ETCETERA: We remember when we met for the first time in 2005, on the occasion of a round table that we were invited to participate at the Art Academy in Vienna. In that time you were involved in the http://eipcp.net (european institute for progressive cultural policies), and we remember that you were also already working on your book Art and Revolution. Transversal Activism in the Long Twentieth Century.
GERALD RAUNIG: In fact, I had just finished the German version of the book, when we met for the first time in Vienna. In it I tried to develop a post-structuralist concept of revolution, as revolutionary machine without unity, wholeness, or identifiable class. Classical theories of revolution would see this as a problem, the homogenous revolutionary subject being a condition for the possibility of revolt. Against the background that these dogmatic stereotypes were recurring also in contemporary movements, I began my writings against them. I tried to research different historical revolutionary machines as the Paris Commune, the post-revolutionary avantguardes in the Soviet Union as well as the most timely social movements then, like the anti-globalisation or the no-border-movement or, more locally, the Austrian anti-racist movement against Jörg Haider. In all of these historical as well as contemporary practices the absence of the subject did not have to be interpreted as a deficiency. Quite the opposite, it could indicate a new quality in the revolution, in a henceforth molecular revolution, and the primacy of multiplicity within it.
ETCETERA: At this meeting one of the first questions you posited to us was about the use of the vocabulary we were using for our first Etcetera… manifesto. You asked us about why we use the word “revolution,” and part of our response at that time was “…and why not?”.
GERALD RAUNIG: It is not so much a question of yes or no, why or why not. I just wanted to find out which concept of revolution you wanted to propose. Of course I was interested in your experiences in the Argentinian revolution in 2001, but not as a fixed component of a theory of stages of resistance, insurrection, and socialism on a linear timeline. My idea of a revolutionary machine was (and is) a-linear, interested in the overlaps and intertwinings of the different components: everyday resistance as primary, molecular, and inventive, insurrection of non-conformist masses not as the one big rupture, but as an ongoing chain of instituent events, and finally constituent power which im- or explicitily already traverses every form of resistance. And during the last years, when I got more and more familiar with your erring practices, I got to know that much of this molecular idea of revolution finds itself in the poetico-political practices of Etcetera and the International Errorist…
ETCETERA: Since the beginning of our practices with Etcetera… we have attempted to take and recycle the so called “old words,” in reference to those words which have almost been forgotten in the postmodern narration, partially in order to enunciate and resignify those words in a new and different context (that time was still very fresh especially if one remembers the Argentinean crisis of 2001). From our point of view, it was very necessary to enunciate this re-appropriation and re-signification of those “old words” (such as revolution), in order to move towards reclaiming this language that had been stigmatized as “old,” or part of the past, synonymous with failure (error), or even as terrorism.
GERALD RAUNIG: I perfectly agree, in general, but especially when it comes to the art world, where you still have an imperative of ambiguity, of not speaking clearly, of not speaking up at all. Here insisting on the discourse of traditional radical politics is quite a no-go. Whereas in contemporary social movements sometimes there are recurring problems of simplification and unification/totalization , in the realm of art the situation is almost the inverse. In the bourgeois art world, ambiguity seems to be the quasi-natural, stereotypical norm, and disambiguity seems to be something of a criterion of exclusion. This closure, by the way also leads to denunciatory evaluations of non-ambiguous art practices as “bad art” or “non-art”. The double frontier towards art and social movements is one of the fundamentals of every -and specifically your- political art practice: Towards the mainstream of art you have to criticize the imperative of ambiguity and come up with singular truths, and towards the social movements you have to attack totalization and insist on multiplicity.
ETCETERA: Now in 2013, eight years after our first meeting, it seems like we are in another context respective to the use of such words. Like a new massive and global rescue of the use of words and language, these words have reappeared and spread throughout distant and diverse points all over the world and in the form of different political contexts. Words like: Crisis, Revolution, Occupy, Movement, Struggle, Protest and Solidarity, have today come back to the vox populi and interrupt the mass media mainstream narration. How do you interpret the reappearance of such words in the contemporary use of language?
