Post-political subject: a modernist critique.
Starting from Descartes, the sovereign subject is a representation of the thinking "I" (mind), which is separate and distinct from body. It is a rational agent which is free from the grip of the sensual body. For Descartes, conscious mind and extended body are different substances. Body, for him, is just what mind thinks--"I think, therefore I am." Mind possesses 'clear' and 'distinct' ideas or conscious states on the basis of which we evaluate the external world. So, for Descartes, subjectivity is an autonomous state.
Kant rejects the Cartesian model of sovereign subject which can independently know the truth of the world without the mediation of any external set of criteria--'universal laws.' For Kant, the autonomy of the subject depends on the self-legislation of the moral law giving rules that one gives to oneself: "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law." (1) Kant frees the subject from surrounding social contents, but locates it in a transcendental position. Kantian transcendental self was centered by a rational uniform set of universal principles that the subject held independent of social stuffs. Kant's challenge to Descartes is that subjectivity is not self-contained but works with transcendentally imposed, and thereby external, universal moral laws--categorical imperatives.
Contrary to this priority of the subject, Heidegger's goal is to show that there is no subject distinct, a-priori, from the external world of things, because Dasein is essentially Being-in-the-world. Therefore, Heidegger combines the separated subject and object with the concept of "Dasein" which is essentially a Being-in-the-world. And more humorously, Heidegger states that Being-in the world goes unnoticed in trite everydayness, but that we are conscious of it when we are really concerned about something significant. On these terms, subjectivity is an epistemic condition set by the exteriority. Derrida questions the distinction between other--exteriority and me--interiority and the impossibility of any solid essence that would make up one's being. One's being is an indeterminable space of in-between-ness in the presence and absence of essence, a space that language, for instance, cannot ultimately resolve. He remarks "It is because I am not one with my myself that I can speak with the other and address the other." (2)
Foucault suggests that the self is an externally manipulated instrument of subjection. In other words, subjectivity is an effect of human sciences and political power. Externally imposed power creates effects on my interiority. So to understand my interiority there is required an understanding of exteriority, which then functions as an epistemic condition of self-understanding.
The problem with these writers, as mentioned, is that they treat subjectivity as a construction rather than as an act of self-creation, giving undue emphasis to the exteriority of constructed epistemic conditions. I will show that what is wrong with such approaches is that they rely on the argument that if we intend to develop rational criterion for defining subjectivity (concepts such as freedom, sovereignty and truth), then we should locate our identity as always and forever "being beside oneself."
Descartes' idea of the sovereign self which is the center of consciousness, which regulates the body, has been the target of much criticism. He minimizes the role of body, giving the mind autonomy in its exclusion of body as its other. In fact, mind is not a separate entity. Consciousness, as Damasio puts it in his Descartes' Error, is about of "minding the body." All the modes in which body is affected are determined by the nature of the body affected and the nature of the body that affects. The human body is affected by a 'mode' caused by external bodies and human consciousness is constituted by an idea of that body. All affections are caused by the nature of my own body and external bodies to it. We do not need to relate it to any ideal ego. Subjectivity is a body's postulation to itself or other bodies in nature. That's why the mind is just an idea of body. Spinoza says, "An idea, which excludes the existence of our body, cannot be postulated in our mind, but contrary thereto. Our mind is the endeavor to affirm the existence of our body: thus an idea, which negatives the existence of our body, is contrary to our mind...." (3) Kant was right to reject the Cartesian model of subjectivity but wrong to place the self in a transcendental position. As Spinoza makes it clear in the above lines, the self is totally ingrained in the modes of its affects--the body's affectivity is (its) nature. Heidegger, too, is right in his attempt to synthesize the subject and object separation, Yet Heidegger misunderstands the nature of the subject's relation with the world. 'Dasein' is not "Being-in-the-World." This notion denies the possibility to live life by itself and thus makes the self depend on others. We might have asked Heidegger, "Can we surrender our subjective existence to a chaotic alterity or theyness?" The sense of belonging to others, as Heidegger himself illustrates, makes us irresponsible to oneself [ourselves?] because being is more about belongingness than self-affectivity. Such a passive notion of self creates alienation, boredom and anxiety. Given this, I propose to recast Dasein's ontology in immediate tactile sensations (affects) that the body presents to us. Dasein (If I understand it correctly)--subjective individuationis not Being-in-the-World," it is "Being-in-the-body beside the world." The manner in which my body affects and is affected by the ontic-world determines the ontology of Dasein. Dasein does not oppose any imaginary or real other but participate in the self-making process of its becoming. Dasein also determines the forms of the world for me. And again I reiterate that it's not Being-in-the-World (because the world does not exist prior to bodily affects) but it's through "Being-in-the-body beside the world that my Dasein infolds its becomings. Derrida assaults the traditional search for a sovereign subject as a center of consciousness, but too often stages his critique in terms of an imperialistic and hegemonic obedience to language. I can agree with Derrida that language works in the system of 'difference,' but reject that 'difference' can be the only content of subjectivity. The content of subjectivity for me is the mode--each mode is a substance (4) (so is not a void language creates in self)--of affects. Language is only one, albeit powerful, way these modes might be expressed. Here I go along with Habermas "Thus, Derrida achieves an inversion of Husserlian Foundationalism inasmuch as the originative transcendental power of creative subjectivity passes over into the anonymous, history-making productivity of writing [language]." (5)
