Interview with Johnny de Philo> Philosopher - London
Tara Herbst and Veronika Gerhard

Tara: Concerning the struggle for change and the question of political correctness, what we are looking for with Assembly International is a kind of... we would call it transvaluation politics.

Johnny: Who makes up the Assembly?

Tara: For example: the three of us...

Johnny: The three of us? But the Assembly International also has a kind of flux to itself. I mean, I see it, or as I envision it as this kind of blob that has breathing like: ump, ump, it has a little bit of an energy level, that may include us at this point or may include people in Tokyo or whatever the thing is. But actually, as a core of people?

Tara: The core of the people would be the people who would be the most interested in that an unrepresentative Assembly International.

Johnny: OK.

Tara: That would be the core. Like the ‘subject group’ Guattari and Deleuze talk about_a group united by their same interest in making a certain thing happen and especially a group that is a group only as long as this interest exists- making the notion of separation be as important as the notion of unification. This always being ready to separate, prevents the subject group from turning into a holy club or into a community with positions, hierarchies and old club-members fighting the same fights against each other forever; things we all experienced in self-organized groups.

Johnny: But you also say that Assembly International says x, y and z ...

Tara: Well, what we’re searching for.... ‘We’ could be people who do research on similar issues or who are interested in finding new forms of being politically active- depolarizing dialectics and going beyond politically correct criteria...beyond identity politics for example. We would like to form an international network of people who are interested in going beyond their specific subcultural contexts and connect to others in order to exchange experiences and ideas for rethinking practical politics, also on an aesthetical level.

Johnny: ...yes, of course.

Tara: We could call it ‘politics of singularities’...

Johnny: It’s about micro-connections in a certain sense?

Tara & Veronique: Yes.

Johnny: It’s a micro-thing. Like I said for me the search is always connected with curiosity. Curiosity to me is one of the most important technologies that we have to help us create environments we have no idea about. That is a product of a rational thought, it's a product of laughter, and it's a product of hatred or whatever the thing is. There's a point of a combination of features; that to go and search to me means that there's already an agenda in a certain sense - the agenda is: "What are you looking for?" - but if you don't really know what it's going to look like, because you don't want to give it a rigid, or any form, then you're not going to find it in a certain sense because it doesn't have something that it looks like.
Tara: It may even be invisible. Which might be a problem with Assembly International...or a paradox.

Johnny: But that's a good problem. Because the thing is that the search is really something that ... I would say that that's what you do when you have a lot of time in your hands and you don't really have anybody after you in a certain sense: death, family, children, whatever it happens to be that you're dealing with, ailing people that you love and care about, whatever; so then you can do your search. But nobody is in that situation! Really. And so one tries to find out how to - like I was saying - connect a this with a that and to really see: Well, how do these colours ... not these colours ... How do colours work together?
I say it because one has to keep their eyes open to be able to see what it is, will come as pieces into your little arrangement tray so that you know how to build or not build. I mean, there's terrible wars going on and always had been, this is nothing new, except it's new at the level of atrocity but it's still not new in a certain sense; and there's terrible rapes, and there's terrible ... you know, name it going on ... To search for a better world or to search for a better thing: you're not going to find it. It doesn't exist somewhere else; we are in the better world. That's the good news and the bad news: we're in it. Now the thing is how to now make that actually work. And I think it means not loosing sight of very basic things like caring. And this is going to sound like really I don't know what; like girl-scout. "... and then you must have your band-aids and your medicines together ..." But it really does mean that you have to have a sense of not only your fellow human being, but of yourself. In the sense that ... it's a certain kind of self-love - I think - is required. Which is almost narcissistic; and maybe is narcissistic, I don't know. It's a specific kind of selfishness that says: "Look, there's so much time that one can give to doing this, this and this; but my project is to give to the world, or anyway give to my world, or give to this little world, something that makes it a little bit more palpitable." Because people like ourselves do exist and at the moment we're disconnected - which I find interesting - and that is a political condition but that's what it is, it's a political condition, it doesn't mean that people don't exist like this. And when there can be a critical mass that's established, well then you have really serious change, like the Renaissance or - I don't know - the famous '68 time period, which nobody here in our time period has ever seen or heard about. I mean, I was a baby when that was going on but ... And the thing is that whilst there is a whole Right-wing scenario running to the finish line: it ain't over! It's just that we're now witnessing a terrible sort of burp that is like as if someone shook a table and everything is going: weaw, like this (weaving with her hands.)

