File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0111, message 53

Date: Sat, 10 Nov 2001 17:16:52 -0500 (EST)
Subject: An Aside / A (partial) Manifesto

This is a bit i've been working on, written in the context of "cultural
work" - and a lot of soul-searching about how i spend my "public time" -
in the wake of 9/11 and the current war. Without "being about" any of the
things we've been discussing, it may give some sense of how my
"ethical" thinking has been developing. This is an "internal" document
that has had some circulation among members of a couple of groups i work
with, and has spawned some interest in a kind of explicitly
anti-fundamentalist "network of heresies." 

It is an unfinished document, and leaves much unsaid, but...



Shawn P. Wilbur  |  |         

---------- Forwarded message ----------
"The highest art will be that which in its conscious content presents the
thousandfold problems of the day, the art which has been visibly shattered
by the explosions of last week, which is forever trying to collect its
limbs after yesterday's crash. The best and most extraordinary artists
will be those who every hour snatch the tatters of their bodies out of the
frenzied cataract of life, who, with bleeding hands and hearts, hold fast
to the intelligence of the time." 

"Dadaist Manifesto," Berlin, 1918, Richard Huelsenbeck

Yes, yes. Time again, it seems, for the old hobby horse, for dada. Last
week has, perhaps, always been exploding, and each yesterday has, perhaps,
had its crash, but we seem, now in particular, to be entering one of those
periods where we can hardly deny that we are in tatters. And yet, we are
asked - more than that, we are told, in a voice that brooks no denial -
that we are whole. United we stand - and don't you dare suggest
otherwise. But the only consensus that seems to exist is one of fear and
insecurity. Across almost any spectrum, at nearly any point in any field
you care to name, we share profound unease, suspicion, a sense of
individual powerlessness. And so the tired old gods of nation and faith
gain a new lease on life, even if it is a sort of undeath - zombie-like
patriotism which knows to fly the flag, but doesn't know how to tend it -
religious fundamentalism which wants to believe, but not to face any hint
of divine mystery. We've entered a war that most of us can only talk about
- when we can be induced to speak about it at all - in apologetic or
defiant tones. And, of course, our leaders have cautioned us about even
this. There are times, they caution us, when we should just keep silent,
not ask questions, let others (them, naturally) do our thinking for
us. Our freedoms, the line goes, are best served by sacrificing dissent,
debate, a critical stance towards government. 

If, however, we do resist this generalized retreat to fundamentalism and
holy war, we're faced with another dilemma. The situation we find
ourselves in the midst of is overwhelming in its complexity. We can see
why people are in the market for easy answers - and have been,
increasingly, for some time. Notions like "globalization" attempt to
capture extraordinarily complex relations of production and reproduction
with manifestations at every level of life. Finding everything we might
desire to resist bound up with basically EVERYTHING, it's easy to despair
of even identifying problems, let alone solutions. It may be more than we
can do to really understand our own lives, implicated as they are with so
many other lives, and so many institutions, faiths, ruling abstractions,
and such. 

We are left, nonetheless, with the need to live, to know how to live, as
life, regardless, goes on. We are left - or some of us, at least - with a
hunger for more than mere survival, more than "freedom" at the cost of so
many of our practical liberties, for at least a sort of bricolage more
satisfying than making do with what's in stock at Wal-Mart (never, it
seems, what you really need.) And some of us still dream the worn old
dreams of liberty (radical democracy, libertarian socialism, mutualism,
anarchism, etc). But there is hardly room even for these dreams in a
society where one can speak meaningfully of, for example, "sacrificing
liberty to protect freedom." 

We need spaces to dream, to think, to plan, organize, experiment. Those
spaces will have to exist against - if not safely outside - the binary and
fundamentalist spaces of "the new war" and the regions of indifference of
a certain kind of postmodernism. Not quite "in," but not "out" either,
these will be liminal spaces, spaces of uncertain terrain, of conscious
"faith" (with all of its terrible indeterminacy, and as differentiated
from the sure terrains of knowledge), of blasphemy (as, for example,
Haraway speaks of it), of heresy. Living laboratories. Spaces for
exploration and indecision. Chora. 

Shawn P. Wilbur  |  |         


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