I examine the performance of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot in the Christ the Savior Cathedral, Moscow, 2012, and the immediate political context of this performance. Three members of the group were arrested, accused of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, and sentenced to two years in prison. One member was released on probation, the others were granted amnesty after they served nearly the full sentence. A relative harmlessness of the crime in comparison to the severity of the punishment was striking. Looking at the feminist activist group Pussy Riot and their most famous performance, I examine how political and civic activism can be read, interpreted, and practiced in the neoliberal context. I suggest that Pussy Riot is a telling story revealing the nature of Putinism as a Russian multicultural neoliberal project. By exercising state power over the female bodies of Pussy Riot protesters, the political imaginary of the Putin Modern strives not only to discipline the bodies of political activists, but also to perpetuate a patriarchal oligarchic regime maintaining a status of the second-class citizenship for women and sanctioning and condoning the genderization of those whom it deems fit. I argue that the reason Pussy Riot’s performance generated a political affect was that they, consciously or not, worked with Russian “cultural memory.” A spiritual practice and a tradition of the Orthodox sanctity called jurodstvo underpinned their actions in the given cultural context. The trial, in turn, evoked a specter of the show trials conducted by the Soviet state. The power dynamics at play during the performance followed by the trial, made many people co-participate by interpreting the events, articulating positions, and changing sides. The “meaning” of the action was, and still is, intensely contested.
I uploaded my article on “active ruination” (namely ISIS’s affective ruining the space practices) on academia.edu. Years will pass before I get it published so it might as well just dwell there
As atrocious actions, public executions and world-making endeavors of ISIS analyzed in terms of performativity open the space for questioning the dominant ideas of history and politics. ISIS released the video of the shooting of 25 Syrian soldiers at the Palmyra ruins in the beginning of June, 2014. On the video, the executioners, most of whom appear to be teenagers, parade the soldiers on the scene of the amphitheater, kneel them down and shoot. The Palmyra amphitheater is present as a visible two-fold reminder of spectacle: as arena of violence and the metaphor for the arena of violence. A crowd, children among them, watched the execution. I argue that the public executions serve several goals for ISIS: not only does ISIS compose propaganda messages, but the very lawlessness and atrociousness of the executions function as a powerful claim of the group’s legitimacy as a state in the ISIS imaginaries. Through the staged executions, ISIS seeks to create the world of power which is alternative to the Western world. In the process of creation of this world, ISIS generates landscapes of violence, and produces spaces haunted by killings. An attempt to redefine ancient ruins and to reenact medieval executions, is a claim to build a world of alternative historicism.
In his book “The Politics of the Governed: Reflections on Popular Politics in Most of the World” (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), Partha Chatterjee rejects Benedict Anderson’s notion of a homogeneous time-space of modernity which politics inhabit, suggesting instead that such time is “the utopian time of capital” (6), and that time is heterogeneous, unevenly dense, since modernity is, in which he follows Foucault, heterotopia.
Foucault’s notion of heterotopia is evoked of describing the spacio-temporal characteristics of ambiguity, in which the subject finds herself in several places or points at once, for instance, looking at the mirror. To say that the modernity is heterotopic, is a productive way of speaking about modernity, in my opinion. Modernity is characterized by this ambiguity of positioning, when futurity and remnants of the past commingle and coincide, but also contradict one another and clash with one another.
Homi Bhabha, according to Chatterjee, formulated heterotopic ambiguity around the axes of nation in which “the people were an object of national pedagogy because they were always in the making, in a process of historical progress, not yet fully developed to fulfill the nation’s destiny” (6), yet at the same time, “the unity of the people, their permanent identification with the nation, had to be continually signified, repeated, and performed” (6). Chatterjee announces it to be an inherent feature of modernity, or “modern politics itself” (6)–and one might agree, but there is no big contradiction here, it appears. Both these statements describe the nation in becoming, in flux, in progress. What does contradict each other though, is that the people in the making and in process are simultaneously already perceived or framed as nation today, already–the nation which has a glorious history and bright future; which is a key feature of nation building. Apart from having the future, the past, and the present, nation is as a rule relates somehow, sanctioned by divine providence and blessed by God. To evoke the specter of Vl. Solovyev: “The idea of nation is not something that the nation itself thinks about itself in time, but something that God thinks about it in eternity.” (Соловьев, 1911, 3)–a standard motif of governmentality engaging into what might be called “narrativization of the nation.” (“efforts to narrativize,” as Chatterjee puts it, 8).
The analysis of the untouchables in India, affords for understanding that “Citizens inhabit the domain of theory, populations the domain of policy.” (34).
