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Affective politics: a sovereign way of cultivating and "caring of the self".


The question I want to raise here is the following: what form of politics supports an active and sovereign way of cultivating and caring of the self that would not simply be an instantiation of political power but is capable of becoming part of collective organizations without being overpowered by these collectives? It is in this light that I want to show how an affective politics gives us the potential for new subjectivities and new kinds of politics. In my attempt, I am taking a detour to discover the nonsubjective subjectivity beyond the mechanisms of power in order to speak of "a subject of practices" of the body that stimulates the active understanding of the sovereign way of cultivating and caring of the self. The new sense of politics that I am exploring here is not an effect of the discursive power relations, which Michel Foucault in his earlier career would advocate for, but it is the fundamental affective force in the emergence of new subjectless subjectivities. The new dimension of politics and its affective relations to subjective emergence are not a cultural relation of power and knowledge but of creative emergence of the self. They refer to the openness to body, openness to participation in self-stylization of body and the self.

Affective Politics

The affective politics questions a kind of politics with a misleading conception of human beings according to which they are inherently political (mutually agreed to form a consensus for living) and easily capable of articulating their interests rationally to reach to a common goal in life. The traditionalist notion of politics assumes human beings agreed to live together rationally on certain common interests. But affective politics, a new sense of being political or doing politics, adds up another distinct ethos in the human beings according to which they are expected to participate in a creation of new, opening up genuinely new ways of thinking, feeling and action in life. This is what I mean by affective politics. Human beings do not just live together more or less rationally in a given political structure and create shared thoughts, feelings and actions but are capable of creating entirely new values within and beyond the given politics. Certainly becoming a subject is something one cannot do on one's own; it is an intensely social process of shared values. Politics forms our becomings and reciprocally our becomings shape the becoming of politics. The co-dependability of our subjective becoming and becoming sociality is at the heart of the affective politics. So when we study an account of politics, we need to analyse how subjective becoming interfaces with social becoming. What sort of affective process--to affect and to be affected--as an engagement with the world is involved in creating a "communicative consensus" upon people's mutual goals and interests?

The new modes of thinking, feeling and action occur not at the level of power relations but at the level of the body. Bodily drives first give birth to political power relations. So affective politics focuses unconscious physical processes (creative movements), which are neither analogous to, nor representative, of the power relations to which they give rise. In other words, affective politics as an alternative politics deals with how particular discourses of power relations, for say, class, gender, race etc., emerge into being as an affective force; how that process becomes political (creation of novelty) binding our individuality with social politics. The discourse of power relations is neither personal nor biological; it is a set of affective forces compounded in us from outside and inside of life. (1) So, politics exists at the level of force, not at the level of representation of ideology and power. Politics is not interpreting the given in the form of the personal or biological, but creating a space for the newer impulse, newer compounds of forces "yet to come." The space itself or a new way of being political itself is yet to come out of a new fusion of forces (2). "The social, however, as it is embodied as an ongoing series of affective transactions, needs to be conceived not only as a source of subjection but as a site of possibilities." (3) The entire socio-political field must be seen as the historically determined product of affective transaction. The true object of affective politics is the affects (drives), and it entails an entire theory of affectivity as its basis.

Nonsubjective Subjectivities

Our subjectivities are not substances, rather modes of becoming differences. (4) These differences are "unique chances" we meet in unpacking the packs of thoughts, and feelings and actions in the surroundings. This process of production of becoming differences in several modes and alterations by retaining, accumulating, forming and thus shaping subjectivities is the affect's political creation. As opposed to the production of consensus among preexisting individuals for the sake of the ideal community, our political signification depends on the specific relation it has with affects. We create subjects and communities through experimentations with power relations that affect harnesses:
   A range of work has mapped the imbrications of different affects in
   power formations that modulate the circulation and distribution of
   affects by intervening and directing ongoing processes--rather than
   exclusively through the prescriptive normalizations of forms of
   disciplinary power ... the transmission of affect, its movements,
   disruptions, and resonances, that forms of vital or life power can
   come to harness. These forms of power do not prevent and prescribe
   but work in conjunction with the force of affect, intensifying,
   multiplying, and saturating the material-affective process through
   which bodies come in and out of formation (5)

The confluence of economic and political power does not always influence our affects. Our affects are formed by intersecting planes of "emergence, distribution, circulation, and mutation of pre-and post-individual capacities to affect and be affected." (6) This fact wavers away from the view that subjectivities are always modeled in a mass formation by the disciplinary power and insists that they are modulated as "'dividual'--sub-and trans-individual arrangements of intensities at the level of bodies-formation." (7) This subject as a living being cannot be understood and regulated as a political manipulation and biological fixation but only in its capacities to create new modes of existence in terms of modes and alterations of existing thoughts and realities. These modes of being are not instantiations of dispositif of power; they do not work on the shadows of power. These becomings are still political as Lauren Berlant rightly says "The impersonal is also political," (8) and work actively over the fetishized (made oppressive) power. Subjectivity as differential becomings always opens up their fields for sociality, power relations, economic relations and biological formations. Differential becomings as predominantly active over power relations constitute a nonconscious acogito as subjectivity in us because these becomings are not a product of either "political economy" or "libidinal economy." As mentioned above, these becomings are pre-and post-individual arrangements of intensities. These intensities are immanently physical and acognitive but creative movements of life! So our subjectivities are nonsubjective (nonhuman becoming) arrangements of intensities.

