Incitement to Self-Defense

By Michel Bounan

Chapter VI

By publishing The Time of AIDS and, subsequently, Unnameable Life, I attempted to show that the new morbidity, and the AIDS epidemic in particular, were tied to a certain number of co-factors (toxicological, emotional and social), the convergence of which is really disastrous and which results from all of the perverse effects of the market economy at its current stage of development -- that it is a question of endemic malnutrition, agri-business chemistry, chemical and radioactive pollution, psychical and behavioral disturbances, drug addiction and diverse modern medical procedures. The result is that it is extravagant to ask a [government] minister or a group of ministers -- in any tone of voice -- to do anything in such a situation: a minister can do no more than what he himself is made to do: participate in the management of a socio-economic organization of which AIDS is the logical conclusion.

From this point of view, the sufferings of AIDS patients meet those of the inhabitants of Chernobyl or Bhopal; those of the emigrants of any origin; those of starving, suicided or drugged children. Today, all pay the price for the considerable efforts deployed during the course of the last half-century to maintain in a state of prolonged survival a social organization that has, nevertheless, led us to this collective death. It is these efforts (that is to say, the always-accelerated production of compensatory delusions) and this maintenance of the market system that have reduced the planet to such a state of exhaustion and poisoning, and that have led its inhabitants to these desertified lands and these sordid banlieus, to this suicidal conduct and these epidemics.

Faced with such a system, which is founded in principle on the non-dialectical logic of things and carries within itself (today, visibly so) an impending collective death, a condemned people is thus forced to define itself as the irreducible enemy of the market system -- that is to say, as the proletariat delivered from its last illusions. Who can doubt that the expansion of the contemporary tragedy will pose the social question in new terms and that the dialogue which will begin with the managers of the market world will open up with this frank salutation: "Ave Caesar, morituri te salutant!"?[1]


The radicality of their social critique led the first internationalists to proclaim their solidarity beyond all national and professional determinations; it constrained them to recognize in these determinations forms of alienation imposed by the social organization that they combatted. But there are now other determinations, even more alienated, that each must recognize in him or herself and in the others as being tied to the current system. Not only his or her socio-economic activity as executive or "job seeker," but his or her own image as black or queer; his or her emotional perversions as racist or homophobe; and, finally, his or her "opinions" on the contemporary novel or the class struggle. All these determinations (social, emotional and ideological) must be denounced as foreign and alienating, among the others and oneself, simultaneously.

Pushed by the excess of suffering, by the recognition of their unique source, by the recognition of the mechanisms that it animates, more and more wretches will howl under the balcony of the market, exhibiting their sores, bloody stumps and running ulcers. And, assuredly, in the stench of reification, no one will have anything to envy in his or her neighborhood. Thus, each will observe in it, sobered up and become sudden accomplices, his or her old adversaries laughing; and the maintenance of the contemporary order has everything to fear in this laughing: because there is nothing worse on the battlefield than such fraternization among troops whom one has excited to carnage.

Such is the real frontline in modern social war: it lies between the market system of reification and its mortal enemy, the living subject freed from its alienating determinations. It lies between those who defend the rights of workers and whores, blacks and Bretons, queers and puritans, philosophers and artists, and those who defend -- for all -- the right to no longer be a worker or a whore, a black or a Breton, a pervert or a neurotic, a philosopher or an artist; between those who protect alienation and those who want to emancipate themselves. And it is the reappearance of death in the world that renders the frontline of such a war visible. Today, any other conflict can only serve to make this world turn: it has the habit [of doing so]. One can even say that, since the origin of the "society of the spectacle," it hasn't demanded [anything] better.


I have thus supported this point of view in The Time of AIDS and Unnameable Life. It had previously been the view of the first internationalists, who designated market logic as "the source of all servitude, political, moral and material." More recently, it was the view of the situationists and the nameless population who, in 1968, expressed its joy and freedom through strange wall inscriptions: "Hide, object!" and "Life instead!" Before me, both groups of internationalists had identified the proletariat as the irreducible enemy of market logic and its exploits. Both had likewise declared themselves in solidarity with the proletariat's self-emancipation.[2] My crime was thus no worse than theirs, certainly, but I do not pity myself for having been treated like they were.

[1] Hail, Caesar, those who are about to die salute you.

[2] Yes, this may be true, but it elides a basic difference between the two Internationals: while the Marxists identified the proletariat with its central position in the economy and thus its ability to shut that economy down, the situationists identified the proletariat not with position, but with consciousness, with consciousness of their alienation ("a proletarian being someone who has no power over his life and who knows it" -- On the Poverty of Student Life). For Marx, the individual's consciousness of alienation would not have been sufficient: he required class consciousness, the proletariat's consciousness of itself as a whole.

(New revised edition, published by Editions Allia, 2005. First edition published in 1995. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! November 2007. Footnotes by the translator.)

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