Sunday, February 6, 2011
Resonance and the Egyptian Revolution
What has coalesced as a powerful force on the streets of Egypt is resonance: the assertive collective empathy created by multitudes fighting for the control of space. Resonance is an intensely bodily, spatial, political affair, materialized in the masses of bodies coming together in the streets of Egyptian cities in the past thirteen days, clashing with the police, temporarily dispersed by teargas and bullets, and regrouping again like an relentless swarm to reclaim the streets, push the police back, and saturate space with a collective effervescence. Resonance is what gives life to this human rhizome and the source of its power.
This is why the Mubarak regime has desperately tried to shatter it. The state attempts to disrupt the internet, cell phones, Al Jazeera, and the work of the international media are all attempts to disable the technologies through which resonance propagates and expands. When these moves failed, the regime sent paramilitary units to attack the main source of resonance: the bodies of the multitude in Liberation Square in Cairo. The Egyptian Revolution became for several days a pitched battle fought with stones and Molotov cocktails over the control of its main node of resonance. The attacks on this node have been repelled and the resonance continues, embodied in the chanting and the rhythmic hitting of objects that create pulsations engulfing the totality of the square and in fact the whole space of the nation. And while the regime has for now entrenched its position thanks to the support of its global masters, the resonance produced in the streets has profoundly transformed physical and political landscapes at multiple spatial scales.
Everybody feels the resonance reverberating from Egypt and is trying to make sense of it, to name it. But the words seem inadequate, partial, incomplete: enthusiasm, energy, passion, anger, contagion, electrifying, domino effect. These terms name features of resonance but miss its salience as a physical, affective, political force made up of living bodies. Those who know it best, if intuitively, are the bodies that produce it in the streets. A 28-year old protester told a reporter from The Guardian during the first days of clashes with the police, after showing him where the police had broken one of his ribs the day before: “But I don't care – just look around you. The energy of the Egyptians is amazing. We're saying no to unemployment, no to police brutality, no to poverty.” Just look around you. You can see that “amazing energy.” Indeed, if you train your senses you can see and feel the materiality of resonance, the physical, bodily power of its presence and its effects (the video clips posted here, here and here exude this materiality). This is a bodily energy that this protester conceptualized as negativity, as a collective “no,” but which is also an affirmation, a striving, what Nietzsche called will-to-power, the will to assert and expand life. Energy made by and through bodies, so unfathomable that seems to defy conceptualization. Resonance has been conceptually invisible for so long because it involves the most immanent, physical, taken-for-granted dimensions of social life: bodies and space, modulated by the same temporal pulsation.
These are bodies and spaces tangled in a vortex of movement, whirlwinds, and flows, for a defining feature of resonance is that it does not stand still. It is mobile and expands, affecting more and more bodies. This is why so many reporters use metaphors of contagion to explain its expansive force. Nicholas Kristof from the New York Times wrote that he felt “intoxicated” by the yearning and hopefulness he felt on Liberation Square. Resonance shakes bodies, even foreign bodies, and makes them act out of empathy. And because it reverberates and is contagious, resonance can travel long distances, spreading outwards from its original node. This is the spatial spread that the media alludes to through references to “domino effects,” a somewhat mechanical and linear metaphor that nonetheless captures the mobility of resonance expansion as well as its physicality: that the expansion of resonance is created by objects affecting other objects that in turn affect other objects. Except that the objects being affected by resonance are conglomerates of human bodies.
Liberation Square is now a node of global resonance, which Kristof aptly called “the most exhilarating place in the world.” This resonance is now ricocheting all over the planet through the infrastructure of instant global communications and impacting on millions of bodies who feel moved by the determination guiding those struggles, so distant yet so close. The Egyptian Revolution was in fact triggered by the arrival on Egyptian space of prior resonances created by the multitude in the streets of Tunisia, which then blended with localized grievances and patterns of unrest. In turn, the resonance that led to the Tunisian uprising can be traced back farther to the wave of massive anti-elite protests and riots that shook Europe in 2010, which created anti-establishment resonances that have now spilled over across the Mediterranean and onto the shores of Africa and the Middle-East.