Chatterjee shows that Lockian idea of two types of citizens–sound-minded citizens who get to govern and those who should be governed because they could not be subjects of consensual politics–is deeply ingrained into structures of democracy; this is indeed modernity’s constitutive, foundational idea, and not some glitch or malfunction happening occasionally.
Chatterjee, Partha. The Politics of the Governed: Reflections on Popular Politics in Most of the World. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.
Соловьев Вл. Русская идея. М., 1911.
According to Foucault, racism is an inevitable tool of the nation state, which it uses to stratify and modify its citizen. Racism is not occasional slippage of the system, it is a part of the system, its integral, system-generating part. (I’d say that the same is true in regard to misogyny.)
Biopolitics is concerned with great masses of people, as opposed to the old (pre-eighteenth century) sovereign power, which concentrated on attaining control over the individual bodies. The control over bodies did not disappear, but was permeated with new types of control, subtler, and more nuanced. If in the sovereign power was the right to let live and make die, in a new era, the era biopolitics, it was a power of ‘“make” live and “let” die.’ (241)
This new mode of power, the mode of ruling over the human-being-as-a-species, rather than human-being-as-an-individual, required new methods of control, care, and management. And such methods emerged—hygiene routines, insurance, safety trainings, mandatory medical service, and so on.
Foucault critics Socialism as being but another version of capitalism, because Socialism re-implemented all these methods and tools, and never offered any critique of them—to the contrary, embraced the new Leviathan of biopolitics, still more devoid of individual features than ever, and no any less horrifying than in the Hobbesian imagination.
It is in these settings that camps appear, according to Agamben. Agamben conducted a revolution in the understanding of camps. Rather than attempting to decipher the nature of camps from the events that took and are taking place there, he asked, to the contrary, what are the nature of things which happened as derived from what camp is (Agamben, 2003). In it, he follows Benjamin, who, and this is a Marxian insight, positioned “space” before the “events,” “space” before the “bodies” which it produced (and not vice versa). Agamben shows that camp is intrinsic to the new social order—the camp, where all laws are suspended, is a place inevitably resurfacing in the biopolitical mode of power, in a nation state which is busy with its endless purification and sustaining of its population.
Dehumanized “zoe” is both camp’s production and its first victim, whereas “bios,” political life, as long as it remains in power at least. Perhaps it is possible to think about “zoe” and “bios” as about a cast division of our times, and this division has class, racial, gender, sexuality, and mental health dimensions. There is always a possibility for “bios” to slip into “zoe,” but there is hardly any possibility for “zoe” to rise to “bios.”
Agamben, Georgio. Means Without End: Notes on Politics. University of Minnesota Press, 2000.
Foucault, Michel. Society Must Be Defended. Pikador, New York. 2003.
Whereas Locke establishes that all human beings are free, rational, and interested in protecting their property individuals, receiving the right of existing as such from birth, the whole clusters of people do not fit this definition, because they are “lunaticks,” “ideots,” do not own property, or are children; the question of whether women fit or not the Lockean figure of a citizen, is up to further consideration (Mehta, 59). Such individuals could not be considered independent agents of consensual politics, and belong to the sorts of people who should be guarded, their volition notwithstanding, in the process of taming. Some of them could not hope to achieve the destination of becoming citizens (“lunaticks,” “ideots,” and women), and for some, un-citizenship is a temporary state. Thus the complex play of exclusions and inclusions begins.
To the question of Mouffe, “Is it possible to disentangle political liberalism from the vocabulary that it has inherited from the rationalism of the Enlightenment on the one hand and from the connotations in has acquired by its long association with economic liberalism on the other?” (Mouffe, 1993, 41) there could be one reasonable answer: no, this is not possible. For whatever this is that ends up being disentangled, it could not be called “liberalism,” precisely for the reason that the very term liberalism is the term which originated and gained its history and weight within the contexts of the Enlightenment discourses. To disentangle liberalism from its origin and a very nature, means to deduct the liberalism from liberalism.
This is a debate related to the debates around the issues “Can the Subaltern speak?” (Spivak) and of “provincializing Europe” (Chakrabarty), which stumble upon the linguistic impossibility of having one’s own voice while navigating the political, philosophical, and scientific thought of a colonizer. To “provincialize” a geographico-political locale using the instruments which are imminent to the locale and reinforce its power by virtue of being used, is a task which too easily slips into further “metropolizing” of the metropole.
In the contesting modernities, the one modernity is privileged: that which is predicated on the Enlightenment ideals, largely Anglophone, grappling with its own colonial history and reluctantly renouncing positions.
