Preservation as Iconoclasm

This post is a brief departure from our usual more philosophical posts.  Rather than masterfully tackling Spinoza or Deleuze as previous contributors have done, this is post attempts to engage with my current digital humanities project.  Working with Art historians and art theorists, I’ve been working toward digitizing Greenville College’s Richard W. Bock Sculpture museum.  However, in this pursuit a few interesting theoretical questions have emerged.  What’s the state of the aura of a piece when it is captured digitally.   Moving from this practical experience I began thinking about the importance of religious art and iconography and the digital reproduction of these pieces.


 

So much of western culture is based on the notion of preservation.  Exceedingly, the museum, the library and all of the auxiliary media apparatuses function toward the end of preservation.  Preservation, overall, is a slippery topic.  What does it mean to preserve, maintain, keep or protect an artifact?  There’s something paradoxical or aporetic about in the relationship between preservation and destruction.  I think we can see this aporia most clearly when we turn to the trajectory of the Christian art of the east: the icon.  The preservation and reproduction of the religious icon has been a practice throughout the history of the church as well as in the humanities.  Though, changes in technique and new possibilities introduced through different technologies make it necessary to consider the reproduction, and in turn preservation, of the icon.  The critical theorist, Walter Benjamin, offers up a helpful thesis concerning the mechanical reproduction of art.  This thesis holds some helpful insight concerning iconography and will help work out my thesis on aporia inherent in preservation.

In eastern Christianity, the icon functions as an organ of worship as a signifier of the divine.  Very simply, the icon is a visual analogy of the divine: an attempt at reflecting the divine through artifice.  The icon has a specific function and context in liturgy.  The veneration of the icon in eastern Christianity is apart of the array of bodily discipline inlayed into what it means to worship.  The icon is, perhaps, a component of interface with the divine.  The notion of the icon has its roots in Christian notion of embodiment and is a testament to the bodily life of Christ.

The traditional reproduction of the icon is very much inline with Benjamin’s observation in the opening lines of his The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.  Benjamin says, “art has always been reproducible. Man-made artifacts could always be imitated by men. Replicas were made by pupils in practice of their craft, by masters for diffusing their works, and, finally, by third parties in the pursuit of gain.”  Essentially, icons have been reproduced with a fidelity toward the original.  This results in only incremental changes and differences between reproductions.

Though, following Benjamin’s analysis on reproduction, the 19th and 20th century’s method of reproduction orients toward the mechanical.  When a piece can be reproduced mechanically something is necessarily left out.  Benjamin notes the differences photography brings to reproduction.  The lens of the camera may capture qualities of a piece that are beyond the capacity of the human eye, therefore the reproduction, while faithful to the original, is substantially different.  Even more, the camera introduces the possibility of the transmission of an image.  The photograph introduces a new vector in the reproduction of a piece, however within this new vector we see the exclusion of what Benjamin calls the aura.

On the aura, Benjamin says, “One might generalize by saying: the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition.”  The technical reproduction of a piece removes a piece from its context and history.  The piece loses something when reproduced mechanically.  Mechanical reproduction is a method of mass culture, it brings a piece to the masses while excluding the so-called aura.

Benjamin’s orientation in his essay creates a helpful mode of criticism when approaching mechanical reproduction.  While taking what Benjamin offers, mechanical reproduction has largely been subsumed within the digital.  Digital reproduction offers more possibility and ease in the reproduction of images.  Digital reproduction is inherent in the production of digital images.  The digital image is always already reproducible.  However, when it comes to the meeting of the physical and the digital, things become more complicated.

The digital reproduction of the physical piece has largely become the project of a discourse called “digital humanities.”  When the physical piece is reproduced digitally it is often done so for its preservation.  Digital preservation is inseparable from digital reproduction.  Even more, digital reproduction perfects the ability to extract a piece from its tradition or context.  The digital acts like a sieve, the mathematical properties of a piece can pass through to the digital, but the aura is necessarily left behind.

Then, turning back to the icon, we see the problematic nature of the digital reproduction of such an embodied aesthetic work.  To preserve a piece digitally, as is so common, has an aporetic relationship to the destruction of that same piece.  When we, as digital humanists, strike out to preserve a piece digitally for future generations we inevitably destroy or kill the piece: we transmute the piece into a ghost of its former self.  To reproduce the icon digitally is to put the piece in stasis, to remove it from tradition and context.  Reproduction, in this sense, pins down a living piece.  The digital mediation of religious imagery disconnects it from the bodily discipline and liturgy it is apart of.  The reproduction of the icon destroys the aura or the signifying power the icon has in liturgy.  How do we move forward with preserving historical liturgical artifacts while not destroying them?