Question of Sovereignty of Non-sovereigns

The question I then pick up is how non-subjective subjectivities allow an individual to cultivate and care of the self and body without being swallowed up in a larger political set up such as state organization; how can we stop our desire from being desire its own repression, and what might be a sovereign way of living in affective politics?

The primary question for the sovereign way of cultivating and caring of the body and the self is how to control power relations while at the same time increasing capacities for action in individuals. The need for the sovereignty of cultivating and caring of the body and the self is a move from a democratically governed subject to a nonactualised subject who rules for oneself by oneself within a sovereign institution on the top. The distinction between sovereign and governed I am implying here is that sovereign creates his own modes of perceptions, thoughts and feelings (Nietzschean sense), but the governed work with the scheme of perceptions and thoughts of the sovereign on the top of state power. Capitalist democracy with the extracted sovereignty (the way power assumes itself sovereign through the representation of popular votes) from the people on the bottom manipulates the extracted sovereignty to rule people often in an oppressive way. (9) As Foucault mentions, the invention of knowledge and power in the seventeenth century in the form of Life, Labor and Biology was intended to help the modern state function with help of law to the people of the bottom. The power and knowledge relations operate to limit the people's capacity to act. Our capacity to affect and be affected is replaced with the question "What must I do" in terms of a given law. This leads us to ask a pertinent question: If sovereignty in the form of the state represents my impotence, then under what conditions can I have actually been led to desire a state to govern me? What are the conditions that could have led, in Nietzsche's words, to "the inversion of the value-positing eye--the triumph of power and knowledge over affective force of life? Life is reduced to the rule of laws; life lost its sovereignty; life itself is given a value of nil. It is transformed to alterity. This is one of fundamental political problems today's capitalist democracy or social structure poses to us. The people are reduced every time to a bizarre spectacle even the sovereign create inhuman places like Guantanamo prison before them. Not only that. The replacement of the question how shall I act with what must I do has created conditions in which people feel happy to desire their own repression, that is reducing value of life to nil. Politics--WHAT I MUST DO?--is an attempt to separate us from our capacity to act and make us governable by internalising subjugation in an attempt to create an individual:
   who responds systematicall toy to modifications in the variables of
   the environment, appears precisely as someone manageable,
   someone who responds systematically to systematic modifications
   artificially introduced into the environment. Homo oeconomicus is
   someone who is eminently governable. From being the intangible
   partner of laissez-fair, homo oeconomicus now becomes the correlate
   of a governmentality which will act on the environment and
   systematically modify its variables. (10)

So the appended question is how can we restore our sovereignty to life beyond power and knowledge given by the democratically extracted sovereign who turns our body and self into governable? But the next question is much more important than this: how can we stop ourselves to desire our own repression? The space of the non-sovereign is not a space created by those at the political top alone but is its people's own desire to be governable in an excessive reliance on the sovereign. (11) It is produced when people separate themselves from their own power. (12) The result of this is that we have lost the nomadic vitality of Vikings and Goths and the nobility of our ancestors who live ungovernable by any outside power. Life has, thus, been reduced to an instantiation of political power. Our bodies and thoughts are codified into interests of political apparatus. What we feel, think and sense, we do not do on our own. We feel, think and imagine what power desires. Our desire is desired in a tactical way. Our drives and even tactile senses, even the unconscious feelings, which seem to be what is most personal about us, are themselves normalized and governable, they serve as an infrastructures (Marxian sense) of capitalist production. They are what make politics. This is why we have such a fervent interest in investing in a politics that blocks our interests, introduces lack into our lives and represses us in order to make us governable. This happens because our desire--that is, our precepts and affects (motivations)--is not our own; even if we sometimes misleadingly believe they are ours own. But, they are already manipulated by the capitalist desires. They are already a part of the capitalist infrastructure; they are not simply our own individual mental or psychic reality. Different capitalist modes of production engage in the manipulation of our precepts and affects. One of these modes is, for example, marketing. At a store, I almost frantically reach for coke rather than pepsi, since my thirst goes beyond merely have my thirst satisfied. This happens because my desire is already invested in the social formation that creates that interest, and that creates the sense of lack I feel if my thirst is not perfectly satisfied. Lack is introduced in my desire and thereby my power to create my desires and affections are depontentialised. This artificial infrastructure of lack and the self-desire of repression are introjected when political power enters into us to fill in the gap that we created when we separate ourselves from our own power to desire in our own.

