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Berit Fischer
The Revolution will not be televised – On becoming Multitude

“We are in the epoch of simultaneity: we are in the epoch of juxtaposition, the epoch of the near and the far, of the side-by-side, of the dispersed. We are at a moment, I believe, when our experience of the world is less that of a long life developing through time than of a network, that connects points and intersects with its own skein.”

Michel Foucault, Other Spaces, 1967

Looking in particular at developments such as the political revolutions in the Arab world in the beginning of 2011, it appears that new civic societies are emerging. There is a new generation of referendum and activism being inaugurated, not only with visions for re-thinking democracy, but of actually reforming society and implementing democratic changes. One of the striking aspects of this development is the collective energy driving this movement and that it is based on networks that operate without hierarchy and that encompass difference.

Trying to find answers to the questions such phenomena produce is of course very complex, for these questions differ from circumstance to circumstance. Yet it seems that there are some ontologically and globally relevant validities across the spectrum of such an enquiry. Looking at the critical work of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Multitude: ‘War and Democracy in the Age of Empire’, the authors give us some reference points for the discussion, bringing today’s order of the world to question.

Hardt and Negri describe networks as a form of sovereignty, and of their power as a tool of disobedience to hegemonic and oppressive power structures within the world. These structures not only include the national state but also the corporations and supranational institutions that sustain the global apparatus of governance.

In a world in which economics have been growing ever more abstract, “producing ideas” has been gaining in importance. Post-Fordian labor practices have not only changed production-oriented labor into an immaterial and knowledge based production line, but these practices have also produced a “knowledge economy” in which the economic, the political and the social cannot be separated. Economic production also creates a social production in which communication and performativity are of particular importance. Direct interlinking between politics and life has been increasingly happening. In their volume, Hardt and Negri also talk about a growing instability of reality, and an institutionalization of the social, which, amongst other things, is being caused by developments in gentechnology, and bio-politics, and by an increasing artificialization of the biosphere.

The effects of global climate change, which have become increasingly perceptible worldwide, have fostered a growing collective empathy, a global consciousness, and an awareness for the common globe that we share. A new form of “commonality” can be observed. In the endeavours of novel civic societies, this commonality is aided by web-based communication structures, and on many levels, complex social networks. One of the most important characteristics of these networks is that they are decentralized and heterogeneous, providing simultaneous coexistence of diverse individual actors and “nodes” that can exist regardless of their specific interdependencies or relationships. There are no margins in decentralized rhizomatic networks and as such, new nodes and connections can be formed at any time. [1]

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari coin the term “rhizome” as a horizontal and non-hierarchical conception; a mode of knowledge and a model for society in which anything can be linked to anything else—with no respect whatsoever for specific species. Rhizomes create heterogeneous links between things that may otherwise have no relation. They don’t narrativise history and culture in a chronological or organized way, but rather present them as a map of interlinking nodes without specific provenance. A rhizome has no starting or finishing point, but is always between things—interlinked and promoting a nomadic system of multiplication and augmentation.

Linking Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the rhizome with Hardt and Negri’s understanding of commonality and multitude, it becomes clear that recognizing multitudinous arrays of singularities and differences can create the basis for a common ground and a community that goes beyond its social apparatus. Multitude is the fundament for future production, and singularities interact and communicate socially on the basis of a commonality that in turn produces commonality again. Multitude is the subjectivity that results from this dynamic of singularity and communality. [2] The notion of multitude depends on the becoming of multiplicity.

Commonality is obtained while recognizing difference and retaining autonomous singularity. Commonality that is comprehended as communication between singularities with different realities and forms of life—practices, languages, habits, and visions of the world—is not only reactive, but active and creative. It is a chance for different social relations. As Hardt and Negri point out, political multitude has a double temporality: it always has been, and is still not.

Multitude doesn’t happen spontaneously or anarchically, but it grows out of the cooperation of singular social subjects. [3] It is an act of becoming. Deleuze and Guattari explain that the process of ‘becoming’ is “a process of change, flight, or movement within an assemblage…. In ‘becoming’ one piece of the assemblage is drawn into the territory of another piece, changing its value as an element and bringing about a new unity.” [4]

There is “a space in-between” that is important in becoming multitude and that Deleuze and Guattari call the ‘interbeing’ or the ‘plane of immanence’: “the metaphysical or ontological itself: a formless, univocal, self-organizing process which always qualitatively differentiates from itself.” [5]

In a globalized world of constant flux, certain cultural elements transcend territorial boundaries. In this process, culture is simultaneously deterritorialized and reterritorialized across different parts of the world; atopian cultures are created as the world is in motion.