The preservation/destruction of a piece removes the aura from the work and disembodies it.  As the digital creates a disembodiment of its users through tele-presence, it also creates a disembodiment of artifacts, the humanity is strained out and representation becomes empty.  In this aporia we see that to preserve something is also to destroy it, though this observation should not produce any reactionary ethics or romanticism in the dignity of simply letting a piece die.  Despite these problems with preservation, the prospect of preservation calls for a fidelity to the future of humanity.  Though, we are betrayed by our attempts at preservation, we still preserve.

Digital means of reproduction introduce new avenues for consideration in the preservation of aesthetic and historical artifacts.  The digital humanities is perhaps too utopian about the digital piece of the equation.  Preservation of an artifact is never guaranteed and often eludes the act of preservation all together.  However, some of us feel the need to remain true to the future of the humanities and future generations.  History and art are seemingly important and to reproduce these artifacts is a necessary, but problematic task we must face.

Glitch-Christ

“To invent the sailing ship or steamer is to invent the shipwreck.  To invent the train is to invent the rail accident of derailment.  To invent the family automobile is to produce the pile-up on the highway.  To get what is heavier than air to take off in the form of an aeroplane or dirigible is to incent the crash, the air disaster.” -Paul Virilio, The Original Accident.

To invent the cross, that is the technology of political execution, is to invent the Christ event.  The accident is a curious event.  It is an unexpected emergence: it is a messy differend.  What remains after the political execution?  A spirit that one cannot kill.  Aesthetically, we might call this differend a glitch.

The glitch is the accidental appearance of unexpected artifacts.  The glitch in an image manifests as discolored pixels and a distorted image.  The glitch in audio may manifest as static.  Though, what is the glitch of oppression or of an execution?  What artifacts might emerge? What ghosts may linger?  The American folk song Joe Hill says, “What they can never kill went on to organize.” There’s a residue that remains from oppression.  Something that cannot be accounted for, a remainder, an accident or a glitch.

Gethsemane

Following the Christian trajectory, this glitch can be located in Christ.  The cross is a peculiar method of execution, because like Christ, it is the interface of horizontal and vertical vectors. The intersection of the wooden planks is also the intersection of divinity and humanity.  Crucifixion is the event and out of this event emerges the glitch. Something goes wrong in the crucifixion of Jesus.

The power of the Roman occupying force is not quite hegemonic enough.  Christ’s death yields the peculiar artifact of everlasting life.  It’s not my intention to enforce any theology authoritatively, but simply to state that from the perspective of Rome, something went wrong in Christ’s death.  After the crucifixion Christ does not die.

Whether Christ bodily resurrects or it’s simply the Hegelian Aufhebung isn’t really the point.  Regardless of what metaphysical scheme is at play, what is important is the accident in the execution of Christ.  The glitch of Christ persists long after the execution of the man.

wrestle

Then, what can be gleaned from the glitch-Christ?  Aesthetically and practically, the glitch is a transgressive: a celebration of the artifacts that emerge from the accident.  Can we repeat the glitch-Christ? Is there a practice that yields the manifestation of these artifacts?  The nature of the accident makes drawing correlations difficult.  One cannot force an accident and cannot force the glitch.

The glitch is an accident, one can attempt to undertake a set of practices, but the appearance of the glitch is uncertain and precarious.  However, this doesn’t mean there are no normative methods.  One can easily glitch the image or audio file.  The accident is in what artifacts emerge out of the event.  If it is agreeable that Christ is this sort of glitch event then the Christian practice must be tracing Christ’s methods, though it’s not clear what will emerge.

A Punk Rock Eschatology

Growing up in the 90’s means participating in any variety of teenage subcultures.  Certainly, the most contentious is punk.  Anyone who has ever listened to The Sex Pistols, The Ramones or The Clash has participated in the endless dialectic of authentic punk and poser.  What is authentically punk: TRUE PUNK™?  Fundamentally, these discussions are absurd.  Cultural movements among all people, though especially teenagers are dynamic and ever-changing styles.  There is only one guiding logic of punk rock.  Maybe this guiding logic relies on too much on a historical example for its legitimacy, but I think it works.  In 1977, Sid Vicious chanted the bridge to God Save the Queen: “NO FUTURE.”  Boldly, I argue that “No Future” is the logic of punk as well as an eschatological statement.

In recent days while browsing through posts on Reddit, I came across a really troubling post.  If you’re familiar with Reddit you know all too well of the troubling content regularly posted.  Though, the post that piqued my interest was not explicitly because of misogyny, racism, homophobia, etc (however, these things were all present).  The post was a simple picture of a young Muslim girl dressed in typical “punk” fashion.  Punk is such a contentious term in regards to fashion, culture and music, this contention was played out rather typically in this post.  One user says,

Punk is about rebellion and the rejection of the accepted social standards. That taqwacore stuff, “islamic” punk etc. seems like an oxymoron. Punk is punk. The concepts of “christian” punk, “islamic” punk make no sense to me.

