Oct 10, 2011

Occupation, Space, Community

"Sleeping on that pavement was not only a way to lay claim to the public, to contest the legitimacy of the state, but also quite clearly, a way to put the body on the line in its insistence, obduracy and precarity, overcoming the distinction between public and private for the time of revolution. In other words, it was only when those needs that are supposed to remain private came out into the day and night of the square, formed into image and discourse for the media, did it finally become possible to extend the space and time of the event with such tenacity to bring the regime down. After all, the cameras never stopped, bodies were there and here, they never stopped speaking, not even in sleep, and so could not be silenced, sequestered or denied – revolution happened because everyone refused to go home, cleaving to the pavement, acting in concert." Judith Butler 


I have an embedded nervousness at crossing the thresholds of doorways. Embedded doesn't sound right, but it sounds the closest thing to right. Gates, fences, doorways. Lorca had this too, but I think this was consciousness of the threshold as something profound rather than an implicit learned training of what space may be entered and what space may not. Anyway he was afraid of doorways, I've been afraid of what is past a doorway, and I think both are because continuity fails at the barrier. At a coffee shop one night I sat outside on the patio and watched a homeless man stumblestop at the invisible line between a low wall of wooden planters that demarcated the area of the coffee shop. He did not cross it. Maybe he couldn't cross it. Maybe he'd been banned for staying too long without buying, or maybe he knew he wasn't welcome, or maybe he knew THAT place was not HIS place. A line I cross without thinking about it is a barrier for someone else, and a very real one. I walk through the front doors, past the secretaries, through the very clean hallways of the John Molson School of Business and downstairs to the (not that clean) bathrooms and know I don't look TOO out of place, despite not having a suit or jacket on. Despite not quite belonging, belonging enough.

What is the difference, if there is any true important difference, between a nomadic tribe on the North American plains, or crossing the Sahara, and a group of people occupying the wasteland of Wall St? The experiment gets more profound when thought of that way, for me, because it is an actual revolution...that is an actual starting over. It's not just about overcoming the distinction between public and private anymore, but LOSING the distinction all together. There is no private space anymore, there is no public space anymore, precisely because all space has become public space in any sense of ownership or entitlement. You have YOUR space, yes, but that space is not fixed in the world, is not owned, and does not need to be. Butler talks about systems of alliances in this article and how they don't need to be tied to a space, that is the lesson of revolutions in the Middle-East lately. The alliances continue even when you change place. Nomadic tribes. Burning man tribes. Art collectives. Revolutionary Collectives, but really, ideally, just collectives for everything. We already do it. It's not that hard, and it feels really good. You develop the ability to manifest and occupy and exist in AnySpace, in Space, whether public or private. This kind of organization is what no one, because of deeply learned ignorance, gets about communism, which I always think of less on the level of massive state organization, and far more on the level of what really is more like tribal organization and responsibility.

But what I really thought of before starting to write this is when the doors don't matter anymore. When they are all open, and what is past the threshold isn't threatening or uninviting. This sounds like what happened in Egypt: the whole city became part of the revolution. This is the difference between thinking of public space as temporary use only and public space as occupied space. The distinction, the barrier, between public and private is erased because you drag lines of bodies, speech, materials and knowledge between the two spaces. By occupying the public you drag the private into the public, and vice versa. Permanence ceases to be the realm (which is an illusion anyway) of the private only. The false idea of permanence in the home, aristocratic and totally unattainable to almost everyone, is what gets people in trouble...slaves to the money required for that illusion. Space isn't permanence. Nothing is, but community, ritual, tradition, are far closer than space is. Anyone who thinks you couldn't do Burning Man almost anywhere doesn't get it. Anyone who thinks you can't occupy a suburb doesn't get it. Anyone protesting at Wall Street who thinks the goal is enough money to own a house, which I've got a feeling is almost everyone, doesn't actually get it, and they need to.

The things you own end up owning you. As a mantra. Over and over again. Ownership is aristocratic. The very idea comes from the people that have always done the most to fuck up the world. It always ties you down to place and obliges you to defend it, obliges you to think that place has inherent value and meaning. "Anything can happen, the tallest towers / be overturned" says Seamus Heaney, which is a reminder of how pointless it is to build very tall towers when you could be building community, culture, ritual, and things that actually CAN endure, despite almost anything.

1 comment:

Anthony Cristofani said...

This is the beauty of rumination. One realizes how revolutionary it can be just to change one's notion of space. All hail the sacred combination of LSD + scholarship.