Resonance, in short, forces us to look at wider, complex, ever shifting and fluid topographies of unrest that connect and affect distant and seemingly disconnected geographies. And the intense expectations, support, and fears that the Egyptian Revolution is awakening all over the world indicate that the streets of Cairo are becoming the last manifestation of a global wave of anti-elite unrest that is reaching transcontinental dimensions, and is beginning to resemble the planetary turnmoil of pivotal years such as 1968 (defined by anti-war and anti-capitalist resonances) and 1989 (marked by resonances that shattered communist bureaucracies). Hence the global significance of the Egyptian Revolution, which unlike the recent mass protests in Europe aims to destroy a whole authoritarian political structure firmly supported by the United States.
Ideology, slogans, and speeches are all part of resonance, but at its most powerful moments resonance is sheer affect: bodies joining forces to control space and voicing their passions through openly gestural expressions (chants, screams, signs) and, as in Cairo, violent confrontations with armed bodies sent by the state. Resonance is collective empathy so overwhelming and bodily that it defies representation. What is most unfathomable about resonance is its power, a power that has fueled all the revolutions of human history. Resonance can erode and destroy the most powerful of states, especially when it affects the bodies of those with orders to shoot. Many revolutions are won this way: when the resonance created by the multitude is so expansive and penetrating that it breaks the will of officers and soldiers to obey orders. And this is why in moments of revolutionary unrest the state unleashes ruthless, unparalleled violence on the source of resonance: human bodies. Massacres of unarmed civilians such as Tiananmen Square and the state terrorism that devastated much of Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s were attempts to physically destroy a resonance that was dangerously threatening the state. And this is why the ghost of these massacres has hovered over Liberation Square, despite the signs that a faction of the Egyptian military seems to lean toward avoiding indiscriminate bloodshed.
Resonance, in case it is not clear by now, is not a metaphor. The power of affectation that these bodies create is as material as the forms of resonance that are studied in physics and travel through air, water, and solids. Understanding political resonances indeed requires developing a physics of politics. Unlike standard physics, which seeks to find predictability in motion, a physics of political resonance involves the shifting patterns of movement by rhizomes of striving bodies coming together and spreading in unpredictable ways. Resonance unfolds in the realm of political contingency yet through well-defined patterns. It spreads at diverse, simultaneous physical levels. The voices, screams, and chants that in traversing space as sound waves reach and affect other bodies are a primary source of resonance. A protester in Cairo captured the affective inscription of chanting on his body when he said to The Guardian, “I'm going to have all of this week's chants ringing in my ears for ever – down, down Hosni Mubarak.” In faraway places, the instant media transmissions that project images of those bodies on our computer and TV screens also affect us viscerally despite being on the other side of the world.
And back on the streets of Cairo, the violence against the police and pro-Mubarak paramilitary units create resonance through bodies that fight, bleed, and die together on those urban battlefields littered with stones and debris. The images of hundreds of bleeding, bruised, wounded protesters covered with bandages yet at the ready for more street combat reveal both their individual bodily fragility and the determination of their collective will. These resonances are solid in their conduits and effects, as the ravaged landscapes of Cairo illustrate. Yet they are also so elusive and ever fluid that they seem ethereal.
The material yet fluid nature of resonance demands a more conceptual and detailed exploration. My interest in resonance was first piqued by the anarchist manifesto The Coming Insurrection, authored by "The Invisible Committee.” Almost in passing, they write: “Revolutionary movements do not spread by contamination but by resonance. Something that is constituted here resonates with the shock wave emitted by something constituted over there.” Resonance is presented here as that which accounts for the spatial spread of revolutionary unrest, the horizontal expansion of shock waves that connect different places, “here” and “over there.” This is not a linear spread, but convoluted, unpredictable dispersion. “An insurrection is not like a plague or a forest fire – a linear process which spreads from place to place after an initial spark. It rather takes the shape of a music, whose focal points, though dispersed in time and space, succeed in imposing the rhythms of their own vibrations, always taking on more density.” In this elaboration, resonance involves rhizomic, non-linear, vibrating patterns of dispersion resembling sound waves. It also involves the creation of a rhythm that gains momentum and density through the empowerment of dispersed nodes or focal points. These are provocative ideas that capture the overall spatial pulsations of resonance. Yet this analysis does not go conceptually further. As noted by a reviewer, the references to resonance by The Invisible Committee show “little will to go beyond intuition.” More importantly, this intuition presents a disembodied spatiality in which resonance travels in space seemingly disconnected from bodies. Yet despite the brevity of this engagement, The Coming Insurrection does identify the utmost political significance of resonance. It is what makes revolutions spread. Only now I realize that this early encounter with this concept contained the seeds of a paradigmatic shift in my understanding of the nature of space, power, and politics.
