Books: Best of 2009: Eleven Scholars, Critics, Writers, and Artists Choose the Year's Outstanding Titles
Sanders, Jay, Artforum International
Once upon a time in Paris, there was a short-lived meeting place in the form of a journal called Tiqqun, which, in two volumes, published anonymous philosophical writings that combined resonances of Agamben, Benjamin, Foucault, Heidegger, and Schmitt. Then there was no more Tiqqun, or Tiqqun went on hiatus. Its dissolution, according to rumors, had something to do with 9/11 and disagreements over the way to proceed in its wake. Sometime after this, an anonymous video, And the War Has Only Just Begun ..., dated 2001, circulated on the Internet. Over various still and moving images (burning twin towers, black-bloc rioters, anonymous metropolitans framed in a cafe window, eating alone), a voice addresses the "lost children" who have awoken from their "prescribed sleep" and ruminates on how "the Party" is to be built. In retrospect, the film seems a key intermediary, following on the heels of Tiqqun and prefiguring The Coming Insurrection, a book published in 2007 (as L'Insurrection qui vient) by La Fabrique, its authorship credited to something called the Invisible Committee. A certain similarity in tone between Tiqqun and The Coming Insurrection was obvious, the crucial transition perhaps summarized as one from theory to action: It was now time to build "the Party," to gather those who had woken.
Meanwhile, the passage of a few people through a rather brief moment in time: young graduate students who decamped to the Correze village of Tarnac, where they lived communally, read a lot of books, ran a general store, and "raised carrots without masters or leaders," as their parents wrote in an open letter after they were arrested and became, infamously, the Tarnac 9. The probable cause had something to do with "pre-terrorism," the main evidence for which was the text of The Coming Insurrection. (The bibliophobic French police also considered the communal library of five thousand volumes highly suspicious and made a list of titles they considered especially dangerous.) One of the nine stayed in jail for more than six months, uncharged. The purported Invisible Committee of one, he was interviewed on the front page of Le Monde but, to date, has gone to great lengths to remain unseen (in deep sub-subcomandante style, he insisted on being transported from prison in the trunk of a friend's car). When the book appeared in English from Semiotext(e) this past May, a Fox TV pundit waved it around over a montage of burning and looting from across the globe. "The extreme left is calling for violence!" The book flew off the shelves--purchased mostly, it seems, by fringe right-wing apocalypse fantasists, a strange but fitting plot twist that quickly faded into the banality of the daily news.
Far more compelling is the text itself. More than any literary work I read this year, it deserves the designation "most provocative and interesting book," due to its tone, style, urgency, black humor, and unqualified rejection of our entire civilization. All positions on the left are rotten and defunct, ecology is a sham, earnestness and activism are accessories to spectacle (and therefore all organizations are to be avoided), and in this new phase of capitalism, work is no longer even a means of producing commodities and wealth but a form of sheer discipline that renders citizens docile and self-subjugating. It's a bleak assessment, but leavened by those symptoms that most starkly contradict the absurd notion that there exists one social fabric, a "common" good: for instance, the coexistence of the musical genre "alt-folk," in which the petite bourgeoisie "dissects the state of its soul," with the Parisian rap group Mafia K'1 Fry, who embody the harrowing state-within-a-state intensity of the banlieue. A society that includes such oppositions is proof enough that a total collapse of civilization is not imminent--it is already happening. "It is within this reality," we're told, "that we must choose sides."
The book is broken down into seven circles, each critiquing a different aspect of post-Fordist society, followed by a manual or set of potentialities for organizing in the ruins. …