Spontaneous Moments, or, Arendt in a Nutshell

The only law of the cosmos is organized chaos, celestial bodies in a delicate balance. Here, even accidental deviations are calculable to some degree. Everything here is as certain as a mobile which spins above a child sleeping soundly in a crib. The other day, the child had said ‘Mama’ for the first time, usually a cause for wonder in this hectic world- if only someone had heard her other than the corners of the room. If only Mama and other-person (no concept of ‘Daddy/Papa/Dada’ yet) had bothered to stop living lives of predetermined trajectories and stopped seeing every collision as inevitable, stopped living atomic lives of meaningless fission, as impersonal to wonder as debris drifting away, indifferent to the wisdom that true life begins in contingent moments. What matters is not the universality of life and death but what comes in between, that which is irreducible to any higher order: even though we are often held enthralled and thus controlled by forces outside of us, the laughter of a child remains spontaneous and unbound. It therefore gives us hope that the future isn’t as apocalyptic as it appears to be, hope that the future is still open to contingency. Sometimes it takes a child to remind us how to live, if only we’d listen.


On Patting Ourselves On Our Backs

 

 

 

Storms often cross the skies of Metro Manila. They are a common occurrence in the Philippnes. These storms are as familiar to those who dwell in the city as the city itself. However, once in a while a storm brings a torrential deluge of such proportions that our everyday routines are disturbed and the familiar call to be human echoes throughout. The waters rise and our beloved and accursed city is devastated, only to be rebuilt again by we generous souls who decide to “go down the hill” and be genuinely human.

Or so they genuinely think. Or rather, so we genuinely think.

Once in a while our city drowns, lives are lost or are subjected to enormous suffering, and our- and by ‘our’, I refer to everyone who ever reads this post- routine, petit-bourgeois lives are once again endowed with meaning and purpose. When the flood rises, we suddenly become human.

There is no denying the capacity of storms- or of calamities in general- to make the human aspect of human beings, all too often forgotten in times of peace, return again. When the world is razed, the veils which blind us are raised, and we put aside our daily routines and everyday hypocrisies to extend our arms to those who cannot and at times can never again rise by themselves. A general downpour of compassion commences. All of this is commendable, and we are obliged, not just as Ateneans but also as decent human beings, to do so.

I am certain that all of us in this room did what we could to assist in the plight of those affected by the recent storms. We did so because it was the human thing to do and not to have done so would not have only been inhuman, but would also have been madness. But as the floods subside, everything returns to routine, and the moment which comes once in a while for us to be genuinely human fades. As everything is once again rebuilt and normalcy returns, so do the veils return. We, all of us, cease to be in solidarity, that is, human.

This pattern must become the object of critique- not only of society but of ourselves. It is a time to reflect upon the direction of our lives, to ask ala Loyola “What have I done with my life, what will I be doing with my life?”; or even better, to ask like Ellacuria, “What have I done to crucify these people? What have I done, inadvertently or otherwise, to cause their suffering, to perpetuate systemic violence”; Or even better, in our own context, “What have I done, and what have I failed to do, to try to prevent the floods from rising, or to prevent such damage and suffering from being inflicted upon a helpless people?” In what way, in our daily routines, have we caused the floods? We may not actually throw garbage on the streets- the usual suspected cause of flooding- but neither have we given thought to people who live, forced by circumstance or otherwise, near these flood prone areas. In other words, in times of peace, we are content to be wilfully ignorant of the plight of the poor. Our so-called humanism is more often than not selective and conditional. 

So the song goes, “We stand on a hill, between earth and sky”. To this we should add: “We only go down when no patch of earth is dry.” I remember the slew of statuses from my fellow seniors pointing out the irony of circumstances- how our first and fourth years have both been affected by storms, and how we are once again called upon to be human. There is nothing wrong with this other than the fact that it emphasizes how, in our 4 years of college, we were human and Atenean only twice, the rest of the time typically Atenean and bourgeois. While we appease our consciences and our egos about how our faith in humanity has been restored and how we are human because we go down the hill, we rarely- sometimes never at all- bother to think of raising the earth around us, such that we may all be on a hill, in the shadow of the eagle, the glory of our Lord and the brilliance of the sun. When bad weather does not yet threaten lives, we are content to complain about bad policy about the cancellation of classes, to rant and joke on Facebook, scream and bitch that we aren’t waterproof, post hedonistic statuses about how we’ve got #YOLO on our minds, and post memes of mayor Alfredo Lim, when someone, somewhere, or probably all over Manila, may be worrying if the floods will rise. We rarely ever ask ourselves why this disparity exists- how I can be on my hill, living in relative plenty, while everyone else must be on alert for the swelling of the tides. We are Ateneans, yes, but only once in a while, when the Pasig river vomits the filth in its depths. More often than not we are Ateneans in the luxury of high places, as distant as ever from the poor, never thinking of ways that they, too, may rise.

This is the only request that I have to my fellow Ateneans and to my fellow decent human beings: to never stop thinking and being in solidarity with all people, to never stop being concerned with the poor, in peacetime or in war, in plenty or in lack, in dryness or in the rising flood waters. I want us all to examine our minds and our lives ala Loyola, and ask ourselves how we, as members of Ateneo, or as human beings, have failed, both in what we usually do and fail to do, to willfully and otherwise to genuinely think and be human in our preoccupation with our petit-bourgeois lives, and in our preoccupation with patting our backs.

We can choose, after helping them, to ignore the people who live in flood prone areas, and to extend our arms only when the flood rises to their necks again. We can easily forget to remember that their plight is everyday and is only particularly highlighted when the waters rise, and remember only when the next storm comes, because it is convenient for us petit-bourgeois Ateneans that way. Or we can remember to remember, and happily be burdened with our infinte responsibility to our fellow human beings. To be burdened by remembering, and thus with our infinite responsibility for our fellow human beings, is a form of solidarity;  in our context, remembering is solidarity par excellence.

Any Christian who believes that the cross was the only burden that Jesus had to carry is fooling himself. We think the floods have subsided, when in reality we have yet to realize that we and the world are still genuinely drowning.

No, Mr. Wayne, the storm isn’t coming, the storm is already there and it’s too late to batten down the hatches. Isn’t the fact that you live so large and leave so little for the rest of us who are threatened by floods itself a storm which thunders through society, every single day? Sometimes it takes a storm (or a cannonball to the knee, in the case of Loyola) to make us stop and think about life and society. But the problem is that, more often than not, we never convert such national traumas and personal experiences into genuine self-examination and social transformation because we are too busy drowning ourselves in conscience-appeasing, ego-comforting, self-indulgent pats on our backs before we turn away from the world again, our human capacity to be human neatly stored away until the next flood drowns our city all over again. Please, don’t let it get to that. But we already have, haven’t we? 

 

 

 


Down from the Hill and Back to the Piraeus: Political Resistance in Ethics of the Self in Foucault’s ‘Use of Pleasure’

This is a paper which will be submitted for the fulfillment of midterm requirement of Ph102 under Fr. Luis David, SJ

Thesis Statement:

“Foucault’s later work (The Use of Pleasure) prioritizes subjectivity and truth while the earlier work (Discipline and Punish, The History of Sexuality Vol. 1) focus on power and knowledge. More specifically, in the later work, Foucault aimed “to study the games of truth, and the relation of self with self and the forming of oneself as the subject” (UP, 6). In this later work, Foucault analyzed how particular truths are mobilized in the formation of the subject, such that one might be required to recognize oneself as a subject through these truths. For instance, Ancient Greeks recognized themselves as individuals through their gender, class, age, wealth, marital status, and so on. An important part of what it meant to be a subject, then as today, was to recognize that one has a certain truth to manifest in one’s conduct. This focus on subjectivity and truth tends to prioritize the agency of the individual in that it highlights the action of the individual in constituting himself/herself as a subject through manifesting certain truths. Foucault’s emphasis on the activity of the individual in constituting themselves makes it possible for us to spot openings for individual resistance, that is to say, activities we might perform to subvert or resist the power relations we are enmeshed in”

Introduction

Use of Pleasure1, when read uncritically, appears to indicate a clean break from Foucault’s work on power and its relation to knowledge-formation which was established in the period spanning Discipline and Punish2and the first volume of the History of Sexuality3. This, however, is a fallcy, for the “breakof Use of Pleasure from Foucault’s earlier work does not constitute a mere shift in interests, as if Use of Pleasure had no connection to the critical project of the study of power and knowledge begun in Discipline and Punish. Use of Pleasure, like Discipline and Punish , is a critique of determinism. For Foucault was very critical of determinism; indeed, he was vehemently critical of deterministic readings of his texts. Foucault states that .when I read..the thesis ‘knowledge is power’ or ‘power is knowledge’ I begin to laugh, since studying their relation is precisely my problem. If they were identical I would not know how to study them4 Therefore, if Discipline and Punish was a critique of determinism, Use of Pleasure is an affirmation of agency via subject-formation. Whereas the latter affirms the porosity and overall fragility of power relations, the latter affirms the agency of the subject. Use of Pleasure must not be read only as Foucault himself makes it out to be, namely a search for the modes according to which individuals are given to recognize themselves as sexual subjects of desire5 The project of self-mastery outlined in Use of Pleasure is not a mere outline for an ethical life, but also a preparation for political life, and thus of political action and resistance. The fact that Foucault complements his vocabulary of subjectvity and subject-formation with truth-formation is an affirmation of the capability of self-determination inherent in subjectivity, the conviction that en are never conditioned absolutely”6 and that truth is not as absolute as it appears to be. Whereas Discipline and Punish affirms the centrality of the production of individuals via the intersection of various networks of power-truth-knowledge in disciplinary society, Use of Pleasure affirms the capability of subjects to decide for themselves, to act by themselves, to form their own truths and thus to establish for themselves a space of autonomy which power can never liquidate.

