Saturday, 27 September 2008

annihilating politics

Given that political action is the outward manifestation of the affirmation of eternal recurrence, then it will always take the form of a Dionysian activity. It is in this sense that Benjamin asserts that “political action, however destructive, reveals itself as messianic” (SW 4:402). As a method of engagement in both the present and the past, political action must destroy in order to create. The affirmation of the opening up of history is manifest as an actual re-creation of history. For Benjamin, the historian’s task, as Pierre Missac puts it, is “to apply the Nietzschean formula ‘Become what you are’ to the present of history” and in doing so helps to shape that present. In this sense, it is imperative not to fall back into the old ways of historicizing. The history of culture is indeed the history of barbarism, and the historian “dissociates himself from this process of transmission as far as possible and regards it as his task to brush history against the grain” (SW 4:392). However, this does not mean simply writing counter-histories, for these histories reverse the Dionysian process. It is a reactionary, weak nihilism that says “yes” to progressive history but “no” to the predominant progressive history. Thus, brushing history against the grain means much more than simply “to view it from the standpoint of the defeated, the excluded, the pariahs”, as Michel Löwy argues in his book, for this still recognizes the validity of the historical narrative. Rather, to truly brush against the grain is to liquidate the categories by which cultural artifacts derive their power.

In this regard, the politics of class struggle have to be reconsidered. As Benjamin states in “Fire Alarm” from One-Way Street, “it does not refer … to a struggle whose outcome is good for the victor and bad for the vanquished” (SW 1:469). Class struggle must reject the categories of conflict by which the old system qualified its victories. As such, it must be thought outside of terms of classes struggling against each other, of oppressor and oppressed, for it is precisely this conception that ties the concept of class liberation to progress, and in truth undermines the very struggle. As such, class struggle has to be seen as something bigger, as Raoul Vaneigem argues:

“The history of humanity is the history of one basic separation which precipitates and determines all others: the social distinction between masters and slaves. By means of history men try to find one another and attain unity. The class struggle is but on stage, though a decisive one, in the struggle for the whole man.”

Likewise, throughout his work, Benjamin refers to the revolutionary struggle involving all of humanity; the passengers on the train are “the human race” (SW 4:402). The class struggle can only be completed via the liquidation of the class distinction (the classless society) and the place in which this occurs is history.

The affirmation of the moment presents “a revolutionary chance in the fight for the oppressed past” (SW 4:396). As discussed above, this does not mean it is a fight for the past of the oppressed. The emancipation of people is intimately tied to the emancipation of the past from the clutches of historical progress; liberation of the past translates to freedom in the present. The way in which this oppressed past is redeemed is via affirmation of eternal recurrence. In the moment of affirmation, the moment is frozen as a monad, allowing us to see all of time as intended in that moment. The operation of eternal recurrence is such that every moment is intended in all other moments, as they are co-dependent across the sequence. In that way, every moment is as important as all others. The emancipation of the past is achieved by the rejection of all forms of valuing that privilege certain aspects of the past. The most nihilistic thought flattens all of existence, and as such it destroys any grounds against which this privileging would be intelligible. Thus the affirmation of eternal recurrence manifests itself in the historical realm as the leveling of all histories: on a cosmic, non-human scale – which is how Benjamin describes history – the history of people losing coins under furniture becomes as important as the French Revolution. The monadical structure of the image allows us to see all of history a single moment, and the grasping of it as such is an act of affirmation. Affirming eternal recurrence allows all of history to become visible through a single moment, and in that way, it facilitates redemption, as “only for a redeemed mankind has its past become citable in all its moments” (SW 4:390).

1 comment:

zmbe said...

dude, that's exactly what i've been saying!!!!!! why won't anyone listen to us? :(