Calvino, Wallace, Holland, (and me)


Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, my translation:

The inferno of the living is not something that will be. If there is one, it is that which is already here, the inferno that we inhabit every day, that we create by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for most: accept the inferno and become such a complete part of it that you no longer know it is there. The second is risky and requires vigilance and continuous attention: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of inferno, are not inferno, and help them endure, give them space.

David Foster Wallace in L. McCaffrey, Conversations with David Foster Wallace, p. 26:

Look man, we’d probably most of us agree that these are dark times, and stupid ones, but do we need fiction that does nothing but dramatize how dark and stupid everything is? In dark times, the  definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what’s human and magical that still live and glow despite the times’ darkness. Really good fiction could have as  dark a worldview as it wished, but it’d find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it.

Eugene Holland, Nomad Citizenship, p. 172:

The task of nomadological utopianism is then to detect and reinforce such alternative instances [to capitalism and the State], distill and express the ideals informing them, then relay and propagate those ideals in additional institutions and practices throughout social life, in anticipation of pushing society to a tipping point beyond which they actually come to prevail.

Me, drawing heavily on the others, from The Down-Deep Delight of Democracy, p. 21-2:

Both Calvino and Wallace are saying that there is something already here, something good, breathing in the midst of human society. This good is not transcendent, or an ideal to come. It is immanent, incipient, coming. Calvino calls it that which is “not inferno.” For Wallace, it is those elements of “what’s human and magical” in the world,  elements that illuminate the “possibilities for being alive.” Even though we are surrounded by the actual world of the inferno, we can seek out the not-inferno and help it to grow. In a similar way,  Lefebvre’s transduction argues that a possible world is not “out there,” beyond our current situation, but rather it is already here, even if it remains inchoate. Our task as political thinkers and actors, Lefebvre argues, is to discover this good, this other world, to remove the barriers that prevent its growth, and to nurture it as best we can.

Nomad Democracy, or, Eugene Holland and Me

D&G's nomad chariot

It is quite a thing to run across someone who seems eerily connected to you in terms of their intellectual project.  That is the experience I had reading Andy Merrifield’s Magical Marxism, and I just had it again reading Eugene Holland’s Nomad Citizenship.  I tend to think in terms of the concept democracy, and Holland prefers citizenship, communism, markets, and general strike, but our overall projects are quite close.  We both draw on a similar stable of thinkers (Deleuze and Guattari, the Italians, the Invisible Committee, Marx) to imagine a politics that does not confront the state and capital, but rather seeks out the alternative forms of economic, political, and social life that are already being tried.  Our job (‘our’ meaning everyone) is not to create those new forms, or organize people and cause them to live those new forms, but to learn to recognize new forms as they exist now and figure out how to help them grow on their own terms and spread by connecting with other, similar initiatives.  I just tried to articulate this idea in a response to a comment made by Nik Janos on my post on Bakunin.  The idea is that these alternative forms of life must survive, grow, and, eventually, come to pervade society, to reach a critical mass, as Holland puts it, to become-general so that we arrive at a bifurcation point after which we spill over into a new land, one that is thick with the presence of democracy (for me, or free-market communism, for Holland).  It is not really a question of wanting to smash the state or capitalism, it is rather a question of “growing” democracy to a point where those oligarchical forms of rule appear quaint and no longer relevant to the needs of our lives.  Holland puts it like this (p. 163): we have to “produce a gradual but irreversible, and ultimately definitive, becoming-unnecessary of our abject dependence on both capital and the State….”  I would just soften his “irreversible” and “definitive” language: we must always understand that even if we reach the tipping point, even if we create a new land, capitalist and State alienation will always return, always re-emerge and seek to reimpose themselves on us.  We must understand the new land to be made up of our perpetual flight from these apparatuses.  Their defeat is possible, but it can never be irreversible.

To be clear, I don’t mean to imply I am at the same level as Merrifield and Holland, just that we are trying to articulate a very similar project.

[Holland and I also share an affinity for Richard Day’s work, but don’t like his penchant for ruling out forms of struggle once and for all, considering them “dead” or passe.  I have an exchange with Day on this point coming out soon in ACME].

Eugene Holland: Nomad Citizenship


Add Eugene Holland to the list of people (Balso, Negri, Badiou) who see communism as necessarily operating at a distance from the State.  He develops the idea of “free-market communism” as a way to

deploy selected features of the free market to transform communism and free it from a fatal entanglement with the State (xvi).

His goal is to force

orthodox Marxism to acknowledge that hitherto existing communism has featured a centralized authoritarian State and that the free market offers an essential corrective to State-governed social relations (xvi).

Of course, by “free market” he does not mean a capitalist market. That is what he thinks the idea of communism can do: it can force those who equate capitalism with a free market

to acknowledge that hitherto existing capitalism has inexorably produced exploitative oligopolies and monopolies that ruined free markets…. Communism offers an essential corrective to the wage relation on which capitalist exploitation is based (xvi).

The idea of his paradoxical concept of free-market communism, he says, is to force us to think about free markets and communism in new and more productive ways.

On to Eugene Holland’s Nomad Citizenship

My reading group just finished Thrift’s Non-Representational Theory and Latour’s Reassembling the Social, both of which were very trying to read and neither of which added much value to my project.  On the upside, I just finished Negri’s Goodbye Mr. Socialism, which I loved (despite the fact that his imagination of politics is mostly trapped in an economic register).  I am continually energized by his approach to democracy (and its similarity to communism in his thought).  I have Negri’s book with Guattari, Communists Like Us, next in my sights.  The reading group is now moving on to Eugene Holland’s Nomad Citizenship, which I am very excited about.  After the slog of Thrift and Latour, Holland better come through, dammit.