GERALD RAUNIG: It is definitely great when the silencing stream of stereotype mass media narrations is interrupted by revolutionary voices. But again, one thing is to bring forward radical concepts. A second thing is what they mean, or how their meaning is fixed (or instead stays nomadic): Is it a one-sided insurrectionary concept of “revolution” as taking over the state apparatus, just changing one regime by the other, or is it a complex, experimental, alinear, machinic, molecular concept, changing the modes of subjectivation, the very forms of life?
Is it a simple idea of occupying as a reformist spatial practice that tries to push through some demands towards a national government, or does occupy mean a molecular strike, not only occupying space, but also time, radically changing the conditions of machinic subservience into a potential of disobedient practices (on the basis of the slogan “Demand nothing, occupy everything”)?.
And finally, connected with these questions, how easily are these concepts being appropriated and coopted? Does the positive mentioning of the “Arab Spring” or occupy, say in Repubblica, change anything for the Italian social movements?
ETCETERA: How could this affect the discourse of hegemony and of the proliferation of social movements?
GERALD RAUNIG: Ok, the problem of proliferation and propagation remains, and with it the function of the media and the old question: How can there be more of us? But this question is put wrong to begin with. Starting out with a We, we always end up with the question of majority. Being-more in the sense of a majority is the wishful thinking and target point of a linear imagining of propagation via sender and receiver, knowledge production and reception, representatives and represented. It is only by turning from the question of majority and being-more to that of becoming multiplicity that the dominant logic of the n + 1 can be transformed into a rejection of identification and representation, into n – 1.
Even the 99 % do not constitute a majority here, not even those 146 % the Moscow philosopher Alexei Penzin ironically wrote about in connection with the Russian election fraud in December of 2011, which turned the frail fledgling of occupy moscow into a veritable social movement for some months. In a post-media ecology multiplication and propagation is not to be understood as the addition of one to another, but mainly in the mode of machinic-monstrous contagion. This is where the media lose their quality as the center in a linear process of representation from production to reception. The middle is multiplicity itself. From it the multiple grows and spreads. It is no longer a question of target-groups to be “addressed” through mass media with the greatest possible outreach, but that of producting a completely different middle here and now, the rampant torrent in the middle of multiplicity. Media are not just a means here. They take part in the production of sociality and become in a new sense social media. These forms of social media defy any simple instrumentalizing as a coupling between active and passive, between production and reception. Think of the praxis in Cairo by which in 2011 a multitude of video activists placed their pictures on YouTube and other web channels, and these clips were then brought back as screenings to Tahrir Square and later into many decentralized places in Cairo.
The multi-faceted video production and presentation went beyond the purely defensive technique of documenting police assaults and state repression, and became a multi-perspective production of images and sounds, a process of production of the social. Or think of the live streams from the assemblies since the university occupations, from the asambleas and general assemblies. They became a revolutionary reality TV and created despite all the triviality, often even ridiculousness of the picture of banal discussion processes, a new idea of transparency of the political.
ETCETERA: Do you see any conjunction between word and social body with respect to these movements?
GERALD RAUNIG: Definitely, this is where the social machines and the linguistic machines meet. Post-media sociality emerges in the intertwined forms of the production of expression, not in the separation of lingual/social, virtual/real and media/corporeal. The precarious bodies on the occupied squares, the human microphone, the live streams and social networks are components of one and the same make-up, just as media, im-media(te), post-media as they are real. Linguistic machines, social machines and technology machines interlink in entirely different ways than in the socio-narcissistic hustle and bustle of Facebook and Co.
ETCETERA: In chapter 3 of your book A Thousand Machines, you use the definition of “War Machine” to problematize the dichotomous relationship between violence and nonviolence. Defining the War Machine as something as a leakage point to escape from the violence of the state apparatus and its order of representation. You say that in reverse of this “war machine”, the apparatus of the State is trying to make representable what escapes from the order of representation.
GERALD RAUNIG: Yes, this is the danger of machinic struggles: that state apparatuses capture the machines, either with social subjection and repression, or even worse, turn them into fascist machines. The main question is: How can the war machine avoid being trapped and appropriated? Of course there is no recipe as an answer, but one flight line is anticipating the capture and keep deterritorializing every reterritorialization, as in keeping the right proportion of social critique (towards economic machines and state apparatuses), institutional critique (even in social movements) and self-critique.
ETCETERA: During these days we are in Bologna developing the last chapter of C.R.I.S.I project.