In his book Post-hegemony, my friend and colleague Jon Beasley-Murray recently proposed a much more embodied, affective view of resonance that is of fundamental importance to understand its force. Whereas The Invisible Committee evokes a vibrating, non-linear pattern of dispersion, Beasley-Murray draws on Spinoza and Deleuze to focus on the bodily and subjective dimensions of resonance. The cohesive principle of collective subjectivities, he argues, “is resonance rather than identity, expansive inclusion rather than demarcated difference” (188). Resonance, in this account, is the immanent, bodily, non-discursive, and expansive force that constitutes the multitude as open, non-hierarchical multiplicity. “The multitude forms as bodies come together through resonances established by good encounters, but it is always open to new encounters, and so to new transformations” (228). Resonance, in short, is what makes the multitude. “The multitude is resonant” (250). Beasley-Murray, in this regard, redefines Hardt and Negri’s concept of the multitude along the immanent lines proposed but not fully elaborated by the latter. And this resonance is produced by bodily encounters, for “the multitude’s immanent expansion proceeds by means of contiguity and contact, in resonances established through affective encounter” that develop in a “physics of society” (235).
Beasley-Murray’s account of resonance is groundbreaking. Yet it conceives of resonance as an arrested collective vibration. Whereas in The Coming Insurrection resonance is a disembodied spatial vector, in Post-hegemony space is evoked as the background to a spatially stable, resonant multitude. Yet mobility and spatial dispersion are fundamental to resonance, for its power is directly proportional to its capacity to travel long distances and affect large collectives of bodies in faraway places. And resonance is a concept that Beasley-Murray evokes evocatively but without dissecting it in detail. I faced the same challenge in my previous blog entries, in which I analyze resonance as a spatially expansive force that coalesces in multitudes on the streets but without stopping to answer the question: “What is resonance, exactly?” It is now time to answer this question more closely, but without dispelling its phenomenological force as affective material energy.
Because it is absolute immanence and bodily affect, a more detailed analysis of resonance necessarily takes us to seventeenth-century philosopher Baruch Spinoza. One of Spinoza’s most groundbreaking contributions to philosophy is his view of the body as an outward looking entity tangled with constellations of other bodies. For Spinoza, the body is never an individual, detached entity but living matter continually affected by other bodies. In Ethics, he demonstrates that human emotions, often imagined as inner expressions of an enclosed self, are produced by the impact that other bodies have on our own. Love, fear, envy, jealousy, or anger are just different ways in which our bodies are affected by other bodies. Affects, in other words, do not emerge from the inside out but are “incoming”: the product of relations with other bodies. Affect for Spinoza is affectation: a confirmation that bodies exist only in constellations and that societies are spatially grounded attempts to structure these constellations.
I draw on Spinoza to view resonance not just as affect but as intensified affectation. This intensified bodily process draws on, and empowers, what Spinoza called conatus, striving, the bodily will to live and expand life and that through resonance involves the willing participation of a plurality of bodies. Yet resonance, unlike affect, does not simply exist as a given feature of social interactions. A theory of resonance must face the question of how resonance is produced, how it expands in space, and how the state tries to manipulate it and contain it.
As it should be clear by now, bodies that come together in space are the main agents in the production of resonance. Bodily proximity is fundamental to resonance creation. Resonance is, in this regard, the most primary of all forms of sociality. For this reason, it recognizes different levels of intensity and density, not all of which are political. The love uniting a couple or a family is resonance of a spatially restricted kind, which involves bodies united by intense affection and willing to act together (for instance, sharing the same home). And all societies are punctuated by the production of localized forms of resonance in which bodies come together in space and share a common rhythm. Rituals, ceremonies, and festivities, from a male initiation rite in Papua New Guinea to religious processions in the Andes or Mecca are structured by resonance, hence the recurring role of music and chanting in their configuration.
Likewise, dancing, music concerts, and large sports events also create resonance, temporarily bringing together disparate bodies under the same reverberation but usually through relatively low levels of empathy. The “wave” popularized since the 1986 Mexico World Cup at soccer stadiums is a remarkable, if playful, manifestation of a coordinated resonance that makes thousands of bodies move and raise their arms in unison. And while many of these encounters are not political, the resonances they create may have political effects.
