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January 23, 2009


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hi Jodi,
I'll have to read that whole text. I hate the opening line, spontaneity vs meetings. That sounds naive to me (there's a great quote that I always forget the exact wording of, it's by Sergio Bologna, he says something along the lines of what people call spontaneity in terms of spontaneous uprisings and so on is really a matter of really fast organizing happening below the radar). But I absolutely love these lines of yours:

"Want hold off the possibility of radical politics? Turn it into a course with assigned reading. Look to the words of professors for authorization. Make it the subject of an academic conference."

I couldn't agree more.

take care,


I was attracted to that line as well Jodi. But I have to ask both of you, in what context can one read "radical thnkers" and not reinscribe the current neoliberal hegemony? Are either of you suggesting one can only read outside the academy and keep one's radicality?


Nate--thanks for your remark; I see what you mean by the spontaneity v. meeting and I think you are right. Organization and planning are absolutely vital. I think, though, that the rest of the passage explains more what they have in mind. It made me think of a time once when feminist faculty were going to organize against the benefits being taken away from contingent faculty. A couple of us had some concrete ideas and wanted to focus on an action plan. The meeting got hijacked as people continuously undercut every possible move with various sorts of inane theoretical gestures that thus ultimately functioned to derail the whole enterprise. What I like about your point, though (and my ideal reading of 'preoccupied' suggests that this is where these folks are as well) is that it resist stupid oppositions between spontaneity and organization.

Alain, your comment follows in this, I think, by indicating that oppositions between inside and outside the academy should not be mapped onto a distinction between theory and practice. Both are weak and unconvincing. More specifically, I would not say that one can 'only read outside the academy and keep one's radicality.' Rather, I would ask what does reading inside the academy do to radicality?


Thanks for your thoughtfule response Jodi. Having read the whole piece, my first thought was this could only have been writen by young people who have not yet had to compromise very much in their lives. And knowing how the occupation was settled, that the students made a very pragmatic deal with Kerry, getting some (but not all) of their key demands met, it seems there is a bit more militancy in the written piece than in the specifics of the compromise. Of course, for the students this may only be the beginning of a series of interventions, but it still gives me pause.

Thanks again.


wow - you don't see the irony in posting this and citing it favorably?


Abu--no. I guess you mean because it is critical of and counter to what I do to earn my living. But why would that make my favorable cite ironic?


I mean the idea that you would assume yourself to be a fellow traveler with the sentiments expressed in that communique. It wasn't "critical of and counter to" your livelihood ... it oozed a visceral hatred for your (=our) very lifestyle. What kinds of people did you think they had in mind?? Which "them" do you think they decreed must be "avoided at all costs"? OTHER left academics? OTHER tenured professors??

It's nothing personal. *I* am not calling you a hypocrite. But clearly THEY were ... and doesn't posting it here and cyber-nodding at it call for a bit more than "I think it's quite wonderful and provocative"? As if you (=we) fall on their side of the barricade. (We don't. And even if we sat down in the cafeteria with them it wouldn't change that.)

(Mind you, there seems to be plenty of irony lost on these students as well if they think protesting Bob Kerrey, shaming critical theorists, and taking over a university cafeteria puts them in the trenches with true warriors against global capitalism.)


Christ Alain,

Which is it? They were too militant (they haven't yet learnt the heavy lesson of compromise) or they compromised too readily? Or, perhaps - god those young revolutionaries popinjays make me feel the shame of my many compromises; thank god then that they turned out to be just a bunch of cowardly young hypocrites...


RE: Alain
+1 for "pre-occupied":

Section III:...
Critique it, submit it, and be assured that the object of your outrage will be incorporated into the next year-end report under the heading, “To be Developed.”

See you at the barricades?

Jake Doe

what an absurd bunch of nonsense:

"Philosophers have no allegiance to programs, platforms, or "practice." Rather, life and thought can merge in a zone of indistinction which needs no justification. When this is accomplished, no form of thought is too abstract, and no form of action is too extreme. What unites them is not some democratic council of reason, but a form of life which no reason can govern."


I agree with its general sentiment -- and it's all in all a good thing to reawaken the theory vs. practice, spontaneity vs. action debate -- but in the end it's going to be an undefinable, unpolemical mixture of the two. Some meetings, some action. What the manifesto seems to be warning against, however, is having *too many* meetings, and getting locked into that special form of paralysis that a profession built around discourse and debate is uniquely equipped to encourage.