I disagree with Derrida; I believe that without affects language cannot give possibilities of meaning to our feelings. Affect is the most abstract because affect cannot be fully realised in language, and because affect is always prior to and/or outside of consciousness (Massumi, Parables). The body has a grammar of its own that cannot be fully captured in language because it "doesn't just absorb pulses or discrete stimulations; it infolds contexts ..." (6) Lastly, I stump out Foucault's idea of self as an effect of disciplinary society, a thesis which he himself discarded in his later works where he adopts an aesthetic approach to self. Foucault discusses the Greek notion of "caring for oneself" as an ethical way to human freedom. On this understanding, self is not the formation of the order of things from top (state) to bottom (people). The self can influence its immediate surroundings without any direct relation to the top. In the 80s Foucault was aware of the nature of the ethical shift in the power dynamics in human society. This is the reason he abandoned his idea of self as a product of disciplinary society and embraced the aesthetic approach to subjectivity based on the idea of self-affectivity. In sum, Foucault yields to the fact that an independent force of our 'inner nature' can find its own way of self-making, and he thinks this process of self-making in relation to given power structures. Actually this idea minimizes the self's capacity to transcend the possibility of force that resists it.
It's not exteriority that determines what I am, but my 'AM' is beyond exteriority and beyond itself. What defines oneself is intrinsic 'passion' or FORCE, which always strives to actualize the potential of 'being otherwise.' Charles Altieri says " The 'I' that emerges ... does not fight for its imaginary substance by opposing itself to other people's identifications. Rather this 'I' depends on its ability to adopt itself to the various forces of perception and memory and reflection that in effect call into existence." (7) And these forces are certainly available to us in different frameworks of [cultural] otherness, for instance, Muslim versus Christian, West versus East etc. The nature of such actualizations does not follow any prior pattern. "... what one is capable of being is not rooted in a prior knowledge of who one is . Its principle is freedom, but a freedom, which does not follow from any postulation of our nature or essence." (8) It is stylistically different from 'prior' forms of existence, different aesthetically rather than epistemologically. When we do not know what we are beforehand, we become aesthetic beings rather than epistemic ones.
As aesthetic beings, our concrete freedom lies in our capacity to cultivate a style of existence. Here, what is most important is placing emphasis on the aesthetic attitude; in creating a style of existence--aesthetics. (9) Foucault in his book Use of Pleasure clearly illustrates how such shifts of emphasis from an aesthetic to an epistemic regime took place by analysising the pre-Socratic erotic art. He says that pre-Socratics would feel and think about love aesthetically. But the Platonic eroticism shifts the question of aesthetic existence from the object one loves to the question of an epistemic experience of love--from the question of "how love is" to" what love is."
The key question is how can we perform ethical practices of freedom in terms of an "aesthetics of existence" or how can we practice our freedom as a sovereign subject without the imposition of political/moral/hermeneutic codes in a civil society? How can we transcend hermeneutics to define personhood? Or how can we aesthetically create our ethical existence in terms of the self-affectivity of the body? As we can observe from Foucault's Use of Pleasure, ethics for the pre-Socratics was connected to aesthetic domains. Here, ethics masked its socio-political character with its intense constitutive force for the sake of socializing subjectivity. I contest that it is with the exercise of the intensity of constitutive force inherent in our subjective interiority that we can create singularity within us: "those intentional and voluntary actions by which men [...] seek to transform themselves, to change themselves in their singular being, and to make their life into an oeuvre that carries aesthetic values and meets certain stylistic criteria." (10) This deployment of inner force enhances our capacity to expand the possibilities lying within in our existential interiority. Our ethical schema can enhance our everyday life within an aesthetic existence where life is not reduced to any positive social project, where self can stand beyond 'biopolitics'. On this scheme, our existence is laid open to any possible becomings. It's not stagnated in any fixation. Self is always in a process of becoming different. Different from and beyond what it is. It always crosses the fixation of 'is' to become 'isn't'. Existence is always in making/becoming different, "... always retaining the capacity to be other than what it is" (11) by "a dangerous and open-ended encounter with the outside, the "'folding' of the forces of outside inside the self, whereby the free subject is formed as 'the inside of the outside'." (12) The act of 'self-fashioning' enfolds non-identical doubling rather than identity in a double where interiority infolds the exterior horizons of exteriority and exteriority infolds the interior horizons of interiority always with an open-ended possibility of doubling, which the interiority of inside are folded across the spaces between 'inside' and 'outside.' Each movement, from inside to outside and vice versa, resists actualization. It always remains in movement; each movement is singular, self-contained, an unactualized possible. This is the picture of our identity as non-identity. Thus the aesthetic nature of self-fashioning rather than the construction of our existence refutes any diagrammatic fixation of our essential identity. It is just a movement, unpacking the packs of becoming--the eternal recurrence.
