Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Tim Hetherington’s and Sebastian Junger's Restrepo is an enthralling journey to the edge of Empire, a space in which the imperial fabric folds to reveal a hostile outside, the Korengal Valley and the rugged mountains of eastern Afghanistan. This outside is a spatial and affective vortex, the territorial sanctuary of an insurgent war machine that has worn out the imperial military for close to a decade. But this outside is within Empire, for there is no space on the globe that is beyond imperial sovereignty and its violence. The valley is relentlessly bombarded from the skies and scrutinized from above by the imperial field of vision (drones, helicopters, jets, satellites). Yet this vertical mapping gazes at an opaque terrain.
“The map is not the terrain.” Alfred Korzybski said this in 1931, but we have not theorized this distinction profoundly enough. I draw on Restrepo to begin exploring some of the tentative layers of a theory of terrain. The troops on the Korengal Valley know damn well that the map is not the terrain. They know that terrain can hardly be represented. The terrain of the valley affected them viscerally the first time they saw it from the helicopters that flew them in. “Holly shit. We are not ready for this.” They were not ready for that terrain. They were affected by the void.
Restrepo documents the affective power of spaces constituted by unrelenting violence. It documents how bodies are affected by the abrupt folding of Empire and by the violence emanating from a hostile spatial outside, so hostile that it adopts the form of a vortex. Restrepo opens a gripping (and censored) window into those invisibilized spaces in which imperial forces are taking a beating and bleeding. It is also a stunning ethnography of the texture of a terrain defined by striations that limit the mobility of imperial troops horizontally and vertically (more similar, for this reason, to the rugged terrain of the anti-French insurgencies in the Algerian mountains than to the jungles of Vietnam). And those same striations on the landscape (rock formations, bushes, forests) are the material forms that hide and protect insurgent bodies. There is nothing that imperial militaries hate more than fighting insurgencies in striated space. They would much rather fight in spaces they fully control: the oceans, the skies, or open savannas. Smooth space.
They arrive in the outpost at the valley, clinging on rocky and steep slopes. The defences protecting the perimeter resemble a fort in Apache territory. The site is permanently under fire. “I could not believe they were taking machinegun fire every single day.” The permanent cracks of firefights, four or five times a day. As if a whole multitude was shooting at them from everywhere. “Did everybody in the whole of Afghanistan come here to shoot at us?!” The terrain around the outpost seemed saturated by that bodily multiplicity that scattered, moved around, dissipated, and regrouped, always coming back. Always invisible. “You never saw the enemy. It was like we were fighting ghosts. They were so well camouflaged and know the land so well. It was like fighting ghosts. Eerie actually.” They know the land so well and were so well camouflaged. "We don’t belong there."
Restrepo the man dies. Restrepo becomes the name of the small outpost built on a nearby hill (they were shot from there all the time). Restrepo was a bold move that created a walled compound surrounded by even more hostile space. Firefights everyday. Patrols occasionally leave the outpost, always in trepidation. The landscape is opaque. A small village is not far off, clinging on the side of mountains. They could be anywhere, everywhere. The patrols regularly make contact. “Make contact,” military talk with Spinozian sensibility. Assemblages of bodies moving in heavily striated space and getting closer to each other and finally unleashing their firepower onto each other. Contact is literal. Bodies are hit. Combat as an intensely bodily and violent affectation.
This is how they learned about boundaries. The absolute limit is right there. Pretty close. Impossible to go farther. Their violence seems unrelenting. One soldier wonders if the insurgents ever rest. Staring at the mountains, an officer hosting a visitor points to a rocky ridge a few hundred meters away. That is the edge. Beyond, he says, it's “Enemy Sanctuary.” Several people mentioned that word. Sanctuary. They did not go there. That is the edge of the vortex. An edge produced by violence.
Based on their personal correspondence, Alain Badiou wrote that Gilles Deleuze saw the expression “on the edge of the void” as the intersection between the territory (the space of actualization) and the process of deterritorialization, the “overflowing of the territory by the event” (Deleuze: The Clamor of Being, p. 84). Restrepo is an intersection between the territory of imperial sovereignty in the Korengal Valley and the deterritorialization created by the war machine (Deleuze and Guattari), which overflows the valley with the event and the negativity of an anti-imperial insurgency. Badiou adds something else. He tells us that Deleuze commented that “this is the point at which what occurs can no longer be assigned to either the territory (the site) or the non-territory, to either the inside or the outside. And it is true that the void has neither an interior nor an exterior.” The void is outside and inside at the same time, without interior or exterior. Territory and non-territory. The vortex as high-speed, uncoded movement. A fold perpetually folding upon itself.
