Another Cold Year for the Warmth
Death and Redemption
“Theres a man goin' round taking names and he decides who to free and who to blame. Everybody won't be treated all the same.”
The fold of our history is either death or redemption. The history of the vanquished and the history of preemptive alienating and policing apparatuses yearn to conclude. We all have a door and a rotting carpet; a family and a dynasty of fuck ups; advanced social dissolution from worlds and senses to answer for. They say men make history, but not in conditions of their choosing. If it is our sensuous activity within a world, a praxis, which generates a world, then by what means do we confront the millions of potentialities which are taken from history? Those souls who are irrevocably lost, or worse yet, rendered bare life through processes of subjectivation, are prepared to be judged, not by history, but by the police. Each death is a tragedy because in “each” there is a shame of separation. The private life only becomes public in death. But this public death is itself a technique of exposure, which links the family and society to the church, to the school, to the prison. The tragedy which the living are constantly exposed to is not merely their own telos but capitalism's continuous merciless holiday. In this society, no one dies. Everyone is murdered.
What is pathetic in death is not the loss of a container of memories and affects or the fleeting away of another productive member of the family, of society, but the loss of the capacity to speak. Death acts like a nightmare on the living. Conjuring images of “once upon a time,” the living attempt to answer for the horror of a brisk wind which extinguishes light in one subtle swoop. But the sad conclusive cough of a body judged guilty of living in capitalism is repeated and shared. Each voice is rendered mute. Each potentiality perfectly aware of what strangles it daily. The tears of the living for the dead, while representing a real sadness, never conjoin to form the flood which will redeem the past. Instead, the mouth opens, limbs shake with anxiety; our small, light-colored hairs stand up searching for a warmth which is not in this world. And in the end, what could be communicated—the single gesture of communicability itself—is once again lost, irretrievable, amidst blinking lights and the flow of commodities which live so much longer than any of us.
What is redemption in such circumstances? Is it forgiving our trespasses, and forgiving those who trespass against us? By what means do we admit a presence which annuls memories, scars, blood?
My family is connected through Facebook. The eulogy for my grandmother stumbled on her truth. She took on a predictable position of women married to husbands in the twentieth century. She mothered many children and formed the foundation to a family whose care was held by a second-generation Italian pater. She, and all the other shes of the family, suffered only the absence of en-courage-ment. It is not surprising: they all left. My grandmother quietly lived as if she had been redeemed, doing the books to my grandfathers photography business, never once elaborating her own passions for paint on canvas. The eulogy concluded, as my grandmother often would, that if anyone felt despondent, the eulogist would happily go shopping with them. The analogy to government orders following the events of September eleventh to go shopping is not lost on me. There were some really good sales at Macy's
On the other side of the family, between drinks, and with far too many teenage mothers, I learned cousin Ian had been sentenced in 'Oh-four. My absence from Facebook excluded me from hearing this bullshit earlier. Was it three-strikes you're out? Did he have guns too? How long is a life-sentence? The silence of social death touches even the Midwestern Irish working class. My other cousin, who used hockey like how the black body uses football or basketball, or how southern whites use the military, received a terrible back injury and was sentenced to a fancy new oxycodone addiction. Again, if only I had Facebook... One of my sisters still clings to the myth that we're different because we didn't grow up in these fucked up conditions, but she conveniently forgot about all the suicides and boredom; the drive-by's and the addictions, even the empty refrigerators, which painfully illustrate our miserable upbringing. We all ran too, and we ran for a reason.
The fold of this history is uncertain. On the one hand, everything about today, and even yesterday, just points toward the production of death. Enduring high school, when anarchy was merely a secret which Propagandhi attempted to whisper to me through power chords; or when struggle was just some band that that dude from the Locust was in, Columbine seemed perfectly reasonable. We sketched pictures of it all the time. We searched our history books, attempting to discover any time when the underdog wreaked its vengeance. We had no voice then, no words to call our own, and no world which affected us. We had only the conditions of all of that dissolving. In that time, many of us were quite literally unwanted children; and judging by the fields we set on fire, the plots to blow up schools, the churches we vandalized, and unfortunately, the animals which we tortured, we were capable of some fucked up shit. The youth of today are even worse.
