RavingMcKenzie Wark
Duke University Press Mar 202315.95 $ 136 S.
Dance Until the World Endshannah baer
Artforum 60/4 Dec 202118 $ o. S.

Sometime between the death of the communist horizon and the end of the world, we had raving: a subcultural form made of beats, lights and fog, with one foot in the political avant-garde and another in the manufacturing of cool consent. With billions in revenue for cities that know how to turn the underground into a location faction (see Berlin), raving has confidently replaced punk and outshined hip-hop as the dominant counter-cultural style the world over. Books like Raving by notable political theorist McKenzie Wark, and Artforum essays like Hannah Baer’s «Dance Until the World Ends», not to mention countless graduate dissertations, video essays, art books and gallery shows devoted to it, suggest that raving has become iconic, literally part of the cultural canon. Half-jokingly, I previously wrote that «the rave is an instrument of oblivion that must be repeated at regular intervals, maybe precisely because it cannot be accurately remembered».1 Its ephemeral restlessness, ideological slipperiness and, above all, the sensation of immediacy all seem to lure intellectuals into trying to nail down a theory of the rave.

The cultural form that the reviewed authors try to theorize is not the DIY rave of the disaffected factory, which still exists, though much reduced, at the margins of nightlife visibility, but the club experience with rave characteristics. To use raving and clubbing interchangeably – how blasphemous of me! But in a rentier economy where real Freiraum is hard to come by or live off, even raving gets reduced to a portable aesthetics that can be applied anywhere—the club, the museum, the abandoned work site. It becomes a broadly disseminated way of sharing space, relations and psychoactive substances to facilitate boundary dissolution and temporal dissociation.

Exhaust Yourself!

McKenzie Wark and Hannah Baer, both raving and writing in New York during the pandemic, define the rave as a «constructed situation» comparable to anarchist organizing and political protest culture. Like anarchy and resistance, the rave is durational and exhausting. You have to prep properly (water, sunglasses, harm reduction tools) and be ready to act fast and think on your feet when faced with power or conflict. The enemy can come in many forms at the rave (from public authorities to club security, the party elite or the proverbial «straight white man») since «the problems that arise in nightlife spaces are as real as [those arising] in gentrifying neighborhoods, workplaces with sexist bosses, cities with brutal police forces», Baer writes. «Party spaces aren’t intrinsically revolutionary spaces, but some parties are like revolutionary spaces. Part of it is the way alienation cracks open and people are confronted with one another», she continues. Thanks to the many micro-gestures of property-less solidarity and unbounded care-fulness, raving becomes the communist moment of the day: «This is part of the utopian shimmer of these spaces», Baer writes. «People share resources, take turns using sunglasses, phones, poppers, jackets; people call one another cars, bring one another water, sneak one another in, babysit one another’s friends. People literally hold one another, tuck one another’s hair behind ears, wrap one another in outer garments, dab crumbs.»

It is «an avant-garde that people actually like», writes Wark who believes that the desire for communism was rendered obsolete by the transition to a far worse mode of value extraction.1 Whether the present is most accurately described as techno-feudalism or «capitalism with feudal characteristics»2 is better discussed in a Marxist political economy publication. But Wark, once the post-Marxist author of A Hacker Manifesto or Molecular Red, is a communist no more and has renounced the critique of totality in exchange for first-person confessional writing of the flesh. «There’s something too retro about the desire for communism…it’s a God that dies, whom I still mourn. What can still be shared—femmunism [sic!].»