Anarchism’s Other Scene

What follows is a preliminary draft version of the editor’s preface for the next issue of Anarchist Developments in Cultural Studies. The final version will include some more paragraphs from Jason Adams, the co-editor of the issue. I expect this draft to change considerably within the next month. Perhaps I am a little over eager, I just want to share it early. I am quite excited about this issue.

In 2010, Lewis Call announced, in the inaugural issue of Anarchist Developments in Cultural Studies (ADCS), that post-anarchism is finally here to stay.i Post-anarchism, it appears, is finally on the scene. The 2011 publication of Post-Anarchism: A Readerii and The Politics of Post-Anarchismiii seem to validate Call’s claim. Post-anarchism is definitely on the scene, but which scene is it on? The question has long been asked: is post-anarchism a form of anarchism, or is it something else entirely (such as post-structuralism)? Isn’t this a variation of the topological question: is post-anarchism inside (the tradition) or is it outside?iv My claim is that post-anarchism discovered the other scene of anarchism.

Friends of the Freudian field will immediately note the distinction that I am making: the other scene, for Freud, was paradoxically outside the human animal but only to the extent that it was also intimately within the human animal. For Freud, as for Lacan, the other scene was the hidden realm of the unconscious. In this respect, post-anarchism examines anarchism’s unconscious suppositions. I would be remiss if I did not add that post-anarchism is also the movement toward an articulation of anarchism’s unconscious truth. There is thus, without a doubt, a negative as well as positive aspect to post-anarchist thinking. In any case, post-anarchism opened up a space within anarchist studies – and this continues to be the privileged function of post-anarchism – through which anarchism’s own latent epistemological and ontological assumptions could be analyzed. This, then, is my first point: post-anarchism is a space that opens up anarchism to its own unconscious productions.

My second point deals with the consequences of the opening up of the privileged space of post-anarchism: post-anarchism was an answer to a demand that was made onto us that things must be different. Post-anarchism emerged as a response to a demand that anarchist studies and anarchism itself must be different. It is because anarchist studies must be different that it must also be more (and not less) true. Post-anarchism is a consequence of a demand made in the direction of a more true understanding of our political and philosophical tradition. If, therefore, the first point is that post-anarchism opened up a space for the analysis of anarchism’s other scene, then the second point is that post-anarchism was an answer to a demand that things be different and therefore more true.

All of this leads to the third, and much more relevant, point: ADCS was inaugurated through a risk made by answering this demand for something different and more true. The sum of these three points leads me to state for the first time ever that ADCS was born so that we might not be overtaken by events. We must remain worthy of the revolutionary event. It was not without purpose, then, that Lewis Call wrote the following in his introduction to the first issue of ADCS:

Indeed, I feel that we must do this, or risk being overtaken by events. Post-anarchism waits for no one. When I speak of post-anarchism today, I also imply that there was post-anarchism yesterday (Call, 2010: 9).

ADCS was born so that anarchists might not be overtaken by events. Our journal is the answer that we give to the endless revolutionary imperative that dawns upon us: we must not only keep up with events, we must also respond to them and carry through their consequences. Since its inception, it has been more than obvious that our journal has been a little bit different. We answered the demand of post-anarchism early – perhaps before most philosophers and theorists were ready to deal with it – and today we find post-anarchism in the most unlikely places. We shall continue to answer the demand because it is our sole aim to become worthy of the event: we must do this.

So, the question that we are asking today is one that we feel we must ask. It is a question that demands to be asked if anarchism is not to be overtaken by the events that have transpired over the last decade. Lewis Call was right: post-anarchism waits for no one. The question that we are asking today, then, is different from the question that we were asking yesterday. Today’s question is: how do anarchists respond to the demand made upon them for a non-correlationist ontology? In other words, is it possible for anarchism to think with the new ontologies and materialisms, and is it possible to build a deeper anarchist philosophy which does not reduce the world to what it is for human animals within that world? Is it possible to approach an answer to the demand for a non-essentialist ontology? Perhaps, we might discover, anarchism is better suited to answer the demand than other political orientations.

Radical theory has been beset by ontological questions, albeit to varying degrees and under differing conditions. In recent years, in particular, political metaphysics has returned with force: the rise of Deleuze-influenced “new materialism,” along with post-/non-Deleuzean speculative realism and object-oriented ontology, all bear testament to this. In this same period, anarchism has returned as a major influence on social movements and critical scholarship alike. What, then, are some of the potential resonances between these currents, particularly given that anarchism has so often been understood/misunderstood as a fundamentally idealist philosophy?

