Introduction: Kairopolitics: The Politics of Realtime
Abstract: The Introduction asserts that realtime is the temporality of today’s digital capitalism and that as such, the status of the ancient Greek concept of kairos, which has served as a central basis for revolutionary thought from Walter Benjamin through Antonio Negri, is increasingly thrown into question. It explains the etymology of Cairo in Arabic and kairos in Greek, suggesting how between the two, one might arrive at a specifically post-Arab Spring and post-Occupy concept of “kairopolitics”. The argument does not call for a simple reversal or return to a transcendental kronos over an immanent kairos (valorizing chronology over moments of opportunity), but rather of infusing kairos with a more radical approach to both memory and imagination, past and future, than that cultivated by today’s digital capitalism.
Keywords: Occupy, Virilio, Marx, Arendt, Deleuze, Benjamin, Negri, kairos, kronos
Adams, Jason M. Occupy Time: Technoculture, Immediacy, and Resistance after Occupy Wall Street. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. DOI: 10.1057/9781137275592.
How do you expect me to make a living?
Mohamed Bouazizi, prior to televised self-immolation and ensuing spread of the Arab Spring uprisings (2010)1
What are we to say, at the end of the twentieth century, in the age of globalization . . . with the decline of the nation-state and the discrete revival in new forms of politics by the media . . . the multi-media of that “real time” of interchanges which performs the relativistic feat of compressing the “real space” of the globe through the temporal compression of information and images of the world? Henceforth, here no longer exists; everything is now.
Paul Virilio, The Information Bomb (1998)
Although it was largely forgotten in the wake of 9/11, after Occupy Wall Street it is worthwhile to recall that the 21st century began with the first planetary uprising in history, one that in many respects was similar to the occupation movement of the 2010s.2
The antiglobalization movement, or as it was often called outside of the US, the altermondialisation
movement, sought to propose alternatives to the neoliberal agenda promoted by global capitalist institutions such as the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund/World Bank.
The summit meetings and attendant protests of the time took place in over a dozen cities worldwide, including Seattle, Davos, Melbourne, Prague, Montreal, Quebec City, Barcelona and Genoa, drawing summit-hoppers and solidarity actions from around the world. But the reason it is worth recalling today has little to do with lists of spatially defined event locations, as most retrospectives tend to feature.3
Rather, what conjoins the altermondialisation
movement to the occupation movement is the element of time. Specifically, that is, the temporality of immediacy, also described as realtime. Not the abstract metaphysics of temporality, but the materially situated experience of time after the Internet and the World Wide Web provided the “presentist,” or better, “immediatist” basis for 21st-century political economy and technoculture.4
As the altermondialisation
and occupation movements demonstrate, the circumvention of the space-time physiology and nation-state geography of the print capitalist era has not been conflict-free. Indeed, while digital capitalism has employed the live, networked communications
technologies of the period to optimize its own tacticality and flexibility, so too did these two unprecedented “movements of movements.”5
It is this conflict between the temporalities imposed by print and digital capitalism on one hand and those deployed by anticapitalist forces on the other that form the central concern of this book.6
It is, in short, a “kairopolitics,” a politics centered, with some qualifications, upon kairos
, the emergent tempo- and technoculture of now-time.7
While the concepts of speed and acceleration could be employed to similar effect, the specificity of time today is neither of these, in any general sense. Rather it is marked by the reconstitution of experience in accordance with the speed limit. Or, at a bare minimum, the search for the speed limit, for the immediacy of realtime.
With realtime comes not only immediacy, but along with it, simultaneity and ubiquity: thus, much as the altermondialisation movement followed the path set by the Zapatista uprising, today’s kairopolitics follows that set by the Arab Spring, in particular, the January 2011 overthrow of dictator Hosni Mubarak in Cairo. There is, of course, a spatial component at play in both cases, but today, this spatiality that has been forever altered by the new experience of time as immediacy.
Thus, while the etymology of “Cairo,” in Arabic, comes from khere-ohe
, or “place of combat,” it bears comparison to that of kairos
in Greek, which, in one of its meanings, refers to “opportune moment.”8
Both refer to a space-time—or, as David Harvey famously put it, a time-space—in which past and future are confronted with a present pregnant with the reconstitution of temporality as such, as well as the spatial distinction of “here” and “there.”9
As has been widely noted, the Egyptian uprising did precisely this: it affectively charged not only the year 2011, but also, as a result of the countertemporality it introduced, “the world” as such. As in the rest of the Maghreb, “The Battle of Cairo”10
provided the occupation movement with the tactics and the inspiration that transformed the year into an opportune moment and turned “Wall Street” into a place of combat.
