Disobedience: a question of language

Roberto Bui

What follows are my (self-critical) reflections on believing one's own rhetoric and on the 'linguistic tics' that end up becoming concepts. I would like to point out that I am not talking about 'abstract' things in these notes: language is production, it is a network of relations, it is being-in-the-world.

a) civil disobedience
b) empire
c) social disobedience
d) disobedience tout court
e) multitude

When the word 'disobedience' was associated with 'civil' it referred to the idea of citizenship (the disobedience of 'cives'= citizens), and in a direction familiar to most of us, it pointed to the precise moment when one decided to cross the treshold of legality and, in our particular interpretation, it also gave it a 'biopolitical' twist and went well with the expression 'empire'. The latter is nothing more than a good metaphor for the way in which world powers are re-defined, Negri and Hardt also use it in this manner.

Social disobedience'starts off as an escamotage to make sense of the aftermath of Genoa 2001, it was like putting a milestone down, marking a discontinuity, even though we didn't have the slightest idea of what was to come. I find the endurance of this expression questionable, and its gradual substitution with the word 'disobedience' without attributes and its election as the name of a political subject are still entirely virtual ('area of disobedients').

All this has happened in parallel with the deterioration of the expression 'Empire', used (always inappropriately) by all of the commentators as a synonymous of 'imperialism', as a metaphor for the US nation-state and as metonymy for 'the West' and what not. What was valuable in the term now lies buried under a pile of rubbish. Maybe it is not useful anymore as a myth or metaphor to be counterposed to that of the 'disobedient multitude'. At least in the zapatistas way to which we are used. This is so, especially because there is no dichotomy between empire and multitude. The latter is part of the former. *We* are Empire too. Empire is *also* the heir (however scattered) of centuries and centuries of extension of the right to citizenship.

From a rhetorical point of view, 'disobedience' remains deprived of an effective negative polarity. But more than that, the risk is one of wrongly investing in an outdated imaginary. Not unlike the CGIL (confederate left wing trade union) when it tried to 'unionise' the 'second generation of autonomous workers', following the classical model.

One disobeys to the father-master, to the state-master. It is an expression that refers back to the old disciplinary society that in fact has become something else, something more subtle and integrated: the society of control, the closely woven network of classifications, controls, self-censorships, criteria of inclusion, seeing machines. It is a society based primarily on biopolitics, ergo on the *prevention* and distant management of bodies, a dimension that incorporates and metabolises repression.

Command is more deceitful, mellifluous, often it is itself outside the law, or beyond it (the new mafias are its most advanced expression).
Here too, the notion of 'disobedience' is fighting its own shadow.

Also, who is the disobedient? Answer: the 'multitude'. Here too, the word is saturated, it has been stretched in all directions to fit any kind of assembly, aggregation, community and -ouch- *mass* (in theory it ought to be its opposite). Personally, I can no longer utter the word without laughing, because the multitude, the real one, is not made of the thousand people who evoke it on any occasion, but by the *million* people that we are only by chance coming into contact with, like on the 10th of November (national day of disobedience in Italy).

In short, the multitude is not that of the 'Carlini' laboratory. That was all but a laboratory, because in the middle of emergencies, the storm, overcrowding, repression and, by the end of it, the desire to run away, we did not elaborated anything at all.

In French there is the expression "langue du bois", wooden tongue. It is the official language of the Stalinism of the PCF (but also of the PCI), with its increasingly vague concepts, made of ritualised calls for a 'socialism' without shape and for a 'working people' the physiognomy of which nobody recognised. It was a language that continuously produced anathemas and slandering epithets ('opportunists', 'adventurists', 'extremists', 'deviationists' etc.).

Even the old Autonomia had its 'langue du bois', made of 'antagonistic subjectivities', 'recompositions of the urban proletariat', 'real subsumptions' and the obsessive reiteration of slogans and images.

In the last ten years (starting with the Panther and the dissembling of the Anti-nuclear and Anti-imperialist Coordination to end with Genoa) we have set fire to that language that was so distant from experience.

It would be absurd now to substitute it with an equally alienating one.

Translated by Arianna Bove around 2001 but it still rings true in 2013.

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