In light of the recent online publication of Communiqué from an Absent Future, I've decided to post my favorite excerpts from The Coming Insurrection. I marked these passages back in late June as I read the book, but I never got around to posting them because the book itself left me underwhelmed. Now, months later, The Coming Insurrection has been discussed and written about extensively, most humorously by Glenn Beck who condemned it without having read it, and recently an excerpt even appeared in an issue of Harper's (which also struck me as humorous). One of the best critiques can be found HERE (scroll down to part II).
I've decided to post the excerpts now for two reasons. 1.) As I said, The Coming Insurrection seems more prescient in light of the publication of Communiqué from an Absent Future (and other goings ons). 2.) Because I opened the book a few days ago to re-read the selections, and I was surprised by how good many of them were. I don't remember the majority of the book being as good as these excerpts, but I also don't remember the majority of the excerpts being as good as they are. Perhaps they work best divorced from the text where they can exist without preconceptions. Or perhaps I simply expected too much from an over-hyped manifesto titled The Coming Insurrection, and the entire book is better than I first thought.
"The injunction, everywhere, to “be someone” maintains the pathological state that makes this society necessary. The injunction to be strong produces the very weakness by which it maintains itself, so that everything seems to take on a therapeutic character, even working, even love. All those “how’s it goings?” that we exchange give the impression of a society composed of patients taking each other's temperature. Sociability is now made up of a thousand little niches, a thousand little refuges where you can take shelter. Where it's always better than the bitter cold outside. Where everything's false, since it's all just a pretext for getting warmed up. Where nothing can happen since we're all too busy shivering silently together. Soon this society will only be held together by the mere tension of all the social atoms straining towards an illusory cure. It's a power plant that runs its turbines on a gigantic reservoir of unwept tears, always on the verge of spilling over." p. 30-31
"Contrary to what has been repeated to us since childhood, intelligence doesn't mean knowing how to adapt – or if that is a kind of intelligence, it's the intelligence of slaves. Our inadaptability, our fatigue, are only problems from the standpoint of what aims to subjugate us. They indicate rather a starting point, a meeting point, for new complicities. They reveal a landscape more damaged, but infinitely more sharable than all the fantasy lands this society maintains for its purposes.
We are not depressed; we’re on strike. For those who refuse to manage themselves, “depression” is not a state but a passage, a bowing out, a sidestep towards a political disaffiliation. From then on medication and the police are the only possible forms of conciliation. This is why the present society doesn't hesitate to impose Ritalin on its over-active children, or to strap people into life-long dependence on pharmaceuticals, and why it claims to be able to detect “behavioral disorders” at age three. Because everywhere the hypothesis of the self is beginning to crack." p. 34
"It would be a waste of time to detail all that is moribund in existing social relations. They say the family is coming back, the couple is coming back. But the family that's coming back is not the same one that went away. Its return is nothing but a deepening of the reigning separation that it serves to mask, becoming what it is through this masquerade. Everyone can testify to the doses of sadness condensed from year to year in family gatherings, the forced smiles, the awkwardness of seeing everyone pretending in vain, the feeling that a corpse is lying there on the table, and everyone acting as though it were nothing. From flirtation to divorce, from cohabitation to stepfamilies, everyone feels the inanity of the sad family nucleus, but most seem to believe that it would be sadder still to give it up. The family is no longer so much the suffocation of maternal control or the patriarchy of beatings as it is this infantile abandon to a fuzzy dependency, where everything is familiar, this carefree moment in the face of a world that nobody can deny is breaking down, a world where “becoming self-sufficient” is a euphemism for “finding a boss.” They want to use the “familiarity” of the biological family as an excuse to undermine anything that burns passionately within us and, under the pretext that they raised us, make us renounce the possibility of growing up, as well as everything that is serious in childhood. We need to guard against such corrosion." p. 40-41
"To cope with the uniformity that surrounds us, our only option is to constantly renovate our own interior world, like a child who constructs the same little house over and over again, or like Robinson Crusoe reproducing his shopkeeper's universe on a desert island – yet our desert island is civilization itself, and there are billions of us continually washing up on it."
