Dennis Gravey

Autozone


ISSUE 72 | PRACTICE | FEB 2017

1.

Practicing curbside car care is a luxury afforded
to those who can’t afford to pay someone else to do the job.  It’s a spiritual gift that is precious precisely because it feels like a burden and with that is satisfying.

2.

In freedom, tending to our machines would be a continual project and a foundation of our lives.   We’d listen for their needs in squacks and beeps or just have to know like the prompt changing of oil.

The liberatory character is there in Revolutionary Cuba’s colorful Cadillacs maintained by gumption and ingenuity.  In Soviet Russia’s handmade lawn mowers and community saunas were constructed by amateur crews as a free time project.

Absolutely, these are not mere hobbies done for fun.  They come from the necessity of poverty and amidst disappointed dreams.  But careful how you say that.  Don’t lie to yourself and deny the richness of burden and the toil of freedom because the stakes are so unlike a hobby, which wager only pride.


In America, freedom is defined as self-reliance, autonomy as isolation, and power as leisure. Rooted in the founding myth of pre-historic virginity. The great self-birth of a nation on the condition of erasing the help of others enslaved and slaughtered.

America hands them the burdens and forgets the lot.


In reality we tend to the machines in terror.
Our toil is a burden dictated by the demands of their alien power.

Today the beloved car was assembled mostly through a gauntlet of metallic automatons whose only being, the exact execution of an order, still hides dwarves under the table: Congolese and Vietnamese.

But that is only a more efficient form of the gauntlet of humans, romanticized in history books, who were merely less efficient automatons.


In submission success looks like zoning out by getting in the zone of monotony.   Shutting off pieces. Automatic. A beautiful frenetic stillness.

3.

Stop at Autozone on the way home from work, too quick to shake out of the zone so I forget if the car has disk or drum brakes, which is embarrassing because I want to fix them myself. The agony of my failed memory is soothed by urgent call for attention from all the parts in their packaging and presence appearing as an immense collection of commodities. The colors, the brands, the prices, the slogans, the claims, the sex appeal, the libidinal juices forging an iron cage entrapping use value and exchange value together despite the absolute gulf between them. Need is reinscribed as a purchased pleasure. Practice as a hobby. The climax of America’s tragic myth.


4.

The American tragedy is in turn rooted in a sin older than the colonies, the fact that in a society in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, all reproduction is reduced to production or it has no value. So women’s invaluable labor was given no value but still taken, swept under the rug and shackled to the stove. Denied pillars of the practices that bridge one day to the next, sealed in a gendered tomb.

On these bones is built Autozone where I feel like I can finally buy the power I’m told is granted by my genitals, at least as a hobby, and maybe finally relax.

But my anxiety knows the stakes and how much I value my pride.


5.

The bad faith of this mirage is unavoidable when the deal of freedom at home in exchange for domination on the job is betrayed by lacks that bear burdens of necessity and somebody’s got to make dinner and fix the car even when it’s not relaxing because we can’t afford to buy someone else’s ability to do it because pride is itself a lie it tell myself so I won’t look at the impending emptiness of my bank account.

America steals back the gift of care and now I have to buy it.
The boldness of the lie with no promising counter power means I’m resigned to two choices: give up or give in. Each is just another way of forgetting the immanent outsides – the treaties still signed, the social death, and the expectation of care – that make capitalist life possible. But in this lie you can never relax. My domination by anxiety incessantly reminds me that the travesties made in the name of America were never for me or my friends. All I'm offered is the chance to lie to myself too, expelling the fantasy of a life honest to the practical necessity of what I can now do as a bad machine or buy as a hobby.

6.

Auto / nomos. Giving the law to one’s self
is finally imaginable for those who are forced to practice, and realizable if only we could cease to grip the machines in terror of being flung off into an abyss, but instead could lay our hands with care and love for nature’s power.




Postscript

With Trump’s election there is new energy behind the dream of real freedom. A lot of things are going to happen, but making anything worthwhile out of it will take an enormous amount of work. This poem is a polemic intended to contribute to this work.  Specifically, it aims to clarify our understanding of social transformation and revolution. It does this by exploring a perspective on revolution that prioritizes actual material process and the work of producing material impacts in the world. This perspective necessarily centers and gathers certain dynamics but most importantly, by focusing on the work that needs to done, poses the question of who will do it.

