Recently I have started to read The Coming Insurrection (TCI), a revolutionary manifesto written by a french group named “the invisible committee.” I’ve been compelled by what TCI has to say about identity. But first, a little context: TCI has been labeled a terrorist document by French authorities. Recently they have arrested nine individuals on charges of terrorist acts, also claiming that this group authored TCI (check out the story at adbusters). MIT press gives the following description of the work:
The Coming Insurrection articulates a rejection of the official Left and its reformist agenda, aligning itself instead with the younger, wilder forms of resistance that have emerged in Europe around recent struggles against immigration control and the “war on terror.”
I am currently working my way through the French version. So far the committee gives some compelling diagnoses of some of the ills that plague capitalist society. However, I find their call to a violent uprising simplistic and unimaginative. When you start a creative nonviolent revolution, then you can count on me to throw my hat in the ring. Back to identity. One of the first worthwhile sections in TCI describes how capitalist society programs individuals to spend great quantities of energy maintaining their identities. Here’s a taste (my translation):
If ‘society’ had not become this final abstraction, it would designate the ensemble of existential crutches that are offered to me for the price of my identity. The handicap has become the model of the coming citizen . . . the pervasive injunction, “to be someone,” maintains this pathological state that makes this society necessary (14).
Against this model of identity, where the self is the black hole that swallows one’s attention and keeps one reaching for new products, TCI proposes a net-worked view of identity, a worldly view:
The ‘me’ is not that which is in crisis within us, but the form that they seek to stamp on us. They want to make us into “Me’s,” delineated, separated, classifiable and assessable by our qualities, in a word: controllable, when we are creatures among creatures, singularities among likenesses, living flesh weaving the flesh of the world. Contrary to what we learn from childhood, intelligence, is not knowing how to adapt–or if this is an intelligence, it is a slave intelligence. Our in-adaptation, our fatigue, are problems from the point of view of those who want to oppress us (17, 18).
I have become increasingly convinced that this is correct. Identity is something weaving and woven. We can only understand it in terms of systems. The “I” is not autonomous or static, and it is not something that we accessorize. The I is a fluctuating nodal point in a sea of overlapping systems. I don’t think that this should lead us to attempt the “loss of self.” But I do think it should push us to think of ourselves as more than just our favorite color, more than our actions, and more than our bodies (and less than the world).