In the introduction to Anti-Oedipus Deleuze and Guattari start off by saying: people always think that you have to be intense and squinting and really understanding, fight the hard fight and go to the hard distance ... No! You have to learn how to understand pleasure and how to inhabit it in a way that is playful. And that's what I think is practical. It doesn't sound practical but it actually is practical.


Tara: Could you imagine connecting feminism with 'non-essentialist transgenderism'?

Johnny: Yes! That's the short answer. It always makes me weep to hear this question because this was the basis of feminism. OK, we didn't use the word 'trans-gender' because that hadn't been invented at the time. We used 'androgynous' or 'hermaphrodite'.

Tara: Oh, really? When was that?

Johnny: In the early eighties. And even before that ... there is a book, there is a fantastic work by this group called Heresies ... that was in the late seventies or maybe it was in the sixties ... on sex issue ... something like that ... Biology is not destiny. That it's made to be a destiny is a different issue. But it's not destiny and that's the basic rallying cry of feminism, which sadly gets lost in a shuffle of things. Then what I take that to mean is that these things like mathematics, or physics, or playing in a rock band, or play drums, or whatever ... I mean, you don't have to be male to know how to roll around in mud ... I'm so tired of the gender question; and the biology associated with it. I think that there are five forms of gender; I think that there is: male, female, hermaphrodite, androgynous and -ish. And the -ish travels, goes to malish, femalish, hermaphroditish, and the androgynish. And that's it. I'm sure that there are more that we haven't invented yet. And it just seems to me that it would be so fabulous if people would stop thinking that mathematics for example was male; or that driving a car was male; or being in the public was male; which is what is being recouped. It's not! Surprise. Big secret. OK, secret revealed! Not male; not female either actually; it just is. And it has these colors and shapes and blah, blah, blah ... and I think that: yes there are certain things that hormones do that make you more aggressive or less aggressive; but they are not necessarily testosterone. Some people when they have a really bad PMS they are not exactly a pleasant creature to be around. And talking about being on coke for example - now, coke is something that makes someone really violent. But no one ever seems to talk about the drug side of things. They are just drugs, everything in that sense. And like all toxic things and all things with fire: you have to know how to handle it! That's it, period. It's so not complicated but then ... I used to say ... I went through a whole time period - like most of us did - in the queer struggles and this net. I'm thinking through trans-gender, and bisexuality, and homosexuality, and lesbianism, and God knows, the whole list. We set up the first 'Gay-Pride March' in Toronto with Foucault. There was like seven people including the hot-dog sellers and the police…Yeah, it was really sad. And the next year there was a lesbian contingent that showed up with paper bags on their heads because they didn't want to be shown on TV. I mean, in the early years ... that's how it was in this time period. And that's only the eighties, it's not really ...

Tara: That went really fast.

Johnny: Yeah. So, I just think that it's such a shame that we are back to this question again. It's like it just don't go away. I wish it just ...

Tara: It's hyper-present ...

