Our Silence is (also) a Commons

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Our Silence is (also) a Commons — 05.25.19


0. Our Silence is (also) a Commons
1. First Postscript
2. Second Postscript


0. Our Silence is (also) a Commons

A few years ago, we wanted to organize a series of gatherings under the heading ‘The Coming or the Common Depression’. We were hesitant because naming is not a neutral act, and we did not want to call into existence something which we were hoping as a community to avert.

A handful of months passed and we received news that Mark Fisher had taken his own life. A brilliant writer and thinker who was himself so present to the challenges imposed by a realism shaped by contemporary capitalism, had been taken under. Again, we were challenged to do something, say something, meet together, read Mark’s writings, only to fall within those same weeks, attending to the existential wildfires caused by uprootings and evictions within our midst.

In these years, we lost more than one can recount, when even one is too many.

Meanwhile the headlines go by, idiot president and hypocrite president before him, and parties, and journalists saying truths while the lies spill from their laps, from their laughs, from their cries. The society of spectacle becoming the spectacle of society.

Fake news indeed make good fake presidents and fake politics and fake lives, this analysis was done 50 years ago. Scurrying over to the next protest, the next corruption or scandal, the next evidence that the majority of institutions we inhabit are structurally capitalist, racist, patriarchal, and intimately hooked into the biocidal machine taking all life toward extinction. And we are not allowed to speak about it, we may be deemed out of our minds.

Green New Deal up their ass, as our friend Valerie Solanas might have said if she were still with us. And so too the addiction to organization, without ever changing the way we ‘organize’ our lives.

As if we would be waiting for the states and the existing forms of institution to bring about the revolution rather than starting from our everyday capacities and looking for the measures and means in our everyday lives with those around us.

Already since our meetings with Bifo in 2009, we wanted to orient attention toward one of the shifting terrains of capitalist exploitation and extraction, what Bifo at the time referred to as the mining of the psyche and what he would later write as the soul at work.

How many have we lost in this war that is so invisible, so silent, where the very machinery of care or cure, like the hospital, the medications, the doctors themselves become the last and most violent tools of capitalist extractivism. The most bitter pill to swallow for those suffering from and struggling against the wreckage of capitalist life, are the pills whose efficacy are measured not by how many they cure and certainly not by how many they drive to the edge but instead by the billions of profits they bring to their manufacturers.

‘Welcome to the New Paradigm?’ Where the institutions that are meant to protect against racism or ecological ruin help perpetuate them. Or the institutions responsible for educating the young only seem to produce a more generalized ignorance concerning the gravity of our times. Nothing has changed really, only now it appears the forked tongue is more univocal and the masks hiding the racist, colonial, patriarchal, and classist inheritances and underpinnings are momentarily off.

Ulrike Meinhof was once rumoured to have said that every suicide is a death by capitalism. And in this sense her note to her sister, “If they say I committed suicide, be sure that it was a murder” can be read beyond that of the specific circumstances of her own murder inside Stammheim Prison.

How many silent deaths caused by medications, caused by overdose, by abuse, institutionalized dis-care, by the ‘there is no alternative’ conditions of a capitalist reality which does not give space for other sensibilities, values, senses of life – augmented by devices and apparatuses which aim to capture, extract, profit upon the last bit of intimacy we posses, our imaginaries and our words to one another. And where journals and newspapers cannot read yet alone recall all the signs of a total disaster without adding a list of great books to read this weekend, great shows to see, great recipes to survive global warming, and the right app to organize your estate before parting.

So it is with a deep sadness that we interrupt our extended silence/strike to share the passing of a young comrade and friend of the space, Zack Rosen. The crossing of a threshold always needs a leaping into a beyond. We are in the beyond now, remembering a friend of the space, but doing so remembering also all those we cannot name who we have lost in these years of ‘going under’.

We met Zack at a time when he had left college and became involved in Occupy, meetings at 16 Beaver in 2011 and beyond. In many ways, Zack represented so much of what is hopeful in a city like New York. That it can still bring together people who really want to live another way and who are committed to social, ecological, political, and a radical idea of justice. But to go from years of fragmentation and disjunction and arrive to the experience of the near wondrous conjunctions and transversality of Occupy is a very different arch than starting through Occupy. For many, even those of us older, who have lived through the hyper individualizing and fractalizing inertia in a city like New York, the fragmentation that once again took hold and slowly became the norm again in the years following Occupy was difficult to endure emotionally.

