Target Rich Environment: OWSers and Adbusters (22)
Adbusters is a bi-monthly you can find in the magazine shelves at Farmington’s excellent Mr. Paperback. I noticed it some time ago, but thought nothing of it at the time. Having since read that an Adbusters Media Foundation’s September advertisement set off the world-wide protests that started with the Occupy Wall Street encampment in New York’s Zucotti Park, I invested in the current copy last month.
Most of the OWSer supporters and defenders are claiming that the very incoherence of the movement is its special virtue. If there’s an actual idea behind this defense it seems to be that rage, or at least noisy indignation, will provide a fecund soil from which a post-capitalist civilization will grow in time.
This resembles the “program” of the nineteenth century Russian Nihilists who refused to espouse any concrete revolutionary agenda. The Narodnaya Volya (“People’s Will”) aimed only to destroy government, religion, family, tradition, manners, commercial hair cuts, cravats, soap, private property, etc. in the expectation that once humanity is free of these chains something better would emerge.
Resembles, but not the same. The Adbuster crowd aims to destroy consumerism and the capitalist system it supports. The Nihilist method was to assassinate czars, grand dukes, generals, officials, policemen. The OWSers method is to sleep in tents, defecate in port-a-potties (if available), shout slogans, and wave signs.
Saying that the Adbuster program is incoherent is not the same as saying that it has no ideas. The magazine is awash with ideas. There are still some copies at Mr. Paperback if anyone wants to investigate for themselves. If you wish to spare yourself the expense I have provide some samples below.
Readers might be interested in this excerpt from an article entitled “Long Night of the Left is Drawing to a Close” by Jessica Whyte,
“In 2010 Slavoj Zizek...gave a public lecture at the London School of Economics on the necessity of communism.” A member of the audience challenged him to explain his use of the word “we.” This is the result: “In speaking of the communist ‘we,’ he explained, he was not evoking an already existing political subject, let an inherently revolutionary sociological class. Rather, the use of “we” could best be understood as a speech act or a performative utterance—this is, as one of those utterances identified by the philosopher of language J.L. Austin that do not describe an exiting reality but instead produce a new one. Just as statements like “I do” or “You’re fired!” are themselves actions, transforming rather than describing a situation, Zizek said he hoped that the act of evoking a communist “we” would contribute to bringing a collective subject into existence.”
Some pretty deep thinking going on at the LSE as I’m sure you will all agree. Whenever you hear a phrase like “performative utterance” you got to know that something pretty profound is going on.
Jessica adds a description of the reaction to Zizek’s observation: “People around me chuckled and riotous laughter from the main auditorium blasted over the video.” Good for you if you got the joke. I admit it eludes me completely, but then I’m just a simple Franklin County rustic.
It’s only fair to point that if you read the whole article you will find that the communism advocated at the conference by Zizek and the philosopher Alain Badiou is not like any form of communism that ever actually existed. It’s opposite variety.
Here’s a condensation of a meditation by a certain Darren Flood: “Your mom tells you...that you are very lucky and the world is your oyster. And she is right. You will travel greater distances in a single day than most people only a century ago traveled their entire lives. You will have food choices that English kings couldn’t have imagined....You will live longer than any generation before. Your wardrobe will contain cloth from what was once beyond the reach. Broken bones won’t render you a cripple...blah, blah.” And in closing: She is careful not to explain that this oyster isn’t for all the children of that the world or that such good fortune is making the world sick. [Emphasis added].
Some possible interpretations:
1. We should travel by ox-cart, eat porridge, shorten our lives, walk around on crutches and dress in loin cloths so that the world can heal.
2. We should travel by ox-cart, eat porridge, shorten our lives, walk around on crutches and dress in loin cloth until all the world’s children get oysters of their own.
3. We should continue as before, but feel guilty about it.
You may find this excerpt from Nicole Demby’s “A Message Entangled With Its Form” illuminating “...perhaps the sight from Liberty Plaza is similar to the one a person might have glimpsed from Tahrir Square, from Ben-Gurion Boulevard, from among the indignados in Madrid and the protests in Greece.”
Or perhaps Nicole Demby is a dimwit.
Wait, she has more to say: “Occupiers are learning to use their bodies in ways that break with the modes of moving circumscribed by our culture of efficiency and the near-total encroachment of privatized space.”
OK, drop that second “perhaps.” All that remains is to determine whether dear Demby has removed the door from its hinges in the privatized space of her Brooklyn apartment. If I find out I’ll send word.
I’ve given you a fair sample of Adbusterian cogitations. If you doubt me get a copy and read for yourself.