One might compare the relationship of Foucault’s early and later works via Nietzsche’s aphorism called “The Three Metamorphoses7 The picture of disciplinary society represented in Discipline and Punish is that of the dragon inscribed upon it’s scales are the values of all millenia8 Thus speaks the dragon, the value of all things- it gleams in me. All value has already been created, and the value of all created things- that am I. Indeed, there shall be no more ‘I will!’9 Foucault, in the spirit of Nietzsche, not only affirms the power of the will, he also affirms the power to create new values. This passage from the lion to the child, from willing to creating is the content of Use of Pleasure. The subject wills to be free, but also creates the new world wherein he can be free. Use of Pleasure is an exercise in the creation and pratcice of freedom.

I

Discipline and Punish can be read as an attempt to write a novel account of power.10 It was written in contradistinction to two other models of power which were dominant- and which still are dominant- during the time of its writing: the liberal juridico-legal model of power and the Marxist politico-economic model of power. Discipline and Punish is a critique of both models of power. For our intents and purposes, we will primarily focus on a summation of the former model.

The liberal model of power is embodied in the writings of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and John Stewart Mill. It assumes that all exercises of power are visible, and that all exercises of power can be normatively judged as either legitimate or illegitimate, sanctioned or unsanctioned, wherein the criteria for judgement is whether the exercise of power was based on coercion or consent. This criteria of consent and coercion is exemplified in the liberal conceptualization of the social contract. Discipline and Punish, however, abandons this liberal model due to the existence of practices and forms of power relations which escape this limited framework. Foucault writes, “We must…analyze the ‘concrete systems of punishment’, study them as social phenomena that cannot be accounted for by the juridical structure of society alone11 John Ransom states, not all kinds of power can be described by the terms ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate’12 He gives the example of the monastery. The monastery executes a form of dressage upon its subjects which is not entirely covered by the dichotomy of consent/coercion. ..the individual is ‘subjugated’ to the monastic life. That is, he is molded into a ‘subject’ of a different kind13 In other words, disciplinary power is productive and transformative. Furthermore, the exercise of power in this dressage- the violence of this dressage, as it were- is outside the categories of consent and coercion. The former conviction is supported by Foucault in Discipline and Punish in which he states that Discipline ‘makes’ individuals; it is the specific technique of a power that regards individuals both as objects and instruments of its exercise14 The latter convicition- the violence of dressage- is stated by Jacques Derrida. He writes, rom the lips of the master this watchword [dressage, learning to live] would always say something about violence. It vibrates like an arrow in the course of an irreversible and asymmetrical address, the one that goes most often from father to son, master to disciple or master to slave15 The act of training and passing on knowledge and experience cannot be judged as either coercive or consensus-based. And this is the form of power which is exercised in the classroom between teacher and student, in the clinic between doctor and patient. It requires a new analytics of power, a micro-physics of power16

The novelty of Foucault’s analysis of power lies in its study of the relations between knowledge and power. conveniently formulates as ‘power-knowledge’17 He writes, ..see whether there is not some common matrix or whether they [power and knowledge] derive do not both derive from a single process of epistemo-juridical formation18 Let us summarize Foucault’s novel analysis of power.

Foucault begins with the assumption that truth is not value free. This assumption was posited in contradistinction to the views of the enlightenment, which stated that science and truth were progressive, neutral and eternal. Theprogressive view of science was memorably formulated by Immanuel Kant in What is Enlightenment?as man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity19 The Enlightenment saw science as propelling the rectiliear, prorgessive movement of man away from myth and supertsition and into the age of reason This progressive view of science was coupled with the assumption that truth was neutral and eternal The neutrality of science and truth is found in positivism and scientific objectivity which sees scientific methodology as a neutral lense which tests phenomena which are present at hand. Finally, science and truth are seen as eternal. This can be seen in the scientific vocabulary of aws which are eternal and applicable to all cases.

We cannot deny that science has lead to improvements in everyday life. We can, however, challenge the view that science is always beneficial, that it always leads to progress, that it discovers eternal laws via neutral scientific methods. Foucault’s genealogical method is a demystification of these views. He writes, perhaps…we should abandon a whole tradition that allows us to imagine that knowledge can exist only where power relations are suspended and that knowledge can develop only outside it’s injutcions, demands and interests20. Genealogy first of all, is a historiographical method of conceptualizing history in it’s stutters and breaks. In a Foucaldian genealogical historiography, ideas and concepts are presented as ever-changing and flowing. Genealogy is a thoroughly historicist method. This historcist position is seen in Foucault’s recurrent references in the titles of his books to the births of institutions- the asylum, the clinic, the prison. In all of these, institutions are seen not as progressing from primitive or backward circumstances. Nor are they seen as neutral and always beneficient to then-contemporary conditions. Rather, each birth of institutions is reconceptualized as trigrerring new technologies of power, new forms of social control, new forms of containment. This is seen in the first chapter of Discipline Punish. Instead of seeing the shift from the excesses of sovereign power to the institution of the prison, Foucault sees more sinister forms of power. Foucault writes, the disappearance of torture as a public spectacle…has been attributed too readily and too emphatically to a process of humanization21 The disappearance of sovereign power, however, is seen as a refinement of the technologies of power. It is also the birth of a new form of power- normalization. Around this new penal style”22, new forms of knowledge gathering and knowledge production circulated, which reinforced the new forms of power. A new form of power gave birth to new forms of knowledge- ..a whole army of technicians took over from the executioner: warders, doctors, chaplains, psychiatrists, educationalists…23 And new forms of knowledge gave birth to new forms of power- ..the great book of Man-the-Machine was written simultaneously on two registers: the anatomico-metaphysical register, of which Descartes wrote the first few pages…and the technico-political register…La Mettrie’s L’homme-machine is both a materialist reduction of the soul and a general theory of dressage, at the centre of which reigns the notion of ‘docility’24 This mutual reinforcement of power and knowledge is what Foucault calls “power-knowledge relation”

In summation: the Enlightenment philosophers saw knowledge as neutral, eternal, and progressive. Foucault, however, rewrote the history of thought such that we would see the relation of power to knowledge and knowledge to power, which Foucault calls as power-knowledge relations In this new history of thought, power and knowledge are seen as mutally supporting: foundations of new modes of power are seen as productive of new forms of knowledge; knowledge production, in turn, creates and reinforces relations of power.

Foucault’s reconceputalization of power, therefore, already excludes the possibility of a normative basis for the judgement of power, insofar as this basis is based on a dichotomy between consent and coercion, for such a distincion is already a form of juridico-legal knowledge production. In other words, the very idea of a basis of critique of the use of power based on a dichtomy of coercion and critique is already an idea which supports existing forms of power. This dichotomy of coercion and consensus posits, reproduces and legitimates the juridico-legal insitutions which claim a neutral basis of knowledge25. The coercion-consensus dichotomy can never be monoplized by a neutral body such as the state or the juridico-legal apparatus because this monopoly legitimizes these kinds of institutions and the expertise which is included in them. Liberalism cannot claim neutrality because it is always already included in the relations of power and knowledge.

