The Refrain of “Bad Days Will End”



The dog days are over

The dog days are done

The horses are coming so you better run

Run fast for your mother run fast for your father

Run for your children for your sisters and brothers

Leave all your love and your loving behind you

Can’t carry it with you if you want to survive

                          -Florence + The Machine, “Dog Days Are Over”


I stayed in Japan during two periods before and after 3-11, from November of 2010 to January 2011 and from June to September 2011. As someone who had lived for the past twelve years in a dying auto-workers’ city near Detroit, in a virtual condition of hermetic withdrawal, I felt like a mole being throw out of the ripped surface of the earth and exposed to the rays of the nuclear sun. A feeble mole who happened to witness a moment when the new angel of history was blown by the fierce wind of crisis shuddered at the sense of immediacy when nonchalantly spoken words smashed into the “present” with terrifying speed (right before 3-11 I was talking with a Japanese friend on Facebook about Walter Benjamin’s angel and the revolutionary time when the historical layer of the earth ruptures!). During this period of over six months, smeared in the memory of fire through riots and trembling, mixed with an apocalyptic reality swallowed up by tsunami and spitting out radiation, I had irreplaceable encounters with people who were quietly, firmly, confronting the despair produced by capitalism, and the intuitive understanding and “moveable feast” of the commons flowed out of them naturally.

The gang of moles also appeared over half a century ago. The Situationist International hummed a song about the Paris Commune which was popular in the nineteenth century, mentioning how – a year after the struggle of the Miike coalminers and opposition to Anpo (U.S.-Japan Mutual Security) – Neapolitan workers burned down buses and a railway station, French miners set fire to twenty-one cars in front of the management officer, and Belgian newspaper strikers tried to destroy the means of informational production: “The ‘old mole’ that Marx evoked in his ‘Toast to the Proletarians of Europe’ is still digging away; the specter is reappearing in all the nooks and crannies of our televised Elsinore Castle, whose political mists are dissipated as soon as workers councils come into existence and for as long as they continue to reign.”

Subsequently, Elsinore Castle expanded its domination into the internet that the the U.S. military-industrial complex developed. Although the force of the autonomous working class which Sergio Bologna called the “tribe of moles” was routed, they changed faces, names, gender, and race, and once again burrowed stubbornly “in all the nooks and crannies” of the ever-expanding Elsinore Castle: 1993 Zaptista Uprising, 2000 Battle of Seattle, and, despite the genocidal obstruction of U.S. “war capitalism”, what streamed out of the ground were last year’s Arab Spring and Israeli anti-neoliberal movement, post-Fukushima anti-nuclear movement, U.S. Midwestern labor movement and “Occupy Wall Street” that further expanded its class composition, the Chilean people who — enraged by the state violence that shot a fourteen-year-old boy dead — democratized the streets of Santiago at a single stroke.

These are class struggles that inverse the invariable capital that is the internet. But that is not all. They also suggest that, even as Hamlet was tormented by “counterrevolutionary boredom” that the SI despised, he was in fact the revolutionary poor (“And what so poor a man as Hamlet is…”), ready to take the head of the evil King Claudius (capital) who hangs niggardly onto his kingship by sacrificing our social and economic birthright (ghost).

“Well said, old mole! Canst work i’ the earth so fast? A worthy pioner!”

This is the moment when Hamlet is aroused out of his fear and trembling. He bids welcome to the ghost of the revolutionary future and declares this materialist vision as more astonishing than the philosophy that passively interprets the world (“And therefore as a stranger give it welcome./There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,/Than are dreamt of in your philosophy”). And he hurls himself into the collective act (“Let us go in together”) of righting the “Upside Down” “Looking-Glass World” — to borrow Eduardo Galeno’s name for our neoliberal dispensation — by turning the world upside down (“The time is out of joint; — O cursed spite,/That ever I was born to set it right!”).

