Resonance and the Egyptian Revolution

What has co­alesced as a powerful, un­stop­pable force on the streets of Egypt is res­on­ance: the as­sertive col­lective em­pathy cre­ated by mul­ti­tudes fighting for the con­trol of space. Resonance is an in­tensely bodily, spa­tial, polit­ical af­fair, ma­ter­i­al­ized in the masses of bodies coming to­gether in the streets of Egyptian cities in the past thir­teen days, clashing with the po­lice, tem­por­arily dis­persed by teargas and bul­lets, and re­grouping again like an re­lent­less swarm to re­claim the streets, push the po­lice back, and sat­urate space with a col­lective ef­fer­ves­cence. Resonance is what gives life to this human rhizome and the source of its power.

This is why the Mubarak re­gime has des­per­ately tried to shatter it. The state at­tempts to dis­rupt the in­ternet, cell phones, Al Jazeera, and the work of the in­ter­na­tional media are all at­tempts to dis­able the tech­no­lo­gies through which res­on­ance propag­ates and ex­pands. When these moves failed, the re­gime sent para­mil­itary units to at­tack the main source of res­on­ance: the bodies of the mul­ti­tude in Liberation Square in Cairo. The Egyptian Revolution be­came for sev­eral days a pitched battle fought with stones and Molotov cock­tails over the con­trol of its main node of res­on­ance. The at­tacks on this node have been re­pelled and the res­on­ance con­tinues, em­bodied in the chanting and the rhythmic hit­ting of ob­jects that create pulsa­tions en­gulfing the to­tality of the square and in fact the whole space of the nation.

And while the re­gime has for now en­trenched its po­s­i­tion thanks to the sup­port of its global mas­ters, the res­on­ance pro­duced in the streets has pro­foundly trans­formed phys­ical and polit­ical land­scapes at mul­tiple spa­tial scales.

Everybody feels the res­on­ance re­ver­ber­ating from Egypt and is trying to make sense of it, to name it. But the words seem in­ad­equate, par­tial, in­com­plete: en­thu­siasm, en­ergy, pas­sion, anger, con­ta­gion, elec­tri­fying, domino ef­fect. These terms name fea­tures of res­on­ance but miss its sa­li­ence as a phys­ical, af­fective, polit­ical force made up of living bodies. Those who know it best, if in­tu­it­ively, are the bodies that pro­duce it in the streets. A 28-​year old pro­tester told a re­porter from The Guardian during the first days of clashes with the po­lice, after showing him where the po­lice had broken one of his ribs the day be­fore: “But I don’t care – just look around you. The en­ergy of the Egyptians is amazing. We’re saying no to un­em­ploy­ment, no to po­lice bru­tality, no to poverty.” Just look around you. You can see that “amazing en­ergy.” Indeed, if you train your senses you can see and feel the ma­ter­i­ality of res­on­ance, the phys­ical, bodily power of its pres­ence and its ef­fects (the video clips posted here, here and here exude this ma­ter­i­ality). This is a bodily en­ergy that this pro­tester con­cep­tu­al­ized as neg­at­ivity, as a col­lective “no,” but which is also an af­firm­a­tion, a striving, what Nietzsche called will-​to-​power, the will to as­sert and ex­pand life. Energy made by and through bodies, so un­fathom­able that seems to defy con­cep­tu­al­iz­a­tion. Resonance has been con­cep­tu­ally in­vis­ible for so long be­cause it in­volves the most im­manent, phys­ical, taken-​for-​granted di­men­sions of so­cial life: bodies and space, mod­u­lated by the same tem­poral pulsation.

These are bodies and spaces tangled in a vortex of move­ment, whirl­winds, and flows, for a de­fining fea­ture of res­on­ance is that it does not stand still. It is mo­bile and ex­pands, af­fecting more and more bodies. This is why so many re­porters use meta­phors of con­ta­gion to ex­plain its ex­pansive force. Nicholas Kristof from the New York Times wrote that he felt “in­tox­ic­ated” by the yearning and hope­ful­ness he felt on Liberation Square. Resonance shakes bodies, even for­eign bodies, and makes them act out of em­pathy. And be­cause it re­ver­ber­ates and is con­ta­gious, res­on­ance can travel long dis­tances, spreading out­wards from its ori­ginal node. This is the spa­tial spread that the media al­ludes to through ref­er­ences to “domino ef­fects,” a some­what mech­an­ical and linear meta­phor that non­ethe­less cap­tures the mo­bility of res­on­ance ex­pan­sion as well as its phys­ic­ality: that the ex­pan­sion of res­on­ance is cre­ated by ob­jects af­fecting other ob­jects that in turn af­fect other ob­jects. Except that the ob­jects being af­fected by res­on­ance are con­glom­er­ates of human bodies.

Liberation Square is now a node of global res­on­ance, which Kristof aptly called “the most ex­hil­ar­ating place in the world.” This res­on­ance is now ri­co­cheting all over the planet through the in­fra­struc­ture of in­stant global com­mu­nic­a­tions and im­pacting on mil­lions of bodies who feel moved by the de­term­in­a­tion guiding those struggles, so dis­tant yet so close. The Egyptian Revolution was in fact triggered by the ar­rival on Egyptian space of prior res­on­ances cre­ated by the mul­ti­tude in the streets of Tunisia, which then blended with loc­al­ized griev­ances and pat­terns of un­rest. In turn, the res­on­ance that led to the Tunisian up­rising can be traced back farther to the wave of massive anti-​elite protests and riots that shook Europe in 2010, which cre­ated anti-​establishment res­on­ances that have now spilled over across the Mediterranean and onto the shores of Africa and the Middle-​East.

