Beyond Capital

Polemics, Critique and Analysis

Posts Tagged ‘transgression

Political militancy and the question of literature

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I am no literary scholar. I have neither the qualification nor the inclination to be one. Therefore, I wouldn’t know – and can’t say – how a literary scholar ought to go about his/her business of engaging with literature. However, I can probably talk about what an aspiring militant seeking to engage with the literary can and ought to do.

The question before such an individual cannot be how the literary can serve the political – or, for that matter, how the political can serve the literary. The question, instead, must be; can one approach the literary and the political as two paradigmatic conditions of the singularities of literature and politics, and constellate them as those generic singularities. Politics, as opposed to the political, and literature, as opposed to the literary, is precisely about such constellating of generic singularities. [Here one must be clear that politics and literature as generic singularities, even as they are informed in their determinate instantiations by the particularites of their respective paradigmatic conditions, of the political and the literary, are irreducible to those conditions. The paradigmatic particularity and the singularity whose instantiation it informs are in an asymmetrical dialectic.]

In other words, an aspiring militant is faithful to his aspiration only when he seeks to equally engage with the literary and the political by struggling against – that is, criticising both theoretically and practically – the pushing of the political into the literary and vice-versa. For such an individual, it can never be about the ‘enchantment’ of poetry against the ‘disenchanted’ arrogance of critical theory, or vice-versa. It’s not even about being even-handed with regard to this binary so that some sort of reconciliation, either additive or aggregative, can be effected between the two, and the binary as the distributive structuring of differences can exist by striking a balance (a golden mean as it were). Rather, an aspiring militant must approach critical theory and poetry as two determinate anthropological-passional registers, and two determinate historical indices, of thinking in its affective (and thus impersonal) singularity. Thinking — we would do well to remember here a la both Heidegger, and Badiou’s Platonist matheme — is that which has not yet been thought and which perpetually resists thought.

So, if it is not the normativity of logos (political philosophy, critical theory) over the literary, it cannot be the poem-as-difference either. For a radical critique of the logos — which is the force-field of identities and within which the subjective experience of difference that is the poem is already always subsumed, thereby articulating the poem as an objective identity (difference-as-identity) – what is required is concept of the impossibility of conceptualisation (logos).

In other words, we need to rearticulate logos as difference in its limit. This is what the matheme, thanks to Badiou’s radical reinterpretation of Plato, amounts to. And that is the reason why I personally prefer the matheme, over Heidgger’s “poetic-thinking”, as a rigorous explication of thinking as the presentation of the void of thought. [It is on account of its rigour that the matheme enables an anticipative-prefigurative articulation of future-directedness, which is much more powerful and radical than what Heidegger’s “poetic-thinking” affords.]

Therefore, both literature and politics as generic singularities are instantiations of that singular affectivity of thinking in its indivisibility. It must be mentioned here that they are generic singularities only in their tendency to mutually constellate with one another as the uninterrupted process of singularisation (Badiou’s “singular-multiple”).

Unfortunately, there are far too many people – including both terrorists of the political, and terrorists of the literary — who miss this only to unreflexively indulge in such stupid and pointless instrumentalism from one end or the other. The former in the name of some kind of romanticised radical political valour, and the latter in the name of the enchantment of poetry and suchlike. And then, of course, there are those middlemen, even more stupid, who have made it their lifework to effect a reconciliation between the two instrumentalist modes so that the binary can continue to perpetuate itself even as their privileged position as oh-so-balanced and oh-so-ecumenical scholars is preserved and reinforced within the system that is this binary.

These middlemen can often be seen neurotically holding forth on the enchantment of poetry for the benefit of those who are engaged in politics, and on the valour of the movemental for the benefit of those who are engaged in literature. Such propensities, needless to say, are animated by the objective reality of capitalist modernity, which is a horizon constitutive of mutually competing particularities seeking to accomplish their sovereignty through such competition.