They are asked about their most terrifying experience of their deployment. No one doubts what the answer is. Operation Rock Avalanche: the jump into the void (the operation’s name accurately anticipated what affectively fell on them). They were told it was time to flex some muscle. The swarms surrounding the outpost were getting way too close, even stealing the gear and weapons of fallen soldiers. Enough of playing perpetual defense. Troops were to jump off the edge on Chinook helicopters and be dropped off somewhere in the insurgents' “safe haven.” The soldiers were stunned. That is the fucking void! “Those are areas we haven’t previously been.” They did not know the terrain. They had heard that others that ventured there were “fucked up.”
They get there, the helicopters take off, they move in the dark. They do not know the terrain. They carefully trek through forests that in another universe could have been beautiful but that are opaque, eerie, suffocating. It’s now daylight. Jets and attack helicopters give them cover by pounding the slopes of mountains as if trying to punish the terrain. Civilians get killed. Bodies of American and indignant but fearful Afhganis interact in a village. A bad encounter. Bodily affects regulated by dissonance.
Imperial velocities support them from the air, but a few hundred meters below the terrain opens up into the void of the vortex. They know they are being followed. They feel, often hear (or think they hear) bodies encroaching on them. “I saw a lot of professional tough guys weak in the knees.” Bodies that they can’t see but that are affecting them, making them jumpy. They could make contact at any minute. Their bodies captured on film say they can feel the swarm nearby, encroaching. The swarm was also waiting for them.
It was a textbook ambush, with two heavy machine guns flanking them. They fire back. Screams. Branches blow off. Bodies hit left and right. One body does not move. It is now a corpse. It is the corpse of their very best combatant. “If he dies what about us?” One man breaks down, asks the corpse to get up in desperation. The whole platoon is affected. The KIA is evacuated. They still don’t know where the enemy is.
The void has its own temporality, which in folding space as an outside of Empire slows imperial forces down. It is also the patient temporality of the long war of attrition, “the peasant method of combat” (as Paul Virilio called it in Bunker Archaeology, p. 22). The imperial military machine prefers short, high-speed wars. A two or three-day war (Panama, Grenada) is the perfect imperial war. But in the void the war machine draws the heavy militaries of Empire into a vortex of slowness, as it has happened in the striated terrains of Algeria or Vietnam. And in the same striated terrains disliked by imperial militaries insurgencies thrive on their own velocities: the rhizomic, multi-polar speed of swarming, which has outmaneuvered modern armies since Napoleon’s defeat in Spain (in a future essay I hope to examine the crucial relationship that exists between rhizomic speed and striated space).
They learn that Chosen Company took heavy casualties somewhere else. Nine dead, many wounded. Everyone is affected. The commander rallies the men, tries to modulate their affective despair. He strikes a call for vengeance. “I say we go and make them feel the way they make us feel.” It is official. The war is also a war of affects. We are going to make them feel the same way they are making us feel. We want to affect them. It is part of the vortex. A wall of mirrors creating violent patterns of mimesis and alterity that feed on each other (Michael Taussig explored this spatial void in his famous ethnography on the Colombian and Peruvian Amazon).
Yet another attack on Restrepo. Everybody is shooting at something. Thousands of bullet caskets pile up on the ground inside Restrepo. A sniper shoots repeatedly and hits a body in the distance. From his facial expressions, we notice that he got him. The kill affected everyone around him. They cheer and scream, over and over again. “Motherfucker. Shoot us again!” The corpse cannot move but is still affecting the living. The corpses of their enemies and those of their friends, all of them having the power to affect them. “Whenever we got to kill someone and see it, it was a good day. It was a good day.” It was a good day because they had killed a ghost and gave it a bodily form that they could fucking see. Seeing the corpse confirmed those ghosts are human, they can get killed after all. On the anniversary of Restrepo’s death, they fired a flare in the night to commemorate their friend’s death in the place where he was killed. A space affected by the presence of his ghost.
