[-empyre-] Jean Genet and also This is what Occupy looks like - Nicholas Mirzoeff

rrdominguez2 rrdominguez at ucsd.edu
Fri Mar 16 00:05:01 EST 2012

  hola all,

I thought that Nick's essay on #OWS linked nicely into the dialogue 
about different modalities of skinning the city - as space, space as 
history of power, and gaming (networks). I would also like to suggest 
that reclaiming spaces and concepts - can be expanded to the gesture of 
re-naming past/present/future, something that power often does "history 
is written by the victor" style of making. Can one occupy a game that is 
not a game under the signs of an Empire of Disorder and navigate toward 
something more excessive than power, that re-places vertical power, with 
a force greater than power, that redesigns the city, the country, the 
borders and networks as something other. Which to me is part of impulse 
at the heart of gestures like the one mentioned by Jean Genet in his 
last book /Prisoner of Love/ where he describes a small park somewhere 
in Jerusalem, where every year the Jewish communities gather to remember 
a lost neighborhood among the trees and at the same time the Palestinian 
communities also gather in that very same park, on the same day, and 
trace out with red ribbons the lost buildings of the Palestinian 
neighborhood that had also been erased from that area. Genet points out 
that for a brief moment a state of minor simulation imagines both 
communities living in a single space in the present/non-present and in 
the non-past/un-future as a possibility. This then as a reclaiming of 
the space and skinning its concentrated power-formation by some other 
that is impossible and yet force that is more than - in the crossing of two
invisible ruins under the visible trees.

P.S. I took out the images below.


  This is what Occupy looks like


Posted on March 14, 2012 

Axiomatic: to occupy is to place your body in space, there where it is 
not supposed to be. That space is three-dimensional but multiply so. 
Some of these can be evicted, some not. Some are not visible to the 
empire. But we can see it because power visualizes what it imagines 
history to be to itself. Let’s look around.

In the first instance, Occupy takes physical three-dimensional space in 
urban environments. It is attention-generating because the populace in 
global cities are highly regulated and policed. “Public” space is 
subject to particularly dense control, meaning that (in the U. S.) 
public-private spaces, where guaranteed access was the definition of 
“public,” became the location of choice.

To occupy global city space is also  to intervene in the highly-mediated 
imaginary of “New York.” Citizen and  professional media alike are so 
densely configured and adept that actions taken by a relatively small 
number of people receive immensely multiplied levels of attention. Thus 
it seemed obvious to state power that removing those bodies from their 
spaces would end Occupy.

There are multiple spaces available, however, in vertical and horizontal 
configurations. Conceptually, the /horizontalidad/ of direct democracy 
is challenged and displaced by the verticality of power and 
neo-liberalism: and vice-versa. In their trilogy on /Empire/, Michael 
Hardt and Antonio Negri give some useful ways of thinking about this 
encounter. Borrowing from the ancient historian Polybius, they suggest 
that the global empire can be understood as a pyramid with three levels: 
monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. The monarch would be the United 
States, the aristocracy would be the agents of globalized economics, and 
democracy is associated with what they call the multitude.

Bringing this figure up to date, they adopt the image of the mainstream 
foreign affairs commentator Joseph Nye, who suggests:

    The agenda of world politics has become like a three-dimensional
    chess game, in which one can win only by playing vertically as well
    as horizontally.

His aim was to correct the Washington-speak idea of a “uni-polar” world 
governed by the US, and replace it with three “boards” representing 
“classical military interstate issues,” or war. This was placed above 
the level of “interstate economic  issues,” meaning the global economy. 
Finally the whole rests on a base of “transnational issues, [where] 
power is widely distributed and chaotically organized among state and 
non-state actors.” In some ways, Nye has less respect for the level of 
the multitude than Polybius but he does realize that power cannot be 
exercised without its at least passive consent.