Such transgression of exterior forces that tries to actualize our being makes our existence an "undefined work of freedom." We affirm a freedom that resists the outside for its specification in or through us. The freer we become from those forces, the more we become active and the less we become reactive. And the more we become active, the more we become our own cause like Spinoza's God. We become more our own cause insofar as we realize ourselves to be part of an assemblage of affective and ideational bodies that are already existing, and that through our awareness, we can intentionally construct. We become our own cause, to the degree that "our own" becomes larger and larger. All this stems from Spinoza's idea that we become more Joyous and more powerful, the more we become our own cause.
The private quest for autonomy can be asocial and anarchical; it remains irreducible to any social order. Real freedom is achieved through transgression rather than actualized in a utopian end. "Thus our real freedom does not consist either in ... finding our place within some traditional or ethical code ... our real freedom is found in dissolving or changing the polities that embody our nature, and as such it is asocial or anarchical. No society or polity could be based on it." (13) Likewise, our sovereignty is sovereign not because of any utopian social project which axiomatizes it, but as sovereign because it transcends such axiomatization. The sovereign subject transgresses any actual identity that the social diagram may impose on it. "... sovereign ... [is] the transgressor in relation to itself. Sovereign is s/he who is simultaneously inside the space of order as the source of its constitutive principles and outside it as something that cannot be subsumed under these principles. ..." (14)
What, then, is the condition of truth that lies in the domains of sovereign subject? What is it within us that unfolds independently or beyond the social project imposed on us externally? The sovereign subject, which thinks its own thought and actualizes its own conditions for new becomings, unfolds the affective dimensions of experience creates its own conditions for life. For, it expresses the particular structure of affects. Intensity and the involvement of our body with other bodies frees us from the imaginary confinement of our ego. Truths and values are created in our efforts to actualize our desires. This unfolding occurs in conjunction with the aesthetic conditions of affects under the Spinozist condition of joy. (15) In such aesthetic condition for becoming oneself, truth and joy become identical. As John Keats states, "Truth is beauty [condition for joy] and beauty is truth." Truth is a matter of feeling how affects are transported (or cross) between bodies. Here, truth is not about mind but it is all about "minding the body."
Truth informs us about the affective states in which our every day experiences enter into. Any idea is truthful if it increases the body's capacity to act and false if it decreases that capacity. Truth is an active state and falsity is a passive state of body. No exteriority can impose truth as a characteristic from 'outside.' Given the ubiquity of affect, it is important to take note that the power of many forms of truth lies not so much in their ideological effects, but in their ability to create affective resonances within and beyond political power or social contents. Self is involved in an 'inner dialogue' with those resonances to intensify our vital force of life to maximize the joyful passions (16) in us. The vital force of life produces and shapes social contents but can never be thought in subordination to them.
The condition for truth that affect sets forth makes the body (or bodies) sovereign. This is a major criticism of the practice which tends to define the conditions of freedom and truth for a sovereign subject in terms of the fake sovereignty of dependent mind. Our ideas of freedom and truth are not conscious political states in mind but affective apolitical states in body. The ideas in mind correspond with the movements in the interior organism of body. They tell us about the states of our thought's relation to tactile sensations--active and passive in their nature--and their capacity to affect themselves. This is not a representation of social contents, but the potency of dynamic force that defines the self's relation to itself, endowing sovereignty to a subject.