Resonance reaches political dimensions when the capacity to affect other bodies acquires a higher intensity and an oppositional, critical tone, a negativity that is simultaneously guided by an affirmative will-to-power. In becoming political through bodily affectations, resonance is inseparable from desire and in fact can be conceptualized as a desiring machine. In Anti-Oedipus, Giles Deleuze and Félix Guattari grasped the role of desire in resonance when they sought to rethink society through “a generalized theory of flows,” in which the flows of human desire are coded and controlled by capitalism and the state but are also permanently evading this coding and producing lines of flight, liberating routes of escape. Resonance is the force that makes lines of flight possible by severing affective attachments from dominant hegemonies and striving for new, open spaces. And desiring machines, Deleuze and Guattari warn us, are indeed machines: bodily assemblages that act.
Rallies are the main sources of political resonance. Even the smallest of demonstrations create resonance, often through bodily actions that generate a shared physical rhythm, such as chanting in unison. And resonance is often increased with movement. The most energized rallies are usually marches, in which bodies move together and spread their resonance throughout the spaces they traverse. That many anti-corporate protests include dancing and carnivalesque forms of partying is also revealing of the salience of bodily movement and music in resonance creation. Drumming is particularly effective in this regard, because its regular tempo helps synchronize bodies at a physical, non-representational level. The resonance that makes those bodies move in unison to the rhythm of music or drums is the same that makes them act together politically in the streets.
The Argentinean uprising in December 2001 revealed another dimension of the role of rhythm in resonance creation, for the uprising began the night of December 19 when dozens of thousands of bodies began hitting pots and pans almost simultaneously all over Buenos Aires in response to the president’s speech on national TV (who had frozen all bank accounts weeks earlier). The powerful, expansive, clearly audible resonance of the “cacerolazo” all over the city, as the event was called, almost automatically made a multitude materialize on the streets. After a night and day of riots in which 38 people were shot dead by the police, the resonance originated by the hitting of pots and pans toppled the government.
The role of speeches in rallies also reveals that political leadership is usually based on the leader’s capacity to affect a multitude through a resonance more clearly articulated as narrated voice. And the resonance created at rallies not just by political leaders but also by heads of state reveals that resonance can also serve to reproduce and legitimize state power. While in this essay I focus on resonances created by multitudes opposed to the state, it is important to briefly outline how resonance can acquire reactive dimensions when it is manipulated by state power.
Whereas anti-hierarchical resonances by the multitude are spatially expansive, inclusive, and guided by an affirmative negativity (a critique of the status quo that strives for something new) the resonances manipulated by conservative states are often inward looking, reactive, and exclusionary. This is what Spinoza called “sad passions,” bodily affects defined by unawareness of their causes, and that later on Nietzsche would criticize as resentment or slave mentality. These reactive resonances, which Beasley-Murray sees as dissonant but I think still contain affective resonant elements, naturalize the positivity of the real, that which merely is, and are hostile to negativity as critique (the conservative type of affirmation rejected not only by Adorno but also by Deleuze). The Nazi State is a clear example of this reactionary and exclusionary resonance, which was powerful enough to rally millions of German bodies behind Hitler but never sought to resonate with non-Aryan bodies. Its reactive nature as a sad passion was clear in that it defined millions of other bodies as irreconcilable enemies to be destroyed. A different, more recent example of a reactive resonance is the way in which the narrative of “the war on terror” created a hegemonic resonance in the United States, in which the fear of terrorism resonated with millions of bodies affected by the trauma of September 11, 2001 and made them willing to support imperial warfare overseas. And this resonance is largely based on the induced fear of non-white, non-Judeo-Christian bodies. Reactive resonance is also what rallied the pro-Mubarak paramilitaries that tried to destroy the node in Liberation Square and that is making conservatives in the United States, Israel, and other parts of the world react with alarm at the expansive, inclusive, non-hierarchical resonance of the Egyptian multitude.
An important point is that the affective resonance that currently animates armed insurgencies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, or Pakistan is also of a reactive, nativist, exclusionary nature, based on an anti-imperial agenda yet hostile to universal forms of emancipation (for instance, women and sexual, ethnic, and religious minorities). The exclusionary, sectarian, inward-looking nature of this resonance, which Beasley-Murray sees as produced by a bad multitude, is also clear in its readiness to massacre civilians and in its militarized, hierarchical view of politics. This is why these anti-imperialist sad passions, while also fueled by contempt for the Arab elites, are so different from the universalist, non-hierarchical, secular, and non-violent resonances created by the Egyptian multitude.
