December 19, 2014, by criticalmoment
An Outline of Two of Tiqqun’s Concepts: ‘Civil War’ and ‘Bloom’
The following was just one of the presentations given during the ‘Anti-Market’ section of the Vital Theory symposium that took place at the Nottingham Contemporary on the 12th of December 2014. Our very own David Eckersley (former MA and now PhD student in the Centre for Critical Theory) offers a quick take on two key concepts from the work of the Tiqqun collective …
Today I’m going to speak a little about the anonymous French collective Tiqqun. I’m going to focus on two concepts or terms that figure strongly in their work, namely, ‘Civil War’ and ‘Bloom’.
It is difficult to know exactly how to describe what Tiqqun represents in terms of a political position. John Roberts has called it ‘exit communism’; ‘communization’is also a common term, and ‘neo-communism’has been used (Merrifield, 2010; Noys, 2011; Roberts, 2013). Nevertheless, what those using these differing terms share is a common description of the mode of political thinking emanating from the work of Tiqqun: a type of non-class-based-Marxism, or more precisely, a non-workplace-based-Marxism. As Andy Merrifield suggests, it ‘has at its core an incipient neocommunist impulse, one currently pitting its wits against an intransigent neoliberalism. Its card-carrying membership thrives off nonaffiliated people, whose platform is grounded in everyday life, not at the workplace’ (2010, p.202). Of course, this sense of the weakness inherent in understanding class struggle as the struggle of labour against capital has come under fire from various authors and critics, particularly from a postcolonial perspective. But what, for me, is incredibly interesting about Tiqqun’s ideas is the focus on subjectivity as the new battleground for resistance, and the possibility that what they call ‘Bloom’ contains within it the seeds of a new, or neo- communism. If it can be argued – and I think it can – that neoliberalism has revolutionised how we think of the human subject, and how the framework for its forms-of-life is understood and enacted, then Tiqqun adopts an important theoretical position.
At the heart of Tiqqun’s work is a strong anti-humanist position on the concept of Man and the related notion of identity. As they write: ‘Ultimately, our age is fanatical about […] the question of MAN’ (Tiqqun, 2010, p.11). Related to this is what they call the ‘desire for a positive anthropology’(ibid.) which, in their view, leads to an ‘irenic, slightly vacuous and gently pious conception of human nature’ (ibid., p.12). For Tiqqun, the comforting sense of this positive anthropology – even in its most pessimistic forms – leads to political and subjective stasis, with all that we can say about Man and the coexistence of men acting as a ‘tranquilizer’ (ibid.). What is needed, in their view, is a ‘radically negative anthropology’ that eschews a sense of comfort, with ‘a few abstractions that are just empty enough, just transparent enough to prevent our usual prejudices’ (ibid.). One of these abstractions is the concept of ‘Civil War’: a tactical reappropriation that emphasises both the ‘free play of forms-of-life’ as the ethical principle of the coexistence of singularities, and the idea that ‘in each singular play between forms-of-life, the possibility of a fierce confrontation – the possibility of violence – can never be discounted’ (ibid., pp.32-33). As they highlight, in today’s biopolitical climate, this ‘society has forged a negative concept of violence in order to reject anything within it that might still carry a certain intensity or charge’ (ibid., p.34), intensity being, for Tiqqun (and many others) a highly important concept for the politics of emancipation. Civil War, then, is a tactical act of reappropriation because to think it in this way is to think of it as a foundational and singular ethical consideration–as with Alain Badiou, for Tiqqun, it seems there is no ethics in general, only singular ethics of situation Contra the modern State (or Empire), which employs the term to ‘better control the masses of those who will give anything to avert [it]’ (ibid., p.62), the sense in which Tiqqun uses the term Civil War is highlights the notion that ‘[a]ll differences among forms-of-life are ethical differences’ (ibid., p.58). As The Invisible Committee – a related collective suggest in their book The Coming Insurrection, the world of the “I” of the commodified individual has become nothing less than
“a military campaign, a war cry directed against everything that exist between beings, against everything that circulates indistinctly, everything that invisibly links them, everything that prevents complete desolation, against everything that makes us exist, and ensures that the whole world doesn’t everywhere have the look and feel of a highway, an amusement park or a new town: pure boredom, passionless but well-ordered, empty, frozen space, where nothing moves apart from registered bodies, molecular automobiles, and ideal commodities.” (The Invisible Committee, 2009, p.33).