In 1988, Partha Chatterjee wrote: “This is the task which, I think, faces non-Western political theorists: to find an adequate conceptual language to describe the non-Western career of the modern state not as a distortion or lack, which is what inevitably happens in a modernization narrative, but as the history of different modernities shaped by practices and institutions that the universalist claims of Western political theory have failed to encompass” (Chatterjee, 1998, 279). Whereas this magical language, the philosopher’s stone, has not been found to this days, hopefully, the task described is not only the concern for non-Western theorists. One wishes Western theorists should be also interested in completing this task, if they are loyal to the ideals of Enlightenment of freedom and equality in their best possible reduction, developed since Locke in corpuses of texts.
Empire is a governmental organization of the utopian thought. And the thought of Enlightenment is one of the most persistent utopian thoughts, generating dystopian worlds with a remarkable frequency and equanimity, on a great scale.
“The dynamism of empire is so thoroughly wedded to the betterment of the world that it is easy to see why the deployment of power despite its acknowledged and sustained abuses <…>, and the often wholesale erasure of extant life forms, could have been countenanced as justified by a higher purpose.” (Mehta, 87). I would argue that there is no need in countenancing or justifying abuse as a deed performed for a higher purpose while it was indeed performed for a higher purpose—the purpose of establishing of the universal freedom as a particular (imperial, colonial) power sees it. There is no deception going on, because the power deploying itself is genuine in its deployment. If there should be numbers of exclusions, sorting-outs, stratifications, standardizations, groupings, hierarchizations, and selections performed, for a better governing, so be it (in the imperial consciousness).
Still, as Taylor points out, it is remarkable that the world, which has only known the hierarchical structures of societies, begets the very idea of equality and that it is now so widespread (Taylor, 100). “Cosmos as a work of God’s providence” (Ibid), mimicked, in the medieval understandings, the kingdom with its orders of “oratores, bellatores, and laboratories—those who pray, those who fight, and those who work” (Taylor, 95).
Zoon politicon (Aristotle), political animal, continues its desperate search for endamonia—happiness, the intrinsic part of the fantasy of which, equality seems to be.
Chatterjee, Partha. Community in the East. Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 33, N.6 (Feb 7-13, 1998): 277-282
Mehta, Uday. “Strategies: Liberal Conventions and Imperial Exclusions.” Chapter 2 in Liberalism and Empire.
Mouffe, Chantal. The Return of the Political. Verso. London—New York. 1993.
Taylor, Charles. “Modern Social Imaginaries.” Public Culture 14 (1): 91-124
What could be learned by “learning from Lagos” (Gandy, 2005) a megalomaniac city stretched as a “continuous urban corridor” (Davis, 2004, 73), “the biggest continuous footprint of urban poverty on earth” (Davis, 2004, 76)?
First, that things are not what they appear to a Western eye, which vision is predicated on linguistic ideologies of post-Enlightenment ethnocentrism, privileging “a single conception of the good” (Scott, 1999, 220): what appears to be an agglomeration of squalor, dirt, debris, detritus, rubble, garbage, and ruins, turns out to be “heaps of similar materials and colors. The actuality taking place was actually not a process of sorting, dismantling, reassembling, and potentially recycling” (Koolhaas, 2002, 117)—the reality which merits two “actual” in the sentence, in a tautology perhaps subconsciously reflecting on the surprising quality of such discovery. Hence the inadequacy of habitual Western tools of dealing with the new worlds, emerging cities and futures, which resist being captured and described in categories and notions of “traditional” architecture as well as social thought. And therefore, there is a need of new lexical inasmuch as socio-political apparatus of cognition in order to dealing with the alternative reality of what Davis calls “urban poverty ‘Big Bang’” (Davis, 2004, 77). I am sympathetic with this claim, but I am unsure how we can say that our tools of thought are not applicable if for saying so we use these exact tools of thought—linguistically, politically, socially, culturally, and otherwise.
The practical approach to postcoloniality requires a new language, a new subject grappling with the legacy of the colonial, imperial world saturated with metropolia-periphery and colonizer-colonized dichotomies. New kind of figures emerge in the process of “self-fashioning,” to use Scott’s impression. It is not a Benjaminian flâneur who takes precedence over political imagination of bourgeoisie expurning out of its stratum a city dweller, but Fanonian ruud bwai (rude boy), as David Scott offers (Scott, 1999, 195)—young, black, impoverished, angry, armed with hand-made or illegally acquired armor. Ruud bwai is the masculine figure whose body, by very virtue of its untamed existence, becomes a site of violent struggle with the colonial implications in the process of confrontation of the new kind of selves: colonial versus post-colonial subject, rather than colonized versus colonizing subject. A native of the urbanity for the conversation of whom the current language and mindset of social science is dramatically lacking in precision, the inhabitant of the new loci of “collective dwellings” (to use Benjaminian expression for the lack of a better term), such as dancehall, in a seeming disorder of movement, rhythm, gesture, and movement, which, again, might turn out to be just a new type of order, a clandestine order of things.
