Choreo-graphies of Round and Round Revolution
In And the Seasons: They Go Round and Round, eds. Carson Chan. Oslo: 0047, 2011.
“to begin from the beginning over and over again…“(1) – Lenin
A Lawful Orbit. – The origin of revolution is not that of violent struggle or upheaval, but rather that which unceasingly occurs as a fact of cyclical movement amongst celestial bodies. Copernicus’ manuscript De revolutionibus orbium coalestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres), penned in 1543, brought the astronomical use of the term ‘revolution’, (in all of its Latin, regulatory, precision), to the fore – positing Helios as the centre of orbital movement in the heavens. Revolution, for Copernicus bears no resemblance to novelty or vehement disruption, but refers to the irresistible force of the lawfully recurring, calculable and revolving motion of the stars and planets(2) – an irresistible force outside the domain of human or earthly intervention. In the loftiness of the heavens, revolution is first and foremost an undeniable inclination of a strictly iterated pattern of orbital movement.
The Return to Righteous Origins. – Back on earth, in the humble and lowly affairs of humans, it would seem that any appropriation of the celestial term ‘revolution’ would signify the preordained, regular cycling of an array of forms of government upon humans. Clearly this notion of revolution is at gaping distance from the belief of those revolutionary actors of Modernity, from Castro to Lenin, whose actions and doctrines of thought sought fundamental breaks in the repetition of modes of governance, seeking to berth a new and other ordering of social organization. In Hannah Arendt’s genealogy of the term revolution from the Renaissance celestial law of repetitions to political novelty in Modernity, the trajectory is not so swift from natural facts of ‘perfect’ movement to political restructuring, but passes through a series of historical events that infuse the term ‘revolution’ with connotations of political interruption – yet, as we shall see, still very much imbued by its cosmological origins. In the seventeenth century, the word revolution appeared for the first time in a political arena, emerging in 1660 with the overthrow of the Rump Parliament and in 1688 with the ‘Glorious Revolution’ – both movements ushering in the restoration of the monarchy. Seventeenth century revolutions, although appearing to resound with the spirit of our Modern understanding of the term, wholly inhered to its Latin origin, where political destabilization was solely intended as a return to a preordained point of righteous origin – revolving back to formerly established structures.
Irresistible Necessity. – On July 14, 1789 when Duke de La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt announced the fall of the Bastille to the King Louis XVI, proclaiming that the popular uprising was not a revolt (as the King had stated), but actually a revolution. Liancourt deviated from the ‘restorative’ character of revolutions of the seventeenth century, deploying the term, instead, as a marker of the momentum of necessity of the historical moment, the irresistible force of movement – that same irresistible force driving heavenly bodies in ‘perfect’ motion. Revolutionary movement (that is, cyclical movement) is a necessary, unconquerable movement. Yet necessity, when fallen from the skies and entering the messy domain of human affairs, is not fatalistic, nor ‘perfect’ in character – there is no predetermined destiny in necessity, there are no mathematical equations to calculate constellations of peoples. Earthly necessity, rather, must firstly be perceived as such; it must appear sensorially to the consciousness of humans, and, in that regard, is of an experiential, aesthetical order. It is this trace of ‘necessary movement’ evoked in celestial revolution (rather than structural restoration) that permeates our (current) common-sense, politically infused notion of revolution, revolution in relation to the sensibility of necessity. That which is experiential, however, oversteps the linearity of our tangential and chronological descriptions, demonstrating a futility in reducing the sensibility of necessity to a sequence of historical keyframes. Rather than analysing the events of restructuring ushered in by revolution (the effects of the perceptibility of necessity), we should rather be asking how the experience or sensibility of necessity affectively inclines towards other structures of sociality.
Necessity and a Wrong. – There is no de facto historical necessity, but the aesthetical apprehension of a necessity. The sensibility of necessity is not related to a category of stasis, as in ‘things are necessarily so’. On the contrary, necessity is precisely the inclination of movement, of a change in position ungoverned by laws of predictable configuration. The perception of necessity is ultimately the perceptibility of a wrong. A wrong which contests its invisible, unthinkable and inaudible plight within the coordinates of the given symbolic order; a wrong which confronts the domain of the given with that which is supernumerary, extra, to its condition, a wrong that brings into relationship the “contradiction of two worlds in a single world.”(4) It is through the apprehension of necessity that a wrong can be articulated and enacted as a political event, politics understood as antagonistic to the given order of things, to the already-delineated operations of the social. It is the aesthetical perceptibility of irresistible necessity that drives dissensus; a drive towards a disjunction inserted in common sense itself; a drive to challenge the given-ness of the ordering of things and the frameworks through which we come perceive something as commonly sensible (5), as sensus communis.
