Entrevista com Todd May pela Siyahi Interlocal

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Todd May

(Original em Inglês)

You published The Political Philosophy of Poststructuralist Anarchism in 1994. What were the reactions both from academic circles and anarchist readers?

It's a funny thing. There wasn't much of an academic reaction either way, and I didn't think much about the reaction in anarchist circles, partly because I hadn't worked much in those circles. A few years later, however, I was invited to an anarchist conference and found out that many anarchists had been reading the book. Folks explained to me that the reason it was so popular was that it was the first book to bring together poststructuralists like Foucault and the anarchist approach. What I found at the conference, and at meetings since then, is that a lot of younger readers are sympathetic to the book, partly because they were brought up on thinkers like Foucault, Deleuze, and Lyotard. Some of the more traditional anarchists were more resistant to the approach.

Todd May-book.jpg

The book was translated to Turkish and published in Istanbul in 2000. Which other languages it was translated (and when)? Did you received any reactions, critics, or questions from abroad?

It's also been translated into Italian, and I have been asked to do a bit of writing for anarchist oriented Italian journals. I've heard that there is a possibility of a Spanish translation as well.

Have you continued working on the subject, on the relations of poststructuralist thought and anarchism after? Were you involved in any continuing debates? What do you think about other contributions to the subject? Saul Newman’s From Bakunin to Lacan or Lewis Call’s Postmodern Anarchism comes to mind, and numerous articles of course.

Actually, I haven't done a lot of writing on the topic since then, although I've kept my hand in it in different ways. I was a reader for Saul Newman's thesis (now an excellent book) on the same topic, as well as Lewis Call's Poststructuralist Anarchism. I've also had the good fortune to receive invitations to anarchist conferences, where I can discuss the issues with people coming from a variety of anarchist orientations. For me, discussions with people who are politically involved is the most satisfying thing. It gives me a chance to see how ideas are played out on the ground.

As I mentioned above, I was a reader for both of those manuscripts before they were published, and I like them. Saul's book has a more Lacanian orientation, which I tend to resist. I'm not sure one can move from Lacan's individual subject to collective action. Also, coming from a more Foucaultian perspective, I am leery of any kind of psychoanalytic approach. Saul's case for such a move is strong, though, even if I'm not compelled in the end. And the book is very clearly written. Lewis Call's book brings in an artistic dimension that neither Saul's nor my book has. His chapter on cyberpunk is great; I learned a lot from it. Call wants to include a Baudrillardian perspective in his work, which is distant from my own approach. He does good work with it, though.

Would you change anything if you wrote The Political Philosophy of Poststructuralist Anarchism today?

You know, I'm hesitant to go back to my earlier books. I don't re-read them, partly because I'm afraid of reading this or that passage and finding it just awful. In general, though, I still like the orientation of the book. Although I discuss three contemporary thinkers, the primary perspective comes from Foucault. Since then I have seen more differences between Deleuze and Foucault than I saw then, and would probably modify my approach to Deleuze a bit. Also, there are passages in traditional anarchism that point the way, even if a bit vaguely, to some of the themes I claim are more closely associated with poststructuralism.

Do you see any parallel motives in poststructuralist anarchy and post-Seattle anti-globalization movements?

Absolutely. The anti-globalization movement is more nuanced in its approach than traditional Marxism. It does not see progressive struggle as happening solely on a single front (relations of production, say), but instead tries to deal with politics and economics in their complexity. Although I orient my book around the concept of practices, and that is not a concept used by the anti-globalization movement, there are similar ideas informing both movements: irreducible struggles, local politics and alliances, an ethical orientation, a resistance to essentialist thinking.

What do you thing about anti-eurocentrist motives in poststructuralism and anarchism?

Well, of course, given recent events one might want to elaborate a more anti-Americanist orientation. The general idea of not privileging dominant cultures is an important one, and both poststructuralism and the anarchist tradition have strong roots there. As I try to explain in the book on anarchism, and elaborate more fully in the book on the morality of poststructuralism, there is no escaping one's own ethical orientation, since, among other things, it's the motive force for respecting others. (There is also a complex issue of relativism, which I'll leave aside for now.) However, to take one's own ethical orientation seriously is also to take the view of others seriously. Therefore, I see no contradiction between critique of euro-centrism or its equivalent--Americanism--and a steadfast fidelity to the ethical values of the European and American tradition. We on the left have tended to allow the Right ownership of the issue of moral values. I think that's a mistake. There is no morality in the domination the Right exercises, and it would be best if we started speaking more openly in moral and ethical terms about what the Right does.

Can there be any clue for a world politics after 9/11?

I'm hesitant to approach this question. It's a very good one, but I don't want to pretend to be a sage here. In some ways, the immediate issue is a simple one: undercutting US domination. However, there are more complex political and economic issues at stake, which the anti-globalization movement has clearly seen. I would say that what is needed is to stop thinking of the US in terms of 9/11, which was just used as an excuse for further exploitation. However, the Bush administration has done such a good job of making that obvious that I don't need to underline the point. I would say this on the general question, though: there is no single solution, as the fate of twentieth century Marxism has taught. On the other hand, identity politics has revealed itself to be a dead end. What we need to do is to see at once the local and irreducible nature of many struggles while keeping solidarity across all of them. It is, I believe, an ethical orientation that allows us to balance those two demands.