Resonance, in short, forces us to look at wider, com­plex, ever shifting and fluid to­po­graphies of un­rest that con­nect and af­fect dis­tant and seem­ingly dis­con­nected geo­graphies. And the in­tense ex­pect­a­tions, sup­port, and fears that the Egyptian Revolution is awakening all over the world in­dicate that the streets of Cairo are be­coming the last mani­fest­a­tion of a global wave of anti-​elite un­rest that is reaching transcon­tin­ental di­men­sions, and is be­gin­ning to re­semble the plan­etary turn­moil of pivotal years such as 1968 (defined by anti-​war and anti-​capitalist res­on­ances) and 1989 (marked by res­on­ances that shattered com­munist bur­eau­cra­cies). Hence the global sig­ni­fic­ance of the Egyptian Revolution, which un­like the re­cent mass protests in Europe aims to des­troy a whole au­thor­it­arian polit­ical struc­ture firmly sup­ported by the United States.

Ideology, slo­gans, and speeches are all part of res­on­ance, but at its most powerful mo­ments res­on­ance is sheer af­fect: bodies joining forces to con­trol space and voicing their pas­sions through openly ges­tural ex­pres­sions (chants, screams, signs) and, as in Cairo, vi­olent con­front­a­tions with armed bodies sent by the state. Resonance is col­lective em­pathy so over­whelming and bodily that it de­fies rep­res­ent­a­tion. What is most un­fathom­able about res­on­ance is its power, a power that has fueled all the re­volu­tions of human his­tory. Resonance can erode and des­troy the most powerful of states, es­pe­cially when it af­fects the bodies of those with or­ders to shoot. Many re­volu­tions are won this way: when the res­on­ance cre­ated by the mul­ti­tude is so ex­pansive and pen­et­rating that it breaks the will of of­ficers and sol­diers to obey or­ders. And this is why in mo­ments of re­volu­tionary un­rest the state un­leashes ruth­less, un­par­alleled vi­ol­ence on the source of res­on­ance: human bodies. Massacres of un­armed ci­vil­ians such as Tiananmen Square and the state ter­rorism that dev­ast­ated much of Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s were at­tempts to phys­ic­ally des­troy a res­on­ance that was dan­ger­ously threat­ening the state. And this is why the ghost of these mas­sacres has hovered over Liberation Square, des­pite the signs that a fac­tion of the Egyptian mil­itary seems to lean to­ward avoiding in­dis­crim­inate bloodshed.

Resonance, in case it is not clear by now, is not a meta­phor. The power of af­fect­a­tion that these bodies create is as ma­terial as the forms of res­on­ance that are studied in physics and travel through air, water, and solids. Understanding polit­ical res­on­ances in­deed re­quires de­vel­oping a physics of politics. Unlike standard physics, which seeks to find pre­dict­ab­ility in mo­tion, a physics of polit­ical res­on­ance in­volves the shifting pat­terns of move­ment by rhizomes of striving bodies coming to­gether and spreading in un­pre­dict­able ways. Resonance un­folds in the realm of polit­ical con­tin­gency yet through well-​defined pat­terns. It spreads at di­verse, sim­ul­tan­eous phys­ical levels. The voices, screams, and chants that in tra­versing space as sound waves reach and af­fect other bodies are a primary source of res­on­ance. A pro­tester in Cairo cap­tured the af­fective in­scrip­tion of chanting on his body when he said to The Guardian, “I’m going to have all of this week’s chants ringing in my ears for ever – down, down Hosni Mubarak.” In faraway places, the in­stant media trans­mis­sions that pro­ject im­ages of those bodies on our com­puter and TV screens also af­fect us vis­cer­ally des­pite being on the other side of the world.

And back on the streets of Cairo, the vi­ol­ence against the po­lice and pro-​Mubarak para­mil­itary units create res­on­ance through bodies that fight, bleed, and die to­gether on those urban bat­tle­fields littered with stones and debris. The im­ages of hun­dreds of bleeding, bruised, wounded pro­testers covered with band­ages yet at the ready for more street combat re­veal both their in­di­vidual bodily fra­gility and the de­term­in­a­tion of their col­lective will. These res­on­ances are solid in their con­duits and ef­fects, as the rav­aged land­scapes of Cairo il­lus­trate. Yet they are also so elu­sive and ever fluid that they seem ethereal.