This last chapter is entitled L’ASSEMBLEA INFINITA, born from the accumulative research conducted into different kinds of symptomatology we currently observe within our present crisis (anomia, degradation and crisis of representation). During our stay we have attended several public assemblies, most of them celebrated at the historic Piazza Verdi, a spatialized flash point in the centre of Bologna that has a long history of meetings, assemblies, and a space which we believe still resonates with a symbolic permanency evoking notions of the public and the commons. Piazza Verdi is a public and common space, where hundreds of people who participate in social and political discussions (as well as those who do not partake in such discussions) share every day.
GERALD RAUNIG: To be honest, I would really have liked to join you in Bologna. Now that I could not come, I would like to ask an open question on your differentiation of piazza Verdi as a “public” and “common space”. Publicness has been the ideal of democracy since ancient Greece. The public centre, or the piazza where citizens meet and discuss … Of course, there were its constituting exclusions of women, children, non-citizens (who were excluded from the public), and perhaps the most puzzling problem was and is the clear cut between private and public. The occupied space, the space of assembling, the space of the precarious bodies might have much more of a new and “common” quality of space, queering the separations of private and public in a very specific way. Common instead of public does not mean referring to a pre-existing community or a distant future community, but becoming-common in an extended present. Where there situations, where you could exemplify this difference between public and common in your experience of piazza Verdi? Or was there a development from a beginning being enclosed in the traditional idea of the public and then opened up?
ETCETERA: Well, it’s a good question. We decided to use the metaphor of the “black hole” to refer about the strange phenomenon of Piazza Verdi. A hole in that we are inherently plunged in every time when we pass by there. For some moment public, private and common lose their form and meaning. Following the black hole, one is spinning inside the Normalization process. Right there, you lose track of time, blending memory, history, myth and nostalgia.
Here the “public” (referring to the imposition of certain Public Policies on the use of such spaces) is producing a kind of compulsive consumerism of the public space, based on the use of such spaces for the massive entertainment or just hang out. But the black hole still there, at the same site with an incredible centripetal force which comes from the epicenter of the hole, which sucks the ideals and experiences of the social body.
The “common” appears on the collective desire to transform the centripetal force into a centrifugal force. It is the return of the desire behind the consumerism that brings together forces produces new organizational forms, which converges and emerges in spontaneous meetings and assemblies. Today, what we understood talking with the people with whom we have interacted that the recovery of Piazza Verdi, is not just a fight for the public space; what is intended is a signify the Piazza as a common area, occupy the place from a different corpus. It seems that what those students’ collectives are seeking today is a daily invention of new resources, shared between the struggle inside and outside of the university, on a social scene that they have decided to call “Piazza Verdi Liberata”.
At the same time, Piazza Verdi represents the site of a so-called “degradation” (in the language of Italian policy makers, politicians and social commentators), a category also used by the mass media to describe the transformation of public space by the young people of Bologna. On May 22 2013, the students’ assembly at the Piazza was repressed by the police; and after this situation a series of new assemblies and public interventions continued permanently as a ritual to recover the place and to reclaim Piazza Verdi for the commons and the use of the public. From what we saw in those assemblies, we felt interested in how the crisis also affects all the representational models adopted in different ways: sometimes built from their own stereotypes, sometimes from memory (and history), and sometimes simply form experiences that renew the model of assembly as a potential method for representation.
Through forms of mass media manipulation and the Berlusconi multimedia monopoly, the social body of students in Italy has become a symbol a social “degradation,” deemed to be at the centre of many of Italy’s problems concerning the young and often marginalized members of society. Partially because of its dissemination in the mass media, the idea of “degradation” has been criminalized and stigmatized, which arguably began in the 1980s and continues through to the present day.
It is almost as if we going to fall into a black hole, and today any attempt from students or activists to recover public life in the Piazza have become permanently frustrated, the results of which require immediate police repression, or conversely, these movements and ideas run the risk of being coopted by the cultural administration with their programs to normalize the Piazza and all associated activities, very much in line with the neoliberal cultural agenda and policies promoting social hegemony. From the idea that any attempt to make a collective experiment about the effectiveness of such models of participatory representation in the Piazza and elsewhere, we began to wonder: “if the Assembly has become the representation of an Assembly, making the representation of an Assembly could it become a real Assembly?”.
