Resilient Autonomies and Homo Sacer

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One

 

“We represent the new,” chorused the serried melee in the square.  The time-beaten obelisk at the heart no longer represented any social cohesion or governmental rigidity; instead, it seemed to the Mayor as he regarded the public gathering with resignation, it stood as an ironic reminder of a distant memory.

   The Mayor’s aide seemed to be hiding in his superior’s shadow, fearful to fully comprehend the unfolding events.  “Anarchic is possibly the wrong word,” he mumbled to himself as he scribbled his report in a dog-eared journal.  The heavy wooden doors below began to strain against an incipient, inevitable insurgency.

   Dieter struggled to remain upright in the claustrophobic commotion, which was steadily growing as more townspeople, unable to deny the infectious public righteousness, added their voices to the furious jeremiad.  His father, now unable to maintain his grip on Dieter’s little hand, watched helplessly as his only son disappeared underfoot.

 

In the above passage the reader is encouraged to identify the despotic element, or the force that is applying excessive pressure to the status quo: is it the mayor or the angered mob?  It can, of course, be both to varying degrees, but it is perhaps the deeper truth that which has led to the related situation is the genuine locus of despotism.  The apparatus which has perpetuated the unspoken oppression of the people has also frustrated that peoples’ own government.  For the apparatus is not, per se, the government.  No, the government belongs to the state which is, for lack of a more suitable term, the concrete state of “is-ness.”  The apparatus is merely the inter-relation between the state and the subject.  In this instance, the inter-relation has ruptured – the despotic apparatus is caught between civility and anarchy.  If we can identify the despotic element, then it is a thermodynamic certainty that there is also a resilient force to be uncovered.  In this passage, as the despotic force is ambiguous, so too is the resilient force.  There are forces both internal and external, utterly abstract yet at the same time as powerful as steel, which have compelled the fictional populace above, and which eternally compel our “real world” populace to act either in accordance with the apparatus or in defiance of it.  What has led to the civil unrest is largely irrelevant, for the narrative is clearly on the cusp of a revolution: the mayor will be overthrown and a new figurehead of a new democratic system will replace the old, non-functioning apparatus.  The new system will inevitably find resistance as did the old, and resistance molecularly: all forces have resistance, and the greater the former, the greater the latter.  And what of the obelisk at the centre of the square, and what can we make of its significance to the passage?   This is a question of both Deleuzoguattarian territorialisation and Foucauldian archaeology of power, in that monuments and statues have since antiquity stood at the heart of the civic public space and, for myriad heterogeneous reasons, served to generate psychic, habit-forming familiarity from which the state has consistently benefited.  Municipal landmarks are of the refrain, marking out radial parameters of subjective docility, whereby the quotidian maintains an almost totemic feeling of safety within the subject.  It is panopticism with an inverted gaze insofar as the subject is imbibed with implicit citizenship in the presence of the civic article, and acts in accordance with a specific set of principles in order to maintain that citizenship: to do otherwise would break the subject from the norm and externalise it from the polis.  If a government operates in proximity to the familiar, then the likelihood of its subjects responding obediently to the governmental rule is greatly increased.  The obelisk in particular dates back to ancient Egypt, where it would be inscribed with hieroglyphs declaring the close relationship between the king and the sun god, thereby installing the notion within the state’s citizenship that the sovereign was, if not equal to, then certainly shared a juridical peerage with the gods, and whose rule was therefore absolute.  This would be strengthened by the gold or gold alloy pyramidal tip of the obelisk which would capture the morning sun and lend drama to the life-giving power of the gods and – by extension and owing to the proximity of the obelisk to the centre of power – the sovereign.  In our, decidedly more secular, times this arcane facet of a long-since disregarded belief system seems backwards – twee, even.  Yet the basic foundations of government and sovereignty still remain, and in some crucial aspects the destructive tendencies of this top-down power structure are more insidious than ever before.  What is One Canada Square (or Canary Wharf Tower as it is more colloquially known) if not a perfect replica of the obelisk, even in its apical metallic roof?  Kings and sun-gods have been usurped by finance, data management and biometric mapping representing the new sovereign-gods of control – capital, surveillance, information and pharmacology, all orbiting and feeding from both a literal technology and the technology of the apparatus.  The building’s architect Cesar Pelli has thus commented on his pyramid design:

 

“The pyramidal form makes a three-dimensional building of what would otherwise be just folded planes. It also strengthens the Axis Mundi, the vertical line that goes through skyscrapers and connects Heaven with Earth. This connection has been recognised in many cultures for several centuries now.”[1]

 

The Axis Mundi claims not merely geographical centrality so much as the centrality of absolute sovereignty, and the term Axis Mundi is here used by Pelli with pronounced hubris, for the very notion of architecture being in any way connected to the heavens in this way (particularly an architectural embodiment of neoliberalism localised within so affluent and capital-focused area as Canary Wharf) is (at best) laughable, and (at worst) repugnant.  Therefore it serves us better to dismiss such claims as arrogance.  Better we should consider the modern-day obelisk in the same secular light as the Omphalos in Greek lore, the “navel” of the world as located by Zeus by sending two eagles from polar opposites of the earth so that, when they met one another in the middle, the absolute centre of the world could be ascertained.  Obviously, this is absurd both geographically and logically, yet when we remove the mythology completely we are left, as in the present-day scholarly understanding, with a functional synonym for the home.  When we first meet Buck Mulligan in Joyce’s Ulysses he is proclaiming “our’s is the omphalos!” with only the vestigial trace of religious analogy: the semiotic root of his statement is of belonging, patriotism and domesticity.  This is how we should view the obelisk, and by extension the municipal function of the monument.  Here the town square has been replaced by a major capitol city, and the means of control are a thousand-fold more sophisticated: the citizenship is, on the whole, docile and subservient, even in the face of the knowledge that they are so.  Indeed, it is this docility which precedes belonging that provides for many a secure sense of identity.  The apparatus is responsive to what Lacan would refer to as a lack (in the strictly Lacanian sense of the integral component of the desiring machine which brings desire into being, yet also increasingly in post-industrial dynamics of power relating also the Deleuzoguattarian notion of lack being an essential machinic connector in and of itself).  In a 1977 interview, Michel Foucault said:

