Thoughts on the Apparatus of Violence and Some Misuses of Foucault

Submitted by Juan Conatz on June 22, 2011

“It is no longer the end of time and of the world which will show retrospectively that men were mad not to have been prepared for them; it is the tide of madness, its secret invasion, that shows that the world is near its final catastrophe; it is man’s insanity that invokes and makes necessary the world’s end.”

Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization

One could engage wholeheartedly in the semantical battle between violence and non-violence, using rational and historical facts to create an argument for “either side”, and never discover that their efforts are being swept along in a cyclone of empty language. Tempting as it may be to describe the ways in which the arena of violence is divided along the lines of power, this observation does nothing to dissolve the toxic affect of a generalized discourse grounded in such an ambiguous entity. When a conceptual specter such as violence, or its supposed antithesis, is given the illusion of life—through both language and practice—it is then capable of absorbing all hints of spirit from the lips of those who utter its name upon sight of an escalating situation.

a. Allow recent protests in Wisconsin to act as an example and template of recent events in which the articulation of tactical and ideological boundaries based on the topic of violence resulted in a mass of circling and impotent bodies. It is no coincidence that many participants in Madison preemptively declared the anti-austerity struggle to be of a non-violent nature before there was any evidence of a more brutal uprising coming into focus. Not only was this gesture extremely effective at reframing the potential conflict into a matter of either being with the popular and passive sentiment of anger, or against democracy and therefore anti-social; it was also disturbingly consumed by anarchists who believed that they had nothing at stake in such a popular uprising. Many anarchists also acted preemptively in dismissing the events; according to those tuned in from around the country, such protests from the onset were too liberal, too union-oriented and ultimately disempowering. Despite the presence of spontaneously diffuse and peculiar measures taken by workers and students across the state against legislation, this declaration of positioning relative to violence meant that everyone involved started from a point of restraint and weakness.

For both members and outlaws of society, the overwhelming need to rationalize one’s presence within an environment fastens itself onto every decisive moment. The categorical impositions of what gestures are—what they represent and describe—cling desperately to each experience of revolt in a most debilitating manner. In attempting to articulate the determining factors of exactly what constitutes violence, and deciding to have a particular relationship with it as opposed to another, one fails to see that their gaze has been averted from the object of their anger, and towards a circular debate and obsession with tactical ideologies.

a. No one should have been surprised at the Left’s overwhelming grip on the Wisconsin protests, nor the willingness of so many citizens to attach themselves to its image of peaceful, middle-class discontent. This predictable element of struggle does not, in any way, cancel out the magic found in thousands of people abruptly leaving their jobs, coming together, and sharing a sense of distrust towards the government; giving the Left this power to dissuade a more unruly participation from taking place is indicative of a certain gullible nature within the anarchist milieu. A position situated within the dichotomy that the left creates will always be one reactionary in nature and powerless in action.

Defeating the passive rhetoric deployed to neutralize struggles does not consist of winning an argument about whether this or that is non-violent, or whether violent means justify moral ends. Rather, the structure in which this discourse takes place must be dismantled, in order to eliminate the very distinctions which keep discontent isolated and categorized. The subjectivities of “violent” and “peaceful” must dissolve into amorphous forms-of-life that cannot be identified and incorporated into the spectacle of unrest. The violence that state apparatuses fear most is not merely a popular attack on one of their limbs, but rather a generalized madness that knows no reason and cannot be calmed or pacified.

a.Everyone thinks too damn much. If only this, then that; if we had more of us, they would join; if we could subtract that leader, people would stop following. Bullshit. There is no “us” and “them”; we all love the Packers, we all hate imposed austerity measures and thought the revolt in Egypt was amazing. Okay so maybe things aren’t that simple, but the point is our defined and specific identities in relation to popular struggle don’t do anything but separate our desires into spheres that are more manageable to the state and capitalism. No one cares about the anarchist critique, our task is not to explain our position. Our role must be only to expose the hysteria we feel when some assholes try to once again take more, and this frenzy cannot be translated through language or analysis. By dismissing the commonalities between one form of unrest and another, based on the different ways it is expressed, we are walking directly into the path of subjectivization and clearing the way for disaffection’s recuperation.