The ASSEMBLEA INFINITA works as social readymade . As a mise en scene of an assembly in which the “participants” are real, but they “act” using their own social characters. The piece consists of an exercise concerning repetition; bringing to light ideas taken from the mythological past of the ’70s in Italy, jumping to the present in order to reactivate the social imagination about a possible common future (or not).
GERALD RAUNIG: Yes, this sounds like an interesting experiment: inventing a new territory using the old territorial refrains, not blindly repeating them, but repeating them with a difference, the specific difference of the actualities of the multiple crisis in Italy.
ETCETERA: With this in mind, the meaning of people’s representation and participation have become ever more tenuous, the subject of much question and debate. What is the role today for the assembly as a method of political/social organization?
GERALD RAUNIG: My thesis is that today there is a new need for finding new forms of condensation, of concentration, of reterritorialization. In times when the modes of production and the forms of life have become perfectly deterritorialized, and machinic subservience is the main mode of subjectivation, the crisis is not only one of capitalist economy or representative democracy, but also one of territories. So here the place is needed again, the place as territory (which is both a specific space and a specific time), a non-subservient reterritorialization amid the many subservient deterritorializations.
ETCETERA: If the State has managed to break down any illusion of escape and that which remained outside the order of representation has become mere representation, could a theatrical machine, with its own representational force, return it to the nomadic space from which it comes?
GERALD RAUNIG: Yes, I think this is definitely an interesting turn. Using certain forms of orgic, orgiastic, monstrous representation to invent and create a new existential territory of non-representationist nomadism. Here the theater machine is the potential icebreaker in a structure of apparatuses of capture, a destituent machine that allows for the invention of instituent practices, for the creation of a constituent power.
ETCETERA: Moreover, do you believe that the assembly as a convergence of space (and as event) can produce new representational models?
GERALD RAUNIG: I have to say, producing new representational models is not my main interest. Yet, assemblies, as ruptures in time and space of machinic subservience, but also as inventions of new reterritorialization of time and space, can produce new modes of molecular organization. Multitude, dispersion, multiplicity have quite evidently become part of the contemporary modes of production of machinic capitalism, of current ways of living, and yet they can hardly be found in forms of political organizing. The multitude has become the technical composition of post-Fordist production, but to a much lesser extent its political composition.
On the contrary, existing forms of political composition seem rather to prevent a non-identitarian composition in a dispersed multiplicity than to foster it. Molar organization arises as striating reterritorialization and focuses struggles on a main issue, a main contradiction, a master. In a molecular world of dispersion and multiplicity, a different form of reterritorialization is needed, inclusive and transversal, beyond individual or collective privileges.
In my view, we can find it in certain social struggles of recent years: free-space movements, struggles to retain social centers, protests against the limitations of housing space, university occupations, movements against evictions, in Italy the theatre occupations or the occupations of Lavoratori dell’Arte in the last year. In all of these movements, the occupiers have shown through their insistence and endurance that they take the specific spaces seriously in their materiality and set themselves up to live there, even if only for a limited time. Very much in the sense of recycling you were referring to in the beginning, the indignados, the occupiers of the central squares, and right at the moment again the precarious protesters on Tahrir Square reclaim an old phenomenon of political theory, the main square as the symbol of democracy.
It is not the symbolism of the evacuated center that is their focal point of desire, but rather condensation, concentration, assembly, producing a rampant middle in the tangible and inventive practice of occupation, exactly there where the territory appears to be completely deterritorialized, apparently unusable for any social practice.
There the occupiers take the space and time seriously that they set up, taking time for long, patient discussions and taking time to stay in this place, developing a new everyday life, even if only for a short time. And of course, this experience will remain in the bodies and souls of the participants. In this sense, the assembly really becomes permanent, an infinite assembly.
Gerald Raunig is a philosopher, art theorist and activist from Viena. He works at the Zürich University of the Arts, and he is coodirector of the eipcp (European Institute for Progressive Cultural Policies). His recent books include: A Thousand Machines: A Concise Philosophy of the Machine as Social Movement (2010); Art and Contemporary Critical Practice: Reinventing Institutional Critique (co-edited with Gene Ray, 2009); and Art and Revolution: Transversal Activism in the Long Twentieth Century (2007).