Wednesday, 14 June 2017
Poetics of Protest
There are some things people will turn against you for saying. Things like:
"This form of protest isn't working."
"I find your witty attention grabbing physically and mentally distressing and alienating."
"Theresa May will die today."
"Reading, engaging, joining in etc. are not naturally and fundamentally good things."
"We are at war."
People who stood next to you protesting against the same enemies will suddenly say "wait, no, I didn't mean that" or they will tell you that you are putting across the wrong message, that you give the movement a bad name. Good. Any anticapitalist movement should have a bad name. It should be the enemy of established thought.
Earlier I wrote an ill advised post and put it on social media where it will be fought over, ridiculed, agreed with and then vanish. People will get fired up and then it will go. People might start to fight with one another. Below is my post as it was when I wrote it very early this morning - a couple of minor edits.
I always have this painful feeling on protests when it comes to slogans. I've barely ever heard a good one. The other day there was an impromptu March against May and the DUP and here we are again: "I said hey! Ho! Theresa May has got to go!". I mean, it's really fucking embarrassing. I feel like a scab for saying it, but really, what the fuck are we doing? I've spent the last however many years engaging with genuinely radical poetry yet at every protest I attend I end up with a mouth full of shit. Seems like a very British accident of a tradition. People still turning up with "witty" banners etc. The whole thing turned into some quaint little routine. Actually, I say always... when theysmashed up Millbank there was some weird chant at one point, something like "smash, break, dismantle; our chains are not forever." That one stayed with me. Meanwhile on the mainstream right there are some truly horrific slogans going around. One in particular has shaken me and keeps me up sometimes: "You can't run, you can't hide, you get helicopter ride". That slogan refers to Pinochet's "Death Flights", where political opponents were dropped from aircraft into the sea and volcanoes (most recovered bodies had their eyes gouged out) to their deaths. This disjunction (between poetics) is terrifying to me - how the right suddenly have these sophisticated and horrific slogans about literally murdering us whereas we have these hashed together nothings - slogans that have proven time and time again to have zero traction. And what to do? We are badly in need of a new poetics of protest. But it's really hard to convince anyone to break away from certain rhythmical patterns. Ones I can't help but feel are incredibly white (in their poetics of English self deprivation - that fucking tone) and unlovably certain - liberal. The last couple of times I've tried to get people shouting "Theresa May will die today" because at least that is some kind of fucking spell even though it is obviously shit. You get these weird looks from people like you have the wrong kind of shit in your mouth, and then it goes back to the same old dum dee dum nothingness. I've no idea what to do about this but I feel that a political slogan is about manifesting part of the reality that is being made and that the slogans commonly used right now are actively blocking that. Meanwhile the far right are openly hexing us and calling for genocide. Somehow we need to fill our protests with magical fire and resist their horror. It's hard to think with a mouth full of shit. No more irony. No more witticisms. No more dead metre. No fucking clue.
Please do hold onto the fact that the above does not have any claim on a solution. If anything the slogan "Theresa May will die today" is worse than the slogan "Theresa May has got to go". It isn't worse because of the fact it is invoking death. I mean, it isn't actually invoking death is it? I mean, it's not like anything can get to her. That waste-cluster of damaged human senses is surrounded by every kind of protection imaginable - from the military to the forces of extreme magic. You could get 10,000 people together and hex her, pray for her suicide - you could even bore those thoughts into her head and nothing would happen. Anything we are saying dies on their ears. Meanwhile the things they say - "we are cutting the benefits of disabled people" are literally murder. They are speaking people's murder into the air and then those people are being murdered. This is a fact. It's with that fact in mind that this slogan becomes stupid. It has no traction, no danger and it is a deadened opposite of the type of slogan it is trying really hard to escape from. As it stands just now there is a glimmer of a chance that Theresa May and the Conservative party at large might be feeling a little afraid - no, troubled. They have just had something turn against them, and that is, for once, their lies. But when they see a bunch of (what they call) liberals (some of them really are liberals too) marching through Brighton changing "Theresa May has got to go" I'm pretty sure they just go "oh well, nothing to worry about then". On the other hand when the Greek anarchists come out in Athens, sure, there are plenty of problems but on the other hand they are in occupation of an actual section of city. They say things like "We are smashing up the present because we come from the future" and "A day of normality is more violent than a month of insurrection." and "All that continues to live, lives against this society." I mean, those are really powerful. They are full. Especially that last one. It actually positions the enemy (of society) as life. That which continues, that moves against the realisation of death.
the realisation of death / is life
against suffering. All that continues
to live, lives
against this society. All
that is alive is the force
that lives against
the already dead.
I mean, that is a message of hope. Whenever I start to have this discussion I feel I am shouted down. People actually start invoking the word "hate speech". I'll come to that shortly. But people actually destroy hope with attacks on what they consider violence to be. This is what I mean by a change of poetics. It doesn't mean just changing the words, it means poetic thinking. Poetic thinking has been ritually beaten out of us - deprogrammed. At the top of this post I made a point about reading. People often say when someone is reading shit "at least they are reading". Invoking reading as a fundamentally good thing. That's horse shit. I would rather march alongside the illiterate than swallow some of the filth that is publicly called literature - made entirely cynically as a professional venture. Poetic thinking requires a lot, but so does the kind of thinking that the professional publishers put out. I mean, you really have to suspend your disbelief in the actual lived experience of poetics when you find out that the poets you're reading have fucking agents! In so many insurrections poetics has been in the mouths and hearts of everyone. We are really wantonly devoid of that right now. What that leads to is this kind of weird situation where screaming isn't enough, where the same noises are made in the same established patterns again and again and when you say "death to the oppressor" people start jumping down your throat and saying "oh no! We mustn't go down that route! No violence!". No violence is not an option,. Violence is what is happening now. What we need to stop. Saying "Death to the oppressor" is in part an invocation of a hope to end the order of oppression. But do we actually need to say that? Explain it all vowel by vowel.
Protest does work. But what "protest" is isn't the same as "a protest", and some protests work better than others. If you don't think protests work you are cheering for the security guards at Yarl's Wood Detention Centre who want to blog the eyes and ears of the detainees who see the regular protests outside the windows and feel some actual human compassion whilst living in a very real hell. This kind of protest is vital and unstoppable.
Acts of protest can be carried out all the time. Mere passing on of messages, acts of insurrection etc.
Disabled people are among those experiencing the most violent impacts of austerity. Many disabled people find protests ablest (often literally impossible) and non inclusive. We have to think about these things - I'm not only talking about physical difficulties, obviously. Again, these are things we shouldn't have to repeat.
Making a protest into a good natured joke is an act of imposition - a limit.
Protests are carnivalesque. In many ways they can come to uphold the social order rather than changing it. That is why they are sanctioned. In order to change this protests need to go underground in their organisation but be publicly visible in their actions. More media coverage, cameras and professional speakers are not always good things. Protests should fit their situations, and they should scare those they are moving against. The media organs will never truly be on our side. We should fill them with noise not with our faces.
Professional affirmation is the voice of the enemy.
There is a wellspring of social poetics waiting to be tapped.
We are in a good position. It will get better. All
that is alive is the force
that lives against
the already dead.