Notes: The Impersonal Is Political x Hasana Sharp

“Politics of Recognition” vs. “Politics of Imperceptibility”

Feminist, anti-racist and post-colonial theory has invested a lot of thought into “a humanistic politics of identity” (84) that aims to affirm the visibility of marginalized subjects via intersubjective and cross-cultural exchanges. The main idea here is that equality and justice for minority groups cannot be realized without the recognition of who they really are… “establishing relationships of respect, equality, and sympathy among people with distinct languages, cultures, histories, and perspectives.” (85)

“Grosz rejects the politics of recognition on the grounds that the desire to be known, seen, and valued by the other is an inevitably submissive acquiescence to a humanism that can never fail to be masculine.” (85) The main concern here is, recognition…by who? The “satisfaction of a desire for recognition is an awkward yardstick for justice.” (86) How is recognition ‘completed’? if identity building, or becoming is an open-ended and ongoing process? What qualifies recognition? Legislation? The capacity to be commodified and reduced to a talking point, marketing strategy, or brand? Participation in the marketplace and visibility go hand-in-hand. Is there a difference between publicity and recognition?

Recognition, according to Cornell and Murphy emphasizes “the freedom to recreate oneself through the assertion and recognition of one another’s humanity…which entails attention to each person’s potential and need to develop and transform her self-representation and cultural meaning.” (87) To be clear, recognition here does not imply ‘authenticity’; what is recognized is not some static notion of identity, rather that individuals are their own source of meaning that is continually undergoing processes of transformation– “continually being revised and reinterpreted.” (87) Basically, ‘granting’ people the freedom to control how they are seen in public.

“The politics of recognition takes account of how systematic social invisibility, misrepresentation, or distortion constitute a genuine harm– indeed, in extreme cases, psychic mutilation– to the autonomy of individuals and groups…formal equality, greater access to jobs, housing, and social services alone” (86) are not enough to heal the damage produced by the various histories of violence and injustice. Redistribution of capital merely slaps a bandage on the wound and is predicated on a fundamental misrecognition of what the victims feel or desire. And yet, recognition itself is a “negative exigenc[y] of redress, reparation and restitution”. (91) Ultimately, it is reactive and passively accepts the influence of a greater power in shaping one’s sense of self-worth and desire for reciprocity.

“I am misrecognized” presupposes a unitary vision of the self that can be recognizable…and visualized into a fixed image. This is the kind of self-policing identity politics that Foucault and Ranciere resist precisely because they allow the regimes of surveillance to police all life that much more effectively. – The felt need to be recognized already places the subject within a power dynamic that renders it servile to a pre-existing dominant symbolic power. “Any vision of justice predicated upon the validation of social subjects by other subjects belongs to ‘a politics that is fundamentally servile.’…governed, in advance, by the image and value of the other.” (88) This desire for a transcendent Eye (regardless of it being within or without) to shine it’s revealing light upon oneself is symptomatic of phallocentric logic, and keeps subjects fixed within a totality and binary/hierarchical system.

Recognition also assumes that subjectivity can only be considered in terms of violence and antagonism, on a pre-existing trauma, or idea of otherness as hostile. This potentially “elides the real differences between coming to be a social subject under conditions of radical oppression and coming to be a subject in a context of privilege.”(88) – While ‘seeing others better’ is typically advocated as an ethos of responsibility, the call for mutual transparency between subjects can be problematic.

“Acts don’t have an ‘other’. Only Subjects have an ‘other’.”(89)

For Grosz, violence and conflict are both necessary and irresolvable but not because human subjects cannot help but relate through binary logic and structures; rather, violence and conflict are products of impersonal and a-subjective forces. Forces don’t have an ‘other’, only humans do. By privileging activity, forces, energies and bodies, Grosz devaluates and de-centers the self-other binary from ethics.

Becoming is a process “that cannot be represented by concepts or explained through developmental narratives”. Not “predicated on identification, imitation, resemblance or analogy…[nor] reflection of an unconscious urge to work out a psychic identification with a lost other.”(89)

Critics of Grosz may argue that the language of force is patriarchal. But Grosz replies that “this maneuver of identifying force with the masculine is already to humanize force (which in effect is to masculinize it…), to anthropomorphize it and to refuse to see its role not as the effect but as the condition of subjectivity and subjective will.”(90) Humanization = masculinization, this equation reflects the reduction of value and life to the self-reflected Sameness of the Self, to One symbolic order, that of the human. And such a move is phallocentric. Why does ‘the human’ mark a limit to what we can do, how we act? Unless it is entirely inadequate, mired in imaginary and representational ideas– the first kind of knowledge for Spinoza. Indeed, we do not even know what a body can do.