b. One text distributed in Madison, while attempting to echo the sentiment of anti-austerity demonstrations, made a request to participants: “Never Go Back to Work. Never Go Back to School”. While this statement is something that certainly resonates with the sick-outs and whispers of general strikes, there is an underlying tone within it that separates the author from readers in a way that reifies the distinctions between us—the anarchists or whatever we are—and all other demonstrators. Rather than making a proposition that includes our own gestures within the larger mass of people, such as “I’ll call out sick again if you do” or “I am never going back to work, we will not go back to school”, this request implies that we do not expect others to remain as invested in this endeavor as we are. We are telling them the appropriate thing to do, and despite how cool that suggestion is, it is coming from a place of supposed authority on the matter. Perhaps the content, the form, the tone of our texts really does not matter in any way; maybe no one reads or cares about them, but if that is the case then we at least ought to ask ourselves why. Why would no one care to listen to us when they, too, are thoroughly disillusioned and angered by the structures that constitute our daily lives? It could be that the words we utter reek of a condensing ideology that cannot hide from itself, that does not allow itself to transcend beyond the limits of its own conceptual skin.

“Everything has been carefully parameterized so that

Popular uprisings, like all other facets of civilized life, are dissected and separated according to sets of criteria that are essentially meaningless and often fatal. Individuals are encouraged to define themselves within resistance as the image of either the callous rioter or peaceful, but indignant, citizen; of course there are plenty of other options, but let us work with this most abundant dichotomy. Having set up a system of boundaries and traditions to draw from, both have limited what they consider appropriate and effective practices: the pacifist speaks like a broken record of Gandhi into a microphone before thousands of people, while the black bloc interrupts their speeches with the sound of shattering glass. Eventually everyone goes home and the remnants are swept away; later the scene is relived as people watch the footage on youtube, either feeling disempowered or the weight of nostalgia sink in their stomachs at the thought of it being over. This cycle repeats itself in nearly every situation until something new and incomprehensible happens, something more spectacular than a massive street presence or brief riotous rampage.

a. Let us take a step to the side for a moment. Not long before protests started in Wisconsin, countless other parts of the world were set ablaze with revolt due to the increasing financial crisis that the global economy has created. One of the most overwhelming and undeniably moving examples took place in Tunisia, in December of 2010. A story that everyone knows by heart now, Mohamed Bouazizi has his unpermitted fruit and vegetable cart taken away by authorities; it is his only means of providing for his family and his pleas to keep it are dismissed; he is slapped in public by authorities and left without a way of survival. In the public square, Mohamed douses himself in gasoline and proceeds to set himself on fire in response to the poverty that has been forced upon him and his family. This act of self-immolation directly leads to uprisings all over the country, and countless other suicides are done to protest conditions. The entire world watched as one man’s act of desperation hit a nerve-ending on an entire population of people being robbed by those in power, and a wave of irreconcilable rage spread by way of insurrection. This was simply one gesture in a constellation of mutiny that has blossomed around the world in the past year in powerful and undeniable reverberations.

When the blanketing madness of this environment is translated into something that nearly anyone can see, hear, conceive of or feel, the foundation of our shared existence is left exposed and vulnerable. A collective sense of losing touch with reality makes anything seem possible, and for a brief moment all desires can be fulfilled in the most diabolical sense. But the moment is always brief, flitting by without leaving a return address; nobody knows when it will happen again and no one knows how to make it stay. By the time its audience has chosen sides, the opening is gone; sanity restored.

a. The contemporary situation is catastrophe. Any response that does not somehow reflect the intensifying derangement of our surroundings will ultimately remain incapable of resonating beyond itself. This is perhaps why a reasonable (catalogued) approach to austerity measures is so easily stifled and quieted. There is nothing rational about the decaying grip of capitalism on our lives, and therefore a rational reaction is inappropriate. Our situation is one of intensely disorienting isolation, and there is no way to tell how it can be dissolved. But clearly there was no restraint when a man set himself on fire; it was utter madness, a direct cause of shared and wretched conditions that unleashed a similar—but collective—calamity.