This is a real crisis we are facing today. We are forced to know that our desire is not our own. We are not the sovereign of our desires. This is because we are separated from our own power to desire. The political question today is how to create a condition for the new affects and desires, perceptions and feelings, which are results of our own power to desire; which does not subdue to any form of power relations. Sovereignty is inherently related to the question of the conditions for the production of the new. So, affective politics can be a new antidote to solve this ever deepening problem. It attempts to regain our own affects not to be manipulated by any discursive power. The sovereign is sovereign not because he obediently allows power to extract from him his rights and even let his drive be manupulated by the desire of power but because he creates his own values within the collective organizations. He not only shares thoughts, feelings and experiences rendered to him but also creates new modes of thinking, feelings and experiencing the world which alter the course of these collective organizations. Sovereign is the affective force, a condition, which is capable of creating new possibilities in life. It prevents us from desiring one's own servitude to those organisations who force us to desire what they desire, not turning oneself as an object of power and knowledge. Exteriority is unable to occupy this indomitable space within us:
   This is what the man of right, homo juridicus, says to the
   sovereign [political power]: I have rights, I have entrusted some
   of them to you, the others you must not touch ... Homo oeconomicus
   does not say this. He also tells the sovereign: You must not. But
   why must he not? You must not because you cannot. And you cannot in
   the sense that 'you are powerless.' And why are you powerless, why
   can't you? You cannot because you do not know, and you do not know
   because you cannot know. (13)

The important point of our sovereign way of cultivating for the body and self is not turning ourselves into a governable object of power, but giving a style to our activities, behaviors, conducts etc., in the constitution of our subjectivities. Foucault's account of a subject formed through practices can be the way in which question of sovereignty can be achieved through practices of the self that stem from the "rules, styles, and conventions" of a particular culture. These practices constitute free practices of taking care of oneself or "knowing oneself." That is, as a subject that forms herself or stops to be mere a governable subject without appearing to be "beyond the mechanism of power," learning not just about how to resist power relations, but how to conduct oneself under power relations.

Therefore, a sovereign subject (Nietzschean active subject) is its own cause; and knows how to use "forces of the outside" to form her interiority and to produce active joys for herself. For, our essential identity is a practice of self-fashioning from within these potentials rather than a construction borrowed from some positive social or political project. "The task of testing oneself, examining oneself, monitoring oneself in a series of clearly defined exercises, makes the question of truth--the truth concerning what one is, what one does, and what one is capable of doing--central to the formation of the ethical[sovereign] subject." (14) Foucault's reference to Baudelaire's esthetic dandies' sovereign way of creating the body and the self further clarifies this: "makes his body, his behavior, his feelings and passions, his very existence, a work of art." (15)

In conclusion, affective politics, in rejecting the idea of the subject as a construction of power relations embraces a new notion of nonsubjective subjectivity, which can feel, think, behave and act in a sovereign way. Such a subject is still a part of collective organizations but at the "molecular" and "molar" level retains his essential sovereignty, becoming his own cause. It is still subjectivity but formed in a different way because it is never a concept but a confluence of affective forces in life. It is still a social formation but essentially in individual ways. Nonsubjective subjectivity is not an accomplishment of any utopian political project; it is the formation of a new kind of affective politics with a new attention to the one's own body and the self. And only such politics can have a social promise for the sovereignty of the non-sovereigns who are otherwise reduced to Homo oeconomicus (governable) by the dominant politics.

(1) The physical processes of creative movement are what I mean by affective force. Force here signifies becoming. How that force is affective? Because it is produced by the laws of body--to affect and be affected. Outside force refers to social, economic and political forces (to put in Foucault's terms, the outside forces represent Life, Labor and Language: See Deleuze's Foucault (U of Minnesota Press, 1988), and inside force refers to self s relation to itself.

(2) A new fusion of forces gives a birth of 'yet to come" future. The outside forces combine with our inside force i.e. life power and determine the compound of the fusion, which I am referring to "yet to come future." See Deleuze's Foucault.

(3) Melissia Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth, The Affect Theory Reader (Duke University, 2010), p284.

(4) Differences are becomings other than what one is at the present.

(5) Ben Anderson, "Modulating the Excess of Affects," Affect Theory Reader, p. 162, pp. 161-85.

(6) Ibid., p.165.

(7) Ibid., p.165.

(8) Ibid., p.165.

(9) Enrique Dussel calls it "fetishised power." See his book Twenty Thesis in Politic (Duke University Press, 2008).

(10) Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the College de France, 1978-79, trans. G. Burchell (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), pp. 270-71.

(11) For instance, we people want our president/prime minster take care of our economy, health and food for us.

(12) The exception for this desire is of ascetic sadhus who formed their own body and self with almost no connection with the power.

(13) Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics, trans. G. Burchell (New York: Macmillan. p. 283.

(14) Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality Vol. 3: The Care of the Self (New York: Vintage Books, 1988), p. 68.

(15) Michel Foucault, Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow, trans. Catherine Porter (New York: Pantheon, 1984), pp. 41-42.
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Author:Aryal, Yubraj
Publication:Journal of Philosophy: A Cross Disciplinary Inquiry
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2011
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