Palestine: The New International of Insurgent Feeling

November 24th, 2009 | Posted in Boycott, Culture, Palestine, Politics
    Fred Moten | PACBI | 7 November 2009

Gaza Devastation

    Photo: Palestinian stands in Gaza Strip grave after Israeli military bombing.

1. The justification of the boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions is quite simple and quite clear: the victims of a sovereign brutality instantiated in racial-military domination have come to an overwhelming consensus, in the very shadow of the state that has come to exemplify The State and its exception, that boycott is the most immediate form of international support they require. To be in solidarity with the Palestinian people is to enact and support the boycott. However, the significance of the boycott is a slightly more complicated matter. Arguments against the boycott that go beyond the rejection of whatever form either of criticism of Israel or Palestinian resistance or the sometimes open/sometimes veiled assertion of an assumed Israeli exception and exemption, focus on the negative impact the presumed isolation and withdrawal of support for Israeli dissidents will have, already a morally obtuse argument insofar as it shifts our primary political and ethical concerns away from the actual victims of racial-military domination.

At the same time, one of the most crucial possibilities that (the call for the) boycott instantiates is support for the supporters of the Palestinians not only in Israel but all over the world and particularly in the United States which is Israel’s outsized and enabling evil twin. Here, support of the Palestinians denotes whatever operates in conjunction with, but also and necessarily in excess of, criticism of Israel. The critique of Israel, however necessary and justified, is not the equivalent of solidarity with Palestine which, in the U.S., can only ever augment and be augmented by our recognition of and resistance to the ongoing counter-insurgency in which we live. It is, therefore, of great significance that the boycott can help to refresh (the idea of) the alternative, both in the U.S. and in Israel, even in the midst of reaction’s constant intensification. Such refreshment takes the form of an anti-national (and anti-institutional) internationalism—the renewal of insurgent thought, insurgent planning and insurgent feeling as a radical insolvent exchanged between those who refuse to be held by the counter-insurgent forces of an already extant two-state (U. S./Israel) solution. Standing with the Palestinians gives us something to stand upon precisely so that we can stand against the horrifically interinanimate remains of state sovereignty and exceptionalism in its biopolitical, “democratic” form.

2. The idea and reality of racial-military domination, whose most vulgar and vicious protocols are in a kind of eclipse that is properly understood as a kind of dissemination, but whose effects—the very order that it brings into a retroactively conferred sacred existence—remain as the afterlife of sovereignty in the regime of biopolitics, is emphatically and boisterously alive in the state of Israel and in the territories it occupies. Reference to this idea and its continuing necessity for already existing structures of power helps us understand why Israel is called almost everything but the settler colony that it is in official media and intellectual culture. This discursive exception turns out to be a reservoir for the sovereign exception. It is as if the essence of sovereignty remains available as long as it is manifest somewhere, as a kind of exemplary remainder. Because biopolitical containment often seems to liquidate the alternative, it’s important to note how the assertion of the right of death and the power over life still must make its presence felt as the precondition of a liquidation of the very possibility of an alternative.

One way to think about all this is to begin with the axiom that Israel has been thrust into, only partly by way of its own having volunteered for, the role of the exemplary remainder of sovereignty after its having taken the form of racial-military domination. The exemplary remainder of sovereignty is constrained, among other things, constantly to claim a kind of exemption that accompanies its enactment of exception. The state that constantly asserts its right to exist, and its right to insist that its right to exist be constantly recognized by the very ones upon whom that right is built and brutally exercised, is the one that bears the standard for the right of every other state so to exist and to behave. Such behavior is always, ultimately, the exercise of the right of death and the power over life that now constitutes the residue of sovereignty in the biopolitical regime. Insofar as the U.S. is also a settler colonial regime whose very essence and protocols are racial-military domination, it shares with Israel, in an extraordinarily visceral way, this tendency violently to insist on its right to exist and on the rightness of its existence no matter what forms that existence takes, no matter how much the everyday life of the state contradicts its stated principles. But this is also to say that the state form, in whatever materialization of its various stages of biopolitical development, always shares in this insistence. What’s at stake, precisely, are the stakes any state shares in Israel’s right to exist, in the residue of sovereignty in the biopolitical, and in the traces of sovereignty that will have been carried in any state, anywhere. In the most general sense, always already residual sovereignty must respond violently to what brings it into existence—the already given, constantly performed capacity for the alternative. The alternative is always under duress and must continually be refreshed and rediscovered.

3. I am speaking for the boycott, in solidarity with the Palestinians, because I am committed to the insurgent alternative, whose refreshment is (in) the anti-national international. The terms of that commitment are nothing more than another way of saying that I am committed to the black radical tradition. In preparing myself not only to speak, but also to write and teach from that commitment, a particular question has become, for me, quite persistent: how might discourses of globalization and, more pointedly, of diaspora become more than just another mode of turning away from the very idea of the international? I’ve been dwelling—in a way that is possibly quite problematic—on this question, which is a particularly urgent question now for black studies and which is deeply and unavoidably concerned with what the boycott—which is to say solidarity with Palestine—might mean for them. There is a particular kind of sub-political experience that emerges from having been the object of that mode of racial-military domination that is best described as incorporative exclusion that settler colonialism instantiates. It is not the experience of the conscious pariah, as Hannah Arendt would have it. Her misrecognition of this experience is at the root of her profound misunderstanding of black insurgency in the United States, which was not the unruly, sometimes beautiful, and ultimately unstable and pathological sociality of the ones who are not wanted, but was and is, rather, an unruly, always beautiful, sometimes beautifully ugly, destabilizing and auto-destabilizing sociality-as-pathogen for the ones whose desire precisely for that pathogen and its life-forming, life-giving properties is obsessive and murderous. This more than political, anti-political, experience of the ones who are brutally and viciously wanted is something to which anyone who has any interest whatsoever in the very idea of another way of being in the world must constantly renew their own ethical and intellectual relation. This experience, in its incalculable variousness, in the richness of its social, aesthetic and theoretical resources, is the very aim of black studies and the source of its significance.

As someone whose intellectual orientation is defined by the study of that experience, I am interested in the refreshment of that orientation, for which I sometimes feel despair, in a moment that is so often misunderstood as victorious. I believe this boycott, as a mode of international solidarity and exchange, can bring that refreshment. I think that anyone who shares this orientation (for peace, justice, freedom of movement and association, freedom from want and domination), under whatever of its local habitations and names, in Palestine, in Israel, and most certainly in the United States, simply must be attuned to the necessity, and to this specific possibility, of refreshment. Selfishly, I am interested in how this boycott might provide some experiential and theoretical resources for the renewal of a certain affective, extra-political sociality—the new international of insurgent feeling. This is to say, finally, that these remarks have been nothing other than a long-winded preface to an apology to Palestinians for the fact that, in the end, the boycott might very well do more for me than it does for you, precisely in its allowing me to be in solidarity with you and with the richness, impossibly developed in dispossession and deprivation as payment of a debt that was never promised and never owed, that also comprises Palestinian social life. Please allow me to augment my apology with an expression of gratitude for the chance that your call for solidarity, which is itself an act of solidarity, provides.

Fred Moten is a professor of English at Duke University. This paper is a revised version of an address he delivered at the American Studies Association Annual Meeting on 7 November 2009 in Washington, D.C.

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