Jill Magid
Gerald Raunig
Stephen Hobbs
Dr Achille Mbembe
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19 february 2006


Sun, 19 Feb 2006 01:04:47 +0100
From: "gerald raunig"  

immanent transgression / spacing the line

not really liking games of filiation and selfexplanation, i nevertheless want to answer and develop some of the questions that arose here. i did not at all want to put up a dichotomy between "community art" and "high art". i was critizing certain actors in the art field (mainly curators and art critics, but also artists) for their strategic diffusion of very different (soft, hard, whatever) activist (art) practices in order to easily (re-)turn to market-oriented and object-based art on the production side, and a weird mix of fun and contemplation on the reception side. this 1. strategic diffusion and 2. undifferentiated criticism of everything that smells like "activist" or "socially engaged" is quite flat and it does not take into account or even remember at all the rich discourses (throughout the nineties and beyond) about the (im-)possibilities of participatory and community art practices with its carefully considered problems like 1. authenticism (political inequalities are concealed by representing the "real people, the real neighbourhoods" etc.), 2. paternalism (while communities are prescribed a limited identity through the process of othering, the participating artists keep their phantasmatic position as flexible universalists overseeing all), 3. transfer of symbolic capital from social fields to the art field and so on.

there are many (artistic) projects that are aware of these problems developing further the practices of the nineties, and there are other, transversal practices that try to cross the logic of identitarian and communitarian strategies in a way that breaks up institutional closures (marion hinted at a few of them, but you could also find them in more conventional art forms). of course, there is no outside of institutional practices either, no realm beyond institutions (ed young referred to these entanglements with his - unfortunately sexist - minidrama of "dicks", "pussies" and "assholes"), but you can still on the one hand fight structuralization and intervene in the different forms of institution (also of the art field) you are involved in, and on the other hand you can invent new "instituent practices" (more on that s. http://transform.eipcp.net/transversal/0106/raunig/en ). and relating to this topic here is the second part of my text on "immanent transgression" and "spacing the line" (by the way thanks to aileen derieg who helped translate this) developed in parallel to barcelona based artist marcelo expósito's video "radical imagination" (2004) on the "carnival against capital" in 1999. this is related to shep's hints on the non-dialectical aspects of transgression, nathaniel stern's boundary-concept and of course very much to marion's remarks on reclaim the streets etc.:

How could a kind of immanent transgression be imagined, in which masks cover nothing other than more masks, in which transgression is not a matter of a prefigured border separating two identities from one another, nor a matter of destroying that border, but rather of changing its quality?

/This/ specific idea of a border is not a neutral, non-spatial line, dividing, parting, separating art and politics, pleasure and earnestness, desire and social movement. It is specifically /on/ the border that things develop their constituent power by expanding the borderline into a border space. If carnival is /not /taken to mean the Dionysian figure of reproduction, of abandoning all restraints in order to function all the better afterward, but rather as resistance and as constituent power, then it does not develop into a totalizing dedifferentiation of art and life. Instead, it develops right /on/ the border that is dilatated, expanded into a border /space/.

What happens in this border space of the anti-capitalist carnival, what are its social forms of organisation? Unlike orderly strikes and demonstrations, in which the social machines are homogenized into a structure from the start, but also unlike the mob that becomes a unity as a dense crowd, the scattered mass of the anti-capitalist carnival is a non-conforming mass: contrary to the denunciation of the mass as indifferent, which has marked the negative connotation of the term for centuries, the term non-conforming indicates that the mass can be understood here neither as formless nor as uniform. This kind of non-conforming formation organizes itself in difference, as a permeable, fluctuating, scattered mass.

If the mass is not segmented and homogenized, then a double non-conformity can develop specifically in the situative outrage of the carnival, toward the inside and toward the outside. Toward the outside the mass proclaims its non-conformity in non-compliance with the form of how it is governed. What is in common remains based exclusively on negation, on the rejection of a specific way of being governed. Toward the inside non-conformity in this negation of being fixed as a community means the permanent differentiation of the singular. Contrary to all impositions of collective identities, the event of the anti-capitalist carnival is intended to test an organization that fosters the production of singularities.

In spacing the border line, the border is no longer intended to keep two sides apart, but rather to enable the permanent constitution and confrontation of the different with the different. This space where the dualisms of art and politics, of pleasure and earnestness are thwarted, does not involve the instruction and integration of outsiders (whether they are an art audience or the proletariat, someone to be aesthetically or politically informed). Instead it involves a new combination of bodies and signs that do not seek to represent anything, but rather to contribute to letting the world happen. The bodies do not want to show themselves to an outside, but instead appear for a certain period in difference and outside of measure. In reality, though, it is only for a brief period of time, and only tricks can save them from being immediately striated, lined up by the state apparatus.

Immanent transgression does not overcome the border to make it disappear, but is the gesture that /changes the border on the inside/. The transgression meets the border in spacing the borderline, regardless of how narrow it is: not in a step across it, in a cross-over, but in changing it by passing through it. The line spatialized in the transgression is, at the same time, the whole space of transgression. The "whole space of transgression" means that there is no beyond in this movement. Crossing the border aims to change the border as the only possible plane of immanence: a change that does not consist in the absolute separation of identities, but in enabling a flowing space, in which differences oscillate, collide, process. Contrary to the conventional use of the term, the border is thus less linked to the gesture of rigorous division, but more to a fluid form in which difference floats.

When in this flow crisis and upheaval, confusion and protest are emerging, it is not the old idea of a dialectics of power and resistance. The specific form of immanent transgression does not pose one side against the other, does not enter into a dialectical "game of mockery", in which the border is a towering in-between. Measure is taken exactly on and in the border space, in which differences move without needing to be suspended in a higher identity. So this is not a specific kind of prefigured space as /precondition /for resistance, it is the smooth space that is produced in the event of resistance /and /of constituent power.

Also the border space itself, and with it the becoming of both the border and the differences, is not to be understood as a static container, but rather as moving and constantly changing, expanding its impact successively and in all directions. There is no passive acceptance of the distribution /of/ space and thus also its segmentation, no subordination to hierarchical conditions, but only a transversal distribution /in/ space. Hence there is a connection, a simultaneity of the transformation of the borderline into the borderspace /and/ the specific quality of the emerging space: instead of a molar distribution /of space//, /a nomadic distribution/ in space//. /This kind of space without precise limits, an uncontrollable space, a smooth space, as long as it is not to remain a romantic glorification and gesture of transgression as transcendence this space of immanent transgression means recomposition of social constellations, emergence of desiring machines, in which the logic of distribution and segmentation, the striating of space is permanently breached.

"Get away from a traditional confrontational protest situation and prefigure our imagined world in the moment of the protest itself", that was the aim of /reclaim the streets/ and the carnival against capital in the words of activist John Jordan (interviewed in Marcelo Expósito, Radical Imagination). This double movement, this parallel line of protest and social recomposition is exactly what immanent transgression means. Spacing the line, protesting against the demands of the capitalist regime and at the same time developing portions of a constituent power, prefigurative models, no matter how small they are, and which arise in the event as an experiment in social organization and as a politics of pleasure.