 

What I’m trying to single out with this term is, first and foremost, a thoroughly heterogeneous set consisting of discourses, institutions, architectural forms, regulatory decisions, laws, administrative measures, scientific statements, philosophical, moral, and philanthropic propositions—in short, the said as much as the unsaid. Such are the elements of the apparatus. The apparatus it- self is the network that can be established between these elements…by the term “apparatus” I mean a kind of a formation, so to speak, that at a given historical moment has as its major function the response to an urgency. The apparatus therefore has a dominant strategic function . . .[2]

 

By which I mean” is an essentially mutinous statement, in that it overthrows the preceding statements originary linguistic function.  It rejects the apparatus of language only to affirm the validity of the apparatus of language, and so here Foucault unwittingly enters into a dialectic economy which can only ever circle back on itself and thus proves that a) a precisely balanced economy lacks the vital energy necessary for the momentum of bodies (thought, linguistics, law, culture and so forth) throughout an apparatus and b) the state’s liminal contiguity with language is based on the exception, and that state’s juridical order is presupposed not by the norm, but by the relative alterity of its subjects (the exception which proves the rule is analogous to the state of exception).  This is but one of many ouroboric instances of a thing that is missing which proves the existence of the thing.

The state of exception to which Foucault refers is instrumental to an understanding of Homo Sacer and its relationship to what I propose as Resilient Autonomy.

 

Two

 

Giorgio Agamben cites oikonomia, that relationship of power within the home, as the genus of our modern word “economics.”  “oikos” being Greek for (loosely) “of the home” and “nomos” denoting a system for the distribution of law.  Interestingly, the absolute ruler of the household was in ancient Greece known as oikodespotes, which gives us an indication of the absolute nature of the domestic power structure, which to some extent survives to this day (and not solely in the West).  In accordance with the metropolis, the body mirrors the metabolic vicissitudes of the state apparatus and, if the home is of the state, then so too is the body of both state and home.  The body acts either in response to the edicts of the city-state – i.e. when it either conforms to or defies societal norms – or the mundane exigencies of the home: the paying of bills is essentially the domestic embodiment of the sovereign tribute.  Similarly, as with the body-state-home trichotomy, the body-domestic is subject to its own power dynamics, and constantly finds itself in and out of balance in the economy of the home.  Arguably, the domestic relationship is little more than biological response to the subject’s relationship to the state-machinic norm and just as susceptible to intricate power relations.  The stasis of civil war finds its ontological basis in the home, therefore when the dynamics of power are enervated to the extreme we find similarly extreme examples of crisis and separation: violence, ostracism, delinquency and divorce – the logical and ontological denouement of stasis.  Thus, the economy of power within the home is a microcosm of the economy of power within the state.  Of course, economics can also diffuse power into a less articulated paradigm of energy, and in this way we may find – in the cultures of classical modernity – an economy of drama, an economy of comedy, and economy of art, and so forth (literally ad infinitum).  For every apparatus there is an inherent and necessary economy (for Agamben, however, such economies are eternally self-destructive when they are despotised or, more specifically, given over to sovereignty).  Of course, apparatuses may be, and frequently are, fused together, whereby elements of the apparatus of comedy find their way into the larger apparatus of drama; whichever apparatus has the greater economy is by default the greater apparatus, and in this way drama (if its economy is lesser) can be incorporated into the greater apparatus of comedy.  Unite the above passage with Kafka’s In the Penal Colony: both narratives present the relationship between the state and the apparatus, yet Kafka’s parable (for it is without a doubt a parable, albeit one which has been paganised) illustrates the apparatus literally.  Indeed, the opening sentence comes directly from the officer in charge of the story’s juridical practice: “It’s a remarkable piece of apparatus.”  Kafka uses the officer to detail every contrivance of the device in question.  For instance,

 

“Both the Bed and the Designer have an electric battery each; the Bed needs one for itself, the Designer for the Harrow. As soon as the man is strapped down, the Bed is set in motion. It quivers in minute, very rapid vibrations, both from side to side and up and down. You will have seen similar apparatus in hospitals; but in our Bed the movements are all precisely calculated; you see, they have to correspond very exactly to the movements of the Harrow. And the Harrow is the instrument for the actual execution of the sentence”[3]

 

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The officer, eventually in a fit of passion for his invention, submits himself to the procedure, whereupon the convicted man’s sentence is agonisingly inscribed upon his own back, This denouement is of specific interest here, as it is at this point that Kafka turns the story over to comedy, in a cartoonish manner embodying the trope of the commanding officer taking the malfunctioning gun from his subordinate and looking down the barrel, only for the gun to fire in the commanding officer’s face.  Only then very briefly does the apparatus of comedy become the greater apparatus. My attempt at fiction portrays the apparatus in abstraction, yet both serve to illustrate the machinery of state as it tests the resilience of the apparatus (the apparatus and the machinery, it should be noted, are entirely interchangeable synonyms denoting either the literal machine or the metaphysical apparatus).

