If you meet the Buddha, kill him.
—Linji Yixuan1
It is common practice to look at humans through the filter of the collectivities they supposedly belong to. This is particularly evident in conservative discourses, such as those on Nation and Ethnicity, or in the marketing categorization of different Consumer typologies. But also discourses which self-define as emancipatory rarely constitute an exception to this norm. When fighting for gender equality, for example, it is always through the filter of Gender that we look at our fellow humans kettled inside the various gender categories. Even when talking about humanity tout court, it is once again through the filter of Humanity that we look at the singular lives that are gathered on this planet. This is how we often end up fighting for the Woman, the Migrant, the Human, and so on, and hardly ever for the individual woman, the individual migrant, the individual human. Fooled by the pretense of such abstract collectivities to truly embody those who are comprised within them, we often find ourselves fighting, not for the emancipation of our fellow humans, but for that of their collective, capitalized names.
What is the origin of this capitalizing process, which turns the multitudes of singularities into abstract conglomerates? If we were to talk about it borrowing the language of economics, we could call this element a surplus, that is, an excess which is produced by human congregations and which, it seems inevitably, ends up enveloping them and imposing itself above them. Under the iron sky of such capitalizations, humans cease to be unique individuals, melting instead into the magmatic material of abstraction. Progressively, this collective surplus takes over the individuals who originally produced it, impersonating them through the ‘mystical body’ of an abstract name. Like in the early horror movie The Great Gabbo2, these collective abstractions, which we thought we could dominate and use as our ventriloquist’s dummies, finally end up possessing us, forcing us into complete silence.
But is this really the unavoidable result of any attempt at community-making? Is it really impossible to imagine any authentic form of collective composition, even within the struggle for emancipation? On the contrary. For example, as we have recently seen with the actions of the hacker multitude which goes under the name of Anonymous, the possibility of hiding one’s actions behind the mask of a shared identity can bring some extremely useful advantages, both in terms of security, of effectiveness and of ‘military’ strategy. However, if we wish to use such abstract devices, we must do so with the necessary distance and consciousness of the risks involved. Collective identities can be as powerful as hammers, but, like hammers, there is a crucial difference between having them in our hands, or dangerously floating above our heads. At any time, we must maintain a sharp awareness of the substantial difference between the reality of the singular individuals and the dangerous surplus which constitutes the name of the collectivity they decide—or are decided—to belong to.
The same applies to writing. Indeed, from a technical point of view, we might even consider Anonymous as a writing collective, since programming is a practice based on alpha-numeric language. When looking at forms of collective writing, especially in the context of a struggle for emancipation, we must always remember the fictionality of the collective construct and the reality of its composing parts. Even when a writer is part of a collective project, it is alway him or her who is doing his or her share of writing. It is him or her who has to face responsibility for his or her practice (I might add, instead of toying with the ever too common, bloodless critiques of the actions of their own or of someone else’s collective, as if such things really existed). It is the individual writer who has to find within him or herself the necessary discipline to give life to the most adequate writing, with the aim of furthering a struggle which must be, first of all, for his or her own individual emancipation.
Such a focus on individuality is not a resignation to a state of existential isolation. It is immediately evident how a writer can never be alone, nor will he or she ever be in the position of thinking his or her practice as disjointed from a universe of others with which it interacts.
First of all, with the other which the writer is to him or herself. When writing, one is always forced to investigate oneself while searching for ideas, logic or flow. In doing so, one will inescapably encounter one’s self, which he or she will meet as if it was an other. Such an encounter with the other, as Levinas reminds us, is always unsettling3, and produces at least as much disquiet as surprise. However, a radical transformation of the two parts involved also originates from it. Upon meeting oneself as an other, one is forced to open him or herself to it, losing his or her apparent full sovereignty as an individual, and to start to share his or her individual status with this other. A new, shared space is created between the two, and from this space an infinite, mutual responsibility originates for both: mutual, as it refers to the new state of the two parts being intertwined, and infinite, as its substance is made of the stuff of dreams, desires and necessities.
Translated into an emancipatory discourse, for the writer this means developing what Max Stirner used to define as an egoistic4 approach: that is, the constant, tireless act of reminding oneself that the dreams, desires and necessities, shared with one’s own other, are the core of one’s practice and the first aim of one’s struggle for emancipation. The disquiet generated by this traumatic encounter leads to two opposite, yet connected, directions: outwards, to the transformation of the urgency for one’s emancipation into the concrete practice of insurrection; inwards, to the creation by one’s own hands of one’s discipline. Discipline, thus, ceases to be the obedient interiorization of an external command, rather becoming the embodiment into one’s own practice of one’s infinite responsibility for the space which one shares with that particular other, which is one’s self. In this sense, discipline, thus, has to be intended—and re-imagined—as a radical method of emancipatory urgency, born out of the solidarity between one and one’s self, and aimed at the unleashing of the full potential of one’s dreams, desires and necessities—in other words, at emancipation.
Notoriously, discipline has been one of the most difficult aspects associated with the practice of writing. Especially today, in the age of endless distractions, finding sufficient will-power to simply continue writing for a decent span of time has for many become an almost insurmountable challenge. But we should not be clouded by the annoyance caused to us by the struggle for discipline. It is exactly this quest that might constitute the most powerful reminder of the reasons why we should be writing at all. In fact, the radicality of discipline-as-method consists in its being connected to the why of action, rather than to the how. As experience teaches us, the iron fist of dictatorially self-imposed, traditional discipline can do very little against the soft power of distractions. Facebook is always too close, youtube is always too available, and if one doesn’t have the internet it might be drinking, or smoking, or god-knows-what that will, with cruel persistence, break the fragile pretense of self-inflicted, military discipline. It is only the reminder of why we are doing something—for example, why we are writing—that can lift us above the muddy waters of distractions. All actions which do not pass the test of this discipline, are probably not worth being accomplished.