Furthermore, Foucault’s reconceptuatlization of power goes beyond the coercion-consensus dichtomy because it analyzes forms of power which cannot be judged as violent The relations between a student and a teacher and a doctor and a patient are power relationsnot because of the use of force (illegitimate or otherwise) but because of it’s formative aspect. Disciplinary power, though it may use force, is not concerned with “hurting”, it is concerned with producing docile and obedient bodies Such subject-production cannot be judged because it is often seen as necessary- indeed it is- for the whole of society. Discipline and Punish, therefore, is a critique of the equation of power and violence. Power is not applied, nor is it possessed, it is active in the very institutions of everyday life. Power is not something which is aqcuired, seized or shared, something which is one holds to or allows to slip away26 Education, for one, is a form of power because it produces docile and obedient subjects. Do not concentrate the study of punitive mechanisms on their ‘repressive’ effects alone, on their ‘punitive’ aspects alone, but situate them in a whole series of their possible positive aspects27

Foucault’s critique of the sovereign model of power is embodied in the remark in History of Sexuality, Vol.1 which states that “in political thought and analysis, we have not yet cutt off the head of the king28 Foucault opposes the typical top-down analysis of power in favor of an analysis of power wherein the subject is caught in a net of power relations, in a multiplicity of power relations.Foucault writes, ..there is no binary between and ll-encompassing opposition between rulers and ruled at the root of all power relations…no such duality extending from the top down and reacting on more and more limited social groups29 Thus, for example, he opposes the notion that power over sexuality is repressive Indeed, he opposes the notion that power is exercised on sexuality in favor of a conceptualization of power wherein sexuality itself is a form of power in which the body is caught up in a multiplicity of power relations.

Foucault, however, is vehemently against the integrated model of power. This integrated model of power is seen in the Marxist-inspired belief that education produces people who are just ogs in a machine A prominent example would be Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensonal Man, which though it contains a notion of conformity as power similar to Foucault’s notion of normalization, still seems to believe that industrial society functions via the integration of all people into the achine In contrast, Foucault prefers a disagregated model of power, wherein the body is caught in a network of power relations, but not integrated into an over-arching system of domination. y power, I do not mean ‘Power’ as a group of instutions and mechanisms that ensure the subservience of the citizens to a given state. I do not mean, either, a mode of subjugation, which in contrast to violence, has the form of rule. Finally, I do not have in mind a general mode of domination exerted by one group over another, a system of effects, through successive derivations, pervade the whole social body30 In other words, Foucault is against the determinism of other analyses of the functioning of power. This new mode of analysis has new a legion of consequences both in theory and in practice.

We said beforehand that Discipline and Punish is a critique of two predominant modes of power, the liberal and Marxist variants. The former, as has been stated above, was criticized for it’s one dimensionality and it’s inability to analyze non-sovereign, non juridico-legal forms of power. The latter, on the other hand, is critiqued for it’s over-determinism, it’s assumption that power operates in an overarching, integrated system. In a Foucauldian analysis of power, there is quite simply no malicious spirit, no malevolent class or minority which operates its will via the totality of power relations, no “thy will be done”. To this deterministic mode of analysis, Foucault presents a disaggregated ontology of power relations, which criss-cross into each other’s domains, but which are not integrated into a larger, manipulable totality.

This disaggregated model of power has immense implications- it implies, first of all, that a complete overhaul of revolutionary proportions is both unconceivable and unachievable. Because the entire sphere of power relations is not integrated, it cannot be overhauled in single movement. But neither does it add up as an immovable and irresistible force. The implication of Foucault’s novel analysis is that the disaggregation of power presents a multiplicity of spaces for resistance. The multiple intersections present multiple points of resistance, multiple spaces for struggle. Indeed, it is no longer to speak of esistancein the singular, no longer correct to speak of fighting the system, but of multiple resistances, multiple battles.

Herein is the relation of Use of Pleasure to the earlier works. Use of Pleasure, far from abandoning the project of an analysis of power, affirms it. Or rather, whereas Discipline and Punish and History of Sexuality, Vol.1 were concerned with a reformulation of the analysis of power, Use of Pleasure is concerned with individual preparation for resistance. It is in a strange way a self-help book on how to live and how to resist in a world of an intersecting matrix of power-relations.

The equation of freedom with liberation was the result of the revolutionary ethos which had pervaded much of western thought. Foucault’s analysis of power-relations not only changed the definition of power, it also changed the meaning of resistance and ergo, of freedom. The revolutionary logic of overhaul could only have functioned within an ontological presupposition of power as singular and omnipotent. This conceptualization of power and revolutionary overhaul was accompanied by an image of freedom which could be gained only via the liberation caused by the process of revolution. However, the reconceputalization of power as plural and not singular effectively liquidated any hopes of a revolutionary overahul of power and thus of a revolutionary concept of libertion and freedom. In other words, our concept of freedom was entwined with a revolutionary ethos and a unilateral conceptualization of power. Foucault’s uncircumventable critique of the unilateral analysis of power was also a critique of the accompanying model of revolutionary liberation, and was, mutatis mutandis, a critique of the emancipatory notion of freedom. After Foucault, we can no longer believe in revolutionary overhaul and emancipatory freedom. We are now forced to reconceptualized freedom itself. Ransom writes,

The revolutions in the East have resulted in a kind of ironic disappointment. For all their drama, they signal an end to attempts in 21st Century to realize the ends of human emancipation through the reorganization of social life. With the demise of the ‘Revolution’ both as a viable goal and as a millenial promise, we [must]…detach the goal [freedom] from the disredited means used to achieve it…One of Foucault’s primary goals is to achieve both a reconceputalization of human freedom and a successul separation from the means used to achieve it until now…He wants to develop a postrevolutionary ethos that does not degenerate into apathy or, implicitly, into an accomodationist reformism31

Herein lies the importance of Use of Pleasure– in it’s attempt to locate a postrevolutionary, post-emancipatory notion of freedom. The revolutionary attitude which has dominated the world can be summed up in Marx’s infamous 11th Theses on Feuerbach: “the philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it32 The peculiarity of this statement lies in the fact that the philosophers have interpreted the world in many ways, but that there is only one way to change it- and because this is Marx, it is obviously via revolution. But the revolutionary project has been tried and judged as a failure. One might put the failure in poetic terms: the revolutionary project sought to change the world, yet it forgot that it was within the world, therefore it was swallowed by currents which it had caused.

In overturning the world, the various revolutionaries could not avoid overturning themselves. The revolutionary mythos has ended in self-defeat; may it perish in the pits of tartarus.

Is Foucault implying that we cannot, as Marx implied, change the world? Perhaps. But if this was true, why then would have Foucault written a single word after History of Sexuality Vol. 1? If disciplinary society cannot be overhauled as a whole via revolution, indeed, if revolution could have only ended in self defeat, why then hope to resist at all? Because Foucault knew full well that the human subject will never be determined. The subject, insofar as he is an agent, he cannot be subsumed by the networks of power. Use of Pleasure located freedom in the very core of the self. The disciplinary dragon states, here shall be no longer any ‘I will!’33 But the subject-agent, like the lion says, will Nietzsche knew that a future generation of creators would come; Foucault is the herald of such a generation. Use of Pleasure is the text for that post-revolutionary generation, a generation which lives in a disciplinary matrix, but which is never just a dot on that matrix. Use of Pleasure tells us very implicitly that one can never simpy be a dot on that matrix.

II

I will now move on to the next section of our text- the analysis of Use of Pleasure and it’s implicit message of exercising freedom in a discipinary age. This section will be written with the conviction that Use of Pleasure, far from advocating a merely ethical life, advocates a life of resistance. As the thesis statement states, Foucault’s emphasis on the activity of the individual in constituting themselves makes it possible for us to spot openings for individual resistance, that is to say, activities we might perform to subvert or resist the power relations we are enmeshed in Indeed, the ethical life proposed by Foucault in Use of Pleasure is but a prologue to it’s real message, no matter how implicit it may be- a return to the political life.

Before I summarize the argument of Use of Pleasure, I will first digress via an examination of the political life of Ancient Greece using other texts which complement the research done by Foucault This is important because Use of Pleasure is rerutn to ancient greece. This return implies that the ethical life which Foucault fashions out of his examination of the prescriptive texts of ancient greece would already indicate a call back into the political. The texts which Foucault studies would have been written against a background of political life. Indeed, these texts would have been guides concerning the self-mastery necessary prior to the entrance into the polis. Slavishness would have automatically excluded a citizen from engaging in political life. Use of Pleasure, therefore, is a self-exorcism of the slavish fascist which has gotten the best of many rulers, and which can be reasoned, stands to overthrow even the best of us, thus foreshadowing political self-defeat. One cannot engage in political resistance in a disciplinary society without first having mastered oneself.

Aristotle made a distinction between qualified and unqualified forms of life. In ancient Greece, this distinction was tantamount to the distinction between the private and the public. Aristotle, of course, disaggregates the qualified life into different kinds, of which he priveleges the philosophical life, bios theoretikos, as the highest possible kind. But for our intents and purposes, I will focus on the political life.

