Theodoor Rombouts (1597-1637)

A new Prometheus need not take the form of the ‘Modern Prince’, the party, if the latter is regarded as a commanding height and centre supervenient on any other council, association or organisational form. Collective control must involve the control and ‘recall’, to use that important slogan of delegation in communes and soviets, of its inevitable instances of centralisation. But whether the horizon be one of radical reform or revolution, a systemic challenge cannot but take on, rather than blithely ignore, the risks of Prometheanism, outside of any forgetful apologia for state power or survivalist, primitivist mirage (Toscano 2011).


So says Alberto Toscano in a paper The prejudice against prometheus. We all know the legend of Prometheus, the Titan who stole fire from Zeus and gave it to men enabling the opening of progress, the driving force of civilisation, there is no need to repeat it again. In Toscano’s essay he surveys the political scene in 2011- the year of the high point of the UKs student mobilisations, the year of riot- and finds that on the left and on the right everyone was decrying Prometheus. On both sides of the political divide everyone threw their hands up in despair at the thought of taking drastic action and mounting a campaign oriented to the ‘control of collective destiny’. On the right he finds calls for reform that do nothing but nourish the repressive function of the state. In the UK this has been borne out. The state has indeed become more repressive under the guise of welfare reform measures that have actively impoverished unemployed, zero-hour and part time workers, forcing them into a state of dependency on food banks, into homelessness, and sinking the mental health of the working class into abjection. On the left, he diagnoses ‘melancholy or illusion’.

I share his belief that the left itself is suffering from melancholy, although I use the less psychoanalytic term “depression”. For Toscano the melancholy is directly related to loss and to mourning: the loss of the revolutionary project and the mourning for a time when communist ends were imaginable, even possible. The illusion is even simpler than this: it is the illusion that powerlessness can triumph over the powerful, the illusion that organisation is irrelevant. Toscano decries this as the counter-revolutionary impulse that believes any attempt to design a better society is doomed to fail and fall into totalitarianism. The history of the left is one drenched in blood and disaster, it is become irredeemable, beyond salvage, a mausoleum best left sealed in the past with the past silently inside it.

Already in 2011 this was familiar ground. Toscano is writing after Zizek’s In defence of lost causes wherein the Slovenian agitator wrote against the ‘liberal blackmail’ (2009,  41) that the politics of emancipation were always the politics of terror and tyranny. Zizek has long rallied against the liberal identification of fascism and actually existing Communism as two sides of the same totalitarian phenomena. In IDLC Zizek is keen to point out that this is simply not the case: German fascism succeeded in carrying out what it promised, whereas Communism was a grotesque failure. The reasons are manifold: Stalinism was supposed to uphold an Enlightenment vision of truth and responsibility in which men could be held accountable for their crimes, Nazism on the other hand smuggled into its project only the sheen of Enlightenment, justifying the mass murder of the Jews by the fact of their biology. Communism had defectors and dissidents who saw that Stalinism was a betrayal of communist principles, whereas there could be no such disagreement with Hitler; as Führer Hitler was the Reich. There are also the points that Nazism was a response to communism as a threat and as a model, adopting its forms just as the communists were usually among the first the Nazis brutalised.

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The question of ecological ethics and politics has been raised once again. I occasionally fear that our images of ecology and politics remain stills rather than cinematic motion pictures. This is largely because we still have a tendency to approach bodies as static or exclusively in terms of being bodies-of-inscription, passive passivities, contained, bound and finite in an absolute sense. Against this frozen stillness I want to discuss motion and rhythm, and the ways that bodies of all kinds generate their own spatiotemporal realities.In order to do so I’m going to move quixotically and in fractures through a section of text in EM Cioran’s The Book of Delusions, before moving onto more empirically grounded concerns that open the discussion onto the geological and political physiological consequences of survival in the Anthropocene. I don’t pretend that this post is exhaustive (it leaves questions of ethics underdeveloped) and consider it more of an approach to than a final statement on these problems.

Have you ever felt the beginning of motion, have you ever been tormented by the first departure of the world from itself? (p.59) [0]

‘Have you ever felt the beginning of motion’

The question presents itself as rhetorical: there is only the answer that Cioran knows you have to give; “no”. We are always already in motion. Motion doesn’t begin. A motion is always dependent on a prior motion, and always leads into another motion. Improvisational dance knows this well; so does nursing theory. The assessment of patient mobility is one of the most essential parts of a global assessment, and it is also one of the hardest elements of nursing practice; manual handling requires training and skilled decision making. We’re drifting though. There is no such thing as a singular motion. A hand moves; it moves away from the lap it had been resting on, it moves towards the cup it reaches out for. This same hand, without break, takes the cup and moves it to the mouth, which itself purses in preparation, the head leaning slightly into the cup, the salivary glands doing their work, the tongue rolling, the eyes moving from the hand to the cup to the face of the person seated opposite who is still deep in talking about whatever it is they are saying.

Step back: Can you feel it kicking? The hand is pressed to a swollen abdomen. Inside, a foetus is moving, is stretching out a leg against the membranes of the uterus; its heart is beating, has been beating, and before that, before there was a heart to speak of, when it was a mass of simple undifferentiated cells, it was a flurry of division, accumulation. Step further back: the welcoming of the spermatozoa into the warm membrane of the ovum; the race of the sperm to their target; the growth and release of that ovum; its descent from the ovaries, down the narrow pathway of the oviduct and into the warmth of the blood thickened uterus; the floating there, until that race is concluded. Whose motions are these? Do our first motions belong to us; and then, can we really separate my motion from my mother’s; does it pass on down the generations this way, retracing the evolutionary drift like a cinematic explosion played in reverse on the big screen, until we reach the first life forms, the first inorganic stirring of life; and why even place the limit there? Step backward even further, as far as the imagination permits: does the beginning of a motion, any given motion, not find itself as the ineluctable playing out of the first motions of the celestial gases, of the primal movements of what would eventually become matter?

These aren’t necessarily answerable nor is it necessary that we answer. The point is made: we have never felt the beginnings of a motion; never felt the beginnings of motion itself.

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