Living and writing of a present insurrection

It is difficult to write of a present insurrection. Journalize, polemicize, moralize, historicize, predict? Considered individually, all traditional modes of reflecting on politics seem insufficient or inappropriate. Someone once said that humans make their own history but not any history they please, so rigorous attention must be paid to the empirically knowable horizons of material, intellectual, and technological possibility. But if we insist on a different future, a future that is truly a future, a future not reducible to current perceptions of the possible, then writing of the present must dare to speculate, hope, or even predict, if only as rhetorical actions that are sometimes capable of producing possibilities that really never even existed to justify such projections in the first place! I have no problem with prophecies if they are of the self-fulfilling variety. Narratives of current substantive and tactical cleavages within the occupation movement are sometimes worth considering, but run the risk of fetishizing very narrow issues in a drama of personalities and factions. For instance, although they are important and were fascinating for a while, who today can read without yawning the endless internal polemics of something like the First International? Needless to say, all current mainstream journalism has been a laughable failure in transmitting to the general public even a hint of the revolutionary beginnings that are perfectly palpable to many of us. Even much journalism contesting the mainstream media outlets still conforms to their conventions and expectations, if only to effectively circulate in the channels of perception already thoroughly deformed by dominant media. Finally, it is perfectly obvious that universities will not permit anyone within the academy to attempt any truly honest and creative intellectual contribution to our present situation, at least not with the university’s powers of consecration and dissemination.

Therefore, in the spirit of our present insurrection, I will take the liberty of working within any and all of these modes whenever I please and as the situation requires. I am proud to do so while active with Occupy Philly and the contingent of occupiers active on the campus of Temple University, at no small cost to the dissertation I should be writing at this very moment. I encourage everyone else to take similar liberties wherever and whenever they find them: perhaps the most radical significance of the present insurrection already is that we suddenly have in the public consciousness a certain pretext, a basis of real, honest, radical energy that the general public not only knows about but vaguely supports, however inchoate it might be, which can justify an infinity of exercises in radical self-emancipation. As a thinker, it suddenly feels possible to raise the question of revolution, in the context of post-industrial American politics, without sounding arbitrary, naive, and stupid—even if one still sounds a little crazy. And to develop my powers and interests in a freely self-determined fashion. If nothing else, the occupation movement now provides a public political context for any number of such self-emancipating liberties, behaviors which in turn spread and augment the intensity of the movement. In short, under the banner of our occupation movement it is possible to speak and act in ways one might have always desired but have always felt unable to execute (on account of that little feeling that always tells us, “No, it just wouldn’t come off correctly…).” Today, we are in the midst of an insurrection that is known by the general public well enough—while understood poorly enough—that an infinite range of the writing, speaking, and action we’ve always thought about exploring is not only feasible, but is itself an active contribution to building and intensifying the present insurrection.

For instance, a shout from the rooftop no longer needs to be metaphorical. This evening at 2 a.m. I will literally shout from my rooftop “A better world is possible,” for no other reason than the fact that a better world is possible, that others should know it, and that the old expression always struck me as rather beautiful. But beautiful fancies such as these are typically outlawed by a certain prohibition of optimism. Three months ago, a neighbor hearing me might have awoken, cursed the crazy youth, and gone right back to sleep. So I never would have done it. Tonight, they might do the same thing, but the difference is they’ll have to chalk it up to what they’re hearing on the news, what everybody knows is in the air; they’ll wonder why they never would have heard such a message from my roof three months ago, and now it will take them a few extra minutes to fall back asleep. By seizing on the infinite range of micropolitical activity opened up by the symbolic omnipresence of a revolutionary movement, we not only have sensible grounds for pushing outward on the emancipation of ourselves, we literally build, extend, and intensify the movement in doing so.

Frantz Fanon says somewhere that at a certain point “methods devour themselves.” That sounds very pleasant to me; we should let them devour themselves. And so with respect to my methodology for reflecting on the movement now well underway, more and more I am realizing that preliminary remarks are no longer necessary.

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Murphy, Justin. 2011. "Living and writing of a present insurrection," (December 14, 2018).