Is it the case, as Marx famously held in The German Ideologyv and The Poverty of Philosophy,vi that anarchism fails to account for the full complexity of the ontological? Is there a lack of concern, for instance, with the actual circumstances that would make social transformation possible? Is anarchism a theory for which materiality is “distorted in the imagination of the egoist,” inevitably producing a subject “for whom everything occurs in the imagination?” Should “Sancho” (Max Stirner), for example, have “descended from the realm of speculation into the realm of reality”?

Or, is the opposition of materialism and idealism itself a barrier to a higher, more power, convergence, as recent anarchist/anarchistic thinkers from Hakim Bey to Reiner Schürmann have argued? This special issue of ADCS considers these questions in dialogue with new materialism, speculative realism, and object-oriented ontology, in order to seek new points of departure. It is in this sense that our journal strives to become worthy of recent discussions in the wider political, cultural, and philosophical milieu.

The special issue is split into two major sections: “Ontological Anarché” and “Anarchist Ontology.” If, on the one hand, there are ontologies that are radically anarchistic, then, on the other hand, there are anarchists that are striving to create new ontologies. In some sense, these two approaches are digging from opposite sides of the same mountain. It shall be our task to ensure that they jointly create a single passageway through the mountain. On one side of the mountain: the ontological anarchists seem to be more cautious about the political implications of their work. On the other side of the mountain: the anarchist ontologists seem to be more cautious about the ontological implications of their work.

We begin with an article from Levi Bryant. Many anarchists have suspected that the new ontologies harbor profoundly anarchistic orientations. However, very few of the pioneers of these new ontologies have described their work using the conceptual framework of anarchism. But Levi Bryant has used the conceptual framework of anarchism at times: Bryant has made use of post-anarchist philosophy (especially the work of Todd May).vii This is what makes Bryant’s work such an important point of departure for thinking about the convergence of anarchism and new materialism. In Bryant’s article for this issue of ADCS, he gives his readers a very concise introduction to his updated ontology. Readers familiar with his last (open-access) book, titled The Democracy of Objectsviii (however, he often notes that the book should have been titled The Anarchy of Objects),ix will notice that some of his conceptual framework has changed. Bryant’s new ontology is named: Machine-Oriented Ontology (MOO). Here we have a brilliant example of how we can think with rather than against Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Einstein offers us a profoundly anarchistic way in which to think about the relations that objects have within the world and Bryant’s brilliant writing offers us a passageway toward understanding Einstein’s often mis-interpreted and mis-applied theoretical physics.

John W. M. Krummel, a former student of Reiner Schürmann, argues, through the work of Schürmann and Cornelius Castoriadis, that every metaphysic involves an imaginary first principle which grounds it. There is thus a profound similarity between the two thinkers: both Schürmann and Castoriadis acknowledge that meaning and order are subjected to radical finitude. This implies that order is fleeting and temporary. A challenge is therefore posed to us: how is possible to move from such an imaginary ontology toward a materialist inspired practical political philosophy? This, it would seem, is the crucial question that most contributors to our volume are interested in exploring.

The new ontologies, inspired by the speculative turn, have raised profoundly new questions about the meaning of political practice and political philosophy. The crucial question is the following: is it possible or even desirable to move from ontological and speculative philosophy toward political philosophy (and vice versa)? Hilan Bensusan looks backwards to the Heraclitean tradition and toward the notion of polemos in order to develop a “fire ontology”. Bensusan makes a very powerful claim that “fire ontology” spreads and doesn’t ground. Fire, unlike ground, operates through contagion rather than foundation. This is how ontology and politics “meet on fire.” There is thus a re-negotiation that takes place between ontology and politics. Similarly, Ben Woodard, a veteran of the speculative turn, claims in his article that we need to rethink the assumption that ontology by necessity implies a form of politics. Woodard offers an analysis of Schelling’s Naturphilosophie as an ontological philosophy that is suited to thinking through the challenges of ecological politics today. In some sense, then, there is a secret solidarity that exists among all of the contributors to this volume. Each, in his or her own way, seeks to undermine any arché, any foundational ontology, which claims that some beings are more central to philosophy than others.

Jason Harman challenges our very initiative by claiming that the very notion of ontological anarché is bound up with some notion of an arché. The alternative, Harman claims, is to think through the co-originality of the two (anarché and arché) as a form of being-with. The work of Jean-Luc Nancy therefore provides us with a nice point of departure for this possibility. Harmon asks: is it possible, after the speculative turn, to develop a new philosophy of radical community?

