Minor Politics, Territory and Occupy|Substance of Politics?

Minor Politics

With the UK government itching to criminalise squatting, it’s a real pleasure to be speaking in a building that is undergoing ‘public repossession’, so I’d like to thank Andy Conio for organising this workshop and the School of Ideas for hosting us. What I want to do in this talk is work through three of Deleuze and Guattari’s concepts that are helpful in thinking about Occupy. What do I mean by ‘helpful’? My aim is deliberately not to try and explain Occupy, to sew it up in a theory – that for Deleuze would be to negate what is inventive in a movement, but also to lose the inventive quality of theory, making it merely a representation of a state of affairs. Instead my approach will be to use theory to reflect upon certain themes or problems in Occupy, looking at how these problems can be approached with Deleuzian concepts in a way that might help shed light upon them and possibly aid their further development. It’s a recursive relation, for reflection upon Occupy’s themes or problems should also help extend Deleuzian concepts, lending them a contemporary vitality.

Given that this workshop is concerned in equal measure to bring Deleuze and Guattari’s concepts into relation with Occupy and to offer an introduction to Deleuze and Guattari as political thinkers, I’m going to try and strike a balance between concept and Occupy, leaving space for us to expand upon the points I make about Occupy in the discussion. The concepts and problems that I address in turn are: minor politics and the 99%, territory, expression and occupation; then, fabulation and agency.

                I will start with minor politics and fold in some comments about the 99% – though bear with me, the relation may not at first be apparent. Running throughout Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophy is the notion that politics arises not in the fullness of an identity                                                    – a nation, a people, a collective subject – but, rather,                                                                          in ‘cramped spaces’, ‘choked passages’, and ‘impossible’ positions, that is, among those who feel constrained by social relations.5 This is at once a very immediate, structural experience – let’s say, the experience of                                                poverty, debt, or racism – and also something that is actively affirmed, a continual deferral of subjective plenitude that                                 occurs when people shrug off and deny the seductions of identity and open their perception to what is ‘intolerable’ in social relations; for example, when they ward off the identity of the democratic citizen, the racialised majority, the entrepreneurial self.6 So, what Deleuze and
                                                   Guattari call ‘major’ or ‘molar’ politics expresses and constitutes identities that are nurtured and facilitated by a social environment, whereas ‘minor                                                                     politics’ is a breach with such identities, when the social environment is experienced as constraint, as intolerable.

 In Deleuze and Guattari’s reading, fabulation is a weapon of the weak, a means of fabricating ‘giants’, as they put it – germinal agents with real world effects in the service of political change.26 What is perhaps most appealing in the context of Occupy is that these fabulations or myths are not so much located in individual peoplethe cults of personality, for instance, the Lenins, Maos, Churchills, what have you – but have a desubjectified           quality, generated and held in the fragmented bits of events, stories, medias, affects and material resources, and are associated as much with ‘mediocrity’ as with the grandiose.27 In this way Deleuze describes myth as a ‘monster’, it ‘has a life of its own: an image that is always stitched together, patched up, continually growing along the way’.28

 Nick Thoburn Nick Thoburnlectures in sociology at the University of Manchester. He is the author of Deleuze, Marx and Politics (Routledge, 2003) and is currently writing a book on the forms and cultures of independent media.

                                  Minor Politics, Territory and Occupy