On the other hand, we shouldn't forget about the opposite problem -- too much action without thinking, as we are seeing/have seen in Greece. Again, I support their general position, and certainly their anger -- which, some would argue, simply can't be, or shouldn't be, checked -- but at the same time they are destroying their own infrastructure, the true effects of which will no doubt soon be felt. Now, I'm sure there was plenty of planning, debate, and theory mixed in with the riots, but ultimately those elements were probably *too* subordinated to passion and immediate expression -- such that, as if distracted by too many targets, they entered a kind of vicious, unproductive circle and even began occupying, towards the end of the riots, those TV stations that had not covered the beginning of the riots appropriately.

In any event, all I mean to say is that this kind of zealous turn to action can ultimately be as fruitless as not acting at all.


it's not merely a (dis)organizational question - it's also questioning the _event_ of the occupation.

for anyone who's been involved in an event like a strike, an occupation or anything else of the sort, the event is a particularly important idea. there are usually moments where everything seems up for grabs and even veterans don't know what to do - follow those old scripts, become a cliche of yourself? aren't we supposed to have demands? (and yet when you hand over "demands" it's always so formalistic, ridiculous but exciting all at the same time) 'obviously we're not trying to just repeat the same ritual of protest one more time, this time it will be different, this time we're going to win!'

it's easy to comment on an event when multiple positions have already been formed for you (fitting everything back into predictable forms we have been taught to look for and critique/valorize). but thing of what immensely hard work it is to go into a moment where the outcome is still uncertain!

pre-occupied reads much more like a think piece for to-be-occupiers than like a manifesto for disorganization or even an academic statement for didactic debate.

there will obviously be an in-direct relation between discussion like these and occupations (people like me are reading this blog, in fact). but individual pronouncements of "what these idealists REALLY need to know" is either arrogance or ignorance toward one's own role (pre-occupied with being professor-vanguard or liberal-moralist).

joneilortiz: are we to really believe that NYC, america more generally, or even the world, has been overrun by disorganized zealots? we could only wish! i suggest that the problem is a flagging enthusiasm not a lack of coherence or organization. cf http://midnitemuse.blogspot.com/ these debates get so boring [the red herring of (dis)organization] need i do more than footnote spinoza/w reich and move on?

and don't think because a particular mobilization or protest doesn't "lead" to a specific, directed end, it didn't "do anything." The 'spinning your wheels' thesis [ie: "as fruitless as not acting at all] is largely an apologetics of privileged complicity (maybe not for everyone, but for academics, most definitely). what we need is a more sophisticated understanding of the event - no doubt certain protest and mobilizations can be just as (or more?) counter-productive, but they are _productive_ nonetheless.


Abu--sorry for the long delay in responding. I must be really dense because I don't see it the way you describe it. On the barricade question: is it often the case that those whose class position would ostensibly put them on one side actually identify and fight with the other side? With respect to the New School conflicts, which were primarily with the administration, couldn't faculty support the students? And then couldn't the grievances and demands of the students become a challenge to faculty not to comply with the neoliberal logic of the university but to work with them to develop something new?

But: which is actual resistance? the students who sit, staring blankly, and say whatever or the students who engage in argument, debate and struggle?


"Preoccupation" *is* about organization. The whole manifesto is devoted to essentially this question. It is opposed to meetings, ridicules organization of any kind, and persistently demands the subjugation of the self to 'solidarity'. And despite its heavy philosophizing, it is patently anti-intellectual (in the common sense use of the word), dismisses the essay form itself(!), and virulently lambastes the 'identity'-oriented quibbles of 'critical studies' and critique (which weaken, with their infinite qualifications, the 'singularity' of the Event and the Revolution).

At every turn, "Preoccupation" pursues (or rather laments the mythical loss of) the pure -- which, for the writer, is explicitly spiritual. ("The New School is dead, and with that we are born. We are an image from the future, and the past is yet to come.") Polarbear's own mystical references to "the event" herald a similar conviction. Every question, analysis, or 'critique' is a 'violence' against this pure, pre-structured moment -- which extends from politics to experience to, well, everything.

