., when there is no distinction between the members of society as regards their relation to the social means of production), only then “the state… ceases to exist”, and “it becomes possible to speak of freedom”. Only then will a truly complete democracy become possible and be realized, a democracy without any exceptions whatever. And only then will democracy begin to wither away, owing to the simple fact that, freed from capitalist slavery, from the untold horrors, savagery, absurdities, and infamies of capitalist exploitation, people will gradually become accustomed to observing the elementary rules of social intercourse that have been known for centuries and repeated for thousands of years in all copy­book maxims. They will become accustomed to observing them without force, without coercion, without subordination, without the special apparatus for coercion called the state. The expression “the state withers away” is very well­ chosen, for it indicates both the gradual and the spontaneous nature of the process. Only habit can, and undoubtedly will, have such an effect; for we see around us on millions of occasions how readily people become accustomed to observing the necessary rules of social intercourse when there is no exploitation, when there is nothing that arouses indignation, evokes protest and revolt, and creates the need for suppression. And so in capitalist society we have a democracy that is curtailed, wretched, false, a democracy only for the rich, for the minority. The dictatorship of the proletariat, the period of transition to communism, will for the first time create democracy for the people, for the majority, along with the necessary suppression of the exploiters, of the minority. Communism alone is capable of providing really complete democracy, and the more complete it is, the sooner it will become unnecessary and wither away of its own accord.

(Vladimir Lenin

taken from here

Foto: Stefan Paulus

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