In reference to the animal family Talpidae, the word “mole” entered the English language in the late fourteenth century, from the old Germanic mouldwarp (“earth-thrower”). This was the period when the Kentish peasant rebels marched on the London Bridge, stormed the Tower of London (Natsume Soseki wrote, “what remains in the horse, car, and train after human blood, human flesh, and human sins are crystallized — that’s the Tower of London”), and killed the Lord Chancellor Simon of Sudbury and Lord Treasurer Robert Hales who were responsible for the imposition of the exploitative poll taxes to continue financing the Hundred Years’ War. Necessary class vengeance from below prompted the state to murder the peasant leaders, such as Wat Tyler, John Ball, and Jack Straw, and their spirits went underground, only to come back a couple of hundred years later to haunt the Prince of Denmark.

By Shakespeare’s time, the phrase “make a mountain out of a molehill” had become well-established. Shakespeare himself used an idiomatic expression with a homologous meaning for one of his plays, Much Ado About Nothing, which was published around the time of Hamlet’s composition and, with its double entendre on “nothing” as “vagina” (“O-thing”), brought the Elizabethan gender war on stage. While Much Ado About Nothing envisions a peaceful reconciliation, even if it be a temporary truce, in the battle between the sexes, the prospect Hamlet lays out for the regicidal battle in the machinery of the corrupt state is all too realistically grim (as the Velvet Underground said, “And all the dead bodies piled up in mounds…”). The Nine Years’ War against the Gaelic Irish clan system and its communitarian culture, the most extensive English military expedition during the Elizabethan era, was wrapping up in the Siege of Kinsale and the initiation of the Plantation of Ulster, which colonized Ulster under the rule of new English planters. The Gunpowder Plot, which gave birth to the wildly infectious fantasy of blowing up Parliament and was predicated on the flawed but universalist conception of Catholicism as an anti-statist, though still monarchical, ideology linking domestic English insurrectionists with Irish chieftains and the Spanish empire, was only around the corner. Guy Fawkes, who became the face of the Gunpowder Plot, was tortured in the Tower of London and, after his fellow co-conspirators were hanged and then drawn and quartered, leaped from the gallows, broke his neck, and escaped the fate of a cruel death. His mask, via Alan Moore’s radical anti-nuclear hagiographic graphic fable, is worn by many of the Wall St. Occupiers.

As we look around the scene with would-be Guy Fawkes of today, we cannot help but utter under our breath that “something is still rotten in the state”. The execution of Troy Davis by the state of Georgia on Sept. 21, the suicide of a Japanese dairy farmer in his fifties who hanged himself in Soma City, Fukushima in June after scrawling on the wall in white chalk “if only there were no nuclear plant”, and Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation after a municipal officer confiscated his wheelbarrow and her aides beat him emblematize three figures intersecting within contemporary working-class composition: the U.S. prison proletariat, disproportionately African-American and actively resistant to the imposition of regimented labor-discipline; the Japanese rural workers for whom the nuclear disaster means immediately the destruction of their livelihood; and the debt-ridden Tunisian street workers who face bribery demands and daily harassment from state officials. Here Elsinore appears at once as the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification State Prison (GDCP, the largest prison in Georgia, opened in 1968), the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant (commissioned three years after GDCP), and the Tunisian municipal office that ignored and in fact threatened Bouazizi and others from subsisting on the streets.

GDCP, with its instantly self-parodying bureaucratic pseudo-scientific name, was intended originally as a state apparatus to discipline and punish the urban insurrectionists who emerged as a critical component of the 1960s U.S. class struggle. The second-generation “Old Sparky” is stored in the closet not too far from the GDCP execution chamber. In 1945 the original version of the electric chair had electrocuted Lena Baker, an African-American maid, for shooting her employer who had threatened her life should she attempt escape. Baker’s last words, spoken with undeterred dignity: “What I done, I did in self-defense, or I would have been killed myself. Where I was I could not overcome it. God has forgiven me. I have nothing against anyone. I picked cotton for Mr. Pritchett, and he has been good to me. I am ready to go. I am one in the number. I am ready to meet my God. I have a very strong conscience.” “I am one in the number” – twenty years later, “the number” materialized on the streets in Watts, an urban insurrection that the SI defended on the grounds that it short-circuited the consumer capitalist circuit of reproduction.