The ma­terial yet fluid nature of res­on­ance de­mands a more con­cep­tual and de­tailed ex­plor­a­tion. My in­terest in res­on­ance was first piqued by the an­archist mani­festo The Coming Insurrection, au­thored by the so-​called “Invisible Committee.” Almost in passing, they write: “Revolutionary move­ments do not spread by con­tam­in­a­tion but by res­on­ance. Something that is con­sti­tuted here res­on­ates with the shock wave emitted by some­thing con­sti­tuted over there.” Resonance is presented here as that which ac­counts for the spa­tial spread of re­volu­tionary un­rest, the ho­ri­zontal ex­pan­sion of shock waves that con­nect dif­ferent places, “here” and “over there.” This is not a linear spread, but con­vo­luted, un­pre­dict­able dis­per­sion. “An in­sur­rec­tion is not like a plague or a forest fire – a linear pro­cess which spreads from place to place after an ini­tial spark. It rather takes the shape of a music, whose focal points, though dis­persed in time and space, suc­ceed in im­posing the rhythms of their own vi­bra­tions, al­ways taking on more density.” In this elab­or­a­tion, res­on­ance in­volves rhizomic, non-​linear, vi­brating pat­terns of dis­per­sion re­sem­bling sound waves. It also in­volves the cre­ation of a rhythm that gains mo­mentum and density through the em­power­ment of dis­persed nodes or focal points. These are pro­voc­ative ideas that cap­ture the overall spa­tial pulsa­tions of res­on­ance. Yet this ana­lysis does not go con­cep­tu­ally fur­ther. As noted by a re­viewer, the ref­er­ences to res­on­ance by The Invisible Committee show “little will to go beyond in­tu­ition.” More im­port­antly, this in­tu­ition presents a dis­em­bodied spa­ti­ality in which res­on­ance travels in space seem­ingly dis­con­nected from bodies. Yet des­pite the brevity of this en­gage­ment, The Coming Insurrection does identify the ut­most polit­ical sig­ni­fic­ance of res­on­ance. It is what makes re­volu­tions spread. Only now I realize that this early en­counter with this concept con­tained the seeds of a paradig­matic shift in my un­der­standing of the nature of space, power, and politics.

In his book Post-​hegemony, my friend and col­league Jon Beasley-​Murray re­cently pro­posed a much more em­bodied, af­fective view of res­on­ance that is of fun­da­mental im­port­ance to un­der­stand its force. Whereas The Invisible Committee evokes a vi­brating, non-​linear pat­tern of dis­per­sion, Beasley-​Murray draws on Spinoza and Deleuze to focus on the bodily and sub­jective di­men­sions of res­on­ance. The co­hesive prin­ciple of col­lective sub­jectiv­ities, he ar­gues, “is res­on­ance rather than iden­tity, ex­pansive in­clu­sion rather than de­marc­ated dif­fer­ence” (188). Resonance, in this ac­count, is the im­manent, bodily, non-​discursive, and ex­pansive force that con­sti­tutes the mul­ti­tude as open, non-​hierarchical mul­ti­pli­city. “The mul­ti­tude forms as bodies come to­gether through res­on­ances es­tab­lished by good en­coun­ters, but it is al­ways open to new en­coun­ters, and so to new trans­form­a­tions” (228). Resonance, in short, is what makes the mul­ti­tude. “The mul­ti­tude is res­onant” (250). Beasley-​Murray, in this re­gard, re­defines Hardt and Negri’s concept of the mul­ti­tude along the im­manent lines pro­posed but not fully elab­or­ated by the latter. And this res­on­ance is pro­duced by bodily en­coun­ters, for “the multitude’s im­manent ex­pan­sion pro­ceeds by means of con­ti­guity and con­tact, in res­on­ances es­tab­lished through af­fective en­counter” that de­velop in a “physics of so­ciety” (235).

Beasley-Murray’s ac­count of res­on­ance is ground­breaking. Yet it con­ceives of res­on­ance as an ar­rested col­lective vi­bra­tion. Whereas in The Coming Insurrection res­on­ance is a dis­em­bodied spa­tial vector, in Post-​hegemony space is evoked as the back­ground to a spa­tially stable, res­onant mul­ti­tude. Yet mo­bility and spa­tial dis­per­sion are fun­da­mental to res­on­ance, for its power is dir­ectly pro­por­tional to its ca­pa­city to travel long dis­tances and af­fect large col­lect­ives of bodies in faraway places. And res­on­ance is a concept that Beasley-​Murray evokes evoc­at­ively but without dis­secting it in de­tail. I faced the same chal­lenge in my pre­vious blog entries, in which I ana­lyze res­on­ance as a spa­tially ex­pansive force that co­alesces in mul­ti­tudes on the streets but without stop­ping to an­swer the ques­tion: “What is res­on­ance, ex­actly?” It is now time to an­swer this ques­tion more closely, but without dis­pelling its phe­nomen­o­lo­gical force as af­fective ma­terial energy.

Because it is ab­so­lute im­man­ence and bodily af­fect, a more de­tailed ana­lysis of res­on­ance ne­ces­sarily takes us to seventeenth-​century philo­sopher Baruch Spinoza. One of Spinoza’s most ground­breaking con­tri­bu­tions to philo­sophy is his view of the body as an out­ward looking en­tity tangled with con­stel­la­tions of other bodies. For Spinoza, the body is never an in­di­vidual, de­tached en­tity but living matter con­tinu­ally af­fected by other bodies. In Ethics, he demon­strates that human emo­tions, often ima­gined as inner ex­pres­sions of an en­closed self, are pro­duced by the im­pact that other bodies have on our own. Love, fear, envy, jeal­ousy, or anger are just dif­ferent ways in which our bodies are af­fected by other bodies. Affects, in other words, do not emerge from the in­side out but are “in­coming”: the product of re­la­tions with other bodies. Affect for Spinoza is af­fect­a­tion: a con­firm­a­tion that bodies exist only in con­stel­la­tions and that so­ci­eties are spa­tially grounded at­tempts to struc­ture these constellations.

