London, 15 July 2015
Exactly 226 years and one day ago today, a group of rioters stormed the Bastille prison in Paris and freed all the inmates often unjustly incarcerated there. More than any other event taking place during these turbulent years, this popular outburst became a symbol of the French Revolution. The latter was also a foundational moment for contemporary France. A new nation rose out of popular anger, new ideals emanating from enlightened thinkers, great enthusiasm and blood. You may rightfully wonder why I chose to open our correspondence on such a radical note. Simply since I believe that such an event (as understood by the philosopher Alain Badiou) is needed today. The ideological break which constitutes the event of a Revolution, and out of which a collective truth and metaphysical cohesion among people emerge should be a guiding light for all of us navigating in the increasingly foggy life-world of capitalistic democracy. Attempting to spark an event of the scale of the French or October Revolution is, however, not sufficient. We must look at the aftermath of these events, pay attention to the very moment when they entered the process symbolisation through which they were inscribed in the national (as well as individual, local and global) imaginary. Your account of the Marxist conference you attended was fascinating in that regard. While you were originally seduced by the egalitarian structure of the debate, your enthusiasm was altered when you sensed the need of militants to express their personal attachment to the proletarian realm and their rejection of ‘cultural’ Marxism and intellectualism more generally. To me, what you experienced is an outcome of the materialisation of an idea (Marxism-Leninism), which possesses truth-value, into a dogma made out of the same marble as the statues of Roman emperors. In that case it is not the great military power and virile strength of great leaders which is symbolised and subsequently fetishised, but the event of proletarian revolution itself. One may even go further and see the need of these ‘comrades’ to justify belonging to the proletariat as an application of identity politics to the Marxist world: what I am about to say has substance based on my family history, gender, sexuality, race etc… The substantial core of Marxism has been frozen into an unalterable monolith by history and symbolisation, and what is left is the romanticism of the mere revolutionary gesture. It is my conviction that the success of a future revolutionary event depends upon our ability to resist the metamorphosis of vibrant ideas and radical actions into a burdensome dogma.
To respond to the final point of your letter, I would argue that the personal is Political and un-anecdotal to the extent that one has a thought, idea or conviction about the right way to organise society which transcends the self and the current ideological orthodoxy. Someone who is unwilling to think beyond her or his self-interest and cannot position her/himself on what should be considered right or wrong in society is fundamentally apolitical. The act of refusing to engage with ideas which transcend the self may be conscious or unconscious, but in either case it will reduce the personal to the anecdotal by limiting one’s existence to mere personal experiences. These experiences may be described by an external observer (Philosopher, artist, journalist, social scientist…) as being illustrative of a certain political struggle, but this does not in any way politicise the subject. The apolitical subject abandons his/her body and collective life to the projections of others, subcontracting any sense of substantial political existence. In other words, I believe that intent is a crucial step in the constitution of a political subject. Someone who does not think politically is political as far as his/her body becomes a mirror on which the political intents of others are reflected. Of course political subjects are not immune to these projections, but they regain some level of autonomy by politicising their subjectivity, making their life un-anecdotal through transcendental thinking.
Being a man, I was extremely interested to know more about the way you were raised and the kind of parental pressure you experienced as a child and teenager. I am always amazed by the extent to which the female body and existence is appropriated by others (not only men but also other matriarchal figures). The female body seems to be a disputed territory on which desires (sexual, romantic, sado-masochistic, economic) as well as projections (patriarchal, matriarchal, societal), continually crash into like asteroids crash on a satellite. From my point of view, it is as if others are constantly attempting to take any form of agency out of you. As we both know, the appropriation of women comes in different shapes, from unbearable violence to complex social mechanisms at work in western countries. I think that the status of women in so-called ‘egalitarian’ societies is far from uncontroversial. I would like to know what your opinion on women’s oppression in western democracies is outside of the traditional feminist prism of the all powerful patriarch. Do you think that feminism can exist without this daunting patriarchal figure?
Bien à toi,