The Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley is sponsoring the working session “Occupy as Form” on February 10, 2012. Participants have been invited to post some brief thoughts on the topic in advance of the event. This guest posting is by Evan Buswell, graduate student in Cultural Studies at UC Davis.
The actions of occupiers this autumn were centered around the general assembly, which functioned symbolically as almost the embodiment of collectivity itself. This immediately deteriorated. All who camped at occupations realized this quickly; others took longer to see the deterioration. By this winter, occupations nationwide find themselves embrioled in arguments about autonomous actions. But consensus and autonomy are both understood mythically. People view consensus as if it was the ur-democracy, the continual suspension of the moment of contract which was supposed to justify the state in the problematic social contract tradition of political philosophy. Autonomy, on the other hand, is spoken of as the absolute freedom of the individual, immediately realized in action. All of this, little more than a reformulation of enlightenment political philosophy, is contrasted sharply by the language of rights, coming more directly from contractual legal language, where a right for one is a duty for another. The occupation movement tries to embody “right” and “duty” in their ideal forms, as “autonomy” and “consensus”, abstracted from their relations to one another. But the current controversy over these terms is the sign of the rejection of the entire ideology of autonomy, consensus, right, and duty. Unlike most actions prior to the occupation movement, the sustained nature of an occupation creates the necessity for a totalization of critique and hence a return of the question of truth, as opposed to coalition. Abstract, isolated togetherness has failed to the same degree that we have created a real, physical togetherness. In consequence, our forms of organization, our ways of drawing the borders between each other, are already shifting in a way we have yet to learn to speak about. Contractual right and duty have collapsed; our practices reject both isolated autonomy and rhetorical unity; but in our actions, we still must think about togetherness; and we still must think about freedom. A transformation of politics, both ideological and practical, has already begun.