This user misunderstands the logic of punk.  Punk rock is not about rebellion, it’s an eschatological prediction on the future made based on a certain critique of neoliberal capitalism.  Yes, punk rock is rebellious, but this rebellion is secondary to its eschatology.  This is why punk rock works so well within Abrahamic religious traditions.  Being a Christian youth often means needing to find spaces for self-expression outside of normative Christian culture.  Okay, so I’m clearly speaking from a position of Christianity, but my diagnosis of self-expression can be extended to other religious traditions, like Islam.

Why then does punk work with Christianity? Simply, it is because Christianity and punk rock share a similar eschatology (generally, I feel unable to talk about eschatology in Islam.  However, it shares a similar form with Christianity).  There is an orientation toward the meaning and politics of the end times.  Christianity and Islam share a certain apocalypticism that echoes punk rocks “No Future.”  The early church understood this the best.  The budding biblical scholar often asks why were the gospels authored so long after the death of Christ?  This is due to Christianity being apocalyptic and expecting Christ’s imminent return.

The early Christian church lived in a tension with apocalyptic themes.  They lived precarious lives: Christ could return any day.  The contemporary context is certainly different, but there is a certain apocalyptic tension that exists in the present with punk rock.  There is a questionable future: life lived under the flows of neoliberal capitalism make tomorrow uncertain.

It may be the case that the early church lived as a precarious and apocalyptic assemblage, but can a similar assessment of the contemporary church be made?  It is true that some strains of fundamentalist Christianity hold that the stars are right and Christians could be raptured at any moment.  In this interpretation of eschatological events, there is very seriously no future.  Though, the precariousness of capitalism also puts all Christians in an apocalyptic position: a position of no future.

Détourning the Christian Text

            Détournement is the practice of hijacking, distorting or simply plagiarizing a political message or advertisement.  The term détournement has fallen out of use in recent times in exchange for terms like “culture jamming.”  However, here, the term détournement is most appropriate.  Détournement is two fold, in one sense it is rhetorical.  One may détourne a message into strategic for a radical end.  However, the second mode of détournement is the practice of communicating subversive themes through radical practice.  Examples of détournement can be seen in many places and can be done among many media, though can the Christian text, that is biblical scripture and church tradition, be détourned?  Certainly, those not invested in the church and Christianity parody and perhaps détourne Christian texts and tradition, but can the Christian perform a détournement?  To what extent can Christians play with their own texts and traditions?  Here, I want to set up three goals of this project.  First, can Christian scripture and tradition be détourned?  Second, ought scripture and tradition be détourned?  Maybe, one can détourne Christianity, but to what end and why would a Christian want to hijack the text?  Third, what might it look like for Christianity, the bible or church tradition to be détourned.

            Christian texts and tradition can be détourned.  In fact, if one is to look at the life of Christ, the archetypal figure for a Christian ethics, one may find détournement in the text already.  Perhaps, Christ is not as witty of a culture jammer as one may find in Banksy or AdBusters.  Though, Jesus has an interesting rhetorical style one might make note of.  “You have heard it said…but I say” and “but who do you say I am?”  For example, in the gospel according to Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount, Christ lays down a number of You-have-heard-it-said’s. 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”

Clearly, this is a highjacking of a previous commandment.  It is using one statement or maxim to convey a different counter-message.  If one is to take up an ethic of Christ, then perhaps there is some ethical practice to be found in the rhetoric of Christ.

            Can Christian scripture and tradition be détourned?  It is the case that we can find examples of Christ détourning ideas, but can the Christian détourne the Christian text?  This is to say, does the Christian have the authority to hijack, plagiarize or distorting the bible?  In truth, this questions runs far more philosophical than can rightly be discussed here.  What is the text? What does it mean to read and interpret a text?  The assertion I make here is that whenever the bible or Christian tradition is “read” one may highjack, plagiarize or distort the text.  However, it is the case that this is the only way to interact with a text.  Détournement is simply overt, honest and intentional about this hijacking.

            For example, when the fundamentalist says, “God hates X” is this not a hijacking of the text?  Likewise, when the so-called progressive Christian calls for “social justice” according to the gospel, is this not also a hijacking?  Certainly, the purity of a meaning through any medium is impossible. 

            Détournement, however, is not the same as interpretation.  Détournement can be simply the rhetorical plagiarizing or hijacking of a message.  However, this is something fleeting: one plagiarism among a sea of advertising or other public messages and communications.  Détournement is also a playful subversive action.  Détournement is not simply a rewriting or rhetorical play, but the creation of an event or situation that flips things on their head.

            What would it look like to détourne Christian texts or tradition?  At least, a little bit blasphemous and certainly revolutionary.  The détournement of a text can target any injustice and work at creating a situation that implodes certain relations of power.  Jesus uses the phrase “You have heard it said…but I say” to détourne a certain message in the Sermon on the Mount.  Christ invites a similar play later in the gospel when he asks Peter “Who do you say I am?”

