Saturday, January 28, 2006

Thinking about a revolution

I recently finished reading The Fiction of a Thinkable World, which argues that if we are to have a successful anti-capitalist politics, we need to understand that the ideology of capitalism is inscribed in the very way we think about thinking. In order to resist the ideology that we are individual actors in a marketplace exchanging commodities and value, we need to resist the ideology (for that is what it is) that we are individual consciousnesses who receive perceptions from an external world (including our bodies), have "rational" abstract thoughts about these perceptions, and exchange these abstract thoughts with other individual consciousnesses through the medium of language. In fact, according to the neurological evidence, we think with our bodies, and our thought is not just "shaped" but constituted by our social relationships with other people.

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This week I am in Venezuela and experiencing a revolution in process. In fact, that is what the Venezuelans call it: el processo. But capturing it in words (its energy, its successes, its weaknesses, its strengths and its precariousness) just isn't going to work. I can (and probably will) write reports about the "missions" that are improving the lives of workers and the poor, essays about the use of state power to foster people's organizations, and leaflets about how it is important to prevent the Bush Administration from engineering a "regime change." But none of that will capture what is going on here. Even my experience here can't capture what's going on, because I'm not making the revolution with.

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Gödel, Escher, Bach, a book about thinking that I read in college, makes the point that translators are faced with all kinds of choices about what "level" to translate — a word-for-word translation of "he sees white mice" from German might be better translated as "he's got a screw loose" for English readers unfamiliar with the German idiom. At the highest "level," he says, you could argue that the best way to translate a Tolstoy novel is to simply read a Dickens novel. That's the level I want to bring my experiences of Venezuela back on.

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