 

The resilience of any body to the greater organism can be measured only by our definition of “resilience,” residing as that word does within the realm of relativism.  Resilience is from the Latin resiliens, present participle of resilire (to rebound, recoil). It serves us better here to interpret the word more in terms of a state of non-buckling, or indomitability – that which can be stretched and yet still resists.  We must not take the word for all in all as doing so places it in one of only two binary semiotic ends: entirely resilient or not at all resilient.  A resilience to the strata, or despotic homogeneity in relation to the social, geographic or temporal situation of the autonomy (or body) – this is how we must perceive the word, as a paradigm of fusion and diffusion.  As the elasticity of the resilient body is stretched, so the substantive principles are multiplied and spread.  As the same elasticity is snapped back, so the constituent bodies and essences are merged into one.  Purely forward and reverse osmosis.

 

Is the greater organism always a despotic force?  No, but the ease with which the economy of power leads to despotism is such that it makes little difference.  The ultimate aim of the politician is to maintain the balance of power in their favour indefinitely, the execution of which necessitates despotism.

 

Agamben also, in Homo Sacer and via Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, gives us the theoretical dichotomy of Bios and Zoe – the former being the political and privileged body (the biological-becoming-the-bios politicos) while the latter a heathenous animal state (we may conjugate “Zoe” to the nominalized “zoological”).  Bios is also biographical or the realm of inscriptions where the subject is inscribed into the juridical, political machinery of the state through representation.  Bios Politicos is precisely the human mode of existence that differentiates and elevates the human from its animalistic background and privileges it by conferring language.  The animalistic voice (that of bare life) registers pleasure and pain, and yet only the human being has language – or a complex semantic system of values and degrees – with which to properly articulate these and other more complex body-dynamics.  According to Aristotle, language is the enablement of the individual to define what is just or unjust within the political sphere, the eruption and intervention of the zoological into the bios (the bios politicos), which is the accepted proper human political order. The two are become intermixed and indiscernible in today’s modernity, in which Agamben criticises the democratic nation state as presenting itself to the victimised Third World populations that it assists as essentially democratic, whilst at the same time hiding the fact that they are patently the opposite.  Ostensible democracies (the democracies in which we in the west are fortunate enough to live in) are actually not democracies as we might like to think of them: they are totalitarian states, masquerading as democracies. This can be evidenced by an examination of the eruption of the biological and the zoological into domestic politics: the subject is theoretically treated as an individual rather than as a subject of power in the proper model of democracy.  The totalitarian state, on the other hand, situates the individual as an object of power.  Democratic nation states can de-invest the individual of political power at any time and, as the states of exception multiply, so too does the chance of any individual to become homo sacer.  Homo Sacer is the subject who has been removed from the political sphere, having enjoyed the status of bios previous to this removal, unlike zoe, which from the outset is bare life without ever having the privilege of bios: zoe in the purest sense is born and remains zoe unto death without there ever being a chance of the political life.  This is obviously the animal kingdom, although certain social stratifications of human life can be considered in this category: those born with severe handicaps or are terminally ill from birth are those for whom bios is an impossibility, whereas homo sacer is reserved for individuals who have had bios removed from them either through sociological reasons (criminality, politics or war) or biological reasons (coma patients are perhaps the best example of this).  Therefore, the very foundation of homo sacer is an evolutionary idea. Anyone can theoretically kill this “sacred” figure with relative impunity (a doctor may switch off a life-support system, for instance, if there are sufficient medical grounds for doing so) meaning that not only can they not be tried in a court of law they are also not stained with taboo or sacrilege.

 

The picture-perfect contemporary allegory for the Homo Sacer can be found within the pages of the British comic book 2000AD, where one can instantly discern this idea in The Cursed Earth.  A highly radioactive, barren wasteland which lies beyond the walls of Mega City One, The Cursed Earth is the area of banishment for the individual de-invested of bios.  Thus expelled from the city, the condemned is left to the mercy of the effects of radioactivity or killing by any of the mutated life forms who dwell there.   Exactly how far it extends and its exact mileage or kilometers in square units is unknown…The Cursed Earth could be a region specific to North America or it could be any irradiated wasteland in this post-apocalyptic world.  The Cursed Earth also resembles the deregulated landscapes which have found favour within other popular culture.  Films and television shows such as The Walking Dead have an obvious appeal, and specifically towards the beginning of the mise en scene: it is made apparent that there has been an apocalyptic event of some sort (in The Walking Dead this manifests itself in the form of zombie-forms, although no reason for their coming into being is ever given), by which the demands of the state have been silenced and – for a short period before anarchy and brutal survivalist chaos kick in – their absence provides the viewer with an exquisite sense of peace.  The apparatus has been suspended, and in this short suspension, as the political is rendered meaningless and the protagonist is reduced to bare life, there manifests the melancholy truth that, even in so brief a time, the reduced subject – the very essence of a bare life in the post-apocalyptic landscape in which no government can either grant a right-to-life nor demand the right-to-death is paradoxically more free than the political subject.