A nuclear plant was built as a capitalist stratagem to construct such a circuit in the relatively “underdeveloped” prefecture of Fukushima, whose rate of industrialization was less than half the national average, and as a way to circumvent the energy crisis in the coal mine, where the tradition of working-class militancy was deep-rooted. Its technological engineering and planning were provided directly by General Electric, which was also instrumental in the invention of the electric chair – hardly a coincidence, for not only does a nuclear plant represent the concentration of constant capital but also a concentration of capitalist power over energy in all its forms, in order to control the life and death of labor-power – thus, what Robert Oppenheimer said upon the detonation of the first nuclear bomb in New Mexico, near Almogordo (whose Christian church burned Shakespeare and Harry Potter ten years ago), quoting the Bhagavad Gita, “I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”, is even truer for this “general law of capitalist accumulation”. Hence when the said invariable capital breaks down, the immediate consequence is not restoration of the pre-capitalist commons which it destroyed but the inadvertent, uncontrollable, and unprofitable accumulation of death, which we might term the “danse macabre principle of capital” in honor of the medieval peasants and Hamlet. It is as if capital has continuously rigged the system so as to make it impossible for the proletariat to become its gravediggers – it would rather kill itself and the entire species, rather than see the emergence of any viable replacement.

This ubiquitous accumulative principle of morbidity also confronted the twenty-six-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi, a construction worker’s son whose life history of perpetual struggle for survival to raise his siblings since the age of ten stands immediately as the familiar allegory of the global poor. Behind the corrupt bullying puppets of the Tunisian state who mete out petty, deadly humiliations on, in Marx’s phrase, its “relative surplus population” such as Bouazizi and other rank-and-file street vendors, lie the ventriloquist of global capital, not least of all GE, which has supplied technology for the trans-Tunisian pipeline expansion linking Algeria and Sicily in 2006, serves as a contractor for the engines of twelve Sikorsky SH-60F Multi-Mission Utility Helicopters that the U.S. government sold to Tunisia in 2010, and is building two electric stations in the Tunisian towns of Feriana and Thyna. This is contemporary thanatocracy – Peter Linebaugh’s neologism for the capitalist “rule by death” – in action, whose embryonic dialectical reversal we’re witnessing (the most obviously irreversible element of antinomy here being the genetic “danse macabre” set in motion by the nuclear accident).

The medieval European danse macabre was premised on the absolute equality of all human beings in the face of death, in short a post-mortem abolition of all classes (the effective sentiment expressed by Tom Waits when he groaned, “Ask a king or a beggar/And the answer they’ll give/Is we’re all gonna be…just/Dirt in the ground”). It is therefore a potentially revolutionary creed if it is ever understood as a chiasmus which inverts the “post-” into “pre-mortem” and, as such, set into action, as the English peasant rebels did in the late fourteenth century – which was precisely when, in the wake of the plague and perpetual war, danse macabre also started to be expressed widely as an integral part of pan-European mentalité, including among traveling company of actors – whose successors enact a play-within-a-play in Hamlet to “catch the conscience of the king”.

Sakurai Daizo and his troupe of tent actors, Yasen no tsuki high-beats (literally, “Moon over the Field of Battle High/Sea-Beats”), are now playing the role of the players to our Hamlet. In September 2011 they encamped in Fukushima to perform Pan-Yaponia Folktale: Story of Fukubikuni, written by Sakurai and based on the legend of eight-hundred-year-old Buddhist nun who earned her immortality by consuming the flesh of a mermaid, whose murder at the hands of a fisherman eventuated in earthquake and other natural disasters — the nun spent her days serving the poor and finally retired into a cave as a hermit. “There, a throng of memories that start to ring little by little and eventually resonate with each other, and the corresponding words squeezed out like droplets of fat form a folktale with no head or limbs, like a torso. ‘Pan-Yaponia’ is the writhing earth that embraces the horizon. Temporarily resting their hands of restoring the passageway, our tent play wires one folktale to another folktale that recreates/creates this earth, pulls them to each other, and stands still on the road tonight”. The parallel with the contemporary situation in Fukushima is unmistakable: as we ourselves take our last supper with the meat of a monstrous mermaid in the form of radioactive food, our “immortal genes” undergo mutation that is indistinguishable from a curse that shortens the lives and afflicts the health of their physical shells, yielding us the choice of enduring a violent vow of poverty that demands not so much a utopia as a merciful death to thanatocratic capital, with its Trinitarian manifestations in the nuclear plant, prison, and bureaucratic state. Or at least so I imagine, for I have not seen the play.