The resonance produced on the streets by multitudes challenging state power and committed to unarmed protests follows, in this regard, different patterns of vibration: inclusive, open-ended, horizontal, and expansive. Once this resonance is created, its spatial expansion does not need bodily proximity and involve media transmissions that can affect bodies based in distant places across the globe. Yet the source of the resonance that Twitter or Facebook turn into disembodied messages is a rally or uprising grounded somewhere. The original source of political resonance, in this regard, is still the multitude in the streets. This is why all revolutions begin in the streets, even if triggered by resonances transmitted through the media. A resonance powerful enough to topple governments can only be generated in actual, spatially grounded bodily encounters. The reason why conservative pundits often and disingenuously claim that in the era of the internet the street is no longer the terrain of politics is that they fear the expansive resonance the street can create.
Because it is produced in actual places, resonance creates focal points or nodes: spaces from which resonance expands outwards. Every demonstration, in this regard, is a node of resonance. Most of these nodes are ephemeral and disappear shortly thereafter, yet the myriad political struggles that exist in the world at any given moment create an ever-shifting planetary topography of nodes. Countless nodes of political resonance are produced every day in the most diverse places of the planet. When the mainstream or independent media picks them up and political conditions elsewhere are ripe for creating empathy, these nodes may disseminate farther into another town, another region, maybe another country. Very few nodes produce resonances that reach places across the planet. Many linger in subterranean currents for a long time. Many others vanish into thin air. Other nodes, in contrast, expand so dramatically that lead to revolutions.
The American, French, Haitian, Russian, or Cuban revolutions were pivotal moments in world history because the resonance they generated spread unrest across oceans and continents. These revolutions brought down spatial barriers and created a smooth space for the global dissemination of political empathy. This is why revolutions come in waves. The dramatic series of uprisings and revolutions that shook the world between the 1770s and the 1810s is a case in point, leading in a few decades to the collapse of the British and Spanish imperial control over most of their American colonies, the destruction of the French monarchy, and the first and only successful slave revolution in world history in Haiti.
For this reason, counter-revolutions are always attempts to spatially contain insurgent resonances, to create striations that prevent them from traveling and creating empathy elsewhere. The current attempt by the global elites to contain the resonance generated in Egypt follows a pattern as old as revolutions. And it is a pattern of containment that I analyze towards the end of the essay and that the state has historically tried to manage at very different spatial scales: regions, nations, cities, and the street.
Many dictatorships, from Chile to Thailand, have shared a remarkably under-analyzed strategy of resonance containment at the micro-spatial level: decreeing that it is illegal for three or more individuals to meet in a public space. This move could be ridiculed as the product of a paranoia that for Deleuze and Guattari defines fascist subjectivity. But this gesture results from an accurate if intuitive reading of the source of resonance: that even a handful of bodies meeting in a common space can affect each other and create resonance that can then grow and expand.
Once resonance is spreading in the streets, the state aims to disarticulate it through a variety of means. As a weapon of crowd dispersion, teargas is the most conventional state tool to dissipate resonance through the spatial dispersion of the bodies creating it. Yet teargas is rarely enough to stop a strong resonance, for the rhizomic and mobile nature of the multitude enables it to temporarily scatter, maneuver, and regroup elsewhere like a swarm. This is why teargas is more often than not followed by sheer violence by the police or paramilitary units on the mobile bodies creating resonance, as is apparent in the case of Egypt.
In so-called liberal democracies such as the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, the police has developed new forms of resonance dissipation with Orwellian overtones: the so-called “kettle.” By corralling demonstrators in a tight space and not letting them move for five or more hours, the goal of the police is to fix resonance in a space where bodies are forced to stand in a position of discomfort with the ultimate aim of tiring them and dissipating their collective strength. This technique reveals an intuitive awareness of the role of movement in the production of resonance; it also reveals that its fear of resonance makes the police devise sophisticated yet shortsighted measures to contain it. Accounts from people “kettled” in Britain show that the bodily experience of being corralled this way often creates further political radicalization. Resonance may be dissipated in one particular node, but the affectations created by the experience can contribute to producing new resonances at other times and in other nodes.