 

 

The “sacred” individual linguistically implies someone for whom the killing thereof would offend some manner of divine order.  Yet in much the same way as we have viewed both Pelli’s pretensions of Axis Mundi and the Omphalos in a neo-paganised, secular light, so too should we replace the divine order with a moral semiotic coding.  But homo sacer is in essence a paradox. This paradox is derivative of the individual in the concentration camp, which in reality is no longer a theoretical state of exception. Western subjects are unwittingly living in a virtual, incipient concentration camp, since any one of us can have our rights revoked at any time, and therefore can be killed with impunity.  Anything can be done to the citizen in today’s democratic/totalitarian society. Democratic modern states are actually not democratic anymore at all: in essence, their substance has undergone a transubstantiation process.  Sacred does not mean to be protected on religious or theological grounds: it simply denotes a belonging to the class of things which is outside of society. In both cases, it serves as an overflow valve for society, to allow for the system’s mobility. Things must be cast out and moved around to relieve pressure. There must be a place for loss to keep the system ticking over, like the missing square on a picture puzzle game.

 

This is where I deploy a semi-radical departure from Agamben by proposing that, rather than reading sacer as “sacred,” we should instead be interpreting the word as “forsaken.”  This opens up whole new possibilities for the understanding of homo sacer as both concept and juridical norm.  The Homo Forsaken is not subject to being killed, but rather of being made invisible in the eyes of the state and in this way it is a short theoretical leap between the state as it operates today and the famous Banality of Evil.  In the former model the role of turning a blind eye to injustice has been displaced from the subject or citizenship and placed within the governmental body.  This idea also bridges the gap between Agamben’s theory of a concentration camp-state and the modern-day state of exception and gives the concept historical weight by applying it to Hannah Arendt’s observations on Nazi Germany and the resultant trial of Adolf Eichmann.[4]

 

Three

 

As with the sovereign, the resilient autonomy occupies a state of exception, albeit in a non-juridical capacity, which is not to suggest that the resilient autonomy has no power to speak of.  If the sovereign is privileged with being both inside and outside of the law then the resilient autonomy is both inside and outside of the apparatus: it is the unlocalizable exception which resides inside society, yet which is governed by vicissitudes beyond society.  So the state is a constellation of bodies which correspond to one another, so the resilient autonomy feeds into that constellation only from without, and then only by necessity, or the necessity as provided by the state of exception.

 

“The exception is an inclusive exclusion.  Whereas the example is an exclusive inclusion (the example is excluded from the set to which it refers, in as much as it belongs to it), the exception is included in the normal case through its exclusion. It is this inclusive exclusion that defines the originary structure of the arché.  The dialectic of the foundation that defines Western ontology since Aristotle cannot be understood if one does not understand that it functions as an exception in the sense that we have seen.  The strategy is always the same: something is divided, excluded, and ejected at the bottom, and, through this exclusion, is included as the foundation.”

 

The inherent paradox of the state of exception is precisely this: if the sovereign is both inside and outside of the juridical order, then is this sovereign not also, by this standard, a classification of The Other?  Granted, the Other is established from the perspective of the larger apparatus and – to a somewhat lesser degree than the Homo Sacer – is denied certain constituent rights due to the Other’s lack of indexical characteristics.  When not lamenting the banal self-indulgences of the average travel writer, Claude Levi-Strauss identified a species of global alterity in a multitude of native tribes around the globe:

 

“The customs of a community, taken as a whole, always have a particular style and are reducible to systems. I am of the opinion that the number of such systems is not unlimited and that – in their games, dreams or wild imaginings – human societies, like individuals, never create absolutely, but merely choose certain combinations from an ideal repertoire that it should be possible to define. By making an inventory of all recorded customs, of all those imagined in myths or suggested in children’s games or adult games, or in the dreams of healthy or sick individuals or in psycho-pathological behaviour, one could arrive at a sort of table, like that of the chemical elements, in which all actual or hypothetical customs would be grouped in families, so that one could see at a glance which customs a particular society had in fact adopted.”[5]

 

The Other, in such cases, are viewed by the imperialist west as having lesser humanity or right-to-life, even though their value systems carry much the same moral and social encodings as ours.

 

“One of the elements that make the state of exception so difficult to define is certainly its close relationship to civil war, insurrection, and resistance.  Because civil war is the opposite of normal conditions, it lies in a zone of undecidability with respect to the state of exception, which is state power’s immediate response to the most extreme internal conflicts. Thus, over the course of the twentieth century, we have been able to witness a paradoxical phenomenon that has been effectively defined as a “legal civil war.” Let us take the case of the Nazi State. No sooner did Hitler take power (or, as we should perhaps more accurately say, no sooner was power given to him) than, on February 28, he proclaimed the Decree for the Protection of the People and the State, which suspended the articles of the Weimar Constitution concerning personal liberties.”[6]

 

Agamben’s use of Nazism as an exemplar here gives rise to further notions of territorialism.  There is a notorious photograph exhibited in the Holocaust Museum in Auschwitz, taken by David Seymour and depicting the orphan girl Tereska Adwentowska shortly after having been liberated from the death camps.  Tereska had been asked to draw “home” on the blackboard of her provisional school, and the result is what some have speculated to be rings of barbed wire, chaotically scribbled in a state of what would today be diagnosed as PTSD.  It is clear, in terms of “home,” that these lines are in fact lines of territorialisation, circling back into one another.  These are the lines of alterity, the Othered and the displaced.  Deracinated from the family unit and made to endure the unimaginable, the concept of territory yet remains.

