SUPERHUMANITY CONVERSATIONS: PLATON ISSAIAS RESPONDS TO TONY CHAKAR, "DOWN WITH THE WORLD"
We Carry a New World in our Hearts
Protestor on horseback at Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Photo: Ryan Redhawk
Llevamos un mundo nuevo en nuestros corazones; y ese mundo está creciendo en este instante.
We carry a new world in our hearts; and that world is growing at this moment.
—Buenaventura Durruti (1896–1936)¹
There are moments in the history of social movements when commitment to a cause extends to sacrifice, or at least the possibility of dying while fighting. There is a serious risk involved when someone stands in the barricades and takes over the streets of Paris (1871), of Chicago (1886), of Barcelona (1936), of Warsaw (1943), of Alabama and the American South in the 1950s and 60s, of LA with the Chicano Moratorium, of Stonewall in New York, of London, Florida and Ferguson recently, of Gaza and Aleppo every day, or the plains of Standing Rock and the highlands of Chiapas. This risk is admirable in a particular way when the engagement is out of solidarity. More than fifty thousand women and men travelled to Spain during the Spanish Civil War, more than twenty thousand of which died there. To stand in solidarity and to fight alongside others requires an existential commitment that is never personal but always collective. Ultimately, it’s not about the "cause" but about the formation of collective desires. Your body might belong to you, but together with your mind—and heart—it works through others. This is not just the definition of militant struggle, but of love and intimacy, too; one and the same.
To die doesn’t always mean to become a martyr. One might very well try to escape death on the battlefield in every possible way. Soldiers (and lovers) can of course also be opportunistic. War and love are both about management and communication; of resources and infrastructure in the former, and of bodily arrangements and conduct in the latter. Both are equally about desire that knows no limits, only a means towards uncertain ends. You don’t die to save yourself, you die as a soldier (and act as a lover) to liberate and unleash a collective self—an emancipated demon of uncompromised desire—larger than one’s own.
This is when power takes revenge. In “Down with the World,” Tony Chakar uses the archetypal myth of the succubus—Qarinah, Yakshini, Lamia, or Lilith—to explain how this vengeance operates. The myth of the succubus is the schema through which every priest, prince, and bureaucrat has attempted to control desire and liberation, first sexual, then social and political. The myth punishes the emancipated female in the worst of possible ways, and as Chakar underlines, saves the "designed order of things" from dissidents and infidels. I would add to his observations that the myth also establishes the most powerful—and ancient—form of domination: patriarchy. It is not coincidental that the myth exists in many ancient religions and readings of scripture. It also clearly shows that the ultimate terror of any form of power is female emancipation and sexual liberation, which could deliver alternative forms of community and social organization outside of ancient norms such as marriage and family. We know very well that the myth of the succubus both limits and is limited, not only territorially, but also by how we understand it operates, both punitively and imaginatively. But the myth exists only in some traditions, and not others, like pagan, indigenous, non-Abrahamic, non-Indoeuropean, non-Greco-Latin ones. Hence, we have to locate and use these diagrams very carefully.
The will to struggle (or to love) and to imagine the world differently are the foundation of any kind of emancipation. Desire is political, and any form of political organization is based on a multiplicity of desires. But there are two important problems with this. First, the political is always formed dialectically, in a network of oppositions. We imagine something, and we are willing to sacrifice something else—or everything—to achieve it. Secondly, struggles and their means vary immensely, as do their wishful resolutions, and not to mention outcomes. This is when factions emerge and internal conflicts begin. The cry for a "new world that is growing at this moment" by the anarchist fighters who followed Jose Buenaventura Durruti in the bloodshed of Caspe in Aragon couldn’t be more different than the freedom imagined by the International Brigades. Por vuestra libertad y la nuestra, "for your freedom and ours," read the sign on the uniforms and flags of thousands of heroic women and men that volunteered to fight next to their Spanish comrades. However, this freedom applied to you as long as you were a supporter of the Third International. If not, you would die like a dog and a traitor; you were worse than Franco’s falangists.
"Down with the world" is not nihilistic, but it is slightly unproductive. Chakar’s wonderful text touches upon the specific historic moment of the Syrian uprising and the still ongoing civil war with ultimate sensitivity. I would only suggest that the destruction of existing institutions and forms of power is not and should never be a quest for a world external to ours. This new world lies in our hearts; it exists in our collective space of desires and dreams.
According to the myth, Lilith flies away from god’s creation, towards darkness, an outside where his rules don’t apply. We don’t have this option. The myth of the succubus is structured to suggest that there in an outside and inside, which only justifies the internalization of power relations—and guilt—that the master applies. If there is a place to fight, it is within his bloody garden.
¹ Motto of Durruti Column, the largest anarchist militant group in the Spanish Civil War.
Platon Issaias is an architect, researcher and teacher. He studied architecture in Thessaloniki, Greece (AUTh) and he holds an MSc from Columbia University and a PhD from TU Delft. He is currently a Visiting Tutor at the Royal College of Art, running ADS7: Ecologies of Existence together with Godofredo Pereira and David Burns. He is also a studio master at the MPhil Projective Cities of the Architectural Association. Prior to the RCA and the AA, Issaias taught at the Berlage Institute/Rotterdam and the MArch Urban Design at the Bartlett.