In the streets of Egyptian cities, all repressive attempts by the state to shatter and contain resonance have not only failed but have in fact empowered it. A common dynamic of resonance expansion is that its repression often increases the spread of affective empathies. The unarmed multitude has defended its central node of resonance in Liberation Square with a determination and ferocity that has impressed observers on the ground. Yet what many analysts missed is that those thousands of bodies defended this space with their bare hands throwing rocks and a few Molotov cocktails because they took to the streets unarmed and unprepared for violence. The same cannot be said of the fascist shock-troops in plainclothes that took to the streets fully armed to inflict pain and death on protesters, with their clubs with nails and razors performing the fantasy that these rudimentary yet deadly weapons showed that those men were not sent by the state. Yet the unarmed multitude responded to this violence with a determination, organization, solidarity, and discipline reminiscent of the egalitarian resonances created by the anarchist uprisings in the Paris Commune in 1871 and in Barcelona in the early stages of the Spanish Civil War in 1933-34. The big difference is that the multitude in Cairo remains unarmed, and that its main weapon is the vibrating amalgam of naked bodies that constitute it.
One of the most potent images of the war of stones that took place in Liberation Square last week was that of protesters throwing stones while partly protecting themselves from flying rocks with makeshift shields, pieces of cardboard and metal, or wearing waste baskets as helmets. The fragility and improvised nature of that armor contrasted dramatically with the American-made tanks standing nearby yet highlighted both the crudely bodily nature of the resonance animating them as well as the improvised and defensive character of their violence, aimed largely at keeping control of the square. In one of his most gripping reports from the square, Nicholas Kristof was awestruck by a protester on a wheelchair who had lost his legs years earlier yet was throwing rocks at the pro-Mubarak thugs. This man talked with Kristof while being treated for a head wound caused by a flying rock, yet was impatient to go back to the frontlines. “I still have my hands,” he told Kristof firmly, “God willing, I will keep fighting.” This man embodies resonance as sheer affect, as a powerful striving that makes a double-amputee transform his disabled body into a fighting body and a vector of resonance to defend Liberation Square.
These bodies are determined to defend this square and willing to bleed and die if need be because this is the first free space of the new Egypt and the node of its revolution. “We're safe as long as we have the square,” a man said to Robert Fisk from The Independent. “If we lose the square, Mubarak will arrest all the opposition groups – and there will be police rule as never before. That's why we are fighting for our lives.” The fate of the revolution, in short, depends on the capacity of thousands of bodies to control Liberation Square and continue creating from this node an expansive resonance reaching the rest of the country and the world.
The global elites are alarmed at this uncontrollable, leaderless insurgent force, especially because of its power to travel thousands of kilometers and inspire millions of bodies in faraway places. The old Mubarak dictatorship that the United States never called this way because it was its dictatorship is crumbling. Pundits are concerned about the “domino effect,” “shockwaves,” and “contagion” emanating from Egypt, clumsily trying to make sense of the expansive power of resonance. Their strategy to contain this resonance is now twofold. Led by Washington, the first priority of the imperial machinery is to dissipate the power of this resonance through “an orderly transitions to democracy,” a euphemism for the taming of the democratic energy created in the streets and the production of a slightly reformed status quo, without Mubarak in the long run but also without threats to corporate power and global imperial interests. The hypocrisy and real intentions of the US government are clear in that the same day that Hillary Clinton stated that the US would "not insist" on an immediate removal of Mubarak, The New York Times published a riveting article written by reporters who were kidnapped by the Mubarak secret police and taken to a prison where hundreds of detainees were being beaten up and tortured, with their screams of pain permeating the whole space. Tortured and dead bodies are the price Egyptians are paying for the US ongoing support of the Mubarak regime. What a ghostly echo from the days when US officials said of ruthless Central American dictators like Somoza that "he may be a son of a bitch, but he is our son of a bitch."
Secondly, a ferocious media campaign based on fear-creation is underway to quarantine this resonance by preventing metropolitan audiences from sympathizing with the Egyptian multitude. In recurrently invoking the alleged “threat” posed by the Muslim Brotherhood and a alleged remake of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, pundits and politicians retort to old racist, orientalist assumptions according to which political unrest in the Middle-East can only lead to Islamic fundamentalism, obscuring that the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt have been profoundly secular in nature and guided by anti-elite demands for democracy, jobs, and equality. And as reporters on the ground have documented, protesters in Egypt feel pained and offended that their demands for freedom are fearfully read in the US or Europe as opening the gates for Islamic totalitarianism. As a man bluntly told Kristof, “We are human beings, exactly like you people.” These dehumanizing scare tactics aim to prevent that these demands create empathy and resonate with similar concerns for civic liberties, elite privileges, and jobs at home. We are witnessing, in short, a political- affective struggle between multitudes trying to expand empathy and defenders of the imperial status quo determined to induce fear.
