Exactly one year after the publication of Re-attachments in french, and with the support of comrades from the very good Ill Will Editions, here is the afterword we prepared for the english translation of the text.
In a wasteland (terrain vague) on the edge of a working class neighborhood of Montreal, there is a new intensification of life, created by those fleeing strict confinement measures and social control that claimed to care for us, when we know that we actually care for ourselves. Today, the possibility of losing spaces — a process accelerated by economic infrastructural projects — expands and intensifies the ways we use those spaces, and forces us to think about how to open them to others, how to share our attachment to them. These events invite us to return to the question of presence, from which, by publishing this text over a year ago, we tried to situate ourselves within the environmental movement at a moment when it was seeing a zenith of the politics of representation, demands, and sacrifice. In republishing this text to share it with our anglophone comrades, we wanted to re-examine the supposed dichotomy between absence and presence, a question that was left underdeveloped in the first edition of the text.
When you arrive at the terrain vague for the first time, what hits you first are the absences that it renders so apparent. What makes the space unique is its discontinuity with the rigid denomination of space that characterizes the rest of the city. If it was inhabited at the same density as the neighborhood that surrounds it, it could host 5,000 people. Currently, there are fewer than ten shacks in active use, the foundations of a few abandoned buildings, railroad tracks, wooded areas, and huge piles of dirt and rocks that are occasionally pushed around by heavy machinery.
In a space like the terrain vague, the question is not how to preserve the space, but instead, how to use it: the freedom it represents currently, as a place open to multiple uses, which is threatened by its potential transformation into a park or a port-industrial zone. It is a place inhabited by all sorts of entities, memories, and futures that force us to face certain contradictions; on the one hand, wanting keep our hands off the few remaining wild spaces in the city and let them run their course, and on the other, the need to mobilize in its defense, to build on it in order to protect it. Demobilization and mobilization, inoperativity and the ecstasy of action.
It is here that presence and absence unveil themselves as belonging to each other, rather then appearing in the metaphysical opposition between authenticity and inauthenticty. Making oneself present for, is always to be absent from something else. Going into a terrain vague is also always leaving city life for a while, as it is making oneself present with all the entities that live there. Before the beginning of Greek philosophy, the term Eris, the name of the goddess of conflict and war, was also used to designate physis, nature, and more specifically the struggle between presence and retreat. Absence, here, is not a void, but a retreat. In the same way that Agamben argues that power is cut through with the tension of the power not to, constituting oneself as a revolutionary force capable of making an impact also requires a certain form of withdrawal.
The other large green areas of Montreal are spaces of social control made to be legible to the eyes of the law, through the use of police patrols, cameras, and anti-sex and anti-homeless crackdowns. But here, in the terrain vague, we rarely see the railroad police, and they rarely see us. It is the perfect spot for hanging out all day, for partying with a roof over your head without having to worry about laws or property. In summer, you are hit with a wave of fresh air when you reach the space, because the temperature is several degrees lower than the concrete-covered surroundings. This means that even the particles of air move slower here than the usual urban rhythm. So, we make a fire.
Across the island of Montreal, the most basic human act is forbidden to us: lighting a fire and contemplating it. Here, among the tall weeds, in the ruins of an old building or in a stand of trees, we find artifacts that, in the midst of a metropolis, seem to have dropped out of a different time: stones arranged around charred wood, half-burned trash. These circles lead us to recognize ourselves as located in a space that is heterogenous to the metropolis; that it is with these type of acts of distanciation from the social that we unveil what returns of eris in the coming to be, so little questioned, of the administrative infrastructure of the world.
It is not by accident that fire is so central to our adventures outside of the metropolis, or against it. Agamben writes that telling a story (literature) and making history are one and the same act, that of telling the progressive loss of fire. Through history, the mysteries of the world are simultaneously commemorated and distanced, secularized in narrative (distancing the ritual origin of literature) and in a scientific enterprise (distancing the divine origin of the world). "We can access the mystery only through a story [storia], yet (or maybe we should say, 'in fact') history [storia] is that in which the mystery has put out or hidden its fires." Whether we're camping with friends, in a riot, or on a blockade, contemplating a fire signals our awakening, on this second-to-last day of Earth's existence, before the evidence that history has not completely succeeded at severing us from tradition.
On any given blockade, we gather around fires to warm up and chat. On native territory, stories and prophecies are told, helping us understand the uses and means that exist for defending these lands. Our meetings over the last few months have pushed us to develop a new conception, a horizon for understanding a possible alliance between various relationships to the territory. We call it redneck ecology, half-jokingly, ourselves surprised by the vision of a use of the territory that is so profound and sincere, which by definition can neither be pure nor impure. Environmentalism primes us to see a rigid 'sacredness' in nature, something distant from us. But instead we found its profanation, in a sacredness that allowed for life, since it supported life so concretely. We found backhoes for destroying the road and uprooting trees, in order to erect barricades and stop enemies from using the territory, whether for hunting animals whose population is declining, for a construction project, or for establishing a police presence.
In this conception, it is more important to be able to raise your children in the forest, to be able to teach them about trees, plants, Bigfoot, and animal spirits, than to preserve a version of nature that is absent of human traces. It is insignificant, then, to worry about a piece of trash on the forest floor or to make a big drama out of using non-reusable plates—instead we must be concerned with the survival of species and assuring our access to making our own medicine.
Clean ecology is disappearing. This is a tension that cuts through the writing of Re-attachements, and that continues to hone our reflections. The power that blockades have represented and the meetings that this other relationship to the forest have permitted allowed us to imagine what an ecology of presence could create. Far from the cliched image of environmentalists, these youthful armies in camouflage on their four-by-fours, led by women in pick up trucks, are writing a different future for environmentalism, a non-leftist future.
We see an orientation for revolutionary ecology in this horizon, a version of it that could go farther in reaching people from very different places socially and geographically than ecology can as it exists today. Not farther than what every person who calls themselves an "environmentalist" could do, but what ecology, as a movement, a movement that could finally be critical and not simply "political," could do for the horizon of the revolution — a horizon that at is at the heart of Re-attachements — could become sensible.
In the terrain vague, the presence of fire is a sign that, like the Mexican comrades of the Consejo Nocturno, that we must not inhabit the metropolis, but inhabit against it. As in any space that is targeted by modernization, we find here different ways of joining together and experimenting. This means opposing the temporality of the metropolis with something profoundly contemplative, as if to demonstrate that we have understood it completely: its projects of administrating the world, in their fundamental anarchy, are dragging us towards extinction as a species — in other words, the end of fire. The Book of Changes (I Jing) has this to say on the subject: "Fire has no predetermined form, but attaches to bodies that burn, and through this, gives off light."