But, if my half-asleep, drunken memory serves me well, I do remember Sakurai’s poised hand as he held forth in his inimitably hoarse, crackling voice – like a twinkle-in-the-eye grand-guinol personification of Death, the antithesis of the hypnotically austere Bergmaneseque variant in The Seventh Seal – about the power of theatrical gesture, its ability to compress popular energies in the tension of a muscle or a fiercely focused look. At the time – one hot July night at his house, surrounded by his fellow players, family, friends – I thought of the Brechtian gestus, which is probably impossible to consummate in the conventionally produced theater and finds as worthy practitioner as any in this sturdy band of revolutionary tent theater company.

Folklores are a kind of gestus too, having accrued layer after layer of popular historical memory over generations through oral transmission and ritual reenactments. Literal-minded scholars chafe at this, repeating the difficulty of reconstructing a singular ur-text (yes, such as that of ur-Hamlet). They assume the myth of an unblemished origin and treat later accretions or variations as so much mongrel degradations to be eliminated – but what is truly interesting are these very accretions, these mongrel “distortions” that indicate traces of historical breakages and emendations, the collectively creative process at work. Each layer is a hidden sign of the living, a gesture pregnant with social pressures and energies which it is our task to interpret no less creatively, even against their grain.

In the Japanese, or rather pan-Asian, variant of the mermaid legend, the sublime monstrosity of the mermaid derives its terror from the limitless sea, whose amorally unpredictable ferocity and boundless commonage relativized the seasonally fixed, geographically bounded commons of the peasants. To borrow Orikuchi Shinobu’s keywords, this mermaid is a marebito (“stranger”) who has arrived from tokoyo (“the otherworld of immortal life”) of the sea that makes possible traditional communal customs, and, instead of entertaining the mermaid, making him/her into a piece of meat that is the object of prohibition indicates that something unusual has happened in the communal custom itself. For instance, the fifteenth century, when the legend of eight-hundred-year-old nun started to be spread, was a period when Japanese Sea trade in the land of Wakasa was initiated in the port of Shirahama under the samurai regime of Wakasa Takeda-uji, and, in the north, a murder of an Ainu boy at the hands of a Japanese blacksmith instigated an indigenous rebellion called the Battle of Koshamain, which was suppressed by the Wakasa feudal lord Takeda Nobutaka’s son Nobuhiro who shot to death with an arrow the Ainu military commander Koshamain and his son. From its origin in Marxist stadialism, Amino Yoshihiko’s medieval social history took a Copernican turn with the analysis involving the manor Tara-sho in Wakasa, and it was in the 1440-60s when Nobutaka’s vassal Yamagatashi gained the power of collecting half the tribute in Tara-sho, seizing its ruling authority from the former landlord Toji (the head Buddhist temple of the Toji-shingon sect). In the historical background of this decline of Toji hegemony was the rebellion of kokujin (a layer of samurai class in charge of overseeing manorial land and peasants), which engulfed the entire land of Wakasa ten years before the 1381 English peasant rebellion. In short, the mermaid legend narrates allegorically the anxiety that these hybrid social struggles generated upon the medieval commons.

In the variation of the eight-hundred-year-old nun transmitted in the northern Aizu region of Fukushima prefecture (currently the town of Shiokawa in Kitakata City), the historical setting is the reign of Emperor Monmu (from late seventh to early eighth century). Here koshinko, the communal custom of worshipping the gods and Buddha while drinking all night — a folk religious practice that mixes Chinese Taoism and Buddhism in a shamanistic fashion — becomes a passageway into the Dragon’s Palace (tokoyo). And a man who was exiled in Aizu participates in koshinko, crosses over to the Dragon’s Palace, and, when his daughter eats a nine-holed shell (gigantic abalone) that he brought back untouched from the reception given on his behalf at the Palace, she turns into an eight-hundred-year-old nun. If we posit the abalone, used as a talisman and in folk medicine, as an original form of mermaid flesh transubstantiated by robust popular imagination, we can see that food from the sea was recognized as an entity with its own spiritual persona and that it was such “night gathering” as koshinko that preserved this collective recognition. If this were the case, it would be wholly logical to consider the elements of marebito to naturally attach themselves to female and male divers who participated in the semi-sacred labor of collecting and capturing food from the sea.