 

A girl who grew up in a concentration camp draws a picture of home while living in a residence for disturbed children, 1948

 

Four

 

From the late 1980s until 2004, if one were to walk down Nottingham’s Lister Gate on any given day, one would in all likelihood hear the gentle cacophony of a child’s metallophone being played as randomly and as joyfully as though by an actual child.  Frank Robinson was, for fifteen years, a local legend in our city.  Dismissed by some as a simple-minded individual, and admired by others as a tenacious savant, Robinson only ever infrequently provided a full melody on his instrument.  Three Blind Mice was a staple, and during the Winter months the odd Christmas carol might be heard.  On the whole, though, the simple artless joy of creating sound for strangers was enough to motivate Robinson.  “I don’t pretend that I’m Mozart, I’m just having a bit of fun and keeping people entertained,” Robinson said in 2003 during one of the extremely rare occasions on which he provided any direct insight into his motivations.  It is too easy to think of Robinson as nothing more than an inept busker, or to infer lunacy, but he left his home every morning in exactly the same manner as one leaves for work, and devoted his time with as much professionalism, giving the lie to any consideration that he was not a man fully of his faculties.  No, it is in terms of a tenacious alterity with which we should approach such a subject, belonging to the same strata as Moondog or Daniel Johnston: artists who have the term “outsider” bestowed on them due to an essential non-marketability of their work, and artists who are often affected my mental health issues or, at the very least, are perceived as suffering from mental health issues which almost inevitably attaches a certain novelty value to their work.  Like the homo sacer in relation to jurisprudence, the artist who is received in this way is both inside and outside of the cultural economy.  The outsider is, in the neoliberal context, the artist or body who is privileged no protection from derision, dismissal or exploitation precisely because it is too problematic for official agencies to profit from their efforts, and it is in this way too that the Resilient Autonomy (or the outsider) is the homo sacer of culture. The artist may be killed, though not sacrificed – in simpler terms, the cultural industries may be instrumental in the artist’s obscurity, and yet for them to be officially recognised (via agency) and for that artist to find derision (a symbolic sacrifice) would therefore be the fault of the capitalist machine, and this machine must be kept in an immaculate light.  The semiotic chain is often too disrupted to be translated and understood, as in the case of Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band whose 1970 magnum opus Trout Mask Replica was at once dismissed by all bar the most discerning ear as incoherent noise.  For such artists it is vital to approach their work as Rorschach as opposed to a strict regime of signs and desires.

 

As one heads north on Lister Gate and takes a right onto Low Pavement one eventually arrives at the Nottingham Contemporary, which is the established hub of culture and centre for artistic innovation in the East Midlands.  The essential issue is that any municipal gallery is a chorus of multiple voices.  From the director to the front-of-house assistants, to marketing assistants, development officers, curator and programme managers before one even takes into account the various artists who display at the gallery.  One also has to take into account sponsorships, the Arts Council, publicity and legal interests.

This, in a nutshell, is the contemporary art world.  It permanently positions the subject in a state of exclusive inclusion, regardless of their status within that world.  Artists, viewers and curators alike are all bound up in an externalised interiority which presupposes a lack of authentic identity, spiritual ignorance and a dependency upon third-party stimulators to engage independent thought.  Though this thought is never truly independent, merely responsive to the suggestive nature of the art-subject dynamic.  There can never be any direct interaction between the work of the artist and the viewer, and it is this distant removal which defines the official apparatus when there are degrees of separation in which any larger bodies can intercept the semiotic exchange.  For the student (and not specifically the art student), a resilience towards (or defiance of) the institution is essential and perhaps because this will likely be among the first and most formative head-on encounters with the greater apparatus in any real sense.  The student is moulded by argument and academic conflict, and an economy of intellectual sharpness can arise from these ratiocinatory energies which the student is then in responsibility of either harnessing or putting to waste.  One is reminded of the profligate economy as described by Bataille in The Accursed Share:

 

The living organism, in a situation determined by the play of energy on the surface of the globe, ordinarily receives more energy than is necessary for maintaining life; the excess energy (wealth) can be used for the growth of a system (e.g., an organism); if the system can no longer grow, or if the excess cannot be completely absorbed in its growth, it must necessarily be lost without profit; it must be spent, willingly or not, gloriously or catastrophically.[7]

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Frank Robinson had but one stratification: that of Frank Robinson, and the only economy which mattered was an ingenuous, direct economy which gave more than it expected in return.  In truth, the very paradigm of a Resilient Autonomy: absolute singularity entirely unaffected by agency or exploitation.  His simple refrains were as birdsong which territorialised the cityscape in much the same way as (yet serving as counterpoint to) the obelisk.  It is not for nothing that Olivier Messiaen chose to mimic the sound of birdsong in his celebrated Oiseaux Exotiques, and it is similarly not for nothing that Deleuze and Guattari chose to refer to this in the chapter Of the Refrain from A Thousand Plateaus:

 

“…we must simultaneously take into account two aspects of the territory: it not only ensures and regulates the coexistence of members of the same species by keeping them apart, but makes possible the coexistence of a maximum number of different species in the same milieu by specializing them. Members of the same species enter into rhythmic characters at the same time as different species enter into melodic landscapes; for the landscapes are peopled by characters and the characters belong to landscapes. An example is Messiaen’s Chrono-chromie, with its eighteen bird songs forming autonomous rhythmic characters and simultaneously realizing an extraordinary landscape in complex counterpoint, with invented or implicit chords.”[8]

 

