AN AFFECTIVE CARTOGRAPHY OF THE OAKLAND COMMUNE

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AN AFFECTIVE CARTOGRAPHY OF THE OAKLAND COMMUNE

by Paula Cobo-Guevara

Some excerpts of Paula’s recently finished action–research, also you can read an article recently published at The Journal of Aesthetics and Protest Issue #9

 

Resonance, From Elsewhere[1]

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As I Listen to the Flux of Your Voice, My Body Vibrates Alongside Yours
One of the many elements produced from within the Occupy Movement was the human mic: a collective amplification of one voice, by many voices. With the lack or failure of electronic amplification systems, this mic served as a ‘human’ technology to amplify speech in gatherings, rallies, direct actions, general assemblies, and so on. Circuits between voices, bodies, faces, dissolve and split the binary of speaking/spoken to. The human mic, similar to lyrics, produced a sensitive and vibratile dimension which transited through the rhythm of this movement/event.

Beyond simply talking ‘about’ the human mic, let’s become one: transiting between delirium and experience. Implicit in this becoming there is a song to be sung (or four lyrics to four possible songs). These are songs to think through/about moments and to articulate body-memory, ‘sentimental education’[4], and fictional lines of flight. From this plane of expression, we find a textuality that travels on a continual variation of flows, tensions, references, and stories.

Spit, babble, tongue

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Almost three years have passed since the eruption of the #Oakland Commune at #Occupy Oakland. One of the practices that enabled that space of possibility: an active listening to each other, to others, noise-making. Whatever this may be, the fact is that reverberating sounds – murmurs, voices, dialogues, noises – appeared in this new territory. A Bay Area poet[5] talks about rhythms: “a sound has to happen twice to be a rhyme, a rhythm has to happen twice to be a meter, an initial sound has to happen twice to be alliteration.” Alliterations produce phonemes, and phonemes differentiate speech from vocal gestures: moving tongues, slobber, spit. Phonemes are the movements of speech. Since the eruption of the commune facing the North Pacific Ocean – and the broader Occupy Movement in the US – from and within our bodies, we opened ourselves to inhabiting and producing these sounds, vibrations, and voices. Phonemes were significant. In some cases, the motto was 99% or We are not a loan, in other latitudes: Vamos lento por que vamos lejos[6], Que pasa, que pasa que no tenemos casa! Sí, se puede![7] Submarining into this, an ocean of sounds emerged, touched. Discourses circulate and resonate on/in our bodies in certain ways, we feel affected. Political events affect our bodies, drifting in a world of intensities, not only discursive significations; rather, discourse is produced from within those affects. Spit, babble, tongues. It is produced from and within the articulations between affects, between bodies.

(Listening is not only a mere cognitive act of deciphering signs, but also involves a flow of signifiers that resonate beyond the intellect.)

Schizo ultrasounds

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Around twenty ‘loonies’ meet one hot summer afternoon in the lush gardens of the (public) neuropsychiatric hospital of La Borda in Buenos Aires. They have met every Sunday for around 20 years now. We all sit on metallic chairs composing a large circle; we share cigarettes, food, conversation, even kisses. Each of the ‘loonies’ comes to the meeting with ideas they have elaborated throughout the week, some of them are interned at the hospital, others only come for treatment. All of these diverse voices, bodies, tongues, murmurs, compose the experiment of Radio La Colifata[8]. Radio Colifata is an attempt to break the inside/outside division of the neuropsychiatric hospital. The bodies compose a (counter)choreography of language, semiotic gestures: postures, attitudes, verbal, and non-verbal. Some are potential words, utterances, others straight-forward verbal enunciations. All of these semiotic gestures and sounds transit on a musical dimension; they develop rhythms with diverse fields of intensity. Sometimes musicality and utterance overlap, weave. Dialogue is not precisely present, but it can crystalize in a specific intensity of gestures. Some of the bodies might react to a specific utterance, a voice tone. Others might establish a dialogue in body language. However, this scene of Radio Colifata is not just pure flow, flux of bodies, and voiced sensibilities. One important technical aspect that facilitates communication is the radio. The radio enables a dispositif, where we can murmur, shout, or speak; this machine produces articulations, reverberations, with the ‘outside’ (and ‘inside’). We articulate because we want to communicate. Flee from our semiotic, affective isolation. Most of the time speech is exercised in private. We are no longer loonies; the radio is a space, a machine that allows us to articulate within a dimension that transits between pure sensation, affect, and communication; legibility. “From the moment that the schizophrenic is in another country, s/he is no longer crazy, it’s a situation in which you don’t know the language, therefore others won’t understand his/her delirium, then, a miracle will occur.”[9] The radio becomes a technique, a form that we can reproduce and repeat, against the monologue of patriarchy, against the monologue of the ‘vertical’ media. The radio is a simple and autonomous form that allows us to resonate with each other, in the most intersubjective way possible. It exposes vulnerability, as it transits across a real space-time. You can listen and at the same time smell the body’s fears, joys, desires, through a sensitive dimension. The radio operates in this two-fold dimension, it communicates ‘machinically’, and it produces bodily, sensorial, and affective resonances. The collective enunciation becomes therapeutic, transformative. The song is composed of many singularities.