“Everyone was scared all the time. We were fucking scared all the time.” They hated that place. Restrepo. They felt bad at first for naming such a lousy place after their comrade. They hated that place. The men are getting ready to leave. “Leaving Restrepo is too good to be true. We were going to die here.” It is hard to believe they survived the void. They want to leave and never be back. “Never coming back, never coming back.” They board the helicopter. The camera rises up together with the chopper and we see from above the outpost getting smaller and smaller amid the immensity of the valley.
“A fifteen-month deployment in Restrepo is going to affect you,” someone had said earlier. Deleuze said that you don't need to be versed in philosophy to intuitively understand Spinoza's geometry of affects. The men understood. They were leaving Restrepo, but that terrain had already affected them. They left, but haunted by affects that sucked them back into the void. The outpost that haunts them does not exist anymore. It has been overflowed and deterritorialized by the outside.
In memory of Tim Hetherington, 1971-2011
Saturday, April 9, 2011
Humberto Ruiz se murió el otro día en la Villa 31 porque su cuerpo en convulsiones no pudo salir de allí. O mejor dicho, porque quienes lo podrían haber sacado de allí en una ambulancia se negaron a entrar. Y Humberto que se estaba muriendo no pudo salir, a pesar de los esfuerzos de sus parientes y vecinos para sacar su cuerpo en convulsiones. Y ahí se murió. La Buenos Aires blanca levantó un muro afectivo e hizo de ese lugar salvaje su tumba. Ese espacio opaco, temible. Un vacío afuera del espacio civilizado del resto de la ciudad. Esa ambulancia detuvo su marcha como si estuviera al borde de un agujero negro que surge desde dentro de la Buenos Aires que se imagina blanca.
Esa densidad confusa de construcciones precarias molesta, por de pronto, visualmente, sobre todo para quienes entran al centro de la ciudad viniendo por la Autopista Illia de la zona norte. Es el permanente recordatorio de que antes de entrar al núcleo de la Buenos Aires próspera y europeizada hay un afuera impenetrable de salvajismo. “Habría que tirar una bomba y matar a todos esos negros de mierda”. Las veces que habremos escuchados esa frase. El de una violencia que busca purificar ese espacio y con ello incorporarlo a la civilización. Más de un taxista me hizo el comentario mientras pasábamos por ese afuera de pobreza que abraza a la autopista como una masa informe y siempre amenazante, siempre a punto de desbordarse por sobre la autopista, ese frágil puente de civilización que pasa por arriba del vacío del afuera. Y la purificación se presenta con cantos que llaman a la realización de una violencia exterminadora. Una violencia tan argentina, que querría hacer con los villeros lo mismo que hizo Roca con los indios o lo mismo que hizo Videla con los elementos ajenos al ser nacional. “Matarlos a todos”. Y listo.
Pero no hay caso. Uno los mata y nunca se mueren. “Se multiplican como ratas” (forista de La Nación). Las campañas al desierto devastaron los espacios de salvajismo en la Pampa, la Patagonia y el Chaco pero la barbarie vuelve a surgir. La eterna pesadilla de la Argentina blanca. ¿No era que no hay más indios porque los matamos a todos? ¿No era que somos todos blancos, que todos venimos de los barcos? Pero como un fantasma, los indios que pensamos que habíamos liquidado vuelven, mestizados y mezclados, pero vuelven. Derrida dice que lo que define al fantasma es que siempre vuelve. Parece que no está, pero regresa. La memoria del salvajismo vuelve a perturbar los sueños europeizantes de la Buenos Aires blanca en los cuerpos del enorme pobrerío que dejó la maquinaria económica neoliberal. El sueño europeizante fue inmortalizado en la línea más poética de Borges: “A mí se me hace cuento que empezó Buenos Aires. La juzgo tan eterna como el agua y como el aire”. Un espacio que en el fondo siempre fue europeo y argentino. Y por ende sin indios. El negro de las villas perturba esta mitología de Buenos Aires y reintroduce la historia de conquista al evocar el fantasma de los indios que fueron masacrados pero vuelven. No por nada, en el vocabulario racista porteño el negros de mierda se transforma en indios de mierda como si nada. Porque en realidad son lo mismo. Negros e indios ocupan el mismo espacio corporal y semántico de alteridad. Que en el caso del negro está espacializado en las villas. La Villa 31. Como si fueran un pliegue, como diría Deleuze, que se torsiona desde el fondo de la historia para reinscribir el salvajismo indígena en el corazón mismo de La Argentina Blanca. Al lado mismo del espacio más blanco de la ciudad blanca: la Recoleta. Pero afuera.