In his or her practice, the writer is also in constant interaction with the objects or characters he or she creates. In truth, writing is always an exercise in crowd control. Concepts, adjectives, characters, landscapes exist on the page as the defenseless subjects of the writer’s absolute monarchy. Their fictional lives depend on us and have nothing to defend themselves with, apart from the infective weapons of the abstract dummy. While having to guard ourselves from their passive-aggressive potential, we should also understand the opportunity of using our writing as a place for practical experimentation. Approaching one’s fictional characters or abstract constructs in a considerate manner can become a good training exercise for the relationship with equally ‘empty’ objects in the real world, such as those commonly defined as materials and resources in the language of economics. Producing useless writing, hopeless characters, superfluous concepts should thus be understood as a metaphor of our everyday production of useless commodities, hopeless subjectivities, superfluous action, and so on. Far from advocating puritan restraint in writing, I would like to invite fellow writers to insert a political and economic dimension in their dealing with their creative objects, in order to strengthen and refine their political and economic practice in their everyday life.
But writers don’t only deal with their selves and their fictional creations. Readers, of course, are their fundamental counterparts. Better said, the reader, as a singular entity. Due to the very technology of writing, reading is a solitary act, in which the writer and the reader meet through the medium of the text. A writer always talks to one reader at any one time. It was with a deep understanding of the constraints of the written medium that Mussolini famously declared cinema, and not writing, to be the ‘strongest weapon’ for propaganda. The dialogue between the writer and the reader happens silently, almost secretly, and passes from one singularity to the other. All other writing, especially that type of discourse-to-all-dummies commonly defined as journalism, is little more than an archaic and ineffective form of propaganda: talking to the ghosts of our abstract names—or worse, to the holy ghost of the ‘masses’ or of the ‘general readership’—and trying to persuade them, as if they really existed.
In their secret liaison, what are the writer and reader whispering? Their dialogue reminds us of that between instruments in an orchestra, constantly calling and inviting each other: the writer, through his words; the reader, through the equally creative process of interpretation and completion. Of course, only until they swap roles, as the once-reader will start writing, and the former writer will start reading. Through his or her writing, the writer invites the reader to form an alliance. A willful complicity. When the writer reveals a fictional landscape on the page, he or she does so only with the intent of inviting the reader to participate to its creation, inside and outside the page. This is why writing is never about communication: it is the constant invitation, from the writer to the reader, to become accomplices in drawing one of those ‘cartographies of lands yet to come’ discussed by Deleuze5. Thus, writing and reading, the solitary acts par excellence, reveal themselves to be extremely powerful moments of creation of new collectivities. True to the secrecy of their origin, such new collectivities do not establish themselves upon the loud boasting of some shared name, to be repeated ad infinitum by all members until their complete self-annihilation. On the contrary, in order for these new collectivities to take real life and acquire autonomy, they will have to flee the page they were born in, and the realm of abstract language, as soon as possible. Readers and writers should look for each other in real life, meet, conspire, develop together in reality what they began to sketch on paper. Such an act of bringing secret complicities to a state of reality-production is the basic form of insurrection.
All the rest, the tiring refrain of the ‘need for organization’, will come by itself, structured around each individual’s discipline and the discipline that derives from the encounter with one’s accomplice as an other and from the creation of a shared space of dreams, desires and necessities. Organization thus becomes the practical realization of the meeting of disciplines. Like the disquiet caused by one’s encounter with one’s self leads to a transformation of the emancipatory urgency into discipline, the encounter with the discipline of the accomplice—understood as an other who has already encountered him or her self as his or her own other—provides the practical ground on which such discipline can flourish as insurrection. This insurrectionary blossoming, truthful to the infinite nature of its places of origin, unfolds as an organization of infinities. In other words, an ever-changing organization of ethics, rather than as some scaffolding constructed of fixed norms of morality. The field of organization thus ceases to be the totalitarian space of the social factory or of the party factory, and becomes the process of translation into reality of the ethical responsibility of our encounter with the co-existence of several infinities both within ourselves and in the spaces of contact with the others.
Organization, intended as the insurrectionary meeting of disciplines, constitutes the foundation from which new collectivities can spring to life. Such collectives will be born as naturally unable to produce that surplus which would ultimately overtake their components. In fact, collectives such as these will never need a name, a flag or a party symbol. They will no longer be dominating dummies, nor will they be heavy hammers floating over our heads. Rather, they will resemble a good pair of boots. Something which, like utopia in the words of Eduardo Galeano6, is just what we need for walking.
  • 1. Linji Yixuan, The Zen Teachings of Master Lin-Chi: A Translation of the Lin-Chi Lu, ed. Burton Watson (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1993), p. 52.
  • 2. The Great Gabbo, dir. James Cruze (New York: Kino International, 1929).
  • 3. Emmanuel Levinas, “Transcending Words: Concerning Word-Erasing,” in: Yale French Studies, n. 81 (Yale: Yale University Press, 1992), pp. 145–150.
  • 4. Max Stirner, The Ego and His Own, trans. Steven T. Byington (New York: Dover, 1973).
  • 5. Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987).
  • 6. Eduardo Galeano, Las Palabras Andantes (Mexico: Siglo XXI Editores, S.A. de C.V., 1998).