Hyperrhiz 15: Artist statements
Occupied Media: Sentences on Para-Philosophical Practice
Abhishek (Bobo) Bose-Kolanu
I originally published the below piece, Sentences on Para-Philosophical Practice, at the conclusion of an experimental news publication I ran called Occupy America. As you might suspect, I launched Occupy America during the Occupy protests, imagining a publication that could be at once located and nomadic, collecting particular reports of specific struggles along with meta-commentaries on the struggle-at-large, permitting activists to learn from and disseminate ideas and tactics through cross-pollination.
We published four issues before suspending operation, and the present work is a unique piece of ephemera that comments on and extends the tension at work in philosophically guided political practice. I am hopeful it could find a wider audience and critical reception in Hyperrhiz. In the remainder of this Prologue I provide some context for the publication at large and provide background on the motivations behind Sentences. The Epilogue contains our logo and my Editor’s Welcome Letter, which served to introduce the publication, along with an archive of the original www.occupy-us.org site.
Occupy America in Context
We described Occupy America as “a bimonthly, issue based news publication” with a focus on “producing working-class news that interrogates class and other forms of oppression.” Throughout, the goal was to produce a form of journalism adequate to the energies of the Occupy movements.
We chose to organize each Issue of the publication around a specific theme, inviting people with diverse and sundry perspectives to contribute. As the focus was on producing a new kind of “journalism from below,” appropriate to the historical moment the Occupy protests found themselves in, clash and disagreement among contributors was encouraged. At the same time, we sought a middle-ground between the pace of a daily publication that responds to events in an up-to-the-minute fashion, and an academic journal, where articles may take years to appear. Aiming for two releases a month afforded us the opportunity to focus coverage on a coherent nexus of struggle per issue, while still retaining relevance to current events.
In particular, we sought to couple the strengths of horizontally organized democratic struggle with the advantages of nationally interlinked communication channels. We recognized that particular sites birthed specific tactics, but believed in the potential for cross-communication to create new forms of struggle that could at once be nomadic, spreading across the various fronts, and be situated, responsive to the local conditions practitioners found themselves in. We thought of our approach to politics as “share widely, modify as needed.” A copyleft philosophy, if you will.
Intellectually, it was our belief that the battle must be waged on all fronts, simultaneously. Macro-perspective national analyses needed to live and breathe next to embedded denizen-reporters, writing directly from the encampments. Academic analysis and the much-vaunted “critical thinking” of the professoriate needed to rub shoulders with practice-driven politics. At the same time, we believed firmly in democratizing not just our publication model and contributor list, but also our language. There would be no talk of high theory, deconstruction, or metaphysical postulates. Along with valuing the lived experience of struggle, we believed in the value of academic thought, so much so that we thought sought to democratize it as well. To believe in the value of academic thought meant writing in a fashion that invited, rather than discouraged, consumption and participation from non-academics.
See, for example, my own article “The Fear Economy: No Thinking, No Safety,” from Issue No. 2, Student Power. The careful reader will note arguments from both the Copenhagen school of international relations (their theories of securitization), along with Agamben’s analysis of sovereignty from Homo Sacer (in particular, the notion that the camp is nomos, with anyone potentially flipped from inside to outside). While encouraging critical reflection on the political and economic incentives behind terrorizing a population with fear, the language remains non-academic and accessible.
And, for another and immediately contrasting example, see Leo Zimmerman’s “‘Us vs. Them’ vs. ‘us vs. them,’” from Issue No. 1, Counter-Attacks. Zimmerman contrasts the usual molar narratives of Occupy Wall Street, where a group of Us from the 99% opposes a unified Ideological and Repressive State Apparatus alignment between the police and the bankers (Them), with his experiences living at Occupy Baltimore, where he stayed from beginning to end.