I draw on Spinoza to view res­on­ance not just as af­fect but as in­tens­i­fied af­fect­a­tion. This in­tens­i­fied bodily pro­cess draws on, and em­powers, what Spinoza called conatus, striving, the bodily will to live and ex­pand life and that through res­on­ance in­volves the willing par­ti­cip­a­tion of a plur­ality of bodies. Yet res­on­ance, un­like af­fect, does not simply exist as a given fea­ture of so­cial in­ter­ac­tions. A theory of res­on­ance must face the ques­tion of how res­on­ance is pro­duced, how it ex­pands in space, and how the state tries to ma­nip­u­late it and con­tain it.

As it should be clear by now, bodies that come to­gether in space are the main agents in the pro­duc­tion of res­on­ance. Bodily prox­imity is fun­da­mental to res­on­ance cre­ation. Resonance is, in this re­gard, the most primary of all forms of so­ciality. For this reason, it re­cog­nizes dif­ferent levels of in­tensity and density, not all of which are polit­ical. The love uniting a couple or a family is res­on­ance of a spa­tially re­stricted kind, which in­volves bodies united by in­tense af­fec­tion and willing to act to­gether (for in­stance, sharing the same home). And all so­ci­eties are punc­tu­ated by the pro­duc­tion of loc­al­ized forms of res­on­ance in which bodies come to­gether in space and share a common rhythm. Rituals, ce­re­monies, and fest­iv­ities, from a male ini­ti­ation rite in Papua New Guinea to re­li­gious pro­ces­sions in the Andes or Mecca are struc­tured by res­on­ance, hence the re­cur­ring role of music and chanting in their configuration.

Likewise, dan­cing, music con­certs, and large sports events also create res­on­ance, tem­por­arily bringing to­gether dis­parate bodies under the same re­ver­ber­a­tion but usu­ally through re­l­at­ively low levels of em­pathy. The “wave” pop­ular­ized since the 1986 Mexico World Cup at soccer sta­diums is a re­mark­able, if playful, mani­fest­a­tion of a co­ordin­ated res­on­ance that makes thou­sands of bodies move and raise their arms in unison. And while many of these en­coun­ters are not polit­ical, the res­on­ances they create may have polit­ical effects.

Resonance reaches polit­ical di­men­sions when the ca­pa­city to af­fect other bodies ac­quires a higher in­tensity and an op­pos­i­tional, crit­ical tone, a neg­at­ivity that is sim­ul­tan­eously guided by an af­firm­ative will-​to-​power. In be­coming polit­ical through bodily af­fect­a­tions, res­on­ance is in­sep­ar­able from de­sire and in fact can be con­cep­tu­al­ized as a de­siring ma­chine. In Anti-​Oedipus, Giles Deleuze and Félix Guattari grasped the role of de­sire in res­on­ance when they sought to re­think so­ciety through “a gen­er­al­ized theory of flows,” in which the flows of human de­sire are coded and con­trolled by cap­it­alism and the state but are also per­man­ently evading this coding and pro­du­cing lines of flight, lib­er­ating routes of es­cape. Resonance is the force that makes lines of flight pos­sible by severing af­fective at­tach­ments from dom­inant he­ge­monies and striving for new, open spaces. And de­siring ma­chines, Deleuze and Guattari warn us, are in­deed ma­chines: bodily as­semblages that act.

Rallies are the main sources of polit­ical res­on­ance. Even the smal­lest of demon­stra­tions create res­on­ance, often through bodily ac­tions that gen­erate a shared phys­ical rhythm, such as chanting in unison. And res­on­ance is often in­creased with move­ment. The most en­er­gized ral­lies are usu­ally marches, in which bodies move to­gether and spread their res­on­ance throughout the spaces they tra­verse. That many anti-​corporate protests in­clude dan­cing and car­ni­valesque forms of partying is also re­vealing of the sa­li­ence of bodily move­ment and music in res­on­ance cre­ation. Drumming is par­tic­u­larly ef­fective in this re­gard, be­cause its reg­ular tempo helps syn­chronize bodies at a phys­ical, non-​representational level. The res­on­ance that makes those bodies move in unison to the rhythm of music or drums is the same that makes them act to­gether polit­ic­ally in the streets.

The Argentinean up­rising in December 2001 re­vealed an­other di­men­sion of the role of rhythm in res­on­ance cre­ation, for the up­rising began the night of December 19 when dozens of thou­sands of bodies began hit­ting pots and pans al­most sim­ul­tan­eously all over Buenos Aires in re­sponse to the president’s speech on na­tional TV (who had frozen all bank ac­counts weeks earlier). The powerful, ex­pansive, clearly aud­ible res­on­ance of the “cacer­olazo” all over the city, as the event was called, al­most auto­mat­ic­ally made a mul­ti­tude ma­ter­i­alize on the streets. After a night and day of riots in which 38 people were shot dead by the po­lice, the res­on­ance ori­gin­ated by the hit­ting of pots and pans toppled the government.

The role of speeches in ral­lies also re­veals that polit­ical lead­er­ship is usu­ally based on the leader’s ca­pa­city to af­fect a mul­ti­tude through a res­on­ance more clearly ar­tic­u­lated as nar­rated voice. And the res­on­ance cre­ated at ral­lies not just by polit­ical leaders but also by heads of state re­veals that res­on­ance can also serve to re­pro­duce and le­git­imize state power. While in this essay I focus on res­on­ances cre­ated by mul­ti­tudes op­posed to the state, it is im­portant to briefly out­line how res­on­ance can ac­quire re­active di­men­sions when it is ma­nip­u­lated by state power.

