Wednesday, February 20, 2008

springful thoughts on a marching season

In the back room, somebody claims for more political commentary.
Whither politics. Quo vadis?

In this country, politics is the realm of the couch potato, fitting nicely somewhere between Britney, human growth hormone, sartorial atrocity (includes the category "wardrobe malfunction") and blood sports. A couch activity, which we maybe can trace back to the tradition of the couch anthropologist, the type of 18th Century enlightened thinker (think think think! de Brosse, Kant) that would preach on the human condition based on hearsay reports from the logbooks of the American missions of the Great Age of Explorations.

But Venus deviates (quite often and in many ways--although in this case, it is just from the point).
In this country, politics (as an ethical commitment, an activity, an encounter-with-the-world) is something you seem to do with a beer on one hand, and the other one stuck down, deep, in the chips bag.

Again we ask ourselves "politics, but whither." To the extremely ugly ergonomic imitation black-leather articulated chair; or in its defect, a somewhere, a somehow (too unseemly to describe in detail)-- supporting a sweaty and sticky portable computer, Bacharach's rainy window of the world, the neighbor's fence, the blog, the youtube "debate".
"I see the future, and it looks like a blackberry but with less buttons!"

Something to say, then, for a return to a politics of the street.
Confession--what comes is a bit old. While Betty and Bimbo were watching Manon, Venus was doing face time at a progressive march. One thinks it must have been progressive, because we were moving forward.

In all honesty, Venus is much more prepared to politick while stationary, in silken black with a charming smile and armed with a good bourbon-soda (lately, the weapon of choice-- mint juleps being slightly too high on caloric content). But the street does hold its attraction, especially after oh so many lame art openings and insipid cocktail parties. But on invitation from our lovely budding politico, Venus decided to lend charm to the oftentimes demure and shabby politics of the street. Remind oneself of the grand past, the beauty of the engaged intellectual, of luminaries linked arm in arm (enter François Miterrand and the Rose Rouge in hand, the certainty of our dark suits imitating our struggle, or vice versa...)

Thus Venus encountered the power of the Masses: the future-seeing crowd, the multitude, the sway, the -- oh, how nice to see you again! What a beautiful red coat...! Yes, wait, I can't really hear what you are saying, the speaker's too loud... Entranced by the repetitive, mantra-like nature of the Chants, Venus repeats--No more Jobs and Education, We want War and Occupation... Or was it otherwise.

The politics of the street, there is, perhaps, something to say of them, for them, to them.
There was sweat and tears, and prayer, maybe, even, hope.

Well, I can only say that there is something to chants. Also to slogans: it's hard to keep pace with them. Change, for instance. It's so 2008. But can we believe in it? For real?

Venus has seen the future...

(image credit: Atelier Populaire, 1968)


Nancy D., Girl Detective said...

I was recently informed that none of the PhD students or professors in hip political science departments (if Berkeley's is considered hip?) bother to vote because they theorize that voting is not rational (under rational choice theory, it is extremely unlikely that any individual's vote will affect the outcome). I posit that leaving aside the question of rationality, voting has many positive effects, such as creating a sense of national cohesion, social engagement, and even political stability, because people don't feel like they need to revolt against a repressive government if they get to air their opinion. Can the same be said of the politics of the streets (protests, chants, art openings, etc.), in which individual participation is arguably just as irrational?

venus infers said...

Alas, dear Nancy, there's the rub. The question of hipness. Always enthralling.

I wouldn't necessarily write these people off (again I feel like a couch anthropologist). Maybe there is something there, a little kernel. There is after all a great deal of mystification going on, about the actual process and mechanics involved in getting one of these... pre-candidates, as people call them where I come from, and making them into presidents. In the age of viewer-participation, of reality TV, of MySpace/Facebook navel-gazing, the liberal imaginary does indeed believe that the every-vote-counts dogma means that the voter is the center of the world-- this certainty of individuals descending into the agora, togas and all, casting their votes and deciding the future of the polis. We well know that this is not the whole picture.

As far as I am concerned, I am more interested in interrogating how one defines the political. Does the political only take place within the electoral process? I do think there is a value in engagement, and that engagement can happen far away from the ballot-box. I also happen to believe that the ballot-box is indeed important. However, this does not mean that we cannot be critical.

When the electoral process is vitiated -- and this is especially so in national elections, as we consider the hot issue of money and politics --, or when the democratic ideal (and I speak here of that Arendtian vision of Greek democracy and generative dialogue) is obfuscated by what I call surface-politics --when whether black, white or dayglo; be-penissed or un-penissed takes precedence over actual policy points--, when this all is conjoined by the spectacle of media, by the my-fundraiser-is-bigger-than-yours, one starts to wonder.

Similarly, I feel ambivalent of the politics of the street. A certain speaker, at this certain rally I attended said something very true (the kernel, as it is, something I actually believe in). It's about movements and not moments. Real political engagement is sustained, not only about the every-four-years stuff, which is awfully important, but in the end-analysis, is way beyond my control...

But then again, I'm being sincere, which is totally out of V's character.