 

 

Religion, Politics, and The Earth: The New Materialism – Chapter 1 Digital Culture

This week FluxofThought is participating in a blog tour of Clayton Crockett and Jeffrey Robbins’ Religion, Politics, and The Earth: The New Materialism.  This week we will be going through the chapters chronologically and giving a first critical look at the text.

The first chapter of Crockett and Robbins’ handles the revolutionary potentials of the Internet and social media.  Crockett and Robbins make a great effort to explain the role that social media played in Iran’s 2009 presidential elections and in the Arab Spring.  Crockett and Robbins posit that Twitter was essential for coordinating protest.  This observation about political dissent and Twitter helps one recognize the negotiation between the material and immaterial.

Crockett and Robbins say, “…the transformation of the media landscape made possible by the rise of social media is a necessary cause, but not a sufficient one, for positive political change.”  Social media becomes an important political tool.  Crockett and Robbins make the distinction that the utilization of twitter for political purposes is the creation of a “little brother:” a use of media that circumvents the control of the state apparatus.

However, it is not simply the state apparatus that draws concern, but “…it is the technology and the corporate collusion that makes Big Brother’s dream of a surveillance society a viable possibility.”  It’s not simply the state apparatus that is problematic, but it is also that the state and capitalist political economy are entangled.

The entanglement of capitalism and state moves beyond what Marx called the free laborer toward what one might call the free consumer.  Individuals have the ability to make their own choices on what they want to consume.  With online marketplaces, the individual consumer has total control.  Crockett and Robbins explain that this is “Big Brother with a softer side”

Crockett and Robbins locate a revolutionary potential in digital culture and social media.  Largely, I find Crockett and Robbins convincing, though there is a great deal of nuance that is missed.   Understanding Twitter is a tool for resistance is fine, but it neglects the serious critique that media ecology brings.

Specifically, I think to Paul Virilio’s grey ecology.  Green ecology is the study of the impact of material pollution on nature; in a like matter grey ecology is the study of the pollution of technology and speed on media and history.  Grey ecology is an examination of speed and technology on the finitude of the human subject.

Virilio has a particularly interesting take on technology and speed, a type of analysis he calls dromology.  Simply, it is the case that  “We are replacing the expanse of the world with speed.”  The relations of speed supplant the real existing geography.

In regards to Twitter and social media, it is as Virilio says “…‘real time’ now takes precedence over real space.”  There is a certain tele-objectivity when one looks at twitter.  When one views their twitter feed one watches a flow of information in ‘real time.’  This is the instantaneity of news and media.  Overall, this isn’t bad or problematic, but simply it requires a certain consideration.  Twitter, a technology that is a part of the dromosphere, accelerates one’s perception of time and history.  One feels a sort of limit of perspective, maybe even claustrophobia when watching a Twitter feed.  Twitter moves incredibly fast: it is not possible for one to read every tweet.

It is certainly the case that Twitter can be used toward a revolutionary end, though one cannot neglect the speed that is involved in social media and the Internet.  The revolutionary cannot forget the inverse of speed, slowness.  The Internet is not a neutral technology: capitalism has colonized, if not seized altogether, the Internet.  The only form of resistance to speed is deceleration: slowing down work and the production of media.

Certainly, let us use all of the tools at our disposal against capitalism toward a revolutionary end, but let us not be pushed into hyper-reality.  Let us oscillate between resisting with speed and slowness.  Do not be bound to one type of resistance, but use every tool and every mode of life against capital.

An Altermodern Christianity

Growing up in an evangelical church setting means that I am annoyingly familiar with the paraphrased version of Romans 12:2.  Be in the world, but not of the world.  This paraphrased verse haunts me wherever I go.  How can I come to terms with this paraphrase?  Thinking back to my evangelical up bringing this paraphrase was used to convey the idea that the Christian lives in the world, but does not conform to the practices of the world.  However, this was all reduced to an ultra-conservatism that has little to do with Christianity.  Don’t be secular; only uphold “Christian values.”  Resistance to secularism does not do the church any kind of service, rather it spawns such annoyances as Christian politics, family values, Christian music, Christian Book stores, Christian movies, etc.  Can it be said that any of these exercises of creativity advance the Christian project?  No.  To lay out a critique of the way Christianity attempts to resist the secular I will import several ideas from Michael Hardt and Toni Negri’s Commonwealth.  Hardt and Negri use the terms modernity, anti-modernity and altermodernity to parse out certain movements against the current hegemony.  The contention here is that the evangelical resistance to secularism is a type of anti-modernity, though, what is needed is a movement of altermodernism, a rupture in the discourse and the negotiations of power.