Drive and Immutable Horizons. – The temptation to conflate the drive of dissensus as the desire for dissensus would be a false one, for we would loose its necessarily irresistible, revolving nature. Desire is teleological and constituted by lack, by a void and, as such, can become satisfied upon fulfillment. Drive, on the other hand, is constituted by a hole around which it revolves without ever reaching, and is satisfied by this perpetual circulation.(6) Drive thrives on failure; its triumph is its perpetual failure to reach its mark, endlessly going round and round as it were( 7). In anti-capitalist rhetoric drive is often negatively portrayed as that systematic force underlying an ethos of endless self-reproduction (the sheer self-satisfaction of the circulation of capital). Yet when drive takes on dissensual connotations (rather than consensual connotations of those that bind the ordering of the given) it revolves around a spirit of radical contingency and indeterminacy concerning the orchestration of human (co)existence; probing the contours through which (co)existence comes into praxis. It is this infinitely failing drive, the drive that keeps us circulating without reaching a mark, which is at the core of any political theorization in which unsettlement operates as a fundamental axis. In the case of Derrida’s democracy-to-come, it is not a fixed point at which one lands, or returns, or forcibly imposes; nor is it an institutional status that is fulfilled, but is always becoming. Although the metaphor of the horizon is often deployed to visualize a democracy-to-come, painting a picture of something unobtainable, something forever in the distance – a viewable distance, it is a rectilinear metaphor that is always immutable. The drive of dissensus must rather be envisioned outside the frame of Euclid’s planar spatiality as an inclination towards an attractor of other (co)existences, unrestricted by common-sense geometries of the social. The attractor is not a thing, nor object, but is sensed. Attractors are both outlined (delineated) by a given social structure and contained within a given social structure as a boundary condition of normativity. Unlike the horizon which is simply viewed and cannot be affected, attractors evolve and bifurcate in their normative orbit inducing trajectories based on experience over time – through a drive of dissensus, contingencies of (co)existence can be demonstrated and affected otherwise. The mutability of attractors, the gravitational core of a normative symbolic order, (and not the permanent singularity of the horizon), are entirely influenced by experience and are therefore aesthetic in nature – attractors both emit and absorb affectivity, and, as such, are fully dynamic. The perceptibility of necessity as an affect of experience influences the orientation and sensibility of attractors through inclination and it is here where we can imagine the driving movement of dissensus, bifurcating and de-actualizing the settled coordinates of the given with potential co-ordinations.
Contingency as Attractor. – To enact the drive of dissensus, to mobilize its necessarily de-actualizing sensibility, is to revolve with fidelity to contingency, to revolve with an inclination towards contingency. The imaginary tour-de-force, in relation to the social, of contingency as an attractor, is its radical axis (axiom) of equality. If the ordering of the given is always hierarchical (to greater or lesser degrees), it is inequal, yet this inequality is so by way of an essential paradox. There is a certain given, inequal ordering because there are those who ascribe orders and those who obey orders, but for this chain to be operative two requirements must be effectuated: one must understand the order, and one must understand that one must obey it (8). For this sort of mutual understanding to take place, as Jacques Rancière has written, one must already be the presupposed equal of the person who distributes the order. The possession (hexis) of speech acts to articulate orders is not distributed equally, yet the capacity to perceive and recognize (aisthesis) said orders (logos) is precisely the contingency of equality upon which the given becomes apprehended as the given, and subsequently performed as such. This elementary contingency of equality at the root of all modes of inequal ordering is necessarily an-archic (equal) and aesthetical at its root (the equal capacity to comprehend). Fidelity to contingency as attractor is an an-archic inclination (not as in ‘Anarchy’, the already-delineated movement); it is an inclination towards bifurcation of the actualized sensibilities of the given by seizing the potential of the conditional, aesthetic basis upon which inequality is possible. The fidelity to contingency as an attractor is, above all, an ethos of dissensus, that is, an ethos manifest in an affirmative mis-understanding of the aesthetic distribution of the actual. The enactment of dissensus, is a testing out and demonstration of this very contingency of equality, mis-understanding, as it were, the inequal distribution of people, places, roles and functions.
