Infrastructure, Infra-politics

Infrastructure, after all, is about how worlds are made, how forms of life are sustained and made viable. To think politics as infrastructural is to set aside questions of subjectivity, identity, demands, promises, rights and contracts, and instead to render visible the presumptions that the knots of attachment, adherence, care or fondness and have already been tied by nature or supposedly incontestable forms of connection (by kinship, race, money, sexuality, nation, and so on). The materialities of infrastructure render it the most pertinent political question there is. Everything else is distraction. Infrastructure is the undercommons – neither the skilled virtuousity of the artisan, nor regal damask, nor the Jacquard loom that replaced, reproduced and democratised them, but the weave.   – Angela Mitropoulos

Angela Mitropoulos‘ post above (which is an excerpt from her book) is brilliant and very timely, at least for me. Lately I have been obsessing on the need to rethink all available options for large scale social organization. Democracy? Maybe. Communism? not sure. Some hybrid? Perhaps. But one thing is for certain: what have right now really isn’t working for a lot of us. Maybe what we need is a whole new set of possibilities and a new kind of “infra-politics”, as Angela suggests above.

And, with this, I keep coming back to the idea that our real and imagined infrastructures might be the best point of departure for imagining alternatives AND, more importantly, for actually enacting new modes of existing. Infrastructure could be best understood as the intra-active medium and context of human subsistence and social relations. The skeletal supports of any social organization is its infrastructure: the ecological and material conditions of human assembly. The forces, modes and means of ecosocial (re)generation are determining, and operate at levels and in ways beneath or removed from representation, discourse and ideology. Such conditions provide the affording ‘soil’ within which the weeds of justification and ideology grow, but are not to be confused with them. Marx knew this, Foucault knew this, so many great thinkers knew it, even if they didn’t quite articulate it strongly enough. Infrastructure is the ‘weave’ that supports our worlds and organizes all consequential flows. Or, as Angela writes, “Infrastructure is the answer given to the question of movement and relation.” And engaging the social field at the multiple levels and strata that form infrastructure means augmenting political ideologies with the power of praxis and its results.

We believe it is time to rethink an infrastructural model at risk of quickly becoming obsolete. This should be, particularly in our days, a vital task for architects: vindicating and domesticating a framework for action they have habitually been sidelined from. Aware of our scarce resources, it is time to re-program the rigid models of the past, from the margins, designing flexible infrastructures free from rhetoric. – Angela Mitropoulos

Infrastructure, then, is truly about enacting worlds, or “worlding” [see Mei Zhan (2012), “Worlding Oneness: Daoism, Heidegger, and possibilities for treating the Human.” Social Text 29:4 (109):107-28]. And we need to develop the sense-abilities and response-abilities capable of sorting out what works, or what affords, facilitates and generates the most adaptive and eudaemonic (and perhaps creative) modes of human being and becoming. In a trivial sense we could say we need more Aristotle and less Plato.

To be clear, focusing on what “works” is not about seeking some naive form of neo-utilitarianism, techno-rational grid, or purified cultural deadening of diversity, but rather a rigorous and reflexive investigation and sensitivity to what is appropriate at different levels of reality and in different contexts. Praxis is about intelligent functioning not totalitarian instrumentalization. And an adaptive orientation to praxis looks at all available forms of life and relations and seeks to enhance those that generate the most positive effects, regardless of pre-established convictions, conventions and assumptions.

A focus on attending to infrastructure also fits well with we are calling “post-nihilist praxis”. Loosely, if nihilism results from the delegitimization of all appeals to transcendentals (“the death of God“), and a direct confrontation with finitude and radical contingency in all things, including language and logic, then a post-nihilist turn would be to deliberately create tools and practices and language-games – and thus infrastructures – for engaging and enacting worlds after the collapse of dogma and ideology via a more affective and corporeal ‘coping-with’. Post-nihilist praxis thus seeks to deactivate human tendencies for erecting (phallic connotation intended) yet more “gods” or universalizing ideologies in place of the old, dying and dead idols, and operate within worlds in a decidedly pragmatic way.

This, incidentally, is why post-nihilist praxis is not post-nihilism. “We don’t need another hero, we just need to know the way home”, so to speak, and to quote Tina Turner. Any strategy, practice, tools or ‘onto-stories’, as Jane Bennett has written, self-conscious and effective enough to help us adapt and be creative among the ruins of ideological certainty, and in relation to the ongoing ruination of planetary eco-systems and tradition social matrices, must be on the table.

8 responses to “Infrastructure, Infra-politics

  1. “As I leaned against the concrete balcony I became aware that an immense silence hung over the landscape around me. By a rare freak of flight control no aircraft were landing or taking off from the airport runways […] Looking closely at this silent terrain, I realized that the entire zone which defined the landscape of my life was now bounded by a continuous artificial horizon, formed by the raised parapets and embankments of the motorways and their access roads and interchanges. These encircled the vehicles below like the walls of a crater several miles in diameter. The silence continued.”

    – J.G. Ballard, Crash (1973)

  2. I think the Tina Turner reference is a pretty pointed: heroism is, in part, the enemy. If we are questioning democracy and communism (even as these become the predominant rallying signifiers again- always and forever over and over again [like the chorus of a pop-song: soothing because more and more meaningless]) then this might be because we know there is something wrong with heroism itself. It is not species of heroism (tragic/Promethean/comic[?]/whatever) but the very theosemiotic incantations and rituals of heroism itself that time and again fail, crumble, and leave us ever more exposed- and so ever more yearning for infrastructure built out of the clouds above our heads rather than the mud and other materials beneath our feet.

    • Can we avoid heroism at an existential level though, in terms of personal narrative, motivation, self-esteem and the will to power? I reject a heroism that attempts to lead from without, but kind of resonate with a heroism from within…. I dunno, is this viable within the scope of a nihilistic intelligence?

      • This is where I think the ancients might be helpful. Its true that heroism is always present but its a question of developing a heroism indifferent to heroics…this might be one of the Stoic-Epicurean moments we could explore.

      • I think the video I posted on heroism comes close to sketching out what such ways/willings might be like in our times/circumstances, and this from the article I added in the comments to the Foucault bio-sketch video:
        “To put this differently: we might say that to be critically aware of or to reflect on the elements that compose ourselves, to adopt them as the object of a knowledge-project (a ‘body of theory’)is not sufficient.
        Indeed this type of positive evaluation of knowledge as a sufficient counter to unthinking behavior has all the features of a sacralized category; the very type that Foucault’s positive conception of ‘truth’ arrays as unthinking practice.
        His genealogy of the role of courage in the determination of the will shows that critical reflection on such practices is not enough; equally if it is the case that only a strong will or audacity is able to contest the hold of such practices than this gives good cause for Foucault’s pessimism.”

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