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Common Dreams and Desire Machines
By Mike Hembury
Dreams are not what they used to be.
Is anyone saying ‘I have a dream’ these days?
Sure, I’m thinking of Martin Luther King here.
The idea of someone getting up in a country both involved in a vicious war overseas and tolerating terrible discrimination and inequality at home, and articulating the kind of aspirational vision that echoes down the generations, kind of takes my breath away.
I can’t really think of too many people doing that right now.
The only people articulating their dreams in a way that fires up the imagination of broad sections of the population, tend these days to be right-wing demagogues, like Trump. Theirs is the kind of firebrand rhetoric that is perceived as non-threatening to the corporate elites. Their messages of hate and supremacy are good media fodder, their airplay is guaranteed.
Their dreams are dreams of power, sung to the resentful. Lickspittle, knee-jerk dreams, full of violence and war. Their carrion cry is echoed and magnified by succubus media, and threatens to all but drown out those other dreams.
Those other dreams.
Those nocturnal uncontrolled upsurges of elemental longing. The shaking off of the shackles of the everyday rationality of business-as-usual, the unfettered exploration of the possible and the impossible. Those uncensored manifestations of desire.
Night is a good time for dreams, as it is for desire.
But all too often we forget our dreams. We wake, and they evaporate, just drain and sift through fingers unable to hold them.
We need help to hold onto those dreams. We need each other.
And we need a more waking dream. A dream that emerges from the creative space between sleep and wakefulness, the space the French call ‘dorveille’.
There has been a mass dorveille phenomenon going on in France recently, and they are calling it ‘Nuit Debout’ (Night on our Feet).
Nuit Debout is basically a nighttime occupation of city squares, along the lines of the Occupy movement. Nuit Debout started on March 31st at the Place de la République in Paris and has snowballed across the country and beyond ever since.
The interesting thing about the movement, and the reason that it counts as one of those little sparks of hope that illuminate the darkness of this suicidal turbo-capitalist era, is its transversality, the way in which it seeks to find common ground between separate forms of resistance. Although it started out as a reaction to France’s new labour laws, it has quickly morphed far beyond that.
It has become a space where people can defy even the logic of permissible defiance that is imposed upon us.
The logic that says ‘Sure, go demonstrate. But go home afterwards. Clear the streets’.
Nuit Debout was established during a state of emergency, a total ban on mass demonstrations imposed by the French government in the wake of the November 2015 Paris attacks.
It has become a space to think. A space to be alone together. A space to be creative, and to creatively articulate the desires and dreams of the individual, the individual in the group, the individual group in the collective group, the collective of collective groups.
Notice how these kinds of occupations of public squares have figured prominently in the revolts of recent times? Like Tiananmen Square in Beijing, Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution, Tahrir Square in Cairo, Gezi Park in Istanbul, the Idignados in Spain. And of course: the Occupy Movement.
All of these places turn into open laboratories for the generation of collective consciousness and common dreams.
They become desire machines, desiring machines. A way for us to reclaim our collectivity that is unattached to any political bureaucracy.
They don’t stink of the co-option that happens every 4 or 5 years when some professional hack comes by and says ‘Be part of the movement’, when you know that it’s going to be ‘Go home bud’ after the election is over.
Nuit Debout is one of these crazy collective laboratories, with the heady smell of pheromone and adrenaline-fuelled discussion. Nuit Debout is a situation, a happening. It is searching for the beach beneath the street, the crack in the wall, the chink in the armour, the keystone that will bring the whole edifice down once you remove it.
It’s a search for a way forwards beyond the confines of the parliamentary machine.
Sure we’re living our years of lead here, under the crushing weight of real existing capitalism. The powerful want our dreams reduced to consumables. Dream of a holiday, a new car, a new anything, so long as it’s something you can buy.
Just don’t dream of social justice, an end to oppression, a liveable planet for future generations, an end to war.
They think that our dreams, those other dreams, have expired, suffocated under an overlay of game shows and reality TV and cop series.
They think they’ve got our dreams covered.
But I’ll tell you something.
Our dreams are alive and kicking back strong.
And every time something like Nuit Debout happens you can feel it like a shock to the system.
Society is polarizing—just look at the US elections—governments are becoming more authoritarian, intolerance and fascism are on the rise and being encouraged.
Sparks like Nuit Debout tell us that people are coming together to say enough is enough.
It’s not that our dreams are dead.
It’s not that we haven’t got any dreams any more.
Man, under all this shit, under all these cancerous layers of property, we have so many dreams.
We haven’t even started dreaming yet.