“The sensuous drive […] comes into operation earlier than the rational because sensation precedes consciousness, and it is this priority of the sensuous drive which provides a clue to the whole history of human freedom.” (9)
– Friedrich Schiller, Twentieth Letter from the Aesthetic Education of Man
Dissensual Forms-of-Life. – The enactment of aesthetical mis-understanding as a dissensual drive is not a physically violent one, but manifests, nonetheless, as a violent interruption of given sensibility (the clash of sense and sense). The violence evoked here is of an imaginary, cognitive sort – a violence that tumultuously destabilizes the solid ‘law’ of the given, de-actualizing its very sensibility and sublimating the substantial into potentiality. It is here we should note Friedrich Schiller’s scathing critique of the French Revolution, in that the goal for the reign of law amounted to nothing more than a continued rule of the State over the masses, instigating no radical break or upheaval with the coordinates of the sensible order. Liancourt’s pronouncement of the irresistible force of movement driving the peoples towards the fall of the Bastille was not, as it seems, so far removed from the ideals of the Glorious Revolution; it did not, of course, restore a preordained monarchy, yet it perpetuated an equally univocal authorial force under the guise of ‘neutral’ jurisprudence, in the form of a legal teleology. Schiller’s lamentation takes its point of departure in the inefficacy of the French Revolution to touch the conceptual schemas of living itself. Conceptual schemas, here, as that which amalgamates sense and intellect as a residue of aesthetic experience – it is that image-thought which lingers long after aesthetic appearance, making the object of aesthetic appearing present in its absence, transforming aesthetic experience, as it were, into knowledge.
The essence of Schiller’s evaluation comes down to a crucial difference in the grasping of the scope of revolution itself: a revolution in forms-over-life or a revolution in the forms-of-life. A revolution in forms-over-life is arguably the most common variant in our Modern understanding of the term, where we witness the replacement of existing authority with differently oriented authoritarian structures. For Schiller, however, a ‘real’ revolution works radically upon the sensibility or experience of life itself, un-working the polarities between a state of ‘nature’ (Notstaat), where there is no governing body, and a state of ‘barbarism’ (Vernunfstaat) demarcated by the quasi-transcendental hand of law and order, and the blind obedience to said transcendentals. The third state, and no doubt Romantic in all connotations of the word, comes by way of art that allows for the harmony between the states of nature and punctilious order through the emancipatory effects of play. In play (what Schiller called Spieltrieb (play-drive), qualifying it as essential to humanity) humans deploy imagination towards the autonomous invention of new rules of the game, personal commitment to those rules (rules not blindly followed), thereby ascribing other uses and sensibilities to objects, forms, people and places conventionally inscribed by a determinate function or role. As impossibly utopian as this sounds, Schiller’s elevation of the play-drive in the entanglement of aesthetics and politics sheds light on a more profound articulation of revolution – not merely ushering in different instances of a self-similar authority, but a revolution in the experience of life itself. Such a revolution in the sensibility of the given is ultimately a revolution in forms-of-life – a revolution imbued with the spirit of free-play in unworking common sense and articulating other possibilities of (co)existence.
Playful Mis-understanding. – Play is, furthermore, one of fundamental drives in the enactment of profanation – the political task Giorgio Agamben has set out for our generation – to release the (im)possibility of use captured by apparatuses, apparatuses denoting sets of strategies in the networking of forces (social, political, scientific, linguistic, architectural, etc.) supporting, and supported by, specific modalities of knowledge and discourse.(10) Profanation is posited as a reverse ‘sacrificial’ rite where that which has been separated (as in religion, or in our secular, late-capitalist culture, through the display and exhibition value of objects devoid of use) can be returned to the profane sphere, and thusly, retuned to use (11). To profane is to articulate a potentiality that neglects or disregards modes of separation-making, a form of neglect that is unbound to the norms of sensibility, unbound to the normative frameworks of symbolic constitution. In play we render inoperative an old use (Agamben cites the example of a child who folds a paper airplane out of an important and official, legal contract); dissolving a unity of operability into a multiplicity of potential uses. It is here, via a playful tactic of mis-understanding given use or common sense, where profanation and the drive of dissensus meet, as an eruption of the reasonable and sensible coordinates of normalized operations.