What do you think about the “Third World” today and the significance of postcolonial studies? And can there be an universal Poststructuralist Anarchism? -although we are all anti-context :)

Postcolonial studies remains an important intellectual movement, particularly in light of the US's attempt to return to something very like colonialism. I worry sometimes about the "victim status" that can accrue to postcolonialism, though. There is something reactive in the Nietzschean sense about looking for the ills of a postcolonial society in the colonial past without seeking to formulate ways out of that past, what Deleuze would call lines of flight. I am hopeful that, as the US seeks to impose its hegemony, there will be openings for alliances between third world movements and those in Europe that open up new vistas for struggle.

We can trace parallel motives in poststructuralism and anarchism through your book and other works. But what about pre-modern anarchist-like rhizomatic traditions of the world? That is, what about heterodoxy in different cultures?

This is an important question, but not one I know much about. It would certainly be an important next step to take the work of more contemporarily European centered intellectuals like me and articulate it with and against that of other traditions. I can only hope that someone more competent than I am will take up such a task.

You said that "Since then I have seen more differences between Deleuze and Foucault than I saw then, and would probably modify my approach to Deleuze a bit." How would you like to modify your approach to Deleuze today?

Over the past several years, I have studied Deleuze more intensively, and have just published a book* on him. The difference between his ontologically oriented approach and Foucault's more ontologically spare approach runs deep. I think the anarchism book is more oriented toward's Foucault's approach than Deleuze's, although I don't think I misrepresent Deleuze's approach. It's a matter of emphasis.

You talked about postcolonialism earlier, but we want to return to the question that followed that. Do you think can there be a universal poststructuralist anarchism?

That's a tough question, in part because it can mean several things. If you mean that there can be a political program that's universal, the answer is no. The difference I cite between a strategic political philosophy (which is more universal in that sense) and a tactical one tries to capture that point. Political change must always be responsive to specific political histories and contexts. On the other hand, there might be certain principles, such as opposition to exploitation, that would be universal. It might be better to say that there can be a universal ethics for poststructuralist anarchism than that there can be a universal poststructuralist anarchism.

In the Political Philosophy of Poststructuralist Anarchism, you point Max Stirner as an individualist anarchist of a conservatist tradition together with Benjamin Tucker, and you link them to the position of Nozick today, where Newman (after Koch) takes Stirner as the first poststructuralist or at least links his work to poststructuralist tactical political philosophy instead of linking him to Nozick and such. What do you think about this shifting?

Newman's take on Stirner is interesting, and I don't want to argue with it. Since Newman is more concerned with a psychoanalytic approach to poststructuralism, his embrace of Stirner and his concept of the ego is in keeping with the overall project Newman's engaged in. For my part, since the level of analysis I'm working with is that of practices, Stirner falls more to Nozick's side.

You take French poststructuralist thought as an alternative political philosophy frame different than free market liberalism and Marxism. And you say you built your poststructuralist anarchist political philosophy on it. Why was an anarchist political philosophy not suitable to choose as a frame? While being selective in terms of both anarchist and poststructuralist theorists, at the end you came to a 'new anarchism' not to a 'new poststructuralism'...

This is an interesting question, and one that I haven't thought about before. I think there are two reasons the frame went in one direction rather than the other. The first one is autobiographical; I came to anarchism through poststructuralism, and so tended to see the former through the eyes of the latter. The second, more important, reason is that the perspective I'm developing here is much closer to poststructuralism. Although I make some selections in poststructuralism, the thought I develop remains close to that of Foucault, Deleuze, and Lyotard. If I'm right in my interpretation of anarchism, though, the frame I develop borrows from some aspects of that tradition while rejecting others. There is nothing I reject in poststructuralism that corresponds to the rejection of the humanism or the negative view of power characteristic of traditional anarchism.

In your work you discuss the two existing alternatives as liberalism and Marxism. What can be said about more radical Right political philosophies, such as fascism?

I don't discuss radical Right philosophies because I don't consider them serious contenders for any thoughtful person's allegiance, whereas liberalism and Marxism are serious contenders. One can give historical analyses for their various rises and falls, but to discuss them in the context of seeking to establish a proper political philosophy is a waste of time.

When you are defining classical anarchism, you only refer to texts of classical anarchist writers rather than practices of early anarchist history. What would your interpretation be like if you refered to practices like the Spanish revolution?

My knowledge of this history is limited, so please take my response here to be that of a novice in this area. Practices on the ground often modify theoretical positions, which is one of the reasons I situate my political philosophy at the level of practices. If we look at anarchist practices, for instance the recent anarchist practices in the US within the anti-globalization movement, there is much to admire. However, what is still missed is the idea that the terms in which we think about ourselves are themselves politically laden. What is needed are more reflective projects that help us think not only about what appears wrong on the surface, but about the terms of our own thinking. This is where the writings of Foucault, Deleuze, and Lyotard can be of assistance.

