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HindustanTimes Sat,23 Aug 2014

Talk about a revolution

Pothik Ghosh   October 22, 2011
First Published: 00:38 IST(22/10/2011) | Last Updated: 00:42 IST(22/10/2011)

An Attempt to Assassinate My Inner Bourgeois
Yann Kerninon
Full circle
Rs 295 PP 214

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If you wish to feel fashionably radical - that is, exude the aura of a misunderstood, untimely and hunted revolutionary only to be in absolute sync with our market-savvy times - Yann Kerninon's An Attempt to Assassinate My Inner Bourgeois is the book you should grab. And flaunt.

It is in step with our late capitalist times precisely in being an attempt to successfully hawk the ware of anachronistic radicalism. Its sassy, genre-busting style of inter-weaving philosophical and aesthetic high-mindedness with banal home-truths - not to speak of its clever tone, kitschy production values and crispy, ready-to-eat self-help manual-like positioning - serve to amply demonstrate that.

Be that as it may, few can quibble with the writer's point of departure that the preponderant paradigm of working-class revolutionary politics as we know it today, together with other avant-garde projects of radical transgression in art and theory, failed to break the systemically constituted bourgeois-anti-bourgeois contradiction and remained caught within it. That only strengthened the bourgeois system. The fact that all these projects failed on that count was because they emphasised the unraveling, or transgression, of the world out there while ignoring the need to simultaneously move towards changing the self.

Ironically, this book itself gets caught in precisely the same blind alley it charges the sundry 20th century projects of revolutionary transformation, artistic transgression and theoretical critique, especially Marxist politics, of having strayed into. But this problem can be overcome, contrary to what Kerninon suggests, not by abandoning the Marxism-inspired 'praxis of proletarian revolution', but by embracing it. For, it is Marx who, through his critique of political economy, understood more clearly than any other radical artist or philosopher that revolutionary transformation is a perpetually unfolding dialectical process of the self changing itself while changing the world.

The premise of the book indicates the self-proclaimed polymath's spiritual affinity for a strain of 'radical left' anti-Marxism that has been with us since the libertarian sigh of revolutionary internationalism in the French Spring of 1968. Kerninon's avowal of Dada by turning it against the project of revolutionary transformation of the system and presenting it as its radical alternative to beat 'bourgeoism' serves to misconstrue Dada's history of being a critical fellow-traveller of the international proletarian revolution.

The "jumping exercises" that comprise much of the book are meant to exemplify action required to break out of the bourgeois-anti-bourgeois duality into "non-bourgeoism". But in reality they are exercises in expressionistic analysis to merely transform the self by subtracting it from the alienated and alienating world.

What that yields is, at best, a brand of peaceable, communitarian lifestyle politics. Precisely the thing the book affirms when it celebrates the politics of becoming 'non-bourgeois' through "swing", or by "First and Foremost… Cultivat(ing) Our Own Garden". That such Kerninonian politics of anti-philosophical, aesthetic mysticism, which chimes with the zeitgeist of commodified New Age spirituality, should be the massified form of ethics of selfhood with its roots in Nietzsche and Heidegger, is no cause for surprise. That is the logical culmination of such ethics, with exclusive focus on fashioning of the self, when it is elevated into a modality of politics.

So it's no accident that Kerninon has raised permanent scandal to the status of permanent revolution.

Pothik Ghosh is the author of Insurgent Metaphors

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