Whereas anti-​hierarchical res­on­ances by the mul­ti­tude are spa­tially ex­pansive, in­clusive, and guided by an af­firm­ative neg­at­ivity (a cri­tique of the status quo that strives for some­thing new) the res­on­ances ma­nip­u­lated by con­ser­vative states are often in­ward looking, re­active, and ex­clu­sionary. This is what Spinoza called “sad pas­sions,” bodily af­fects defined by un­aware­ness of their causes, and that later on Nietzsche would cri­ti­cize as re­sent­ment or slave men­tality. These re­active res­on­ances, which Beasley-​Murray sees as dis­sonant but I think still con­tain af­fective res­onant ele­ments, nat­ur­alize the pos­it­ivity of the real, that which merely is, and are hos­tile to neg­at­ivity as cri­tique (the con­ser­vative type of af­firm­a­tion re­jected not only by Adorno but also by Deleuze). The Nazi State is a clear ex­ample of this re­ac­tionary and ex­clu­sionary res­on­ance, which was powerful enough to rally mil­lions of German bodies be­hind Hitler but never sought to res­onate with non-​Aryan bodies. Its re­active nature as a sad pas­sion was clear in that it defined mil­lions of other bodies as ir­re­con­cil­able en­emies to be des­troyed. A dif­ferent, more re­cent ex­ample of a re­active res­on­ance is the way in which the nar­rative of “the war on terror” cre­ated a he­ge­monic res­on­ance in the United States, in which the fear of ter­rorism res­on­ated with mil­lions of bodies af­fected by the trauma of September 11, 2001 and made them willing to sup­port im­perial war­fare over­seas. And this res­on­ance is largely based on the in­duced fear of non-​white, non-​Judeo-​Christian bodies. Reactive res­on­ance is also what ral­lied the pro-​Mubarak para­mil­it­aries that tried to des­troy the node in Liberation Square and that is making con­ser­vat­ives in the United States, Israel, and other parts of the world react with alarm at the ex­pansive, in­clusive, non-​hierarchical res­on­ance of the Egyptian multitude.

An im­portant point is that the af­fective res­on­ance that cur­rently an­im­ates armed in­sur­gen­cies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, or Pakistan is also of a re­active, nat­ivist, ex­clu­sionary nature, based on an anti-​imperial agenda yet hos­tile to uni­versal forms of eman­cip­a­tion (for in­stance, women and sexual, ethnic, and re­li­gious minor­ities). The ex­clu­sionary, sec­tarian, inward-​looking nature of this res­on­ance, which Beasley-​Murray sees as pro­duced by a bad mul­ti­tude, is also clear in its read­i­ness to mas­sacre ci­vil­ians and in its mil­it­ar­ized, hier­arch­ical view of politics. This is why these anti-​imperialist sad pas­sions, while also fueled by con­tempt for the Arab elites, are so dif­ferent from the uni­ver­salist, non-​hierarchical, sec­ular, and non-​violent res­on­ances cre­ated by the Egyptian multitude.

The res­on­ance pro­duced on the streets by mul­ti­tudes chal­len­ging state power and com­mitted to un­armed protests fol­lows, in this re­gard, dif­ferent pat­terns of vi­bra­tion: in­clusive, open-​ended, ho­ri­zontal, and ex­pansive. Once this res­on­ance is cre­ated, its spa­tial ex­pan­sion does not need bodily prox­imity and in­volve media trans­mis­sions that can af­fect bodies based in dis­tant places across the globe. Yet the source of the res­on­ance that Twitter or Facebook turn into dis­em­bodied mes­sages is a rally or up­rising grounded some­where. The ori­ginal source of polit­ical res­on­ance, in this re­gard, is still the mul­ti­tude in the streets. This is why all re­volu­tions begin in the streets, even if triggered by res­on­ances trans­mitted through the media. A res­on­ance powerful enough to topple gov­ern­ments can only be gen­er­ated in ac­tual, spa­tially grounded bodily en­coun­ters. The reason why con­ser­vative pun­dits often and disin­genu­ously claim that in the era of the in­ternet the street is no longer the ter­rain of politics is that they fear the ex­pansive res­on­ance the street can create.

Because it is pro­duced in ac­tual places, res­on­ance cre­ates focal points or nodes: spaces from which res­on­ance ex­pands out­wards. Every demon­stra­tion, in this re­gard, is a node of res­on­ance. Most of these nodes are eph­em­eral and dis­ap­pear shortly there­after, yet the myriad polit­ical struggles that exist in the world at any given mo­ment create an ever-​shifting plan­etary to­po­graphy of nodes. Countless nodes of polit­ical res­on­ance are pro­duced every day in the most di­verse places of the planet. When the main­stream or in­de­pendent media picks them up and polit­ical con­di­tions else­where are ripe for cre­ating em­pathy, these nodes may dis­sem­inate farther into an­other town, an­other re­gion, maybe an­other country. Very few nodes pro­duce res­on­ances that reach places across the planet. Many linger in sub­ter­ranean cur­rents for a long time. Many others vanish into thin air. Other nodes, in con­trast, ex­pand so dra­mat­ic­ally that lead to revolutions.

