More on the politics of the New Aesthetic – though he doesn’t put it like that – and on the materialities of the virtual (and what he does call ‘a new way of seeing’) in an exquisite essay from Andy Merrifield on Kafka, Occupy and the ‘Enigma of Revolt’.
Andy’s point of departure is Franz Kafka‘s The Castle. This celebrated novel is itself an enigma: Kafka started work on the text in January 1922, it’s unclear whether he intended to finish it, and it famously ends in mid-sentence. After Kafka’s death in 1924 his friend Max Brod edited and reworked it for publication.
Andy’s essay artfully draws out the spatial politics of K.’s attempt to breach the castle (remember that K. is described as a surveyor):
Where K. goes astray, and where his quest borders on the hopeless, is that he’s intent on struggling to access the castle’s occupants; he wants to penetrate the castle’s bureaucratic formalities and the “flawlessness” of its inner circle. K. struggles for a way in rather than a way out. Using all the Cartesian tools of a land surveyor, he confronts the castle on the castle’s own terms, on its own ostensible “rational” frame of reference. K.’s demands, consequently, are too restrictive and too unimportant, too conventional and too self-conscious. He wants to render the world of the castle intelligible as opposed to rendering it unacceptable.
Andy juxtaposes this with a radically different spatiality by moving from the occupants to Occupy, where
… if protagonists occupy space somewhere, these spaces of occupation are curiously new phenomena, too, neither rooted in place nor circulating in space, but rather an inseparable combination of the two, an insuperable unity that is redefining what a 21st-century public space might be, could be. Squares like Tahrir in Cairo or Zuccotti Park in Manhattan are urban public spaces not for reason of their pure concrete physicality, but because they are meeting places between virtual and physical worlds, between online and offline conversations, between online and offline encounters. That is why they are public: because they enable public discourses, public conversations to talk to each other, to meet each other, quite literally. They are public not because they are simply there, in the open, in a city center, but because these spaces are made public by people encountering one another there. The efficacy of these spaces for any global movement is defined by what is going on both inside and outside these spaces, by the here and the there, by what is taking place in them and how this taking place is greeted outside them, by the rest of the world, how it inspires the rest of the world, how it communicates with the rest of the world, how it becomes the rest of the world.