Tραγικό, κωμικό και αντίσταση

Αποσπάσματα από κριτική βιβλίου του S. Critchley. Θέμα: μία αντίληψη περί ηθικής η οποία προσπαθεί να υπερβεί το «έλλειμμα ηθικής» (που δημιούργησε η υποχώρηση των θρησκευτικών δογμάτων και πολιτικών ιδεολογιών) χωρίς να καταλήγει στο φονταμενταλισμό ή το μηδενισμό και χωρίς τη χρήση βίας. Ελλείψει επαναστατικού υποκειμένου, η πολιτική, κατά το συγγραφέα, πρέπει να αποσκοπεί στη δημιουργία ενός χώρου πέρα από το κράτος. Το βιβλίο απευθύνεται στους «στρατευμένους θεατές της κοινωνικής αδικίας». Η «κωμική έλλειψη αυθεντικότητας» είναι το όπλο τους και το κίνητρό τους.

«People are no longer persuaded by the ethical convictions and political commitments they have established on their own authority as modern, emancipated subjects. The motivation must come from elsewhere.

How are we to get from the ‘traumatic neurotic’ ethical subject, that is moreover ‘constitutively split between itself and a demand it cannot meet’, to the kind of new anarchist political ethics that Critchley eventually wants to establish?

This is dealt with through Lacanian psychoanalysis – one more detour before we finally get into the business of politics. Traumatic ethical separation, as psychoanalysis and more specifically Lacan teach us, requires aesthetic reparation through sublimation. The main problem with this approach is that it points towards tragic action as the authentic way to redeem split individuality. The ethics of heteronomy, however, requires that we perpetually forestall the possibility of authenticity. Critchley therefore argues for a notion of originary inauthenticity at the core of subjective experience, which requires comic acknowledgement rather than tragic affirmation as its ethical motivator.

This ‘laughable inauthenticity’ provides the link between ‘an ethics of (infinitely demanding) commitment’ and a ‘politics of resistance’. Political remotivation starts, for Critchley, with the heterogeneous collection of ‘anti-authoritarian groups’ that practice ‘actually existing an-archism’. This is an ‘anarchism of infinite responsibility’ that arises from ‘situations of injustice’, and may be empirically witnessed in ‘the carnivalesque humour of anarchist groups and their tactics of non-violent warfare’

Is such anarchist practice aimed at producing a better, or more just, society? – one might ask in the vein of Noam Chomsky, who put a similar question to Michel Foucault in 1971 in an interview on Dutch television, where Foucault anarchically insisted that revolutionary activity should precisely not invoke the promise of a more just society. Critchley’s anarchists do invoke justice – or at least the ethics of heteronomy responds to situations of injustice – but do not practice revolt, certainly not violent revolt. They are more adequately described as militant witnesses to injustice, who because of their ‘laughable inauthenticity’ must refrain from envisioning a just society. Critchley’s favorite examples are groups like Ya Basta!, Rebel Clown Army, Pink Block, or Billionaires for Bush, who all ‘perform their powerlessness in the face of power in a profoundly power-ful way’.

Critchley’s anarchist politics fall within the domain of what Jacques Rancière calls ‘la politique’, let’s say informal politics, in contrast with the formal political sphere of ‘le politique’. Critchley finds that in principle ‘the state is a limitation on human existence and we would be better off without it’. But as there is no revolutionary subject any more to do away with the state, or any other clear force that will make it ‘wither away’, politics should be conceived ‘at a distance from the state’. Or rather, a ‘distance within the state’ that has to be opened up’.

The space of (meta)politics is not simply ‘there’ to be occupied; it must be created within the complicated ‘texture’ of institutional life, social forces, and political structures. This may create room for what Critchley calls ‘wild democracy’: practices that do not fit, or are excluded by, the normal texture of social and political life. ‘True democracy would be the enactment of cooperative alliances, aggregations of conviviality and affinity at the level of society that materially deform the state power that threaten to saturate them’ .

Spoken like a true anarchist. In line with Rancière, Critchley sides with ‘the people’, or better the excluded part of ‘the people’, that ‘cannot be socially identified and policed by any territorializing term’ (129). He also agrees with Rancière that politics is opposed to ‘the police’, a term which is perhaps best understood in its traditional, Hegelian sense as the network of institutions of civil society that aim to remedy its potentially destruc-tive forces. It thus covers not only the police in the modern sense, but most of what we now know as municipal agencies and services, including social and cultural work, welfare, &c. Critchley’s most important dis-agreement with Rancière is not clearly set out and only alluded to (129), it seems to be about whether the kind of ‘metapolitical’ activities that Critchley recommends to us are to count as real politics.

We may well fear that those readers best situated to understand Critchley’s point – academic philosophers – are the ones least likely to put it into practice. His point would have been better expressed by formulating a political theory of anarchism, or an anarchist manifesto. As it is, Critchley does not assert himself as an anarchist political activist, but as – merely – a ‘witness’: a witness to the (laughably inauthentic) militant witnesses to injustice.

In an ironic twist, it seems to me that it is not Critchley but his theoretical adversary Slavoj Žižek who succeeds best on Critchley’s own criterion, as he manages to be dead serious and laughably inauthentic at the same time, editing books with speeches by Lenin and Robespierre, but also being humoristic and paradoxical throughout. While I have more sympathy for Critchley’s anarchism than for Žižek’s Leninism, Critchley’s philosophical point remains best exemplified by Žižek. This seems slightly tragic, but perhaps it is better understood as, after all, laughably inauthentic.»

GIJS VAN OENEN,  POSH ANARCHISM Review of: Simon Critchley (2007) Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance. London: Verso, 168 pp.Krisis, 2008, Issue 2 www.krisis.eu
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