Revolution at 100: McKenzie Wark

  1. What remains of a politico-cultural horizon beyond contemporary capitalism? Is the term “revolution” appropriate today? Why or why not?

Maybe it isn’t even capitalism any more, but something worse. It’s always described now with modifiers: late, neoliberal, postfordist, platform, etc. But maybe it’s not enough to just add an epicycle to the old theory. Maybe it’s more a question of understanding the current mutation in the mode of production in its own terms. Otherwise we are stuck with a concept of eternal capitalism which changes only in appearance and never in essence. A consequence of introducing some scepticism about whether the ancient analysis of capital still holds, is a corresponding scepticism as to whether current modes of class struggle and counter-systemic confrontation have to look anything like the old ones. Maybe there already was a ‘revolution’ against capital, but from above. Maybe the subaltern classes confront something different in a different way now.

  1. Where does the Revolution exist in contemporary cultural politics, if it exists at all? 

At the level of form more than content. In the creation of practices outside the commodity form for the binding of peoples, the identification of environments, the registering of affect, the filtering of pasts into presents. The current ruling class has found ways to recuperate the production of free culture. The commons now exist to provide free labor for new forms of commodification of information. But that may not be the end of the story. We became data punks to destroy the culture industry, and in part succeeded. Now we need to become meta-data punks to destroy the vulture industry. At least the old culture industries actually made a product to entertain us. Now we have to pay to entertain each other. Conflict moves up a level of form, from data to meta-data. The particular is free but not the totality. We want it all.

  1. What new meanings or manifestations might revolution take on in the post- or neo-colonial present, one threatened with ecological as well as politico-economic and military catastrophe?

This civilization, such as it was, is over. And everybody knows it, really. The hysterical nature of denial, and the amount of money pumped into sustaining it, is a sign of its weakness. The thing that is hard to introduce into the existing structure of feeling is this awareness that these are already ruins. We all get to build a new civilization but we have to do it in the ruins of the old one. And without a blueprint. If the Holocene is over, then most everything anyone knows about how to do it is now provisional knowledge at best. The exception would be things like indigenous knowledge, which in very many cases has already passed through an ending and thinks and now feels in an afterwards.

  1. Is there hope for political transformation within the terms of actually existing representative democracy? Is it possible to address climate change adequately within the terms of capitalism?

Probably not, but then neither existing economies nor existing politics can be ignored, either. It is less helpful than we imagine to decide in advance what’s not going to work. Nobody knows what will work. Perhaps people could spend more time connecting different strategies and forms together than in trying to rank them, one over the other. We don’t know what we’re doing so let’s not pretend we do.

  1. What do art, aesthetic action, and visual culture have to offer when it comes to the imperatives of political transformation? What role might they have, more broadly, in building and envisioning political transformation? 

Well, for a start, maybe transformation won’t be ‘political.’ It’s something of a fetish word for artists and intellectuals, as if it was the magic means of change. But have you seen actual politics? It is hardly magical. Nor is it the only language within which one can think about power or change. Nor is it necessarily universal. ‘Politics’ may be too deeply rooted in a western history. So the first use of aesthetics might be to loosen the grip of this modern western imaginary in which everything is political and politics is a kind of magic. But that’s just a start. Perception may well be a very central problem. The ‘slow violence’ (Rob Nixon) of the Anthropocene is hard to picture, even harder to feel. There may be a lot of work to do that is an aesthetics and a technics and a politics and an economy of perception. Or maybe something along the lines of what Yves Citton calls an ecology of attention.

  1. How might different subjects—whether differently abled, aged, or particularly vulnerable and precarious—be unevenly affected by the prospect of revolution/political transformation? What work is being done, or needs to be done, to ensure that radical transformation is radically inclusive?

The generalizing (I won’t say universalizing) of a movement has to start from the edges, the margins, from who and what is excluded. As we know from Donna Haraway, there’s a connection between those humans who aren’t included and those other organisms that aren’t included. One has to work from those margins and generalize from there. Those struggles, perceptions and feelings are ones (almost) everyone can participate in. One can’t do this the other way around anymore: starting from a center and obliging those formerly excluded to accept the gift of universality. As Judith Butler might say, we’re all vulnerable bodies at some point, in some way, although I’d add we’re also all capacities, too. Of course, it helps to have a common enemy! Let’s keep our eyes on the ruling class, as global and invisible as it may be, as that against which movements have to form and reform. No other agreement is really necessary but to confront them.

  1. In our counter-factual, anti-regulatory, climate change denying era, how might the arts support scientific endeavors? How might the Sciences learn from art activism?

I think it’s time to ensure our tactics are in line with the current situation. As I read it, the attacks on science are a major feature of the current struggle. There are factions of the ruling class whose very survival requires the destruction of terrestrial life, and they are quite happy to sacrifice everything to stay in the same old business, particularly the business of oil and coal. Hence they have to place their bets on irrationalism and attack science. They don’t really care what kind of crazy Nazi allies they make in the process. So I think the first thing has to be to mend fences with the sciences, coming from the arts and humanities. Critique of particular applications of science, its cooption by the military and corporate worlds, in my view has to nest within support for the sciences as ways of knowing the world. And I think we have to make that gesture without expecting anything in return. It has to be an act of generosity. Durable alliances generally start with demonstrations of good will. All forms of knowledge are now under attack by factions of the ruling class whose last bases of support are extreme forms of reactionary populism. So it’s time to stress the commonality in our desire to know the world.

McKenzie Wark is the author of A Hacker Manifesto, Gamer Theory, 50 Years of Recuperation of the Situationist International and The Beach Beneath the Street, among other books. In Molecular Red: Theory for the Anthropocene, 2016, McKenzie Wark creates philosophical tools for the Anthropocene, our new planetary epoch, in which human and natural forces are so entwined that the future of one determines that of the other. He teaches at the New School for Social Research and Eugene Lang College in New York City.

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