I’ve started a new Fourth of July tradition — reading this gem from The Invisible Committee. It’s been a few years since I first read it and in light of the malaise and disgust settling over the U.S. like a toxic cheeto-colored fog I figured it was time for a re-read.
The text is sometimes unapproachable, not sure if that’s a result of translation from French or just from ideas coming too quickly that they clog the brain pipes. While touching on a lot that’s rotted in society, the possibilities it dreams of seem too outlandish. I don’t see how this insurrection can be achieved, partly because I’m not ready to hit the streets from the comfort of my cozy reading chair and partly because of an uneasy feeling that anarchists tend to ruin things (see recent Berkeley events). I did laugh though when I saw the Fox News review that this was the most evil thing they’d ever read. It’s a direct assault on all that Fox clings to.
It’s laid out in sections, seven circles:
- I am what I am (“Never has domination found such an innocent-sounding slogan. The maintenance of the self in a permanent state of deterioration, in a chronic state of near-collapse, is the best-kept secret of the present order of things.”). This elevation of individuals over the collective good is the sludgey ooze that pulls society apart.
- Entertainment is a vital need. Laughing at the news is our coping mechanism. “Everyone can testify to the doses of sadness condensed from year to year in family gatherings, the forced smiles, the awkwardness of seeing everyone pretending in vain, the feeling that a corpse is lying there on the table, and everyone acting as though it were nothing.”
- Life, health, and love are precarious—why should work be an exception. We’re the generation that never counted on a pension or the right to work, much less rights at work. “The disaster has already occurred: it resides in everything that had to be destroyed, in all those who had to be uprooted, in order for work to end up as the only way of existing.”
- More simple, more fun, more mobile, more secure. “The grapevine can’t be wiretapped.”
- Fewer possessions, more connections! The economy isn’t IN crisis, it IS the crisis. Negative growth is the new mantra, to consume less, be frugal, be content with what’s strictly necessary. “When an individual is frugal, property serves its function perfectly, which is to allow the individual to enjoy her own life sheltered from public existence, in the private sanctuary of her life.”
- The environment is an industrial challenge. The “environment” is a relationship to the world based on estrangement, management. “We have become neighbors in a planetary board meeting. It’s difficult to imagine a more complete hell… The globular sticky mass of their guilt lands on our tired shoulders, pressuring us to cultivate our garden, sort out our trash, and eco-compost the leftovers of this macabre feast…. We have to consume a little less to be able to keep consuming. We have to produce organically to keep producing… This is the logic of a world straining to maintain itself while giving itself an air of historical rupture.”
- We are building a civilized space here. “The feeling that we’ve been tricked is a like a wound that is becoming increasingly infected. It’s the source of the latent rage that just about anything will set off these days.” There’s also this beautiful extended metaphor:
Today the West is the GI who dashes into Fallujah on an M1 Abrams tank, listening to heavy metal at top volume. It’s the tourist lost on the Mongolian plains, mocked by all, who clutches his credit card as his only lifeline. It’s the CEO who swears by the game Go. It’s the young girl who looks for happiness in clothes, guys, and moisturizing creams… It’s the art lover who wants us to be awestruck before the “modern genius” of a century of artists, from surrealism to Viennese actionism, all competing to see who could best spit in the face of civilization.
The rest of the book is an exhortation to get going, organize, form communes, find each other. “Attach yourself to what you feel to be true. Begin there.” Circulate knowledge. “Proliferating horizontal communication is also the best form of coordination among different communes, the best way to put an end to hegemony.”