|Persons and Personal
On the Futures of the Subject
ABSTRACT: This paper is intended as an inquiry regarding contemporary critical assays of subjectivity. In response to the contemporary politics of representation, both in expressions of essentialist identity politics and in versions of social constructivism, and their implication of all pedagogical practices in transfers of power, I wish to project the question of the subjects futures. I choose to discuss the limits of the interior, monadic subject for consideration not only its historical and contemporary effects in the politics of representation, but also for the possibility of thinking beyond it. In the spirit of Foucaults ethical project only a special kind of curiosity and a thinking otherwise could, if luck and wit permit, allow us as individual subjects to go beyond ourselves. Thinking otherwise, when possible, could also suggest going beyond ourselves collectively in the creation of provisional critical pedagogical and ethical community.
The notion of a decentered subject, now affixed to postmodern thought and practice, remains elusive. As a sometimes notorious, sometimes vogue tenet of cultural politics, the multiple, positioned subject breaks from traditional anchorages, whether theological, philosophical and political and their cultivation of experience. Most difficult for public critical reception are accounts of fragmentation and centerless identity, fueling charges that a moral vacuum has been excavated. The risk of losing any guarantee to permanence, order and a planned purpose to life is too great a secular leap into the void for most modern individuals to accept. While the specters of social fragmentation have been recognized as modes of experience under reifying modern social relations, the split subject, from Descartes to Freud and, on into postmodernism's displacements, a nostalgia for a substantial, core self persists.
This paper is intended as an inquiry regarding contemporary critical assays of subjectivity. In response to the contemporary politics of representation, both in expressions of essentialist identity politics and in versions of social constructivism, and their implication of all pedagogical practices in transfers of power, I wish to project the question of the subject's futures.
I choose to discuss the limits of the interior, monadic subject for consideration not only its historical and contemporary effects in the politics of representation, but also for the possibility of thinking beyond it. In the spirit of Foucault's ethical project only a special kind of curiosity and a thinking `otherwise' could, if luck and wit permit, allow us as individual subjects to go beyond ourselves. Thinking otherwise, when possible, could also suggest going beyond ourselves collectively in the creation of provisional critical pedagogical and ethical community.
In an era preoccupied with managing identity and difference, the quest for an alternative ethics of subjectivity can be pursued only with a recognition of their histories in collective and individual modernist projects of subjection for both their colonial and internal Others. The colonial projects of European modernity pioneered an autonomous, cognitive agent abstracted from the world its master inhabited and patrolled. For Ute Guzzoni, we live `still' in an
In sketching an outline of these potential futures, of becoming-other, in our psychic interiors, as well as our collective and competitive quotidian lives, I will first present the question opened up variously by Critchley, Cadava, Balibar, Guzzoni, Derrida and others: `What comes after the subject?' Questioning the historical processes by which an armature has been fitted for the subject as interiority summons projects for its overcoming.
Ventures of a Nomad Subject
More than a style of Rousseauian sentiment, the experience of interiority has been a primary epistemic gear in universalizing discourses. It has underwritten a constricting version of lived experience for the definition of diverse class and colonial projects. Denial of its core substance, as Etienne Balibar indicates, does not sap the ideal of interiority of its vitality, energy and charge. This is evident in the intensity of the resurgence of nationalist, chauvinist and ethnic identity movements have resurged in recent years.
Ute Guzzoni asks a primary and compelling question: `Do we still want to be subjects?' Guzzoni's Heideggerian premise is that we need not, as human beings, be constrained by representation and category. In her critique, no necessity commits humans to the particular ontological state of being subjected, caught within its histories and institutions, including its philosophical, anthropological and humanist embodiments. The `function of the subject', as the object of regulatory, juridical and normative power, grants new life to a perennial phantom subject and the legacy of subject-object dualisms and binarisms. For Guzzoni, the poststructuralist displacement of the subject as an object of discipline only formally replaces the category of a subject that eludes containment and whose representations must now radically be placed in question.