What do you think about the view that poststructuralist thinkers were at least by some degree influenced by the events of '68? If so, can't we say that many 'tactical political elements' like anti-authoritarianism, refusal of representation or anti-hierarchy were also existing in these movements?

Absolutely. This seems to me to be exactly right. While a number of these elements were floating around before '68, it took the events of May to pull them together into a coherence they had previously lacked.

You mention that contemporary feminist works are very close to tactical political philosophy. Can you give examples, which works did you mean by that?

Many feminists, in contrast to many Marxists, see their struggle as one among others. It's an important struggle, but not the only one. Gender oppression is characteristic of almost all societies, but no feminist I have read has argued that all other oppressions are reducible to gender oppression in the way that many Marxists argue that non-economic oppression is reducible to economic oppression. Feminism seems to see itself as a struggle alongside other struggles, against racism, exploitation, conformism, etc.

What do you think about the 'new-autonomia' or "open-marxism" developed recently in the works of Antonio Negri, Michael Hardt and John Holloway? Do you think their view is close to a tactical political philosophy or a strategic one?

Negri and Hardt's thought, in particular, is deeply influence by Deleuze. In that sense, although they offer a broad framework for political action (as I do), their work seems to me to be primarily tactically oriented. The struggles they commend at the end of Empire are not a blueprint for change, but rather suggestions for the kinds of struggles people might be engaged in.

And we would like to ask the origins of your terms 'strategic' and 'tactical'. Where they come from? Why have you chosen especially these terms for what they imply? Do they have any relation with Lenin's use of both terms?

Actually, they're just terms of art I borrowed from my own political organizing and then defined them in my own fashion. The contrast between an overall strategy and a local tactic seemed to me to be a useful way of opposing more overarching political theories and the views of poststructuralists and important strains of anarchism, which are more sensitive to the local and irreducible nature of struggle. Lenin, in particular, had nothing to do with it.

One of your main arguments suggests that in anarchism, human nature is considered inherently good. On the other hand, David Morland, writer of Human Nature and Politics in Nineteenth Century Social Anarchism, and some others, are opposing this view of anarchist human nature. Morland tries to show that anarchist understanding of human nature is not necessarily good. In fact, it is quite complex and sometimes the opposite. There is an insisting warning of anarchists for to distrust the human in power. Seeing the nature of humans in authority as a continuing danger is vital in anarchism, especially Bakunin. Malatesta, as well, shares this disbelief in human nature. Would you like to discuss this?

It is certainly the case that not every anarchist embraces the idea of a benign human nature, or that within the thought of a particular anarchist there is no ambivalence. In my book I cite Kropotkin as an example of the latter. The nineteenth century, however, which is the source of much anarchist thought, was an arena for debating the character of human nature. The idea that there is nothing to debate there is much more recent. My own reading of anarchist literature is that the idea of a good human nature is a central, although not exclusive, theme. If a compelling case could be made for the idea that anarchists reject the concept of human nature, I would embrace it. It would signify yet a deeper link between poststructuralism and anarchism.

Nearly seventeen years after Hakim Bey's first attempts of combining postmodern thought with anarchy, fourteen years after Rolando Perez's On An(Archy) and Schizoanalisys and ten years after your work, today, to think on poststructuralist anarchism(s), to describe a new anarchism, and to try to go beyond the limitations of modern aspects of classical anarchism is understood as an urgent problem by some members of the new anarchist generation. Yours has a privilege place in anarchist literature because it's obvious that your book was the first comprehensive theoretical attempt which describes the need of such a new anarchism. Through discussions on the postanarchism mailing list, its web site, and other internet forums in recent years, the extend of this approach is widening and new work areas are appearing, new books and articles are being written. And the anti-globalization movement, which highly influences contemporary anarchist thought, emphasises the value of exploring intersections of poststructuralism and anarchism. In the light of new work in this area, do you plan to make further contributions building on your earlier work?

Thank you for asking. Recently, I have been taken by the work of Jacques Ranciere, whose work is strongly influenced by Foucault. Many of his central themes, for example the importance of a radical equality, are convergent with anarchist thought. I hope to be able to develop his ideas in a way that extends the framework I developed in the anarchist book. I'm just at the very beginning of this project, though.

And we would like to add one more subject, which is very vital here too - we know that you've been working on Palestinian rights for many years, and recently co-edited a book on Israel's 2002 invasion. Could you give some information about your works and perspective? And how do you see the situation in Middle-East today?

Unlike the issues we have been discussing, which are difficult and often elusive, the occupation of Palestinian land strikes me as a very simple one. Israel is committing a slow genocide against the Palestinians. One can read this project back into the writings of earlier Zionists, like Ben-Gurion. Zionism has always been a project of maximal expansion and of dispossession of the indigenous Palestinians. The solution is simple: Israel needs to remove itself to the 1967 borders, that is to say, to end the occupation. In addition, some negotiated recognition of the right of return must be established. To those who say that Israeli settlement activity has gone to far to allow such a return, I say that the solution then would be a single state where Jews and Palestinians enjoy equal political status. Oddly, that was the solution Palestinians themselves proposed until they were forced into recognizing Israel and embracing the two-state solution.


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