“Ni loco entro ahí”, dijo el conductor de la ambulancia, indignadísimo que le pidieran que entre a esa lugar de salvajes. Como si bandas de ranqueles o tobas con lanzas y a caballo lo esperaran para liquidarlo cual explorador que osa pasar la línea de los fortines. Pero ya estaba lista una custodia policial. “Ni con custodia policial”, enfatizó. A ver si les pasaba la de Custer y el Séptimo de Caballería con los sioux, liquidados (¡a pesar de estar armados hasta los dientes!) por la máquina de guerra nómade de la que hablan Deleuze y Guattari. La máquina de guerra analizada por ambos en Mil mesetas no es otra cosa que el malón, esa formidable formación militar no-estatal que regularmente asolaba los alrededores de Buenos Aires. Hasta ayer, históricamente hablando. Lo que hace de Las Nubes de Juan José Saer una novela extraordinaria es que hace patente que hace sólo dos siglos el salir de Buenos Aires hacia Santa Fe era internarse en un enorme vacío espacial, un afuera del Estado que causaba vértigo. Es el vacío de la barbarie que dos siglos después se ha plegado en La Villa 31, en el corazón mismo de la ciudad antiguamente sitiada por el malón indio. El fantasma del malón encarnado en bandas criminales formadas por hombres y mujeres pobres y de piel y pelo oscuros.
Pero el cuerpo en convulsiones de Humberto Ruiz era el de un ciudadano argentino atrapado en los espacios urbanos de miseria creados por la civilización. Literalmente atrapado. Sin poder salir de ese afuera. Afuera en un sentido espacial y afuera de los derechos de ciudadanía de los que gozan quienes viven del otro lado. Afuera mismo de un espacio argentino que al llegar al borde de la villa (donde paró la ambulancia) se pliega sobre sí mismo y la deja fuera de la nación (ahí son todos bolivianos, paraguayos o jujeños, que es lo mismo).
Acto seguido: ocupación masiva de la Autopista Illia por hombres y mujeres de la Villa cansados que se los trate como salvajes que viven en un afuera viscoso. Ellos saben bien que la interrupción del incesante movimiento de vehículos que pasa sobre la villa todo el tiempo es lo único que hace que su protesta se oiga “afuera”. La Buenos Aires blanca sólo les presta atención cuando molestan, cuando sus cuerpos salen del afuera e invaden la cinta asfáltica de la modernidad-velocidad de las clases medias y altas. Como bien lo señalara Mario Wainfeld, el ser pobre en la Argentina es someterse a una temporalidad de larga duración, donde siempre se les pide esperar horas, días, meses, años para hacer trámites o para recibir cualquier servicio o respuesta del Estado. Ser pobre es aprender a esperar, es ser obligado a esperar y a forjar una paciencia que tiene una especificad de clase. Pero la temporalidad de la clase media es de corta duración. Cuenta cada minuto y exige c-e-r-e-l-i-d-a-d. No hay nada que crispe más a un profesional apurado que le corten la ruta, la autopista o el puente, sobre todo cuando son los negros de la Villa 31 (si el corte es a favor de la Sociedad Rural es otra cosa).
Las usinas mediáticas de resonancia del sentido común conservador porteño empezaron a tronar a todo vapor cuando el flujo de alta velocidad de la autopista se detuvo porque cuerpos salidos de la villa la invadieron. “Caos de tránsito en la autopista Illia”, con tamaño de letra catástrofe ocupando todo lo ancho la página, anunció La Nación en su versión online. Los negros están jodiendo de nuevo. Invaden el espacio de la Argentina seria y que trabaja. Mujer de Olivos en su auto varada en la autopista entrevistada en el video que ofrece La Nación: “Yo estoy yendo a mi trabajo. … La verdad que tengo miedo”. El miedo, siempre el miedo. Es obvio porque no queremos entrar ahí, porque les tenemos miedo. El conductor de la ambulancia y la médica que se negaron a entrar a ese afuera tienen razón. Del otro lado es el vacío. La entrada a la vorágine que puede devorar hasta a los policías de la custodia. ¿Cómo se les pide que salgan del espacio seguro de la civilización para internarse en el desierto?
