Struggle in the Sea of Possibility

In “Struggle, Event, Media”, Maurizio Lazzarato discusses the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle.

The days of Seattle were a political event, which – like every event – first generated a transformation of subjectivity and its own mode of sensibility. The motto »a different world is possible« is symptomatic of this metamorphosis of subjectivity and its sensibility.

The difference between this and other political events of the previous century is radical. For example, the event of Seattle no longer refers to class struggle and the necessity of taking power. It does not mention the subject of history, the working class, its enemy capital, or the fatal battle that they must engage in.

He sees the event as the expression of a multitude of different interests rather than of a group or class consciousness. The steel workers union, the pacifist and progressive Christian churches, the black bloc anarchists, the kids excited to run in the street… they have divergent interests and motivations. There are different areas of overlap between them, but where they really converge is in this idea “a different world is possible.”

But for Lazzarato possibility is the only distinct idea that the protests represent – the vision of what those possibilities are and how they will be realized, he says, is left open:

It restricts itself to announcing that »something possible has been created«, that there are new possibilities for living, and that it is a matter of realizing them; that a possible world has been expressed and that it must be brought to completion. We have entered into a different intellectual atmosphere, a different conceptual constellation.


“Futuristic Way” – Al Larsen mp3 | text

But he’s looking at the event as a media event only. It was also a real event experienced by thousands of people. It was experienced by the protesters and the inhabitants of the city It was experienced by those the law enforcement personnel and those attending or working at the conference. I was in the streets of Seattle, in the churches organizing the actions, walking the no-protest zones, looking in the eyes of the National Guardsmen, trying to process what it means to me to see armed soldiers posted atop buildings. Yes, the protest event cannot be read as a whole – but can be read as a mosaic of interests and desires. The event does not stand solely for the idea of possibility but encompasses the varied interests of the participants – from environmentalism to an increase in the minimum wage, from fair trade to unionism, from pacifism to a revolution of desire.

If the event is viewed solely as a media event, then a big part of it is related to how the event can be theatricalized. Certainly, images of tear-gassed kids and grannies is an apt image for the ruthlessness of corporations in the developing world. But there are purposes beyond the media representation. What about the effect on the participants? There is education that happens at the protest. By which I mean actual information dissemination and discussion. Also, one should consider the physical memory that results from occupying streets en masse. The transformations occur on the street and in the armchair level. That is, the transformations occur as a result of firsthand experience and as a result of mediated experience.

I agree, possibility is huge. But how can the feeling of possibility translate into how we actually live in the world?

The most visionary people I know seem to operate as if they have seen the future. Having seen the future they know how to apply themselves in the present. By way of contrast, how many times do you see someone you know, perhaps because she would count herself an anti-globalizationer, smirk ruefully and gesture toward her Starbucks to-go cup? Would the choices come easier knowing that the future really is shade – grown – organic – fair – trade – served – in – reusable – mugs – by – employees – who – make – a – decent – wage – with – full – health – benefits?

Stability is an illusion; change is inevitable. To continue the example of the coffee-drinker, beverage consumption habits / consciousness / economics will continue to change, one way or another. For instance, not long ago the phrase “non-fat double-tall decaf mocha,” now uttered thousands upon thousands of times every day, did not exist.

In his 1974 feature film Space is the Place, Sun Ra is challenged by some youths who are skeptical of his glitter and cardboard regal presence. He says, “Not real? You’re not real. If you were real, you wouldn’t be fighting for equal rights – you’d have them.”

Someone told me, “There’s a word for that – delusional..” And yet, Sun Ra lived as much like an astral prince on earth as anyone probably ever has. And this bit of dialog I think shows he was well aware of the material difference between Kryptonite and cardboard… just not willing to admit a value difference. Defense mechanism, art statement, political resistance, delusion: does the classification of his strategy matter so much? He managed to live and work largely outside of cultural expectations.



Yes, we’ve internalized loads. And there are material and structural elements of the world we are undeniably subject to (Kryptonite is not cardboard). But for those of us claiming “a different world is possible” what does it mean today, right now, in our social relations, in our interactions, in our conversations and in how we maneuver within public space? Is the different world possible as in let’s wait and see or possible as in I am booking tickets today? A different world? When do we start living in it?

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Leave a Reply