The 'collective phantom': convergent networks, counterculture and the recomposition of the radical political subject

Backhouse, James (2011) The 'collective phantom': convergent networks, counterculture and the recomposition of the radical political subject. (MA(R) thesis), Kingston University, .


This thesis evaluates the contribution of the convergent countercultural networking and self-publishing practices ofthe 1980s and early 1990s towards the reinscription of the subject and the process of subjectivation as the locus of political contestation. Following Henri Lefebvre and the Situationist International, successive countercultural formations sought to activate Everyday Life as a site within which the capitalist interpellation of the subject may be contested, drawing from the creative interferences that characterise the relation between the quotidian and the transcendent the promise of an emancipatory politics divested of the mechanisms of representation. This tendency is exemplified through the traversing of creative experiment and direct contestation within the Italian 'Autonomia' movement, from which it developed a throroughgoing, immanent critique of the dynamics of subjective reproduction. Through the period of economic restructuring in the 1980s and 1990s the Mail Art network's counter-economy of creative exchange converged with the more explicitly politicised movements informed by Situationism through their common grounding in the everyday negotiation of a path through the encroaching contradictions of Capitalism. The resultant praxis, manifesting the tension between creative experimentation and secessionist negation, appropriated the network as a transitory commons within which open-ended 'language games' could evolve into complex experiments in circumscribing the boundaries of the subject, and from which the Autonomist legacy would be reactivated through the collective inscription of a transversal 'collective phantom' as a unitary identity comprising a shifting multiplicity of individual subjects. In the spirit of 'low theory' through which these groups elaborated their practice, this study mobilizes the critical tools offered by post-Situationist and post-Autonomist thought, tracing the wider milieus, lines of influence and socio-historical struggles that contextualise them, offering a critical evaluation of what their accumulated practice can contribute to the contemporary impasses of political subjectivity, towards a radical reimagining of the political subject.

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