Globalization, when understood as an economic global cooperation and interaction, is generally perceived to have negative economic, political, social, cultural and ecological consequences. But approaching the concept of globalization though from a holistic perspective that relates to education and knowledge production, it can inspire the starting point in a process of de-institutionalizing society and diluting social polari­zation. Ivan Illich claimed in his 1971 book ‘Deschooling Society’, that social reality itself has become schooled. In his understanding, the institutionalization of education is equal to the institutionalization of society, and that de-institutionalizing education may be the beginning of a de-institutionalized society. As such, preventing formal institutions from holding a monopoly over schools and information flows would have an effect on de-institutionalizing society. He pleads for peer-to-peer learning and institutions that “serve personal, creative, and autonomous interaction and the emergence of values which cannot be substantially controlled by technocrats.” [6]

Rhizomatic structuring of social bodies, self-organization, the establishing of alternate forms of participation, and the forging of a commonality of multitudes that is democratic to all, are some of the tools that, for example, inform Joseph Beuys’ idea behind the “Social Sculpture/Social Architecture.” Beuys states that it “will only reach fruition when every living person becomes a creator, a sculptor or architect of the social organizm.… Every human being is an artist who… learns to determine the other positions in the total artwork of the future social order. Self-determination and participation in the cultural sphere (freedom); in the structuring of laws (democracy); and in the sphere of economics (socialism). Self-administration and decentralization (threefold structure) occurs: free democratic socialism.” [7]

Striving for betterment is innate to the human race, which calls for joint action in search of this betterment. Utopia, the ancient Greek word for “no place,” (or a place imagined but not realized), bears a general analogy with the real space of society—for it illuminates the limitations of the world we live in. The term implies our attempts to escape from society’s inherent reality, but therefore affirms its status quo. But as Foucault argues, every society and culture also constitutes heterotopias: “real places … which are something like counter-sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the real sites, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested and inverted.” [8]

Some artistic practices attempt to capture an immanent critique that sits between the present and the future. The proposals that result from such practices open up new cultural spaces and foster do-it-yourself utopias; they foreground new individual, social and ontological relationships. While attempting to disrupt existing status quos, these proposals postulate models for new ways of being, of viewing the world differently, and of defining models for ‘other possible worlds’. According to Bourriaud, art can work out heterogeneous modes of sociability in which ‘relational micro-territories’ could merge into the density of the contemporary socius. [9]

These proposals are not blueprints. Nor are they simple contemplations of the impossible; rather they are models that are produced in order for us to see how far away we are from the possible. They are proposals towards the becoming of what we have the potential to be. They are not utopian fantasies, but they explore the possibility of maintaining spaces of potentiality for other worlds to become—outside and within the consensus and beyond a pure economic globalization. They challenge us to actively engage, and to actively be. They are more about utopian becomingness than “aboutness” or being. “Art can cease being a report about sensations and become a direct organization of more advanced sensations. The point is to produce ourselves rather than things to enslave us.” [10]

As Gil Scott-Heron says in his song ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’, “the revolution will put you in the driver’s seat.” Change does not happen while we are waiting for it to be projected or presented; it happens within autonomous singularity, and with the potency of multiplicity. [11]

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[1] Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire, New York, 2004, p. xv

[2] Ibid, p. 198

[3] Ibid, p. 222

[4] www.rhizomes.net/issue5/poke/
glossary.html. Retrieved February 24 , 2011

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plane
_of_immanence. Retrieved November 15, 2010

[6] Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society, (London, 1971); available at www.preservenet.com/
theory/Illich/Deschooling/intro.html Retrieved February 24, 2011

[7] Joseph Beuys, “I am Searching for Field Character” (1973), UTOPIAS, Documents of Contemporary Art, ed. Richard Noble, Massachusetts, 2009, p. 114

[8] Michel Foucault, “Of Other Spaces” (1967), available at: http://foucault.info/
documents/heteroTopia/foucault.heteroTopia.en.html. Retrieved April 4, 2011

[9] Nicolas Bourriaud, “Conviviality and
Encounters,” in: Relational Aesthetics,
Paris 2002 p. 32

[10] Guy Debord, “Theses on the Cultural Revolution,” in: Internationale Situationniste #1, June 1958, p. 20

[11] Gil Scott-Heron, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” first published 1970 on the album Small Talk at 125th and Lenox

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