A Molotov Cocktail of One's Own

July 2014
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In the months since EuroMaidan began, Ukrainian reality has become so “alive” – that is, changeable in sudden and unpredictable ways that do not fit neatly into comfortable analytical frameworks. It is difficult even to define the subject and object of analysis, or to select a methodology. If over the past few months you have not had a chance to read intellectual books, you have likely been busy painting posters and spraying graffiti, organizing duty shifts in hospitals, mopping floors in occupied administration buildings, sleeping on trains, and talking to hundreds of people from regional and social groups across Ukraine.

This type of contact has sharpened my professional skills as a philosopher. It has drawn me beyond my own framework of signification, and plunged me into others as I attempt to understand them and trace their contours. In addition to observation, conversation has been my new university –  a winter school in methods and techniques; a training course for switching thought registers at the drop of a hat. For many of us, Maidan has prompted a radical move beyond our comfort zone and our usual circle of contacts. And for many leftists, feminists, and liberals, it has posed a significant psychological problem: it is difficult to stand on a barricade alongside people with whom you share a common enemy, but neither social awareness nor a similar view of the future. After accepting that my fellow citizens do not necessarily understand the significance or meaning of words like “boycott” and “solidarity”, my experience as an activist in Kamyanets-Podilsky kicked in. It was time to stop waiting for people to understand abstract categories.

To rise to this challenge, I tried to remove my ideological blinkers. No, I didn't stop being a queer-feminist or a socialist. But I did stop perceiving and judging reality in line with my own position.1 An exercise in mental estrangement, this helped me avoid defining and categorizing homogenous groups (on which I was apparently an expert) like “people on the right”, “patriarchal men”, “Easterners”. This departure from my usual ways of understanding reality, so often based on theories from a different time and place, helped me perceive the differences between other people's outlooks and my own, and allowed me to find areas of agreement that could be potential grounds for co-operation. On the whole, this has led to a fuller understanding of other worldviews, or “maps of reality” based on personal experience.

I must admit, it has been an exciting journey. But to describe what I took from it, it is necessary to go beyond the limits of usual discourse, and to stop speaking in terms of left and right. Such conversations are timely and necessary, but beneath them there exists another level – deeper and more primitive, unconscious and partially psychoanalytical, and in which the very archetype of “power” (vlada) is fixed. The last three months have caused something of an earthquake in the way we think. Our concept of power has melted down and mutated, fusing with changes in the balance of power on the ground. It is these changes, their preconditions and possible outcomes, that I want to analyze here. Perhaps some of my theses will seem like pop-sociology or psychology, but stating the obvious can never hurt.

Michel Foucault analyzed in-depth how power expands with the development of capitalist means of production. Power shifts from direct force (murder, violence, incarceration) to imperceptible and flexible...

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Originally Published in This Issue of Krytyka