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.
KPFA’s “Against the Grain” re-aired C.S. Soong’s interview with me regarding my most recent book, and in particular the final chapter on the value-concept of democracy. Click here to either listen to the interview online or download it. Here is the description of the discussion:
“Is ‘Democracy’ a Distraction?”
In the face of the contemporary infatuation with democracy in the West, what should the left do with a term and a concept often used to mask injustices and inequities? Gabriel Rockhill discusses some of the key conjunctures in the history of democracy; he also asserts that a focus on democracy may actually distract us from the task of building a just society.
Gabriel Rockhill, Counter-History of the Present: Untimely Interrogations into Globalization, Technology, Democracy Duke University Press, 2017.
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.
I will be presenting and discussing chapter two of Counter-History of the Present , entitled “Are We Really Living in a Technological Era?,” at Yale University on Friday April 6th, 2018 at 12 p.m. (Loria, 190 York Street, Room B-50). The event is organized by the Internet Culture Working Group and co-sponsored by the Marxism and culture Working Group. In addition to discussing this chapter and framing it in relation to the overall project of a counter-history of the present, I will outline my current research on the subterranean history of the national security state’s manipulation of the intellectual and cultural means of production.
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.