Nowhere in the established scholarship on Messiaen is a comparison made between Chronochromie and Hitchcock’s camera, which is at once astonishing and a strong indicator of a nomadic ear as, once one puts to one side the intentional evocation of birdsong, one can discern the cityscape among the seven strophes.  Granted, the camera is of a bird’s eye perspective, dancing as Hitchcock was repeatedly inclined between various ensemble exchanges, but the resemblance to the bustling metropolitan landscape is clear: the orchestra finds – through Messiaen’s gaze – conversations, altercations, revelry and commerce (and, in the midst of the first strophe, the chime of a bell can be heard) rebound off one another yet – in simulation of the utopian ideal – never resolve themselves with violence.  The music phrases are the audible intermingling of the bare life with the political life, or the bios as observed by the zoe.  It is perplexing, then, that Messiaen chose instead to codify his music in terms of colour palettes.   Certainly, colour plays a role in territorialisation, yet to use this as a referent in the stead of organic life is baffling.  This is what Messiaen had to say regarding his relationship with colours and synaesthesia “Intellectually, like synaethesiacs, I too see colours – if only in my mind – colours corresponding to sound. Like rainbows shifting from one hue to the next. It’s very fleeting and impossible to fix in any absolute way.  It’s true I see colours, it’s true they’re there. They’re musician’s colours, not to be confused with painter’s colours…I believe in natural resonance, as I believe in all natural phenomena. Natural resonance is in exact agreement with the phenomena of complimentary colours. I have a red carpet that I often look at. Where this carpet meets the lighter coloured parquet next to it, I intermittently see marvelous greens that a painter couldn’t mix – natural colours created in the eye”

 

Five

 

Remaining in Nottingham, if one takes a left at the opposite juncture from where we pursued Nottingham Contemporry, at the termination of Lister Gate, one finds oneself gazing up towards Nottingham Castle with all its decorous mascotry in the form of Robin Hood.  Robin Hood enjoys a unique niche in English folklore, because his entire legend hinges on a rudimentary socialism, a pre-Marxist of sorts. If Derrida was correct in saying that Marx is the spectre who will haunt Western society until the end of time, then Robin Hood could be perceived as his temporal opposite.  The mythological archetype occupies the demarcation of territory between historical accuracy being correct and yet not mattering and historical inaccuracy (and this too not mattering).  After this demarcation has been breached the mythological figure gains a transcendent and symbolic non-sovereign power which then channels out into striations of multiplicity whereby the body is co-opted, appropriated and usurped by the greater (capitalist) apparatus.  Robin Hood, whose existence (at least as the proto-Socialist as presented to us by the entertainment industry) is – at best – doubtful, is in his fictional embodiment both Resilient Autonomy and homo sacer.  Expelled from the political sphere and therefore left with no agency, he would – were it not for the very fact of Resilient Autonomy – be left for dead in the greenwood.  It is only when he finds agency, in the form of Little John, Friar Tuck, Alan-a-Dale etc., that the person of Robin Hood ceases to be a Resilient Autonomy and the organism of the Merry Men instead becomes a larger Resilient Autonomy.  Once popular culture took a firm hold of the myth of Robin Hood, his perceived role as the medieval totem of class warfare and state resistance became at the same time intensified and less credible, leading to the myth being reborn (in the sense that, with each incarnation of the figure and relative historicity surrounding it, all elements of authenticity – its very medieval quality – were stripped away to be replaced by an ideology which mirrored that of contemporary times; or rather, the ideology as repeated by the Big Other).  Valerie B. Johnson is quick to point out the considerable distinction between medieval and medievalism:

 

“…as an outlaw within a nominally medieval setting, the Robin Hood figure cannot be equated with a legitimate sovereign within a purely medieval context. From a modern popular culture perspective, in which medieval settings are often used and interpreted as a fantasy space instead of a historical place, the merging of contemporary (modern) political structures with historical settings in romance or fantasy novels is not only permissible, but desirable.”[9]

 

Hence the very reason – quite aside from capital opportunism – why the myth of Robin Hood must always be updated, regenerated and revisited.  Never a static, historically-locked figure but a transubstantiated golem formed of contemporaneous ideological matter, a one-size-fits-all indicia of justice serving to highlight real-world injustice ideologically pliable enough to connect with any given political zeitgeist.  This polished ideal of Robin Hood is crucial to the misunderstanding between medieval and medievalism as banditry, and banditry in fourteenth century England was precisely that, would have been a cut-throat affair entirely devoid of the sort of quixotic romanticism which accompanied the legend from the sixteenth century onwards, when the theatre became a truly capital venture.  This was the age of grand narrative morality, when Shakespeare filled The Globe to capacity, and alongside this the tale of Robin Hood became packaged up with such heroic flourishes as giving to the poor, and the pretext of Robin’s title and lands seized by the Sherriff and Prince John (neither of which existed prior to this time).  These liberal narrative additions serve not only to soften the endlessly-reproducible image of Robin Hood as an avatar for social justice (and thereby perpetuate the financial potential of that image), but also to coax western civilisation into the sense of security that comes with the belief that the figures they hold as just and representative of the moral biopolitical order as they perceive it are the same figures which the state holds in the same regard.  In this way, the state can operate in any given manner to any degree of opposition to the democratic notion of justice while, at the same time, endorsing an ideological figurehead of the same justice which it opposes.  As long as the populace trusts that their ideals are shared by the state in this way the state can function as ambiguously or as clandestine as it chooses indefinitely.

