Monday, January 30, 2012

Revolutionary Ex-orbitancy

Pardon the silence; I’ve been sojourning in the land of the academic job market.

I want to think today, quite bluntly, about political subjectivation. How is it that in the punctum of our present a political subject has emerged? Why Occupy? And what do I even mean by political subject, by the political itself? Gestures toward “the political” saturate my own discourse, and, thus far I’ve refused to define the term except indirectly: it’s something lost, something irreducible to regimes of calculability, and so on.  But it remains a vague term. Those of us who live anti-liberalism religiously tend to invoke the political as a blank, critical resource. Given that the political is that against which liberalism defines itself, that which liberalism seeks to limit, contain, and expel, we inflate the signifier as signifier, as if “the political” has a transcendent signified utterly exorbitant to linguistic capture. It has no such signified, and we kind of know this, and when we’re pressed to contort the exorbitant(ly empty) term into a communicable form we typically stutter out some Schmittian line. Here, I don’t want to define “the political”; rather, I want to think of the political itself as the process by which signifiers, on one hand, point beyond themselves to a transcendent exorbitancy and, on the other hand, point to nothing in the world. Let’s say that the political is ex-orbitant: it names a world saturated with transcendent meaning even as it marks an emptying-out, a cancellation, an active ex-ing of the orbis. In this double-play of the ex-orbitant we can locate the emergence of the political subject called Occupy.

The political isn’t identical to a scale, institution, or form; rather, the political is what advenes in the de-structuring of a worldly ordinary. It comes to pass in the conditions of absolute undecidability, when the nomos of the given world is cancelled. I use the passive voice [“is cancelled”] because I want to leave the agency of cancellation unmarked, just as I want to leave the structuring nomos unmarked. This cancellation, I want to suggest, actually produces the nomos it cancels as a self-conscious entity; it subjectivates it. (The “Keynesian state” becomes subjectivated after its wholesale destruction, and is subjectivated as a critique of neoliberalism, for instance.) The political takes place in the withdrawal of a world that only appears as a world in its withdrawal, when the ex produces the orbis it cancels. The political, then, couldn’t be a scale or form of activity—it takes place in the break, between regimes, as an interregnum where undecidability is the norm. Nor could it be an agential subject, something that an intending actor does, for subjectivation happens as an effect of structural cancellation, as the subjectivation of a lost world, a lost ordinary. The political subject is called into being by a lost world, a cancellation of a structure that becomes legible only through its cancellation. The ancien regime appears as a political subject only through revolutionary fighting in the streets.

The political subject is a structure of intentionality that survives the loss of the world that made that mode of being-toward-the-world an unexceptional aspect of being-in-the-world. It emerges in the cruelty of a desire or demand that won’t quit despite the structural impossibility of its realization—a demand for a state that cares, for instance, that is not set to work merely to facilitate the valorization of capital. The political begins when we’ve lost our grip on reality, when our worldly ordinary vanishes and, vanishing, seems to have been real, when we're forced to decide on new approaches to the real. The inaugural tonality of the political is thus one of frustration, of disorientation. This frustration, I want to suggest, is not primarily a frustration with the given world, but a frustration with one’s inability to unlearn the protocols of intentionality that produce this frustration—a frustration not with the world in which one is but a frustration with one’s being-toward-the-world that could only produce frustration. Conservative political subjectivity refuses to let go of this frustration; it wishes for the world to re-conform to its worldless structure of intentionality. This dynamic explains how both conservative and radical political subjectivity can be denigrated as romantic, as utopian—each prioritizes a structure of intentionality over an epistemically valid description of the world as such.

But the radical political subject relates to intentionality differently. If the political emerges in the mismatch between a structure of intentionality and the given world, radical political subjectivity enacts itself by unlearning the intentionality that binds subjects to a lost world, by destroying the phenomenological structure that makes the subject optimistically invest again and again in a world that has abandoned the worldly structures that might have made this investment worthwhile. The radical political subject is not one who decides, simply, on a new world but one who, in all its fractured plurality, co-decides on a new being-toward-the-world.

Occupy is now, finally, radicalizing, becoming a radical political subject. (There were always radicals a part of Occupy, those for whom the world of capital held no promise. My point is that the radical is becoming the set that incorporates the reformist [and Ron Paulite] elements.) Oakland is in the lead here, and their example is contagious, spreading in the form of small acts. Occupy Philly’s march through Center City last night—tying up traffic, confusing police, generating a carnival atmosphere in which people in cars honked out tunes in time with our chants—ended with some tearing down the fence around a privatized Dilworth Plaza, tearing down the stupid Dilworth project banners that surround the site to tell the public that privatization is just fucking awesome. We’re getting angry, we’re learning from our own frustration, we’re cultivating our hatred for capitalism, we’re starting to work on our own structure of desire to come to a point where we can begin to co-decide on new modes of being-toward-the-world. Occupy is now undertaking the revolutionary labor of ex-ing the orbis by unlearning the epistemic programming that makes subjects invest in a world that is always already lost. Reformists will drop out. Bye!

Will the world follow our intentions? Who knows. The co-decision on a new being-toward-the-world is necessarily exorbitant to the world that is—there is nothing that guarantees that the world will bear the burden of the novel intentionality we will decide upon. We don’t necessarily know what a new world will look like, and we couldn’t: the exorbitant will remain undecidable, and we’re leaning how to dwell in this undecidability, how to occupy the space of the incalculable. For now, we’re content to frighten power by our radical refusal to be frustrated by a world that has abandoned its promises. We’re already desiring other worlds. We're already political. 

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