9.08.2011

Becoming Inhuman

We — me, you, everyone we see and know — are enmeshed in various and diverse networks. Or, rather, we are at once enmeshed and constituted by these networks — social, temporal, planetary, biological, affective, traffic.

By which I mean that we are quite literally made up of all these things — not just our genitilia but our notions of genitilia; not just our bodies but the networks that make it and run through it, from blood and nerves to air and food; not just the environment but all the elaborate and ever-changing dynamics of the weather and the sun (everyday I drive from the fog to the sun and back and with each transition, I am transformed); not just our jobs but the global flows of capital and technology.

But if you look at movies and TV, we certainly privilege one network over others: the network we call civilization. That is, other people. I, for one, used to be quite taken with the human condition — with character studies and portraits, with human history, with how people operate.

And while this is of course important — I feel silly having to say that — I now like to explore how I'm made up of the non-human. The weather, for instance, or the taste of tequila or the stature of a cactus or the poise of a tulip; the swell of an ocean or the tumult of a hurricane; the expanse of the sky, the tilt of a dog's curiosity, the wit of a ginkgo tree (take a good look at gingkos: they can be quite hilarious). This is to say, I see myself in things other than humans.

I do not mean to sound misanthropic. Clearly, my relationship to humanity is privileged. But I find a tremendous liberty as well as wealth of information from positioning humanity as just another network. So rather than my self being intersubjective, it becomes interobjective — or something to that effect.

Or perhaps we can call this identity chiasmatic: I am wound up with the world just as it is wound up with me. And so it is never self-identical at all. It is always marbled. Such, in fact, are the very conditions of perception: in seeing the world, I become (with) the world.

And so while I no doubt come to constitute myself in my relations with others, I'd like to expland this others to include the entire cosmos, visible and invisible.

6 comments:

drwatson said...

This is nice. I'm going to have to find out what a ginkgo tree looks like.

What about the way, like right now, I'm interacting with you and whoever else may read this. But I'm also interacting with a keyboard, a chair, a screen, this thing called the internet and so forth. The world of humans and the world of non-humans are totally folded into each other. This isn't new, but the sensation has been amplified.

Nathan said...

Sorry for the delayed response to your last question re: discourse of self-identity. I think you've got the gist of what I was after. By discourse of self-identity, I was referring to those practices, not necessarily restricted to human interaction, which interpolate the individual as a coherent, self-identical being. I think you've cracked the code here but, just for the sake of clarity, I'll provide some examples.

I think the most evocative examples come from different religious/moral frameworks as well as punitive practices. The practice of confession, for example, presumes the self-identity of the confessor: an agent responsible for and identical to the sum of his or her actions delimited by a matrix of possible sins. Though the actual theological framework may admit to a more heterogeneous view of the individual (as constituted by networks of grace, original sin, the intervention of angels, demons, etc.), the practice produces, disciplines, a homogeneous self which is defined by the articulations of an individual body and the imaginings of an individual mind manifested by a single actor and interpreted according to a common moral code.

With regard to punitive practices, the discourse is more blatant. The legal system tries individuals as agents - physically, morally, psychologically and legally - responsible for their actions. The subject of punitive measures is a body in a cell presumed to be contiguous with a self to be punished and reformed. If the authorities come for you, they're not going to pick up the gingko tree on their way, even as an accessory. Which is to say, punitive practices discipline a self-identical individual, not an inter-objective network.

So, those are two fairly extreme, institutional examples of a discourse of self-identity. But, I think the practice is also obvious in relationships. In relationships, we generally expect others to express a consistent set of ideas, values, attitudes, etc. You might describe this as a style, but that's incidental. In addition to these expectations, we also expect others to take responsibility for their actions as self-possessed, autonomous agents. Sure, allowances are always made for extenuating circumstances whether they be simply affective or, what is more common, alcohol-induced. But, most of the time, if a friend is being a dick, or veering wildly from what we have come to expect as his or her consistent set of values, attitudes, etc., we confront them with the discourse of self-identity: "what's wrong with you," "this isn't like you," "you need to take a good look at yourself," "you're being a fraud," etc.

Okay, that's probably more than you bargained for but I hope that helps to clarify what I was talking about.

Nathan said...

@Dr. Watson - Apologies also for not getting back to you re: de-ontologizing. I have to admit that I may be using the term naively as I don't consider myself well versed in the explicitly ontological or deontological thinkers like Heideggar, Derrida or, apparently, Levinas. When I say "de-ontologize" I mean to recast the terms of an argument with respect to their collective inter-determination. That is, instead allowing one term, or a set of terms, onto-theological precedent (to use the term you employed in your History paper), I want to redistribute those terms within a matrix of interdependent origination. That doesn't eviscerate their respective singularities but it does situate that singularity within a context of multiplicity, a la D+G's rhizome.

Methodologically speaking, what this usually involves for me is considering the problem in terms of discourse and/or practice. While this approach would seem to ontologize discourse/practice as a logos or ground of being, I think these terms are handy in that undermine any pretense to systematization. Because discourse and practice are transitive, they elude metaphysical enclosure. At least, that's what I think. Would definitely be interested in getting your take on this.

Daniel Coffeen said...

@ Nathan: Well, this is beautiful — very clear. So now I know what you're talking about.

And I think we are talking about identity at slightly different registers. The various discourses of self-identity — legal, punitive, religious, medical — surely have all sorts of power in the way we can think ourselves. This is, of course, Foucault's territory. How are we discursively constructed?

No doubt, these discourses inform both our private notions of ourselves as well as how we can talk about ourselves with others. Hence, your reference to various idioms — "You're not being yourself" etc.

I think I was trying to rupture or supersede these institutional discourses by introducing new and radically different discourses into the mix — perception, botany, astrology. My goal is less Foucauldian than Guattarian (eesh! that looks ugly!): I don't want to identify structures of identity, I want to explode identity, starting with my own.

Am I making any sense?

Nathan said...

@Coffeen: That absolutely makes sense! This is precisely what I enjoy about your writing. And, granted, "Guatarrian," as a modifier, is not particularly elegant, but I think the attribution is apt. In fact, keeping within Foucaultian territory, I see this move as a method of askesis: practicing an alternate form of subjectivation which yields new forms of subjectivity. I'm drawing here on Foucault's later work in the "Scripting of the Self" essay and the final books of the _History of Sexuality_. The objective there is not merely to provide a descriptive account of how the subject is constituted by different discourses but to investigate those practices which have been self-consciously employed by individuals to transform or inflect the architecture of their own subjectivity. That such practices should result in a mode of being which is more adequately described as objective or asubjective is, I think, an indication of the fundamentally transitive character of the subject. It circumscribes a field of action and intention which allows us to conceive of practices but is ultimately only an articulation, or assemblage, of one such, or many such, practice(s). Obviously, alternative modes of subjectivation encounter resistance, both conscious and unconscious. The discourse of self-identity would be one example. But analyzing the function of that discourse is a critical inquiry. Practicing an alternative discourse is a creative one. So, yes: different registers.

Pierre said...

The privileged network, the one you want to develop feeling and relationship is the one withe the nature, not the one with the fellows, the individuals of the civilization.

It's a main point for me, as it means that the prefered relationship is the one with a shift of nature. I like all the more the sky that it has a fundamental chengement of nature compared to me. I also like the "nerds", the "misfits", etc... because as a salary man today, they are the promise of the more possible alterity. I like the blacks as I am a wasc(p), i like hiking as I live in the city.

The fact is not that i am unsatisfied with my own condition of beaing at the city, for instance. The fact is that the promieses of rich experiences is bigger with wildlife.