The parade is always with us, even in its absence. Recently enlisted in an effort to exhibit American “military might,” the parade has reminded us of its ability to flaunt power. In its surplus, power parades. But this specific parade, the one planned to remind the world of a superpowerful iron-fistedness, has since been postponed (indefinitely), roundly opposed by pretty much everyone.
And yet the parade goes on. The parade goes on because it is useful. It is useful in order to maintain hegemonic order, but also, in its multi-meaning mutability, it is useful in order to resist order. Parades are bouquets of bodies that, depending on who, when, and where, are used to invoke sameness or difference through expressions of celebration, memorial, resistance, fanfare, “military might,” “military won’t,” and any other host of reasons that two or three might decide to take up together.
Parades are deceptively easy to reproduce. All that’s needed is an ability and aspiration to move, a space to move within, and other people with whom to move within it. A particularly pompous parade might employ a host of signifiers of identity including song; dance; costumes and uniforms; balloons large and small; banners; formations; and floats—but none of these qualify as prerequisites. A parade need not attract spectators, though a flamboyant one certainly calls for an audience. Time may be used to enforce order, or it might be disregarded altogether. A parade might go on for miles or around in concentric circles. The street is a common site to parade, but most any open space will do. All these elements work together to yield a distributed net of transformative effects. As Adrienne Edwards reminds us, “The concept of assemblage, famously formulated by Deleuze and his collaborator Félix Guattari, is the basic set of conditions to enable a becoming.”
For all of these reasons, parades effectively inaugurate an “other” space. A parade produces the conditions that can enact an autonomous zone, a freely-enacted utopia, a block-by-block party. In practice, it is both a speculative, aspirational, fictional space, as a well as a real, historical, lived space. It is a space that only exists through the relation and proximity of bodies together; for this reason it can happen at any time in any place and evaporate as quickly as it materializes. At its best, the parade is an initiation not of a new way forward but of ways outward, determined in the steps of each parader. The paraders may choose to follow a set course or to follow the people at the front; they may also choose to determine their route dialectically based on ever-changing conditions through space and time. They may break off from each other and pursue other paths. So it goes.
When it comes to “other” spaces of sociality, the field of possibility has been mapped out in vivid detail: Michel Foucault gives us heterotopias; Stefano Harney and Fred Moten outline the undercommons; Hakim Bey advocates for the Temporary Autonomous Zone; Craig Wilkens champions D-Space; José Esteban Muñoz describes a disidentificatory position.
It’s hard not to be charmed by these possibilities. They don’t claim to be exterior “outside” spaces but exist interior to reality itself, conspiring with and against the ever-unfurling now. They are a way out through a way in. For some, retiring to these spaces might feel defeatist, or at least strategically essentialist: the current order of things is too all-enduring and too all-encompassing, thus these liberatory modes of being are only available to us in small bursts of freedom. I’d like to think that a more generous reading of these spaces values them not just for their world-apartness, but for the potential of their best attributes to spillover into normative space. So what do these spaces offer? What methods of relating to each other can we import into the quotidian? And how might the parade facilitate this aim?