The second group of contributors are digging from the other side of the mountain. They seem more interested in the question of what the new ontologies are in relation to the anarchist tradition. In this respect, we are honored to have an article from Salvo Vaccaro, which was carefully translated by our diligent colleague Jesse Cohn. Vaccaro raises the question: is anarchism a philosophy? Moreover, is anarchism, as a philosophy, foundationalist? Once again we seem to be dealing with an ontology which is multiple in its becomings rather than singular, statist, and essentialist. Jared McGeough explores a similar theme in his article. McGeough discusses the tension that occurred between Mikhail Bakunin’s philosophy and Schelling’s philosophy. For example, Bakunin dismissed Schelling’s ontology as idealist, and then found him to be a conservative stooge for the Prussian government. McGeough asks us to consider an alternative reading of the significance of Schelling’s philosophy for anarchists: Schelling’s philosophy is “unconditioned,” it is a “system of freedom,” and it “destroys origins.” This, it seems to McGeough, is profoundly anarchist.

In a curious article from Christian Greer the post-anarchists are asked to question their indebtedness to Hakim Bey’s post-anarchism anarchy.x Post-anarchists must return to their place of origin in Hakim Bey’s ontological anarchism. His claim is that no post-anarchist commentator has sufficiently analyzed the occult aspect of Hakim Bey’s work. Greer highlights the various esoteric overtones of Hakim Bey’s ontological and post- anarchisms and encourages post-anarchists to begin to think through the relationship between esoteric philosophy (such as Chaos Magick) and anarchist political philosophy.

Tom Marling, in “Anarchism and the Question of Practice: Ontology in the Chinese Anarchist Movement, 1919-1927,” provides us with a very rich discussion of the place of ontology in the philosophies of the Chinese anarchist movement during the early part of the twentieth century. The argument is that post-anarchist and post-left anarchist ideas can (and should) be unearthed from the historical record. There was a shift in anarchist theory that took place within Chinese culture during these years toward a more subjective and localized theory which was epitomized in the debate between two anarchist factions: the old guard of leftist classicalists and the younger group of quasi-iconoclasts. The iconoclasts focused on pragmatism, locatedness, and de-centered analyses of power and revolution. What can we learn, in light of current changes in contemporary anarchist political philosophy, from this rich historical account?

Finally, Gregory Kalyniuk develops a Deleuzian inspired presentation of micropolitics in Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s novels. His belief is that these themes allows us to rethink anarchist political philosophy in a way which seems very faithful to Daniel Colson’s post-anarchist neo-monadology. It is possible, Kalyniuk asks, to subvert the law through a humourous proliferation of successive contracts.

This issue of ADCS also includes a review of Mohammed A. Bamyeh’s popular book Anarchy as Order: The History and Future of Civic Humanity by Shannon Brincat, as well as a sharp response to Brincat from Bamyeh himself. Anthony T. Fiscella also reviews Alexandre Christoyannopoulos’s Christian Anarchism: A Political Commentary on the Gospel.

Finally, we’ve also included an interview that was conducted with Levi Bryant by the Christos Stergiou.

iLewis Call. (2010) “Post-Anarchism Today,” Anarchist Developments in Cultural Studies. 2010.1., As Retrieved on August 20th, 2013, from <http://anarchist-developments.org/index.php/adcs/article/view/20/1>

iiDuane Rousselle & Sureyyya Evren., Eds. (2011) Post-Anarchism: A Reader. London: Pluto Press.

iiiSaul Newman. (2011) The Politics of Post-Anarchism. Edinburgh University Press.

ivCf., Jesse Cohn. (2002) “What is Post-Anarchism ‘Post’?,” Postmodern Culture. Vol. 13., No. 1.

vKarl Marx. (1932) The German Ideology. As Retrieved on August 20th, 2013 from <http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/german-ideology/>

viKarl Marx. (1955) The Poverty of Philosophy: Answer to The Philosophy of Poverty by M. Proudhon. As Retrieved on August 20th, 2013 from <http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1847/poverty-philosophy/index.htm>

viiCf., Levi Bryant. (2012) “Musing on Onticology and Politics II,” [Blog] As Retrieved on August 20th, 2013 from <http://larvalsubjects.wordpress.com/2012/01/05/musings-on-onticology-and-politics-ii/>

viiiLevi Bryant. (2011) The Democracy of Objects. Open Humanities Press. As Retrieved on August 20th, 2013 from <http://openhumanitiespress.org/democracy-of-objects.html>

ixCf., Levi Bryant (2012) “Lacan, Anarchy, Masculinity, and Psychosis,” As Retrieved on August 20th, 2013 from <http://larvalsubjects.wordpress.com/2012/07/11/lacan-anarchy-masculinity-and-psychosis/>

xCf., Hakim Bey. (1987) “Post-Anarchism Anarchy,” As Retrieved on August 20th, 2013 from <http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/Hakim_Bey__Post-Anarchism_Anarchy.html>

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