Report on "The Coming Insurrection" book launch at NYC Barnes and Nobles, Sephora, Starbucks

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During the last week this mysterious message made its way across the internet:

SEMIOTEXT(E) Book Launch: The Coming Insurrection by the Invisible Committee

“Two centuries of capitalism and market nihilism have brought us to the most extreme alienations—from ourselves, from others, from worlds. The fiction of the individual has decomposed with the same speed that it once became real. Children of the metropolis, we offer this wager: that it’s in the most profound deprivation of existence—perpetually stifled, perpetually conjured away—that the possibility of communism resides.”

—The Coming Insurrection, Introduction to the English edition

THE COMING INSURRECTION has been labeled a “manual for terrorism” by the French government, who recently arrested its alleged authors. Philosopher Giorgio Agamben has called the book “one of the most intelligent works of our time” and numerous commentators have seen it as a heir to the legacy of situationist Guy Debord. Meanwhile, bootleg translations have circulated around the world and passages from the book appeared on the walls of Athens during last December’s uprising.

Anonymously written in the wake of the riots that erupted throughout the Paris suburbs in the fall of 2005, THE COMING INSURRECTION articulates a rejection of the official Left and its reformist agenda, aligning itself instead with the growing number of those—in France, in the United States, and elsewhere—who refuse the idea that theory, politics, and life are separate realms.

Please join us for the official book launch, including discussion of the text as well as content-appropriate activities, on Sunday, June 14 at 5pm on the fourth floor of Union Square Barnes and Noble.

I arrived at the fourth floor of Barnes and Nobles right on time. The auditorium-style meeting area was already mostly filled with those in-the-know along with a few dozen confused onlookers who sensed something was up, many of them Barnes and Nobles employees. As if scripted, a manager appeared on the scene promptly at 5, saying “Listen, I don’t know why you’re all here, but there’s no event here today. There’s the Joe Scarborough reading here tomorrow, so you’re welcome to come back then…” He was cut off by an unidentified individual taking the stage with the energy and confidence of a motivational speaker, saying “We’re sorry the Invisible Committee couldn’t make it today, but is everyone still interested in a reading and discussion of The Coming Insurrection?” The crowd emphatically clapped and cheered and the man continued to read the first chapter of the book, “I AM WHAT I AM” a discussion of the marketing of identity via corporate advertising. Soon a large security guard made his way to the stage and grabbed the the man mid-sentence. Emphatic boos from the crowd and physical intervention from a few concerned on-lookers forced the guard away and the reading continued for ten solid minutes, eventually degenerating into a profanity-filled rant about the misery of work and the banal New York art scene. Uniformed NYPD (apparently on Barnes and Noble’s payroll?) eventually put an end to the disruption, threatening the speaker with arrest. After short deliberation, it was announced the reading would move to Union Square park. As the 50-strong crowd filtered out in a surprisingly calm manner, several attendees fell back and used the diversion to fill their bags with whatever books they pleased.

Instead of proceeding directly to the park, the crowd moved next door to high-brand make-up outlet Sephora, where they were able to use their bodies to keep security away while the book was passed around for anyone to read aloud, others helping themselves to free samples of bronzer and eyeliner. After a few minutes the employees’ pleas for the mob to leave were honored as we took to the streets again, this time walking towards the nearest Starbucks–already on the alert for rowdy interventionist protests due to its long-running suppression of IWW union activity there. Cops arrived almost immediately; one person received a summons for disorderly conduct for reading atop a table. The group, which had dwindled after the appearance of about a dozen police, resigned themselves to reading, talking, and taunting the police from the park as they had previously decided.

The Coming Insurrection is the first official U.S. publication of the Invisible Committee’s collection of propaganda centered around the reclamation of “communism” as a tactic for global insurrection. The text gained international attention following the arrest of the Tarnac 9, accused of taking part in the strike-related sabotage of railways in France. The Coming Insurrection was used as evidence that this group, allegedly involved in its publication, espoused terrorist tactics. The book was labeled a “manual for terrorism.”

There is much discussion of tactics in The Coming Insurrection, but nothing so incendiary as how to brew a molly. Instead, the book urges the formation of hundreds of communes based on the principle of friendship (“All affinity is affinity within a common truth”), forming in “every factory, every street, every village, every school” and the “multiplication” of these communes. Quick to point out its base differences from the organized left, the Invisible Committee has revived the slogan of the Russian Revolution: “All Power to the Communes,” which was briefly chanted in Sephora.