The answer the poem gives is the old Marxist one: the working class, with a simpler and hopefully deeper justification than many common notions of Marxism. What is at stake in the struggle against capitalism is the practical necessities of life.  How will the bathroom get cleaned, the clothes get made and mended, the food grown, the children fed, and the goods transported?  Who will do it, how will they do it, who will control production and who will benefit?  These are not obscure problems, they are in fact very mundane.  The working class is not a mythic entity, it is those who are doing the necessary work of society, and as such their activity will necessarily be a part of any social transformation.  Asserting the centrality of the working class is then almost a tautology: if we want to change the way we live, those who produce our lives must change the way they work.  

That workers are central does not mean that they are the foot soldiers who must be directed correctly, but that their brains and muscle must be engaged in the process, that they must be the agents of transformation. Therefore the possibility of workers creating freedom must be based in the experience of working people. There must be something about the dish pit that bears the building blocks of revolution and freedom.  To commit to this fact involves more than certainty, it involves trust in working people.

But it’s undeniable that there are good reasons to have trouble trusting the working class.  Trump’s election is a stellar example of this fact.  Coming to terms with this trouble entails going deeper into the concrete specificity of the world workers live and work in and understanding the full richness of social life and domination.  In particular, this means centering categories such as race and gender. The working class and the capitalist edifice, are essentially determined by race, gender, colonialism, imperialism and all forms of oppression. These oppressions are not added on top of capitalism, rather they are necessary to capitalism’s reproduction, essential to it, and must be understood as coterminous with it.  

Understanding them as a unity is not only analytical. It is tactical. Ending oppression will take more than shifting the rules of power.  It will take doing the work to create the reality of freedom. Reproductive labor must be done differently by different people, and the dismantling of sexual objectification and violence involves a transformation of the production of culture and the activity of holding ourselves accountable to each other.  Nations must have the means of production and systems for their popular control that can solve the practical problems of deprivation and exploitation that national oppression has wrought.  Oppression is itself a material reality, produced by people doing the work of producing it.  Liberation must likewise be produced by real people doing hard work.   Importantly, attempting to assemble these forces of production for liberation encounters the fact that capitalism, i.e. the current mode of production, depends on the very forms of oppression we seek to abolish.  And so, in seeking to transform the activity of workers in such a way that abolishes oppression, we must also transform the structure of work itself by abolishing capitalism.

Moreover, understanding that capitalism produces, reproduces, and is dependent on oppressions means that the struggle against them is itself a form of struggle against capitalism. Since the categories of oppression determine not just capital but also the working class itself, any resistance to capitalism is unavoidably determined by these categories.  Time and again it’s been along these lines that working class movements have been neutralized and incorporated.European capitalists payed off European workers from the spoils of the colonies to outmaneuver the revolutionary tide of the early 20th century.  Conversely, the rise and success of anti-colonial movements in the middle of the 20th century were a fundamental cause for the crisis in capitalism in the 1970s.  This is not to say that all instances of these struggles are even implicitly anti-capitalist, but that struggles that erupt against oppression are a necessary component of an anti-capitalist revolutionary process.  

The paths of anti-capitalism through struggle against oppression have historically been the most powerful because of the practical essence of the working class.  A nation, a people, and a gender, are all configuration of production and loci of practical activity.  On both a material and symbolic level they set the tasks to be completed and the terms of their completion.  As such, they carve out a practical imaginary of alternate ways of organizing production.  Think for example of the nation in the context of anti-imperialist national liberation.  The form of the nation allows a gathering of land, infrastructure, factories, trains, and all the other means of production, into an alternate whole with a specific answer to the question of who controls and benefits.  This manifestation of an alternative is undeniably more tangible than the syndicalist dream of all workers suddenly kicking the bosses out and taking over the industries, and that tangibility is the key to its power.

So where to from here?  I wrote this poem at work, literally on my breaks between flipping burgers and doing dishes.  And as such it is a polemic of a different kind, asserting the difficulty of a question that is key to moving forward: how can the working class think?  Writing a poem was my solution not born out of a strategic analysis but of practicality.  That I found poetry the most practical says more about my petit-bourgeois class background than any assessment of revolutionary strategy.  However, that does not take away from the fact that the working class needs more and better ways to think.  A lot of the big picture analysis I’ve said here feels old.  The capitalist order, and all its mechanics including imperialism, white supremacy, and patriarchy have all been dramatically re-organized in the last forty years (not to mention the last five) in ways that require new questions, new forms of struggle, and hence a great deal of thinking.  But tackling this task will only be worthwhile if it’s taken up as a project of the working class itself.  And as counter-intuitive as it may seem, that means the most important thinking will be done zoning out while cutting tomatoes, during conversations while loading boxes in a truck, or in the aisles of autozone while trying to keep your beater on the road.