“¡Hay que matarlos a todos!” Los foros de La Nación hervían. Centenares de mensajes iracundos. La furia de la clase media. Esa furia de una ferocidad verbal implacable, que no conoce la duda. Desde hace años, los mensajes promedios de los foristas de La Nación sobre cualquier noticia que involucre a la Villa 31 siguen su libreto al pie de la letra. Hace un tiempo los leía en más detalle y guardaba a los más memorables. Será que era más masoquista. Ahora me aburren. Siempre lo mismo. Basta leer a un par para confirmar el disco rayado del sentido común medio pelo porteño, caldo de cultivo de los votantes PRO y nostálgicos de Videla. Parecen perros de Pavlov. La Nación les tira el titular, y ellos se lanzan a salivar sus exabruptos casi sin pensar, dándole ferozmente al teclado. Las pasiones tristes, como diría Spinoza. O la mentalidad esclava, agregaría Nietzsche, que no puede sino reaccionar y supeditar esa reacción al objeto odiado. Ponen play al cassette (es un cassette, pues es un discurso viejo). Nuevos llamados a la violencia civilizadora, al exterminio de los negros, a imponerles esterilizaciones masivas, y sobre todo a la destrucción de la Villa 31 con napalm (arma imperial por excelencia), bombas, o ametralladoras. Los más sensibles aclaran que habría que sacar a los niños o a los menores de 14 años (los de 15 ya son bestias) antes de hacer volar por los aires a ese lugar enclavado en el corazón de la Buenos Aires blanca (que sigue deseando ser eterna, y que a su vez niega posicionarse como blanca a pesar de que se define en contra de los negros y sus espacios oscuros, mestizados, indígenas). “Hay que matarlos a todos” “¡Aguante Macri!” La fantasía de la Buenos Aires racista (esa que nos insisten que no existe) es la eliminación de ese espacio de barbarie que la acecha desde un afuera inserto en el espacio más europeizado de la ciudad: Barrio Norte y la Recoleta.
Muy pocos foristas de La Nación estaban indignados por la muerte de Humberto Ruiz. La Nación tampoco mostró ningún intento por simpatizarse con la víctima. A nadie que llamaba a la destrucción de la Villa 31 le interesaba siquiera entender por qué se hizo el corte. Un hombre se había muerto encarcelado por ser pobre y vivir ahí. La fuerza de la negatividad afectiva que para los lectores de La Nación emana del afuera no podría ser más clara. Lo que piensan los que vive ahí adentro-afuera no nos importa. ¿Y además, por qué nos tienen que joder? ¡Yo no tengo nade que ver! Es todo culpa de La Dictadura K. Tienen que seguir ahí adentro, sí, que sigan afuera así no joden. Hasta habría que levantar un muro. Como en Berlín. Como en Israel. Como en la frontera entre Estados Unidos y México. Como quisieron hacer en San Fernando en el Gran Buenos Aires en 2009: un muro que mantenga al pobrerío afuera. Lástima que esos negros tiraron el muro abajo, a martillazos limpios como si fuera el Muro de Berlín. Pero hay que seguir intentando. Sí, un muro para contener ese afuera que da vértigo.
Monday, April 4, 2011
Just when the state velocities of the Gaddafi regime were outpacing, outmaneuvering, and routing the Libyan insurgency, they were hit hard and slowed down by the much faster and more powerful air velocities of the imperial military machine. The waves of jets taking off from European bases and unleashing violence on a sovereign nation across the Mediterranean mark a turning point in the insurrections of North Africa and the Middle-East: their transformation into revolutions with planetary repercussions that demand the direct engagement of imperial fighting forces. The high-speed weapons from North America and Europe hitting North Africa are dramatically expanding the spatial trajectories of the violence involved in this upheaval. It is now clearer than ever that this mess is not (never was) an Arab affair. The geographical elongation of the military theatre of these insurrections means that we are witnessing the start of the imperial counter-revolution.
These revolutions caught the regional and global elites off guard and created a powerful transformation in the affective distribution of fear in myriad geographies. In Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, or Bahrain protesters confronting state violence on the street emphasized over and over again that they were not afraid anymore. These expansive revolutionary resonances, in turn, struck fear in the regional and global elites. This alarm is now the affective fuel of an expansive counter-revolution that seeks to re-inscribe fear in now-restive, emboldened multitudes. North Africa and the Middle-East are now traversed by contradictory affective-political forces fighting for supremacy in terrains defined by insurgent, state, and imperial patterns of speed.