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Political history has, however, proven that the mythology of heroism and valour can be applied to literally anything.  Let us not forget that when US forces ransacked the palaces of Saddam Hussein they found therein extravagant portraits of the dictator battling oversized serpents in the honour of large-chested damsels-in-distress.  Shirtless, and with an impossibly muscular torso, this was how Hussein idealised himself in the fight against capitalist democracy.  As Jonathan Jones in The Guardian put it:

 

“In the end it is not enough to look at these paintings – as the brilliantly posed American soldiers seem to enjoin us to – as simply restating the iconography of the tyrant through the ages. The glorious rockets spurting heavenward seem a wish fulfilment in which sex and violence are not so much confused as blatantly, obviously, crassly identified in a meltdown of the brain. It’s hilarious, yes, but it’s without art, without disguise – a lumpen absence of the aesthetic, a shining hideousness.  And what are those monsters in the erotic paintings? For a start, it’s difficult to see that they are necessarily depicted as enemies. The viewer identifies with them. A dragon descends on a defenceless naked woman, the movement and force of the picture makes the dragon the male sexual actor, as in images of Leda and the Swan. In the picture of a male warrior fighting a snake while a blonde big-breasted woman on an altar touches the end of its tail, it’s not so much a rescue going on as a general psychic breakdown – the warrior isn’t necessarily going to “liberate” anyone with that sword.”[10]

 

Mythology is there to be manipulated by the most addled of ideologues.  The zealous dictator is, in truth, no different to the authors of medieval balladry in that any atrocity can be erased from the narrative.  The Democratic Nation States play exactly the same game when they impose the metanarrative of The Big Other.

 

Another well-known strategy of the state to depose of the Resilient Autonomy is – as has previously been touched upon – through either dismissal or exclusion on the grounds of insanity.  In fiction the paradigm of this strategy is Don Quixote, who battles with windmills in the fevered delusion that they are in fact giants and appraises monks as such:

 

‘Either I am deceived, or this is like to prove the most famous adventure that ever was seen; for those black bulks that appear yonder must be, and without doubt are enchanters, who are carrying away some princess, whom they have stolen, in that coach; and I am obliged to redress this wrong to the utmost of my power.’

 

This impression of madness is meta-textual in that the fiction signposts the inherent absurdity of the smaller organism going into battle with the greater organism.  Of course, in this as in many other narrative cases, the smaller organism does that very thing and eventually triumphs.  So, much like Robin Hood, Don Quixote is not fighting the forces of literal despotism so much as encountering the symbolic oppressions as supplied by the state for these very purposes.  If the state is opposed to the same agents of repression as the protagonist (and by extension ourselves as vicarious subjective observers), then surely the state is on our side?

 

Six

 

A Resilient Autonomy bypasses any agency of fear or control, the economy of which must stand for an overall redefinition.  A Resilient Autonomy employs reason – more often than not an autonomous reasoning – to counter the machinery of the state apparatus.

Like the Deleuzoguattarian Body without Organs, a Resilient Autonomy resists facile economy, instead entering into a multitude of bespoke inter-relational dynamics.  Thus, overarching government is rendered meaningless.  Agencies of control must be paganised.  How do we define “paganised”?  First, we must strip the word of all dogma, and must place paganism strictly within the plane of immanence.  It is not enough that we simply bypass religion.  We must go back and dismantle the architecture as it exists throughout the history of humanity, and the key word here is “dismantle.”  To destroy would be to eliminate the structural elements of religion, and these we must retain for posterity, for they hold mythology, sociology, psychology and history.  Paganise the fragments and reconstruct the history of religion from a standpoint of objective storytelling.  So much of western language is rooted in contentious belief systems that if the langue and the parole were to be fully paganised the differance (Derrida) would be far greater than a precarious semiotic fluidity could compensate for, resulting in a liberated, open system of language.  “God,” in a context of pure immanence, could then become synonymous with the oikonomia or – in extremis – the despot.  Agencies of repression have worn the mask of God so often and so consistently that we cannot trust history as it stands, so we must lose faith in faith itself.  Allegory is relegated to parable, and parable reduced to fairy tale, loaded with symbolism and signs of alterity yet signs based on secular ideology – and this secular ideology must as its main tenet maintain that the distribution of power of the church apparatus is despotism itself.  Is it to ask too much of nature to compensate for concrete definitions?  If so, then we should take it upon ourselves to hyper-secularise the iconography which history has until now laden with religiosity.  An apple is an apple, given all in all, ungoverned and indivisible by redundant divinity.

 

Artists (in the broadest sense) are Resilient Autonomies when they belong to no epochal franchise.  Generational factors of environment do not influence these artists, nor do the exigencies of trend or style.  In truth, stylisation would be the antithesis of resilient autonomy.  Nomadology would be the truest artistic form, subject to lines of flight, and the biunivocal relations between bodies which occasion these lines of flight.

A multiplicitous heterogeneity which is both the one and the many, the Body without Organs is micro and macro, whereas the Resilient Autonomy is always all things in totality and while the Body without Organs requires the fusion of all things as a machinic apparatus, the Resilient Autonomy is first and foremost of itself.  The Body without Organs does not stand in opposition to repression or despotism, but adapts itself to the becoming of a resilience, yet the Resilient Autonomy presents a basic challenge to the power over life whereby it manipulates, taunts and – when done exceptionally well – deracinates the biopolitical order.  History, and recent history especially, is abundant with examples of Resilient Autonomy.  When Rosa Parks made a stand against racial segregation by refusing to give up her seat for a white man on a public bus in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955 she became a resilient autonomy and was arrested, charged with, and convicted of civil disobedience; in 1966 Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc immolated himself to protest religious persecution by the South Vietnamese government in Saigon.  This was undoubtedly an act of resilient autonomy, as the subject acted alone and with no official agency, unlike Rosa Parks who had agency in the form of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); collectives such as The Black Panthers and Baader Meinhof can also be considered, for better or for worse, Resilient Autonomies.  The ideal symbol for a resilient autonomy, however, is the Unknown Protester of Tiananmen Square during the 1989 Chinese crackdown on the student protests of the inequality of the new communist-economic reforms.  The unidentified man is Resilient Autonomy par excellence, owing greatly to his very anonymity: affiliated with nothing, defiant in the face of the full power of the state, the Unknown Protester (and his endlessly-repeated image) is a paragon of the indomitability of the subject as an autonomous force which pushes back against the pressures of the despotic.

