In opening this thesis, I situated suffering in relation to the imagining of the body politic. Suffering, I suggested there, is positioned as the uprising of the chaotic ‘state of nature’ into the rational, civilised calm of the structure of the state. As we have seen, however, it is, in fact, that suffering is constitutive of the state: it plays a key role in the techniques of biopower, ensuring that contemporary forms of subjectivity are invested, viscerally, in the reproduction of normalcy, and thus in both the reproduction of both a “proper” individual body, and the reiteration of the particular image of the body politic. Suffering, I have argued, is not a natural occurrence but bound up with the subject’s production as subject. It is thoroughly contextual, a result of the bodily tolerances engendered by contemporary styles of being-in-the-world, and the tacit knowledges—knowledges particularly about the value of different bodies—they bear with them. These bodily tolerances are never merely individual. They shape and are shaped not only by what I have called the incarnatory context, but by one of the key ways that this context is imagined: in, through and as the body politic.

Moira Gatens’ discussion of Hobbes’ Leviathan, which I alluded to in the introduction, suggests that the imagining of the body politic as a literal body is not an innocent metaphor (Gatens , 21-28). Rather, she suggests that it is in and through the metonymic and metaphorical construction of the body politic as male that the worth of women is so undermined. I would add to this that in fact Hobbes’ imagining of the body politic is far more specific than this: it is white, male and thoroughly able-bodied; more, it is envisaged as a sovereign, rational individual. It is maintained through the echoes of this model of subjectivity and sovereignty in the individuals which makes it up: the body politic’s sinews, according to Hobbes, are the contracts binding (male) citizen to (male) citizen. In imagining sociality in the image of the contract, and in the maintenance of the ideal body (politic), the devaluation of particular bodies is both essential and concealed. It is, as Diprose has so eloquently drawn to our attention, the memorialising of the generosity of some, and the forgetting of others that structures this body, what is valuable to it, what can count as property, proper bodies and proper subjectivities. The memorialising of the value ascribed to particular bodies thus functions to reiterate the privilege—the standard, the norm-ideal—of the white, male, heterosexual and able-bodied male. It is also, as Gatens suggests, what enables the forgotten incorporation—the ‘swallowing’—of the gifts and generosity of all those whose ‘corporeal specificity marks them as inapprorpriate analogues to the political body’: women, immigrants, those racialised as other than white, those of classes other than middle class, and of course, those whose bodies are considered not ‘able’ (Gatens , 23).

The meaningfulness of these bodies—these “too-specific” bodies—is produced through the extraordinary discursive strength of medicine, also equipped to render them less specific, better ‘analogues’. The body that Hobbes envisaged did, indeed, risk sickness: civil war was the disease he sought to inoculate Leviathan against (Hobbes 1998, 19), the breaking of the social contract. But in fact our discussion here has shown us that this body politic, for all its apparent impermeability, all its apparent invulnerability, is a dream wispy and frail, threatened by the inevitable presence of all that it must constitute as disavowed: bodies ‘disabled’, of colour, female, transitioning, intersexed, ‘disfigured’, working class and so on. Medicine, a technique of biopower, as Foucault has noted, plays its part in this economy of bodies in the reproduction of normal citizens; thereby also maintaining (the value of) the white, able-bodied body politic, in whose image all value is medically, legally and economically calculated. Medicine is not, of course, a monolith, and nor is it to be thought of as an evil: it offers us the means for recovery when we sick, heals us when we have accidents, gives us capacities we might never have had, and gives us a way of understanding all these transformations, the world, and ourselves. Yet the extraordinary legitimacy of science means that truth-effects attach to these constructions, be they the constructions in the appearance and experience of flesh as made by knife, needle and thread, or pharmaceuticals; or in those less recognised but no less significant ways: in the construction of perception, comportment and styles of being-in-the-world more generally. Thoroughly imbricated in the liberal humanist individualism which grounds Hobbes’ imagining of the Leviathan, medical science plays a, perhaps even the, key role in the modification and (re)production of proper subjects, proper desires, proper bodies: it constructs and reconstructs normalcy as natural so that these bodies—and the body politic in whose image they are made—may remain unremarked and unremarkable. Suffering, then, has a dual effect: anatamopolitically, it produces subjects who suffer their “abnormalcy,” experiencing the (medically assisted) achievement of normalcy as a home-coming, as an achievement of who they “really” are; and biopolitically, it reproduces the normal body of the population, the ideal of the body (politic) as free from suffering.

It is, as we have seen, in the (im)possibility of aneconomic generosity that this unjust and economic imagining of the body politic is troubled, shaken and undone. Hobbes’ imagining of the bodies’ sinews as lying in the various ‘pacts and covenants’ (Hobbes 1998, 19) of its citizens—of some kind of social contract—is laughably simplistic in the context of the complex and unpredictable generosity of embodied, intercorporeal and intersubjective subjectivity and sociality. These gifts, the gifts that constitute us as inevitably intertwined with others are bonds that we cannot recognise without simply appropriating these gifts, thieving them into a careful re-membering of the Leviathan, its articulation as a body whose ties lie only within: joints, ligaments, nerves, muscles.

Yet even this destruction of the gift can never be total: the giftness can never be completely swallowed into the calculation of economy. The gift may always be foreign to the circle of economics, but it is nonetheless essential to it. And as I have described in the final chapter of this thesis, the embodied subject is always more than the perfect citizen: she is both rational and irrational, cognitive and corporeal, calculating and responsible. This means that whilst the subject cannot recognise the gift (for to do so is to render it not a gift), responsibility is nonetheless possible: there are means of engagement with the gift which allow it to remain aneconomic. In this responsibility, I have suggested, lies the possibility of a tacit, corporeal acknowledgement of the generosity of others—of the intertwining of the subject with the generous other, an intertwining that always exceeds the contractual, the rational, the calculated. This ‘acknowledgement’ means that the very tolerances that constitute not only “individual” subjects, but the body politic itself, are troubled, shifted, the sediment of entire histories stirred, altered and recast. Thus Leviathan is revealed to be not singular and contained, made impermeable as if by the selvage edge of a piece of fabric, where the weft binds it only back to itself. Rather, responsible styles of being-in-the-world not only testify to the gifts of others but also to the knotty mass that Leviathan already is—a Leviathan indeed, made not in the reductive image of a man, but as something unimaginable—monstrous, unfinished, messy, uncontainable and never entirely present. It is this that bears out the promise of another time, one never simply present, and the promise of that which Lévinas dreamt of: an anarchic moment of ethical justice. A justice born in those alterations to come.


wlettrine3.jpgELL, my supervisor has asked me to write an abstract of my thesis. Which makes me kinda breathless and not in a good way… but I thought I’d try writing some of it out here to see if anyone had any thoughts for lack of clarity, or similar, and because you know, I expect the world to be fascinated by my horribly dense work. Ah yes 😉 Actually, this isn’t going to be the final abstract, which apparently needs to be 300 words long. But it’s an attempt to lay out the argument of the thesis so that my supervisor can (ahem) find me examiners… Apologies for the weighty formal language—you can tell it means I’m anxious!

This thesis takes as its first provocation the centrality of the concept and the term ‘suffering’ in contemporary discourse, and most particularly in relation to technologies that are used to change the appearance or function of the body. Suffering has, in many ways, become a defining part of contemporary life. Political positions are regularly parsed in terms of their potential to reduce suffering, and it is used regularly to prompt ‘proper’ ethical engagement with difficulties faced by a particular group or individual. Liberalism deploys the term ‘harm’ to get at some sense of suffering that is to be avoided, whilst ‘exploitation’ is a favoured term of Marxists. When racism, sexism, homophobia or other kinds of exclusions are marked as problematic, it is often articulated through reference to the suffering caused. Indeed, one could be excused for thinking that injustice simply is equivalent to suffering, for this equation is regularly made, sometimes implicitly and sometimes explicitly, such that these two are intriguingly constructed together: suffering is taken to indicate an injustice, and injustice is to be avoided because it causes suffering. In the contemporary Western context, however, and there is a regime of power/knowledge deeply concerned with suffering, in ways that are, supposedly, not primarily about politics, or injustice, or even ethics (though this last is more swiftly brought into play in its defence). This regime is medicine.