Upon this pockmarked terrain wanders the figure of ‘Bloom’. Inspired by the character Leopold Bloom in Joyce’s Ulysses, Bloom implies the battleground upon which our contemporary struggles should be fought. For Tiqqun, from the perspective of Empire, Bloom represents ‘the sad product of the time of the multitudes’ (2012, p.8), the result of ignoring or being incapable of meeting the demand of Spectacular Society: the insistence that one should ‘be someone’ (ibid., p.28). Bloom is contemporary alienation, or more precisely, ‘Bloom is the man who has become so thoroughly conjoined with his alienation that it would be absurd to try and separate them’ (ibid., p.20). Bloom is anonymity in a world that demands visibility, that demands a spectacle of identity; Bloom is estrangement in the world of the authoritarian commodity. However, for Tiqqun, this contemporary condition of “Bloomification” is where a radical potential lies. For Tiqqun, anonymity, ordinariness and genericity are potential sites of resistance. In an obvious sense, the refusal to embrace the demands of spectacular society can be seen as an act of resistance. However, more interestingly and importantly I believe, to embody Bloom is to embrace the foreignness within us all, to recognise that ‘THE OTHER IS THE ECONOMY WITHIN US’(ibid., p.30) and, as The Invisible Committee point out, that ‘[t]he self is not some thing within us that is in a state of crisis; it is the form they mean to stamp upon us’ (The Invisible Committee, 2009, p.33).
As Alberto Toscano points out, Tiqqun’s work presents us with a theorisation and view of communism ‘not as a programme but as an ethical disposition and collective experimentation’(Toscano, 2009, p.4). Thus, we should view it as a contribution to a rethinking of the political imaginary, rather than in the sense of a concrete politics. Whilst there exists a sense of productive potential in the figure of Bloom – a sense of the ‘reversibility of catastrophe into promise’, an ‘attempt to recover an emancipatory notion’ in “community” and the community of Bloom (ibid.) – there also exists a pervasive nihilism, albeit an active one, that permeates the work: a kind of Situationist-inspired ‘total critique of contemporary society’ and its attendant misery (ibid.). However, despite this pervasive nihilism and the sometimes vague metaphysical auguries carried by figures such as Bloom; despite the potentially problematic delinking of class struggle from emancipatory politics, there exists, in my opinion, an important message, a hopeful message. Despite the overwhelming misery of contemporary neoliberal capitalist society, a violent reappraisal of the subjective plane upon which we imagine and enact our present and future ethico-political status might be the beginnings of a future or neo- communism, a future politics of emancipation that could develop from what we mostly always already are. As The Invisible Committee provocatively proclaim:
“Children of the metropolis, we offer you this wager: that it’s in the most profound deprivation of existence, perpetually stifled, perpetually conjured away, that the possibility of communism resides”. (The Invisible Committee, 2009, p.16)
Badiou, Alain. Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, trans. Peter Hallward. London: Verso, 2013.
Merrifield, Andy. ‘The Coming of The Coming Insurrection: Notes on a Politics of Neocommunism’. In, Society and Space, 28, 2010, pp.202-216.
Noys, Benjamin, ed. Communization and its Discontents: Contestation, Critique, and Contemporary Struggles. London:Minor Compositions, 2011.
Roberts, John. ‘The Two Names of Communism’. In, Radical Philosophy, 177, 2013, pp.9-18.Tiqqun, Introduction to Civil War. Trans. Alexander R. Galloway and Jason E. Smith. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2010
The Invisible Committee, The Coming Insurrection. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2009.
Tiqqun. Theory of Bloom. Trans. Robert Hurley. LBC books, 2012
Toscano, Alberto. ‘The War Against Preterrorism: The Tarnac Nine and The Coming Insurrection’. In, Radical Philosophy, 154, 2009, pp.2-8.