That the degree of difference between the Greeks’ experience of the polis and our experience of the political is utterly incommensurable can be proven by a genealogical comparison of our contemporary experience of the political with the experience of the polis by the Greeks. The difference is made obvious in our vocabulary of the political: politics is mere childish “bickering”, it is dirty, it is but  sound and fury, signifiying nothing. Larry Hardiman, for example, states that “the word politics is derived from the word ‘poly’ meaning many,and the word ‘ticks’ meaning blood sucking parasites34. And a recent newspaper article states that:

However, the fact remains: please all, and you will please none. Isure the student council values the discourse, but I trust them enough to know that their actions should speak louder than their words.Don‘t get me wrong, I appreciate the gadflies. What worries me though is that all this talk will lead nowhere, that in the end, well be stuck in a cycle of sound and fury, signifying nothing35

This utter loathing towards the political would have been utterly alien to the Greeks. ot only would we not agree with the Greeks that a life spent in the privacy of ‘one’s own’ outside the world of the common, is ‘idiotic’ by definition…we no longer think primarily of deprivation when we use the word ‘privacy’36 To the Greeks, the private was a form of deprivation because the “the natural, merely social companionship of the human species was considered to be a limitation imposed upon us by the needs of biological life37 In other words, the distinction between the public and the private was one and the same with the distinction between man qua man and man as mere animal. Man, after all, is a species, and the fact that we need to reproduce ourselves on a daily basis attests to this. The private realm was where this biological side of man (along with all other intimate concerns) was relegated. “That individual maintenance should be the task of man and species survival the task of the woman was obvious, and both of these natural functions…were subject to the same necessity of life38

So long as one was chained to necessity, whether voluntary or otherwise, one was a mere animal. This was based on the conviction that man was the only animal to have ever transcended the ignominy of the herd. Man was the only animal that possessed an individual identity in addition to a biological body. And logically speaking, only the public realm was fit for the asserting of this individual identity because the private realm was precisely the realm of the prepolitical, mere necessity. Thus it is that the polis is the only space fit for the plurality of indivduals, the fact that “men, not Man live on the earth and inhabit the world”39 and that dwelling in the private realm was a deprivation. Only in the public realm could one assert one’s individual and hence distinctly human character. “The public realm…was permeated by a fiercely agonal spirit, where everybody had to constantly distinguish himself from all others…the public realm, in other words, was reserved for individuality40 The private, therefore, was inhuman and either labor nor work was constituted to possess sufficient dignity to consitute a bios at all”41, both of them being concerned with necessity, regardless of whether or not it was voluntary [as with work, and with the life of the artisan] or otherwise [labor].

The contemporary world’s loathing of the political stems from the inversion of the primacy of the public in favor of the private. This is seen not only in the fact that politics is seen as counterproductive, but also in the fact that politics itself must primarily be productive. The state, whether a welfare state or otherwise [neoclassical economics and neoliberal ideology both see the state as just another firm], is primarily administrative and not political. It’s role has shifted from being primarily a political space to being an administrative organ. The administrative state, which manages the entire nation like “one enormous body which has only one opinion and one interest”42, can no longer be political, for it only has one general will43 One need only look at Philippine politics’- indeed all contemporary politics’- reliance on public approval ratings to verify this claim.44

In summary: the Greeks made a clear and self-evident distinction between the public and the private. This distinction was tantamount to the distinction between man and animal, which was based on the observation that only man had an individual identity in addition to his biological existence. The public was the proper place of individuality, and the private was the proper place of the bioological reproduction. This implies that a life lived primarily in the private, indeed any form of life away from the public life, was considered inhuman and a form of self-deprivation. The conteporary distrust of political activity stems from the loss of the political, which is part and parcel of the priveleging of the administrative function of the state as a manager of the one-dimensional, one-opinioned nation.

The important thing to recall here is that all biological concerns, all actions [if they can even be called action, for action was political, not biological] caused by necessity were logically excluded from participation in the political sphere. So long as one acted out of necessity, one was merely animal, and did not belong in the polis. Necessity, however, was not limited to bare necessity, that is, to the chains of the life process itself. For as Arendt has rightly noted that he bonds of necessity need not be made of iron, they can be made of silk45 This observation was made by the Greeks long ago, for slavishness– being chained to the pleasures- was also a a grounds for exclusion from the polis, for oo great a love for life obstructed freedom was a sure sign of slavishness46 Given this, Use of Pleasure can be read as a call for a return to the political life.

Discipline and Punish, in this context, can be read as an implicit critique of the administrative state and the loathing of the political which accompanies it. Discipline and Punish, along with Foucault’s later work on biopolitics and governmentality, can be said to be a renewed effort to study the processes of information gathering which is part and parcel of the administrative state. Arendt, after all, rightly observed that the subsitution of behavior for action, the conformity of modern day society and the increasing reliance on statistical homogeneity wherein all spontaneity is relegated to deviance arose simultaneously with the rise of the administrative, apolitical nation-state. Arendt writes, ..it is meaningless to search for politics…when everything that is not everyday behavior has been ruled out as immaterial47 And because both Foucault and Arendt place a great deal on the role of increases in population- Arendt makes several remarks about the correlation between a larger population, statistical relegation of spontaneity to deviance and social conformism; Foucault makes a reference to the increase in population in the 19th century- it would be irresponsible to see their references to similar phenomena as mere coincidence. One might say that Foucault substantiates Arendt’s observations on conformism. Discipline and Punish is a study of the role of the history of normalization and it’s correlation to the bureaucratic-administrative nation-state. Foucault however, unlike Arendt, was insightful enough to have seen that there still are spaces of political action, that Arendt, remarkable as her observations were, was undoubtedly tinged by a spirit of defeatism. Foucault, by reformulating power as disaggregated and not as merely vertically asymmetrical, saw what Arendt did not see: that the modern homogenizing nation-state relies on mechanisms, which, by their fragmentary nation, create spaces for political resistance. The point here is that the social is not the complete liquidation of the political, for the governing of the social relies on mechanisms of knowledge-gathering and formation which are themselves so fragmentary that they produce resistances- that is, politics. The administrative state, the cornerstone of the social realm, does not liquidate political action- indeed, it creates resistance.

Use of Pleasure, therefore, is an invitation back into the political insofar as the ethical life which it proposes is prepolitical, necessary for the survival of the political. It is true that the bureaucratic-administrative state’s fragmentation creates political spaces. Yet political action cannot and must not begin before the self-mastery necessary before entering into political action. In Arendtian terms, one must order one’s private affairs such that they will not intrude into political practice. Although the Greek experience of the political is alien to us, and that the social has now taken over the political, it does not necessarily follow that one can no longer make the leap from both the private and the social and into the political. This leap necessitates self-mastery, an exercise of freedom which begins with the practice of self-discipine. One must first learn to distinguish between one’s private concerns and political concerns, and only then can one begin to resist. The return to Ancient Greece is now a matter of obviousness. What Foucault wished to tell us is that a model for preopolitical self-discipline was already with the Greeks, that the Greeks knew well long ago that one cannot begin political practice without first exercising ethical self-discipline.

III

I can now begin with the analysis of Use of Pleasure itself. What then, is the content of Use of Pleasure, and in what way does it consitute a guide for political action and resistance?

An easy way out would be to assume that the relation can be found in the shift of terminology, that whereas Foucault’s early work was concerned with the relation of power and knowledge, thereof Foucault’s later work was concerned with the relation of subjectivity and truth. This, however, does not suffice, because it does not specificlly show how subjectivity and truth form avenues of resistance against the mutually reproducing couple of power and knowledge. The task, therefore is to locate how the resistance engendered by subjectvitity and truth are already prefigured in Discipline and Punish.

Subjectivity and truth are already prefigured in Discipline and Punish insofar as Discipline and Punish is already a critique of the conventional notions of these concepts. The reformulation of power and knowledge already presupposed a simultaneous (and implicit) reformulation of subjectivity and truth. The reformulation of truth was already explained above, when the view of knowledge as progressive, neutral and eternal was critiqued. Truth was reformulated as multifacted, ever changing and also as caught up in the various relations of power which produce individuals. In other words, Foucault’s reformulation of truth was already connected to subjectivity via power. Truth, in the power-knowledge chain, produced subjectivity. What Foucault simply did in Use of Pleasure was to reverse the relation. He moved from asking how truth aided the various power-knowledge networks in producing subjects and moved to asking how subjects use truth to consitute their identity. Politics, after all, as the Greeks have taught us, is possible only due to individuality. Politics is the realm of the individual, and thus of identity. In a world in which truth aids in strengthening the grip of power on subjects and in supporting the subject-production of power relations, in what way does truth and subjectivity provide an avenue for resistance.