The first chapter, then, unpicks the medical engagement with suffering. Medicine regularly takes its treatment of suffering as a justification of its existence and operation. Yet I argue that it also regularly naturalises suffering, equating it simply with pathology: if one is suffering, it is because there is something wrong with one’s body, a wrongness over which medicine claims expertise and control. I suggest that this naturalisation has numerous problematic effects. First, as Eric Cassell demonstrates, it means that clinical engagement with the suffering body tends to actually miss suffering altogether in reducing it to pathology, and thus never actually treats it. Second, the reduction to pathology means that medicine often cannot engage with the specificity of the suffering subject, and with the way that their suffering is unique. I argue that this uniqueness arises not from some essence, but rather from the unique situation of each subject. Third, the naturalisation of suffering precludes the space of denaturalisation, thereby concealing the role that suffering plays in the production and reproduction of normalisation. As such, it conceals the function of suffering in normalisation (by which I mean to include the depiction of ‘deviance’ as a source of suffering), and particularly its role in the construction of (normalised) embodied subjects in contemporary culture.

In the second chapter, then, I turn to Merleau-Ponty, whose phenomenological concerns have been taken up by feminists, critical race theorists and critical disability scholars. Their reconfiguration of Merleau-Ponty helps us get at the production of embodied subjects in and through their context, and more particularly, through their adoption and adaptation of the styles of being in the world with which they are surrounded. Merleau-Ponty argues that it is through syncretic sociability—the intercorporeal intertwining of the subject’s embodiment and the embodiment of others—that the subject is produced. Through the work of Gail Weiss and Linda Alcoff, I argue the particular styles of being in the world carry tacit body knowledges given to them by the discursive, institutional, capitalist and embodied world around them. These tacit adoptions (and adaptations) of existing styles of being, I argue, produce, through sedimentation, what Rosalyn Diprose calls ‘bodily tolerances.’ In effect, the habituation of particular styles of being in the world produces bodily tolerances which, if transgressed, may result in the subject experiencing suffering.

The third chapter argues that normalcy has become a, or perhaps the, dominant logic embodied in this way. In this way, the subject comes to experience their ‘normalcy’ as their ‘essence’ or inner ‘truth’, and the body’s recalcitrance in ‘matching,’ or more accurately projecting this truth can thus become a source of suffering. I examine this dynamic in some detail, particularly demonstrating the effect that the possibility of normalisation (through surgery or through pharmaceutical use, for example) has on the constitution of an intolerance to the ab/normal, both a subject’s own abnormalcy and the abnormalcy of those thereby marked as other. I focus on the way that a world constructed in and through normalcy, as critical disability studies especially demonstrates, tends to reiterate and confirm the experience of marked corporeal difference as a source of suffering. The naturalness of the body marked as normal is thereby protected from critique. In this respect, then, I turn to a more thorough-going and reflexive question: what role does the concept of the norm play in the construction of embodiment, according to Merleau-Ponty? I argue that even when his work has been taken up with a cautionary eye for the constitution of difference, the notion of ‘sedimentation’ as a core structure of embodiment (even as the ‘content’ that is sedimented is acknowledged to vary and thus produce difference) thereby naturalises a particular construction of embodiment (and time). As a result, the role that the norm plays in the concept of ‘sedimentation’ is not interrogated. I argue that embodiment in the contemporary context may, to a large degree, be produced through sedimentation, but that acknowledging the contextual specificity of this production is significant because it allows recognition of when and how this it is challenged (a point that will be raised again in more detail in chapter 5).

The fourth chapter explores the political significance of corporeal difference and the technologies related to their normalisation (or otherwise). It deploys Diprose’s concept of corporeal generosity, a critical appropriation of Derrida’s ‘gift,’ to demonstrate the asymmetries of ‘memorialisng’ and ‘forgetting’ of the gifts of others functions to reproduce privilege and disadvantage. It is through the generosity of various others that the embodied subject is formed, yet in the context of contemporary bodi I argue that in contemporary body projects, the body is constructed as a site of memorialising and forgetting. The embodied subject may be a produced as a palimpsest of gifts, yet only some of these are memorialised in their flesh. I argue that modifications of the body and embodiment gain their significance in this context, such that the normalisation of bodies marked as abnormal is a memorialising of the gifts of normal others—gifts which already work to inform the subject’s style of being in the world. Memorialising is thus always bound up with forgetting, such that the normalisation of the subject forgets, viscerally, the generosity of othered others. What becomes clear in such an analysis is the extent to which the embodiment of the individual subject is shaped and in turn shapes the political constitution of and engagement with corporeal generosity.

In the fifth chapter, I build on this analysis with a greater focus on what Derrida calls the impossibility of the gift, and the ethical (in contrast, though not necessarily opposition) to the political. The forgotten gift may be unrecognised, and thus not permitted to be part of the political domain, but it also escapes its ‘destruction,’ and more to the point, I argue that even in being forgotten, it still matters. Alcoff’s rearticulation of Merleau-Ponty’s theory of embodiment, which suggests that there is a tacit level at which the gift may be acknowledged, or more precisely, testified to without being subject to the cognitive processes required for recognition. Styles of being in the world which are shaped by the tacit acknowledgement that they do not occur without others, are thus open to a similarly tacit acknowledgement of the gift of others in a way that permits their alteration. Indeed, such bodies are not bound by the sedimentation of the personal history of their being in the world; rather the other’s gift affects troubles the sedimentation and offers a responsible comportment a way to respond to the other as other. In this way, we can see that the modification of ‘wrong’ bodies through particular technologies as a resolution to suffering is fundamentally bound up with the irresponsibility of dominant modes of comportment. The ethics of bodily change thus demonstrate two (always intertwined) forms: modifications seek to memorialise the subject’s self-presence, and thematise the corporeality of the other; alterations, on the other hand, are changes made to bodily being in responding to the other qua other. Thus it becomes clear that the ethics of a particular change lies not naturalness (and the concurrent distrust of change), or in the challenge to naturalness (and the concurrent distrust of the already-existing), as so many ethical frameworks of body modification have supposed; but rather in responsibility. Further, the ethical, responsible style of being in the world with others, sketched here, has political import; this lies not least in that corporeal generosity allows for ethics to be given corporeally, such that it resonates and amplifies through the incarnatory context and challenges the normative, sedimentary and normalised comportments through which power maintains the sovereign, self-present individual.

Apologies for the tail end of that one; it’s 3 am and at this time yesterday, I was drunk. Any suggestions for examiners gratefully received (we’re trying to formulate a list at the moment). I’m also trying to work out a title for this little baby; apparently I need to officially rename it well before I submit, which means I’m running out of time (for everything, really). I’m thinking perhaps Suffering Difference with the usual colon and explanatory phrase/list of three keywords to follow. Any thoughts much appreciated. I’d run a competition to win an island holiday or something for the title I wind up using, but I’m so pov I can’t even make it (sob!) to TransSomatechnics. So my undying gratitude is about the most I can afford, but hey, it’s something, right? ;-P

Sinthome over at Larval Subjects has been kicking around some ideas of scene, act and agency; there’s a response, too, at Rough Theory. His latest post, however, is the one that really felt like it was attempting to negotiate a question that I am working with and over at the moment in relation to the thesis. It’s something I’m adding to a chapter, so forgive me if these thoughts are blurry and underconceptualised; hopefully they will have that blissful moment of crystalisation soon.

Sinthome’s concern is slightly different to mine, and it means that my reading of his post is likely a little sideways of his intention (apologies to all; perhaps you should go and read his post first before reading my ‘version’ ;-)). Sinthome is asking questions about the possibility of agency: where does it arise from? how can it be understood? where, in the space between the ‘scene’ (what I would tend to call the ‘situation’) within which the individual is constituted, and their ability to act, does agency actually arise? In some sense, particularly towards the end of his post, I get the feeling that what Sinthome is actually interested in is not agency per se; he’s interested in where something that differs from and thereby challenges the scene can and does arise. This, to be clear, is likely to be my reading, given that agency is one of those words (up there with liberal, humanist, sovereign and self-present) that makes of my skin a jittery topography. With my cultural studies eyes, then, it is where and how difference occurs in such a way as to permit an agent to do otherwise (or, as I am more likely to phrase it, so as to engender a way of being that is otherwise) than the scene would require that is of central concern here.