The rapid post-industrial urbanization that the Third World lives through, was once a utopian project of Soviet empire. After the construction of Bratsk dam in Eastern Siberia in 1961, for the clearing of territories for the Bratsk reservoir (currently the second-largest people-created water reservoir on the planet), in the Bratsk district alone sixty-three settlements were consolidated into six towns (Chepel, 2014), as the state plans of consolidation were moving inhabitants of the villages into newly built urban-type settlements of what might be called “nascent urbanity,” the prospective cities of the future. Half a century later, with the dismantling of the Soviet project, these prospective cities represent the zones of abandonment. Not only the economic dream of prosperity was not fulfilled, but the transformation of environment in the absence of infrastructure led to revelation of the bare bones of Russian neoantiliberalism in a very literal sense. The level of water in the Bratsk reservoir have been lowering down for the last three years for reasons not altogether known. Aside from barren shore, of rock and stone, appearing from under the water, old cemeteries were being exposed, graves burst open. In a number of rural places, during the summer of 2016 one could see bucolic and Apocalyptic landscapes: children playing with skulls and bones on the shore of the retreating river.
Thus “rural-urban continuum” (Davis, 2004, 73) undergoing a social and ecological transformation, unfolds as a theater of a spectacularly uneven distribution of power, income, and rights. Which in different sense (that connected to a massive outburst of population and to a slow dwindling down of a community, respectively) is likewise apparent in slums of Lagos and streets of a Siberian village.
Davis, Mike. Planets of Slums. New Left Review, 26 March-April 2004.
Gandi, Mathew. Learning from Lagos. New Left Review, 33 May-June, 2005
Chepel, M. Preparing the Bed of Bratsk Hydro Power Plant Reservoir for Water-Flooding of a First Stage (1956 – 1961). Thesis. Bratsk, 2014.
Koolhas, Rem. “Fragments of a Lecture on Lagos” in Under Siege Four African Cities, 2002.
Scott, David. Refashioning Futures: Criticism after Postcoloniality, 1999.
Pokemon Go is a game which revealed deeper political structures and became a socio-political action of self-surveillance, a topic of reflections on racial dynamics in the modern society, an artistic hijack used in order to draw attention to / capitalize on children’s sufferings, a border-breaching endeavor, and recently, an anticlerical practice.
Pokemon Go and Race Self-Awareness
I invite you to read my piece.
Pokemon Go and Mass Media Usage of Children’s Suffering
“Syrian graphic designer Saif Aldeen Tahhan has also used Pokémon Go to highlight the devastation in the country.
He created images — each carrying a ‘Syria Go’ logo — to show the impact of the war on the Syrian people over the last five years.
“I created these images as a way to turn attention to the Syrian war, and to focus on Syrian suffering instead of Pokémon, which people are crazy about,” he explained.” (Molloy, 2016).
Pokemon Go and Border-Breaching
I read two young man crossed a border chasing a pokemon, which hints that Pokemon Go was invented to breach state borders. It’s a modern space game (not the first of them). We mustn’t forget that eventually borders will be obliterated.
Among predecessors of Pokemon Go I’d name creating pictures in the canvas of urban space using GPS-navigator; have you seen those? Phalli were most widespread to draw.
Pokemon Go and Anticlericalism in Russia
Pokemon Go quickly went out of fashion but before that a scandal erupted in the Orthodox Church in Russia, and a trial over a man who was catching pokemons in a church is about to unfold, with church officials officially refusing to plead on his behalf and ask for mercy.
As someone who attended closely to a memorable punk band Pussy Riot performance and a trial, I would point out on the stylistic and aesthetic correlations between the performance videorecorded by Alekhina and Tolokonnikova (leaders of Pussy Riot) and a video made by “pokemon-hunter” Ruslan Sokolovsky.
Mark Molloy “Syrian Children Hold Pokemon Photos Praying World Will Find Them.” Telegraph. 21 July, 2016. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/07/21/syrian-children-hold-pokemon-photos-praying-world-will-find-them/ [retrieved 7/22/2016]
Funny that the only sustainable critique of “social justice discourse” comes from the but more radical social justice champions. I see two reasons: first, they are infinitely better educated than their opponents, and the second, that’s how things work, apparently.
In other words, if you want to critique feminism in an unlaughable way, be a non-compromising feminist; anti-racism movements, be radically anti-racist yourself, etc.