A precarious dialogue

Dossier: The Greek Symptom: Debt, Crisis and the Crisis of the Left

RP 181 () / Dossier, Interview, The Greek Symptom

Maria Kakogianni    It seems to me that we are in an intermediary situation today. The period of the great renunciation of the revolutionary past, and of the ‘end of History’, seems to be giving way to a new sequence of popular struggles (the Arab Spring, Los Indignados, Occupy Wall Street, etc.). But, within this new sequence, it also seems that we are just about to run out of breath for the first time.

In this situation, there are now many attempts to take stock and to learn from what hasn’t worked. On the one hand, the lackeys of the dominant order never miss an opportunity to emphasize the fact that there exists no other viable project for society, no other programme, and so they tell us, with a mixture of arrogance and contempt, ‘leave us to get on with it, at least we know what we’re doing’. On the other hand, for those who desire a break with the status quo, the question remains: what can we do, and what do we want to do? Should we restore something like a revolutionary wisdom (sophia) that might prescribe to the movements the paths they should follow? And yet… When I invited you to come and participate in a dialogue with me about the present situation, I had in mind the subversive moment of 1968, less in the hope that we might succeed in understanding the present than that we might try to destabilize it.

Since the beginning of this crisis and this new sequence of struggles, a number of people, on the basis of various approaches, have articulated the problem in more or less these terms: there has been a transition from the Party, as the totalizing locus of political struggles, to the fragmentation of different, specific and local struggles. There has been a displacement from the essentialist class struggle towards a plurality of struggles – anti-racist, feminist, queer, regarding prisons, and so on. The question that remains concerns new processes of universalization – the question of the local in terms of its capacity for universalization.

And so my first question is to ask you to say a few words about a function or operation that you have often evoked, that of ‘the one who comes after’ [celui qui vient après].

Jacques Rancière    ‘The one who comes after’ could obviously be someone who comes as a simple addition, as a parasite – and I have admitted in advance that I have nothing in particular to say about Greece, or about the revolutionary strategy that should be adopted so that Greece triumphs and Europe goes on to become communist. And so there you are, I have formally joined this discussion as a parasite, in order to try to say not how one should analyse the global crisis and what must be done, but rather to consider some of the small ways we might try today to change the very way that we think about thinking, and to ask what it means to act on a thought [agir après une pensée].

‘To come after’, fundamentally, we could say, defines something like a form of rationality that breaks with what could broadly be called strategic reason.

‘To come after’ means that we cannot coincide with a point of origin. In a certain fashion, what we are dealing with does not commence, is not the effect of a sort of initial decision; it is not something like a chain or string of intelligible events through which we might somehow refer to the point of departure, in order to say what should have been done, what should still be done, and so on. Instead we find ourselves faced all at once with different inter-lacing chains of events, where the question is that of knowing what we can about what exactly there is in the situation, what is taking shape there, and what sorts of chains or strings are forming.

And so it doesn’t commence, and, moreover, it doesn’t stop. To say that you ‘come after’ means that you live in a certain ‘after’ and not somewhere beyond the end. In other words, that which comes after is not what comes after the end. It is what …