Counter-revolutions also expand in waves following bodily resonances. And like revolutionary waves, they also need to cross a threshold to gain momentum, to stop being atomized local events and become spatially expansive forces. While counter-revolutionary measures started with the first riots in Tunisia, this regional threshold was Gaddafi’s swift crackdown of the Libyan insurrection. His regime’s resolve to physically wipe out dissent in the streets resonated among other equally threatened elites. It reminded them that revolutions can, indeed, be stopped and defeated. Counter-revolutionary resonances are, by definition, of a fearful and reactionary kind, which seek to disperse resonant multitudes through violent striations and fragmentations. While revolutions are negativity (rupture of the real) as well as affirmation (the creation of something new), counter-revolutions are pure negation and are guided by one goal: the destruction or containment of insurrectional negativity (Benjamin Noys would probably see this anti-revolutionary negation as part of the destructive negativity of capital. But I think I prefer to distinguish, as Diana Coole does, between negation as reactive force/Hegelian abstraction and negativity as critical disintegration of the positivity of the real- a perspective that in fact agrees with Noys' call to rescue negativity as part of critical-radical political ruptures).
The beginning of the bombing campaign now led by NATO marks a remarkable torsion in this counter-revolutionary wave, in which localized operations to neutralize revolutionary upheaval have now been folded upon an imperial mandate. And the paradox is notable. In Libya, the imperial counter-revolution is presenting itself as protective of an insurgent population and is unleashing its firepower on the forces that kicked off the counter-revolutionary wave. But the paradox, while real, fades upon closer examination. The imperial counter-revolution in Libya aims to crush the Gaddafi counter-revolution not to salvage the revolution but to neutralize it more effectively and claim a moral high-ground in the global propaganda machine. It is an attempt to assert imperial sovereignty in spaces torn apart by revolutions; an attempt to make sure that any post-Gaddafi government does not dare challenge the imperial order of things.
Already inspired by the Libyan counter-revolution, the ruling elites in Bahrain and Yemen were further emboldened by this military intervention by their global patrons and weapons-suppliers. Well-aware that Obama’s calls for the respect of human rights are hollow and do not apply to loyal US clients, they joined this wave by unleashing massacres on the streets at the exact moment when the first barrages of US, French, and British missiles and bombs were hitting Libyan soil. That Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates sent troops to contribute to the repression of dissent in Bahrain also signal that we are indeed witnessing a regional counter-revolutionary wave involving international forms of cooperation. Tunisia and Egypt seem to be in a more liminal situation, in which revolutionary resonances on the streets are still strong enough to put some limits on current state attempts to contain them. Elsewhere in the region, this counter-revolutionary convergence and its subordination to an imperial mandate was embodied by the United Arab Emirates and Qatar: sending military forces to Bahrain to help crush the revolution and to Libya to help enforce the no-fly zone. This wave may have different and convoluted local materializations, but its patterns point in the same direction: restoration of imperial sovereignty.
My colleague Max Forte at Zero Anthropology has argued that the imperial military intervention against Gaddafi means that the Libyan Revolution is now dead. I cannot really say that is the case, given the volatility and unpredictability of everything we have seen so far in the region. But the revolution is certainly very seriously compromised, for the ideologically-vague leaders of the insurgency are now willing clients of global powers and, as several reports indicate, are now receiving assistance from CIA operatives on the ground as well as praise from the US neo-cons.
But what interests me here is the salience of imperial velocities in the spatial form of the counter-revolution. The same way that revolutions are movement and acceleration (as Paul Virilio has argued), counter-revolutions are machines of de-acceleration: they try to slow down and halt revolutionary fervors. These machines of de-acceleration work at different spatial scales: the deployment of high-speed weapons systems that can outpace enemy vectors, the production of militarized striations in space to prevent the expansion of revolutionary unrest, and the creation of striations on the internet and in networks of instant communication that aim to dissipate insurgent affects. Imperial actors are actively working on all these fronts.
The most apparent strategy of de-acceleration is the display of imperial military velocities. The bombing of Libya by jets and missiles is both an act of violence set to slow-down the Gaddafi military machine and a global spectacle: a reminder that imperial speed and might can rapidly disrupt the state velocities of individual nation-states. These velocities, limited to the smooth space of the skies, cannot defeat on their own well-entrenched forces on the ground. As is clear after two weeks, the air strikes may not be enough to lead a disorganized insurgency to victory. But they have changed the temporality and spatial shape of the conflict and created a marked de-acceleration of revolutionary and counter-revolutionary speeds on the deserts of North Libya.