So, to drag this thinking kicking and screaming into my usual phenomenological stuff, I want to consider the concept of ‘sedimentation’ as it occurs in Merleau-Ponty. Sedimentation, for Merleau-Ponty, is what enables me, in some sense, to properly ‘be’ a subject. Although (rather frustratingly) Merleau-Ponty resists a thorough discussion of this concept, it seems that sedimentation is the layering of experiences that permit a sense of cohesiveness—a sense of a subject—to be produced. In my thesis (sigh), I tend to think of this layering in a somewhat counter-intuitive way: it occurs, I’m suggesting, as the carving of a river into a landscape. The flow of water produces it, and reproduces it, and it grows deeper and deeper and more difficult to shift. Its banks are, as I’ve discussed elsewhere, bodily tolerances, which cannot be exceeded without discomfit and possibly even suffering. In other words, Merleau-Ponty argues that the sedimentation (or habituation, an alternative but perhaps no less interesting term) of a particular style of being in the world tends to produce that style of being in the world (with all its attendant comportments toward the world and others, and its specific forms of contextually defined perceptual practices) as the path of least resistance. We may not be able to ‘be’ (subjects) except as a river, but this means that the riverbed and its banks are key to our being. We must, in other words, have limits.

Enter my Levinasian/Derridean-inspired concern with alterity. In a move Levinas would probably disapprove of, I do not think that alterity is something that dwells in an elsewhere plane. Rather, because I want to think the subject as thoroughly embodied (that is, as an embodied subject, avoiding all kinds of Cartesian splittage), I also want to think otherness as a matter of bodily being. This is, to be clear, not a reduction of the other to their body, but to say that this reduction is precisely not possible: the other is embodied, too. (And yes, for you smartarses out there, even you are embodied for me. Your virtuality does not entail your reduction to ‘mind’!). But the problem with sedimentation, or, to take a particular line on it, the sedimentation of perception, is that this would seem to mean that that which is actually different, that which is unique about the other, remains imperceivable (wow, who knew that was a word? ;-)). Let me unpack that a little, coz it’s kinda dense and I feel bad dragging you guys into the theoretical labyrinth of the end of the thesis before I’ve really traced the most efficient way through it.

Perception (as I’ve also discussed here) is not neutral. It is bound up with the meaning-making techniques of the context within which I live. I recounted Nikki Sullivan’s story in which a Scottish lady mistook, at first sight, children for monkeys. This occurred because her perception was shaped by the context in which she had lived her life, a context within which children behaved in particular ways, and more specifically, a context which produced the racially different other as so proximate to animality that such a ‘mistake’ was easily made. (Mistake is in scare quotes there because in true poststructuralist style, I do not believe there to be ‘Truth’ against which her perception became an error.) In this sense, then, it’s fairly clear that really, what I can see is shaped by what I have already seen.

This is the depressing side of poststructural analyses, in lots of ways. Butler deploys Foucault to demonstrate that the repetition of particular acts produces a truth of the subject which in turn means that the subject experiences their adherence to, say, norms of gender or sexuality or liberal humanist subjectivity (to the concept of a free agent, I would say, too, with a friendly poke at Sinthome) as their own, personal truth. It’s a sweet system, and one finely tuned to its own reproduction. Butler does offer an element of a way out: the deformation of repetition, she argues, the fact that a subject cannot remain the same, and cannot always reproduce norms (particularly not given their ideality) offers a space within which to transgress them, to challenge them. But as Diprose argues (and I’ve cited her on this topic here) this remains a fairly individualised mode of challenge to the normative structures of power, and as such reproduces what is, perhaps, the key norm of contemporary power: the radical individualism of the subject. (This, in other words, is my concern about framing such a discussion as a matter of ‘agency’… )

Alrighty now, let’s return to sedimentation. One of the key points that I am making in my thesis (we hope) is that whilst numerous feminist and critical race scholars argue that Merleau-Ponty can be used to challenge the presumption of universal subjectivity—that is, they argue that MP can be used to account for embodied differences—in so doing, they implicitly constitute the structure of embodiment in a particular way. For a long time, this troubled me: it seemed that although such adoptions of Merleau-Ponty’s theory did enable some sense of subjects differently embodied, it seemed that this presumed an underlying and universal structuring of the body. In some sense, it was implied that the body was always constituted in and through these processes of sedimentation, but that what was sedimented was always different, and shaped by sex-gender, sexuality, race, whiteness, ability and so on. The form/content distinction implicit here troubled me: the sedimentation of embodiment was being treated as natural, even by those with the most invested in denaturalisation.

And as I thought about it more, and particularly in relation to a problematising of ideas of normalcy and the norm, I realised how key issues of the construction of time were to this analysis. Sedimentation, according to the river analogy I used earlier, would seem to suggest that who I am now is a kind of averaging-out of the experiences I’ve had in the past, each of which were conditioned by their pasts. In other words, sedimentation required that experience a and experience b were constructed as the same. Yet in order to understand these two experiences as the same, what was required was some means of stripping out the ways in which they were different, to leave a ‘core’ of the experience that enabled these two experiences to be identified with each other. This kind of ‘stripping out’ is not neutral, not at all. It requires a standard by which all else is measured; as Irigaray has suggested, woman is conceived as lacking only if you take as your ‘measuring-stick’ (pun very much intended) a morphology recognised as defined in particular by the cock. This is, indeed, what happens whenever science attempts to measure: it takes a particular concern, and all other facets must be stripped out. Ability is defined by the norm of the able-bodied, such that those we recognise as ‘disabled’ thereby become disabled. In other words, embodiment, according to Merleau-Ponty, is structured by sedimentation, and sedimentation requires the concept of the norm.

Phew. I’m skittering all over the place here. Sorry about that. The problem with conceptualising of subjectivity as a product of such sedimentation is that it creates little space for movement: if the only way that an experience is permitted to matter (to the embodied subject) is through the filter of what has already occurred, then difference as difference won’t be perceived. It can’t be, for we have no way to see what we have not already seen. The new other that I encounter thus remains comprehensible insofar as he or she is understood as ‘like’ what I have seen before. That which exceeds that graspability doesn’t, on this conception of the embodied subject, even figure for me.

In other words, we wind up with something totalising here, if we trust that the very nature of the body is one that shapes itself through sedimentation. I don’t think that this is the whole story: I think it is, in fact, possible to perceive the other as other. It’s harder, maybe, and occurs less frequently than what we might want, but it does occur. And what I want to suggest is that the perception of the other alters me, fundamentally. The gift of the other to me is, in fact, a means of perceiving differently. My response to the other begins, in other words, with the other’s troubling of the normative structure of sedimentation such that I am altered so that I might see him, her, hir, it… In this respect, perhaps, we return to Levinas’ conception of the anarchic as the time of the other: it is a time beyond, before, out-of-synchronicity with, the structuring of time in and through the norm of presence. And it is this anarchic gift of the other as other, not reducible, not reduced by sedimentary perceptual practices, that in troubling the normative structure of embodiment, offers me an elsewise, another way to be… a way of being in the world unlike what has been, and unlike any other…

Sorry, all, I have to go and read Merleau-Ponty on time and don’t have time (sigh, sigh) to make this more accessible, or even really… ahem… comprehensible in the first place. Perhaps next time around 🙂 Also, you should check out the discussion here for some seriously interesting kicking around of ideas!

THIS post actually began as a comment over at Nate’s, in response to his very… evocative piece, [What in the hell] do things look like if we start with the body? and Ms Pepperell‘s contribution. As such, it’s a little engaged with that piece… I’ll cite a few bits and pieces from Nate, but I’d point you over to see the whole thing, as it’s intriguing for me. (Oh, and Nate? Email soon, I promise! I blame you, of course, for putting up exciting things for me to respond to 😉 Actually, the conversation between you and NP made me bounce in excitement.)