First, a clarification of terms and how they relate to the problem posed here.  Modernity is a paradigm of thought that has its interests in progress and enlightenment.  Everything that may push back against modernity is labeled as superstitious or backward.  Movements and resistances that work against modernity, but contained within modernity, are anti-modern.  The anti-modern is a resistance that does not seek to overturn current power relations, rather simply change the prevailing hegemony.  Hardt and Negri note that some examples of anti-modern movements are proletarian resistances, slave rebellions, peasant revolts and to a lesser extent Christian movements to create an evangelical and non-secular culture.

Parenthetically, it is worth noting that there is a clear difference between a slave revolt and making cheesy Christian music.  This contention is worth keeping in mind, but the evangelical Christianity has a larger political goal in America that is clearly anti-modern.  Among evangelical Christians, one can see a real resistance to secularism.  In this resistance to secular culture one can find a serious political agenda.  This political agenda is not to topple the dominant paradigm of power, but rather legislate certain cultural values. 

Moving past modern and anti-modern, Hardt and Negri present a third option, altermodernity.  Altermodernity can be understood succinctly through a famous Zapatista slogan, “A world in which many worlds are possible.”  The idea of altermodernity is to not simply resist, but to move from resistance to alternative.  Hardt and Negri explain,

“We intend for the term “altermodernity” instead to indicate a decisive break with modernity and the power relation that defines it since altermodernity in our conception emerges from the traditions of antimodernity – but it also departs from antimodernity since it extends beyond opposition and resistance.”

Altermodernity is a rupture with modernity and anti-modernity because it moves beyond any fixed resistance.  A notion of resistance and anti-modernity is necessary, but one must not get stuck in anti-modernity.

Then, what does this all mean for Christianity?  There is a resistance to modernity to be found in evangelical Christianity, but evangelicalism has become stuck in resistance.  Christianity ought not be so interested in legislating morality or creating a culture of resistance that keeps “Christian values,” rather Christianity needs a rupture with the current modes of power.  When one speaks of the kingdom of God it is something altermodern, it cannot be legislated and it cannot be understood in the current paradigm of power.  Taking Jesus seriously means desiring a world where there are no such things as scarcity and property does not have such a hold over us.  The kingdom of God is altermodern in that it is a rupture with modernity and anti-modernity.  It is a movement that claims that the first are last and that the hungry will be filled with good things.

A Molecular Method of Aggregation: The Church and Molecular Politics

            Speaking of radical movements and Christianity often produces the question, “How does a radical Christian movement work with a larger movement of radical politics?”  Can radical Christians participate in the same movements of rebellion as anarchists or communists?  Generally, this is a question of organization.  A radical Christian politics (as many contributors of this blog have put forth) is not simply a localized movement, but it is rethinking our world in a new light, it is imaging the immanent kingdom of God.  Surely, this is no small task, nor is it only a desire for Christians.  The idea of a new world, the rethinking of economic and political assemblages is the desire of many other individuals with diverse ideological interests.  How do radical Christians fit in to an exercise of subversive politics? 

            Various modes of struggle have been attempted throughout history against capitalism and other regimes of repression.  Leninism, anarchism, etc have all been dominant historical modes of struggle that have ultimately failed.  Currently, there is no centralized mode of struggle.  In America there is a fragmented political left.  What does this mean for those who are anchored by revolutionary politics?  Should there be a re-institution of a centralized politics.  No, a new organization must be sought after.

An ideology that is closed off to other intellectual circuits eventually dies from irrelevance.  One must imagine an organization of power that is decentralized and not dependent on any ideological orthodoxy.  This is where molecular politics begin.  Rather than attempting to unite under a common ideology there can be a space for a multifaceted approach.

“Desire, on a social terrain, refuses to allow itself to be confined to zones of consensus, in the arenas of ideological legitimation. Why ask a feminist movement to come to a doctrinal or programmatic accord with ecological movement groups or with a communitarian experiment by people of color or with a workers’ movement, etc.? Ideology shatters; it only unifies on the level of appearance.” (Negri and Guattari. New Lines of Alliance, New Spaces of Liberty. Pg. 80)

It seems simple enough to add in a radical Christian movement to the list.  Why ask a movement of radical Christians to come to ideological accord with any other group or vice versa?  Ideological orthodoxy is not required for a movement against capital. 

  Rather than any singular ideological banner, imagine a loose network of molecular political nodes, each releasing a subversive and revolutionary energy.  These molecular political nodes can link together and make a molar political assemblage. 

“…[W]hat is essential is that each movement shows itself to be capable of unleashing irreversible molecular revolutions and of linking itself to either limited or unlimited molar struggles (and only collective analysis and critique can decide which) on the political and syndical terrain of defending the general rights of the national and/or international community.” (Negri and Guattari. New Lines of Alliance, New Spaces of Liberty. Pg. 80)

The question for radical Christian politics is then the form and the means of struggle it will take against capital as well as the molar linkages it can make.  What would an “irreversible molecular revolution” look like for a molecular radical Christian movement?

