Erik (eriktrips) wrote,

  • Mood:

the American Subject

I'm working on this thing that suggests to me that it needs to be written. It may be "dissertation lite" but there are things that I think could be ventured without full explanation. When finished it may appear on a website of political rantings by peacenik academics.

This is completely off the top of my head. I am quoting no one.

OK I will quote one fictional driver of Ford trucks: "I ain't got no boundaries. I don't compromise." The fellow proclaiming this wears a cowboy hat . If it were possible to point to the one thing wrong with American ethics one might point in this general direction.

Because the problem is at once simple and complex: the individual as the seat of liberty and right, when loosed from the necessity of considering the consequences of its actions on the real (and is this the Baudrillardean vision of the joy of postmodern America circa Las Vegas? I don't know. I'm not quoting anyone.), becomes a voracious imperialism of the self, a power most dangerous to those which surround it. For they don't surround it anymore. No boundaries. No compromise. All the world is me. I am the end of history and God's plan incarnate.

Is it necessary to revisit the frontier thesis? Is it necessary to revisit the white man's burden? Is it necessary to revisit the violence with which civilization was imposed upon the civilizations already here when the Europeans arrived? Is it necessary to revisit the violence which must underwrite any limitless expansion of the self? I am not sure. Because I am not sure to whom I am talking. I am not sure where this is going to be seen. I'm not sure it will even make it off my hard drive and onto a LiveJournal server, which is where everything I write makes its first stop these days.

Perhaps I should just dive into the real, and Nietzsche's assertion that it was all a myth. To be clear, I am not going to fault Nietzsche for saying this and I'm not even going to assert that he was wrong because I think he was right. But he said a few other things besides. To wit, the world of appearances was all a myth too. If the objective is inaccesible and irrelevant, the subjective also shrivels. People forget this. People who criticize the disolocated postmodern subject for its voracious imperialism forget this or perhaps the people who divested late capitalism of the real and instituted this very imperialism forget this.

Because once dislocated, the subject has no place to stand. At all. What a disaster for the American self image this would be! The restlessness of frontier expansion resulting not in the remaking of the West into the raw material of empire, but instead the line of disarticulation and dispersal, a homelessness not at all alienated from its surroundings but inextricably knotted together with them such that the dichotomy between home and exile no longer existed.

It may be that what obsesses me is a (non)subjectivity of trauma, an inability to stand because one begins irreparably wounded, already violated, but not in the sense of having one's boundaries breached. Because, here, the boundary unravels, not to unleash an unfettered self upon a helpless world, but to question the very ability of the self to justify itself, to establish its territory, to appropriate its objects. A (non)subjectivity of disappropriation. A grasping which is not a grasping but is an impossible grasping of the improper as such. Perhaps even a surplus of the sociable which arrives with and escapes from the linguistic gesture of delineation between interlocutors. Perhaps even that.

Perhaps a frontier which persists everywhere rather than expanding ever outward as the line of demarcation between the same and its others. What if this were what we read in the frontier and what if this were the frontier winding back to undo its former function as the avant-garde of empire. What about that.

Judith writes, "the U.S. government advertises its military feats as an overwhelming visual phenomenon. That the U.S. government and miltary call this a 'shock and awe' strategy suggests that they are producing a visual spectacle that numbs the senses and, like the sublime itself, puts out of play the very capacity to think." This passage gets my attention because it seems to me to pinpoint both a symptom of and a means for the expansion of American subjectivity: a subjectivity released from the real, a subjectivity at deadly play, a subjectivity enthusiastic for a violent spectacle whose consequences can be ignored, not only because this subjectivity is more powerful than any on earth, but also because those upon whom the consequences fall can be dismissed as unreal. But it also gets my attention at the point where the sublime puts out of play the very capacity to think.

Because the question of reason's role in ethics is still problematic. In various venues I have been subjected to entirely reasonable claims that the thousands we may kill are a justifiable loss if in doing so we prevent the death of hundreds of thousands. Never mind that a claim such as this can never be verified; the problem lies more precisely in the inability of reason to do other than calculate the effects of a violence which comes upon it "irresistably." Whereas trauma, and the (non)subject of trauma, are by definition outside of reason. And yet their only hope is to turn up in reasonable discourse, as long as reasonable discourse retains the power to enforce its calculations.

So I find myself in a conundrum, but a promising one, if bare life resists reason but commands an ethic based neither upon the perception of a true world which legislates our morality nor upon the assumption that, absent the true world, nothing in the apparent world is of consequence. This might even be an ethic of ir/rationality, if such an ethic unfolds prior to the gesture which exiles the irrational. It may be an ethic of ir/responsibility, if we have no one to answer to, but not even ourselves.

I lied. I quoted someone.

  • weigh in

    According to my home scale, and allowing for inaccuracies both technical and visual (i.e. I need new glasses so it is hard to see clearly what is…

  • clean favorite socks!

    I cannot tell you when was the last time I did laundry. I cannot tell you because even if I could trace it back I would be too embarrassed to say but…

  • Tiny text take two

    So now I am writing my journal entry with a "real" text editor, vim, which is much more useful on the iPod with its limited keyboard. I am hoping…

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.