Teaser – Strike as Symptom

November 19, 2009

Here’s a few of the opening paragraphs from the Gorgon that I’ve been creating about the strike at York (carefull, you may return to stone, Freud styles):

What you aspire to as revolutionaries is a master. You will get one. – Lacan

What if democracy, in the second sense (the regulated procedure of registering the “people’s voice”) is ultimately a defense against itself, against democracy in the sense of the violent intrusion of the egalitarian logic that disturbs the hierarchical functioning of the social system, an attempt to re-functionalize this excess, to make it part of the normal running of things? – Žižek

Mid-way through our recent struggles a member of 3903 sent an email across a departmental list-serve pleading people to come to their senses and bring the strike to an end, and in so doing admonished people for getting-off “on this labour action stuff.” There were people who called this statement belittling, while another asserted that it needed to be acknowledged that there were in fact people who “got off” on striking. Rather than so quickly dismiss the possibility that “getting off” on political action is productive it is worthwhile considering in what way, in the context of the recent strike, “enjoyment is a political factor.”

Recognizing enjoyment in its political dimensions is, of course, the basis of the work of Slavoj Žižek. Rather than seeing it as an impediment to effective politics, as an obstacle to making rational decisions, he attempts to understand it in both its productive and destructive capacities – capacities that are not as contradictory as they may seem.

For Žižek the ethics of the political culminate in “enjoying one’s symptom.” At one point he evokes an episode from Rysard Kapuściński’s The Shadow of the Sun as an example of this logic. Driving to Onitsha, Nigeria to visit its market, Kapuściński encounters a traffic jam that stays his progress. Stepping out of his car to follow the line of vehicles that waits ahead of him Kapuściński finds the source of the problem: a gaping hole has opened in the road. The only way to continue is to wait to have someone drag each vehicle down into, and then up out of, the muddy crater. Along with the hole, however, he finds a bustle of activity: newly painted hotel signs, vendors and people gathered to simply socialize. Žižek writes that “the hole had become an institution. …a ridiculous contingent and meaningless obstacle triggered a swarm of social activity; people started to enjoy their symptom” (Žižek, 2002, 254).

It’s not hard to see parallels in the recent strike: around the gap that separated us from the administration (and ourselves) arose a social and administrative institution: a new office with new “staff” (i.e. rank-and-file members); large plywood shacks constructed at each of the university’s seven entrances; food and coffee service; pick-up and tear down crews; frequent internal and external communications; radio-banter (who stole the cookies?); collections of media-vans at the main gate; the York is Us collective and the Unit 2 communications group; musicians, actors and a mime that traveled from line to line; the writing and performing of two short plays about the strike; frequent and well attended General Membership- and Steward’s Council-meetings; members of the community delivering doughnuts and stopping to talk (or, it must be admitted, threatening us with knifes, bottles and cars); and last but not least, the creation of new friendships and the continued presence, post-strike, of red felt-squares on the coats and bags of strikers that identify people as members of a political community. As for the hole itself, it should be noted that the York campus was largely empty – the strike was coupled with a lockout, where all classes were cancelled.

[…]

 

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4 Responses to “Teaser – Strike as Symptom”

  1. The Universal Singular said

    Could you please send me the rest of this. Is this what you presented at HM?

  2. battleofthegiants said

    moo-ha-ha! I presented this part at rethinking marxism, and a different part at hm. The full meal isn’t quite complete, but will appear in a book on the strike… If not also elsewhere.

  3. The Universal Singular said

    Nice. I’m looking forward to reading it. Or eating it – the meal, that is.

  4. veiledphallus said

    Giddy up…

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