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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What’s Left After Obama? All this talk of change may amount to little more than a fantasy. * Simon Critchley

I’d like to borrow an idea from the philosopher Alain Badiou. In his terms, a political event is what gives existence to a collectivity under the general norm of equality. Crucially, on this definition, politics does not consist in remaining within and buttressing the power of the state. On the contrary, it consists in taking a distance from the state. Now, such a distance does not exist, as the state, particularly the soft democratic state that merges with civil society, saturates more and more areas of social life. Distance, then, is something that has to be created. Moreover, it has to be created within what I call the interstices of the state. Politics, then, is the creation of interstitial distance through acts whereby collectives take shape. The question of scale is vital here. A collective can be something as vast and rhizomatic as the anti-globalization movement a few years back or as small as 5, 10 or 20 people deciding in concert on a program of action. The Paris Commune, lest we forget, began with an act of refusal by a handful of citizens.

Whatever is left of the left after Obama should be committed to the creation of local experiments with politics, the formation of collectivities that exist apart from and which can exert a pressure upon the state. True politics does not exhaust itself in the play of representation and spectacle characteristic of liberal democracy. It is about the emergence out of invisibility of collectivities in the interstices of the state and at the limits of capital. There was perhaps a moment on the evening of November 4th when the potential for such emergence threatened to happen. It might happen still.


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