Interview: William Gibson In Real Life
Like his take on the strategic failures of Occupy: it became too much about holding a single space even when it was clear this would be impossible. ‘If I was writing it as a book’, he says, he’d have had everybody arbitrarily pick up sticks and leave, declaring only that they would be back somewhere else at an indeterminate point in the future. The key to longevity is to leave things open-ended, to steal away before things get to the inevitable stage where the corporations can declare your defeat.
Which reminds me of a thought I had back around the time of the Nov 23rd student demonstration (I think that’s the one I’m thinking of), which many pointed out was essentially a “walking kettle,” with at least one police officer to every three marchers lining the route, and every single side street pre-emptively blockaded by gangs of riot police to prevent groups breaking off into the rest of the city. With hindsight it’s easy to see the most effective strategy would simply have been if nobody turned up. With the clashes at the previous student demonstrations, the media had made sure they’d catch this march with full rolling coverage, so imagine the confusion if this demonstration was somehow surreptitiously cancelled, leaving them only able to report on a total, inexplicable absence, an absence policed by thousands of officers (who all had to get up sometime before 5am that day; how much more that would sting if it had been for nothing). It would be utilising the spectacle to report on its own negation, and this is one of the key tactical lessons to be taken from Debord, that the one thing the spectacle can’t tolerate, can’t handle, can’t understand, is absence. It thrives precisely on presence and the circulation of presence, on an endless reel of things to look at. Hence the logical progression from the provocations of the Lettrists to the realisation with the Sitatuonists that such scandals had already been recuperated as spectacle, and that the best thing now was to dissapear, was to, at most, organise occasions for the presentation of an incomprehensible lack. “Just as the projection was about to begin, Guy-Ernest Debord was supposed to step onto the stage and make a few introductory remarks…”
Though I suppose what we got anyway with the “walking kettle” was a decent enough illustration of how impotent traditional ‘marches’ and so on really are, especially now in this climate of escalating state lockdown. Hopefully this will spur some to start getting really creative with their contestation in the future.
c.f. also this great piece from a guy at occupyoakland on the movements general lack of strategic direction and over-reliance on the ‘spectacle of police brutality’:
Whether we admit it or not, we were implicitly relying on the spectacle of police brutality to catch national attention. This didn’t happen as it did in November. And it couldn’t happen,precisely because it already happened in November.
[…] The focus on the brutality has its uses, but to the extent that it stands in as a substitute for this more substantial self-criticism, it allows the tenuous alliance between adventurism and humanitarian liberalism to persist. While we are all justifiably angry at the Oakland Police Department and the Alameda County Sheriffs, what comes out of this experience needs to be more than simply a strengthened conviction that we hate the cops. If we don’t swiftly move towards the self-criticism that we need, the opportunity will be missed.