Political bodies vs. bodies politic

08 political bodies_new

Photo: Brocco Lee on flickr, CC Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

Ten years ago, some certainties traversed us. That doing politics was something for more than a handful: we had to connect to many others. That we lacked names with which to account for our experience: we wanted to draw cartographies that would re-situate what happened to us (our lives, precarity, the privatisation of the world, mobility). That politics could not be a question of identity: it had to pass through the elaboration of situations shared with different others. (We then asked: what is there in common between what happens to us and what goes on in other parts of the world? What is the relation between the various worlds that compose the world?) That to grasp the complexity of global transformations opened the possibility of producing a response and, above all, new questions. That investigation was in itself a form of action. That bodies could not be at the margins of politics: they are part of the field of operations of power and of multiple struggles. That feminisms and post-colonialisms were our allies.

We had left the okupas [squats] to build open and heterogeneous social centres, but we had not really broken away from identity and the ghetto. We started to understand ourselves within global processes and the global movement opened a new sense of the destiny imposed by neo-liberalism, momentarily displacing fear and catastrophe. And on returning home we still wished to give names to the miseries of daily life and to break with isolation and silence. We thought precarity as an existential condition, and thought of it not only in its negative form, but also in its potency and positivity. We left the social centres and threw ourselves into the open space-time of the city.

On the one hand, we thought that naming things would allow for their immediate transformation; on the other, we thought that if we filled precarity with potency, joy and desire, we would connect to people’s experience from a different side. Neither happened. We ran up against the proliferation of infinite narratives, dispersion and the difficulty of delimiting a territory: an experience that seemed impossible to take in and didn’t become translated into new rights or new spaces. Besides, our ‘positive’ idea of precarity didn’t connect with the social malaise. Paradoxically, we started idealising others.

We threw ourselves into concrete alliances and lost along the way the ‘starting from oneself’. In a way, the alternative to classic politics, ideologies, ready-made formulas, was to be found in others more than in ourselves: we failed to successfully articulate the starting from oneself with the encounter with others, and fell into the gap between life and politics, between experience, the body and the idea. On one side, the proper thing, what is done with (and for) others, the truly political. But, in separating life – the other side – from politics, politics becomes, materially and affectively, unsustainable. And an encounter without bodies is an abstract, unreal idea.

Ten years ago, we thought in terms of the potency of the desire of the mobile and changing subjectivity that constitutes us. Today we think that this potency unfolded on a plane over and above life, others’ and our own. How to stay alert in the face of politics’ claims to transcendence, if we are to stop it from becoming unsustainable? What is there of life – the real one, which allows us to connect to others in equality, rather than moral superiority or the abandonment of oneself – in the politics that we make? How to go on encountering others, outlining common problems? And above all: what is the point of a politics today that doesn’t think through these questions?

The group Precarias a la Deriva was formed in Madrid in 2002. Since 2005 they have been mutating towards the construction of a laboratory of female workers, called the ‘Todas a Cien’ Agency for Precarious Matters, with its headquarters in the women’s public space, Eskalera Karakola

This article is part of the t-10 series from Issue 5 of Turbulence asking, ‘What were you wrong about 10 years ago?‘.

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