As opposed to ‘human’, “subjects can be conceived as modes of action and passion, a surface of catalytic events…”(91) Subjects understood as modes of power, modifications of life, as bodies determined by movement and rest…by their capacity to act rather than identify.

Sharp relates the desire for recognition with what Spinoza refers to as ambitio, “the desire to please and be esteemed by fellow human  beings.”(92)…”drive for that special kind of respect owed to one’s humanity.”(93) This desire ultimately always depends on others, upon being seen as an absolute requisite for being. “The remedy for the affect of ambitio…involves the indissociability of humanity from the rest of nature.”(93) “Getting over oneself, or relinquishing a cherished image of humanity and personhood.” (94) But understanding this ‘adequately’ is no easy task, let alone being able to transition to active joys from being mired in negative passions.

Contra Butler. Sharp notes that Butler “has probably undertaken one of the most profound radicalizations of social construction, thoroughly denaturalizing any notion of sex or gender.”(94) Grosz instead is interested in a “sort of renaturalization that has been taken away, redynamizing a certain kind of nature.”(94) Human experience may be socially constructed but this is perhaps to give human institutions too much credit in a mirrored-sameness, or self-reflective way. To argue that a representation of the body can only be socially constructed is tantamount to saying rather simply that one does not even know what a body can do. Since, via Spinoza, all representations are inadequate ideas.

Sharp is not very clear about what ‘becoming-imperceptible’ expresses. It seems to affirm a non-unitary inhuman conception of the ‘self’, a ‘self’ that resists, challenges, or ceases to conform and identify relative to any given socio-symbolic order because it is too plugged into or affected by things in a way that does not treat the world instrumentally or economically; that is, not morally but ethically.

Parallelism according to Sharp “supports a portrait of ideas themselves as forces…striving to prolong and enhance their existence.” (97) “Ideas, like bodies, are forces. Thus, no matter how true, they will die without many others to sustain them.”(99) “Truth has no added power by virtue of its veracity.” (99) Like bodies, it must combine with other simple parts or perhaps ‘simple truths’ in order to have any mode of existence that expresses such truths.

A politics of imperceptibility involves encounters with other ideas and bodies based not on identity but on desire. Not in terms of instrumentality but in terms of what empowers and affirms one’s power of action.

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Notes: Tuhkanen on Butler’s Reading of Deleuze

When we think about the body, do we simply reduce it to terms of discourse? Do we dress it in representational terms that impose cultural and social norms on it?

This is why Spinoza wonders what a body can do. Because we simply do not know. All of our ideas about the body are merely impressions or indications mediated via affects that are always at the outset inadequate.

Lacanian premise taken up by Butler: a critical position is never ahistorical, never outside a realm of symbolic representation. This is very Derridean– “there is nothing outside of the text”. However, just because it is argued that there is nothing ‘outside’ this world of symbolic construction, does not mean it is a philosophy of immanence; no, it is but a repetition of a certain tendency towards reasserting transcendence/moralism– it is the seduction of humanism, the notion that life is particular to ‘humans’, or that life originates from the Word (logos/discourse).

“Deleuze’s notion of an extradiscursive realm, which suggests an ‘arcadian vision of precultural libidinal chaos’…She writes that Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘appeal…to a precultural eros ignores the Lacanian insight that all desire is linguistically and culturally constructed’” (9)

- here Tuhkanen notes how Butler prefers Lacan’s “insistence on the cultural immanence of desire and the Law” over that of Deleuze’s “understanding of natural desire that has been repressed…of the ceaselessly disruptive outside…a desire that has a natural or metaphysical structure said to exist either prior or posterior to linguistic or cultural laws”. While it is true we are born into a pre-programmed and codified world, thrust into a narrative mid-sentence, it is also true that these cultural forms have to be ‘accepted’. Meaning, they don’t simply just impose themselves and enter into minds by sheer force. Sure, there’s plenty of coercion involved but the subject also plays a part in receiving, and passively accepting these codes. And for Deleuze, this ‘capacity to be affected’ is precisely the ‘natural desire’ or degree of power of the body that is prediscursive. From Tuhkanen’s description of Butler’s thought, there seems to be a missing understanding of the importance of affectivity in Deleuzian philosophy.