Nate says:

Bologna wrote that

“our analysis of these structural factors will be ineffective unless we can combine it with an analysis of the huge transformation taking place in the sphere of “personal life”. This obviously starts from the breakdown of sexual relations brought on by feminism. It then widens to involve all the problems of controlling one’s own body and the structures of perceptions, emotions and desires. This is not just a problem of “youth culture”. It has working-class antecedents in the cycle of struggles of 1968-69. The defence of one’s own physical integrity against being slaughtered by line-speeds and machinery, against being poisoned by the environment etc, on the one hand is a way of resisting the depreciation of the exchange value of one’s labour-power and the deterioration of its use value, but at the same time it is a way of re-appropriating one’s own body, for the free enjoyment of bodily needs. Here too there is a homogeneity, not a separation, between the behaviour of the young people, the women and the workers.

The question of drugs now arises. Control of drug usage is being re-appropriated by the institutions of the political cycle. No sooner have young people had a taste of soft drugs, giving them a first-hand taste of how much this society has robbed them of their perceptive potential, than the heroin multinational decides to step in and impose hard drugs. A space of political confrontation opens up, between use value (self-managed, within certain limits) and exchange value of drugs, and this involves organisation and instances of armed self-defence. Nor is the mechanism of the production of new needs the exclusive prerogative of the “liberation movements”… it has its roots in the “We Want Everything” of the Mirafiori workers in the Summer of 1969. The “Italian Utopia” has a solid working-class stamp, which no theorists of an American-style “movement” – ghettoised and self-sufficient – will be able to erase.

My response? (Aside from querying the ‘breakdown of sexual relations due to feminism’: I mean, really, this does seem to echo a problematic past golden era when men ‘knew who they were’ which seems to me to be nothing but a somewhat misogynist not to mention inaccurate nostalgia.) With the doubtless too-oft-repeated caveat that I still don’t really know my Marx [gulps at making such a statement in such august company ;-)] there’s a couple of things that strike me here. All of these have to do with the way that bodies figure in political discourse. The Cartesian dualism, I suspect, has a lot to do with this. It is the distinction between mind and body which allows us to talk about ‘the body’ as an object, and is thus heavily implicated in the creation of the body as property (Descartes does actually figure the body as property, and of course Locke gets in on the game to). Interestingly, I think this is part of what struck me about the Bologna quote: the implication becomes that we need to ‘take back’ the body’s powers ‘for ourselves’. I don’t straightforwardly disagree with this. But…

Nate goes on:

While I think there’s a lot of value in – and I would be loathe to attack those who engage in – practices of autonomous self-management in the present, I think it’s not at all clear that these practices help any but their practitioners, which is to say, I’m not sure that practices of autonomy from prevailing hierarchies (evasion, exodus, etc) help undermine those hierarchies. I think conflict against those the mechanisms that create those hierarchies is needed as well (more, to be honest) and that the space for autonomy is created by organized conflict. To put this differently, I think there’s a limit on the degree to which politics can be prefigurative and still be effective with regard to changing prevailing power relations. (I still believe in political transition.)

….There’s continual conflict around whether or not labor power – the body – will be sold and under what conditions, after its sale around whether or not it will be put to use and under what conditions, and outside of the direct sale over the degree to which that particular set of uses of the body (those bound up with valorization) will rule over other uses of the body (that is, the degree to which other practices will be made functional for those involved with valorization, and the degree to and manner in which other practices – those which are less useful for or which inhibit the capitalist use of bodies – continue to exist).

This echoes the difficulty that Bologna’s talk of ‘reappropriating’ the body evokes. The problem with the ‘autonomous self-management’ kinds of things that Nate points to is that they tend to rely, again, on a characterisation of the subject as made up of mind inserted into body-property. This has, historically, been bad for women, positioned as not able to take up a properly proprietary relationship with their bodies (coz they get preggers, you know). (For more on women and the market, check out Irigaray’s ‘Women on the Market’, in This Sex Which Is Not One which also, interestingly, helps to configure psychoanalysis as identifying developments in cultural conceptions of the subject which are associated with capital). In this respect, to borrow Nikki Sullivan’s argument in ‘Tattooed Bodies,’ when, say, subcultural groups use tattoos to mark their resistance, and discursively (and experientially) construct that resistance as an individual (even if that individual is articulating their ‘belonging’ to a group) attempt to reappropriate the body, they retain the very conception of the subject—as individual, cognition-and-intention-based, and as holding property in the body—that capitalism requires. In this sense, their resistance, supposing itself to be based on an ‘outside’ (look at the negation of the self, Nicole; and look at me actually getting your terminology 😉 I hope!) winds up reiterating precisely what … well, Foucault would call it power… would require of it. In resisting, such resistance is co-opted back into (bio)power: this is why Foucault argues that relying on the ‘truth’ of the subject is so problematic, and why he suggests that the subject’s production is extending far beyond what we would usually understand as work, and into the production of truths (power/knowledge) which permit the reproduction of labour…

And Foucault’s recommendation, which winds up being caricatured as ‘gay sadomasochism,’ has far more to do with reconfiguring the body. If our embodiment is shaped by assuming the body to be an object with, as he suggests, particular erogenous zones which are the sole sites of a kind of sexualised pleasure (he uses a different term, which is translated as ‘desire,’ but it’s not the same)—a sexualised pleasure bound up, sorry, queer kids, (re)production—then reconfiguring where and how pleasures occur and the subjectivity that is bound up with them, becomes an internal challenge to the intimate networks of power. The embodied subject here produces, bodily (and this is significant for reasons I won’t go into here), not truth, but precisely a challenge to what is permitted to count as truth. And who said Foucault wasn’t a Marxist? (Shush, shush, I know :-)) But this is where Foucault’s ethics of pleasure comes into play: it is an ethical challenge to the capitalist/biopower system. I have some questions about this, which I’m planning to write some more about at some stage (building from this post) but, basically, my concern is that the bodily tolerances engendered through contemporary anatamopolitical structures may be far too tight to allow such a reconfiguration of the body and embodiment to occur: what happens when the possibilities of pleasure are reproduced as sources of suffering? But anyway, that’s way off track, and besides, Foucault would probably disagree with my concern, primarily because he (somewhat ambivalently) positions the body as a negation (see, again!) whose essence is a flurry of pleasures, all squeezed down to become productive; in this respect, he doesn’t take his own challenge to the repressive hypothesis anywhere near seriously enough, if you ask me.

And again, out of order, Nate sez:

Second, it seems to me that the frame Bologna offers could be used for other eras as well, like the time during which workers’ comp was passed in the US, a time (depending on how one periodizes) also involved protests against the destruction of bodies in war, protests and strikes against the destruction of bodies at work, claims to support for bodies via welfare and protective legislation on and off the job, as well as (I believe) experiments with sexuality and drugs like those which Bologna notes in a later era.

I’m not positive that I’ve fully understood Bologna’s frame, and so, I’m not sure if this actually works for Nate’s suggestion, but nonetheless. Coming from a disability studies perspective, we need to ask some questions about what constitutes ‘destruction’ of the body. The very concept of the destruction of the body is not a straightforward matter. Disability studies would suggest that disability is produced only because the world does not ‘match’ the embodiment of the particular individual; and that the construction of disability requires that the world in this case is taken as a naturally given thing, such that some bodies are just naturally disabled. This fails to interrogate the concept of the norm at work here.

(Lennard Davis, a disability scholar, echoes the claims made by Canguilhem, Foucault’s old advisor: the norm is not a neutral description of reality, as we always suppose it to be. Indeed, the idea of the norm really came to prominence in and through statistics, and it wasn’t long before Francis Galton shifted into using it as part of the development of eugenics (which, contrary to popular trust, was not the sole purview of Nazi Germany—in fact, there’s a fair amount of evidence to show that Germany adopted its eugenicist policies almost wholesale from the US…).)