Johnny: So feminism was taken over, I think, by very incredible PC type characters; on which I wrote a long and laborious article about many, many months ago, which was called … what was it called? … lesbian … it was something like … Oh! ‘Knowledge is Power: Lesbian Sex Politics and Community Standards’… and it was basically about the ‘good’, the ‘bad’ and the ‘ugly’, that’s what we’ll call them: the good lesbians, the bad lesbians, and then the ugly lesbians; and how this went on;
and how the gay movement was always seen as being male. Why? I don’t know … it just seemed incredible that … and that was often, in Europe in particular – because it was less so in the States and less so in Canada, which is where I moved to originally – the gay movement used to refer to people as gay-men; it wasn’t because they were saying men-men, they were saying: well, there’s gay-men and gay-women, see! that’s how it works. Now, that got lost in translation and suddenly you only had gay men, and then you had straight women, and you had … I don’t know … nasty people or something – that was the other group. The lesbians just fell of the block somewhere: I found that fascinating. So, in order to be seen in the gay movement you had to come out talking about yourself as a lesbian, which was this medicalized term which had been thrown out the decade beforehand, and suddenly you had to recoup it in order to talk to your own people – including the lesbians – so that was another whole irritation. So all of this goes on and I think that the notion of ‘political correctness’ follows in that thing that I was talking about earlier with the friend/enemy problem, the leader/led … It’s very important to set up binaries – if you try to take over the world or a certain small part of it – because it’s easier to act politically when you know who the enemy is and you got them over there and they are there: men against women, girls against boys, gays against straights, whatever the story is. It’s a lot easier to fight like that: voluptuousness against boring, and so on, because then it seems like that is strategically how you can fix it and actually, as it turns out: power is much more elusive than that, or much more viscous, much more slimy in a certain sense than that. And so, it doesn’t often operate like that: and that’s I guess the key. So to really go around the barn and to get to your question, or to answer your question: I think …

Tara: … to really go around … (laughing)

Johnny: Yeah, very far away. So, I think that you have to not divide the world into Good and Evil. I mean Nietzsche talks about this for Good’s sake in Beyond Good and Evil in eighteen hundreds; it’s really sad that we’re still having this conversation. And he was saying: “It will take a hundred years before anybody understands my work”. Well, no: hundred and twenty is more like it. Sorry guy! – it’s a problem. But I do think that what’s helping now, what didn’t help before, is that I do think, without overstating the role of the Computer, and the Internet, and the Web, and the Information Age … I think that we’re in a phenomenal paradigm shift and that paradigm shift sets up a kind of economy that produces this multiplicity in the structure of its being there; and that’s very different. So, it’s harder to construct the friend/enemy axes – as much as Bush is trying to do this … Although he could get elected again, so you never know, I will probably eat my words …

Tara: Alexandre Matheron, who wrote a book on Spinoza said that we have to choose between the voluptuous of the scandal and the glory of renouncement.

Johnny: Oh, God.

Tara: So, concerning the unity of identity, we all know the following dilemma: enjoy, without affirming your identity or affirm yourself, without taking pleasure, merely for the sake of existing, in the sense of going to work every day, going home and going to work again with a job that sucks.

Johnny: See, I don’t think I would agree with this illustrious writer. I actually think that he sounds very Catholic to me.
And soon, he’s going to be renouncing things and sacrificing the Son. I don’t really think that there is an either/or. Let’s put it like this: all political fighters, leaders, what not, always want to set up a ‘friend versus enemy’ environment: it is the easiest way to do politics. You know, there is a yearning: all Modernist states have been set up between those that are led and those that get them led, and they set up this either/or binary. That’s a political move and as a political move it can be shifted – I mean given the way of which we don’t end up back in the Dark Ages. That is for me a Dark Age remark – which I do think we are hurdling toward – but I don’t think it’s either get up and do work, or be a sort of bonvivant, dandy, you know the hang-around-town kind of thing. I actually think …

Tara: I have the impression that in your life you manage to combine the two.

Johnny: Yes, that’s why I’m a psychotic. I’m just kidding. I think that, to the degree to which that’s true, I agree with that.

Tara: To what now?

Johnny: To the degree to which one I’m a combiner – yes, that’s probably true. But I think that I’m not the only one that can do that. I think that it is a drag to have crap job, that you go day in and day out, nine in the morning, five at night, doing something that’s really boring and horrible. And a lot of people have to suffer this fate. As it turns out, a lot of people have to suffer the fate of having to work anyway. And I think any job – if it’s not your own job, if you’re not doing your own art as work – can be a drag.
I mean, I don’t necessarily think that scandal is the opposite of, you know … I mean, I don’t think that you have either a boring life or you have a scandalous life – that’s the first problem, I don’t agree with that split.
I don’t think that’s as rigid or let’s say people don’t think so even if they are in that category, in that problem … Although I don’t have a 9 to 5 job, so I’m talking in a way that probably isn’t true for those people who do have those kinds of jobs. But I know that there are some people that would collapse and die if they had the kind of job that made you work from nine till eleven in the night, then three in the morning … or work at some point, then not work at all, then work at some point … You know the routine is often very helpful for people. I’m not in any way advocating everyone becoming an accountant or something like that, becoming boring in that sense, but I do think that the stereotyping of either boring 9 to 5 or fabulously interesting bohemian dandy on the street is a bit of a stereotype, or a bit of misleading way of putting it. I think that the question really is: in what way does one have pleasure?

