the anarchy of the overStated

[ response to Abe Burmeister's : anarchy, new orleans edition (bottoms up) ]

"My friend tobias c. van Veen provides a good example, in his other wise spot on essay "A Black Rainbow Over Downtown New Orleans", he makes the claim that no, New Orleans is not in a state of anarchy, but rather "the rupture of the facade of global capital". Which is all probably true if one follows one of the rigid definitions of anarchy favored by practitioners, but utterly incomprehensible to those of us who still are aware of word in its common usage. New Orleans was in a state of anarchy after the disaster, a state where the law was absent, a non force, a state of chaos. Which is all probably true if one follows one of the rigid definitions of anarchy favored by practitioners, but utterly incomprehensible to those of us who still are aware of word in its common usage."

Let's consider a line of critique that would understand not "common usage" of language but rather ideological usage; or in Deleuze, Guattari's and Foucault's terms, a word's power as an order-word. Anarchy as you describe it as common (as violent chaos in the absence of the State) appears to be an ideologically-imposed definition, that is, the definition in common use presupposes the peaceful, non-chaotic, apparently non-violent character of the State which is also, apparently, in control, and completely organised. This use of the word "anarchy," it seems, comes into being wherever violence takes place that tries to counter State violence ("Iraq falls into anarchy," etc). That is, anarchy in the "common usage" is deployed as an ideological stop gap wherein the State doesn't lose control but rather, elements of the State--and depending on which elements, the political analysis changes significantly--gain too much control.

This needs to be reiterated: that the State wasn't Stateless in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, but rather, indulging in its power: police didn't simply abdicate, they saw the opportunity to act as judge & jury all in one. Legally this is called martial law, but it came into place naturally as the extension of an already repressive police state that you have analysed so well along racial and class lines. To scratch that again: the State wasn't "losing control" but rather out of control. As this isn't stated often enough, let's call this state of the State overStated.

That is, the reason New Orleans wasn't in "anarchy" has less to do with the semantic (I would say, although in quotation marks, "ideological") difference of the word anarchy rather than the observation and analysis that the State never lost control but rather overproduced it, and predetermined its potential state of the State as violence (through the police searches, treating survivors--how I detest the word victim!--as criminals, etc.). That is, no matter what the nomenclature for the emergent system of "aftermath New Orleans," it wasn't taking place absent of the State, but rather in its clutches of a particular element: the police-military, which exerted its force against its opposite and generated that opposite where it couldn't be found (i.e., where criminals fought the police this overState found its tautological justification for its own excesses; where there was no such element, it had to be created by blocking freeways and exits, breaking up survival groups and community organisation of resources and thus producing levels of frustration against the overStated elements). What follows from this is that this "potential" state of the emergent system was not undetermined but rather overdetermined. There was no "free state of nature" in any Rousseau-style sense for "man" to organise along whatever lines. The State always emerges: here as the overStated, that is, as martial violence against its own.

The overState exerted control in means and ways that were, and still are, authoritarian, repressive, and borderline fascistic--none of which are characteristics either of anarchy-as-chaos-violence (which is where the State has no control at all--and which appears, for example in Deleuze and Guattari, to be an impossible condition: the State is always-already present, always-already emerging, which is what I think New Orleans demonstrates in all its complexity) or anarchy-as-ideal-utopia, perhaps as "the social state free of political authority" (which of course would have no reference, and which is defenseless). However even this latter definition as the definition of what "anarchists" apparently believe is at least flawed (flawed as in your critique presuppose this form of analysis does so), as, to condense another argument, the socius directly implies the polis, that is, the social the political, and appear inseparable; this is the argument to contend with, not the semantic hurdle which the dominant ideological analysis has entrapped in the parameters of the bon mot, "anarchy."

To restate: if one considers the socius and polis separable, than one also posits a free state of "nature" (socius) untainted by the polis which then arrives into this pure state (the state of the "noble savage"). Or, one posits this nature before polis and socius--however one orders it, the result is the same: a libertarian perspective that without organisation, a natural state of freedom will emerge as the original origin of "man" (I use "man" here as the terms appear caught in a metaphysics of phallogocentrism that I will leave commentary for elsewhere). What New Orleans demonstrates is the tautological fallacy of upholding this metaphysics, a systematic presupposition of origin which always calls for a kind of violence, if not catastrophe, to bring it into apparent existence. The recent deployment of emergent and potential states as concepts do not, in this analysis, escape these problematics.

The state of New Orleans thus isn't Stateless but rather overStated. It supplements itself, back on itself, like a cancer, which is how I visualize Virilio's concept of endocolonization, wherein a State turns within its borders to subject its own people to the violence it extends, as imperial / colonialist power (let's leave that loose), outwards (often at the same time: this is not a linear historical maneouvre). Agamben has built upon this concept today with his analysis of the world-as-concentration-camp (np. Homo Sacer, State of Exception, etc.).

To pick up on other points: anarchy might not have a "centralizing force" but neither, despite appearances, does the State; it might have a centralizing distraction, but its force is dispersed and stratified. Thus neither organisation (and both are forms of organisation and both are emergent systems) is centralized or, by definition, defined from the other by a mark of centralized vs. decentralized organisation. What the State possesses is hierarchy: cops over people, etc., not always in terms of power (we've seen this reversed) but in terms of tautological justification, in terms of the law. In fascistic organisation, this hierarchy is cellularized insofar as State-fascism has the polyglot force to kill at will; this kind of power entraps the populace into obeyance (and a kind of hunger, a following and a spiral) as it appears unstoppable. The hierarchy of a "democratic" State, by contrast, is produced vertically.

So: to clarify, when I say "No--this isn't anarchy," this isn't to defend an ideal definition of "anarchy" (nor certainly to claim the title of an "anarchist," as perhaps unwittingly alluded to in the piece). It is rather to identify New Orleans in the aftermath as not anarchic, but overStated: overrun with the violence of the State, overrun with class and racial violence as you and I both have written about and, I think, been profoundly affected by. Nor is this, lest I be thought a covert (as in doctrinaire) "Marxist," that the hurricane revealed a "contradiction" in the State: this is no contradiction as-such (i.e. a contradiction as a sign of collapse) but rather the exposure of the State's conditions-- that of war as Virilio analyses (see Speed and Politics). This violence is both the conditions of the State's possibility (in its banality, repressive strategies to ensure dominance) and impossibility (as it overStates itself into explosive scenarios as we have witnessed; overStated to the point that it becomes impossible to recognize the State in its underlying form: that of flattened violence, that of martial law, that of one gang killing the next in the name of the State, which is why the symbolic layer of language imposes the mot d'ordre, "anarchy"). This double injunction of violence in terms of the State, but also the overStated and apparently Stateless, is what Derrida calls force of law (albeit law here is put under erasure), and which comes into play in Agamben's political analyses of Homo Sacer.


posted. Fri - September 16, 2005 @ 10:27 AM           |