Lumpen murmurs[10]

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Iluminada (L. Enlightened) is Lumpérica[11] (‘lumpen woman’, ‘she-lumpen’) a precious singularity among the ‘lumpen proletariat’ (lumperío.) She inhabits the night; lives in a plaza of Santiago de Chile, precariously illuminated by industrial champagñe neon-light advertisements. L. Iluminada is a rara (‘weirdo’). Like any rara, she could only possibly do the following: put her head in the gas oven[12], drink bleached water, practice clandestine abortions, tattoo a skull on her left arm, go out onto street with military boots and a Che Guevara poster; after that; being beaten by carabineros (cops) until bleeding like a river. Waking up, and drifting through the plaza while drinking tres estrellas (cheap red wine) until senseless[13]. Like any Lumpen-woman, L. Iluminada is always alone, and can hardly speak. But suddenly she discovers – by way of the luminosity coming from the projection of the neon-light advertisement onto other bodies that inhabit this same plaza – that she is no longer by herself. Lumpérica murmurs, she inflicts on herself. Why? She is particularly frustrated: she can no longer sustain her self-referentiality as she now needs to unfold ‘herself’ into and with others: share, and take care of. She needs to pass through a deep transformation of her subjectivity. She knows that. Now the Agora belongs to her, as it belongs to other lumpens. Glowing under the neon lights, her body becomes vibratile, resonant; it trembles with Other(s). Even though L. Iluminada inhabits the plaza (the historic site for men’s public speech), she communicates through murmurs, babbles. She utters in fragments. Her voice is flee-able/feeble. She knows how to expose herself in the public realm only as a sexualized body – only as a worker (she works as a sporadic prostitute) – her political desires still remain intimate. Now she needs to articulate speech. She will unlearn and learn to become a virtuoso of singing songs. However, L. Enlightened is not hearable, and lacks a clearly precise act of speech; she cannot disclose herself into the open. She sounds across ‘otherness’, in a pre-individual drift, connected to a polyphony of gestures, and affects-murmurs. Her singing does not correlate to the score of power, it operates autonomously.

Music’s song

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Música Sepúlveda[14] mobilizes her body through resentment, rage. A sentiment that makes her body move in certain ways, she acts according to her instincts, her ‘animality’, experimenting ‘passions’. Música is the girl who threw a jar of water in the face of the then Chilean minister of Education. In 2006, she, among many others, was the first student to mobilize; to compose a highly insurrectional rhythm, noise-making. Her name, Música, evokes a signifying dimension that resonates with concepts such as melody, scores, songs. However, Música didn’t sing in a trembling voice, didn’t compose something like a score. She spited. She vibrates differently from L. Iluminada; the trembly women, scared of the others, blind. Música is the opposite, but they resonate with each other. A vibration inhabits them both as they compose along with the many other voices, songs, scores.

***


[1]                       This text draws on poetic reflections on a research-visit to the neuropsychiatric hospital La Borda in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It also draws upon reflections and afterthoughts on a set of poems which I authored: Love Poems (2013), which investigate the ‘figure’ of Música Sepúlveda, the student movement in Chile, and #OO’s Port shutdown, among others; published in the Oakland-based journal LIES, a Materialist Feminist Journal (2014, forthcoming). See http://liesjournal.net. Also, it draws on the Novel Lumpérica by Chilean feminist and dissident writer, Damiela Eltit. Not all of the research and references are directly related to #OO, however, they eco and reflect experiences in which affect constitutes a pivotal aspect of a non-reified social fabric.