There the police actually supported the occupiers, and the dominant struggles he reports took place within the encampment. Internally rigid and self-destructive stratifications divided the encampment among the homeless, female, and black populations on the one hand, and the middle or upper-class, digitally connected, largely white and mostly (but not always) male on the other. Here the primacy of lived experience and the necessity of self-work to combat privilege took real, operational precedence that pre-empted the group’s ability to formulate effective political goals. No theory from above, no matter how democratic it sounded, could replace the need for practical self-work among participants.
In the shadow of these lessons and frustrations, Sentences on Para-Philosophical Practice was born. Written well-after the occupy encampments had dissolved, it also forms a reflection on the political and philosophical labor of producing a new journalism that tried to bridge the academia/activism gap.
In it I perambulate an uneasy tension between the rigors and rituals of academic thought and philosophical conceptualization on the one hand, and the reality of political practice and the ideal of “real,” horizontal, democracy on the other. An anxiety between wanting to do justice to both while retaining the lesson so central to Marx that it became a cliché, that the point of the world is to change it.
The piece is modeled on Sol LeWitt’s fantastic Sentences on Conceptual Art, themselves an indispensable read. While LeWitt responded to conditions of his own practice and cultural moment, it is my hope that this piece of ephemera, embedded as it is here with the documentation of a particular experiment and its historicity, can find and provoke a contemporary reaction with artists, academics, and the new-media cognitariat.
For me the stakes of Occupy America were at once personal and political. Political in the obvious senses, that my nation was engaged in struggle with its overlords, that a new mode of being-together was on the cusp of emerging, that the future, for once, looked bright instead of dim. I previously explained my hopes around this moment as “the first time in my lifetime that the leftist dream of a universalism that respects particularity, along with an ethical political economy” had become a real possibility.
On a personal level, as well, the moment resonated with me. Despite the plentiful shortcomings of the university, I believed in the power and utility of thought, including academic thought. A thought that must not, of course, divorce itself from the realities of mass inequity and struggle, as to do so would be “hypocritical.” But instead one that takes itself seriously, with the increasingly rare type of belief that operates without ironic detachment.
If thought is powerful, if the knowledge we in the academy produce matters, is “political,” as we so often claim, then we must make it matter. It cannot be confined to readership numbered in the tens or hundreds (at best), and it cannot remain cloistered behind paywalls and impressive sounding words, safe from the exigencies of the embattled world. To matter is to have an effect, and to produce effects is to engage the world. For me, this was the personal drama that animated my engagement with occupy.
If we cannot find the way to bridge the gap, to render theory political and politics theoretical, in a sense that goes beyond the nominal, then there is no longer a need for the adjective: critical theory becomes simply theory, impotent and without use. At the same time, the conditions under which theoretical advances take place do not necessarily proceed in lockstep with the conditions of struggle. The very same Derrida who rails against mass inequity in Specters of Marx also comes under fire, from Zizek, for writing in support of democracy, but in a largely impenetrable, anti-democratic jargon. But then again, the first translation of work by Derrida into Slovenian was accomplished, in 1967, by none other than Slavoj Zizek.
It is this uncomfortable anxiety over which Sentences on Para-Philosophical Practice operates.
Sentences on Para-Philosophical Practice
Originally published July 17, 2014 in Occupy America.
1. Philosophy is about generating new resources for being. This is what is meant by “philosophy is the generation of new concepts.” This is what is meant by “philosophy as an exercise in untimeliness.” Thus, philosophy is always — at some point — political.
2. Philosophy requires faith that doers can be thinkers as well. Otherwise, it has no point of application.
3. Philosophy that does not touch politics is either bad math or bad poetry.
4. Philosophy is not action.
5. When philosophy becomes action we call it revolution.
6. There are two kinds of philosophy. Political philosophy starts from the immediate conditions of oppression. Pure philosophy starts elsewhere.
7. The two kinds of philosophy are both philosophy.
8. The two kinds of philosophy might or might not meet in the middle. If they do not, it is not because either one is deficient to the other, but because the world is a complex and heterogeneous object in which different scales demand different methods of analysis.
9. The old philosophies of pure and timeless universal thought were necessary. Their deaths signal the first great maturation of conceptualization. The old philosophies were anti-philosophies. New philosophy must reject timelessness while avoiding indifference.
