GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

November 2, 2020

Resistance without Supersovereignty

Filed under: GA — adam @ 2:13 pm

Central to the GA form of Neoabsolutism is the elimination of what I call “supersovereignties”—disciplinary concepts, such as “justice,” “rights,” “equality,” “general welfare,” “popular will,” “freedom,” “democracy,” etc., superstructured on the metalanguage of literacy—as a basis for subverting power hierarchies. If you’re fighting for “rights,” the “people,” etc., you’re lying or manipulated—these categories are fraudulent. This might lead to the conclusion that all that’s left is obedience to whatever commands are transmitted by superiors. While what I would like to call “primearchy” would indeed entail far more acceptance of authority and therefore obedience to commands, it would also entail better commands, making obedience reasonable (which doesn’t imply that “unreasonableness” would become a basis for “legitimate” resistance). But this also doesn’t mean there would be no disobedience—the issuance of an imperative always implies, not only an imperative gap which could be filled in various ways, but also the possibility of defiance. As long as there are commands, there will be defiance. So, the question is, what would disobedience and defiance look like, how would such practices be thought of, and how would they be enacted without all the supersovereign concepts that now provide a virtual menu of rationalizations?

We’d have to think in terms of a much more stripped down form of resistance—rather than, “you have no right to tell me to do this,” “I’m a free citizen and can’t be forced to…”, “I refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the procedures which elevated you to a position of command,” etc., etc,. it would really just come down to: no, I refuse. We can set aside the ornery individuals who defy because it defines them, like Cool Hand Luke, who may continue to exist under any order, but don’t really present any serious political or theoretical problems (some interesting aesthetic ones, though). The reluctant resistance I am more interested in could only be done in the name of a practice which has become impossible due to inconsistent imperatives. A simple version of this would be something like, “you ordered me construct this wall for the purpose of blocking incursion, but now you’re telling me to do it in a way that would facilitate incursion.” So far, this would be a kind of practical or technical resistance, that of the professional who refuses to debase his life’s work, and is ready to pay the price. And this would certainly be one form of disobedience, which might very well often be effective, because one would be disobeying in the sight of other professionals, and in front of a boss who we can assume has at least some investment in a successful completion of the task. And, moreover, we can assume that such disobedience would be the last resort, following attempts to explain and demonstrate the dysfunctional nature of the command. Even in such a narrowly defined case, though, we can expect the disobedience to be “performative”—that is, one would choose a particular way of presenting and publicizing one’s resistance.

Let’s say the engineer assigned to build the wall to prevent incursions comes to the conclusion that the entire wall-building effort, and maybe even the insistence of trying to prevent incursions, in general or in this way, is misguided and destructive. Here, we could say the engineer is stepping outside of his professional competence—what kind of special knowledge does he have the contravenes decisions made above him? It is in this kind of disobedience that the supersovereignties are summoned—resistance is carried out in the name of “human rights,” or “internationalism,” or some such scapegoating political concept. But there’s no reason to assume that a neoabsolutist order would be narrowly technocratic; on the contrary, insofar as everyone is treated as a participant in some larger project, part of a “team” trying to “win” some “game,” everyone is obligated to think through the morality of one’s actions, which is to say, their implications for the entire texture of social life. In that case, we can allow for the possibility of disobedience carried out on broader grounds, and if we exclude the levying of supersovereignties here, we would need to explore what those grounds might be.

To do so, we would have to think of a practice of disobedience that would be the “other” of a practice of obedience. We have a distinction between the occupied center and the signifying center, which, inAnthropomorphicsand elsewhere, I have formulated as the problem of the imperative gap: someone tells you what to do, and you have to figure out how to do under conditions that at least to some extent must be unanticipated by the imperative itself, so you try to fill that gap, or, to use the terms of my latest post, become maximally addressable by it. This approach has some similarity to the role of precedent in judicial decision-making—you articulate this imperative with previous imperatives from the same source, from “analogous” sources, from models of higher modes of activity circulating in the culture, and so on. Here, though, the purpose is to make it possible to fulfill the imperative as perfectly as possible—not to revise or overturn it. Of course, fulfilling as perfectly as possible, insofar as it implies the distinction between explicit and implicit, is not obviously distinguishable from revision and overturning. But what we assume here is no mediating institution that steps in to make the distinction—there’s no “appeal” being made here, not even to your superior’s superior, who only steps in if he sees his own imperatives being imperfectly fulfilled. So, it’s still just you and your boss, who is the one who distinguishes between “perfecting” and “revising.” So, no one would ever be making an argument for some third party in order to overthrow the decision of the boss in the name of some made up concept.

Resistance, then, involves laying oneself out openly and transparently before authority. You turn yourself into as complete an inscription as possible of the incommensurability of the imperative gap in this case, with “this case” being circumscribed as narrowly as possible. You make yourself into an “image” of all the consequences of the “infelicitous” command you assert to be invisible to the imperator. You debilitate and disable yourself—in a way, you are a kind of broken tool, capable only of gestures of incapability and impossibility. The imperator is as isolated in relation to you as you are in relation to him: he has to read his own intentions off of you in their alienated form. You assume you are being recorded, and might therefore be a model for others, while at the same time knowing this may not be the case in fact—the assumption is made for the boss as much as for yourself, so that he sees himself on a larger scene, one designed by your practice of resistance. You acknowledge your own ineffectiveness—you can simply be replaced—but, of course, you can acknowledge this by representing yourself at your most irreplaceable.

This mode of resistance is therefore aesthetic, which perhaps makes my Cool Hand Luke reference perennially relevant. Both of the aesthetic models I have mapped out come into play here. First, this practice of resistance is a kind of originary satire—one creates a scene which represents the occupant of the center as contingent and therefore replaceable. More recently, I have proposed an aesthetic practice of what we might call “always already having obsolesced,” that is, creating an array of signs that members of some future civilization might read as causing, resisting and surviving the not necessarily inevitable demise of that other (our) civilization. The self-disabling, this shutting oneself down in stages, that I am describing, is just such an articulation of imminent disaster along with the key to it and traces of practices that might have aborted it (which means if the “art work” is successful, it won’t exist, it will have cancelled itself).

Such an aesthetics of resistance and resistance of aesthetics can be made into a practice that is both built into the ethics of preservation of the center while at the same time being constitutive of that ethics—and therefore something that could and would be taught. This aesthetic refusal is an act of deferral grounded in originary mistakenness. Remember that the declarative has its origin in the failed imperative—the object demanded cannot be supplied, so its absence can only be referenced, and the imminent conflict arrested. It makes sense to assume that the failed or mistaken imperative at the origin of the declarative would involve a demand rather than a command, because the demanded object provides the “subject” whose absence can be ‘predicated.” Commands already imply some hierarchical social organization—even if the hierarchy is provisional, it assume a complex cooperative enterprise, and therefore an already existing declarative culture. So, “predicating” a failed command involves referencing not just an object but the entire cooperative order. Without supersovereign intervention, the only way of predicating the hierarchical cooperative order is by simultaneously registering the totality of its effects, its “resonance,” within one’s own practice and demonstratively and absolutely disavowing any attempt to transform it. The practice of resistance is one of turning one’s existence as a center into a predicate, of which the entire social order is the subject—like any “sentence,” it just says what it says, and lets what is, be, but even more so.

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