Let’s push this a bit harder. The game of /Raumschach/, literally “space 
chess” or three-dimensional chess,  was devised in 1908 by Ferdinand 
Maack in Hamburg. He felt that as chess was a war game, it should now be 
possible to represent aerial and submarine warfare as part of play. His 
initial concept was for an 8x8x8 board that looked like this:


8x8x8 "space chess" in 1908

He refined this towering edifice to 5x5x5, the variant now mostly used 
by the devotees of the game. Pieces can move in three-dimensions: a 
rook, for example could move from top to bottom vertically, while a 
knight could move two layers up and a square across. Players use the 
standard pieces, plus two “unicorns” that can move from corner to 
corner. The board looks like this:


Raumschach 5x5x5

In short, let’s by all means think of the political as a 
three-dimensional contest but be aware that it would have more than 
three layers and the possibilities for interaction are very diverse. 
Occupy geeks of a certain kind will already have this in mind:


Spock plays 3-D chess against the computer in Star Trek

The future used to be imagined as a liberatory expansion into space of 
all kinds. If in /Star Trek/, this expansion was hard to separate from 
the colonial and Cold War projects of the U. S., the fans were always 
able to imagine otherwise in slash fiction and other forms.

However, let’s follow Nye this far: the “top board” of global conflict 
is the one now in chaos. The counterinsurgency doctrine launched with 
such fanfare in 2006 stands revealed in Afghanistan as the imperialist 
fantasy it always was–such is 3-D chess, a game of imperial imagination. 
But with the “monarch” having lost control of the top, the game is now 
open in a variety of ways.

Vertical power is not just exercised by states or interstate 
organizations. In contrast to their usual emphasis on immaterial labor, 
Hardt and Negri point out that

    Extraction processes–oil, gas, and minerals–are the paradigmatic
    industries of neoliberalism.

This “verticality” of this economic power is literal as well as 
metaphorical: the rewards for mining fossil fuels and other raw 
materials are spectacular. The sea level rise that results from the 
resulting acceleration of climate change is by the same token a literal 
and metaphorical verticality: only those in the “high places,” like the 
Tyrel Corporation in /Bladerunner/, can and should survive.

The primary alternative available form of wealth increase in 
overdeveloped nations at present is privatization and upwards wealth 
distribution by means of regressive taxation and other measures. In 
short, the verticalization of what had been made horizontal by political 
action, such as the former attaining of free university education that 
is now a market for private loans.

These are nonetheless relatively crass and unsubtle ways to play. If you 
have sufficient pieces, they may gain an advantage, perhaps some 
victories. But there are at least two, perhaps five, perhaps many more 
levels at which our would-be hegemons are not playing because they can’t 
see them.

Take the horizontalism of direct democracy. In this exchange, each 
person consents to look and be seen at once. To authority, this exchange 
is invisible. Formally, authority imagines itself as deploying the gaze 
with its force of law in which we are the looked-at, the passive object. 
In this view, direct democracy is just chaos.

By the same token, as I argued yesterday 
there are always already spaces of the “primitive” where power is not 
vertical, disrupting the arrangement of the “boards.” Such spaces are 
equally invisible to authority because they are not part of its life 
processes but they are nonetheless present, understood as ghosts, 
spirits and specters. Indeed, there are places that, in the manner of 
China Miéville, we might call crosshatched with other pasts, futures and 
presents, intermittently visible.

On these horizontal levels, you can win the game by playing only 
horizontally, or by cancelling certain vectors of the vertical by using 
your “unicorns.” If the unicorn does not “exist,” that speaks to the 
ways in which magic–understood here as that which exceeds the “rational 
actor” theory of value–continues to be a real presence. Colonial power 
always feared the magic of local religions because it knew that it 
“worked,” meaning that it generated horizontal values and imaginaries, 
as well as moves to negate the vertical.

That’s why the signs saying “Game Over” in Egypt seemed so right. But 
this an odd game. You can checkmate the king only to find, like in the 
horror movie, that it is back in mutant form. The same is true for both 
sides. If empire has more power, its narrowness of vision means that 
Occupy has, paradoxically, more space. Game on.

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