10. The current task is to exercise our freedom. Exercise requires the generation of new concepts, but also action. Exercise requires action, but action that rises above bare repetition. Either one in isolation is neurotic masturbation.
11. The current enemy is fear. A quantum leap in being, doing, and thinking is necessary for social existence to deepen.
12. The failure of current philosophy is due to two trends. One, the relentless application of moribund constructs in the Anglo-American faction. Two, the failure of Continental philosophers to collectively bridge the gap between action and thought in their own lives. It is not enough to write; life must be lived as well.
13. The failure to live in the Continental tradition generates facetious speech susceptible to mockery. The failure to believe in the Anglo-American tradition reinforces the fascism of inertia.
14. Scientists are doers whose deeds are useful. Artists are doers whose deeds are useless. Philosophers are neither.
15. Science and art progress by parallel tracks. It is in the nature of both to undergo paradigm shifts. Science is a practical community united by epistemological dogma. Art is an epistemological community united by practical dogma. Both praise and denigrate heretics before the orthodox. Both progress by killing their gods.
16. Philosophy advances in the worst cases by style. Stylized politics is fascism. Politicized style is consumerism. Style without politics is modern philosophy. Politics without style is the modern Left.
17. Politics is application.
18. The most developed ontologists are the mathematicians, but they remain dependent on counting. The first and last tasks of the philosophical ontologist are to give accounts of counting and to provide concepts for being beyond counting.
Occupy America Logo
Editor’s Welcome Letter
Originally published 2012 in Occupy America.
Our media thinks we are stupid. It avoids history. It simplifies complex situations. It does not link its sources and fails to explain its reasoning. It preaches hate and divides the people. It bends the truth so much it breaks. And it ignores the poor and working classes of America completely, speaking only about them and never with them.
Occupy America is an experiment in making a different kind of news. Each issue revolves around a central theme and offers a rich analysis of its core questions. Facts are embraced. Conflict is treated honestly. And we write from the perspective of the workers. Of the poor. Of those oppressed by race, gender, and more. Of those who yearn for freedom and a dignified life for all. Of those whose existence everyday produces the nation we are proud to be a part of.
We are concerned with three big questions:
- Who are we, as a nation?
- What do we want?
- How do we plan to get it?
While we have an orientation and a perspective, we do not subscribe to any one “ism.” We do not speak as authorities, but simply as individuals. We may think we are right, but know we could be wrong. All views and all people are welcome. One issue may not agree with the next, and we see this as positive. Only a full commitment to exploring these questions — regardless of how surprising the answers may be — will give us the nation we deserve.
We want you. To read. To write. To think. And to share. This past year the nation rocked as Occupy protests spread from coast to coast. Those who were affected by decisions asserted their right to be in control of those decisions. People gathered in public spaces, discussed common problems, and came together. Horizontal democracy, along with its complications and failures, emerged in fits and starts.
And then the police came. Never forget, what could not be tolerated was Americans coming together and discussing in public how to create the country they want to live in.
The mainstream media searched endlessly for a spokesperson or a leader. When they could not find a singular demand they attacked the movements as confused. And continuously they tried to push the protests “outside” the norm, revealing their guilt nakedly: democracy was a threat.
They did not understand what was happening. We are not the mainstream media, and we will not conduct ourselves in the same fashion. The movement is you and us. It is everyone and no one. The movement and the nation are the same. By the people, for the people.
We have only one audience: everyone. We have only one demand: everything. We deserve nothing less.
- Occupy America, “About,” Occupy America, http://cms.hyperrhiz.io/occupy/occupy-us.org/about/index.html.
- Derrida, Jacques, Bernd Magnus, and Stephen Cullenberg, Specters of Marx: the State of Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International, New York: Routledge, 2006, p.85.
- “Tednik, stevilka 42, Slavoj Zizek,” MLADINA.si, October 24, 2004, www.mladina.si/96679/nar-kdo_je_kdaj--ursa_matos/.