We had seen  for nearly two years large swaths of multiplicities collectivizing their lives in daily struggle.How could we go back to the normal, especially when the normal means a catastrophic fate for life on earth?

It is a story that can be told across geographies regarding the psychic fallout in the midst of our contemporary struggles. On the one hand, one resists the violence of the state, the violence of the corporations, the complicity of the institutions which are meant to serve us. On the other, one is haunted and pulled down by the everyday structural adjustments we inherit since the birth of neoliberalism which disallows any life to stay out of the nexus and dependency on money to reproduce and justify an existence.

We struggle against the community of money while at the same time being forced to live by it, in it, through it. What measures do we develop collective to overcome this basic contradiction? Are we capable?

The struggles of this last decade – many of which through tactics of occupation opened moments of a euphoric spirit of a communized care of everyday social reproduction, more than the specific claims or demands upon which they have initially gathered – have been the exact antidote to atomized existence (where even friendship is increasingly a virtual affair and touching associated more with devices than bodies).

Having lived this suspended and extended period of a communized existence during Occupy, Zack would not accept no for an answer. Like many other comrades who lived and created that experience, he tried to find new collective processes of struggle, becoming among other things, intensively involved in organizing against the building of a fracked-gas pipeline off Far Rockaway. It should be said that during Occupy, he was tirelessly involved in organizing for the called for General Strike.

What seemed the challenge for so many of us was precisely where to put our energies, how to live the spirit and lessons of the movement? How to not find ourselves in isolation? Especially when the real tragedy of the movements was not the violence and coordination of the states to shut them down (giving birth to far more reactive forces to mobilize that anger and contempt, as is evident today across the globe). This is a historic fate always confronting most movements which break from the logic and order of things. The tragedy was witnessing all those people who ‘talked the talk’ but could not ‘walk the walk’ and could not see themselves implicated. Especially those addicted to the comforts of the institutional worlds we inherit, the money they provide, the recognition they give and the way they buy our silence and complicity.

And those of us who resist and resist, the homes we return to, if we are not evicted from them, the very places and conditions through which we awake and reproduce ourselves, our places of work or hopefully unwork, our relations, our foods, whatever we think are our medicines, our sources of news, our sources of thinking, learning, culture, and healing are numbing us if not killing us.

To put it differently or indifferently, everyday we wake up and reproduce or take part in these structures of injustice and negligence, without constructing their alternatives, we kill ourselves, we destroy worlds.  And with no exit plans, especially those of a collective nature, the psychological fractures multiply in lock step with the social, political, economic, ecological ones.

Staring at the face of this institutionalized negligence and the proliferation of sad passions is but one dimension of the disaster we are living through. In his fragment on Capitalism as Religion, Walter Benjamin once noted, what distinguishes capitalism from other religions is that there is no redemption. Its only endgame is for all to share the guilt / the debt.

So we write this note as a way of remembering Zack and doing so by linking his passing to those near and far who we have lost in the last years, in this great struggle over the very terms of what it means to live today and to do so without negotiating the non-negotiable. Zack never wanted to be the center of attraction or a spokesperson. He was intelligent, sensitive, vulnerable, haunted and inhabited by the dynamics he was struggling against. He would never imagine himself an emblem of a movement.

In our last correspondence with Zack, he had sent a text he wanted us and other friends to collectively work on. It was a delirious text, part poetry, part philosophy, part riddle, part political treatise. In it, he tried to recognize and work through all that he was thinking as well as all that he had been experiencing, including the darkness and confusion. His preliminary title was, ‘Going Under’. At the time, we could not find our way into the text because even with the many references to writers or ideas we recognized, the way of weaving together the thoughts was all his. Sadly, only in his passing did we find our way into this imagined writing together.

Years ago, when we lost Neil, we had a space to gather and grieve together. And when Clark passed, his friends and family created a space of collective grieving. And other loved ones passing, we had to endure silently. But being someone who was between spaces and communities, we felt that we needed to do something public, to mark Zack’s passing and also to remember him and other comrades like him who have fallen through the cracks and suffered emotionally in these deeply conflicted and afflicted worlds we inhabit.