And in having a trans-continental reach that enables them to strike anywhere on the planet (Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan), these speeds also affirm that the whole globe is under imperial sovereignty: that there is no outside of Empire, as Hardt and Negri have argued. But Derek Gregory would add that these imperial interventions also produce a new outside: places of barbarism in need to be disciplined by civilizing violence, the same way that the drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan create those geographies as opaque, barbaric enclaves outside of the civilized global order. This spatial folding produces spaces of exception: spaces in which bodies become what Agamben called homines sacri: bodies that can be killed with impunity by imperial forces. And to add a spatial dimension relatively absent in Agamben's analysis of the state of exception, these bodies can be thus killed because they are in a space of indistinction, outside and inside of Empire at the same time.
The clash of imperial, state, and insurgent velocities now taking place in Libya also help us understand that the power of the latter, which I examined in The Speed of Revolutionary Resonance, depends on the spatial terrain in which they operate. When the bombing campaign began, the Libyan insurgency was about to be crushed by rapidly advancing armored columns encroaching on Benghazi. The rebels had been routed partly because they had confronted an arboreal, centralized, and faster military machine in the open: in the smooth space of the desert. In that wide-open, flat terrain with few places to hide they were easy targets of tanks, artillery, rockets, and particularly jets.
There is a historical paradox in this weakness of a non-state, mobile insurgency in the smooth space of a desert. For many centuries, smooth spaces such as deserts, prairies, and steppes were the most favorable terrain for what Deleuze and Guattari called the nomadic war machine: the mobile military assemblages that historically challenged state power in central Asia and parts of South and North America. At that time, the maximum speed of the nomadic war machine was the same of state-run cavalries: that of the horse. This parity in speed often allowed non-state cavalries to outpace and outmaneuver regular troops through rhizomic patterns of dispersion, multi-polarity, and swarming. With the hegemony of the state in the control of high-speed weapons and systems of communication since the late 1800s, this old salience of rhizomic speeds to confront the state in smooth space has been shattered. Smooth spaces such as flat deserts are now terrains in which rhizomic insurgences can be easily outpaced and destroyed by state militaries. Yet it is also the space in which state velocities are most vulnerable to imperial air power, as the Libyan tanks destroyed on desert roads by French, British, and US jets clearly illustrate.
It is not surprising the only place where the Libyan insurgents put up a more effective fight was in their defense of the city of Misurata in the west, where they have managed to withstand relentless waves of attacks due to their dispersion in a dense, striated urban fabric. Modern armed insurgencies only stand a chance against regular armies in striated space: jungles, mountains, cities, or rugged terrains. A major reason why the rhizomic velocities created by the multitude on the streets of Egypt outmaneuvered the state was that they took place in intricate urban terrains. This striation allowed for multiple patterns of dispersal and multi-polarity in response to police repression that enhanced the multitude’s rhizomic speed. This is why regular and imperial militaries dislike and fear counter-insurgency operations in opaque, rugged spaces. And this is why (as Eyal Weizman has analyzed) the Israeli Army has drawn on Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas about smooth and striated space to smooth out urban space in military operations in Palestine, by opening large holes in walls and buildings in their attempts to outmaneuver and disorient mobile clusters of Palestinian fighters.
Yet the weakness of the Libyan insurgency is not reduced to the terrain. Most observers on the ground agree that this is an enthusiastic but inexperienced, poorly armed and trained force, which reminds us that resonant bodies alone are never enough to topple the state. History is full of examples of extraordinary revolutionary upheavals that were destroyed. Old questions of organization, training, and coordination are decisive in the transformation of massive conglomerates of resonant bodies into an affective political force. But another weakness of the Libyan insurgency is that it does not seem to have exploited its rhizomic form. By and large, its main actions seem to be reduced to caravans of pick-up trucks with mounted machineguns and rocket launchers moving up and down the main road along the coast of the Mediterranean, both charging ahead and retreating at high-speed. Theirs has been a mobility and speed fixed in the narrow space of a single road: visible and predictable. But the power of insurgent rhizomic velocities, as the case of Egypt shows, has always been multi-polarity, spatial saturation, dispersion, opacity, and unpredictability. In fact, it is the Gaddafi regime that seems to be rapidly adapting to the aerial power of imperial velocities by incorporating some of the rhizomic moves that have defined seasoned guerrillas. The Independent, for instance, reported the recent use of “guerrilla techniques” by small pro-Gaddafi units that ambushed and destroyed vehicles of revolutionary fighters and promptly disappeared.