The American, French, Haitian, Russian, or Cuban re­volu­tions were pivotal mo­ments in world his­tory be­cause the res­on­ance they gen­er­ated spread un­rest across oceans and con­tin­ents. These re­volu­tions brought down spa­tial bar­riers and cre­ated a smooth space for the global dis­sem­in­a­tion of polit­ical em­pathy. This is why re­volu­tions come in waves. The dra­matic series of up­ris­ings and re­volu­tions that shook the world between the 1770s and the 1810s is a case in point, leading in a few dec­ades to the col­lapse of the British and Spanish im­perial con­trol over most of their American colonies, the de­struc­tion of the French mon­archy, and the first and only suc­cessful slave re­volu­tion in world his­tory in Haiti.

For this reason, counter-​revolutions are al­ways at­tempts to spa­tially con­tain in­sur­gent res­on­ances, to create stri­ations that pre­vent them from trav­eling and cre­ating em­pathy else­where. The cur­rent at­tempt by the global elites to con­tain the res­on­ance gen­er­ated in Egypt fol­lows a pat­tern as old as re­volu­tions. And it is a pat­tern of con­tain­ment that I ana­lyze to­wards the end of the essay and that the state has his­tor­ic­ally tried to manage at very dif­ferent spa­tial scales: re­gions, na­tions, cities, and the street.

Many dic­tat­or­ships, from Chile to Thailand, have shared a re­mark­ably under-​analyzed strategy of res­on­ance con­tain­ment at the micro-​spatial level: de­creeing that it is il­legal for three or more in­di­viduals to meet in a public space. This move could be ri­diculed as the product of a para­noia that for Deleuze and Guattari defines fas­cist sub­jectivity. But this ges­ture res­ults from an ac­curate if in­tu­itive reading of the source of res­on­ance: that even a handful of bodies meeting in a common space can af­fect each other and create res­on­ance that can then grow and expand.

Once res­on­ance is spreading in the streets, the state aims to dis­ar­tic­u­late it through a variety of means. As a weapon of crowd dis­per­sion, teargas is the most con­ven­tional state tool to dis­sipate res­on­ance through the spa­tial dis­per­sion of the bodies cre­ating it. Yet teargas is rarely enough to stop a strong res­on­ance, for the rhizomic and mo­bile nature of the mul­ti­tude en­ables it to tem­por­arily scatter, man­euver, and re­group else­where like a swarm. This is why teargas is more often than not fol­lowed by sheer vi­ol­ence by the po­lice or para­mil­itary units on the mo­bile bodies cre­ating res­on­ance, as is ap­parent in the case of Egypt.

In so-​called lib­eral demo­cra­cies such as the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, the po­lice has de­veloped new forms of res­on­ance dis­sip­a­tion with Orwellian over­tones: the so-​called “kettle.” By cor­ralling demon­strators in a tight space and not let­ting them move for five or more hours, the goal of the po­lice is to fix res­on­ance in a space where bodies are forced to stand in a po­s­i­tion of dis­com­fort with the ul­ti­mate aim of tiring them and dis­sip­ating their col­lective strength. This tech­nique re­veals an in­tu­itive aware­ness of the role of move­ment in the pro­duc­tion of res­on­ance; it also re­veals that its fear of res­on­ance makes the po­lice de­vise soph­ist­ic­ated yet short­sighted meas­ures to con­tain it. Accounts from people “kettled” in Britain show that the bodily ex­per­i­ence of being cor­ralled this way often cre­ates fur­ther polit­ical rad­ic­al­iz­a­tion. Resonance may be dis­sip­ated in one par­tic­ular node, but the af­fect­a­tions cre­ated by the ex­per­i­ence can con­tribute to pro­du­cing new res­on­ances at other times and in other nodes.

In the streets of Egyptian cities, all re­pressive at­tempts by the state to shatter and con­tain res­on­ance have not only failed but have in fact em­powered it. A common dy­namic of res­on­ance ex­pan­sion is that its re­pres­sion often in­creases the spread of af­fective em­pathies. The un­armed mul­ti­tude has de­fended its central node of res­on­ance in Liberation Square with a de­term­in­a­tion and fe­ro­city that has im­pressed ob­servers on the ground. Yet what many ana­lysts missed is that those thou­sands of bodies de­fended this space with their bare hands throwing rocks and a few Molotov cock­tails be­cause they took to the streets un­armed and un­pre­pared for vi­ol­ence. The same cannot be said of the fas­cist shock-​troops in plain­clothes that took to the streets fully armed to in­flict pain and death on pro­testers, with their clubs with nails and razors per­forming the fantasy that these rudi­mentary yet deadly weapons showed that those men were not sent by the state. Yet the un­armed mul­ti­tude re­sponded to this vi­ol­ence with a de­term­in­a­tion, or­gan­iz­a­tion, solid­arity, and dis­cip­line re­min­is­cent of the egal­it­arian res­on­ances cre­ated by the an­archist up­ris­ings in the Paris Commune in 1871 and in Barcelona in the early stages of the Spanish Civil War in 1933 – 34. The big dif­fer­ence is that the mul­ti­tude in Cairo re­mains un­armed, and that its main weapon is the vi­brating am­algam of naked bodies that con­sti­tute it.