What makes a body ‘destroyed,’ then? To what extent is this judgement bound up with the productiveness of the body? Systems of production increasingly required the interchangeability of workers, and thus the idea of the norm was particularly useful to them; but this of course meant that those who could no longer perform in the workplace were positioned as disabled. Intriguing, though, to put my poststructuralist two cents into this kind of question, disabled bodies were, indeed, required, in order to produce other bodies as able: the hierarchy was, in this sense, productive. And I could now rabbit on about the construction of the disabled body as a site of suffering in relation to the loss of productivity, and the simultaneous construction of the normal body as a site of happiness which thereby produced working ways of being-in-the-world as tolerant to systems of exploitation… but I’ll save that for another day, I think!

Thanks, Nate; you’ve offered me a way into ideas that my hesitation over interacting with Marxist stuff due to my ignorance wouldn’t really have permitted me, otherwise. In saying that, though, I apologise if my engagement or critiques are misplaced as a result, or if I’m merely repeating ideas which are old hat in an area I just don’t know enough about yet!

alettrine2.jpgND…. hiatus hereby ended! Well, fingers crossed. I’m about to hit a period of intensive writing. I can tell this because I really and truly have to. The whole annual review process is about to begin and [sigh] it always reminds me of just how far behind I am. I’ve decided that this is the perpetual condition of writing a PhD: you make plans, deadlines, knowing that they’re probably a little aspirational, but figuring it’s good to aim for something. And then the deadline passes, the chapter’s still not written, and then by the time it is the deadline for the next one is already passed and… so on, and so on, ad infinitum et nauseum et… I don’t know what ‘slow death by thesis’ is in Latin, but ad that too.

I’m conscious, too, that being outed has massively altered what I’m writing about, and in ways I dislike. So this is an attempt to get my thesis-y stuff up here again, hopefully without too many agonising caveats, addendums, apologia et… ugh! What is it about Latin infecting me today?

This post builds on others I’ve put up, and I’m sorry if this sends you on hyperlinked flight-lines throughout my blog; writing a thesis makes it incredibly difficult to contain… well, anything! So I’ve written a fair bit here about Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology, particularly in relation to “The Child’s Relation with Others”, but also applying it to other things—race, for example. My work, actually, is primarily on technologies of bodily alteration, and concepts of normalcy. At this point, though, I want to introduce another element: that of the gift. The Australian philosopher Rosalyn Diprose and her book Corporeal Generosity: On Giving with Nietzsche, Merleau-Ponty and Levinas has heavily influence my thinking here, although, as we’ll see, I have some concerns about it too.

In effect, what Diprose suggests is that the intertwining of self and other that Merleau-Ponty characterises as grounding subjectivity is in fact a process of corporeal generosity. The other gives me the ways of being which I adopt, adapt, recognise and misrecognise and embody. These gifts are never-ending; indeed, my being-in-the-world is perpetually in process, however much it might become sedimented through repetition. (I’m tempted to link to Fido the Yak here, in his semi-anxious musings on the impossibility of repetition and the resultant production of the absurd, but I fear I haven’t grasped it well enough to really engage it properly here. Nonetheless, the tango with the impossible sounds like a perfect way to spend an evening, and thus I can’t let the opportunity to point it all out to you pass by. I intend, Fido, to come back to these questions, if only because I can’t help but have misgivings about the dovetailing of Merleau-Ponty’s weighted term ‘sedimentation,’ and the difference-excising practice of recognising something as repetition. But to the gift.)

The generosity of these others is, importantly, not merely about giving me a pattern of behaviour to take on, but also a gift of difference. It is only in and through this gift of difference that I can come to recognise myself not only as a subject, but as a subject different from others. The corporeal generosity of others not only gives me ways of being-in-the-world (in echo of their comportments) but also gives me their difference, thus enabling my own, different ways of being-in-the-world. In this respect, Diprose argues, corporeal generosity is like differance (hm. If anyone knows how to acute ‘e’s in wordpress, please do let me know. I’ve been lazy up til now, but differance cries out for a touch of French figural difference!) It dwells between subject and other, providing their ‘spacing’: the space that both binds them together and separates them. Diprose’s version:

Contrary to Machan’s thesis, that only in a polity of sovereign property owners is generosity possible, Derrida’s analysis suggests that it is precisely this economy of contract and exchange between self-present individuals that makes generosity impossible. The gift is only possible if it goes unrecognised, if it is not commodified, if it is forgotten by the donor and the donee so that presence (the gift as (a) present and the presence of both the donor and donee) is deferred. (23-24)

This aporia of the gift would not matter much if it was not for the way Derrida, following Heidegger, ties the gift to the gift-event of Being: Being gives itself int he present on the condition that it is not (a) present (Derrida, 1990, 20, 27). In deference to this qualification read Derrida’s account of the gift as a version of his account of the constitution of self-identity and difference: like differance, generosity describes the operation that both constitutes identity and difference and resists the full presence of meaning, identity, and Being, so that the self is dispersed into the other. Derrida defines difference as

the systematic play of differences, of the traces of differences, of the spacing by means of which elements are related to each other. This spacing is the simultaneously active and passive… production fothe intervals without which the ‘full’ terms would not signify, would not function. (Derrida 1981, 27)

Self-identity, a manner of being, cannot be constituted without a production of an interval or a difference between the self and the other. No self-present identity, no relation to Being, is generated without this relation to the other [for reasons I’ll go into soon, I’d like to note that I would have put ‘otherness’ here rather than the other…]. (Corporeal Generosity, pp. 6-7)

So we can see here that Diprose is emphasising Levinas over Heidegger here, in testifying to the primacy (or, better, the pre-originari-ness, or anarchic-ness) of the ethical relation (the one with the other). Okay, but here comes the edge by which Diprose will articulate her critique of Derrida:

As one’s identity and social values are produced through a differentiation between the self and the otehr then the idenitty of the self is dispersed into the other. Differance, like giving-itself, describes an operation that both constitutes identity and difference and resists and disorganises the totalization or full presence of meaning, identity, or Being. It is the operation of differeance that insists on the gift: the ultimate dispersal of all identity within the event of its constitution. Giving is that which puts the circle of exchange in motion and that which exceeds and disrupts it (Derrida, 1992, 30). And this impossible structure of the gift is such that if self-present identity is claimed in being given to the other, a debt to the other is incurred. (Corp Gen, 7)

To mark my ‘debts’ here, I should point out to those who might recall it an exchange I had with FoucaultIsDead before he disappeared off the intertoobs (or into a new pseudonym, perhaps?). He suggested (if I recall correctly; I may not, so feel free, FiD, if you’re about, to correct me in comments/via the contact form), in response to my Private Law, that indebtedness is the key term by which our political and ethical investments occur. I responded that this wasn’t my understanding, and here I can finally say with sufficient context that the sense of indebtedness arises only in the recognition of the gift, and in the concommittant assertion of strict division between self and other. This is a hint towards a future post and the final discussion of my thesis, so I won’t go on about it now; I suspect that there are, actually ways of testifying to the gifts I have been given that don’t fall into the commodifying, individualising of traps of recognition. (Ms. Pepperell, this reminds me I really ought to address this with you! I have a sneaking suspicion that your distrust of Honneth and the rest of the recognition-obsessed crowd dovetails quite intriguingly with this point.)