The ket here lies in the problematization of sexuality. Foucault states that “the question I would like to pose is not, ‘Why are we repressed,’ but rather ‘Why do we say, with so much passion and resentment against our recent past, against our present, and against ourselves, that we are repressed?’…we must also ask why we burden ourselves today with so much guilt for having made sex a sin48 Foucault then went on to study how “our eagerness to speak of sex in terms of repression is doubtless this opporunity to speak out against the powers that be”49, and how this “incitement to discourse”50 and all of it’s associated tactics reproduce and reinforce the various apparatuses of the “deployment of sexuality51History of Sexuality, however, does not answer the question it posits, namely how individuals consituted themselves as subjects of a sexuality. ..when I came to study the modes according to which individuals are given to recognize themselves as sexual subjects, the problems were much greater52 Thus Foucault shifted to a genealogical analysis of “the practices by which individuals were led to focus their attention on themselves, to decipher, recognize, and acknowledge themselves as subjects of desire… a certain relationship that allows them to discover…the truth of their being53 The question has thus shifted from how truth and power produce subjectivity to how subjects themselves consititute themselves as subjects defined by the axioms of such truth-claims. Perhaps Foucault at this point had realized that he had not escaped deterministic analysis, that by saying that subjects were merely produced, it took out the power of agency. By saying that the success of power-relations lies not in the mechanisms and tactics used but in the conscious-subject formation of subjects. The question shifted from “Why do we say that we are repressed?” to “Why and by what process does the subject- in a process which is out of the grasp of power relations, for this falls on subject-formation itself- consitute himself as a subject of truth claims?”. By what ways do we believe that we must call ourselves as epressedor other such categories?

Such a shift in the analysis of power carves out a space of resistance in the power-relation itself. By not making a determistic disctintion between “false” and “true” consciousness Foucault was saying that we are not ooledinto believing that we are subjects. Rather, we ourselves willingly constitute ourselves as subjects of truth-formation. This implies that the moment of decision is left to the subject, not to the structures of power, and that the subject, in a moment of enlightenment, may choose to emerge from his self-imposed immaturity.54 Power, in short, can never close the possibility of the subject using his own reason, of deciding that am not that will”55, that will create my own values56 Thus Foucault states that the objective of his project was “to learn to what extent the effort to think one’s own history can free thought from what it silently thinks, and so to enable it to think differently”57 Power can never exorcise the possibility that the subject will think otherwise and decide for himself.

This moment of decision, this moment of self-thought and of self-consitution, is the liquidation of all forms of power. Tyrants fear the day that their subjectes will cease to think of themselves as mere subjects. Tyrants use terror in order to prevent their people from thinking, to bend their will. But not even terror will ever defeat the possibility that the subject will overcome his fear and think otherwise. This is the proper time and proper moment for political resistance. This is the time for the forward push of the will and the uncontrollable power of creation. But this preparation for the struggle of political life presupposes as self-conquering. Only when the self has finally mastered onself will it be the time to fight. Only in such a time will judgement be clear enough to yield positive results, and eventually, victory. Rational thought, after all, can only work successfully when the head is cool and clear of distractions, when all doubts and distractions have been cast aside. If King Solomon, like David or like Samson had been blinded by desire, would he have been as clear in thought and judgement? Even Jesus himself had to master himself. One cannot even imagine the fear he must have felt in the garden of Gethsemani. But in the end, he clears himself of doubt; only via that could he have endured the agony of the cross.

Thus it is that Nietzsche wrote that it lies not in the willngness to bear the heaviest of burdens (like the camel) , nor is it in the courage to say will!(like the lion), but it is in the sheer capacity to create one’s own truths, to think otherwise, to use one’s own reason, to have a firm conviction that one holds a truth distinct from others, can one engage in the struggle of politics. And this in turn, presupposes that one has sufficiently controlled one’s own temptations that one can finally lift the cross that is politics. Why would one bear the heaviest of weights, indeed how can one bear the heaviest of weights when one has doubt in one’s heart, when one is gripped in the enthralling madness of passion? How could one will the act of resistance when there is no “I” to will? Nietzsche and mutatis mutandis Foucault, that one must “let [one’s] virtue be too exalted for the familiarity if names: and if you speak of it, do not be ashamed to stammer. Thus say and stammer, ‘This is my good, this I love, just thus do I like it, only thus do I wish the good’58

 

Bibliography:

 

Aquino enjoys majority trust, approval ratingshttp://www.businessmirror.com.ph/home/top-news/20332-aquino-enjoys-majority-trust-approval-ratings .Accessed Janurary 22, 2012

 

Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition. United States: University of Chicage Press 1958

 

______________. On Revolution. England: Faber and Faber Limited, 1963

 

David, Randy. Nation of Lawyers http://opinion.inquirer.net/21563/a-nation-of-lawyers”accessed January 22, 2012 Accessed January 22, 2012

 

Derrida, Jacques. Spectrers of Marx:the State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International, trans. Peggy Kamuf. United States: Routledge, 1994

 

Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality Vol.2: The Use of Pleasure. Trans. Robert Hurley. United States: Vintage Books 1990

 

________________. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Trans. Alan Sheridan. United States: Vintage Books, 1972

 

________________. The History of Sexuality, Vol.1: An Introduction. Trans Alan Sheridan. United States: Vintage Books, 1978

 

Hardiman, Larry.http://www.searchquotes.com/search/Larry_Hardiman . Accessed January 22, 2012

 

Kant, Immanuel. “What is Enlightenment?” http://www.english.upenn.edu/~mgamer/Etexts/kant.html accessed January 22, 2012

 

Marx, Karl. “Theses on Feuerbach” http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/theses/theses.htm Accesed Janurry 22, 2012

 

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for Everyone and No One (England: Penguin Books, 1969)

Noel, Rafael. “Sound and Fury”.  The Guidon, http://www.theguidon.com/1112/main/2011/08/sound-and-fury/ .Accessed January 22, 2012

 

Ransom,John S. Foucault’s Discipline: The Politics of Subjectivity. United States: Duke University Press, 1997

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality Vol.2: The Use of Pleasure, trans. Robert Hurley (United States: Vintage Books 1990)

2Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (United States: Vintage Books, 1972)

3Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Vol.1: An Introduction, trans Alan Sheridan ( United States: Vintage Books, 1978)

4John S. Ransom, Foucault’s Discipline: The Politics of Subjectivity (United States: Duke University Press, 1997), 24

5Use of Pleasure, 9

6Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, (United States: University of Chicage Press 1958), 11

7I will be repeatedly referring to this specific aphorism because this is the one which best articulates the relation between Nietzsche & Foucault’s work

8Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for Everyone and No One (England: Penguin Books, 1969), 55

9Ibid, 55

10Foucault’s Discipline, 11

11Discipline and Punish, 24

12Foucault’s Discipline, 15

13Ibid, 15

14Discipline and Punish, 170

15Jacques Derrida, Spectrers of Marx:the State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International, trans. Peggy Kamuf(United States: Routledge, 1994), xvii-xviii

16op.cit, 26

17Ibid, 27

18Ibid, 23

19Immanuel Kant, hat is Enlightenment?http://www.english.upenn.edu/~mgamer/Etexts/kant.html accessed January 22, 2012

20Discipline and Punish, 27

21Ibid, 7

22Ibid, 7

23Ibid, 11

24Ibid, 136

25See for example Randy David’s contention that n any highly publicized courtroom trial, the biggest beneficiary is the law profession itself Randy David, Nation of Lawyers http://opinion.inquirer.net/21563/a-nation-of-lawyers accessed January 22, 2012

26History of Sexuality, Vol.1, 94

27Discipline and Punish, 23

28Op.cit, 88-89

29Ibid, 94

30ibid, 92

31Foucault’s Discipline, 104-105

32Karl Marx, heses on Feuerbach http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/theses/theses.htm accesed Janurry 22, 2012

33Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 55

34Larry Hardiman. I could not find the specific text wherein this quote was found. It can, however, be found online. I got this from http://www.searchquotes.com/search/Larry_Hardiman and can also be found in various other websites. Accessed January 22, 2012

35Rafael Noel, ound and Fury The Guidon, http://www.theguidon.com/1112/main/2011/08/sound-and-fury/ Accessed January 22, 2012

36Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, 38

37Ibid, 26

38Ibid, 30

39Ibid, 7

40Ibid, 41

41 Ibid, 13

42Ibid, 39

43For Arendt’s critique of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s notion of the general will, see On Revolution, specifically the chapter entitled he Social Question”

44See for example quino enjoys majority trust, approval ratingshttp://www.businessmirror.com.ph/home/top-news/20332-aquino-enjoys-majority-trust-approval-ratings Accessed Janurary 22, 2012

45Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (England: Faber and Faber Limited, 1963), 135

46The Human Condition, 36

47Ibid, 43

48History of Sexuality, 9

49Ibid, 7

50Ibid, 17

51Ibid, 75

52Use of Pleasure, 5

53Ibid, 5

54“What is Enlightenment”

55Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 55

56Ibid, 55

57Use of Pleasure, 9

58Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 63


Incandescence and Illumination: The Uncanny of Sacrifice and the Aura of the Katana

Final paper for POS130 under Bobby Benedicto

I

Walter Benjamin’s thesis in The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility is that changes in the mode of production entail changes in the mode of perception, and that the most recent changes in the mode of production have so utterly changed art that they have called into question the very categories defining “art” itself. “They call for theses defining the tendencies of the development of art under the present conditions of production”[1]

Yet Benjamin’s essay fails to explain why the katana still has an aura. For the katana is a work of art- it is embedded in a tradition not only of combat but also of aesthetics- and it was mass[2] produced in World War 2 and even earlier still. Yet the aura of the katana still remains. To an extent, the katana has been commodified; yet it remains far from being a mere commodity.