Yet what the global elites really fear, as Noam Chomsky observed in The Guardian, is independence from the dictates of global corporate power. This is why the fear of these elites is that the Egyptian Revolution could resemble the non-violent uprisings of the multitude in Latin America in the past decade, which led to democratically-elected governments that have challenged and undermined the neoliberal order of things and set up a course of geopolitical independence from the United States. A similar government in Egypt supported by its empowered multitude thirsty for social justice and political freedom is more threatening to imperial designs than the inward-looking Iranian regime, whose authoritarianism and anti-Semitism does not resonate with global demands for democracy.
The resonance expanding from Egypt is being channeled through a planetary network of instant communications that has reached a density, spatial reach, speed, and sophistication unparalleled in world history. Karl Marx’s utopian vision of a wave of emancipatory energies interconnected across the nations of the world is only materially possible today. Yet this internationalism will continue being a utopian projection if reactionary resonances based on fear prevail. This is why current struggles for global democracy are over the smoothing out and striation of the primary space that facilitates resonance expansion, the internet. State and corporate power are rapidly joining forces to police the web. The recent attempts by the Obama administration to demonize and shut down Wikileaks express that the United States and Chinese government are not that different in this regard, for both fear the power of uncoded, anti-state resonances travelling globally through unrestricted, unpoliced channels.
The emancipatory potential of the internet does not mean that Facebook, Google, and Twitter are the main weapons of the 21st century democratic rebellions, as the media often simplistically claims. These are important channels, crucial at points, for the dissemination of resonances produced in the streets by bodies that for the most part do not tweet. The main weapon of democratic, non-violent rebellions still is, and will always be, bodies in the streets producing resonance. And the trends of global unrest that preceded Egypt seem to indicate we are entering a wave of transcontinental anti-elite resonances that are encountering receptive bodies across disparate geographies. This wave began in Europe in 2010, is spreading like wildfire into North Africa and the Middle-East, and is now ricocheting back into Europe, as illustrated by the protests and potential court actions for human rights violations that have just forced George W. Bush to cancel a trip to Switzerland.
Meanwhile, the material resonances created in central Cairo continue expanding toward the world. I began writing this essay the day the Egyptian Revolution began, and these pages’ tone, layout, and configurations have mutated and evolved in parallel with the effect that that those equally evolving resonances coming from the margins of the Nile, and that I was trying to understand with words, had on my body. The images and voices of those determined bodies in the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, or Suez resonated with my own embodied memories of having been raised under one of the many dictatorships that the United States sponsored, trained, and funded in Latin America to destroy the revolutionary resonances of the 1960s and 1970s. Those riveting images created an affective empathy with their plight as fellow human bodies determined to put an end to their oppression.
The main intention of this essay is to partly contribute to spreading the inspiring resonance created in the streets of Egypt. The obstacles to the expansion of resonance are clear within the territory of the United States, a space in which a powerful propaganda machine has been effective in repelling or neutralizing resonances coming from elsewhere. This repulsion, which was only eroded by the American multitude in the late 1960s and early 1970s, is crucial in the ongoing reproduction of the United States as the central node of imperial machinery and can only be undermined by further resonances produced in American streets. This is why, as Slavoj Zizek observed in The Guardian, it is important that liberals in the US (and across the world) stop fearing the Egyptian revolutionary spirit.
The shifting resonances that this essay has tried to outline are, as I hope it is by now clearer, both patently solid and elusive in their patterns of dispersion. Yet we are socialized to assume that passions on the streets are sheer elusiveness devoid of materiality, and that the shock waves, contagions, and domino effects are just metaphors to refer to something else. Yet these words dance around the potent and bodily political materiality of resonance, which we should be able to see clearly if we looked at the streets of Egypt with a slightly different sensibility. To paraphrase Adorno, this slight perceptual shift is the hardest to make because it is the most decisive. Its decisiveness is the illumination that the power of resonance is ultimately the power of our legs, arms, and hands to affect other bodies and change spatial and political landscapes. Like that double-amputee on a wheelchair using his hands to defend Liberation Square, and telling us that our striving bodies joining forces with other bodies are indeed desiring machines and our most powerful weapon.