Subjectivity is formed with tactile sensations of intensity; it finds its way through a moment of "unformed and unstructured" potentials in body, i.e. affects which prepares itself for action in a given circumstance by adding a quantitative dimension of intensity to the quality of sensations. When your body infolds a context and another body (real or virtual) is expressing intensity in that context, one intensity is infolded into another. By resonating with the intensity of the contexts it infolds, the body attempts to ensure that it is prepared to respond appropriately to a given circumstance. In this way subjective positions emerge and dissolve in the transmission of affects. Without affect, contexts--social or political--cannot constitute ideas about them because they would then have no intensity. In short, affect plays an important role in determining the relationship between our bodies, our political environment, and others. Affect helps our personal transformation into [political] experiences. Therefore affect is an ubiquitous phenomenon in our subjective experiences:
The affect system is therefore the primary motivational system because without its amplification, nothing else can matter. It thus combines urgency and generality. It lends its power to memory, to perception, to thought, and to action no less than to the drives (17)
At this point the question becomes: Don't 'outside'--political and social elements--have any influence on the interiority of a self? Are not affective states themselves the effects of outside? Can we reduce their role? The clear answer is NO. What I mean is that when our body presents those outside elements to our interiority, a process of double movement results in which interior sensations give hermeneutic possibilities to the outside. They even shape and reshape the structure of the outside. So the personal/inside always exceeds the political/outside. One may still argue there is no inside without outside; personal is political etc. One may argue that such ideal transgression is simply normative. However I argue that the political is always shaped by personal particularly in today's society where there is a shift in power dynamics. The political is shaped by a micro group of the individual's choices and tendencies toward resistance. Here, a people's affective states do not necessarily yield to the outside political structure. Foucault refers to Baudelaire' ascetic dandy "who makes his body, his behavior, his feelings and passions, his very existence, a work of art" (18) without 'outside'. If the dandy has something political in his existence it is always personal.
To recapitulate what I have claimed in this essay. Subjectivity cannot be determined by exteriority/alterity; rather it is formed by the independent forces of our inner life within and beyond the exterior framework of politics. The self's capacity to affect itself, to involve inner dialogue with itself, our thought's capacity to reflect upon itself, fashions our subjective position, determines truth for us, liberates us from the coercive exteriority in the form of political/moral power and thus ensures our sovereignty as a free subject. It resists any external force, which tries to schematize one's subjective individuation. It is always in the process of self-making in an ever more intense way. Such a form of subjectivity is not interpolated by political control; rather, it lends its power to all exterior 'technologies' which try to prevent us to be the cause of our own action, feeling, thought and creative imagination.
(1) Immanuel Kant, Ethical Philosophy: Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals and Metaphysical Principles of Virtue, trans. James Wesley Ellington (Hackett Publishing, 1995), p.30.
(2) Caputo, Deconstruction in a Nutshell: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida, John D. Caputo (ed.) (New York: Fordham University Press, 1997), p. 14.
(3) Benedict Spinoza, Chief Works of Benedict de Spinoza Vol. II, trans. R. H. M. Elwes (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1955), p.123.
(4) Spinoza says that mode is a substance. I am implying that the style that we give to our existence fashions what we are.
(5) Jurgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures, trans. Frederick Lawrence (Massachusetts: MIT Press, 198), p.178.
(6) Brain Massumi, Parables for the Virtual (Durham: Duke UP, 2002), p. 30.
(7) Charles Altieri, the Particular of Rupture: The Aesthetics of Affects (Ithaca: Cornel University Press, 2003), p. 204.
(8) J. Rajchman "Foucault's Art of Seeing," ed B. Smart, Michel Foucault: Critical Assessments, Vol.1 (London: Routledge, 1994), p. 192.
(9) Great modernist writers and philosophers such as James Joyce, Wallace Stevens, Franz Kafka, Fredrich Nietzsche, and Soren Kierkegaard inspire readers to self-fashion the way we see, feel, think and taste. Joyce's self's inner--dialogue with itself, Stevens' philosophical idea of truth as affections in body, Kafka's radical resistance of capitalist social structure, Nietzsche's idea of transvaluation of all values and Kierkegaard's radical individualism are some instances of modernist attempts to self-fashion the modes of our individuations in their interactions with perception, memory and history--the outside. Their attempt is to restore the aesthetic existence that we lost for an epistemic existence.
(10) Michel Foucault, History of Sexuality. Vol 2: The Use of Pleasure (New York: Random House, 1990), p.10.
(11) Sergei Prozorov, Foucault, Freedom and Sovereignty (Burlington: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2007), p. 55.
(12) Gilles Deleuze, Foucault (London: The Athlone Press, 1988), p. 118.
(13) John Rajchman, Michel Foucault: The freedom of Philosophy (New Work: Columbia University Press, 1985), p. 123.
(14) Prozorov, Foucault, Freedom and Sovereignty, p.84.
(15) Spinoza says that joyful passion that makes our body active is truth (good) and sorrowful passion is false (bad). So truth is nothing but the state of affect in body.
(16) Gay communities' self-affectivity changed the 'outside' to include them in the structure of power in 1970's.
(17) E Virginia Demose, Exploring Affect: The Selected Writings of Silvan S Tomkins (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p.87.
(18) Michel Foucault, Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow, trans. Catherine Porter (New York: Pantheon, 1984), pp. 41-42.
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|Publication:||Journal of Philosophy: A Cross Disciplinary Inquiry|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2010|
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