Sunday, April 27, 2008

Social change and rhythm

I've been trawling back through my note books of the past few years, and this quote from Henri Lefebvre stood out:

[F]or there to be change, a social group, a class or a caste must intervence by imprinting a rhythm on an era, be it through
force or in an insinuating manner. In the course of a crisis, in a
critical situation, a group must designate itself as an innovator or producer of meaning. And its acts must inscribe themselves on reality. The intervention imposes itself neither militarily, nor
politically nor even ideologically. Occasionally, a long time after the action, one sees the emergence of novelty. Perspicacity, attention and above all an opening [kairos: the right or opportune moment; the fullness of time] are required. In practice and in culture, exhaustion is visible sooner and more clearly than growth and innovation, more obscure [than] realities and idealities.

from Rhythmanalysis: 14-15 (emphases in original).

Are we entering into a new rhythm, a new temporality, with the break-down of neoliberal globalisation occuring in central components of the financial markets? The mode, perhaps even the rhythm, of Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's activity and leadership has the pundits and commentators, this humble blogger and PhD candidate also, guessing. We are reaching for a language to describe Rudd's rhythms: blitzkrieg, empty symbolist (a trader in Baudrillardian simulacra), the repetition of Tony Blair's emphatic spin, Howard-lite: repetition, empty, yet to be identified, still on honeymoon? All temporalities, or figurings of time, and hence of rhythms.

Lefebvre's notion of the imprint of a rhythm, logical and sensual, onto the social body through the opening provided by a crisis is one that ignores the possibility that some rhythms may well announce themselves dialectcally as crisis and resolution. Bob Hawke's Curtin-esque National Crisis approach in 1983 is an example of a temporality or rhythm that while not new certainly played into the desire for industrial consensus and truce: the National economic Summit and the Accord resulted.

But Rudd and his Labor team could well face the collapse of some long duree global political-economic system during their tenure. The depth of the current economic crisis has some commentators invoking the spectre of 1929 with its collapse of finance capitalism, mass unemployment and the onset of Depression. Others raise the moment of the Oil Shocks of the 1973-4 and the Keynesian anomaly of stagflation: this crisis presenting an opening to the iso-rhythms of the Chicago School neoliberals to imprint the measure of the flexible, rational, free and unregulated individual as the beat of choice onto a post-Keynesian order.

The social body is always in crisis as it is all of us. But so too is the biosystem, from which we can and do escape, block out and deplete. Not all crises have the same urgency, weight and scale. Yet we need to carry about us an awareness of the cuts on the biospheric and social bodies: nicks and slashes that demand salving rhythms, that demand critical knowledge: critique and praxis.

Former Minister for Workchoices (marks I & II) Joe Hockey - demonstrating Baudrillard's concept of the simulacrum.

I don't think anyone, maybe even Rudd himself, quite knows what the rhythm of the 2020 Summit is or should be. From some of the participants, and from some of the footage I watched on TV, there was a sense of antipication, hope and open-ness about the possibilities for tending to periods outside the 3 year election and the voraciously constant media cycles.

By year's end, after the budget, after the official response to the Summit, by the time the USA has changed President, we should have a sense of the emerging rhythms: their crises, newness and attention to what can play. Rather than a scramble to provide market solutions to energy-driven pollution and river destruction (carbon emissions and the killing of the Murray river) I hope the opening of the 2020 Summit permits an opening to remain in the social body for some slower tempo rhythms of a new longue duree to settle under the faster tempo that we'll surely need to initiate some new compromises with liberal-capitalism.