"The world would not be moving so fast if it didn’t have to constantly outrun its own collapse."
"And these lips which swell up after I bite the apple – but it came from the farmer's market. The simplest gestures have become toxic. One dies at the age of 35 from “a prolonged illness” that's to be managed just like one manages everything else. We should've seen it coming before we got to this place, to ward B of the palliative care center.
We have to admit it: this whole “catastrophe,” which they so noisily inform us about, doesn’t really touch us. At least not until we are hit by one of its foreseeable consequences. It may concern us, but it doesn’t touch us. And that is the real catastrophe." p. 73-74
"The situation is like this: they hired our parents to destroy this world, and now they'd like to put us to work rebuilding it, and – to top it all off – at a profit. The morbid excitement that animates journalists and advertisers these days as they report each new proof of global warming reveals the steely smile of the new green capitalism, in the making since the 70s, which we expected at the turn of the century but which never came. Well, here it is! It's sustainability! Alternative solutions, that's it too! The health of the planet demands it! No doubt about it anymore, it's a green scene; the environment will be the pivot of the 21st century political economy. A new volley of “industrial solutions” comes with each new catastrophic possibility.
...the new solution to the global energy crisis goes to show how much the new solutions resemble the old problems." p. 75-77
"What is presented everywhere as an ecological catastrophe has never stopped being, above all, the manifestation of a disastrous relationship to the world. Inhabiting a nowhere makes us vulnerable to the slightest jolt in the system, to the slightest climactic risk. As the latest tsunami approached and the tourists continued to frolic in the waves, the islands' hunter-gatherers hastened to flee the coast, following the birds. Environmentalism's present paradox is that under the pretext of saving the planet from desolation it merely saves the causes of its desolation.
The normal functioning of the world serves to hide our state of truly catastrophic dispossession. What is called “catastrophe” is no more than the forced suspension of this state, one of those rare moments when we regain some sort of presence in the world." p. 80-81
"What makes the crisis desirable is that in the crisis the environment ceases to be the environment. We are forced to reestablish contact, albeit a potentially fatal one, with what's there, to rediscover the rhythms of reality. What surrounds us is no longer a landscape, a panorama, a theater, but something to inhabit, something we need to come to terms with, something we can learn from. We won't let ourselves be led astray by the ones who've brought about the “catastrophe.” Where the managers platonically discuss among themselves how they might decrease emissions “without breaking the bank,” the only realistic option we can see is to “break the bank” as soon as possible and, in the meantime, take advantage of every collapse in the system to increase our own strength." p.82
"Today the West is the GI who dashes into Fallujah on an M1 Abrams tank, listening to heavy metal at top volume. It's the tourist lost on the Mongolian plains, mocked by all, who clutches his credit card as his only lifeline. It's the CEO who swears by the game Go. It's the young girl who looks for happiness in clothes, guys, and moisturizing creams. It's the Swiss human rights activist who travels to the four corners of the earth to show solidarity with all the world's rebels – provided they've been defeated. It's the Spaniard who couldn't care less about political freedom now that he's been granted sexual freedom. It's the art lover who wants us to be awestruck before the “modern genius” of a century of artists, from surrealism to Viennese actionism, all competing to see who could best spit in the face of civilization. It's the cyberneticist who's found a realistic theory of consciousness in Buddhism and the quantum physicist who's hoping that dabbling in Hindu metaphysics will inspire new scientific discoveries.
The West is a civilization that has survived all the prophecies of its collapse with a singular stratagem. Just as the bourgeoisie had to deny itself as a class in order to permit the bourgeoisification of society as a whole, from the worker to the baron; just as capital had to sacrifice itself as a wage relation in order to impose itself as a social relation – becoming cultural capital and health capital in addition to finance capital; just as Christianity had to sacrifice itself as a religion in order to survive as an affective structure – as a vague injunction to humility, compassion, and weakness; so the West has sacrificed itself as a particular civilization in order to impose itself as a universal culture. The operation can be summarized like this: an entity in its death throws sacrifices itself as a content in order to survive as a form." p. 90-91