Phenomenology of Greek Anarchy

Art, considered in its highest vocation, is and remains for us a thing of the past. Thereby it has lost for us genuine truth and life, and has rather been transferred into our ideas instead of maintaining its earlier necessity in reality and occupying its higher place.

-Hegel, Aesthetics

I begin this analysis by trying to answer a question the attentive observer will no doubt ask, namely, why is there no new intellectual theory emanating from the Greek revolt, no new artistic movement, no new analyses or manifestoes, none of the things with which we typically associate a great social change? Why is this Greek ferment of today blessed, or perhaps cursed, with a strange type of silence, almost an invisibility? In the last great revolt of the West, Italy’s movement of ‘77, Autonomia, there was not only a lively, relatively orthodox Marxist culture with contributions from Negri, Tronti, Feltrinelli, and the armed groups, but more notable for us was the anarchic wing inspired by Situationism, the writings of Deleuze, Foucault, and Cesarano, the counter culture of punks and hippies, etc. Whereas in contemporary Greece there is only an ugly rage, and a static theory of Anarchy, no more elaborated in its foundations than the hasty writings of Bakunin over a century ago. And it should be noted, that every day the global society decays ever further away from the 19th century model of society in which Anarchism was formed. So it does not surprise us overmuch that the Greek Anarchist movement in its very existence and social relevance, has an analogue only in Spain, the historic homeland of Anarchy, and is very much a peculiarity in post-modern Europe.

The only real novelty in the situation, but one that in its undeveloped obscurity still fits within our previous general observations, is the section of Greek Anarchy espousing nihilism as its doctrine, which is only the development of a conscious, wilful, non-aesthetic creed. In which, it is probably the clearest expression of what is actually at stake in Greece: the fervent act-ivism, the propaganda by deed, as the only deed left, shows us something of where modern civilization has gone. Nota bene, it is not that Greece is behind other lands, as if by itself it had no new spiritual expressions-more astonishing, it is that everything metaphysical has died off everywhere, and the only ray of hope left comes from Greek insurrectionism. In other words, all that is left of what once expressed itself in isolated security in the realms of art, religion, and philosophy, now can only find a mutilated expression in the project of an overthrow of the existing conditions of society. Metaphysics is no longer carrying on a feeble existence in its previous sphere, it is now totally subsumed under materialism. It has “gone under”, so to speak. Today, there is far more thought put into a guerilla action than into any works of so-called modern art (most of which, after the example of Duchamp that was vulgarized by Warhol, openly flout their lack of charm and mercenary desire to be purchased at an immoderate price) or the feeble remains of critical theory that only internally dissects its own impotence. And this thought-full character of resistance is not only relative to the times, where the government of Greece becomes more and more an enhanced version of the older fascism and as the Sino-American world shows more and more its overt totalitarianism, but is also related to the internal development of the spiritual sphere itself.

Something has happened to the metaphysical condition, which was previously the sphere of divinity in human affairs, in which art, religion and philosophy held sway over baser affairs like manual labour and the transactions of commerce. German Idealist philosophy, which formulated and contributed so much to these terms, also provides proof of their passing away. If these realms of the human spirit have passed away from common life and are only used to adorn the empty triumph of the modern State, then this State, Empire, is equally the guarantor and custodian of their passing into oblivion. Empire has realized metaphysics without abolishing it, in its bland universality; while the radical movement has abolished metaphysics as a mere materialistically-conceived “illusion” without realizing metaphysics. The contradiction we live today is that the spuriously substantial world, the Spectacle, now presents not only the totality of physical wealth under an alienated form, but also the greatest riches of all, metaphysical values, have also been included, “brought together, but as separated” in the inoffensive form of museum artefacts and petrified thought. There are the incomprehensible dictates from the secular heaven of the economy, Troika memorandums coming like the thundering decrees of the Christian God and his rulers, equally incapable of being opposed. Against this is a pure individuality, atomized masses, an empty subjectivity bereft of all possible content. We are simply living out the contradictions of Western thought: Empire, as the “one” that has assimilated everything to it, and the “many”, the last possible content of non-content, that tries to refute the totality of the modern system. That is to say that quality is here opposed to quantity, positive to negative, and being to non-being. This is no doubt why the immense meaning attached to the deaths of Alexandros and Lambros by Greek Anarchy, and objectively the import of their deaths, seems incomprehensible to the official world. Since Empire is one-sided quality, being, it has only the one-sided view that negation is simply a termination, and an end. Thus this ever-growing human agglomeration it has designated as outside of itself and of no human value, seems really to be nothing, it really is nothing, being deprived of the everything that is synonymous with the wealth of the Spectacle. But here we have the two opposites locked in combat, and the mutual collapse of the positions: out of nothingness is in fact coming precisely what it was not supposed to have, substantiality, and the bourgeois world of today is in fact collapsing into nothingness. That sacrificing a life for an idea might lead to a new type of life is incomprehensible to capitalism, but rather obvious for anyone who thinks about the implications of December 2008, to name one example.