Virtuality and the Figuration of Sense. – To dissensually play with the contingency that constitutes the (co)habitation of the world, is to endlessly return to the beginnings of aesthetic equality. Following Beckett’s maxim, it is to perpetually try again, fail again, and fail better. Just like the notion of drive itself which thrives on failure, of always missing its mark, so to is the plight of human (co)existence, with no determinate destination, only imaginary attractors around which we incline, influence and revolve. Our radically indeterminate destination (between life and death) is an unpossessable telos, existing not as a substantial configuration, but as figuration of sense. This is by no means a nihilistic description, but one of only a few facts of human (co)existence, a fact that indicates an underlying virtuality of possible becomings at the root of sociality. The (co)habitational genealogy of human civilization is conventionally mapped as a bipolar vector between states of utter freedom (isonomy, or no-rule) and fascist rule, and it is true that these diverse instances, on a sliding scale of forms-over-life generate various possibilities of forms-of-life in their instantiations; yet does not the linear undulation between these fixed poles of no-rule/over-rule petrify our sensibility of potential becomings, of potential forms-of-life, gridlocked, as they have become, in a preordained imaginary tangent between left and right? When we speak of revolution, are we also not often trapped by precisely this common-sense delineation? How does this already limit the perceptibility of possible becomings?
The Choreo-graphy of Beginning Again. – If forms-over-life can be surmised in the dialectic of isonomy and fascism, it is in the mutability of forms-of-life that the bipolar and rectilinear horizon of possibility bifurcates into multiplicity (not to mention spatial dimensionality). It is in the repetition of beginning over and over again (not merely in a gradual process under the guise of progress) to the an-archic coordinates of equality, where an unworking of the actual (polarized) forms-over-life takes place in the very testing out, experimentation and demonstration of this rudimentary equality. To return to the beginning again and again in revolution, is not a restoration of a pre-given, pre-determinate constellation of people, places, functions and things, but is precisely the orientation of the dissensual drive towards contingency, the drive that circulates around an anomic attractor of (co)existential potentiality. Contentment or satisfaction in this ever-revolving ‘failed’ drive, has nothing to do with the achievement of pre-schematized models, substantiated structures, nor the prognostic calculability of the constellation of peoples, for as we know, drive is not simply a lack that can be fulfilled. On the contrary, the satisfaction in the dissensual drive is the very choreo-graphy of life itself, in the spatio-temporal writing and appearance of its inclination and movement. Contentment in the dissenssual drive comes by way of the forms-of-life that antagonistically appear as an apprehension of (co)habitational contingency and the orbital trajectories that are inscribed along the travels, an experiential choreo-graphy that dares to contest the beginnings, again and again, round and round.
1. Lenin qtd in Zizek, Slavoj. How To Begin From The Beginning, in New Left Review no.57, May-June 2009, pp. 43-55.
2. Arendt, Hannah. On Revolution. New York: Penguin Group, 2006 (Original 1963), p. 32.
3. Arendt, Hannah. On Revolution. New York: Penguin Group, 2006 (Original 1963), pps. 11-48.
4. Rancière, Jacques. Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy. trans. Julie Rose. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1998, p. 27.
5. Rancière, Jacques. Who is the Subject of the Rights of Man? in: Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics. trans. Steven Corcoran. London: Continuum, 2010, pps.62-75.
6. Žižek Slavoj. The Parallax View. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006, pps. 60-64.
7. For example ‘restorative’ revolution is to desire as the irresistible necessity of movement is to drive.
8. Rancière, Jacques. Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy. trans. Julie Rose. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1998, p. 16.
9. Schiller, Friedrich. Letter of an Aesthetic Education of Man in: Continental Aesthetics: Romanticism to Postmodernism. eds. Richard Kearney and David Rasmussen. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2001, pps.43-46.
10. Agamben, Giorgio. Trans. David Kishuk & Stefan Pedatella. What is an Apparatus? And Other Essays. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009, p. 2.
11. Agamben, Giorgio. In Praise of Profanation in Profanations. trans. Jeff Fort. New York: Zone Books, 2007, pps. 73-92.
Patricia Reed, Choreo-graphies of Round and Round Revolution in And the Seasons: They Go Round and Round, eds. Carson Chan. Oslo: 0047, 2011.