Anyway, to return to Diprose’s critique of Derrida. The traditional conception of generosity is what she’s using Derrida to critique here, but it’s also what prompts her concerns with his theory:

Understanding generosity in terms of Derrida’s analysis of the impossibility of the gift helps locate the parsimony endorsed by other accounts such as Machan’s. Machan’s claim that individual sovereignty and property ownership come before gnerosity overlooks the possibility that in claiming freedom and property as one’s own, soemthing has already been taken from other. The generosity of the individual property owner who gives his or her acquisitions, which is the only generosity that Machan recognises, is built on the generosity of others that Machan would rather forget… (Corp Gen, 8)

Here we see the element of economic critique that threads through Diprose’s concerns. It is, of course, the observation that in order for a profit to be made, workers need to be paid less than their work is actually worth. Here we can see an echo of Brown’s pointing out of the tolerance embodied by many of those disadvantaged, who, willingly or not, give stability to the economy through the gift of their tolerance of their own exploitation. Diprose puts it this way, though:

In suggesting that generosity is infected with a selective forgetting, I have already added to Derrida’s analyses of the impossibility of the gift, at least by insisting on a different emphasis. By tying the gift to its radical forgetting and its operation to the deferral of self-present identity, Derrida’s account may help expose the individualism and parsimony of Machan’s and One Nation’s [that’s a ultra-racist, ultra-right-wing party that has managed to do some pretty nasty stuff to the political spectrum in Australia, for those who don’t know] positions, but it also invites interpretations of his work that are no more concerned with social justice than Machan or One Nation seem to be. Critiques of individualism and the metaphysics of presence can and have lead [sic] to (postmodern [I want to add, in the pejorative sense, here, given that I have issues some ungenerous definitions of postmodern]) claims, although not by Derrida, of the death of individual sovereignty in faor of the dispersal of identity and meaning. Emphasising the way that the gift does its work only by being forgotten and then throught he dispersal of presence overlooks how, in practice, the generosity and the gifts of some (property owner, men, wage earners, whites) tend to be recognised and remembered more often than the generosity and gifts of others (the landless, women, the unemployed, indigenous peoples, and immigrants).It is the systematic, asymmetrical forgetting of the gift, where only the generosity of the privileged is memorialized, that social inequities and injustice are based. In attending to the connection between generosity and social justie, which is the aim of all the analyses in this book, it is necessary to shift the emphasis away from, while keeping in mind the aporia of the gift to… address the question of the systematic but asymmetrical forgetting of the gift that allows the generosity of the forgotten and the parsimony of the memorialized to constitute hierarchical relations of domination within economies of contract and exchange. (Corp Gen, 8-9)

Okay, so here we have a sense of what memorialising and forgetting are: they are the economic, social and political engagements with the gift, the ways of making present that which cannot be made present without being utterly changed. This is the point that Levinasians the world over continually struggle with: how do the ethical and the political interact? If ethics always comes before politics, does this mean that ethics can only shape politics (as Levinas claims it should) whilst politics can never shape ethics? Obviously, Diprose takes Derrida’s (and others’, such as Bernasconi’s) position with regard this matter, and in a convincing way. There are particular ethical relations and gifts that are continually recognised, continually marked as generous, and thus function as a key part of the privilege attached to the donor (generosity becomes a mark of privilege, here.) On the other hand, there are gifts that are rarely, if ever, recognised as gifts. This might leave them being gifts, but it also means, for example, that the gifts traditionally been given by women in (say) the sustenance of the body politic through the maintenance of the home and thus the well-being of the worker, and in the (re)production of new workers of course (raised with good, generous work ethics) remains unrecognised, irrelevant. Although this ensures that these gifts remain gifts, challenging (however quietly) the self-presence of identity, it also means that these gifts can never figure in the economic or political sphere, and thus the privilege of being recognised as generous is denied women; after all, this generosity is merely who they are, naturally. (I’m actually (not quite) resisting the urge to poke Sinthome at this point, given his recent post on properties, by-products, individuals, naturalisation and (is this unfair?) essences). On the other hand, privilege attaches to recognised generosity: the philanthropist (to pick a banal and obvious example) who gives money to an institution has his/her generosity recognised, and the gift becomes a kind of commodity, offered (however much they may not seek return) in exchange for the increase in his/her privilege. Which of course enables the recognition of them as generous personages, and thus enables the recognition of whatever else they (or, significantly, other subjects identified as ‘the same as’ them) ‘give’. This is how the ethical and the political are intertwined: only some gifts are recognised, and this recognition in turn enables some subjects as generous contributors to the being of others… and thus are injustices produced and reproduced…

To come in this series: the forgetting required in order to memorialise, memorialising and forgetting in the flesh, body modification, my concerns about the consequences of Diprose’s position, responsible comportments and, hopefully, eventually, some consideration of the significance of why tolerance of others is irresponsible, where the tolerance of otherness is key… tantalising? Well, it is for me 😉 Maybe, one day, I’ll actually be able to make the point that I want to ‘finish’ my thesis on…. hey, I can dream!

RIGHT back to Brown:

“As a moral-political practice of governmentality, tolerance has significant cultural, social, and political effects that exceed its surface operations of reducing conflict or of protecting the weak or the minoritized, and that exceed its formal goals and self-representation. These include contributions to political and civic subject formation and to the articulation of the political, the social, citizenship, justice, the nation, and civilization. Tolerance can function as a substitute for or a supplement to formal liberal equality or liberty; it can also overtly block the pursuit of substantive equality and freedom. At times, tolerance shores up troubled orders of power, repairs state legitimacy, glosses troubled universalisms, and provides cover for imperialism… the concern of this study is to consider how, when and why these effects occur as part of the operation of tolerance, rather than to ignore them or treat them as ‘externalities’ vis-à-vis tolerance’s main project.” (p. 10)

Brown tracks some of the ways that tolerance houses and enables intolerance, then reminds us that, for all that tolerance is supposedly the motivating factor in many legal reforms, for example, tolerance itself remains something that is not legally binding. Here we see the tricky transition it allows from public to private and vice-versa:

“… [W]hile tolerance may be a state or civic principle, while it may figure prominently in the preambles of constitutions or policy documents and may conceptually undergird laws and judicial decisions concerned freedom of religion, speech, and association, tolerance as such is not legally or doctrinally codified. Nor can it be, both because the meaning and work of tolerance is bound to its very plasticity—to when, where, and how far it will stretch—and because its legitimating goodness is tied to virtue, not to injunction or legality. Virtue is exercised and emanates from within it cannot be organised as a right or rule, let alone commanded.” (pp. 11-12)

And here we see how and why tolerance is bound up with perpetuating a very peculiar kind of individualism, and why so many discussions about feminism, or racism, or homophobia, or transphobia, or discrimination against those with disabilities are continually reduced to the individual. “But I don’t do that!” cry men on feminist blogs (when ‘they’ aren’t threatening rape, murder and so on), and other forms of discrimination are responded to with “some of my bestest friends in the whole wide world are black/gay/disabled/trans/women.” And so on. In each case, the claim to the individual virtue of tolerance is taken to be a demonstration that, whatever the statistics say about prison populations, mortality rates, abuse rates, rape rates etc etc, public engagement with these issues is not merely unnecessary, but an attack on those who are tolerant.

“Conventionally, tolerance is adduced for beliefs or practices that may be morally, socially, or ideologically offensive but are not in direct conflict with the law. Thus, law constitutes one limit of the reach of tolerance, designating its purview as personal or private matters within the range of what is legal… [I]n each case, the negotiation is between what is deemed a private or individual choice appropriately beyond the reach of law (hence tolerable) and what is deemed a matter of the public interest (hence not a matter of tolerance)” (p.12)

It took a long long time for rape within marriage to be understood as something the law should step in to try to prevent. Interestingly, I think, domestic violence is a domain that retains its in-betweenness: the law officially stands against it, but it occurs in what is so strongly believed to be the private sphere that interventions into this space are perceived as problematic. This of course makes the issue difficult to negotiate.

Brown turns to the question of depolicisation next, by tackling the notion of a distinction between ‘tolerance’ (virtue/ethic) and ‘toleration’ (a practice). Both of these, I think, risk individualising again, but nonetheless.

“The distinction is between a personal ethic of tolerance, an ethic that issues from an individual commitment and has objects that are largely individualized, and a political discourse, regime, or governmentality of tolerance that involves a particular mode of depoliticising and organizing the social. A tolerant individual bearing, understood as a willingness to abide the offensive or disturbing predilections and tastes of others, is surely an inarguable good in many settings: a friend’s irritating laugh, a student’s distressing attire, a colleague’s religious zeal, the repellant smell of a stranger, a neighbour’s horrid taste in garden plants-these provocations do not invite my action, or even my comment, and the world is surely a more gracious and graceful place if I can be tolerant in the ace of them… But tolerance as a political discourse concerned with designated modalities of diversity, identity, justice, and civic cohabitation is another matter. It involves not simply the withholding of speech or action in response to contingent individual dislikes or violations of taste but the enactment of social, political, religious, and cultural norms; certain practices of licensing and regulation; the marking of subjects of tolerance as inferior, deviant or marginal vis-à-vis those practicing tolerance; and a justification for sometimes dire or even deadly action when the limits of tolerance are considered breached. Tolerance of this sort does not simply address identity but abets in its production; it also abets in the conflation of culture with ethnicity or race and the conflation of belief or consciousness with phenotype. And it naturalizes as it depoliticizes these processes to render identity itself an object of tolerance.” (pp. 13-14)

In other words, reducing tolerance to merely a personal ethic of ‘non-interference’ is deeply problematic. It covers over the productive and hierarchical operation of tolerance: that it tends to naturalise and/or essentialise identity, thus covering over the role that it plays in producing these identities (as tolerable, intolerable, or, most concealed of all, the tolerating). As can be seen by the slipperiness of ‘tolerance’ in the above, Brown is not suggesting that tolerance as an individual ethos is separable from the broader political forms of tolerance; indeed, the two are strongly related, and not least in the political marking of particular groups as bearing the privilege of being the tolerating.

