A new British publication, Stir, short for Stir to Action, has released its second issue as editor Jonathan Gordon-Farleigh bravely tries to give voice to a new kind of post-liberal, globally aware activist readership. True to its name, Stir features a number of provocative articles and invigorating interviews with iconoclasts. If we're lucky, this venture from the edge may actually help assemble a "constituency of unrealistic pragmatists," in the words of George McKay, author of a wonderful piece on on “radical gardening.”
In an interview with author Mckenzie Wark, we learn some of the lessons that the Situationists may have for contemporary political and cultural activism. The Situationist International “was an extremely marginal avant-garde movement that was formed in 1957 and then dissolved itself in 1972,” Wark noted, describing his new book, The Beach Beneath the Street. “Why the hell would anybody be interested in this tiny marginal activity? The footprint the Situationists left in political aesthetic culture is vastly greater than their actual numbers. As their leading light, Guy Debord, said ‘all you need is a few trustworthy comrades’.”
That’s a great premise for any movement: a few trustworthy comrades with the imagination and daring to challenge the narcoleptic conformism of our times. Even some of the most active activists that I know are half-asleep because they have so internalized the prevailing political paradigm and cultural norms.
Half the battle is just being heard and seen on one’s own terms. That’s where cultural activism can be so important. “If you are interested in how to think critically about everyday life, how to think and act outside of institutionalized forms of knowledge, in ways of inventing practices that are at least partially outside of the commodity system,” says Wark, “then they [the Situationists] are great precursors for dozens of things happening now such as Copy Left and Creative Commons on one side and forms of autonomous organisations in the media on the other.”
Also in Stir, author Daniel Hind talks about his new book, The Return of the Public, and the need for a new conceptualization of “the public”:
I want to describe a more substantial notion of the public—to describe what a sovereign public would look like, what institutional resources it would need, and so on. In the process I try to show how, historically, two ways of talking about the public have alternated—the market account, the public as consumers, if you like, and the public service account, where the public exists as the object of enlightened administration. Both of these notions are obstacles to the emergence of a properly democratic system of government, which accounts for their continuing appeal to those who have power.
Hind provides some nice insight into the snares of the “rational citizen” model of activism pioneered by earlier generations:
I’ve got nothing against the educated voter as an ideal. But I would argue that he or she depends on an infrastructure for exchanging intellectual products that is not subordinated to profit—and not subordinated to the state. The arrangements we have are a kind of a con—we are encouraged to take an interest, to become informed. But the main avenues of intelligence, in JA Hobson’s phrase, are hopelessly unreliable. And they are unreliable in virtue of their profit orientation or in virtue of their integration with the state bureaucracy.
Check out other great stuff in the latest issue: Matthew Steele’s essay on the strategic and ethical complexities of food activism today; John Gledhill on the fate of people living in Brazil’s favelas now that construction for the 20114 World Cup and 2016 Olympics is displacing them; and much else. Highly recommended.