 

Tianasquare

 

Seven

 

At 10.45am on the morning of November the 9th, 1888 landlord John McCarthy sent his assistant Thomas Bowyer to 13 Miller’s Court in Whitechapel to collect overdue rent.  After knocking twice on the door, Bowyer peered through the curtain which was accessible via a broken window pane.  Inside he saw the slaughtered remains of Mary Kelly – Jack the Ripper’s fifth and final “official” victim.

 

“The body was lying naked in the middle of the bed, the shoulders flat, but the axis of the body inclined to the left side of the bed. The head was turned on the left cheek. The left arm was close to the body with the forearm flexed at a right angle & lying across the abdomen. the right arm was slightly abducted from the body & rested on the mattress, the elbow bent & the forearm supine with the fingers clenched.  The legs were wide apart, the left thigh at right angles to the trunk & the right forming an obtuse angle with the pubes. The whole of the surface of the abdomen & thighs was removed & the abdominal Cavity emptied of its viscera.  The breasts were cut off, the arms mutilated by several jagged wounds & the face hacked beyond recognition of the features. The tissues of the neck were severed all round down to the bone.  The viscera were found in various parts viz: the uterus & Kidneys with one breast under the head, the other breast by the Rt foot, the Liver between the feet, the intestines by the right side & the spleen by the left side of the body.  The flaps removed from the abdomen and thighs were on a table. The bed clothing at the right corner was saturated with blood, & on the floor beneath was a pool of blood covering about 2 feet square…The face was gashed in all directions the nose cheeks, eyebrows and ears being partly removed. The lips were blanched & cut by several incisions running obliquely down to the chin. There were also numerous cuts extending irregularly across all the features.

finding-the-body-300x272@2x

 

This cold, objective appraisal of Mary Kelly’s body cannot disguise the horrific carnage committed by the killer.  At the time, Londoners were quick to place the blame for the murders on the Jewish community, recently settled in London from Russia.  Here we have power dynamics within power dynamics, if we consider that the victims of Jack the Ripper were among the tens of thousands of grievously oppressed poor in Victorian Britain, yet those oppressed poor were able to terrorise the local Jewish community which had, itself, barely escaped the Pogroms of 1881.  It is argued that the serial killer is a uniquely capitalist phenomenon, yet what is irrefutable is that the victims were to begin with Homo Sacer (in both the “sacred” and “forsaken” readings of the term).  What can also be argued is that Jack The Ripper was not in fact the originary perpetrator of the crimes.  No, that dubious honour belongs to the state.  Of course, the killer was the instrument with which the capitalist disposed of its dispossessed, but it took the existence of the state – and inevitably the state of exception – for these crimes to come about in the first place.

 

 

In its very nature biology is a totalitarian ideology. This is for two main reasons. Firstly, because of the way that it measures life (extreme examples being eugenics and genetics, although life support systems and healthcare screenings are tantamount to the same thing) it reduces people to their animal qualities.  Secondly, because it introduces the concept of the norm, and therefore the abnormal, those reintroducing or re-formalising the inside/outside dichotomy, in the way it measures life, reduces people to objects.  Agamben himself has refused to perform lectures at various institutions around the globe on the grounds that fingerprinting and bio-identification reduces the citizen to mere code.

 

“Electronic filing of finger and retina prints, subcutaneous tattooing, as well as other practices

of the same type, are elements that contribute towards defining this threshold. The security

reasons that are invoked to justify these measures should not impress us: they have nothing

to do with it. History teaches us how practices first reserved for foreigners find themselves

applied later to the rest of the citizenry. What is at stake here is nothing less than the new “normal” bio-political relationship between citizens and the state. This relation no longer has anything to do with free and active participation in the public sphere, but concerns the enrollment and the filing away of the most private and incommunicable aspect of subjectivity: I mean the body’s biological life.”[11]

 

 

[1] Herbert Wright & Johnny Tucker – Cesar’s Palace: One Canada Square.  21st November 2016.  http://www.designcurial.com/news/csars-palace-one-canada-square-5662559/

[2] Michel Foucalt & Giorgio Agamben – What is an Apparatus?  (California : Stanford University Press, 2009), p.2.

[3] Franz Kafka, The Complete Stories (New York :  The Schocken Kafka Library, 1971), p.233

[4] Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (London : Penguin, 1963)

[5] Claude Levi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques (London : Penguin, 1973), p.303.

[6] Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception (Chicago : The University of Chicago Press, 2005), P.2.

[7] Georges Bataille, The Accursed Share (New York : Zone Books, 1988), p.21.

[8] Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus – Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, 1987), p.320.

[9] Valerie B. Johnson, Agamben’s Homo Sacer and the Modern Robin Hood (in Robin Hood in Greenwood Stood, Edited by Steven Knight (Turnhout : Brepols, 2011), p.209.

[10] Jonathan Jones, Look at the size of those missiles, 15th April 2003, https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2003/apr/15/artsfeatures.iraq

[11] Giorgio Agamben, No To Bio-Political Tattooing (Paris : Le Monde, 2004), P.2.