Has there ever been a revolution without its musicians, artists, and writers? Could we imagine the Zapatista movement, for example, without its poetry and lyricism? At this moment, I am writing from the specific location of the west coast of Australia, on land known to Aboriginal Australians as Beeliar Boodjar. Across the Indian Ocean, remarkable things are happening in North Africa. I listen on the internet to the songs of freedom being sung in Tahrir Square, as well as to the young hip-hop artists who provided the soundtrack to the revolution in Tunisia. But their YouTube videos are not the only things going viral. Significantly, their mutant desires, of which their music is an expression, are also beginning to ripple outwards. I feel it here at my kitchen table as I type, as viscerally as the caffeine flowing through my body. I also see it on the evening news in Spain and Greece. Perhaps the alterglobalisation movement never died, but was simply laying in wait. Perhaps we are only at the beginning. And perhaps there is little real difference in our movements between making music and making change; between the creation of art and the creation of new social relations through our activisms. Our common art is the crafting of new ways of being, of seeing, of valuing; in short, the cultivation of new forms of life, despite and beyond the deadening, ossified structures all around us.
What I would like to focus on most especially in this piece is the art of writing; more specifically, on the relationship between nonfiction writing and social movements. Movement produces writing which produces movement which produces writing, and so the loop turns; a constant feedback loop between action and reflection, experience and expression. To the relationship between writing and movement, I would like to introduce the added factor of time. Until very recently, radical writing practices have tended to operate in accordance with, and uncritically reproduce, some very particular ideas about time. One such idea is that it is compartmentalised into discrete units. Another is that it is linear and moves only in one direction. These understandings are part and parcel of Gottfried Hegel’s dialectical logiciii, which, via Karl Marx, has become the unthinking, taken-for-granted folk theory of generations of activists. They are also part of Enlightenment, or modernist, rationality more broadly – that particular way of knowing that has predominated across the world for the past few centuries. Linear, compartmentalised time has meant that we have come to see past, present, and future as three separate things – a division that lies at the root of the means-ends distinction in traditional leftist politics. It is only when present and future are treated as mutually exclusive entities that means and ends can be regarded likewise. Furthermore, for Hegel and Marx, one must always negate in order to create; that is, the present must firstly be negated before the future is ever able to come into being.iv Revolutionary politics is therefore conceived of in purely negative terms, and the job of building a new world deferred until after the revolution. Social movements become equivalent to war rather than creation. When the ends justify the means, the present effectively becomes sacrificed at the altar of The Future – and this for the sake of utopian designs fabricated in the minds of a self-appointed few…..