When a white supremacist mass shooter, rich politician-turned-tech-executive, and anonymous anarchists all release public declarations to the media in the same week, perhaps there’s reason to pause and reflect on the form. Whether you call them manifestos, communiqués or marketing campaigns, there’s a patterned reliance on rhetoric to complement provocative deeds.
These concerted attempts at controlling a narrative offer in plain text what would otherwise be left to speculation. Motivation, justification, and responsibility can be written directly into symbolic acts considered heroic by some and terroristic by others. Put generously, communication of this type could be viewed as an attempt to eliminate misinterpretation and highlight intent—put critically, it could be called advertising.
A key similarity of this dynamic is that it invites participation, it aims to inspire. What’s the role of the audience in this storytelling? When comparing the disparate goals of these actions, how does the difference in material compare to the similarities of the form? What does this say of anarchists’ means to an end?
“I am writing a manifesto and I don’t want anything,
I say however certain things and I am on principle against
manifestos, as I am also against principles…I am writing
this manifesto to show that you can do contrary actions together,
in one single fresh breath; I am against action; for continual
contradiction, for affirmation also, I am neither for nor
against and I don’t explain because I hate common sense.”
— Tristan Tzara, “Dada Manifesto,” 1918