Along with an impressive list of others scholars, I was asked to participate in State of Nature‘s one question interview on the remembrance of 1968. Please find my response below, and click here to read all of the replies.
How Should We Remember 1968?
1968 was a year of global insurrections that arose like a tidal wave out of the vast and profound historical ocean that is anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist politics. Far from being circumscribed in a delimited period of time or cordoned off in specific spaces, it is thus best understood as a symbolic high water mark for insurgent revolutionary politics in the post-war era.
The remembrance of 1968 should be first and foremost a rejuvenation and radicalization. Rather than indulging in the time-honoured burial rituals of commemoration, by which an event only takes on its full meaning by endlessly restaging its public inhumation, we should recognize that 1968 is only what it will have become in its future perfect iterations. By rejuvenating and radicalizing what it stands for, its history can literally come back to life by being rewritten as a preliminary step in a global insurrection in the name of an egalitarian politics of liberation. We can thereby honour the past by radically transforming its very meaning and place in history.
Such active historical resuscitation, in which it is recognized that the past is only truly alive in the future that it will have become, can also serve as an antidote to the rampant mythologisation surrounding 1968. For, in engaging with this historical legacy and learning from its material struggles, we can also pry it loose from its rote interpretations.
To take but one example that is particularly philosophically salient, the myth of the ‘thinkers of 68’ is in dire need of correction. On the one hand, many of the intellectuals who were actually directly involved in preparing or acting in it – including Henri Lefebvre, Cornelius Castoriadis and Guy Debord – have been side-lined or excluded from the transnational, blockbuster phenomenon known as ‘French theory.’ On the other hand, those who were not involved or openly critical of it – such as Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and Jacques Lacan – are frequently marketed under its banner. This signals the need for not only a rejuvenation and radicalization of the politics of ‘68, but also of the traditions of truly radical critique that directly contributed to it.
« Le propos de l’ouvrage est ambitieux. Au vu de l’ampleur des sujets et des références qu’il brasse, ce livre apporte une contribution remarquable à la pensée critique contemporaine […la suite] ».
– Giovanni Camarilla dans sa recension de Contre-histoire du temps présent: interrogations intempestives sur la mondialisation, la technologie, la démocratie dans la Revue française de science politique.
A special thanks to Rahman Bouzari and Shargh Newspaper for the Persian translation of my article “Is May 1968 About to Happen Again, or Be Surpassed? Mass Strikes, Occupations and the Fight for the Future Perfect in France.” Click here to read the Persian version.
My article, “Is May 1968 About to Happen Again, or Be Surpassed? Mass Strikes, Occupations and the Fight for the Future Perfect in France,” was published here in CounterPunch and here with photographs on RED. It was workshopped, as all of RED’s articles, in our collectively resourced, anti-capitalist research collaborative (not to be confused with academic peer-review or nepotistic editorialism).
It is unclear what has become of Macron’s anti-utopian plans to recuperate the spirit of ’68 for the purposes of liberal modernization. Whatever becomes of them, they have already been powerfully pre-empted by a politics of rejuvenation and transformation that many hope will outstrip ’68 (slogans like ‘You are going to wish this was as small as ’68!’ or simply ‘Fuck ‘68’ are already circulating). Much remains to be seen and done, however, and the past political education of all of those involved will now confront the immediacy of a situation in which it is forced to be actualized. The past is only truly alive in the future, after all, meaning in the future perfect that it will have become. The best way to commemorate May 1968 would not only be to rejuvenate it, bringing it back from the dead as it were, but to surpass it. Tearing it out of the mausoleum of consecration by making it into a living transformation, May will only be what it will have become in its future perfect after 2018.
My article, “Academic Black Shirts Brutally Assault Students in France,” was published here in CounterPunch and here on RED. A special thanks to John-Patrick Schultz for his insightful comments and suggestions.
In scenes reminiscent of Mussolini’s black shirts, a dozen or so militants dressed in black, some wearing ski masks, brutally beat peaceful protesters who were participating in a general assembly while occupying the School of Law and Political Science in Montpellier, France. Armed with Tasers, cudgels with nails, and reinforced punching gloves, the assailants unleashed a bloody assault on the night of March 22, sending three students to the hospital and injuring many more. The security guards at the university stood idly by and watched the beatings, while the police and riot forces remained outside the university and did not enter to prevent the assailants’ attack.
Réseau international a publié une traduction française de mon article, “The U.S. Is Not a Democracy; It Never Was” (CounterPunch, le 13 décembre, 2017). Cliquez ici pour la lire.
