Cory Stockwell, Assistant Professor, Program in Cultures, Civilizations and Ideas, Bilkent University, and Rémi Astruc, Professor of Comparative and Francophone Literatures Université de Cergy-Pontoise
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With downtown Athens again in flames, that evening was a paroxysm of jubilation and weariness: the movement perceived all its power, but also realized it didn’t know what to do with it.
Comité invisible, To Our Friends, chap 5., 2014
The question of form has been central to recent debates around radical politics. One of the main issues with which recent popular movements have had to contend, for instance, is that of giving concrete form to their desires for change, coming up with specific objectives or even procedures that don’t alienate large sections of their participants. The Occupy Movement, for instance, was considered by many observers to be too “formless,” in the sense of including such a heterogeneous group of people that it was incapable of imagining a concrete politics that would succeed it; likewise – and in an arena in which the stakes were much higher – the various movements comprising the Arab Spring have been deemed failures by many because of a supposed “formlessness” that allowed reactionary forces to fill the vacuum they created. In a way, all of this is unsurprising, given that the word “movement” seems logically incompatible with the stasis suggested by “form.” Is there any way out of this seeming impasse? It is here that the concept of community might find its highest political calling, for responses to these debates around form would undoubtedly lie in a thinking of community that refused to revert back to the latter’s traditional forms (based on ethnicity, nation, faith, etc.), but on the contrary would open onto what has been referred to as “forms of life” (Agamben). If there is one thing that joins the very different recent popular movements, it is their insistence on heterogeneity: the Taksim Square protestors (and those joining them throughout Turkey), for instance, whom many viewed as secularists, famously erected human walls around those more religious protestors during prayer time. As is well known, many of the recent theories around community begin from the standpoint of Bataille’s formulation of “the community of those who have nothing in common,” and seek to imagine communities that cannot be reduced to any single form of belonging. It may be, however, that these theories have not done enough to imagine what we will call the concrete forms of community, in other words their material reality. This panel seeks to address this shortcoming by asking these questions: What, today, is the form of community, the form of the we? Is there a way of thinking form without doing violence to the imperative of heterogeneity? Is there a way of imagining communities that takes as its point of departure their material reality – can we do this without simply turning them into an “object” of study?