[iDC] Re: Toward a Post-Post-Critical Future

Brian Holmes brian.holmes at wanadoo.fr
Mon Oct 2 09:08:12 EDT 2006

Mark Bartlett wrote a very thoughtful remark on something I 
said here:

>> Brian writes: ³One of the things that could be done right away is to use
>> mobile communications media to constitute groups which could build up a
>> sensory, narrative and relational consistency between each other, on a
>> deliberately singularizing basis, at collective variance with respect to
>> the norms of contemporary hyperindividualism.²
> This type of alliance-making isn't necessarily distinguishable from 
> pensée 68 experiments to invent new forms of subjectivity, and could 
> very possibly lead to the same dead ends, socially and politically. It 
> might be able to resist "hyperindividualism" but is still a form of 
> individualism, which according to some readings, is a very detrimental 
> mythological object/impasse. And Brian's comment could be interpreted as 
> a form of techno-determinism, which attributes to technology a magical 
> power of causality, capable of changing relations. what is needed is 
> not, (if i'm at all understanding the term), "singularizing," but 
> collectivizing (not the best word either), with strategies and tactics 
> that effectively challenge not rampant libertarianism, but, the 
> extraordinarily effective "masses" organized by neocon 
> strategies/tactics.

I agree with most of this, as will be clear after 
eliminating a few misunderstandings. Technodeterminism is, 
to my mind, a huge trap into which much thinking and acting 
falls. A closely associated trap is the hyperindividualism 
which has been reinforced by the development of consumer 
technologies, at least since the mass-marketing of the 
automobile. I do think that libertarianism (in the US sense 
of the term) has been one of the ideologies of this 
hyperindividualism. But the paradox remains that these are 
mass ideologies. It's extremely telling that the neocon 
reassertion of power was initially led by a libertarian who 
combined triumphant technodeterminism with religious 
moralism (George Gilder, a leading proponent of Intelligent 
Design); and that, when power was actually taken by the 
Bush-Cheney gang, it was then used to defend the Fordist way 
of life (abundant oil and the preeminence of certain 
industrial sectors). So I believe there is a deep connection 
between individualism and mass society, one which has become 
more complex over time, due to the really amazing 
development of gadgetized hyperindividualism, or what I call 
the flexible personality. Perhaps the best definition of 
hyperindividualism is that it is an unconsciousness of 
society (which, Margret Thatcher once claimed, "does not 

One of the big problems is simply tearing oneself away from 
this complex of attitudes and ideas which has co-evolved 
with such a powerful economic model. The suggestion that I 
made (as I said, it's just one suggestion, there could be 
very many) was oriented toward the issues being discussed on 
this list, i.e. the famous mobile technologies, and their 
relation to architecture. "Singularizing" in this sense 
means finding ways not only to think but also to feel 
outside the formats provided by the society, which massifies 
us in that strange contemporary way. It could be very 
interesting to try this out by means of experiments using 
exactly what appears as the instrument of alienation: 
namely, the fetishized gadgetry of mobile telephony and GPS, 
which also serves as an important means of communication. 
The difficulty is clearly that you can never achieve any 
kind of distance from society all by yourself, or on the 
level of superficial communication promoted by consumerism 
and competitive professionalism. Any deep transformation of 
the self has to be collective, because it can only be 
sustained by inventing or cultivating other languages, 
images, patterns of thought, affect, relation and 
expression. One of the most compelling possibilities of art 
today is to experiment with possibilities for attaining this 
kind distance and making this kind of transformation, which 
takes, however, a greater effort than most want to make, 
because you really do have to grapple with powerfully 
reinforced habits and quasi-automatic behaviors. Any group 
who succeeds in doing so becomes important, particularly 
when it retains a clear and explicit concern for the whole 
of society. This is what I mean when I talk about being "at 
collective variance with respect to the norms of 
hyperindividualism." But of course, the phrase itself was 
too short to communicate all those meanings clearly.

I find it very interesting that Mark should go on to mention 
Bourdieu's notion of the "Collective Intellectual." I have 
participated in various direct-action groups over the last 
ten years which respond more or less to that definition. In 
the group Ne Pas Plier, we used it explicitly. However, the 
tremendous diversity and deliberation of the movements which 
converged on Genoa in July of 2001, and from which the 
European Social Forum movement basically sprang, was perhaps 
the most impressive thing I have ever encountered along 
those lines. An amazingly complex collective process on a 
grand scale (the World Social Forum is continuing this kind 
of process, as I found this January in Venezuela). But I 
don't think that you can reduce the possibilities of social 
change to any one model. The Royal Society of which Mark 
writes is much more influential when the streets are full of 
protestors against oil companies, or when a number of 
smaller ecological lobbying and direct-action groups manage 
to do something together. What I have observed is that the 
larger convergences in society are usually driven by 
forerunner actions of smaller groups, which break through 
the perception of normalcy. These are minority endeavors, 
which can only get into motion to the extent that they break 
away from the status quo, and to that extent, singularize 

Having seen how this kind of thing works over time, I have 
come to believe that the minority position is actually 
necessary, in order to create the impetus for the formation 
of anything like the "collective intellectual" (although I 
also think this collectivity has to be more or other than 
just intellectual, as very few people - some, but very few - 
are able to motivate themselves toward a dissenting or 
oppositional stance on the basis of purely scientific or 
disciplinary thinking). The big problem I have observed is 
that groups which do autonomize themselves to some degree, 
often have a hard time accepting the translation of their 
thoughts and actions back into something that is ultimately 
only a small change in the course of the mainstream. It is 
hard for people to learn to live with this paradox.

The question of what people on this list could do in terms 
of moving toward a posture of greater collective engagement 
seems to me like a good one.

best, Brian

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