Extrait de “Les États-Unis ne sont pas une démocratie, ils ne l’ont jamais été“:
L’une des croyances les plus fermes en ce qui concerne les États-Unis est qu’il s’agit d’une démocratie. Chaque fois que cette conviction fait l’objet d’un léger fléchissement, c’est presque toujours pour signaler des exceptions préjudiciables aux valeurs ou aux principes fondamentaux américains. Par exemple, les détracteurs en herbe déplorent souvent une « perte de démocratie » due à l’élection de clowns autocrates, à des mesures draconiennes de l’État, à la révélation d’incroyables malversations ou corruption, à des interventions étrangères meurtrières ou à d’autres activités considérées comme des exceptions antidémocratiques. Il en va de même pour ceux dont la démarche critique consiste à toujours juxtaposer les actions du gouvernement américain avec ses principes fondateurs, à mettre en évidence la contradiction entre les deux et à placer clairement un espoir dans sa possible résolution. Continue reading
My article, “Whitman’s Polyvocal Poetic Revolution: Equality and Empire in New World Literature,” was just published in American Literature as World Literature. Ed. Jeffrey R. Di Leo (London: Bloomsbury, 2018). Click here for a link to the book. The opening paragraph, which outlines the argument, can be found below.
“This study seeks to demonstrate the political plurivocity of aesthetics via an exploration of the motley dimensions of Walt Whitman’s proposed poetic revolution. In resisting the widespread reduction of individual writers or works of art to single political positions (or a set of distinct, sequential views, as when an artist changes political orientations over time), it highlights the multiple dimensions of politicity operative in artwork. It begins, then, with an elucidation of Whitman’s provocative account of aesthetic revolution as the necessary cultural supplement to a purely political revolution, explicating how art and literature compose a people by simultaneously depicting and forging its culture, norms, affects and personalities. It then situates his project in the historical nexus it calls its own, detailing Whitman’s unique contribution to the revisionist historiography of democratic theodicy, and more specifically American manifest destiny. Finally, it explores the diverse ways in which the poet of new world literature, at least in certain of his writings, subjected other people—particularly the enslaved and the colonized—to a brutal process of decomposition.”
A special thanks to Ako Qadir for preparing this Kurdish translation of my article “The CIA Reads French Theory: On the Intellectual Labor of Dismantling the Cultural Left.”
زۆربەى جار وا مەزەندەدەکرێت بیرمەندەکان خاوەنى هێزێکى کەمى سیاسیين یاخود هیچ هێزێکى سیاسیيان نیە، و بیرمەندەکان لە بورجى عاج دانیشتوون، و لە جیهانى واقيعی دابڕاون، و سەرقاڵن بە گفتوگۆى ئەکادیميى بێمانا لەبارەى بنجوبناوانى بابەتە تایبەتمەندە بێنرخەکان، یاخود لەسەر هەورى چڕى تیۆرى عەقڵە مەزنەکان مەلەدەکەن. زۆرینەى جار نەک تەنها وا وێناى بیرمەندان دەکرێت کە دابڕاو بن لە واقيعی سیاسى بەڵکو هەروەها وەک کەسانێکى بێ دەسەڵات تەماشادەکرێن لەوەى کە ناتوانن کاریگەرییەکى بەمانایان هەبێت تێیدا، بەڵام دەزگاى سەرەکيى هەواڵگريى سى.ئاى.ئەى بە شێوەیەکى دیکە تەماشاى ئەم بابەتە دەکات.
Click here to read my most recent opinion piece, which I co-authored with Ramona E. Dúran for CounterPunch. It is entitled “It’s Time to Get Violence: Breaking Down the Assault on Antifa,” and it is part of our activities for the Radical Education Department (RED).
Excerpt: “Violence is the great obfuscator. When its name is invoked by the powerful, rest assured that it is masking much more than it reveals. While it is presented as an objective description of a state of affairs requiring immediate condemnation, it simultaneously serves to discredit movements and ideas, deny the political agency of certain actors, and cloak brutal forms of domination. Its purportedly objective presentation is, in fact, a legerdemain that stirs up moral sentiments in order to muddy political analysis. Under the guise of indubitable moral rectitude, the world is turned upside: those who stand up for justice are often made to appear as senseless savages, and the greatest perpetrators of violence are exonerated, or even presented as victims.
Of late, violence has made headlines in the U.S. corporate media by serving to discredit the work of anti-fascist activists and distract from the actual threats of fascism and white supremacy […read more].”