The text’s reappropriation of communism culminates in a total break from Marxism, even finding itself tracking contemporary anti-civilization arguments, attacking ecological concerns as following the logic of capitalism: “They hired our parents to destroy the world, and now they’d like to put us to work rebuilding it—to add insult to injury—at a profit.” The chapter triumphantly concludes: “As long as there is Man and Environment the police will be there between them.”

The entirety of The Coming Insurrection has been conveniently posted in blog form. The PDF format of an early translation can be viewed here and downloaded here.

It should be noted that the newer translation is far more eloquent and the Semiotext(e) edition itself is academic-looking, quite attractive, and will fit right in your pocket. You can buy it for $12.95 from MIT press’ website.

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16 thoughts on “Report on "The Coming Insurrection" book launch at NYC Barnes and Nobles, Sephora, Starbucks

  1. Lemme see if I understand this correctly: this event was “the official book launch” of a new title by Semiotexte; this title will surely be available for sale at Barnes & Noble (and Amazon and Borders et al); these fine fellows — employees of Semiotexte? employees of its distributor, The MIT Press? the folks fresh from “occupying” the New School and/or New York University? not sure, but they had the good marketing sense to tip off the New York Times reporter assigned to the art/left/street ghetto and that guy who happened to have a nice video camera on hand — declaimed in public that they are opposed to commodities, marketing, and spectacle.

    Am I missing something? Too concerned with real political problems to be amused by prankster irony?

  2. Wow, your admission that attendees used the publication of this book and the hoopla it caused as literally a distraction so they could steal things they probably could have afforded is incredibly telling.

    I might be inclined to side with this anticapitalist movement if the adherents weren’t such immature, disingenuous pricks. Do you really believe any of this stuff, or does it just feel exciting and rebellious to engage in meaningless countercultural activities–especially if you can pocket that book or eyeliner you could afford anyway? Or am I (too) missing something?

    I will admit that I haven’t read “The Coming Insurrection,” though I plan to, and that perhaps what I’m reacting to here is just the misinterpretation of a revolutionary text by a bunch of fucking anarchists.

  3. JS– The “official launch” of this book was indeed a prank. Barnes and Nobles or any of these stores were not aware the events were to occur, however the whole event was indeed a marketing spectacle for The Coming Insurrection and its message. The use of commidities and spectacle against the forces that give these forms authority may seem ironic but some would argue the creation of value released from their inversion makes life worth living.

    Ricardo– Make no mistake that the reappropriation of the commidities embodied by the act of shoplifting is very much in line with the sentiments of the Coming Insurrection although it is by no means an optimum representation of how far its readers should go to disrespect the commodity form.
    Not sure where you got the idea that everyone can afford what they steal, not that it matters.
    But please, read the book and point out to me the misinterpretation you predict.

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  8. French intellectual drivel never takes in the US. Just ask Bernard Henri Levi and Andre Glucksmann. If the leaders of the coming insurrection are as inarticulate and unintelligible as the writers of The Coming Insurrection, the coming insurrection is going to be an amateurish, unfathomable, and bumbling mess. Where are the competent revolutionaries when you really need them?

  9. Please don’t say that Bernard Henri Levi and Andre Glusksmann are intellectuals ! And don’t think they represents french intellectuals . We have good one here who are unknown : Michéa (who bring us christopher lasch), Philippe Murray …
    By the way your country will never have a competent revolutionar man, i am sorry for you.

  10. Hahaha, the last sentence, “academic-looking, quite attractive, and will fit right in your pocket”… buy it now for $12.95! lol, classic pitch and sell. nice one.

  11. When did Capitalism become a bad word? If we all take a step back we will see that it was capitalism that made us the greatest most prosperous nation in the world. It is capitalism, implemented by Red China economically, that lifted 300 million of its people out of poverty.

    In contrast, it is Communism and Marxist ideas that murdered 100 million people in the 20th Century and has left untold millions others in the U.S. and throughout the world in misery and mediocrity at best.

  12. Pingback: “The Coming Insurrection” pelo The Invisible Commitee « Rua do Patrocínio

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