With that exigency, we have put together a film in these last days, using the last version of his text we had received. Pairing his writing with video materials found online from an autonomous news collective documenting the gilets jaunes protests, using just one day’s reel, March 16 in Paris. Having initially thought to just publish and share his text, then to shoot materials from our own environments, we came to the conclusion that his thoughts were animated by struggles and that this video material would make his text more comprehensible and alive and vice versa.

Let us clarify that this film has not been made in the logic and order of production, exhibition and thus consumption, but as a way of conjuring and keeping alive the spirit of a lost comrade and remembering a generation that in Zack’s own words, has ‘gone under.’ You who will read this note, will recognize who we are speaking of, because it is impossible that we have not all suffered such losses.

It must also be said that we do not make this film to celebrate or glorify what for us in the words of Ulrike amounts not to martyrdom but the taking of a life. And it is such losses, these lives taken silently each day from our communities, which are the real events requiring our care and attention. Not what some idiots and a thousand mouthpieces say or report upon from an oval or circular or square or whatever shape office.

But can we organize ourselves around grief and mourning? Must we confront that these are the preconditions of our struggles today? What kind of spaces of struggle exist and means to confront and accept and tend to our vulnerabilities? Or are we still living the nearly fascist fiction of an infinite supply of young martyrs for the struggles to come?

For those anywhere, interested in organizing a screening of the film, whether in small groups or larger ones, both as a way of remembering Zack and marking his passing as a political experience and linking it with the psychic, economic, ecological, political deteriorations and struggles we are living … please write to us and we can provide you with a link to the film.


1. First Postscript

As an intergenerational space, we also mark the passing of our elders, and we write this short postscript to remember the autonomist artist, writer, poet Nanni Balestrini. In his book ‘We Want Everything’ his nameless protagonist of his book referring to the factory says, “Only a drone could spend years in this shitty prison and do a job that destroys your life.” Already the outlines and necessities of a human or beyond human strike were laid out in the ‘years of lead’ in the 70’s in Italy, and elucidated with even greater lucidity by the feminist movements which took the struggles of operaismo beyond the factory and into the living rooms, bedrooms, kitchens and everyday spaces of reproduction and care. Their thesis, the strike begins there (ironically and parodically asking for lost wages!). What they sought was nothing short of a revolution of everyday life through the communalization of that care. Parodic, because they knew that no boss or state would ever do it for us. Just as they will never be able to heal or attend to the maladies they perpetrate and perpetuate. The intensification of the means of extraction from our everyday spaces of reproduction only makes more pertinent that analysis and horizon of struggle. And for this, maybe if we were to project and invoke in language what we hope to create the conditions for, which certainly is not a further proliferation of sad passions, it is the coming or common strike. And we say beyond-human strike, recognizing that a great part of the living world around us is already on that path.


2. Second Postscript:

The multiplicities that have nurtured and given life to 16 Beaver in these twenty years have not disappeared. And though we have had to resort to a strike against the conditions of reproducing a space of meeting and convening while concurrently battling the arbitrary power of those who ‘own’ or control our spaces of reproduction – we have not stopped our struggles to create such spaces. New York City and the worlds we depend on are dying because too many accept to swim in the muck or struggle against irremediable institutions. Our lived thesis has been that one can only wage those struggles through the strength of such common places, which do not submit to the organizational logic of neoliberalism nor the movements of bureaucratization and professionalization of politics – situations where we actually build the infrastructures that attend to our real concerns. That is what 16 Beaver has been a movement of, beyond an autonomous university, beyond an autonomous clinic or center of care, beyond an autonomous space for art, and even beyond an autonomous political movement. It has been a search for constructing the space for bringing all those things together. And we are looking for the conditions that would allow us to do that, but we must remove the constant threat of eviction and monthly rent extraction which we have been exposed to since starting in 1999. And if that is impossible in New York in the 21st century, then we must look for other means or construct the conditions of possibility for such a situatuion to exist.

As we formulated some years ago, if the reigning logic is eviction, then we must turn our eviction into exodus, a pure passivity or a radical agency, it does not matter as long as the hive, can delineate a line of flight with enough consistency to regroup and strike again.

For those who have a space or building in the city to common or short of that, and probably more realistically, those interested in being part of our continued search for constructing such spaces through/within our own means and abilities, you can some traces of it in the link below and write to us.