            A previous post I contributed cited a possible moment of subversive action in the forgiveness of debts.  Perhaps debt is a starting point, but it is only a starting point.  A radical Christian politics is larger than just easing economic suffering; it is imaging a new world.  A radical Christian politics that imagines new forms of rebellion and upheaval in way of Christ, it is a turning of the world on its head economically and socially.  Only our collaborative imaginations can bring forth a new world.

Becoming-Wasp, Becoming-Orchid

Some of the most foundational thinkers in political philosophy, Rousseau, Hobbes, etc, start the discussion of the genesis of the collective social body with certain conceptions of human nature.  All who have taken introductory courses in philosophy or political theory learn of the headache that comes with arguing about human nature.  While human nature has been an interesting development in political philosophy, asking whether human nature is fundamentally good or evil is the wrong sort of question.  Appropriating Spinoza’s ethics, Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt explain that one should not ask what human nature is, but what it can become.  What is it that drives humans together into association?  What does human nature become in capitalism?  What can it become?

What is the motor of human association?  Love.  Love is what drives humans together into collaboration and toward freedom and autonomy.  Maybe love sounds a little sentimental as philosophical foundation for politics, but love can be understood as a serious political reality.  Despite it’s best efforts, capitalism cannot account for all of the productive energies of the human individual or assemblage.  Human society has certain mechanisms that emerge separately from the capitalist mode of production.  Negri and Hardt call this the commons.  There are some things, while perhaps swayed by capitalism, are not explicitly governed by the logic of capitalism.  Capitalist production is certainly a dominating logic, but there are other types of production that are of note.  For capitalist production other types of production are necessary, the production of living arrangements, domestic work, friendships, religious communities, intellectual associations, etc.  Capitalist production is an apparatus that has captured these and other types of social production.  These types of social production are what Negri and Hardt call the commons.  Love is the driving force behind the commons and what pushes humanity to desire one another.  Love is desire as a positive force.

In Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus the discussion becomings is made through a biological narrative of the orchid and the wasp.  Evolutionary biology tells a narrative of the orchid imitating the wasp for the propagation of its species.  Deleuze and Guattari correct this narrative in saying that the orchid is becoming-wasp and the wasp is becoming-orchid.

“The orchid does not reproduce the tracing of the wasp; it forms a map with the wasp…What distinguishes the map from the tracing is that it is entirely oriented toward an experimentation in contact with the real.  The map does not reproduce an unconscious closed in upon itself; it constructs the unconscious.”(A Thousand Plateaus, 12)

What is essential here is that the encounter between the two entities creates a new reality, a new becoming.  What does it mean for the orchid to become-wasp and the wasp to become-orchid?  It means a mutual love for one another.  It is a rupture in business as usual.

Image

Here, one can see that love is a type of production.  In Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 he explains the alienation and production of the worker.  Capitalist production produces the worker.  “…[L]abour is external to the worker, i.e., it does not belong to his essential being; that in his work, therefore he does not affirm himself but denies himself.” (Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, 60)  Labor is external to the individual, through labor the individual produces and in this meeting of flows the individual becomes a worker.  Capitalist labor produces the worker, but love can produce a specific subjectivity as well.  Love produces what Negri and Hardt call the multiplicity, the subjectivity of the commons.  “Love is the power of the common in a double sense: both the power that the common exerts and the power to constitute the commons.  It is thus also the movement toward freedom in which the composition of singularities leads toward not unity or identity but the increasing autonomy of each participating equally in the web of communication and cooperation.  Love is the power of the poor to exit a life of misery and solitude, and engage the project to make the multitude.”(Commonwealth, 189)  Love is an erasure of our capitalist subjectivities as workers and it is in collaborative power that a rupture is created and there is an entrance into a new social body.

Asking whether human nature is fundamentally good or bad is the wrong question, rather the question should be what could humanity become?  Love is the motor of the social assemblage, but love does not go unchallenged.  Love can go wrong.  Love turned back upon itself is evil.  Evil is that which obstructs love.  Very concretely, evil is any barrier that one may see in daily life.  Property, boarders, governments, violence are all evil in that they obstruct the common and keep humanity apart.  Love is the only movement that can remove obstructions and evil.  Love defeating evil is indignation, it is a liberating joy and the creation of the commons.

