Sunday, February 6, 2011

A Revolutionary Consciousness: When I move you move. Just like that.

This post is about the ingenuity and creativity of revolutionary consciousness and less about technological savvy and mass uprisings. But that is where I will start.

I started thinking, once again about my research on the Iranian uprising after the presidential election of 2009, and found Mark Colvin's recollections of that period at the 2009 Media 140 conference above useful. Something I had missed: #iranelection as a hashtag (or search topic) on Twitter emerged at the same time as the hashtag #CNNfail. In esssence, #CNNfail testified to the problem the world encountered with traditional media (such as CNN) as masses of people were struggling for their rights under a repressive regime.

In the past few weeks, the world has been a witness to revoutionary uprisings in Tunisia, Yemen, Jordan, Libya, Gabon and Egypt. Masses of people have bravely risen to demand basic human rights, freedom and democracy. Alert to the possibilities opened up by the Wikileaks crisis, our attention has been hooked on the online stream of information: on Al-Jazeera's online broadcast, as well as the tweets and blogs that reach our shores from the ground as new events unfold.

Now, as taken as I am with the uses of new technologies in bringing about change in the context of mass uprisings, I am equally, if not more, fascinated these days, by the poetics, that is, the ingenuity and the creativity of the revolutionary consciousness, a consciousness that, in its receptivity, creates the possibility for transformation all around it.

The German literary critic Walter Benjamin spoke of this consciousness in terms of childhood, (because it shows up with greater clarity in childhood than in adulthood) where the child's mimetic faculty sees correspondences between things --and in the revolutionary context, between past and present events-- "by means of spontaneous fantasy". In this way, this consciousness opens up new possibilities while also constructing the contexts for the child's own entry into the world. This gallery of photos of the helmets of the Egypt uprising shows both the symptoms and the signs of this revolutionary consciousness to my mind.

As Susan Buck-Morss suggests: “The revolutionary ‘signal’ which ”proceeds ‘out of the world in which the child lives and gives commands” is the capacity for mimetic improvisation “…of perception and active transformation”. This mimetic consciousness is a revolutionary consciousness, by means of which “new forces and new impulses appear..."

Of the child's drawers, Benjamin writes: They must become arsenal and zoo, crime museum and crypt. “To tidy up” would be to demolish an edifice full of prickley chestnuts that are spiky clubs, tinfoil that is hoarded silver, bricks that are coffins, cacti that are totem-poles and copper pennies that are shields.” [See Susan Buck-Morss's brilliant piece on Walter Benjamin: Revolutionary Writer for these quotes)

This ability to see correspondences --say, between past and present-- shifts consciousness into another temporal dimension of 'now-time’ -- a potent attentiveness in the present--"in which both revelation and revolution" occur.

This transformation in consciousness is the revolution that is (there on the streets and squares, but also here in our minds and in fact, ) everywhere. To quote Ludacris on this matter, because frankly, he put it most succinctly : When I move you move. Just like that.