I’m starting to think about a paper I want to write for the AAA conference in San Srancisco, CA, USA. Some time back I had to think of a title and something came up with a smile. I thought of the title of this paper as a joyous one, even frivolous (ironic not polemic for sure), but with a hint of suggestion (although i must confess that i laughed a lot when i put the title together, bit by funny bit). Then i stopped laughing, and considered.
The word “splace”, in particular, made me think of the word displacement (for obvious reasons of course, but it was obvious in a different way then, when it first came to my mind). Following that trail of associations, a frivolous game, i thought of the outrageous (the fun was over?) displacement of the obscene acquiescence to neoliberalism, to capitalism, to authority, to patriarchy, to racism, attempted in the language and in the actions of sections of the global movement. I of course thought of the gargantuan threat of the old anarchist according to which a laughter will bury you. and then i suddenly stopped. what was i doing? where was i going, what was my point, what was the point of such non-analytical, hardly metaphoric and only fully suggestive exercise?
I had to stop with all this and re-compose myself, and, going back to the respected rules of the analytic game, re-thread the ropes of my ideas in an ordered way. But then again which order?
When i as a young activist of 15 marching, striking, bunking classes, fasting (against the neoliberalisation of the italian public school, against another US navy frigate in the harbour of Messina, my home town in militarised (by the US army) Sicily, against Rabin, breaking the bones of 8 or 9 year old stone throwers, against compulsory military service, against… for liberated spaces/stages for free bodies and emotions.. ah so naive, wasn’t I?), when i was 15 then, I read of the “actions” of the activists in the 68 movement and later in the, especially italian, ’77 movement, i was almost in awe and regretted not being there (i guess that had to do with a sense of cultural and existential displacement that afflicts, no inspires, some youth activists).
Later things changed and later on again hopes were confirmed, i was not deluding myself, it was all there on TV, from Seattle, and in the Indymedia and other websites. In 1999 and in the following 2 years (or maybe only 1, the rest still part of the abrivium produced by the explosion of energy and enthusiasm that got me going in the first place) i felt a (moderate) excitement that was comparable to that of several years before (when i was in the streets of Messina or in the wide rooms of the peace movement or later in Rome in one or the other occupied “centro sociale”) and by that time already metabolised, digested, embodied in my activism and in my daily life.
The new movement had a fundamental, disacratory component. The dances and the mock guerrilla wars (and yes some, disturbing to some, broken window and, more traumatizing to me, a young dead activism in Alimonda Square in Genova), the pink squads and the turtles and the reclaim the streets activists in their costumes, their outrageous behaviour, even the parody of the warriors, the black block or the “tute bianche – white overalls”, was a gigantic cry against those forces that were making the existence of millions and millions of people, simply impossible. It was also something else, i thought then: it was an attempt to reclaim the routes of disobedience and conflict from the sterilised hands of a “system” (a so complex thing that had to be so much bigger than the people who did those acts) that had had the time to compose a coherent interpretation of the post 68 world and push it onto the world selecting convenient fragments of those struggles and discarding the people who fought for them. In a sense it was the same cry: against the domination of capital over people’s life, against authority, against patriarchy, against exclusion, racism, sexism, casteism, it was an enormous movement that yelled uncompromisingly “Ya Basta” and did it with a powerful charge of irony. They were almost saying, look what we have to do to be heard, look how ridiculous our world is, look how insane this all world “system” has become, look how we laugh at you, at your suits, at your “order” at your tidy streets, at your unthinking, automatic, routines. It was back again, I thought, we thought. The irresistible tide of outrage against world “poverty” (whatever that is), against the injustice and unfairness. Oh, how juvenile to complain about unfairness, i know, we know, and yes no many cared about being accused of infantilism, that accusation had been made toothless several decades before and was working only for obtuse minds with no sense of humour (or purpose in life).
It did not last long, then the movement grew older, “wiser”, more “mature” and it turned into an organised “front”, called “open space”, the World Social Forum. And bit by bit the outrageous activists with their intolerable sense of humour and confusing politics, withdrew into a daily politics in their neighbourhoods or in their networks leaving, as it were, the field to the adult organisers (so many of them determined, come what may, that they did not want to repeat the experience of 1968, to which they were part in so many cases). It was not anymore the time to get the movement smashed by its own weight, by its own dreams, but its own desillusionment. A cultural victory was not enough. It was a start but this time that start had not to be aborted. In part, perhaps a substantial part, and one that hasn’t been written about enough (something i would like to do), the process of global institutionalisation of the 68 movement has to be looked at as the fundamental thrust that originated the NGO movement (Suzuki says some interesting things in her article on the New Left review).
So i guess, once i recollected my memory and my correct scholar persona i decided that this paper was going to deal with the experience of the institutionalisation of the 1999-2000 movements against neoliberalism and its injustice. I was going to do this analysis by acting within spaces of resistance within the forum but also within the hegemonic activists that in shrewed and (socio-cutural-political) entreprenurial way were using that space to generate and manipulate a large pool of “votes” or simply a front that could be suggested as a threat, as a bargaining tool.
And after i decided i had to laugh again and retract: not one more simplistic dichotomy. Then what? I was going to write about the shape of the water, the emergent flows of movements, ideas and the groups that carried them. I was going to write about the diving and resurfacing of 22 years of “resea-ction” (oh this sounds like exertion) and the last 18 of a further complication: anthropology.