Adam Morris on Occupy: Three Inquiries in Disobedience


From Adam Morris’s review “Disobedience & Miseducation: Occupy and the Academy,” at the Los Angeles Review of Books:

The unwritten premise of the three essays in Occupy is that we live in the anteroom of an authoritarian police state. Or that perhaps, in a Borgesian twist, we have been living in one for some time already. Just as allegations of a “Jewish menace” abetted the power grabs of the Nazis, the “terrorists” and now “anarchists” of the 21st century provide an alibi for the US security-industrial complex to retrench in practices that, while subtler than 20th-century totalitarianisms, are even more effectively internalized and agreed upon by the dominated domestic population. The public’s laconic initial reaction to the revelations of Edward Snowden offers proof that most Americans, like Winston at the end of Orwell’s 1984, have come to accept the state’s scare-fueled propaganda and gradual elimination of civil rights in exchange for a false sense of “security.” They already love Big Brother.

Daring to oppose police repression and buck this public inertia, the defiantly energetic spirit of dissent that characterized OWS is therefore political disobedience of the most necessary and noble kind. This exuberance is the subject of Taussig’s poetic essay “I’m So Angry I Made a Sign,” the anthropologist’s brilliant interpretation of the movement’s maxim to “occupy everything.” He breaks with codified academic and journalistic writing by subverting the ethnographic practice of field writing known as “thick description,” weaving together first-person reporting, his emotional responses to his experiences, and the text of some of the poignant placards he admires at Zucotti Park: “Mr Obama / tear down / this wall.” “They piss on us and call / it trickle-down.” The half-baked scribblings of a diarist bleed into broader analyses of the phenomenon, allowing Taussig to capture some of the affective energy of the movement:

Welcome to Hakim Bey’s Temporary Autonomous Zone. I recall Paris, May 1968: people said they lived in that zone for months, didn’t sleep, didn’t need to. Out of nowhere a community forms, fueled by the unforeseen chance to fight back. Decades drift away. Decades of Fox News and Goldman Sachs. Decades of gutting what was left of the social contract. Decades in which kids came to think being a banker was sexy. When that happens, you know it’s all over—or about to explode, as once again history throws a curveball. Once in a lifetime, the unpredictable occurs and reality gets redefined.

To read more about Occupy, click here.