There are two reasons for this limit- the first being Benjamin’s simplistic demarcation of ritual and politics and the second being is failure to consider the lacuna caused by the shift in the means of destruction[3]. For as shall be demonstrated, the concept of the political and the experience of war are both implicitly rooted in ritual and religious experience- specifically, sacrifice. In what follows, it shall be shown  that the aura of the katana and the uncanny of sacrifice burn in the same incandescent light- the flame of one, which still fuels war, illuminates the other.

II

The paradox which this paper explores can be worded as thus: why is it that there still remain traces of individuality despite the de-individualization inherent in mass warfare?  The paradox can be illustrated in the concept of sacrifice. Why is it that expendable soldiers are called on to sacrifice? The very notion of self-sacrifice presupposes a “self” or a recovery of it thereof.

In Blood Rites[4], Ehrenreich states that sacrifice (and thus ritual) is rooted in the omnipotent memory of man-as-hunted. In sacrifice, one is not only called upon to identify with the one who wields the knife; one is also invited to identify with the one who is to be sacrificed[5].

The link is established once one considers that predators and certain deities both have one thing in common- they are carnivores[6]. The need for defense caused certain men to die for the greater good of their tribes: “men were probably employed to guard the periphery of the group. The male, so used, is the primordial sacrifice.”[7] The link between war and ritual are made clear: “The weapons have changed beyond recognition over the millenia, but the basic emotional responses represent defensive mechanisms which evolved in combat with a deadly, non-human ‘other’”[8]

To die for the greater good– does this not summarize the protectionist logic analyzed by Young? “We” protect” our “Own” from “Them”[9]. This formulation is most explicit appearance in political thought in Carl Schmitt’s The Concept of the Political[10]:  the friend-enemy distinction, the constant references to the possibility of killing the enemy- these are but remnants of predation, the foundation of ritual.

Benjamin makes an explicit reference to how the mass reproduction of art shifted its locus from ritual to politics:

“as soon as the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applied to artistic production, the whole social function of art is revolutionized. Instead of being founded in ritual, it is based on a different practice: politics”[11]

But as has been illustrated, it is not only art but also politics which has a parasitic relationship with ritual. And while it cannot be denied that the aestheticizaton of politics culminates in war, it must be added that the parasitic relationship of politics with ritual still remains. In the last analysis, it is cycle from ritual to ritual. War, then, despite its association with politics, is still in the realm of ritual.

III

“American soldiers feared the sword, or more precisely, its mystique…because Japanese soldeiers would make these banzai attacks- desperate, all-out charges- holding their sword as if they believed in its magical powers”[12]

The passage cited above offers irrevocable proof of the mystique of the katana. It may not be directly connected to the concept of aura. Yet one cannot deny that the katana carries something similar to aura. Without a doubt, it would at least have the same effects in time and space as the aura.

But would it be just to pinpoint this aura merely in terms of the unintelligible irrationality of the banzai– or for that matter, kamikaze– strikes? The predominant narratives of the American encounter of the Japanese in World War 2 focus in general on the aspect of alterity. Edwin P. Hoyt, for example writes: “The two tales from the Hagakure are offered here to prepare Western readers of the book to understand a philosophical approach to life so different from our own…”[13]

And thus another article writes: “The results of the Jap fanaticism stagger the imagination. The very violence of the scene is incomprehensible to the Western mind.”[14] But this very self-same article reveals an insight which goes beyond attempts to rationalize the irrational: “The ordinary, unreasoning Jap is ignorant. Perhaps he is human. Nothing on Attu indicates it.”[15]

“Nothing on Attu indicates it”- yet one can detect the betrayal of hesitance. Perhaps he is human. Beyond the unreasoning, irrational, ignorance of the Jap, one senses the experience of a “fearful symmetry”, of the all-too-human.  There is in short, the uncanny, and the omnipotence of the concept of sacrifice attests to this. The uncanny is that class of the terrifying which leads back to something long known to us, once very familiar”[16]. It is for this reason that kamikaze pilots are often “adducted in discussion of the 9/11 hijackers.” [17]

The advent of the gun democratized glory. It can be said that the camera in art is the gun in war- whereas the camera sped up the artistic process by emancipating art from the hand; the gun accelerated the production process of warriors and weapons. Whereas old means of destruction took years to produce warriors, and whereas the old means of destruction could only produce few weapons for the few who could afford it, the new means of destruction revolutionized war. Training was reduced to months (“a knight began training in boyhood, but a bowman or a gunner could be readied for combat in months or weeks.”); the elite’s place was taken by the mass.

But was the birth of mass warfare the death of individual, close-up warfare? Not only the soldier but also the enemy is de-individualized. The former was atomized due the rise of mass warfare. The latter was atomized because the gun made killing an impersonal business. “The archer or gunman might never known which individual have been doomed by his by his arrow or bullet”[18]

Yet the fact that the need to glorify the struggle still exists is disconcerting; there always seems to be a nostalgia for greater causes illustrates that there is a remnant of the old mode of destruction. Thus certain men were known to have berated the use of projectiles. There is thus nostalgia- or uncanny.  Ehrenreich cites a case of a French man complaining of the anonymity created by the gun

“…that this unhappy weapon had never been devised and that so many brave and valiant men had never died by the hands of those…who would not dare look in the face of whom they lay low with their wretched bullets”[19]

What is thus despised with the mass warfare of the modern age is the anonymity it creates. The de-individualization created by the gun and the mass represses all possibility for glory and sacrifice. Yet the very nature of war needs ritual. Facism attempted to satisfy the maw with aesthetics, and its culmination- nationalism. Yet as long as war still de-individualizes, then there can be no sacrifice.

Hazing is transformative; it is the last fragment of ritual which still remains in the practice of war. But so long as the aim of this practice is to de-individualize is to render anonymous-part and parcel with the modern experience of war- then there will always be the uncanny of sacrifice and thus, the aura of the katana and the morbid satisfaction with self-sacrific- 9/11, kamikaze, banzai.

Word count: 1618

 

Bibliography:

Walter Benjamin, Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, Volume 3: 1935-1938, edit. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1996

 

Ehrenreich, Barbara. Blood Rites: The Origins and History of the Passions of War. New York: Metropolitan Books, 1997

 

Freud, Sigmund The Standard Edition of the Complete Pyschological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XVII ed & trans. James Stracey. London: Hogharth, 1953

 

Hoyt, Edwin P. Japan’s War: The Great Pacific Conflict. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1986)
Ohnuki-Tierney, Emiko “Betrayal by Idealism and Aesthetics: Special Attack Force (Kamikaze) Pilots and Their Intellectual Trajectories (Part 1)”, Anthrolpology Today 20, No. 2(2004): 15

 

O’Neill, Tom Samurai: Japan’s Way of the Warrior, http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/features/world/asia/japan/samurai-text/1

 

Schmitt, Carl, The Concept of the Political. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996

 

“World Battlefronts, THE ENEMY: Perhaps he is Human”, Time Magazine, July 1943

 

Young, Iris Marion “The Logic of Masculinist Protection: Reflections on the Current Masculinist Security StateSigns: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 2003, Vol 29 no. 1 (2003)

 


[1] Walter Benjamin, Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, Volume 3: 1935-1938, edit. Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1996), 101

[2] See Samurai Sword. DVD. Directed by John Wate. Parthenon Entertainment LTD, 2007