“Almost all objects of tolerance are marked as deviant, marginal, or undesirable by virtue of being tolerated, and the action of tolerance inevitably affords some access to superiority, even as settings or dynamics of mutual tolerance may complicate renderings of superordination and superiority as matters of relatively fixed status.” (p. 14)

Brown then argues that “tolerance as such is not the problem,” a position that I am unconvinced by, but she suggests that actually it is the way that tolerance is called for, and its disavowal of its role in the production and management of identity that is a problem. I’m not sure about this, but that’s primarily because I’m unconvinced that ‘tolerance’ can be separated out from a particular mode of engaging with difference, which tends toward the binarised. Actually I’m unclear about how separate this is from her position, but she refers to the patterning of privilege that occurs through the work of ‘tolerance’ as a “buried order of politics,” and this to some extent feels to me like a big-T Truth-seeking exercise, as if True identities were those that occurred without the effect of political power. That’s too crude to characterise her argument, really, and I am in total agreement as to the problematic role of tolerance talk in concealing its own role in the production of identities, so perhaps my disagreement will turn out to be nothing at all.

“[I]… analyze tolerance, especially in its recently resurgent form, as a strand of depoliticization in liberal democracies. Depoliticzation involves construing inequality, subordination, marginalisation, and social conflict, which all require political analysis and political solutions, as personal and individual, on the one hand, or as natural, religious, or cultural on the other. Tolerance works along both vectors of depoliticization-it personalizes and its naturalizes or culturalizes-and sometimes it intertwines them.” (p. 15)

This I think it interesting, because it demonstrates that tolerance plays an important part in constructing differences between groups or people as sources of conflict-that is, as requiring the intervention of tolerance to manage. It doesn’t do this alone, of course (because wow! the list of factors contributing to this particular configuration of difference goes on and on, informing the vast moiety of our discursive world). Now that this is bound up with depoliticization is important; much ‘liberal’ discourse tends to reproduce this particular configuration of subjectivity, not least through the evocation of things like ‘false consciousness’ (that’s what you have, but I have something else entirely – Da Troof!). As Brown describes:

“No matter its particular form and mechanics, depoliticzation always eschews power and history in the representation of its subject. When these two constitutive sources of social relations and political conflict are elided, an ontological naturalness or essentialism almost inevitably takes up residence in our understandings and explanations. In the case at hand, an object of tolerance analytically divested of constitution by history and power is identified as naturally and essentially different from the tolerating subject; in this difference, it appears as a natural provocation to that which tolerates it. Moreover, not merely the parties to tolerance but the very scene of tolerance is naturalized, ontologized in its constitution as produced by the problems of difference itself. (pp. 15-16)

This is interesting, I think, because often those who declare themselves ‘anti-essentialist’ also perpetuate this depoliticization, as I described above in the case of ‘false consciousness’. So the argument will go ‘I’m not essentialist, there’s no essence to (say) woman,’ and therefore, ‘because I’m critically aware of this fact, I’ve managed to find a space ‘outside’ social relations, power and history, my ‘true’ self, from which I make ‘true’ choices, that is, choices that are pure of that ideology.’ The guiltlessness of the individual in this appears to me remarkable. Interestingly, I think, this anti-essentialism is sometimes also deployed as a “well, you could be otherwise, given that you have no essence, so why don’t you?” In other words, why don’t you be like us? This kind of argument is used all over: from the homophobic (and often ‘tolerant) response to gay men and lesbians (‘it’s so much easier to be straight’); to even being a reproach for those who are resisting the ‘bringing of Freedom’ in, say, Iraq; or closer to home and most horribly (it makes me feel sick to think on) the legislation making that today made its way through the Senate at the moment in Australia which will attempt to ensure that Indigenous people and particularly the ‘innocent children’ in whose name these horrors are being perpetuated, have ‘every opportunity’ to be otherwise than what they already are: to be more ‘normal,’ implicitly, ‘more white.’ I guess my point is that the naturalization of the white, Western, ‘free’ ‘individual’ enables him/her to be understood as history-and-thus-ideology-free, thus both naturalising the Other (naturally challenging to the hegemonic) and denaturalising him/her in the sense of suggesting that this difference cannot possibly be the ‘truth’ of that subject. Mmm.

And then Brown totally makes me a fan by actually talking about the role of suffering in this depoliticization. Is it narcissistic to dub those whose work dovetails with mine ‘totally rockin”? 😉

“In addition to depoliticizations as a mode of dispossessing the constitutive histories and powers organizing contemporary problems and contemporary political subjects-that is, depoliticization of sources of political problems-there is a second and related meaning of depoliticization with which this book is concerned: namely, that which substitutes emotional and personal vocabularies for political ones in formulating solutions to political problems. When the ideal or practice of tolerance is substituted for justice or equality, when sensitivity to or even respect for the other is substituted for justice for the other, when historically induced suffering is reduced to ‘difference’ or to a medium of ‘offense,’ when suffering as such is reduced to a problem of personal feeling, then the field of political battle and political transformation is replaced with an agenda of behavioural, attitudinal and emotional practices. While such practices often have their value, substituting a tolerant attitude or ethos for political redress of inequality or violent exclusions not only reifies politically produced differences but reduces political action and justice projects to sensitivity training, or what Richard Rorty has called ‘an improvement in manners.’ A justice project is replaced with a therapeutic or behavioural one.” (p. 16)

This happens a lot… a lot a lot! I’m just going to use the ‘physical difference’ thing to explore it for a moment. Now obviously I, and most people, think that the response to suffering is desperately important, but almost automatically these days, the response to such suffering is to resolve it here and now for this individual. And so we have cosmetic surgery which is supposed to (though often enough fails) cure suffering, up alongside human growth hormones and limb-lengthening surgery which deals with shortness, and intersex ‘corrective’ surgery for straightening-out the ‘ambiguously’ sexed. Yet in offering these kinds of therapeutic remedies for suffering (which I am not suggesting we should withhold), what is covered over is that this suffering is not caused by the physical ‘difference’ of this individual person, or not simply at any rate; it’s the result of a political construction of that body as deviant. Deviance (from norms and ideas of the normal) often (though trust me, by no means always!) seems to dovetail with suffering in ways that this ‘individualised’ model of ‘care/cure’ covers over. Worse, the therapeutic relief of suffering in this ‘normalising’ fashion reinforces the notion that normal=happy, thereby reiterating the very characterisation of difference which contributed to their suffering in the first place. My point in this is that the ‘simplest’ and ‘most ethical’ way of dealing with this suffering, understood as individual, emotional and personal, is to offer normalisation; this depoliticization ensures that there is never a point at which the political sphere needs to engage with this injustice (and those that result from it: the extraordinary exclusions of those with disabilities, for example). Often, worryingly, this characterisation of suffering as an individual responsibility is exacerbated by, say, a Little Person’s refusal to undergo limb-lengthening surgery: ‘well, you chose to be different,’ says the political and, also problematically, social world. Both the political and the individual realms, then, are made innocent of any role in suffering.