Miyaya Kazuhiko’s manga Mermaid Legend allegorically incorporated this wholly logical circuit of traditional thought into the nuclear age. Miyaya was close to a zenkyoto activist who debated Mishima Yukio during the student occupation of Tokyo University and continues to illustrate his unique vision of ecological class struggle without compromising with the calculation of commercial capital. From the film version of Mermaid Legend, Matsumoto Mari’s “Female Diver ‘Short of Being’ a Pirate and Pirates” (Gendai shiso special issue on pirates, July 2011) imaginatively extracts the “mermaid = female diver” who wrecks vengeance from the commons, superimposing her onto the women, primarily houseworkers, who “measure radiation with a Geiger counter in one hand”. “Just as it was for medieval witches, they will be persecuted until nuclear power’s myth of safety is extirpated”. Exactly. When the commons is threatened by capital or the terror that is immanent in its social relations, the female divers/mermaids/witches are “persecuted” and expelled from the community. This “persecution/expulsion” is none other than primary accumulation, enclosure that knows no end. When they are murdered and their flesh starts to be eaten as a commodity-form, the world will become disenchanted, our commonist Cinderella — who has returned not from the banquet with Prince Charming but from the Dragon’s Palace at the bottom of the sea where insurrectionary prophecy is whispered — will once gain be exploited as a factory girl in the shabby social factory.

This is the same with Hamlet’s ghost/mole. In various parts of Japan there is an customary event called “strike the mole”. “On the day of the rabbit in October the event of gencho [otherwise known as a “celebration of the day of the boar”, a harvest festival — MY] takes place. Threatening moles is a later invention, banishing of spirits that hide underground. In early spring, first strike the ground with a cane and, in April when events of the rice field are about to take place, this custom is repeated” (Orikuchi Shinobu, “Story of Flower”). Most likely “later invention” here signifies a stage of division within the formation of the agricultural community in which non-agricultural labor was expelled and defined as a specter haunting the commons. Such a division may have been the invention of a newly emerging ruling class or a sign of internal social tensions cracking the relations of communal production – we don’t know. We do know the ironic legacy of rupture among the moles – for the “mole-hunters” would later be hunted too in turn by the “spears and arrows of outrageous” mercantile and industrial accumulation. When Yanagita Kunio wrote famously that those present-day “mole-hunters”, or “people of the plain” – peasants in one conjuncture, industrial workers in another – to fear the terror of the commons of the mountain, he meant that the mountain was the underground made visible, preceding all modes of production, the primordial commons (ur-commons) burrowed deep beneath the earth in so many layers of historical stages and, given a certain set of circumstances and converging agency, this “ur-commons” was ready to smash these stages in no particular order, to come to the surface of the earth to breathe afresh and bask in the sunshine.

As the moles multiply and cross paths, rhizome-like, underneath the earth, the tectonic plate of political geography will undoubtedly shift. But, as is clear at Occupy Wall St. (which I visited in late October), and as I’m sure it’s the case everywhere else where new movements are emerging, tensions among the moles and their pathways are generating painful but necessary equilibrium of forces and ideas that are attempting to open up a new, wider stage of the struggle.

Hanada Kiyoteru, who like Benjamin sought the possibility of hyper-modern revolutionary art, suggested that the “pre-modern” — he had in mind for example Yanagita Kunio’s folkloric investigation of the Japanese commons and its legends — could serve as a necessary axis of such future avant-garde art. We need to amplify Hanada’s point about revolutionary aesthetics into the field of politics and everyday life, whose inseparability the SI insisted on. In retrospect, we might be tempted to shake our finger at Hanada for his overreliance on rhetoric as a device for cultural prophecy or the SI for its Eurocentric, urbanistic model of revolutionary success. But to do so without appreciating their greater legacy, the lessons they offer for our no less imperfect present, is to fall into the nay-saying habit that obtrudes impatiently, almost reflexively, on the sideline of the emergent global anti-capitalist, anti-nuclear, and anti-statist movements from below. Even the melancholy, ever-self-doubting Hamlet did not take the ghost to task for being insufficiently angelic, sincere, or revolutionary in his demands. He was genuinely astonished by the vision and, along with his friends, swore to fulfill the charge of vengeance it called forth. We should do likewise.