[3] Barbara Ehrenreich, Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War, (New York: Metropolitan Books, 1997), 143

[4] Ehrenreich, Blood Rites, 57

[5] Ehrenrech, Blood Rites, 58

[6] Ehrenreich, Blood Rites, 31

[7] Ehrenreich, Blood Rites, 54

[8] Ehrenreich, Blood Rites, 96

[9] Iris Marion Young, “The Logic of Masculinist Protection: Reflections on the Current Masculinist Security StateSigns: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 2003, Vol 29 no. 1 (2003): 4

[10] Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996)

[11] Benjamin, Selected Writings, 106

[12] Tom O’Neill, Samurai: Japan’s Way of the Warrior, http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/features/world/asia/japan/samurai-text/1

[13] Edwin P. Hoyt, Japan’s War: The Great Pacific Conflict, (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1986), 1

[14] “World Battlefronts, THE ENEMY: Perhaps he is Human”, Time Magazine, July 1943

[15] World Battlefronts

[16] Sigmund Freud, The Standard Edition of the Complete Pyschological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XVII ed & trans. James Stracey (London: Hogharth, 1953), 369

[17] Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, “Betrayal by Idealism and Aesthetics: Special Attack Force (Kamikaze) Pilots and Their Intellectual Trajectories (Part 1)”, Anthrolpology Today 20, No. 2(2004): 15

[18] Ehrenreich, Blood Rites, 177

[19] Cited in Ehrenreich, 177


Why I am Ashamed to be an Atenean.

For context: http://matanglawin.org/index.php/artikulo/balita/84-memo-sa-pagpapalit-ng-ahensiya-ng-security-guard

 

note: the “reactions” which I have cited are from first-hand experience.

I

 

There are a few words which suffice to describe the general experience of studying/staying in the Ateneo: Sheltered. Idyllic. Tranquil. Peaceful. Few Ateneans would acknowledge the violence that happens within these gates, and which they help propagate. I feel that, in general, Ateneans remain ignorant of the systemic violence necessary to maintain these conditions on a daily basis.

 

The Ateneo doesn’t maintain itself. It relies on a staff of men and women numbering at least in the hundreds. Men and women who maintain our campus grounds, maintain the order of our classrooms, maintain the cleanliness of our cafeteria, etc.

 

Maintenance: The Ates and Kuyas who work not just for the school, but for us. They serve us our our food, they clean our restrooms, they are the nameless others who we see, or rather, not see everyday. Their presence is rarely acknowledged, much less appreciated. For the thesis of this paper is this: that our relations with the men and women who are intrinsic to our daily, the labor-force which maintains our “busy”, Atenean lives remains impersonal. That is, on the level of faceless [1], nameless cash relations.

 

Let us refer to a hypothetical situation: If one of these men and women ever experience misfortune, we wouldn’t really know, much less care. For in our minds, we’ve already assured ourselves: We don’t need to care. Our money is enough.We don’t need to care because our money already pays for them.

 

Pathetic.

 

This is already the gravest form of violence. These men and women are the voiceless. For whatever attampt they make to speak will always be drowned out by the greater meta-narrative of “the Ateneo Way”, of “Magis”.The INAF program calls upon us to be more human, “magpakatao”, to reach out to the poor, to give a damn to the outsid realities. Yet we are hardly aware (and we hardly care) about the staff which are just as real as the “harsh realities” outside of the Ateneo.

The hypothetical situations which I posed above, are, of course, exaggerated. But it doesn’t make them any less true. These men and women who have been responsible for us even before the current generations of Ateneans arrived on campus are nameless, faceless, expendable. They remain hired-hands, and just hired hands.

 

For the sad, pathetic fact is this: despite the proclamation (or reputation) of the Ateneo as the “humanist” institutution in the Philippines, this humanism remains a facade. We would more than willingly lay-off an entire agency of security guards just because.

 

II

Sanggunian, the student government, is not innocent in this violence; They, like Pilate, have merely washed their hands of these crimes. Yet they, in fact, propagate it. This so called “service-oriented” student government has no qualms exploiting those who serve for them even more.

 

Every so often, the student government releases a survey for its constituents. In a nutshell, these often contain: “We are concerned for your well-being, my dear constituent. If you have ever been dissatisfied with the services of the school, we will lobby for better service”. The content of this “lobbying” would be this:” DEAR ATENEO, HINDI PA SAPAT ANG SERBISYO NG AMING MGA TAGA-ALAGA. DAGDAGAN NAMAN NINYO ANG PAG-PIPIGA SA KANILA”.

 

In Fr. David’s phrasing, “dead-o”.They are expendable to us. Magis, Magis, Magis all around: faceless, nameless  people underground. Human beings and their families, left to “transparent [yeah right] and robust process of bidding”.

III

How does the Ateneo reproduce this “idyllic” campus on a daily basis? Primarily, wages. And this is the reason for their “expendability”. It is for this reason that the humanist facde of the Ateneo remains as a facade. The Ateneo has failed to produce humanist students; it is therefore a failure as a humanist institution.

 

The recent reactions of my fellow Ateneans on the issue of the security guards being replaced: “It’s legal. It’s an administrative decision. They have the right to do this. We have to think about the greater, Atenean good. We can’t base our arguments on emotional reasons”.

 

In our privileging of “the Ateneo good”, we have violently deferred the good of many others. They are now faceless.

 

“We shouldn’t base outr arguments on emotional attachments”. According to this logic, we should base them on financial attachments, which are empty and meaningless. We feel absolutely no responsibility for those who have been most responsible for us.

 

Pathetic.

IV

Indeed we are humanist, but not to those who have helped maintain our “humanist” institution. And this is why I am ashamed to be an Atenean: In the last analysis, this humanist, Atenean tradition of magis, is but a farce.

 

 

[1] in case this sounds familiar, this is derived from Levinas, or Derrida’s reading of him as such, along with the themes of responsibility, etc, which our humanist institution has failed to instill.


Totality and Multiplicity

Context: This is the introduction I wrote for our POS55 paper:

Argument/Thesis Statement: This paper seeks to undermine the totalizing formulation of public discourse as primarily homogeneous by examining whether or not there is class heterogeneity vis-a-vis the issue of government actions on recent events concerning Spratlys and the resulting Philippines-China tensions

The entrance of revolution into the pantheon of political phenomena and into the lexicon of political (and non-political) language is but a recent phenomena: “Revolutions, properly speaking, did not exist prior to the modern age; they are among the most recent of all major political data”1 . And it is in the speeches and battle cries of revolution(s) that the wordfreedom, in the multifaceted sense of the word, is most often extolled

Freedom as a word is multifaceted because the two revolutions on which our tradition of revolution is founded upon, the French and American revolutions, offer differing definitions of freedom. For the Americans, freedom was public freedom. For the French, it was freedom from suffering. This demarcation does not only suggest a correlation with a difference in context- for America had a prosperity that France could only dream of- but also helps explain another intriguing difference in their political lexicon- the French le peuple could not be more dissimilar from the American “We be the people…”. Robespierre and Saint-Just’s definition of people couldn’t be anymore different from the Founding Father’s definition of people. “…the word ‘people’ retained for them [the American revolutionaries] the meaning of manyness, of the endless variety of a multitude whose majesty resided in its plurality…the American concept of people identified with a multitude of voices and interests…”2

By contrast, the French le peuple lacks this notion of multitude. People for Robespierre was understood not in the plural but in the singular, le peuple toujours malheureux. People, in short, in the singular sense of the world, understood not as a multitude of voices but as a single unified cry of suffering. “The very definition of the word was born out of compassion, and the term became the equivalent for misfortune and unhappiness”3. People, for the French, meant a mass, and an irresistible one at that.

This equation of people with mass and suffering, the glorification of suffering as a virtue and the call for compassion is what Arendt credits with the downfall of the French Revolution. When the French asked for politics to come from the heart and not from the mind (via reason), the French revolution ceased to be political: “Passion and compassion are not speechless, but their language consists in gestures and expressions of countenance rather than words”4. Language, and by this virtue, discussion and argumentation, is the mouthpiece of politics. The French revolution failed because the heart only feels; its language is feeling. It does not speak, and is thus non-political.

Politics is politics because of difference and distance. Difference is what characterized the American definition of people, and ergo, distance. Compassion, the driving force of the French revolution, “abolished the distance, the in-between which always exists in human intercourse”5, and especially in politics. “By the same token, he [Robespierre] lost the capacity to establish and hold fast rapports with persons…”6.