It ought to have become clear by now, I assume, that I’m distinguishing singularity from sovereignty, which is the particular seeking to institute the universality of its own particularity. Therefore, an aspiring militant who seeks to engage with literature can be faithful to both his aspiration and his engagement only if his activity is informed by the following conception: there can only be singularity, no sovereignty. Or, if, following Georges Bataille, he does decide to affirm sovereignty then he must carefully attend to the conceptual valency of sovereignty in Bataille’s thinking, and discourse, of “transgression” “radical evil” and the “general economy” of expenditure (as opposed to what Bataille calls the “restricted economy” of production and accumulation). If he does that he will see that, for Bataille, singularity is the only sovereignty that can be affirmed.

The affirmation of literature (together with politics) as a generic singularity, if situated rigorously in that context, is not an “art-for-art’s-sake” kind of argument. Not at all. Instead, what such affirmation amounts to is literature is so autonomous, or singular, that it’s not even for itself, to say nothing of being for the political. The autonomy of literature that a militant engaging with literature must affirm — if he’s to be truly committed to his literary engagement, and thereby to his militancy — is not the sovereignty-seeking aestheticised particularity of literature, but literature as the “inaesthetic” (Badiou) evental-process of singularisation in the determinate paradigmatic condition of the literary.

It, therefore, follows that to think the singularity of literature, or, for that matter, the singularity of politics, is to necessarily think them in their respective limits. To not do that would hypostatise the eventality of the singular with the paradigmatic condition, wherein it is determinately instantiated. That would amount to politics as the revolution of the event turning into counter-revolutionary antipolitics of evental revisionism.

Politics then is nothing else save the actualisation/actuality of this mode of thinking singularities in their respective limits. More importantly, it’s such thinking in action. In such circumstances, the only radical possibility before militant politics, as far as literature is concerned, is to demonstrate and reveal, not politics in literature but politics of literature. That is, not the demonstration of what literature says about politics, but the demonstration of politics in what literature in being literature is. More precisely, the politics of literature is literature being the revelation of the formal economy it is as literature.


For a new aesthetic of revolutionary exhibitionism against the aestheticised politics of liberal bourgeois voeyurism

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There is a need to think a new revolutionary aesthetics of exhibitionism against liberal exhibitionism — for me, the latter is basically the politics of commodity abstraction and society of spectacle a la Situationists such as Guy Debord. However, in order to do that the scopic drive will need to be rethought and re-envisaged, not in terms of contemplativeness, but contemplativeness pushed to its extreme that renders the contemplated object into a dialectical image. [Now, this is already a displacement of contemplation into practical-materiality — or, at any rate, the former being placed under the condition of the latter — in Marx’s sense of the terms as he explicates them in his Theses on Feurbach and The German Ideology.] That is crucial if desire is not to be conflated and confounded with its cathection (investment). Such cathection or investment being the interruption and concomitant distortion of desire precisely on account of its determinate instantiation. After all, as Lacan would tell us, the “petit object a” is not much more than a metonymy of desire.

And here Nietzsche’s acute poser about whether truth is not a woman can be deployed rather productively. “Woman” here in its Nietzschean articulation must, arguably, be grasped in terms of “becoming-woman”. That is, woman not as an anthropological difference (which is difference-as-identity) but as an ontological difference (difference as differing away from identity). Translating this antidialectical conception of “becoming-woman” into the conceptual framework of the asymmetrical or materialist dialectic we could say, following Lacan, that woman-as-truth or becoming-woman is to be understood as the Real that cannot be inscribed within the horizon of the symbolic even as it founds that horizon. Clearly then, ‘woman’, in “becoming-woman” or Nietzsche’s “woman-is-truth”, is now no longer thinking of even ontological difference but is, instead, a limit-conceptual figure of ontological subtraction.

This, I beleive, dovetails with what I have tried to get at above with regard to grasping the exhibitionism/voyeurism couple not simply as a dialectic, but as an asymmetrical dialectic, and thus as determinate presentation of exhibitionism-voyeurism singularity in excess of their symmetrically dialectical coupling as exhibitionism/voyeurism duality. In that context, the exhibitionist desire of revolutionary militancy is not merely exhibitionism but Dionysian exhibitionism (a la Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy, for instance). And here, therefore, the exhibitionist revolutionary-militant is not a declarative-constantive object — or a directive tribune — vis-a-vis a milieu of passive contemplators/consumers he/she subjectivates thus. Rather, he/she is a semiosis of impulse or symptom of performativity, which is the object-exceeding force in the distinct temporality of its own singularising/singular subjective-materiality. Something that renders this sign/symptom a unit of the milieu of active and continuous producers in the Brechtian sense.

