“In what language, and with what sort of vocabulary?”

by tobybee

I just returned home from a few hours at Occupy Melbourne – time spent talking ideas, interpersonal politics, fighting about spaces; time spent in a way which was equal parts fun, inspiring, entertaining and frustrating – to find a package from amazon (yes, I know they’re bad, but there’s some thing you just can’t get in stores in Melbourne) containing the new album from The Shondes, Searchlights, and What Does a Jew Want? On Binationalism and Other Specters, a book written by Udi Aloni, with Slavoj Zizek, Alain Badiou and Judith Butler. What an excellent package!! So the record went straight into the cd player, and I’m nodding to it as I write. And the book was opened to the front page, so I could skim it, see how it worked, what bits I wanted to read straight away.

And I started with the opening quotes, one from Edward Said’s Freud and the Non-European, the other from Walter Benjamin’s “On the Concept of History”. And Benjamin’s words read

It is well-known that the Jews were forbidden to look into the future. The Torah and the prayers instructed them, by contrast, in remembrance. This disenchanted those who fell prey to the future, who sought advice from the soothsayers. For that reason the future did not, however, turn into a homogenous and empty time for the Jews. For in it every second was the narrow gate, through which the Messiah could enter.

It did not turn into homogenous and empty time. That is, as I understand Benjamin, it did not turn into the progressive, linear time of modernity and capitalism; it did not turn into control and domination. The future was left (is left?) to imagination and possibility; to the unpredictable, to the ever hopeful, and perhaps the impossible.

At Occupy Melbourne (OM, from now on) we’re in the process of producing a Declaration. It’s been a long process (I’m on the Declaration working group, and I’ve lost count of the number of hours I’ve spent working on this document), but we’re now moving it through the General Assembly, slowly slowly making amendments, hopefully crafting it into something that lots of people can see themselves reflected in, can identify with and feel passionate about.

In an earlier draft there was the beginning of a list of demands, or goals. That was scrapped early on, but there are people who are pushing that such a list needs to be produced soon. They say that this list will demonstrate what OM is, will be a response to those people who say we stand for nothing concrete, because we will be able to say ‘look – these are the things we want, these are the things we demand, these are the practical changes we would make.’

I fundamentally disagree.

And it was reading Benjamin’s words tonight that crystallised further for me why.

Making a set of demands means, to a certain extent, that we believe that it is possible to create change within the system we have. To suggest a different tax scheme, or to suggest that government needs to talk to the people more, or to suggest that there needs to be affirmative action measures, is to say that there isn’t something fundamentally wrong with the structures and the systems that exist. It is to discount the words of Waziyatawin, who spoke a few weeks ago at Occupy Oakland and reminded us that we need decolonisation, as to make a claim for anything else is to say that the systems we live in aren’t fundamentally based on colonialism and capitalism, on dispossession and eradication of difference.

To make a set of claims is to suggest that we can move forward, that we can develop ourselves and our society in a progressive, linear fashion.

We need instead to reject these languages of development, of progression, of demands and changes to the system. We need to instead, I think, live in a hope which rejects linearity and all that accompanies it. For this homogenous empty time is homogenous and empty because it controls us and controls our speech and interactions. Perhaps we need to take up Benjamin’s invocation of remembrance, and ponder what it would mean to think in the language and ideas of a messiah who was not external to us, but was in us, in our Movement, in our Occupation, in our politics, in our language. How can this be part of our continued building, in the words of Angela Davis at OWS, of “communities of resistance”?

(*quote in the title is from a paragraph by Edward Said that Aloni uses as the other epigraph)