[2]                       Rosario Blefari is an Argentinian singer and songwriter, best known as being lead of the band: Suárez, and Sue Mon Mont. She, among many other creative workers in Argentina – after the 2001 insurrection and/or neoliberal crisis­ – started to teach skill-based workshops at her home; she has been teaching a course on how to write lyrics. This excerpt is from one of the abstracts in her talleres (workshops). Translation by Jean Byrne. Listen to her most recent songs here: https://soundcloud.com/suemonmont

[3]                       Gerald Raunig (2013), “Josephine, or Streaking the Territory,” in Factories of Knowledge, Industries of Creativity. (Translated by Aileen Derieg) Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), p.9.

[4]                       ‘Sentimental Education’ is a reference to Gustave Flaubert’s novel: L’Éducation sentimentale (1896). However, it is widely used as a term to describe the affective knowledge, references, and cultural constellations produced in early and late teenage years. As far as ‘my’ sentimental education, it draws from the counter-cultural resistance in Chile under dictatorship, especially the work developed by theorists, writers, artists, and poets such as Diamela Eltit, Nelly Richard, and Stella Diaz Varin.

[5]                       Interview with Joshua Clover, Oakland, California, May 19th, 2013

[6]                       Some of the feminist enunciations of the Spanish 15M movement have chanted the slogan “Vamos lento por que vamos lejos” (We go slowly because we go far) referring to the fact that the revolution would not be as such if it was not a feminist one.

[7]                      Yes we can! is the motto of Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca: PAH is one of the most flourishing mass movements throughout Europe to successfully organize and win the battle against housing evictions within the current ‘austerity crisis’. The Journal of Aesthetics and Protest has just released the book: “Mortgaged lives: From the housing bubble to the right to housing (2012)” written by Ada Colau and Adriá Alemany (both activists and founders of PAH), edited by Marc Herbst, Los Angeles/Leipzig/London: Journal of Aesthetics & Protest Press, 2014. See: http://www.joaap.org/press/mortgagedlives.html

.

[8]                       Radio Colifata is an Argentinian radio station, which broadcasts on the frequency 100.1 MHz in Buenos Aires. It is named after the slang term “Colifato” (crazy lovable.) Radio Colifata is the first radio in the world broadcasting from a neuropsychiatric hospital. It is also the first radio managed by people who are inmates and former inmates at the La Borda Hospital. See: http://lacolifata.openware.biz/index.cgi

Listen to the audio file, “máquina de máquinas y las locas” (2013) https://soundcloud.com/derivaesquizo/radio-colifata-m-quina-de-m Radio show excerpts of a visit I made with Panxto Ramas, Mrenau, and José Luis Meriás to Radio Colifata. Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2013. Recorded by José Luis Meirás.

[9]                       Franco Berardi Bifo (1977), Deseo y Revolución. Buenos Aires: Lobo Suelto, p.35. My translation.

[10]                      I constructed this segment Lumpen Murmurs envisioning and thinking through Hannah Arendt’s ‘theory of action’ in chapter V of The Human Condition. Arendt states that the unique possibility of appearance in the world – as a human and political entity – is only possible through the power of language. For Arendt, speech is a performative appearance in the world, thus the construction of a political being is immanently connected to his/her capacity to act, and to communicate. However, implicit in these ‘speech acts’, a dynamic of power relations is present: Who are you? Do you know who are you being spoken to? My aim to put in ‘opposition’ Arendt’s theory on speech with the figure of Lumpérica (murmuring) is to bring forward and think through Bakhtin’s hypothesis on the carnaval. Mady Schutzman writes: “According to Bakhtin, words are inhabited with social significance; they do not belong to the speaker alone. Subsequently, understanding is a complex interplay of signs; often what is said is not what is heard, what is intended is not what is comprehended. Communication for Bakhtin happens in, and around, and in spite of, what our rational and practical selves intend.” According to Lazzarato, Arendt’s position “has no room for the concept of the performative because ‘all speech acts’ are ‘social acts’, not just performative ones. All utterances are ‘speech acts’ that engage a ‘social obligation’”. See Maurizio Lazzarato’s “Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of the utterance”, http://www.generation-online.org/p/fp_lazzarato6.htm, and Mady Schutzman’s “Guru Clown, or Pedagogy of the Carnavalesque”, https://www.academia.edu/4561398/Guru_Clown_or_Pedagogy_of_the_Carnivalesque

[11]                     Lumpérica (1983) is a fictional-experimental novel by Damiela Eltit, written during the most harsh and repressive periods of the military dictatorship in Chile (1973-1990). Lumpérica is a pivotal text for understanding the complex and rich resistance under the Latin American dictatorships. Eltit, along with other writers, artists, and theorists was part of the Escena de Avanzada, and CADA (Colectivo de Acciones de Arte), which developed creative strategies to resist and compose with the Human Rights movement. I decided to bring Lumpérica into this chapter as it speaks to the complex ‘crisis of language’ under a repressive apparatus, especially with regards to censorship. It also speaks to the relationship between the subaltern and power; specifically to the role of working class women and resistance.

