The metaphor of tribalism was used by Michel Maffesoli, at the end of the seventies, to identify what was detected as a telluric movement within the social body. He acknowledged the breakdown of the social communities into clouds, constellations, and clusters increasingly free from any abstract universalism: the Nation, the Church, ideology. Instead, he reported the gathering, within the context of this social implosion, of groups anchored to sensitivity and imagery shared within the community, something as banal and daily as it can be, as well as within the vertigos of dreams that are released by mutual contact, by proximity or, using a fashionable terminology, by empathy.
However, we must be aware that this type of imagery, “the tribal dream”, is no longer “utopian” but “ucronic”. It does not imply an eradication of the people it derives from, but an expression of the “here and now existence”, an existence that is integrated and amplified by its imaginary dimension. To use other terms, this lifestyle does not favour escaping time and space. It is a somewhat pagan celebration of a mystic ground, where the immaterial fills and moulds space in its own image. On the other hand, should we consider drugs and the substances stressing the contemporary excesses of the social body and its derivations (cocaine, ecstasy, viagra, even Red Bull!), we can clearly understand the trend and the sentiment privileged by the growing social relationships within the intangible substance which constitutes their identity, which is at the same time festive and subversive.
Indeed we can say that to a certain extent it has always been this way. Imagery has always been the phreatic skin of life. Parmenides, Shakespeare, Max Weber and André Breton, in different ages and ways, have taught us so. However, it is absolutely necessary to be attentive to the ways in which our era is marked by a prospective reversal of hierarchies between the visible and the invisible. Never before has life been like this; we experience life first on the immaterial level of imagery and imagination, and then transpose those images onto the physical stuff of the world. We are online before even entering the room, and in the room we reproduce sensitivity processed and refined in the electronic landscape. For example, we actually meet when an event is created on Facebook. In the electronic landscape not only do we visualize and immediately concretely express the content of our imagination, but we also share it, manipulate it and recreate it together. That is with the other, with a machine, within a wide techno-social body which both exceeds and precedes ourselves, where the subject is only an elementary particle and where the technical aspect is less and less distinguishable from the social one, the mystic from the rational.
Therefore, space is pervaded by another sensitivity. Space imposes itself over time. It’s a different change of balance, another fracture with respect to modernity and it is accompanied by the processing of a topos different from its own. Stars fall onto the ground. The pyramid collapses. We are inside the rhizome, to use an expression of Gilles Deleuze’s. The centre is everywhere and nowhere, as suggested by Jean Baudrillard. Between the sixties and seventies, after the last leaps of the historical avant-garde, the intangible continuity which holds together the head and the body of society (writers and readers, authors and audience, representatives and the represented) finally ruptured. Starting from the end of the sixties, the explosion of tribes and the springing up of tribalism have thus overturned the pyramidal structure of society, its vertical system. I am referring to the axis upon which all modern culture is based, starting from its Hebrew and Christian origins. It’s no accident that Georg Simmel used the metaphor of ‘trickle-down’ to describe modernity. The trickle-down theory, was elaborated and applied purposefully by Simmel to the dynamics of fashion, testifying to a form of dependence, and, I dare say, expectation of the hierarchical character of social relationships. The world’s tribalization, instead, overturns these dynamics. Starting from fashion. Within pleasure, but not without violence, as we found out in the movie by Walter Hill, in 1979, The Warriors.
Here aesthetics immediately becomes ethics, trends, a lifestyle, the merry assertion of a group, its celebration spurting from several rifts. These kinds of expression show us that the tribes refuse the distant, the exterior, what is beyond the tightly knit bonds of the here and now. We no longer belong to the Nation, the State, nor even to the City, we belong to this or that crowd. It is unimportant if this crowd is physical, if it is right at our door, or if it is immaterial, where a passion takes form beyond space and time. The ethics of a group, the ethics of a warrior, takes shape within a diaspora from another law that is not internal. It is the law of an expanding body discovering and chasing the spaces of urban life as a wound on its body and an injury upon the other. Observing the contemporary social networks, we tend to forget the urban and post-urban roots of this crowd. We tend to omit the great diasporas that have introduced all connections and disconnections of electronic landscapes. Urban cultures have turned from bellicose to hedonistic, still remaining secretly bellicose despite and most of all within their hedonism. They have experienced this transformation operating, and I would say playing, on the alteration of feelings from sight to tactility, from the point of view to shared emotion.
Before Maffesoli, it was Marshall McLuhan, who stressed the importance of the dawn of Gutenberg Galaxy and then the arrival of electronic media, and who spoke of re-tribalisation of social existence. He noticed how the global village, supported by new media, placed human beings within a condition of sharing someone else’s life, of sharing a destiny. The Canadian genius belonged to the alphabetical culture and nonetheless he had the courage to observe its saturation, its obsolescence. Besides, in his writings, McLuhan highlighted the fact that the global village and its tribes involved forms of violence that were intensified from tribe to tribe.
Post-modernity, (and I am not referring to post-modernism: this I believe is the biggest theoretic mistake of the clumsy and showy recent exhibition on post-modernism at the Victoria and Albert Museum) stands upon the ruins of modernity, radicalizing what were its edges, its frills, that means the wicked effect of what should have been used, according to elites, as entertainment, as recreation and a way to regenerate work, production, progress: conquering the future. I said wicked because it did not limit itself to the purpose it was thought, organized and set out for. Should we linger upon the basic movements and dynamics of contemporary culture, we could observe the centrality of spectacle, of fashion, of consumption, of recreation. These are secondary elements of the modern spirit and have been conceived as functional to its triumphal and progressive acceleration. Indeed, it is the depths of the soul, as well as the superficial dress, that the contemporary society uses to adorn itself. Right after the urban rebellions, the brutality of the crashes with the State and its machinery, the refusal of gerontocracy, of the Church, of the Morale, western warriors have hidden the knife by exhibiting, just like dandies, their diamonds. I am referring to the picture of the stranger chased by the crowd described by E. A. Poe. As Claudia Attimonelli stated in her book Underground Zone (2011), we could not understand contemporary dandyism and hedonism without noticing that they contain cultural roots proceeding from the impact, the craziness and the darkness of punk. Omar Calabrese, the semiologist who recently died, defined our time the neo-baroque era. The media expert Alberto Abruzzese suggests we should take note of the transit from “being fashionable” to “being fashion”, and Maffesoli believes we are experiencing the “turning into the world’s fashion”.
