“Nothing is Happening:” Political Impotency, Human Strike, and Affect

“Why are you shouting, damn it, if we know that things are the way they are? We already know: stop yelling!” – Claire Fontaine, Human Strike Has Already Begun

Claire Fontaine, a Paris based ready-made artist collective, writes that we live in a time when there are no fires, only silence, of a shared sentiment that everywhere “there is no point.” The contemporary age of biopolitics has left us in the state of “political impotence and the crisis of singularities.” This political impotence is in part because we cannot revolt against anyone without revolting, too, against ourselves. That is, our participation and complicity in the libidinal economy is precisely a participation in our oppression, and this neoliberal economy has led to the eradication of alternatives to the ideology of individual development and self-entrepreneurship that is characteristic of the logic of neoliberalism. This dispossession with regard to our presumed identities, our presumed limitations on how to live our lives, is the same that we feel with regard to history. Thus, she calls for the human strike: a strike that interrupts the relations that identify us and subjugate us; a strike that turns political crisis into subjective emancipation; a strike that demands that the transformation of the subject be both the cause and consequence. Quoting Foucault, “we must change ourselves.”

I anticipate this paper beginning in the relationship between biopolitical structures and subject formation. While I don’t wish to spend much time here, it is important to establish the relationship between biopower, which Claire Fontaine describes as a power that owns your body but allows us the right to speak, and the construction site of the self. Here, I’ll focus on the division between hand and head, which corresponds to the division between material and intellectual labor and to the gap between our working self and affective self . Doing so will allow us to understand that political impotence is a problem located between thought and life, that, as a counter resistance, the human strike is a way of changing ourselves, and the importance of thinking against ourselves.

To think against ourselves is, Claire Fontaine writes, “the necessity of revolts to come.” To revolt against ourselves is to think against our identity—where identity is understood as a type of identifications alongside obligations and projections—and our efforts to preserve it. Thus, desubjectivation is the only way to fight our exploitation.

I’d like to propose, then, that in response the human strike, which “decrees bankruptcy” on the monetary and libidinal economy, installs affective forces. These affective forces are not without materiality, so it will, too, be the task of asserting a proper disbelief in identifying with the place we occupy while understanding that our perception includes “the position from which we perceive.” The desubjectivation that follows from this demands that the foundation of revolt is not identity, but affectivity. In light of affectivity, collectivity becomes a field of action that coincides with its crisis. To change who we are and who we are together is to replace the logic of war with the logic of struggle, where struggle needs collective conditions for its creation, protection, and rejuvenation.

(My apologies for the half-baked thoughts on affect and collectivity. It’s the ‘limb’ of this paper for me, and, before confidently asserting where I think the tail of this paper will end up, I have an awful lot of research to do.)

Shortened Bibliography:

Agamben, Giorgio. The Coming Community

Gilbert, Jeremy. Common Ground: Democracy and Collectivity in the Age of Individualism

Chanter, Tina (ed). Revolt, Affect, Collectivity: The Unstable Boundaries of Kristeva’s Polis

Gilbert, Jeremy. Common Ground: Democracy and Collectivity in the Age of Individualism

Lyotard, Jean-Francois. Libidinal Economy

Massumi, Brian. Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation

Milan Women’s Bookstore Collective. Sexual Difference: A Theory of Social-Symbolic Practice (It’s worth noting that its original title was Don’t Believe You Have Rights.)

Perrot, Michelle. Workers on Strike: France 1871-1890

Claire Fontaine. “Human Strike within the field of libidinal economy”

The Human Strike has Already Begun & Other Essays

Various bios, artist statements, and other materials

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5 Responses to “Nothing is Happening:” Political Impotency, Human Strike, and Affect

  1. grockhil says:

    This opens up a very interesting dimension in the analysis of revolutionary activity. Lyotard’s work on this front is rather significant, and you might look at his Political Writings as well as the other books he published around the time of Libidinal Economy.
    Regarding the theme itself, I will be curious to see how you deal with the problem of individualizing the revolution and the risk of turning revolutionary activity into a personal desubjectivation. Some have claimed that the ‘turn inward’ is equivalent to turning one’s back on the more robust forms of collective social transformation that took place around 1968. At the same time, the elements that you have highlighted cannot simply be dismissed or ignored. Is there a way of articulating a relationship between desubjectivation and broad social transformation? At a certain level, one could argue that they are always already articulated, but what exactly does this mean?

  2. keborrowman says:

    Hi Gabriel,

    Thanks for your comment, as it’s indicative of precisely the problems that set me on this track originally and my fascination with Claire Fontaine’s human strike. At this stage, with regard to the individualizing of the revolution and the risks you point out, I’m unsure how to proceed. Or, rather, I’m unsure how to push *through* the personal desubjectivation to the collective social transformation, because I do want to deny that turning inward is an equivalent of turning around. I think, then, this is my hope for affectivity and collectivity. (With regard to the actual writing of the paper, I’m anticipating a difficulty in the move to this language, but hopefully more research will allow me to sort this out..) I especially appreciate the way you formulated the last question. When I was writing and working out a rough outline of how I see the paper progression, when I came to the articulation of that relationship, it felt as if I was saying what’s already been said, which is not where I like papers to end up, but articulating, additionally, what this means, I think can provide a more productive avenue.

  3. grockhil says:

    Great, I’m looking forward to reading your paper.

  4. crupert says:

    I’m extremely interested in this as well, and I hope that after you finish it, you’d let me read it. This is were a great deal of my own thinking has been turning recently. Personally, I would disagree with Gabriel’s “some,” and think the “turn inward” is always a double movement. For example, if I choose a “whole foods” diet, the effects of this person account will and must affect the larger society, albeit with the microscopic effects. We can conceive of this notion in the metaphor of a dance, where you cannot change your steps without changing the movement of the whole ensemble. The personal “revolution” then might be seen as the microcosmic example of the social, political, or anyways collective “Revolution.”

  5. keborrowman says:

    I think to a certain degree I’m wanting to challenge the idea that the human strike (which I think for Claire Fontaine is not quite synonymous with personal revolution — but you’re right to note this is something I’ll have to sort out) is ‘micro’. Or, rather, I suppose I’ll need to spend time addressing, in the ways that we have in class — which is what I take you to mean when you say micro, that is, not saying what I’m about to say I have worries about — that micro is not to be thought of as subordinate. I think that’s why I attached to Claire Fontaine in the first place. (Again, I don’t take you to be asserting a hierarchy between them), but I’m also wanting to resist that the effects are microcopic. That is, I don’t think microcosmic has a necessary relationship with microscopic. I think you’ve pointed out, from a different view, what Gabriel was highlighting: that is, it’s not just asserting that changing your steps changes the movement, which I do think often gets the critique ‘what good does it do,’ but it’s about showing the ways that one must necessarily revolt against oneself, against the idea that we must always be asserting and restating and individualizing our identity. That is, this neoliberal conception of ourselves that is so prevalant and pervasive has thus demanded that the first (but here I don’t mean FIRST in a temporal sense or even hierarchic to other strikes) strike be the human strike. I suppose I could say that any strike must also be a human strike. That is, we must strike against the constant production against our identity in the same conceptual way that we would strike against the conditions of our productions, of labor.

    Thanks, Matt, for your response. It’s really got me thinking again about this connection between the personal and the collective, and how to differentiate Claire Fontaine’s call from what we have on the table in current political/personal discussions.

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