Affect Matters

Two pieces on the limits of linear models of political action:

Over at Bully Bloggers, Ira Livingston considers the importance of the affective dimensions of politics, and how this informs the question of how to evaluate Occupy Wall Street:

To take the question to another register: do Occupy Wall Street and related actions empower people? Do they contribute to mobilizing and opening up political discourse?  Or can they be described as simple venting, or worse, part of some systemic damage control mechanism that offers aesthetic or symbolic shows at the expense of real political mobilization?

Those who dismiss the movement, he suggests, envision:

a single center, a single origin or ground or goal, a single line of causality, a single kind of political agency, a single public sphere, a single rationality and discourse, a single left and right–all of what Occupy Wall Street defies.

But, he argues, it is not rational strategy that is most needed at this time, but “emotional coherence.” And comments that, although he finds himself out of his discursive element:

In fact, the durational performance– the occupation—at the heart of OWS seems actively somehow to disturb and displace speech, to make it plural (like the human microphone), to make no one iteration definitive.

That these multiple, plural spaces of speech seem productive.

You really want a unified public sphere? I experience this displacement of speech, of all that it is now possible to say, as  something more like thinking, more like writing, a process of reaching for what wants to be said but is not yet possible to say.

Meanwhile, at the Space and Politics blog, Gaston Gordillo analyzes Occupy Wall Street as a node of resonance. Focusing on both the spatial dimensions of protest, and practices such as the human mic, he suggests that

Liberty Square became a human assemblage that debates, eats, sings, drums, marches, sleeps, and dreams together and, in doing so, turns space into a machine of resonance generation.

Like Livingston, he highlights the possibilities embedded in alternatives to linear notions of political discourse and action, instead invoking such metaphors as nodes and rhizomes:

the temporality of resonance expansion is not linear or predictable and never will be. Political resonances do not simply “propagate” in a smooth space free of material and affective obstacles, as if they were waves created by a stone falling on a pond.

Tags: , , ,

One Comment

Leave a Comment

  1. Murfmensch says:

    Very interesting.

    I would separate the analysis of Occupy as a particular project (wonderful) and Occupy as a new way to organize (not for everyone).

    Getting people to think about the privileges of the top 1% as a problem is always welcome. The occupiers will be remembered like the freedom riders are now. Many of the speeches that have been posted on the internet have been brilliant.

    Many quotes from occupiers show that some people there believe they are showing other organizations how they should work. Every institution should be leaderless, counter-cultural, consensus-insisting, etc. This is not for everyone and it is hard to see how these occupations will end. Requiring consensus burns me out and often forces minority voices to stop “blocking consensus”. Consensus decision-making is often thrown when people from under-represented cultures enter the fora.

    However, most occupiers have gone out of their way to show solidarity with organizations like unions, which have leaders and seek to develop enduringly. New York Communities for Change (formerly NY ACORN) have provided Occupy Wall Street with support, financial and moral, and they have sought to recruit sympathizers into dues-paying, leader-developing, majority-voting, membership. This is as it should be.

    Some of the arguments surrounding Occupy seem to presume that we need to choose between it’s model and other models of organizing. We don’t. If we learn from the present, we will see that different sorts of organizations can help each other deliver more power to those who need it.

Leave a Comment