The aestheticization of existence, from displaying intimacy to its articulation as a narrative plot, the greed of pleasure, the extension of style within daily life, these are all symptoms of a culture that disperses and throws itself into the carpe diem (seize the day), the eternal instant as Maffesoli called it.
The viscous and seductive mobile roots of contemporary everyday life are ephemeral. The ephemeral has been a huge whim, but also a political instrument of the modern, just like fashion. However, the final project of the movements that have been the motive-power of such an era, every soteriological ideology is that of perfection. Whether that is based on salvation, on an earthly or heavenly paradise to be conquered tomorrow is largely immaterial. Both capitalism and the several socialisms, aimed at stirring up fashion worship, or, should we follow the etymology of the modern term, worshipping what is “new”, in the name of becoming, of colonization, of marching towards this perfection. The distortion of this principle operated by contemporary cultures, within the web 2.0 electronic landscapes, as well as within the skin parties and every other form of carnival found in contemporary society, celebrates the instant for the instant, fashion for fashion, the body for the body.
Innovation, thus, no longer serves the future or progress. It is merely a game to satisfy a pleasure. Praising the ephemeral to celebrate an existence that is consecrated to dissipation. Energy no longer accumulates, “elle se dépense”, says Georges Batailles: it burns out, it dissipates, it is wasted. This “gift”, as Jean Duvignaud wrote, the gift of the void is the beginning and the end of a common eroticism, of a porn culture according to which flesh is the word. Thus; innovation without progress. There no longer exists a project that is not simply the act of living. Within this scene of living the aesthetic gesture, the shared emotion, the embodied imagery are the elementary forms of this transpolitical feeling, on this side and the other side of politics. The dream and dreamy living, the praise of everyday life and its grieving despair are microphysical practices and the imaginary substances depriving established power of its traditional sacredness to restore the sacred fire to the established puissance. Puissance is different from power, in that it is not consolidated within institutions, but it is rather the substance of performance and the being-together of social groups – the tribes of Maffesoli.
In this scenario, every blogger network, human tribe, electronic community, flash mob generates a “communicracy”. This, in my opinion, is the form of puissance, and not power, that emerges today every time that a community vibrates unanimously, in communion around an act of communication. This configuration is valid and acts within an ongoing “situation”, inside a precise experiential and imaginary origin. It is thus limited in time and space as well as suspended in its way of living. It is so intense as to impose upon the law of the State or the laws of economy the group’s agreements, a pact of blood and also of images filled with high emotional density. This way the subversion grown in the interstices of everyday life, in the shadow of politics or in the undernet, takes nourishment from the symbolic and affective dimension. Because of this “transpolitical” sensibility the thick barrier of modernity crumbles. Seemingly banal and trifling phenomena like pokes, tagging, chat lines, role playing games, or new jokers’ jests and pranks, release into the ether the ghosts which haunt the collective imagination and urge this at last to mould physical reality in its own image.
So, we have come to a fork in the road. These are no longer only the simple scenes of the spectacle; they do not limit themselves to being recreational reserves, they actually become the expanded territory of the world by pandering to the drift of the collective imagination, and succeed to turn it into flesh, life, and experience. The immaterial is more and more the world’s fabric, the world’s flesh. Indeed, the course of the cultural industry allowed us to draw our attention from the triumphal march of History to the several, small, event-based stories and to focus on the unwritten poetry of everyday life. In 1936 Walter Benjamin brilliantly maintained that the technical reproducibility of the work of art triggers a process of “becoming art of the public”. In the same way, nowadays the digital reproducibility of the political sphere is leading to the “public becoming political”.
Here we are, then, before the fulfillment and overcoming of artistic avant-gardes which, at the beginning of the 20th Century, constituted the apogee of modernity and in the same time the announcement of the end of modernity. If avant-gardes take root in the ground of art and are strictly tied to political ideals and programmes, contemporary cultures do not then grow up in artistic studios, do not organize gallery exhibitions and do not directly participate in political competition. In the natural effervescence of their connections, communication and aesthetic gesture correspond to the unconscious development of a new power/knowledge regime, beyond and over politics, in eternal carnival revelry, in the party and the atmosphere of jubilation – anywhere – they are everyday life.
With the social web and the forms of carnival that beat the time of daily life we witness a crucial turning point in culture: that is an important shift from resistance to “re-creation” (in the double meaning of the term: as to rebuild ground zero and to have fun and amuse oneself). Therefore, in the sphere of entertainment and the imaginary a sort of political consumption and the delineation of a new sensibility takes place. Through a magical circle of passions, symbols and affections, this sensibility establishes new social forms, beyond society, and prepares the ground for transpolitical relations. This culture might be seen as the dawn and the first draft of a transpolitical sensibility which is cause and effect of the “world’s recreation”.
Carnival wisdom. Yesterday’s warriors dance within an erotic fusion of subversive breath. The crowd becomes avant-garde, the avant-garde of pleasure.
Translation by James Horrox