1.1 Materiality and time: before altermondialisation and occupation
It is no surprise then, given the resonance now-time is capable of producing, that for nearly a century theorists such as Walter Benjamin, Guy
Debord, Antonio Negri and Giorgio Agamben have presented kairos
(or some near-variant) as the now-time of resistance, that which resists the domination of the present by the kronos
of past and future.11
Yet, this immediatism, insofar as it does not distinguish between versions of kairos
, can just as easily serve the forces of control, particularly today.
Since immediacy collapses distance, all spaces become the many threads of a single, omnitemporal space: as a result, it is not only new modes of thought and resistance that are enabled by the emergent qualities of simultaneity and ubiquity, but so too are new modes of control. Immediacy, or now-time triumphant, makes it that much easier for state forces to place resistant forces under surveillance and for capitalist forces to extract surplus time: for both, in Foucault’s terms, to “governmentalize.”12
Kairopolitics then is not constituted by a simple embrace of kairos, but by the internal tensions between a transcendentally imposed kronos that could be interrupted immanently, as well as a kairos that might constitute a transcendental kronos, a chronology without past or future. It is no longer enough to call for a revolution of now-time because now-time is the time of control.
It will be useful then to bring this presentism or immediatism into context: historically, both kairos and kronos have been used to refer to a preexisting, transcendental order of time as organized from above. Thus, etymologically, kairos refers to an “opportune moment,” but opportune is defined here in the sense of “appropriate,” “correct” or “right”—as deemed so by the existing structure of power and authority.
Even today, Christian institutions utilize the language of kairos
as a reference not to an opportune moment available to anyone, at any position in society, to do whatever they might like, but specifically to the “right” moment for the “right” event to occur, according to the “right” order. Thus, kairos
is generally invoked to refer to the transcendentally appropriate moment in life to, for instance, move from singlehood to marriage, or in the case of kronos
, to the appropriate chronology, from a wayward youth to a mature adulthood.13
Even prior to Christianity, however, this was already the case: Plato’s Laws, for instance, define kairos in relation to a heterosexist virtue of self-restraint that, in accordance with the dominant view in his time and place, counseled minimal engagement in homosexual activity, restraining it to a culturally permitted addendum to a more central, primary heterosexuality. To engage in the wrong sexuality at the wrong time and in the wrong amount was to go against virtue itself.
Thus, according to Plato:
Thus, while kronos has often been presented as the opposite of kairos, as a static, quantitative order of time interrupted by the revolutionary qualitativity of kairos, the latter temporality is no more than a moment organized from above by what it diverges from, kronos. Kairopolitics, as used here, does neither of these things: it diverges from the imperatives of already-spatialized, strategic power and interrupts time immanently and in a manner far closer to Plato’s dreaded ektos ton kairon, the “wrong moment.”
The kairopolitical task is not the affirmation of the transcendental time of kairos
but the deployment of kairon
, a shortened, rhetorical reference to what, from the perspective of power and authority, is understood as the wrong moment and the wrong chronology. Amidst the imperatives of transcendental immediatism then, or that imposed by what we call here “constant capitalism,” the kairopolitical task is the production of an alternate, immanent immediatism, one closer to the sense of that which emerged amongst abolitionists in the 19th century than that proposed by lifestylists in the 21st century.15
This, essentially, is the argument of the French technocultural theorist Paul Virilio in The Futurism of the Instant: Stop-Eject. “Progress,” he says, is no longer simply defined by the “speed” of the railway or the “acceleration” of the supersonic jet, but by the accomplishment or near-accomplishment of what both sought: the immediacy, simultaneity and ubiquity of communication.
For Virilio, the temporal quality of this development appropriates the acclaimed potential of kairos
, subjecting it to a “deterrence of the future as well as the past.”16
What this means in the 2010s is that the politically laden functions of memory and imagination are subordinated to the immediacy of the now, a process that collapses formerly distinct vantage points into a single, immediatist point of view technologically, just as presentism once homogenized histories rhetorically:
The divergent threads that constitute t...