On the other hand, maybe we can once more be affected by “Death to death!” Which is not to say, “peace.” But more specifically, our time, capitalist time, is a time of living-dead. Techniques of government expose life's limits to itself and generate bare life. No one knows sovereignty better than the life which is judged not worth living by the police or the life which is let to live by its manager. And because of Biopower and the Spectacle, it's increasingly difficult to separate any of these figures. Redemption in this world is not repaying a debt, atoning for guilt which we owe society. Capitalism is guilt. We owe them nothing. Redemption is giving them just that.
Walter Benjamin writes: “For we have been expected upon this earth. For it has been given us to know, just like every generation before us, a weak messianic power, on which the past has a claim. This claim is not to be settled lightly.” The day after my grandmother died, I set off for New York to do a panel about the messianic analogy within the proletariat. The day before my grandmother's funeral, I spoke of becoming sensitive to the imperceptible civil war which has taken place as class struggle and now takes place as social war. In the conditions of social war, this civil war can be felt as a war between normality and its cracks. The proletariat within this civil war is a force who is contingent on history but whose possibility lies outside of it. The proletariat cancels and fulfills history through its own self-negation. At one time, in the conditions of industrialization, classical politics, and a strategically positioned portion of the oppressed, the proletariat took form in the messianic-gesture, what Benjamin called the “divine violence” of the general strike. The proletariat, who was contingent on “a class of civil society but not of civil society,” was expressed as the industrial working class using their own labor-power—what produced value—to negate value and class society itself: redemption.
Benjamin continues, “nothing that has ever happened should be regarded as lost for history. Only a redeemed humankind receives the fullness of its past. Which is to say, only for a redeemed humankind has its past become citable in all moments. Each moment it has lived becomes a citation a l’ordre du jour [order of the day]—and that day is Judgement Day.”
“The hairs on your arm will stand up. At the terror in each sip and in each sup. For you partake of that last offered cup, Or disappear into the potter's ground. When the man comes around.
Hear the trumpets, hear the pipers. One hundred million angels singin'. Multitudes are marching to the big kettle drum. Voices callin', voices cryin'. Some are born an' some are dyin'. It's Alpha's and Omega's Kingdom come...
Whoever is unjust, let him be unjust still. Whoever is righteous, let him be righteous still. Whoever is filthy, let him be filthy still.”
The horror of death in capitalism must be met with a greater horror. Hollywood produced this a representation of this horror some forty-two years ago. How appropriate that in a world, where all death is murder and all life is bare life, the dead would come to life to feed on the living. The death which the proletariat brings with it is the reversal of the operation which lets bare life live or die. The violence of redemption fulfills all past antagonisms. Its operation returns everything to use, especially our fragile bodes, especially the rot of the world. The proletariat—who perhaps takes us, affects bare life—strikes against being human when human progress is analogous to capitalist development. It turns all things which have been given value above life to toys to be ruined. It makes common everything, and like the Spanish militias who danced with the corpses of nuns, it brings our dead grandmothers to share in the collective arson of beauty salons.
The insurrection which comes is not generated from the desire for a better world: there is none. It is not even the accomplishment of democracy. It is the nightmare of the past holding the future hostage, and publicly killing and feasting on it on youtube, over and over again. In our conditions, that of an absolute social war, insurrection and its total extension is the rhythm we must collectively write and impose on capitalist society. Through these experiments and repeated gestures we develop a new sentimental intelligence and different sensuous praxis which no longer accepts our shameful conditions. We impose different collectivities beyond family, nation, and society exactly at the point of their negation. We find we are not alone, exactly at the point we lose our selves. We share exactly at the point when we begin to seize. When each funeral loses what was attempting to kept it a private affair—when newspapers are terrified to write a single obituary because the will of the dead keeps leaving ruin in its wake—then we will begin to know what redemption entails.
-Liam Sionnach | IEF | Jan '10