In fact, that is precisely the reason why I think Marquis de Sade’s ‘pornography’ poses and articulates a revolutionary-republican aesthetic. If we attend carefully to the apparently pornographic discourse of his literary production — particularly, his ‘Philosophy in the Bedroom’ — we see that not only does it have a didactic form but one whose mode is Dionysian (performative), which this form strives to transparently reveal. Clearly, De Sade’s discourse ceaselessly registers the thinking of the ethical imperative of desire and the moral law together, but in their separateness. It’s this form and mode of what I wish to call the Dionysian didacticism of desire — and not just any form of BDSM pornography — that renders De Sade’s ‘pornographic’ discourse the index of counter-contemplative revolutionary-republican aesthetics. And it’s arguably this formal and modal dimension of De Sade’s literary discourse that Foucault misses when he critically describes the former as “the sergeant of sex”, who, in Foucault’s estimation, elevates transgression itself into a law.

After all, it’s not for nothing that Lacan impressed on us the indispensability of thinking Sade with Kant. In short, the new revolutionary aesthetic of exhibitionism-voyeurism — as a historically concrete reconstitution of the revolutionary-republican aesthetic of De Sade — will be one wherein a form of contemplation is already always a demonstration of the displacement of contemplation. That is to say, such an aesthetic will truly fulfil itself only when exhibitionism is already always the demonstration of excess of exhibitionism in its limit.

Therefore, the problem of pleasure, from the standpoint of revolutionary politics, is ineluctable. However, the question then is whether pleasure is merely subjectively interiorised experience that is grasped by way of phenomenological reduction, or, is the question really of pleasure founding its own duration and historicity. For, if it’s the latter, then it is already a post-phenomenological displacement of pleasure beyond its phenomenological experientiality, albeit necessarily in and through that experientiality and phenomenology of pleasure. Hence, what we have is pleasure as an existential experience informing the constitutivity of an austerely neutral extension, which is the historicity of suspension of history — “historicity without history” in Alain Badiou’s terms. This, to my mind, amounts to pleasure founding its own duration and historicity.

And this, as far as I understand, is the path Freud also prefigures and indicates in his engagement with the question of pleasure. For him, the problem of pleasure is not, in the final analysis, one of interiorised experience, subjective intentionality and thus joyous productivity. Rather, the problem of pleasure (read in terms of jouissance) brings to him, particularly if we read him through a Lacanian lens, the question of lack and/or trauma as the Real. This, from what I understand, is the crux of his “beyond the pleasure principle”. And this reveals why Freud is no phenomenologist of pleasure, one who would be concerned merely with the question of alternation between the reality principle and the pleasure principle. Rather, Freud’s concern — in his concerted engagement with the problem of pleasure — indicates the need to develop an approach that thinks the problem of pleasure and its politics in terms of the suspension of the horizon of this alternation of the reality principle and the pleasure principle.

To think the question of pleasure in those terms – i.e. to think pleasure as an experiential-phenomenological moment of the post-phenomenological movement of its own overcoming (beyond the pleasure principle) — is to already have pleasure-as-joyous-productivity displace and thus transfigure itself into the neutral of subtraction. An engagement with the affective experience of pleasure, if it’s rigorous, is, arguably, bound to lead one towards its post-phenomenological beyond – which, in the same movement, would also obviously be a radical break with the horizon of the reality principle. That is demonstrated, besides Freud, by Roland Barthes: a thinker of pleasure for whom the twinned-questions of “zero degree” and “the neutral” are what ultimately matter.

As for me, I have been helped quite a bit in this respect by Badiou’s critique of what he calls “democratic materialism” – the differing alternation of bodies and languages (or joyousness and its interruption) – as also his attendant critique of Deleuze’s anti-Freudian productive conception of desire (“desiring-production”).

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