But still trying to make the same point, which was whether or not you could in fact have both and the answer was: you couldn’t, you would have to invent a new life. So, in the sense that one has to invent a new world to live in, in order to have a really sensuous world, you are right that 9 to 5 environment is no good and capitalism should be damned, basically because that is really where it is leading with us. (laughter) But on the other hand, or in the middle hand not quite on the other hand, as the revolution happens as it’s happening … I don’t think that the revolution happens at Tuesday 9:30 in the morning we all get prepared and work toward it but rather, we kind of do both. I think that if you can’t find pleasure, if you can’t smell the coffee as it were, or smell the roses or whatever the expression is – the one with smelling – then it is important to be able to invent a way of doing that in one’s work. And again, I think that the time period right now is becoming incredibly and increasingly reactionary so that the work is requiring people to become surface environments of themselves. At the same time those are the ones that get jobs, and most people … And there are a lot of people, not most people, who can’t even get a job, can’t even get into the horrible labor force of 9 to 5. So they are working around the clock in their homes, through their computer, and they are having a whole other cyber environment which needs to be accounted for on some level. And I know that there are people that were talking about how they ended up having incredible cyber-sex. I always wondered about this, like: what exactly are you wearing in cyber-sex? And this one woman said: well, what I’m actually wearing is curlers and a bath robe and just doing my nails, or whatever completely unrelated to sex. And yet in the sex scene as it were that’s happening on the screen or in the thing, this whole other world is going on. I mean there are people at work that are having the same thing going on. They have a lot of cyber-sex in these white-collar jobs. They are going on on their computers while they are supposedly doing something else 9 to 5. Now, I’m not suggesting that that’s the best way to go about getting sex in your life, because it just seems to me, and I’m just very old fashioned about the notion of sex on that particular level, it just seems not as much fun. I think that trading of bodily fluids is important in these matters. However, this stretches it, it stretches the game a bit and I think that there are ways in which that is both being stretched and at the same time breaking down and being recouped into a reactionary environment. So one must fight as hard and as long as they can to try and be in environments that allows them to push the envelope. But it’s very difficult. And if it weren’t difficult I think we would have a lot more people being able to do it.

Tara: I imagine that you managed to do it because you always thought it was possible?

Johnny: Yes and I thought also: not only should it be possible but if it’s only possible for a few people I might just be one of those people. I’m serious; I think that it’s important to think that. One has to have a certain kind of confidence; to think that what you are doing makes sense.

And I think that people have to be more out front and more caring in a certain sense, more honest. But not in the sense of: “Oh, I must tell the Truth”; not that kind of honesty but a kind of emotional honesty where you think: “OK, yeah, it is hard actually.” But on the other hand: it can be done, it’s just difficult.
And so, I think that when you have that in mind that it’s going to be hard, if you are going to fight, if you really want to have it all – which is the basis of a kind of feminism: not to troth out an old war-horse ... It really is actually! And people say: “How can you be a feminist?” or “Are you a feminist?” or whatever. How can you not be a feminist, that’s totally ridiculous, what a stupid question! It’s like asking someone if you are a racist. Of course not! I guess on some level one is sexist, and one is racist, and one is homophobic, and whatever the story is. But anyway, one tries not to be like that! Especially if you happen to be in that category, it would be really a drag. Yeah, I think women should, i.e. women, men and all people that are trying to be fully human – that’s why I’m saying that it’s an Enlightment project – have to fight for it.