What boredom may permit, it may also make impossible: bored, sick of the world, you are too bored to seek out others who are bored (and they are too bored to seek you). You’ve fallen to the bottom of the world, exhausted your strength and lost even your relationship to yourself. Bored, no one is bored in your place. An impersonal attention sees the indifferent sky above the congested streets and the flies who circle until they die in empty rooms. Bored, you watch television to assuage boredom. Never do you dream of leaving the privacy of your dwelling place for the streets, those same streets where others may gather in their boredom and where flames the trail which might bear you to the future.
And yet boredom can volatilise into a stubborn refusal of constituted powers – those dangerous, spontaneous movements which hover between revolution and surfascism, between the great overturning that would bring a fiery new world into being and the desire for a leader to capitalise upon the excess that has been unleashed.
Surfascism: this was the accusatory word thrown at Bataille after his attempt alongside the Surrealists, to turn French workers away from fascism by drawing on the same forces to which fascism unleashed. Contre-Attaque, as it was called, attempted to turn the enthusiasm of the crowd onto a legitimate target – to awaken that great refusal which was also a refusal of capitalism. It finds its analogue, Blanchot is right to argue, in the Events of May 1968 in Paris.
What is the call that is heard on the streets? What is it that opens me to the future? Already Heidegger points the way with the call of conscience: it calls silently; it awakens me from the anonymity of Das Man, Dasein is called to its authenticity, to resolutely bring itself into relation with its death such that it lifts itself from the others. But the anonymity Dasein departs is a figure for the anonymity of the crowd, of those who cross the threshold that would allow each to become responsive to the Other in a new way; where each shares a response to a kind of speech. Once again, it is a silence, a kind of hole in apparent completeness of the babble of the world.
A silence? But listen closely and you will hear a murmuring - similar, perhaps, to what K. hears on the other end of the telephone line when he seeks to speak to the castle – a thundering silence that cuts through all speech which would reduce the other person to a cultural category. Who awakens? What awakens? Not authentic Dasein, summoned to itself, living each moment as a moment saved from death – the Dasein bound to itself and to being in the relation Heidegger calls mineness [Jemeinigkeit] – but the no-one-in-particular, the anyone-whatsoever who is each member of the crowd. The danger is clear: without the resoluteness, the will to which Heidegger appeals, there will be dissipation, the crowd will fall back into blandness before anything is accomplished; it remains an unruly magma and not yet a Volk.
Still, one would also have to ask what Heidegger himself fears in the same magma. What is the call that is no longer a call to authenticity, to the assumption of finite existence? Perhaps it comes not from Dasein itself, but from others, but others of the crowd. Perhaps the call is what happens when one bored individual has found others, too, who are bored, and that boredom hardens into a refusal. The thematics of mood in Being and Time is subordinated to mineness – to the attempt of Dasein to bring itself to itself, but the indication is there.
When, shortly after Being and Time, Heidegger will write of an anxiety which suspends the relation of Dasein to itself, to its world, but which yet also reveals the condition of Dasein and the world: bare Dasein in its bare transcendence, he is close to a reflection on the relation to being which sees it, from the first, as interrupting the relation of the self with itself. An interruption such that the being-there of Dasein reveals itself as an usurpation. Dasein is no longer, it is true, rooted in itself, cleaving unto itself, but ek-static, futural, it is launched at its death, but this is because of a reaction in it has closed itself to what boredom might reveal: the anonymous crowd as the field in which a kind of circulation occurs such that each takes the place of the Other, as that zone where the great usurpation reveals itself in its ignominy.
Those who are brought into the condition of responding to others out of the same experience of boredom, the same experience of the nullity of the quotidian, the same nihilism hear, witness the relation to a turning over of being and nothingness which outplays nihilism. Who calls me? If I am interpellated, it is only by what calls the ‘il’ forward in me. If I am called, it is by what dissolves me as a consumer, as a vendor, as a client, as a worker. This is the holiday of the crowd, its spontaneous festivity.
The call of conscience and the related notion of witnessing sees several metamorphoses throughout Heidegger’s career. By the mid 1930s and ‘Holderlin and the essence of Poetry’, it has transformed into the call to a Volk to come which resounds through the poem. When Blanchot writes on Holderlin, it is to reveal that the condition of modernity is the impossibility of assembling such a Volk. In Adorno’s words: ‘You can build a temple, but you can’t bring a god down to haunt it’.
Of course in his youth, too, Blanchot himself dreamt of a return to the proper body of the nation. Was this was his moment of surfascism? Perhaps the formerly right-wing monarchist Blanchot was disingenuous when he presumed in The Unavowable Community to speak of his and Bataille’s history in the 1930s as if they were parallel (‘notre historie’ …) Yet when Michael Holland worries there is a return to the same kind of rhetoric in Blanchot’s anonymous writings of May 1968 he passes over the fact that the idea of revolt, of uprising and refusal is no longer linked to a father or a fatherland. Thus Blanchot’s Lenin: the one who calls us to go outside …
But the thematics of the crowd are only a manifestation of what Lenin called spontaneism: an uprising will achieve nothing without organisation. Zizek has recently reminded us of this; recalling the Events of May 1968, Derrida will also voice a similar concern: he disliked ‘vibrating in unision’, he says, and even then, the Events are not yet a politics. Communism remains etiolated unless it joins the call to go outside with a determinate political programme. But the word might name a way of linking the common presence of the crowd with a political party, a spontaneous refusal without limits to the revolutionary fire which would sweep the old world away.