2.10.2011

Qualifying the Word "Individual" with Metabolism


In many ways, this word — and concept — "individual" raises some problems and issues. It suggests that perhaps we are all discrete units, closed off by our minds and skins, finally alone in the whirlwind of our being. This conception of the individual lies at the heart of bourgeois propriety and its relentless will to ownership: I am an individual in my individual bed in my individual room in my individual house on my individual property in my individual country. That is, our notions of property and the civil body have, in many ways, been dictated by a certain conception of the individual.

As Marshall McLuhan argues, the assembly line relies on this notion of the individual: a discrete unit playing its role, a cog in the greater engine of the factory and the corporation.

But that is not the individual I am speaking of. My individual is, as I've said, run through with ghosts, with streams of affect, blocs of becoming — with the tics of others, the dreams of clouds, the gait of the wind. Burroughs talks about this so well in his fantastic essay, "Immortality," in the ways the voices and styles of others wind through our bodies. I will say that whenever I hear myself talk — in, say, a recorded lecture — I am overwhelmed to hear that, at times, it is not me speaking at all: it is my brother.

The individual I speak of is a networked becoming, not an idle being. So in what sense do I speak of an individual?

Well, as a singular node within this network of streams and trajectories. We are necessarily distinctive metabolic propensities. Just look at us, look at yourself, look at people on the street, in the cafe, in your own home. There is infinite variation in the way each of us comports (comportment, another favorite concept of mine), the way each of us hangs in the world. It's in our postures, yes, and in the way our bones are sheathed by our skin, the way our skin makes sense of the sun, the speed of our blood, the width of our veins, the mechanics of our glands, the gestures of our hands as we speak and rest and dream.

We are singular nodes, with distinctive speeds and rhythms, intensities and propensities, tics and styles. We are metabolic creatures — we take in the world and make sense of it in such infinitely different ways.

My question is this: What might a society of such individuals, such singular nodes, look like? What might be its ethics? Its mode of legislation and leadership? Because what we have now, in this so-called land of the individual, is an elaborate state apparatus that is armed to the teeth and rigorously enforcing the will of corporations.

Let's imagine something else entirely.

3 comments:

what the Tee Vee taught said...

I'm going to work off of this:

We are singular nodes, with distinctive speeds and rhythms, intensities and propensities, tics and styles. We are metabolic creatures — we take in the world and make sense of it in such infinitely different ways.

If I'm not too far from your path, you are saying that the above depiction is how we go... like, now... correct?

Of course, some/many/most of us simply don't "see" this way. So your question is, what if we did? What if we all saw each other as you've described. What would that society look like?

Or, is it something else? Big different, little different, I need some help with this one.

Muddle some arugula into your next cocktail... ever try that? Fantastic. Peppery delight, a weird little snack as you drink, it's all quite pleasant.

what the Tee Vee taught said...

your next cocktail, look who is calling the shots here! Whenever you like.

Daniel Coffeen said...

Well, if I were to say, as I did elsewhere, that our culture works systematically against the individual, would that make sense?

So I am saying that but qualifying what I mean by the term "individual": we live in a culture that systematically works against singular nodes, a culture that seeks self-same cogs. If that makes sense....

I've never mulled. But I do like that verb quite a bit, perhaps enough to actually mull.