Damiela Eltit (1998), Lumpérica. ‪Barcelona: Seix Barral.

[12]                      See: Heiner Mueller’s “The Europe of the Woman” (1979), in The Hamlet Machine. http://members.efn.org/~dredmond/Hamletmachine.PDF

[13]                      This fragment is based upon a description I wrote in an e-mail correspondence with an American communist poet, or Chilean communist poet, Stella Diaz Varin. It is inspired by Varin’s biographical data. I decided to interweave L.Iluminada’s character with that of Varin, emulating Eltit’s style of writing, and plot-making: weaving ‘fake’ data, with ‘personal’ memory – a technique used by Eltit, not so much in a ‘conscious way’ – as she would refer to in an interview – but as a subjective state where both real censorship and self-censorship overlapped. See: http://www.memoriachilena.cl/602/w3-article-93634

[14]                                    In 2008, a 14-year-old girl called Música Sepúlveda threw a jar of water in the face of Mónica Jiménez, then Minister of Education of the socialist administration of Michelle Bachellet, first female President in the history of the Nation State of Chile. Música, together with some friends who participated in the student movement, approached the Minister during an official public event. They questioned the Minister on why the police forces were allowed to openly exercise violence on the students during their demonstrations. The Minister refused to enter into a dialogue. Thus, Música’s response, which caused her public prosecution. Several times since 2006, public high-school students in Chile were the subjects of uprisings for the democratization of education. Assemblies and occupied schools throughout the country served as devices for a radical political self-subjectification of the young students: consciousness raising processes around the conditions of life under the neoliberal policies that the Chilean democracy has inherited from the military dictatorship. Pinochet’s regime after the right-wing military coup in 1973 directly became an experimental ground for the economic doctrine of Milton Friedman and his peers, the so-called Chicago Boys. In 1989, after an agreement between several political parties of the democratic opposition and the General in Chief Augusto Pinochet, a national plebiscite was held to decide whether or not the country should remain under the government of the Military Junta. The democratic opposition united in a conglomerate called ‘La Concertación’ and won the plebiscite, thus starting the process of transition to democracy. From 1989 until 2010, Social-democrat presidents have ruled Chile but they have not interrupted neoliberal policies. On the contrary, neoliberalism has been deepened. Nor has the Junta been judged for its ostensible practice of state crime over 17 years. The indebtedness of young Chileans and their families through the well-installed private education system and the impoverishment of public education is one of the key tools for social enslavement in the country. The student occupation processes starting in 2006 created a compositional space for new social formations that unfolded in collective and singular processes. They countered the subjectifying devices implemented by neoliberal rule, reversing the logic of institutional servitude. In the institutional spaces thus modified, students do not necessarily advocate for the continuous control of the ‘means of knowledge production’. These spaces consisted more often of provisional devices for transformative procedures of de-subjectification – autonomous expressions of desire, sexuality, memory, new life-work relationships, and collective intelligence – against the hegemonic powers of the debt-fare state. Young Música Sepúlveda acted out that image of multiple non-reconciliation against neoliberal democracy incarnated in the body of a woman politician. It has to be understood then within the framework of the student struggles that increased until the explosion of the university students in 2011. The latter has become the current widespread Chilean social movement.

This footnote is an excerpt of my Love Poems (2013), in LIES, a Materialist Feminist Journal, Oakland, 2014, forthcoming. See http://liesjournal.net


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Index

Oakland 2011: A Highly Hallucinatory sequence of Self- Emancipating Bodies – Walking and singing others’ songs: Precarias a la deriva – Drifts, maps, and territories  – Questions  – Walking. Moving. Asking. Talking. Mapping as we walk – Desires on hold. Walking, present – Asking  – Textures 

Song of the Many Voices

Song of the Many Voices – October 10th, 2011 – November 2nd, 2011 – November 14th , 2011

Resonance, From Elsewhere As I Listen to the Flux of Your Voice, My Body Vibrates Alongside Yours– Spit, babble, tongues – Schizo ultrasounds – Lumpen murmurs– Music’s song

150,000,000 Lips: Radio Alice, sounding barricades. Notes on the ‘creative wing’ of the Italian Autonomist movement as it resonates with Occupy Oakland

Walking, together?

Subjects, bodies? – Naming, name, names? – Withdrawing identities?

Afterthoughts

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