Something wicked, this way comes: the entrance of the mass in the political scene does not only mark the downfall of the French revolution- it also foreshadows and culminates in the Nazi death-camps. The shadow of Auschwitz still looms high on the horizon of modernity. Despite the decades long distance in time, the masses of the French revolution and the huddled masses of Auschwitz share an uncanny similarity. Where the French saw the irresistibility of necessity in motion (“In this stream of the poor, the element of irresistibility, which we found so intimately connected with original meaning of the word ‘revolution’ [as seen in the irresistible revolutions of the planets] was embodied, and in its metaphoric usage it became all the more plausible as irresistibility was connected with necessity”7), the Nazis saw fuel for the fulfillment of the “laws” of nature or history. The overcoming of distance in the French revolution via compassion was now achieved by the Nazis via terror: “By pressing men against each other, total terror destroys the space between them…even the desert of tyranny appears like a guarantee of freedom”8. “what took place in the Holocaust and in the countless other disasters of the twentieth century [and before], [can be pinpointed on] where the other person becomes a faceless face in the crowd…” 9.

This facelessness is one of the symptoms of Philippine politics: not only in corruption and in the crimes of Capitalism, where perhaps fellow Filipinos are seen only in terms of cold cash relations, but also in how public opinion is represented. There is only “one” public opinion, only one unified subject which is shown to us by PulseAsia, always just a yes/no approval rating, and never presented any other way. It is as Ezra Pound once declared: “The apparition of these faces in the crowd; Petals on a wet, black bough”.

This is not meant to chastise what Philippine politics has achieved, but is an attempt to divert from a path which has been proven faulty, an attempt to show that although a majority of the state’s constituents are poor, this does not mean that they are only poor. A move towards constituency in the plural, and not in the singular, totalitarian les tojours malheureux.

Why did President Aquino say “Kayo ang Boss ko” and not “Kayo-kayo ang mga boss ko”? True, the first is a more practical pronouncement: it aims to assert loyalty to the Philippines and to the Filipinos as a whole. Yet it glosses over the multiplicity of voices. It speaks of a normative Filipino, not of Filipinos. This essentialist tendency is best illustrated by President Aquino’s totalizing formulation: “Saan ba nakasulat na kailangang puro pagtitiis ang tadhana ng Pilipino?”. Sino ang “Kayo” na tinutukoy ninyo, ginoong Aquino? The Philippines is indeed in a time of upheaval, and in our current state of economic and social turmoil, the word “Filipino” serves is a signifier for the collective, continuing, endurance of our nation. Yet who are the signified? Filipinos, after all, though this claim may not be academically supported, have a multitude of opinions.

This paper takes as its base of relfection the recent public discourse on the issue of Spratlys and the tensions in Philippine-Chinese relations and attempts to analyze them from the lens of economic class and asks the question “Does economic class and the conditions of living associated with that class illustrate difference in opinion?” In doing so, it hopes to:

  1. Illustrate the plurality of Filipino voices; if there is heterogeneity of opinion via class, then surely, there is heterogeneity via some other classification

  2. Look for ways in which these voices may be activated. Filipinos must learn to speak, to argue for their right to have their say. In what ways can the silence be broken?

  3. To encourage the replacement of the term “the Filipino with Filipinos.

  4. To provide a prognostic analysis of Philippine politics. If the mass has been identified with totalitarianism, then may this paper serve as a prognosis of a possible evil to come, and as a guide to its thwarting.

  1Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (Russell: Faber & Faber, 1963) 2

2Ibid, 88-89

3Ibid, 70

4Ibid, 81

5Ibid

6Ibid, 85

7Ibid, 110

8Hannah Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism, (New York: Schoken Books 1951), 466

9Simon Cricthley, The Ethics of Deconstruction, (London: Edinburgh University Press 1999), 285

Bibliography:

Arendt, Hannah. On Revolution. New York, New York: Faber & Faber, 1963

_____________. Origins of Totalitarianism, New York, New York: Schoken Books, 1951

Critchley, Simon, The Ethics of Deconstruction, London: Edinburgh University Press, 1999




Vulgar Materialism

This brief article was written in response to an opinion piece which was published in the most recent issue of Guidon.

The essay which I which I wish to critique begins promisingly enough; it wishes to call people to action. And I quote: “Hundreds of times we have heard the age old mantra that “actions speak louder than words”, but have we ever thought of how actually speaking out might be the one that makes enough”.

This part of the essay is the best part; it calls us to speak out as a way to change things, or perhaps to resist the ways things are being run. Yet whatever brilliant insight is demonstrated here is marred by a certain banality. At this point, the essay begins to go into a downward spiral. I will cite the most incriminating part:

“How many times have you settled for mashed potato instead of your coleslaw?”

Reason is what defines us as humans. This is not to say that animals don’t think or lack consciousness, but that human reason has done, and is capable of, far greater things than any other animal. While it is true that insects have discovered complex living mechanisms much earlier than we have (African termite mounds are astoundingly organized and complex for such a “primitive creature”), the potential of human reason can easily override whatever animals can accomplish. By the reason which makes us human, we have discovered philosophy, science, arts. We have plotted the orbits of the heavens. In the colorful words of Hofstadter:

“I would suggest that it is only because we tacitly believe [that we are more rational] that most of us are willing to eat animals of one sort or another, to smash flies, swat mosquitoes, fight bacteria with antibiotics, and so forth. We generally concurr…that a cow, a turkey, a frog, and a fish, all possess some form of consciousness…but by God, it’s much smaller than ours…” (from the preface of Douglas Hofstadter’s “Godel, Escher, Bach, and Eternal Golden Braid”)

Speech, then, is the mark of this rationality. Where animals thrash and bite, we argue and speak (unless war breaks out). When we reflect of think, we speak to ourselves. When we are in the process of argumentation and decision making, we speak not only to ourselves (as we develop our arguments) but also to others. When we seek to resist, when we seek to challenge, when we seek to change things, we speak. Yet the call to speak which is asked for in the editorial I am critiquing is weak; It is banal, it is trivial. It calls for us to speak, but only when it is for our convenience. In the words of our rather shallow opinion-writer: “I had no trouble in asserting my rights as a consumer…I can’t help but feel sorry for our nation has become”.

The context of the opinion piece I am critiquing is that the author had terrible cellphone service and that she used her ability to speak by asserting her “consumer rights”, and that this inability to assert one’s consumer rights is the inability of the Filipino to assert his consumer rights. And this precisely why it is so wrong and it so insulting: it equates the state of the nation and the mission of speaking to “consumer rights”, to complaining about mashed potato and cellphone service. The author of this opinion piece draws attention to herself- Look at me, I have no problem asserting my consumer rights by complaining about terrible service– and she uses this to pity the nation- look at our nation, it doesn’t know how to speak, in contrast to me, who knows how to assert my consumer rights. It is as if the problems of the nation can simply be remedied by complaining about getting mashed potato and not coleslaw.

Perhaps the problem of our nation is that it cannot speak; but this inability to speak must not be reduced to such a trivial example. Is mass poverty the result of an inability to assert consumer rights? The author even has the gall to call the nation apathetic- in contrast to her, because she complains about cellphone service. My point here is that the struggle of the nation to be a nation by speaking is not the same thing and is much greater than “consumer rights”.

The conundrum which the nation experiences is not an inability to assert one’s consumer rights, and that asserting consumer rights is in no way representative of the form of speech which our nation needs to acquire/learn and utilize. These so-called consumer rights by which we should respond (according to the opinion piece which I am critiquing) or speak or act are in no way the solution; they are in fact illusions and are inadequate.

“…the tiniest complaints are left unsaid, who knows what major problems will be left to rot in the country. Filipinos need to stop being okay with getting used to being pushed over”. While I concede the fact that the tiniest ignorance of problems lead to bigger problems being ignored (which was why I was so critical of the case of plagiarism in the SC sometime ago), I must correct the voice which is lent to us by “consumer rights” is not a voice at all. She presupposes that all Filipinos have consumer rights when the fact is that a majority of Filipinos cannot even complain at all because they have nothing at all. She totalizes the Filipino condition into a problem of “consumer rights” when, in fact, a majority of Filipinos cannot even afford to be consumers at all, much less assert their consumer rights. The illusion of speech which is lent to us by “consumer rights” carries no weight at all. It is an empty form of speech and action.

Whatever customer-centric advertisements are aired which claim to put the customer first, the fact is that the customer can only speak if only he is a customer. One can only bear consumer rights if one can afford; if one cannot , then one cannot assert these consumer rights at all. And due to the fact that a majority cannot consume, how can consumer rights assert, much less speak, about anything at all? The human ability to speak has been reduced to the money in one’s pocket. By acknowleding “consumer rights” as a solution, the author of has disabled the ability of many Filipinos to speak at all. The opinion piece began with a call to speak, and it ended with a paralysis of this ability to speak.