What does all this signify, practically? It means that Greek Anarchy today is now the purest historical negation: no longer negation possessed of specific material qualities, this class, this party, this organization, this ideology, but rather negation itself. Marx’s “class that is the dissolution of classes”, his proletariat, was always conceived too materialistically. It was Bakunin, in his praise of idealistic, aristocratic youth, the lumpenproletariat, and rebellious peasants, in his love of liberty, who was much closer to where we stand today. Anarchy is a philosophical position, not a class position; this is more appropriate since the workers’ movement was concerned not so much with workers as with philosophy. The proletariat did not inherit philosophy, rather philosophy inherited the proletariat, and we live in the moment when it is casting away this outer materialistic shell. Negation, not the proletariat, moves negation; the proof is that today negation waxes, while the proletariat wanes. In our historical moment, negation itself, not the proletariat, is abolishing the proletariat. We no longer have a class that represents negation, we have really-lived negation, that can only manifest its negative character in the destructive act. But this is only a purely negative essence, a phenomenological, ephemeral appearance, not having a proper existence. Yet nothingness is also a positive acquisition: metaphysics is no longer alienated from its alienation, but rather, totally foreign to itself. Metaphysics knows itself as this “nothing that should be everything”, and on the other hand, Empire, the modern State, is pure positivity, an everything that fears its own disguised nothingness.

Incidentally, this is also why the world of today seems covered with a thin veil of melancholic aesthetic sentiment that serves to protect it. This is obvious with the non-violent Christianity of peaceful civil disobedience, and philosophy itself has been drawn into the defence of the American Way of Life by Fukuyama. The realm of art is the most insidious, because while the masses easily dismiss spiritual conceptions of religion or philosophy, aesthetics, as the most materialistic form of spiritualism, can go unsuspected. Yet this last, too, is called into the ranks to protect this fundamentally empty, dying world. Because Athens is so unabashedly an ugly city, wrecked in the past half-century by the respectable classes, it gives the lie to this defensive manoeuvre; while elsewhere in Western Europe, one could certainly imagine social contestation opposed by humane considerations of culture, in some museum-city like Venice, for example. At any rate, this feeble defensive use of faded spirituality was certainly attempted by Empire after some of the few remaining neoclassical buildings were burnt on February 12, 2012.

As an aside, none of this study is a moral judgement, either for or against the current state of affairs, both in our world and in Greek anarchy. It is simply the historical epoch grasped in itself. It would be quite pointless to demand a re-aesthetization of these black-clad crowds. We should acknowledge this world-historical character of pure negation: something like what once was the aesthetic moment as the Molotov strikes home, a riot cop is lit aflame, and the barricades begin to burn with black smoke while white tear gas lingers in the air, and the chants begin to echo in the narrow Athens streets. It does have a sublime, or more-than-real character to the event, in a quotidian sense. Because the secret longing of this world quite clearly is bringing the objective world back into unity with the subjective one, by abolishing this unmediated contradiction. The world today that opposes revolution has everything, but only in a pale and empty form, somewhat like a man who claimed that he owned all the animals of the world, but on closer inspection they were only stuffed specimens behind glass in exhibits. One would say such a man has all the forms in the world, but not the spirit; and this is the world of Empire, forms voided of life, metaphysics that was once really lived.

So there is nothing really that a phenomenological analysis gives us, other than knowledge of a contradiction reduced to its purest form. We return to our initial question: Greek Anarchy has nothing visible about its revolt because it forms a special period in the history of the West. Negation which previously was qualified with a material shell, now is wholly negative. This pure negative is invisible, so it is the perfect form for the metaphysical, which to the common understanding also seems invisible and non-existent. So philosophy has not dissolved into the real world, as many have thought; it is rather the supposedly real, material world, that in the knowledge of its forms of appearance (φαινομενολογια) dissolves into philosophical categories. Metaphysics is now universally present, but as absence. This promises a return to plenitude like the sun is born anew after a storm, the world covered with raindrops glistening like diamonds and anointed with a rainbow.

So perhaps, we arrive at this promise, that when this shop-window world is smashed in a durable manner, then the re-appropriation will be far less of commodities, which are a very feeble expression of human essence, than the re-appropriation of the metaphysical condition, as the true essence of humanity. Only negation can provide a return out of negation, so negation is the only thing left to us today. And in truth, all we negate, is negation itself: this world is already ruined, and now it must become, visibly, what it already is, essentially. A promise, meaning a faith in an event to arrive. Perhaps not too far from now, when the fire of the all-consuming negative sparks a new blaze, the conflagration will astound the world, not only as heat to warm the hearts of this glacial, frozen world, but most of all as light, as illumination, as “the sunrise that, in a flash and in a single stroke, brings to view the form and structure of the new world.”

This is why we can say in closing, with the Young Hegelian Bakunin,

…the Geist, that old mole, has brought its underground work to completion and will soon come again to pass judgment…All people and all men are filled with a kind of premonition, and everyone whose vital organs are not paralysed faces with shuddering expectation the approaching future which will utter the redeeming word. Let us therefore trust the eternal Geist which destroys and annihilates only because it is the unfathomable and eternal source of life. The passion for destruction is also a creative passion!