Guzzoni's ploy is to place nothing less than the historical experience of subjectivity into suspension and inquire: what are the implications of shedding this history and knowledge of the body, others and the world? Paralleling Foucault's abiding interest and search for alternate ethics of subjectivity, Guzzoni finds significant implications in questioning the limits of the ways that have formed modernist subjects. The supersession of these limits would necessarily catalyze transformations in human activity, knowledge and experience. Guzzoni believes that "our being human could be fundamentally different, a being-in-the-world; or being-out-of-the-world which would always be concrete" (208).
The subject function is a mutable historical form. In its humanist and modernist personae it has taken on conceptual determination, structuring action and experience within the discursive manifolds of Christian, scientific and capitalist symbolic economies. Guzzoni speculates on a turning point that would constitute the cultural regeneration and historical disjuncture of an epistemic shift. In this perspective, the hypothetical choice between being human or remaining as subjects, would amount to a choice
Colonial and subjected histories as well as the discourses of emancipation, citizenship and universal rights converge in the function of the subject. Its historical value has usurped and denied the relational qualities of sensuous and collective experience to the vital contingencies of material existence, particularly to those raced and gendered bodies it relegates to category. Questioning the historicity of knowing ourselves and being made knowable within disciplines and technologies of subjectivity raises Guzzoni's concern for
Being captured by representation, the subject has traversed a long epistemic historic detour within language. Simon Critchely traces the etymology of the word subject and its shifting implications in Western thought: Subject derives from the Latin subjectum literally,
The epistemic subject function inherited from the Enlightenment enables an abstracting structure to cohere, levelling the concrete and contingent differences in experience and knowledge. Since its inception in the revolutionary displacement of subjection to monarchial divine rights, it has worked as a sustaining principle of individual equivalence or, in Foucault's terms, a `grid of intelligibility' for the formation of a state's subjects. For Guzzoni, it is an entirely `external perspective', implicating those who would appropriate experience in claiming to speak for and represent the diversity of human relations and knowledges.
Subjectivity put into question becomes a politics of being and becoming. For Critchley it is a dispensation of a fundamental ethical relation that precedes both any imposed ontology or epistemology. Infused by Levinas' `first philosophy' it is the ethical relation of responsibility and responsiveness to the other. Critchley poses subjectivity as a question of `creaturliness', positioned in embodied relations to a radical and irreducible alterity. The dispensations of subjectivity requires thinking how subjects are subjected and constituted within forms of ethical interdependence. Critchley argues for an ethical determination of subjectivity and its potential surpassing of all and any categories of containment. His ethical reading of subjectivity finds support in Balibar's (1994) comments on the new historical figures of identity emerging from the transitions from feudal subjection to republican citizenship. They are also augmented by Derrida's provocative question "by what right does subjectivity exist?" (in Cadava, 100), a turn of phrase that I want to redouble with a Nietzshean accent, in asking by whose rights do subjects exist and who determines the nature of human relations?
Foucault believes Kant's question `what are we?' is possibly the "most certain of all philosophical problems", the "problem of the present time, and of what we are, in this very moment". Foucault reopened questions Kant posed in reflection upon the meaning of Aufklarung, the Enlightenment. Kant queried the implications for society, philosophy and the ethical constitution of identity in the wake of revolutionary transformations in thought and political organization. He contrasts Kant's question to Descartes' own "`who am I? I, as a unique but universal and unhistorical subject. I, for Descartes is everyone, anywhere at any moment" (in Dreyfus and Rabinow, 216).
The subject function is pedagogically a question of who speaks for and against the subject. It has spoken from a monologic and reactive stance, signs of the zeal of a will to power outside the spaces and temporality of lived experience. In Eric Alliez (1996) inquiry, subjectivity has become a function of a fundamental `capture', making experience hostage to `capital times' aberrant and abstract formal logic of exchange. The category of the subject may have outlived its historical term and uses, produced as an effect of an episteme's dispersals of economic and symbolic power. As Guzzoni states "the conviction is now widely shared that what is sought for in this questioning can no longer be changeless ontological and anthropological constants" (204).