Forgive Us Our Debts

Strike Debt! is one of the latest movements of Occupy Wall St.  Strike Debt! is a push for a dialogue as well as action concerning debt culture in the United States.  Perhaps this movement has gained so much traction because debt is such a familiar topic for Americans.  Daily life in our society has become anxious and precarious.  Some of us live paycheck to paycheck; others live nervously anticipating movements of the market.  How long can we continue?  Will we get sick and not be able to work?  Will we experience another devastating market crash?  How long can we keep up on our monthly payments?  Strike Debt! strives to create networks of support and withdrawal from debt culture.  Certainly, these are activities that are important for a large portion of the social body, but what about Christians?  Can Christians Strike Debt?

The Christian church we hear about in acts is one that shared things in common.  This is a radical network of support that Christianity has lost.  The church has lost its radical community to family life centers, zumba classes and Christian bookstores.  Detractors of anarchism and communism often cite that the early Christian church lived in such a way because they were waiting for the end of the world and the return of Christ.  Though, is this much different from the way we live, don’t we live expecting some apocalyptic event?  Every Sunday we pray for the coming kingdom; we anticipate the end of the world.  Michael Hardt and Toni Negri explain this apocalyptic tone in contemporary politics saying,

“…the predominance of violence to resolve national and international conflicts not merely as last but as first resort; the widespread use of torture and even its legitimation; the indiscriminate killing of civilians combat…This vision of the world resembles those medieval European renditions of hell: people burning in a river of fire, others being torn limb from limb, and in the center a great devil engorging their bodies whole.”(Negri and Hardt, Commonwealth, Pg. 3)

How can the Christian community prepare for the end of the world?  Can Christians strike debt?  Can they take revolutionary action?  Perhaps, instead of striking against debt and other types of refusal, the Christian approach to the precariousness of everyday life is to forgive debts.  The forgiveness of debts is not simply the refusal of participating in debt culture, but the extinguishing of destructive and violent energies.  To forgive is to unbind one’s love upon another, blotting out one’s sins.

There is a strong precedent in the Christian church to spiritualize the Lord’s Prayer; perhaps one of the most oft said prayers in the Christian church.  Though, it is in this prayer we ask:

“ Your kingdom come
 Give us each day our daily bread
  And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.

And do not bring us to the time of trial.” (Luke 11:4 NRSV)

As God forgives our sins, we are to forgive “everyone indebted to us.”  If our belief and actions are to be anchored by the Christian faith then the debt culture and the violence of financial capitalism must be wiped away.  Forgiving debt is a much more radical move than simply withdrawing or striking.  The Forgiveness of debts imagines new relationships between individuals and capital.  If we are to be subjects of Christ, as Joel said in his previous post, it requires an erasure of our capitalist subjectivities.

Perhaps, to parse this transformation out in a more radical way we can use the language of Deleuze and Guattari.  In the essay Capitalism: A Very Special Delirium, Deleuze and Guattari explain, “There is no ideology, there are only organizations of power.”  This is to say that Capitalism is a certain organization of power and to counter this power new organizations must be implemented.  In using this logic we find the means of the erasure of our capitalist modes of desire and production.  Changing the organizations of power changes the way one desires.  We must re-purpose our social organs toward a new becoming, becoming-Christ.  To forgive debts is to transgress against the capitalist organism.

Parenthetically, a temptation here might be to call for conformity toward what Paul in First Corinthians calls the body of Christ.  Paul’s vision of the Body of Christ is one body with many members, assemblages of members performing the duty of organs. Thinking hierarchically, the church certainly is a dominating organization of power, but hierarchy and rigid organizations of power must be exorcised from the church.  Can we imagine the church as a radical community of support and care?  There is merit to Paul’s words, but the image of the body of Christ, that is the hierarchy of the church, is far too stratified and fixed.  Paul’s body allows only for a narrow outpouring of the multifaceted desires of the Christian body.

Becoming-Christ is a repurposing of our machines of accumulation into machines of forgiveness and hospitality, our machines of hierarchy and stratification into machines of support, mutual aid, and democracy: the organs of Christ and the church must be organized into machines of kenosis, which is to say machines of self-emptying.  Instead of acquiring wealth and extracting labor we must construct they machines of love and forgiveness.  Private property has no place in the kingdom, for there is enough to go around.  What is a debt anyways?  Debt is a semiotic agreement, but Christ frees us from our debts and in turn we must free each other from debt.  Not a year of jubilee, but a world turned on its head.

A rigid grid ought not be fixed to the kingdom of God simply because love is not rigid.  Forgiveness is hard; especially when we are required to forgive that which capitalism makes us cling to.  Christian love is often transgressive against capitalist machines of accumulation.  Property, exchange and capital hold no bearing under the logic of Christ who instructs us to forgive and love wastefully.  In the face of precarity and capital let us freely love and freely forgive.

