[-empyre-] The city as a skin -- Sparta and the helots

Johannes Birringer Johannes.Birringer at brunel.ac.uk
Thu Mar 15 07:05:33 EST 2012

dear all:

from Sabela's Montevideo- city of skin,   back to Sparta- military-oligarchical system of Antiquity.  Thinking of "displacements" [desplazamientos], as Ana might add, through social
and political class structure, one can study an ancient city-state, Sparta, of enormous military strength and organization, probably dating back to the 7th century BCE, but the 
conflict with Athens, the early democratic city-state,  of course took place during the time of the Peloponnesian War, 431 to 404 BCE, and although I did not read Thucydides,
I remember learning about Sparta and Athens in school, and admiring (I can't remember exactly now)  the Spartan constitution and political system that made everyone (the male
Spartiates) serve in the military more or less their entire life.... 

thank you Aristide for your reply, and I do not doubt that you argue well when you state:
it is wrong strategically to underestimate a change. I propose a reading of an urban field; I think that there is a significant transformation recorded in the city of Athens and that we have to study it not as an isolated phenomenon but as a part of a changing equilibrium. Of course: no homogeneity is absolute, no change erases a past conditions but some observations are needed in order to orient our future works.

I cannot remember exactly when "Sparta" –  the "invisible city" –  [today I believe a small town of 9 000 inhabitants?] came up in Slavoj Zizek's lecture on "The Deadlock - Revolutionary Thought Today,"  but I believe in the first half of his political reflections Zizek looked at the Arab uprisings and the OCCUPY movement in the larger context of the economic/financial crises and social instabilities under the totality of late global capitalism and its various ideological superstructures, and how ineffective some "occupations" and urban resiliences/resistances might have been or turn out to have been against the backlash or the recuperations of hegemonic power; and in this first half his introductory metaphor was drawn from an Iranian proverb (about how to grow flowers over a buried corpse).

He mainly seemed to want to ask how global capitalism and its symptoms can be grasped and contested, and how we can, in political analysis, and a cold look rather than emotional indignation at banks or speculators or other provocateurs (left or right), make sense of the symptoms of our predicaments (our new tatoos on our skins).  Sabela, what are these tatoos saying about us? 

He then, i think, recommended not to believe in magical realism or utopian romanticism (Ana, he does love sci-fi novels and movies, though, as you can imagine) but look at how hegemonic response organizes itself (in Brussels, Washington, or Beijing), and he had some less hopeful comments on the Indignados in Spain, and the people protesting in Athens or "occupying" "wall street"  (of course here we are now in literary and metaphorical lands, and also perhaps tactical strata of discourse, of images on screens and skins of cities, psychogeographical maneuvers, and "digital media" tools as well, if we remember CAE and their activism with tactical media  - I suppose we have moved from "nosotros somos Marcos"  to the  Facebook group “We Are All Khalid Said,”  as Eduardo points out? and what does that mean, in terms of slogans or "messages".......?).  Zizek even made a remark that it is bizarre to imagine our Greek neighbors now potentially being considered humanitarian victims, suffering from food shortage (images in feel good advertising consequently moving from Africa to Greece), but then he urged us to do an ideological systems analysis of the totality today (in world politics). And here he came up with the suggestion not to look at Athens but at Sparta, at the current neo-Spartan oligarchy.

Neo-Sparta is an oligarchical pyramid, says Zizek, with the bloated bankrupt USA at the top playing the role of military-ideological hegemonic power constantly in a state of war (by necessity since bankrupt and in debt), having successfully enacted that role also with its "war against terror" and the production of ideological obfuscations. (History did not end,  Francis Fukuyama).  In the middle of the pyramid, the tax paying citizens, are EU-Zone/Europe and Asian manufacturing industrial states, and the large bottom (the helots made up 90 per cent, i believe, of the Spartan city state) is constituted by the poorer regions and countries that have no rights.    

 The US of course needs the world to feed it, and the phantasmagoria is very Benjaminian -- we do not live in ruins or in ruined end times:  the shameful spectacle is in perfect working order,. and for the ones without rights, with no freedom (outside of freedom, as the Turkish philosophical policeman told Zizek), the fantasy that comes closest to mind, we were told by the philosophical Lacania professor Zizek,
is the one by Tom Sawyer or anyone else who has ever imagined being witness to their own funeral. 

Is this what you had in mind Aristide, that we are becoming attuned to an emerging set of fantasies where, in the global capitalist neo Sparta, we can begin to see ourselves without citizen rights, food, healthcare, education, work, and therapy, or access to generosity and solidarity -- urban-rural communal (religious / ritual / ethical?)  values?  

respectfully, and with apologies if i misrepresented Zizek's political thinking.

Johannes Birringer

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