One of the most po­tent im­ages of the war of stones that took place in Liberation Square last week was that of pro­testers throwing stones while partly pro­tecting them­selves from flying rocks with make­shift shields, pieces of card­board and metal, or wearing waste bas­kets as hel­mets. The fra­gility and im­pro­vised nature of that armor con­trasted dra­mat­ic­ally with the American-​made tanks standing nearby yet high­lighted both the crudely bodily nature of the res­on­ance an­im­ating them as well as the im­pro­vised and de­fensive char­acter of their vi­ol­ence, aimed largely at keeping con­trol of the square. In one of his most grip­ping re­ports from the square, Nicholas Kristof was awe­struck by a pro­tester on a wheel­chair who had lost his legs years earlier yet was throwing rocks at the pro-​Mubarak thugs. This man talked with Kristof while being treated for a head wound caused by a flying rock, yet was im­pa­tient to go back to the front­lines. “I still have my hands,” he told Kristof firmly, “God willing, I will keep fighting.” This man em­bodies res­on­ance as sheer af­fect, as a powerful striving that makes a double-​amputee trans­form his dis­abled body into a fighting body and a vector of res­on­ance to de­fend Liberation Square.

These bodies are de­term­ined to de­fend this square and willing to bleed and die if need be be­cause this is the first free space of the new Egypt and the node of its re­volu­tion. “We’re safe as long as we have the square,” a man said to Robert Fisk from The Independent. “If we lose the square, Mubarak will ar­rest all the op­pos­i­tion groups – and there will be po­lice rule as never be­fore. That’s why we are fighting for our lives.” The fate of the re­volu­tion, in short, de­pends on the ca­pa­city of thou­sands of bodies to con­trol Liberation Square and con­tinue cre­ating from this node an ex­pansive res­on­ance reaching the rest of the country and the world.

The global elites are alarmed at this un­con­trol­lable, lead­er­less in­sur­gent force, es­pe­cially be­cause of its power to travel thou­sands of kilo­meters and in­spire mil­lions of bodies in faraway places. The old Mubarak dic­tat­or­ship that the United States never called this way be­cause it was its dic­tat­or­ship is crum­bling. Pundits are con­cerned about the “domino ef­fect,” “shock­waves,” and “con­ta­gion” em­an­ating from Egypt, clum­sily trying to make sense of the ex­pansive power of res­on­ance. Their strategy to con­tain this res­on­ance is now two­fold. Led by Washington, the first pri­ority of the im­perial ma­chinery is to dis­sipate the power of this res­on­ance through “an or­derly trans­itions to demo­cracy,” a eu­phemism for the taming of the demo­cratic en­ergy cre­ated in the streets and the pro­duc­tion of a slightly re­formed status quo, without Mubarak in the long run but also without threats to cor­porate power and global im­perial in­terests. The hy­po­crisy and real in­ten­tions of the US gov­ern­ment are clear in that the same day that Hillary Clinton stated that the US would “not in­sist” on an im­me­diate re­moval of Mubarak, The New York Times pub­lished a riv­eting art­icle written by re­porters who were kid­napped by the Mubarak secret po­lice and taken to a prison where hun­dreds of de­tainees were being beaten up and tor­tured, with their screams of pain per­meating the whole space. Tortured and dead bodies are the price Egyptians are paying for the US on­going sup­port of the Mubarak re­gime. What a ghostly echo from the days when US of­fi­cials said of ruth­less Central American dic­tators like Somoza that “he may be a son of a bitch, but he is our son of a bitch.”

Secondly, a fe­ro­cious media cam­paign based on fear-​creation is un­derway to quar­antine this res­on­ance by pre­venting met­ro­pol­itan audi­ences from sym­path­izing with the Egyptian mul­ti­tude. In re­cur­rently in­voking the al­leged “threat” posed by the Muslim Brotherhood and a al­leged re­make of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, pun­dits and politi­cians re­tort to old ra­cist, ori­ent­alist as­sump­tions ac­cording to which polit­ical un­rest in the Middle-​East can only lead to Islamic fun­da­ment­alism, ob­scuring that the up­ris­ings in Tunisia and Egypt have been pro­foundly sec­ular in nature and guided by anti-​elite de­mands for demo­cracy, jobs, and equality. And as re­porters on the ground have doc­u­mented, pro­testers in Egypt feel pained and of­fended that their de­mands for freedom are fear­fully read in the US or Europe as opening the gates for Islamic to­tal­it­ari­anism. As a man bluntly told Kristof, “We are human be­ings, ex­actly like you people.” These de­hu­man­izing scare tac­tics aim to pre­vent that these de­mands create em­pathy and res­onate with sim­ilar con­cerns for civic liber­ties, elite priv­ileges, and jobs at home. We are wit­nessing, in short, a polit­ical– af­fective struggle between mul­ti­tudes trying to ex­pand em­pathy and de­fenders of the im­perial status quo de­term­ined to in­duce fear.

Yet what the global elites really fear, as Noam Chomsky ob­served in The Guardian, is in­de­pend­ence from the dic­tates of global cor­porate power. This is why the fear of these elites is that the Egyptian Revolution could re­semble the non-​violent up­ris­ings of the mul­ti­tude in Latin America in the past decade, which led to democratically-​elected gov­ern­ments that have chal­lenged and un­der­mined the neo­lib­eral order of things and set up a course of geo­pol­it­ical in­de­pend­ence from the United States. A sim­ilar gov­ern­ment in Egypt sup­ported by its em­powered mul­ti­tude thirsty for so­cial justice and polit­ical freedom is more threat­ening to im­perial designs than the inward-​looking Iranian re­gime, whose au­thor­it­ari­anism and anti-​Semitism does not res­onate with global de­mands for democracy.

