Taking Refuge in Aristotle: Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri’s Ecce Occupy

Ecce occupy , number 89 of the 100 Notes – 100 Thoughts series published as part of 2012 dOCUMENTA(13), was created by the collaborative pair of Ayreen Anastas and Rene Gabri (Iran/Palestine/USA). The long title of the work runs as follows:

Ecce occupy: Fragments from conversations between free persons and captive persons concerning the crisis of everything everywhere, the need for great fictions without proper names, the premise of the commons, the exploitation of our everyday communism…

There is obviously too much to say about these incredible conversations and the networks generated by Anastas and Gabri in their documentation and reproduction. However, I want to pull at one thread associated to a proper name from antiquity: Aristotle.

In a section called ‘Common Places & General Intellect’, Anastas and Gabri make reference to an essay by Paolo Virno called ‘Publicness of the Intellect. Non-State Public Sphere and the Multitude’.

At the centre of Virno’s essay is Aristotle’s discussion of the rhetorical concepts of ‘common places’ (topoi koinoi) and ‘special places’ (topoi idioi) – the latter referring to metaphors, witticisms etc, but the former are, in Virno’s words, the “logical-linguistic forms which establish the pattern for all forms of discourse”.

Following Anastas and Gabri’s line of thought, we reach the association between the life of the thinker and the life of the stranger, as discussed in what they call an ‘early text of Aristotle’.

What they are referring to is his Protrepticus, in which the thinkers are described as living estranged from their community and the buzz of the agora. This means that in political and social places they do not feel at home, and this “not-feeling-at-home” is a condition for the stranger and is common to many today and is, ironically, a shared condition.

The aim here is to return to the ‘common places’, whereby the ‘stranger life’ –  the bios xenikos – must trust in the intellect found in these shared spaces

The legacies of Occupy and the search for sites of intellectual, linguistic and political refuge are both especially pertinent today with the need for Sanctuary Cities following the executive orders on immigration and refugees. Following the announcement from Cincinnati, mayor Andrew Ginther is discussing the possibility for Columbus. Let us work together to make it happen!

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