Needless to say, the first act of this revolutionary drama is not yet over. As with the new angel of history, no one can foresee the rapid-fire change of scenes ahead. Like Hamlet and his loyal friends, let us — we happy, we happy many, we band of brothers and sisters — continue to act and speak in the spirit of that refrain from the nineteenth-century French ballad “The Bloody Week”:

Yes, but!

That will soon be at an end,

The bad days will end.

And look out for our revenge

When all the poor go to it.


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フローレンス + ザ・ マシーン、「盛夏は終わった」





「よく言ったぞ、老いたるモグラよ! そんなに素早く地下で働けるのか? 立派な開拓者よ!」



シェイクスピアの時代には「モグラ穴から山を作る」(瑣細なことを誇張する)というフレーズは既に確立されていた。シェイクスピア自身も同義である慣用表現を自分の戯曲の一つ、『ハムレット』執筆中に出版したMuch Ado About Nothing(『空騒ぎ』)に用い、nothingと「ヴァギナ」(O-thing)という二重の意味を持つこの劇を以てエリザベス朝の性戦争を舞台上にもたらした。『空騒ぎ』は男女の争いの間に一時的停戦であれ平穏な和解を想像する、一方腐敗した国家機構における弑逆の争いで『ハムレット』が提示する展望は余りにも現実的に厳しいものである(ヴェルヴェット・アンダーグラウンドが歌ったように「そして全ての死体が塚に積み重ねられた...」)。エリザベス朝の最も広範囲なイギリス軍事遠征であった9年戦争は、ゲール族のアイルランド氏族システムとその共同社会的文化を相手にして行われ、キンセールの包囲、そしてアルスターを新しいイギリス人農園主の支配下に植民地化した「アルスターの農園」の開始とともに終息を迎えつつあった。国会爆破という荒々しく伝播しやすい幻想を生み出し、イギリス国内の謀反人をアイルランド人族長やスペイン帝国と繋げる反国家的でありながら君主制イデオロギーでもあった、欠損のある普遍的な概念としてのカトリック教を根拠におく、火薬陰謀事件が起こる寸前である。火薬陰謀事件の顔となるガイ・フォークスはロンドン塔で拷問にかけられ、彼の共謀者の首が吊られ内臓抉りと四つ裂きの刑に処された直後、絞首台から飛び降りて首を折り、惨たらしい死の運命から免れた。アラン・ムーアのラジカル聖人伝的反核劇画の寓話を通して大勢のウォール街占拠者はガイ・フォークスの仮面を被っている。 











この至極合理的な伝統的思考の回路を原発時代の寓話に導入したのが宮谷一彦のマンガ『人魚伝説』だ。東大占拠で三島由紀夫と論戦した全共闘の活動家と親しい宮谷は、商業資本の思惑には迎合せず独特な生態的階級闘争のビジョンを劇画化し続けている。松本麻里「海賊「未満」海女と海賊」(『現代思想 特集:海賊』20117月)はコモンズからの復讐を行使する「人魚=海女」を実写版『人魚伝説』から想像力豊かに読み取り、311以後「ガイガーカウンターを片手に放射能を計測する」主に家事労働者である女性たちの姿と重ね合わせた。「彼女たちは、中世の魔女がそうであったように、この原子力の安全神話の息の根が絶えるまで迫害されつづけるだろう。」そうなのだ。コモンズが資本もしくはそこに内在する社会関係のテロルに晒される時、海女/人魚/魔女は「迫害され」共同体から追放される。この「迫害・追放」は終わることを知らない本源的蓄積、エンクロジャーそのものである。彼女たちが殺され一商品形態としてその屍肉が食われ始めるとき世界から魔術は解かれ、私たちの革命的コモニスト・シンデレラは王子様との宴からではなく蜂起の予言が囁かれる海底の竜宮から帰って来て、みすぼらしい社会工場の女工として再びこき使われる。










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