The Rhythm of Church

Life is rhythmic.  Think about your daily routine, what signals the beginning and endings of the movements of your day?  Perhaps, your day begins with the signal of your alarm clock or the buzz of your cell phone.  What is your day oriented around?  What time do you have to be at work? When do you go home?  Our everyday lives have a certain rhythm to them; the rhythm we most often live to is that of capitalism.  However, our lives are not mono-rhythmic; varieties of different logics and rhythm’s vie for our attention and energies.  For the Christian, the rhythm of life is the church and liturgy.  In this discourse on time and rhythm I’m presenting two ideas: 1.) the rhythm of the church and capitalism are incongruous 2.) the body and rhythm of the church have an intrinsic potential for a movement against capitalism.

In the political left and in Marxist theory capitalism can become a scare tactic or used in an intensely abstract and unhelpful for way.  Due to this, let it be clear what is intended by capitalism here.  Capitalism is an entity, which holds a certain logic at its core and carries out this internal logic through external apparatuses.  There is a dual logic to the entity of capitalism.  The guiding logics of the capitalist body is accumulation and speed.

Marx’s conception of value and production in the capitalist political economy are the basis for the core of the capitalist entity.  Marx says,

“Some people might think that if the value of a commodity is determined by the quantity of labour spent on it; the more idle and unskillful the labourer, the more valuable his commodity be, because more time would be required in its production.  The labour, however, that forms the substance of value, is homogenous human labour, expenditure of one uniform labour-power.  The total labour-power of society, which is embodied in the sum total of the values of all commodities produced by that society counts there here as one homogeneous mass of human labour-power, composed though it be of innumerable individual units.” (Capital, 442)

What is to be gleaned from Marx’s words is that the labor that produces value is a labor that has been abstracted en masse without differentiating between workers.  Clearly this is different from past modes of labor in which artisans produce a commodity.  Industrial capitalism extracts labor as “one uniform labour power” from workers.  This separates labor power and commodities from workers.

In light of the way industrial capitalism extracts labor, it can be said that the successful capitalist finds ways to extract the most labor from their workers. Industrialized modes of production works toward extracting the greatest amount of labor power in the shortest amount of time.

Though we no longer labor under industrial modes of production in the west, technological revolutions have been made to continue the abstraction and extraction of our labor.  The computer and the Internet are the new means of labor extraction in the United States.  One is no longer signaled to the workday by the whistle of the factory; rather the ding of email or buzz of the cell phone activates the cognitive laborer.  In the 21st century labor has become increasingly cognitive and because of the advancements in technology one can get work orders or assignments from their boss anywhere.  The eight-hour workday has been lost.  One receives work in and out of the physical work place.  Consider the Information Technology technician who is always on call.  Regardless of the time of day, if a crucial system goes down the technician must perform their work duty.

In Paul Virilio’s text Speed and Politics, Virilio explains the effects of speed on territory.  Virilio tells us, “Territory has lost its significance in favor of the projectile…With the supersonic vector (airplane, rocket, airwaves), penetration and destruction become one.” (Speed and Politics, 149.)  However, labor is not shackled even to the supersonic vector, labor is extracted at the speed of light through fiber optic cables.

The essential question of struggles against work is always “what is to be done?”  There are a great many people who do not like their daily work.  To be clear, work is the activity that one sells one’s labor power for with regularity.  This is not true across the board, some love what they do for a living.  However, even if one likes one’s job one has to recognize their precarity.  One could quickly lose one’s job either to the capitalist system or to illness or injury.  How can we take control of our labor?  The classical Marxist answer is solidarity, unions and strikes.  I find a great sympathy in these means of refusal, but Christians have a means of refusal already at their disposal.  Simply, living in a different rhythm of life.

The Christian church has inherited a certain rhythm of life from the two thousand-year tradition that precedes the present day church.  Christians are called to a kind of living that is not governed by accumulation and work, but instead joy, love and community.  These Christian virtues are shown in the liturgy of the church.  Coming together with one’s community in daily prayer is in itself a subversive act.  The liturgy of the church calls to us to a slow start of the day.  Consider a Morning Prayer service, fifteen to twenty of minutes of sitting, standing and prostration.  Why go to work when you can be with those who you love?

Most importantly the Christian liturgy invites a slow pace into our lives.  Church gives us a space of non-work that is slow and intentional.  The logic of living together in community is slow.  Capitalism pushes us into faster modes of life, don’t read, don’t think, just work.  In church we read together, at a slow gait that lets everyone participate.  Simply put, capitalism doesn’t have time for church.  Work wants us to be connected, plugged in and waiting to respond.  The church community wants us to be slow, intentional, joyful and full of love.

Communal prayer and liturgy is a type of refusal to work.  Rather than answering the call of one’s cell phone and going to work, answer the call to prayer.  Listen to the bells of the church ring and take a nice detour.  The Benedictine slogan Ora et Labora can be used to diabolical ends.  If you have to work, work for something you love.  The rhythm of daily prayer and living out the liturgy can open up to a new way of being; a community built on love and joy.  The Christian community ought embrace building a community built out of common love and support.