(The manifesto does, however, take pains to excuse itself from its own anti-intellectualism, carving out for itself a space free from the messy allegiances and biases that plague all other disciplines, identities, etc. "Philosophers," we learn, "have no allegiance to programs, platforms, or 'practice.'" And good thing! If they did, who would protect and nurture the Event, keep it safe from critique, reform, and identity?)

If "Preoccupation" doesn't quite read like a manifesto *for* disorganization, then it at least reads like a manifesto *against* organization -- of any kind, except at the barricades (which, presumably, despite their literal organization, are not *really* organized). The barricades transcend organization and capture the event, involving only 'tactical' questions that in no way detract from the purity of their endeavor; there is no politics 'in' the barricade, only 'of' the barricades. If this all sounds familiar, it's because 'we' have been here before: 'be quiet', dissolve your identity, and merge in solidarity with the revolution. ("One's self dissolves as the relations solidify, building shared trust ...") And if you question the revolution, the barricades, or the logic thereof, then you are performing a critique and violating the spiritual law of the Event. Thus even identity-based politics, which are of course at the heart of so many ongoing struggles, are barred from *this* revolution. If it's "not about who we are but how we exist", it's because the two questions aren't supposed to intersect (-even though they obviously do).

This manifesto is even opposed to demands! Because they lead to more demands, and some of them might be fulfilled, and then it's reform and the event 'touches down', loses its purity and becomes 'politics'. "The goal is then to batter the opposing power with an infinite series of demands, which they can begin to concede, but never possibly complete. Compelling, but ultimately an alibi for reform, a series of binding delays which blunts the force of any potential upheaval." The movement must at all costs be prevented from achieving any gains because gains are by definition incremental, finite and so pollute in advance the absolute, total, sweeping upheaval of the Event and the Revolution (which are always yet to come). But what will we do in the great Meantime?

--The New School students' cause may be worthy, but I would caution other causes against adopting this program as their platform or guide. Instead of an identity-dissolving anti-reform solidarity, we should be encouraging a practical, diverse, not-just-militant movement that is open to critique, dissent, and sites of resistance other than the barricades. The choice between essays and bombs is a false one. And to deem any position that finds fault with the "Preoccupation" manifesto -- and this manifesto is indeed against finding fault -- an "apologetics of privileged complicity" strikes me as thoroughly disingenuous.


Joneilortiz: your approach makes me both sad and disappointed.

first, I’m sad that you strawmanned the whole pre-occupied piece into being simply some eschatological (agambenian?) celebration of trascendence. obviously this is not that case. why do you feel it necessary to mischaracterize it so strongly, making it much easier to dismiss.

look, the article was never meant to provide a programmatic solution to problems of organizing (its transvaluation is not one of simple inversion of the dualism of (dis)organization (non)identity (anti)reform). I would hope that you’re well versed enough in deconstruction to understand the moves the author was making.

it’s not as if the author is just regurgitating a vulgar post-phenomenologist anti-political metaphysics. maybe a closer (or at least more generous) reading would make a discussion between us possible.

second, I’m confused why you feel strongly about organization. Have you had bad experiences in your own past? your criticism felt very confused to me, maybe because i don’t know the content or form of your own political position. do you do radical organizing? have you participated in strikes and occupations before?

third (and really, an extension of the third), I’m disappointed that you didn’t take a good-faith effort at engaging my one critique: who are your comments directed to and what do you expect them to take from it?

i’ll let the cat out of the bag: I found the piece extremely inspiring and sent it out to a bunch of organizing collectives I’ve been involved in, sparking a lot of good discussions.

of course we didn’t just uncritically accept everything it had to say. But then again, I guess I take for granted that fellow grad students and organizers critically engage the texts they read.

to think that anyone took this as a cue to no longer make demands or to have no more meetings is patently ridiculous.

bottom line: those of us who have found pre-occupied useful were not looking for it to suggest a political program but to inspire us to think harder about the panoply of commitments and tactics involved in being an activist. your comments haven’t been particularly helpful for me (and ironically, definitely not “pragmatic”). Hearing about personal experiences would be fun (Jodi’s story of the faculty meeting serves as a good example), maybe even talking the various ways that occupations might happen differently if they took more “pre-occupied” in form would be interesting (I have some anecdotes about this particular issue). Forcing PO into an already coherent political theory box and rehearsing the old critique is not only dreadfully boring but misses the point completely.


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