Elsewhere in the region, the counter-revolutionary de-acceleration is apparent in the creation by the state of multiple spatial striations that aim to slow down the spread of unrest. An emblematic case is Bahrain, where the recent crackdown has included setting up myriad military checkpoints and the saturation of the relatively small national space with military forces. The militarized striation of roads has long been favored by states fighting insurgencies (from El Salvador to Iraq) and is ultimately a strategy of de-acceleration and control over movement. An infamous example of the slowness these checkpoints create is the maze of Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank, examined by Derek Gregory and Eyal Weizman. And in Bahrain and elsewhere, this attempt to restrain, slow down, and control the movement of bodies is further enforced by massive arrests, curfews, and bans on demonstrations.
The counter-revolution is also fought on the internet: a space that is indeed, as Julian Assange recently put it, “the greatest spying machine ever created.” This global machine exposes billions of the devices to sophisticated technologies of state-corporate surveillance scanning the web, like the eye of the panopticum, for signs of suspicious activity (a reality captured by a good number of Hollywood movies). In the Middle-East, Facebook has been a double-edge sword that has allowed for rapid coordination among activists but also revealed to the state the identity of activists, leading to myriad arrests from Egypt to Bahrain. Secondly, as analyzed by Jillian York, filtering technology (Websense, SmartFilter, Netsweeper, Cisco, manufactured by corporations in the United States and Canada) is used by multiple states in the Middle-East to block-off access to particular sites, eroding the rhizomic speed allowed by the internet through the creation of powerful striations originating from arboreal nodes. And the counter-revolution has also involved using these nodes to inundate the rhizomic channels of the internet with propaganda: from disseminating messages on Facebook (as the Mubarak regime did), to developing software that allows a single person to create multiple fake identities and post pro-US comments on discussion boards (as revealed by The Guardian), to the recent rise of suspicious tweets in English with false information seemingly coming from Libya (analyzed by Max Forte).
Max Forte rightly observed in a comment on this blog that while North Africa and the Middle-have been engulfed since January in high-speed insurrections, many parts of the world are still defined by “the stillnesses of everyday life, the non-moving grain of local circumstances.” And indeed, multiple striations and local political circumstances create very diverse patterns of political speed in different parts of the world. The counter-revolutions now gaining momentum in the region aim to create a similar stillness, to roll-back the insurrections to the days when political slowness dominated the public spaces of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, or Syria. But political and affective terrains have shifted too dramatically to allow for a unilinear restoration. It was precisely the closure of the streets as a space of protest by the state, Armando Salvatore recently observed, that pushed many Egyptian activists to create affective connectivities on the internet that eventually allowed them, years later, to reclaim the streets and wrest them from state control.
A particularly potent moment of the counter-revolution in Bahrain was the destruction by the state of the Pearl Monument, the focus of huge demonstrations against the regime and the main node of revolutionary resonance in the nation. “We did it to remove a bad memory,” said the Foreign Minister of Bahrain, candidly revealing the fearful affects that inform their counter-revolution. The bad memory that the Bahrain elites tried to conjure away by tearing the monument down is the power of that place to attract and inspire resonant multitudes. It is also the bad memory of Tahrir Square, the spatial node of the Egyptian Revolution that haunts these elites like a nightmare. Yet in turning the monument into ruins, they have now produced a powerful absence, a ghost: a negativity that has charged the square with even more affective and political power. A similar negativity has haunted Tiananmen Square in Beijing since the 1989 massacres, which requires that the Chinese regime keep a tight security apparatus on the square around the clock. In his book The Funeral Casino, Alan Klima asked how long must the Chinese police occupy Tiananmen Square to continue suppressing commemorations and demonstrations. “Forever,” he answered. And he added, “No one can control forever.” Contingency and unpredictability are part of the nature of politics. But it is very likely that the day multitudes force the regimes in China and Bahrain to loosen their grip on the streets, Tiananmen Square and Pearl Square will be both reborn again as nodes of political resonance.