And the whole Congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wildernesse.
Exodus 16: 2 King James version 1611
They sat in an “assembly.” They mike checked Moses. And Aaron.
And Moses said, This shalbe when the Lord shal giue you in the euening flesh to eate, and in the morning bread to the full: for that the Lord heareth your murmurings which ye murmure against him; and what are wee? your murmurings are not against vs, but against the Lord.
[yes, the text is right. It was before copyediting–u and v are interchangeable, so it’s ‘give’ in line 1 but ‘us’ in the last line]
So the leaders always say. Your murmurings are not against us, but against the Lord, against the Authority of Authority. Moses bought off the anarchism of the people with the appearance of “manna,” or free food. Nice trick.
The murmur is the voice of the multitude. Its form is the murmuration, which cannot be policed.
Rancière tells a story about ancient Rome. It varies a bit depending on where he tells it but the gist is that once the people approached the Aventine Hill, where the Senators lived, intending to make a set of claims on the Republic. But the senator Appius approached them and explained that he could not hear them, for while he could tell that they were speaking, all he could perceive was noise, the murmuring of the multitude. Shut out by the division of the sensible, the people retreated.
In the Arcades Project, Walter Benjamin listened for the sound of the time in which social nonconformism was intertwined with the proletarian revolution. But he was not naive:
In the flaneur, one might say, is reborn the sort of idler that Socrates picked out from the Athenian marketplace to be his interlocutor. Only, there is no longer a Socrates. And the slave labor that guaranteed him his leisure has likewise ceased to exist.
Leisure is schole in Greek, the root of scholarship. The dialectic method depends on that slave being there for the master. Benjamin was, as Adorno liked to point out, no Marxist scholar. He was, however, aware where you might hear the revolution:
the muse herself turns away from the poet to whisper words of inspiration to the air.
Who was listening, there in the air? The ragpickers, the street-walkers, the revolutionaries, the flâneurs: the people of the street.
In an interview published in 2011, Rancière responded to a question about whether he was an anarchist:
At a fundamental philosophical level my position can be called anarchist stricto sensu since I hold that politics exists insofar as the exercise of power does not rest upon any arkhê.
The murmur rises–no authority, no hierarchy, no scholarship.
Once again, though, the loud chatter raises itself: Occupy is corrupted, the anarchism must be eliminated. Murmur back: there is no Occupy without the anarchism of the streets, the claims that must not be heard. There is no more manna to hand out. Perhaps the murmur might be heard a little more clearly now.
Car 59, where are you? The voice of the police, of arkhê, of authority is loud. It does not want to talk. But there’s this noise, it makes it hard to hear. How they long for quiet, the return to leisure, to scholarship and the dialectic. Sorry about that.