The Productivity of Being
Foucault questioned the borders and limits to concepts and values within the philosophical, political and scientific structures of the modernist West. His historical and theoretical research sought to identify the relational patterns and differences linking together the discursive, linguistic determinations of cultural practices and their non-discursive, `outside' material realities. The non-discursive can be thought of as the exterior, or in Foucault's terms the `outside' of language.
In both Discipline and Punish and Madness and History, Foucault is concerned with a doubling or folding he claimed as being inherent to development and organization of thought. The intensive qualities of self-reflection, discipline and control by an interiorized authority are aspects of this folding and doubling. Deleuze comments that "the inside as an operation of the outside: in all his work Foucault seems haunted by this theme of an inside which is merely the fold of the outside" (1986,97).
The creation of social sciences formulate an inside to experiences, language and human productive labor. Deleuze regards the fold as germinal to all claims to identity, the placing into being and becoming of all oppositions of force, whether ontological, epistemological or ethical. He regards the fold as central to what he calls Foucault's three central questions "what can I do, what power can I claim, and what resistances may I counter? What can I be, with what folds can I surround myself or how can I produce myself as a subject?" (114)
Deleuze's reading of Foucault contributes to his project of articulating a materialist ontology. In his innovative and often transgressive interpretations of Nietzsche, Bergson and Spinoza, Deleuze works through his concept of the productivity of being. To speak of being as productive means for Deleuze that difference and hybridity are protean, generative powers without reserve that precede and provide the conditions of possibility for any epistemology as well as for all forms of cultural identity. The emergence of difference is dispersive, genealogical. He is committed to nothing less than a non-foundational and productive ontology. It is a radical philosophy of difference that challenges presiding and perennial logics and economies of representation in Western thought, science and cultural practices.
Deleuze's reading of Spinoza's ontological parallelism (1990) grants thought no primacy over the body. His `nomadic' materialist ontology does not privilege, in Cartesian terms, either thought or extension. Deleuze wants to lay claim to an objectivist interpretation in which, as Michael Hardt explains "there are certain principles of being that are prior to, and independent of, the productive power of thought" (1993,78). The social production of knowledge is derivative and `reproductive' of a more primary, non-foundational, materialist ontology. It is an ontology that views being as productive and non-teleological.
Deleuze's materialism affirms a perennial generation of difference. The material nature of difference, of an inherent becoming-other, is an aspect of existence's abundance and continual transformations. Nomadic forms of becoming-other, including a `becoming-woman, are aspects of the nature of things, in the objective, natural world as well as in human practice, discourse and knowledge. Of interest to contemporary material feminists, Elizabeth Grosz, Rosi Braidotti and Judith Butler is Deleuze's positive concept of desire. Following Nietzsche, Deleuze's is a philosophical engineering project that inverts Platonism, giving desire and processes of becoming primacy.
In their crosscultural and historical variation, processes of becoming-subject are mechanisms for the legitimation of order. Modernity has been generated in homogenizing and essentializing cultural codings by which differentiations of race, gender and class have been marked and established as the basis for entitlement, access to citizenship and the subjugation of its excluded. Differences are discursively and materially deployed as conditions of possibility. Postmodern subjects surpass representation, system and totality in processes of interrupted becoming-other. The nomadic subject participates in acts of perennial seizure and ceding of desire and difference. The ontological productivity of being is a perpetual becoming-other. The complex relations, values and material conditions that constitute a concept, a representation or a text are singular events. They are desire's events, traversing the complex relational fields of experience. They are continually open to `rhizomatic' forms of development without a telos.
Reflecting on these critical theoretical premises is important for rethinking agency in decentered representations of the subject. If critical praxis floats in the material currents of power it must also negotiate, then it is confronted continually by the question of how to act in the interest of political and cultural change. In a postmodern world of decentered subjects, there is no stance or story outside the often stormy weather fared in the experience of daily life's contradictions and ambiguity. Agency informs political and pedagogical projects and is made possible by the very material productions of power that must often be resisted. In the Spinozist terms favored by Foucault and Deleuze, it is the power to act upon the actions of others.
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