For Butler, “there  is nothing outside the symbolic, historicizable realm, but existing forms of power can be appropriated subversively, that is, repeated inaccurately in ways that open a future horizon unlike current symbolic existence.” (10)

- here is where the anthropocentric nearsightedness becomes most obvious. Life isn’t something particular to humans. This is the reduction of life to humanistic terms. A “future horizon unlike…” would still be within the same symbolic existence so long as does not permit of the non-human. In other words there is nothing outside the symbolic realm but it is foreclosed by humanism. Any supposed openness here can only mean a return to ways of being that are anthropocentric.
- sure, what is ‘repeated’ may open up new ways of becoming…but what is repeated is also humanistic in the sense that value is tied to meaning, which in turn is tied to the notion of energy as potestas instead of potentia. The question then becomes…can this repetition open a future horizon that is inclusive of what is ‘outside the symbolic’? There are forms of life that resist symbolization. That is, each body does because as Spinoza says, we do not even know what a body can do. But I’m also thinking about Nature. If capitalism is this historical realm outside of which there is nothing, then any heretical repetition only feeds the systemic process of production, commodification, re-production and consumption. This is something Braidotti specifically addresses in her work. I think, from this text, no matter how much Butler tries to keep the possibility of an uncertain future open, she ultimately is operating within a closed loop. I mean, one could use social media against its intended purposes, or use the enemy’s weapon against them but the enemy nonetheless will keep producing and profiting off death. “The negative showed itself in Hegelian terms not merely as death, but as sustained possibility of becoming”(11)…actually, that’s still death. It may be movement, but it’s not change. It’s running in place.

“For Bergson, the error in thinking becoming as the realization of possibilities is that this process can imagine the future only in terms of that which has already come to be. Realization operates through a temporal loop where we retroactively posit in the past the possibilities that ‘will have been’ realized: ‘the possible is only the real with the addition of an act of mind which throws its image back into the past, once it has been enacted’.”…the possible already has an imaginable form, it is preformed, we just have to enact it– and for many thinkers, this constitutes what is political. But like Bergson points out, the problem is we’re always in a state of jet lag, always a step behind the times. Only when a thing already is do we realize that it was at all possible. Recognition in this case is reactive.

- problem here is that the possible is already affected by what it always already was, and this temporal transition is not always linear. “Performativity does not allow us to think forms of existence that radically diverge from what is currently available to us.” (22) – the possible that already is but hasn’t been granted recognition or legitimacy. Here, Butler also seems beholden to identity politics, as if existence necessarily requires visibility. This line of thinking simply would not fly with the ethnically mixed who would not conform to or identify with any ‘possible’ category precisely because none exist, there is no such thing for mixies as ‘an already was’.

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humanism is not the goal.

life isn’t just something particular to humans.

the challenge of sustainable energy– it takes energy to produce energy.
a problem, because humans consume, and waste, so much of it.
and for the most banal of purposes.
to fuel meaning.

life isn’t just something particular to humans.

value does not have to be an effect. it can be an affect.
not the impression of a calculus. an indication of trauma.
your sense of self-worth. what is it an effect of?
meaning. does it have to be about you?

life isn’t just something particular to humans.

life, clearly, is something we share with non-humans.
but humans have souls. but humans have reason.
and why is this a good thing?
it is not. it is merely moral.
and it is a commission.
to reproduce.

life isn’t particular to humans. death is.
it takes energy to produce energy.

sustainable energy? sustainable power.

it is an effect of meaning.
all your life you have been dependent on it.
power. authority. God.
on production.

the God of Meat.

dependency breeds assurance.
insurance. 15 minutes can save you 15% or more
…on indifference.
the only thing sustainable without expending energy:


you want to disappear.
but you’re not allowed to.
you have yet to exist.

walking dead.

humanism in the realm of the dead.
human rights. political morality.
relative to what standard, deemed by who?

so we set the oppressed free.
into a world of…meat.
to discover different chains.
of pleasure. and production.
of indifference.

free minds do not amount to free bodies.
the mind can more or less move, the imagination can wander.
the body knows only the weight of gravity and dependency.

that is…if this is how the mind perceives it.
reduces it to an object of imagination.
binary thinking instills hierarchy.
produces categories and order.
inside vs outside.
mapping the body.

not humanism.

but the mind has so much thought.
but the body is so much affected.
the capacity for which, is not particular to humans.

life isn’t just something particular to humans.

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