The res­on­ance ex­panding from Egypt is being channeled through a plan­etary net­work of in­stant com­mu­nic­a­tions that has reached a density, spa­tial reach, speed, and soph­ist­ic­a­tion un­par­alleled in world his­tory. Karl Marx’s uto­pian vision of a wave of eman­cip­atory en­er­gies in­ter­con­nected across the na­tions of the world is only ma­ter­i­ally pos­sible today. Yet this in­ter­na­tion­alism will con­tinue being a uto­pian pro­jec­tion if re­ac­tionary res­on­ances based on fear pre­vail. This is why cur­rent struggles for global demo­cracy are over the smoothing out and stri­ation of the primary space that fa­cil­it­ates res­on­ance ex­pan­sion, the in­ternet. State and cor­porate power are rap­idly joining forces to po­lice the web. The re­cent at­tempts by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to de­monize and shut down Wikileaks ex­press that the United States and Chinese gov­ern­ment are not that dif­ferent in this re­gard, for both fear the power of un­coded, anti-​state res­on­ances trav­el­ling glob­ally through un­res­tricted, un­po­liced channels.

The eman­cip­atory po­ten­tial of the in­ternet does not mean that Facebook, Google, and Twitter are the main weapons of the 21st cen­tury demo­cratic re­bel­lions, as the media often simplist­ic­ally claims. These are im­portant chan­nels, cru­cial at points, for the dis­sem­in­a­tion of res­on­ances pro­duced in the streets by bodies that for the most part do not tweet. The main weapon of demo­cratic, non-​violent re­bel­lions still is, and will al­ways be, bodies in the streets pro­du­cing res­on­ance. And the trends of global un­rest that pre­ceded Egypt seem to in­dicate we are en­tering a wave of transcon­tin­ental anti-​elite res­on­ances that are en­coun­tering re­ceptive bodies across dis­parate geo­graphies. This wave began in Europe in 2010, is spreading like wild­fire into North Africa and the Middle-​East, and is now ri­co­cheting back into Europe, as il­lus­trated by the protests and po­ten­tial court ac­tions for human rights vi­ol­a­tions that have just forced George W. Bush to cancel a trip to Switzerland.

Meanwhile, the ma­terial res­on­ances cre­ated in central Cairo con­tinue ex­panding to­ward the world. I began writing this essay the day the Egyptian Revolution began, and these pages’ tone, layout, and con­fig­ur­a­tions have mutated and evolved in par­allel with the ef­fect that that those equally evolving res­on­ances coming from the mar­gins of the Nile, and that I was trying to un­der­stand with words, had on my body. The im­ages and voices of those de­term­ined bodies in the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, or Suez res­on­ated with my own em­bodied memories of having been raised under one of the many dic­tat­or­ships that the United States sponsored, trained, and funded in Latin America to des­troy the re­volu­tionary res­on­ances of the 1960s and 1970s. Those riv­eting im­ages cre­ated an af­fective em­pathy with their plight as fellow human bodies de­term­ined to put an end to their oppression.

The main in­ten­tion of this essay is to partly con­tribute to spreading the in­spiring res­on­ance cre­ated in the streets of Egypt. The obstacles to the ex­pan­sion of res­on­ance are clear within the ter­ritory of the United States, a space in which a powerful pro­pa­ganda ma­chine has been ef­fective in re­pelling or neut­ral­izing res­on­ances coming from else­where. This re­pul­sion, which was only eroded by the American mul­ti­tude in the late 1960s and early 1970s, is cru­cial in the on­going re­pro­duc­tion of the United States as the central node of im­perial ma­chinery and can only be un­der­mined by fur­ther res­on­ances pro­duced in American streets. This is why, as Slavoj Zizek ob­served in The Guardian, it is im­portant that lib­erals in the US (and across the world) stop fearing the Egyptian re­volu­tionary spirit.

The shifting res­on­ances that this essay has tried to out­line are, as I hope it is by now clearer, both pat­ently solid and elu­sive in their pat­terns of dis­per­sion. Yet we are so­cial­ized to as­sume that pas­sions on the streets are sheer elu­sive­ness devoid of ma­ter­i­ality, and that the shock waves, con­ta­gions, and domino ef­fects are just meta­phors to refer to some­thing else. Yet these words dance around the po­tent and bodily polit­ical ma­ter­i­ality of res­on­ance, which we should be able to see clearly if we looked at the streets of Egypt with a slightly dif­ferent sens­ib­ility. To para­phrase Adorno, this slight per­cep­tual shift is the hardest to make be­cause it is the most de­cisive. Its de­cis­ive­ness is the il­lu­min­a­tion that the power of res­on­ance is ul­ti­mately the power of our legs, arms, and hands to af­fect other bodies and change spa­tial and polit­ical land­scapes. Like that double-​amputee on a wheel­chair using his hands to de­fend Liberation Square, and telling us that our striving bodies joining forces with other bodies are in­deed de­siring ma­chines and our most powerful weapon.

From Space and Politics

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