The nationwide demonstrations against Wall Street are physical manifestations of broad dissatisfaction with a colossal market power that exists and functions in the abstract—that is, apart from the rest of society. And protesters have organized accordingly, with an occupation of the virtual space of social media.
That’s the drift of the following article by McKenzie Wark, author of “The Beach Beneath the Street,” a history of an international anti-capitalist group called the Situationist International, which played a pivotal role in the May 1968 general strike in France.
Add Wark’s essay to the cache of written work that strives to understand and describe the nature of the Occupy Wall Street movement. —ARK
How can you occupy an abstraction? Perhaps only with another abstraction. Occupy Wall Street took over a more or less public park nestled in the downtown landscape of tower blocks, not too far from the old World Trade Center site, and set up camp. It is an occupation which, almost uniquely, does not have demands. It has at its core a suggestion: what if people came together and found a way to structure a conversation which might come up with a better way to run the world? Could they do any worse than the way it is run by the combined efforts of Wall Street as rentier class and Wall Street as computerized vectors trading intangible assets?
... On the one hand, it’s a physical thing, a taking of space. This has confused the New York Police Department, which has responded with clumsy tactics. It just can’t figure out what to do with an ongoing occupation that is peaceful and mostly content to camp out, but which swells on the weekends to thousands of people. There’s a danger that it could become about the NYPD and its cack-handed arrests and either devious or incompetent crowd management.
... The abstraction that is the occupation is then a double one, an occupation of a place, somewhere near the actual Wall Street; and the occupation of the social media vector, with slogans, images, videos, stories. “Keep on forwarding!” might not be a bad slogan for it. Not to mention keep on creating the actual language for a politics in the space of social media. The companies that own those social media vectors will still collect a rent from all we say and do—not much can be done about that—but at least the space can be occupied by something other than cute cat pictures.