b. An air of wild potential, republicans have passed legislation in a most sneaky and illegitimate manner; thousands of people storm the capitol building in Madison demanding entrance. News sources say that when they are turned away, the mass of bodies use whatever force they can to get in. The capitol soon fills with an electricity that North America has not seen in years, and possibility speaks to those tuned in from around the world. But finding themselves together, sharing something ungraspable and unimagined, there is no collective memory among protesters of what to do with each other. The situation begs to be filled with utter insanity, a bodily reaction that cannot be identified as militant or passive, but simply out-of-control and irreconcilable with its surroundings. A destruction that needn’t be defined by estimated damage done but by how many ears are pierced by a screaming phantom echoing across the corridor of the stupid fucking capitol, a dissonant song of mourning not for the loss of collective bargaining but for the loss of life outside of this devastatingly morose society; a destruction that knows no name, no boundaries, and has no face or home to the media. But instead there were signs hung with blue tape, continuous chanting and eager anarchists waiting to hear of something more exciting; finally days of waiting passed and the demonstrations grew smaller and smaller. There was sterile hindsight before the event had even begun, and a general lack of neurosis kept everyone on their best and most ineffectual behavior. The sad aftermath is a sea of individuals still captured by the apparatus of violence and its counterpart, too captivated by their identities to break loose and let craziness take place.

“And now what do we do? And now what do we do? We must do something, I want to do something, it isn’t true that we are powerless before the monsters. The angels of death, the gray, the obtuse, the dangerous, I cannot keep quiet much longer. Either the prison must explode or my head must explode. Radio Alice is quiet, the comrades are quiet, they invent words, the habitual masks. They don’t speak and they don’t even have ideas. Lethargy. We are already creating the little ghetto: we are or we are not wild cats running through the town. Let’s not give free reign to our jailers, strike the tiger’s heart every day, in every way, according to our differences, against the sadness and the solitude of cells of confinement, twenty-four hours of air. This is an invisible invitation to speak and to think, and invitation to be always present in the situations in the towns in the neighborhoods the schools the barracks the factories the roads, let’s exhaust the enemy, let’s wear out the giant monster by beating it all over its body. Let’s not talk about desires anymore, let’s desire: we are desiring machines, machines of war.”

“Things themselves become so burdened with attributes, signs, allusions that they finally lose their own form. And dreams, madness, the unreasonable can also slip into this excess of meaning. The symbolic figures easily become nightmare silhouettes.” M. Foucault

Potential is only beautiful until it has been named. The more a hand reaches for something, the more it tries to clutch and hold it close to a particular image, the faster this object of desire slips away. To fully interrupt the progress of this storm—to make the war stay— it mustn’t be burdened with the clutter of inconsolable political identities grasping to hold it near their breast. The meaning that is injected into every movement a body makes, into every thought and inclination one may have, must be deconstructed in such a way as to escape capture and recuperation into civil discourse. This is only possible when the subjectivity of oneself, the role that is played within the environment of struggle and elsewhere, is left behind and abandoned for the winds of mutiny.

a. The language of civility is one that we would rather not speak. It is a coldness that we are forced to know but cannot swallow. There is no outside of this terrain that condemns us to misery, no use in pretending to comprehend or dismantle it. “The end has no value as passage and promise; it is the advent of a night in which the world’s old reason is engulfed. In this extravaganza, the theater develops its truth, which is illusion. Which is, in the strict sense, madness.” Let’s fill the situation with our condemned souls and nightmare silhouettes, until truth reveals itself. Every molecule carries the scent of delirium.

A crack in time and space, the moment when revolt appears as the only logical thing to do. Salvation lies dormant until just this second, lingering for the blink of an eye before fluttering back to the darkness of empty silence. What an insurmountable task, to render ourselves available for its use; what an utterly impossible undertaking that we must attempt for the entirety of our lives. But we must.

The myth of modern reason must be abolished. Every relationship to our surroundings must be torn apart by the seams and left open for dementia to breathe. Calm and collected no more; hearts beat scattered, irregular, across a world being led towards decimation. Violence as a star, a glimmer of light that is carried to us through vast darkness. If we could be with it, it would burn us; consume and deteriorate every speck of life we have come to know. Agonizing and immutable, irreducibly life and death. A force that erodes the ground beneath our feet, sends a crack to the other side of the world and speaks of desperation to those we cannot touch. Profound violence that does not show up on film but travels through the air like a wave of light or sound. A ringing in ears, saturated color, bass reverberating into the marrow of our bones. Violence not as means nor ends, just nor unjust, but simply as sentience.

“By a strange paradox, what is born from the strangest delirium was already hidden, like a secret, like an inaccessible truth, in the bowels of the earth.”