Much of the remainder of the chapter engages more specifically with the American tropes which contribute to the depoliticization which she’s marked tolerance as partially responsible for: liberalism (freedom shifts to ‘rights, equality to equal standing before the law), individualism (the right ‘tudes will produce justice), market rationality (all subjects made consumers with ‘naturally occurring’ desires), the culturalization of politics (where ethnicity, race, religion and culture are made interchangeable, permitting slides from, for example, ‘Islamic extremists’ to ‘racial and ethnic profiling’ as a threat-management technique). I’ve already talked about these throughout (given my apparent indignation with the cheerful assertion of the transparent goods of individualism and liberalism!) so I won’t repeat myself. I should mention, though, that towards the end of this chapter, Brown marks liberalism as kind of rescue-able. This may be convincing, or, better, desirable for some (especially for America, whose investment in liberal individualism seems quite substantial)-understanding liberalism not as acultural, but as the specific culture of the USA would certainly help!-I suspect that the shifts she suggests would happen by ‘culturalizing’ liberalism entail a substantial undermining of liberalism’s key terms.

“This book… contests the culturalization of politics that tolerance discourse draws from and promulgates, and contests as well the putatively a-cultural nature of liberalism. The normative premise animating this contestation is that a more democratic global future involves affirming rather than denying and disavowing liberalism’s cultural facets and its imprint by particular cultures. Such a affirmation would undermine liberalism’s claims to universalism and liberalism’s status as culturally neutral in brokering the tolerable. This erosion, in turn, would challenge the standing of liberal regimes as uniquely, let alone absolutely, tolerant, revealing them instead to be a self-affirming and Other-rejecting as many other regimes. It would also reveal liberalism’s proximity to and bouts of forthright engagement with fundamentalism.

The recognition of liberalism as cultural is more than a project of debunking its airs of superiority or humiliating its hubristic reach. Rather, insofar as it makes explicit the inherent hybridity or impurity of every instantiation of liberalism, it underscores the impossibility of any liberalism ever being ‘only liberalism’ and the extent to which both form and content are potted, historical, local, lived. It reveals liberalism as always already being the issue of miscegenation with its fundamental Other, as containing this Other within, and thus as having a certain potential for recognizing and connecting with this Other without. In this possibility may be contained liberalism’s prospects for renewal, even for redemption, or at the very least for more modest and peaceful practices.” (p. 24)

I suppose, in the end, my situatedness in this regard comes quite strongly into play here: my concern is much less with the stability of the political system, I guess, and more with ensuring justice. In this regard, this seeking of redemption for liberalism makes me scrunch up my nose—I guess in the end I’m not sure it’s worth saving (watch my intolerance!), though by the same token, making impure the forms of liberalism that already exist appeals to me not least for its potential effectiveness and my usual affection for deconstructive engagements. Okay, clearly I’m disagreeing with myself already, here, so I am not making any great claims. I am just not sure what a liberalism stripped of its universality, its rampant individualism, its market rationality and so on, would look like… would it look like liberalism?

I’m going to leave this post here: it’s already very long, and I have a billion and one other things to do. Nonetheless, there will be more!

So if you’ve actually stuck with reading your way through some of my posts, you’ll know that a reasonably major aspect of my concern is tolerance-more specifically, the capacity of Merleau-Ponty’s conception of bodily tolerances to help think through the intertwining of ethics and politics with phenomenological experience. In other words, MP’s approach allows one to demonstrate how and why it might be that visceral experiences of intolerance-often articulated as disgust, revulsion, stomach-turning, nauseating and so on-exist, and their dependence upon particular configurations of political, ethical and gift and/or exchange economies. Not only this, but I’m interested by the way that the word ‘tolerance’ functions politically to legitimate, reinforce and deem ‘rational’ certain forms of these visceral experiences, and on the other hand to reject, delegitimate, undermine and deem ‘irrational’ other of these experiences which may, for example, be otherwise understood as the visceral intolerance of injustice and the unethical, for example…

I’ve already posted a little about one way in which I think that these bodily tolerances are engendered and play out, in relation to race and politics in Australia. It’s as a kind of follow-up to think that I’m turning to Wendy Brown’s book, entitled Regulating Aversion: Tolerance in the Age of Identity and Empire. The first chapter has been available here [pdf] for some time, but I’m going to put up some notes on it here, in my usual quote+response style. I should mention here that whilst the concerns Brown covers (in the chapters I’ve read so far, anyway) aren’t entirely new-that is, I spend more of my time going ‘yes that’s right,’ rather than ‘oh my god! I’d never thought of that’-approaching questions of liberalism, imperialism, bigotry, racism, civilisation, barbarism, inclusion, exclusion, difference and identity (amongst other things) through a tracking of the conceptualisation of tolerance is quite telling, and does help to demonstrate the significant role it has come to play in the contemporary climate. One point which I have to say it’s kind of a relief to find an American actually exploring is the relation between tolerance, individualism and depoliticisation. While I am, clearly, interested in what some might call ‘personal experience,’ my interest is in its contingency, in why it functions the way it does and the degree to which that effects (no, goddammit, grammar checker, I mean ‘effects’!) particular political agendas. Sometimes I think that elements of the blogosphere (in a reflection of the rest of the ‘real’ world, of course!) are so keen to get to political action/activism of whatever kind that they not only don’t stop to think it through in sufficient detail, they actively reject the idea that such critical engagement might be important; and often this winds up in a kind of reification of ideas like ‘choice’, ‘individuality’ and ‘rationality’ in ways that suppose these things to be somehow beyond the function of politics, or, more clearly, beyond the effects of ‘repression’ or ‘oppression.’ I share the concern about needing to act (absolutely!!! and I do understand the worry about ‘theory’ being impractical) but at the same moment, I think we need to find ways of acting without giving up the perpetual critical engagement with the very terms by which we act. I have a number of reasons for this stance, but one of them is that one of the biggest problems with the way that politics is currently run is that the position taken today must be true forever and ever; it’s far too totalising, and resists critical engagement. So I think it’s a significant move for activism to resist this totalising tendency of politics more broadly; this is, of course, an extremely difficult line to maintain, especially in the current context. Nonetheless. My concerns still stand, even if I understand the position that motivates ‘strategic’ investments in, say, inadequate concepts like ‘human rights.’ Mmm. I’m resisting the temptation to go on and on in the usual style of the paranoid vaguely theoretical academic-y sort in order to express my sympathy with and investment in activist politics; but I think I’ll leave it stand for now!

Aaaanyway. Back to actual topic. So, given that this afternoon (wow, actually, it’s taken me a lil while to formulate this post, so it was a while ago, really!) I picked up the book after ordering it a few weeks ago, with no further ado, here are notes on chapter 1.

There’s an epigram here that I kinda like, even as I’m not sure it engages the detail of tolerance, it does at least shift the question of tolerance away from the rational:

“Tolerance is not a product of politics, religion or culture. Liberals and conservatives, evangelicals and atheists, whites, Latinos, Asians, and blacks… are equally capable of tolerance and intolerance… [T]olerance has much less to do with our opinions than with what we feel and how we live.” -Sarah Bullard, Teaching Tolerance.

I’m not really convinced that this is accurate, in the sense that tolerance as it is understood currently seems to rely upon very particular configurations of difference and identity, arising out of a white Western framework (which I actually think tends to produce a lack of tolerance, but we’ll get into that in a sec). At the same time, the constructionist/contextualist (Alcoff’s preferred term) streak in me tends to think that phrases like ‘equally capable’ wind up meaning very little-equally capable given what context? Is this some kind of attempt to counter the naturalisation of (especially current) Western attributions of differing tolerance capacities, often down race and political lines? I’m also unconvinced that political ‘liberalism’ and ‘conservatism’ doesn’t affect the capacity for tolerance (at least if ‘liberalism’ (my god it’s so American to set conservative vs liberal as the only real political distinction, and I’m not sure it’s quite so applicable in other contexts) is taken to mean left-leaning or progressive positions). Actually, I think what I mean is that liberal and conservative people may well come out equal in the tolerance stakes, I’m not convinced that there aren’t other political positions which enable other ways of thinking tolerance; perhaps even beyond the conservative tendencies of tolerance (my god; is it possible?!).

(Just as an aside, do you think it’s significant that every time I’ve gone to type ‘my god’ in the past few days I’ve typed ‘my dog’? I’d like to think it is, though why exactly I’m not sure.)

And Brown begins:

“How did tolerance become a beacon of multicultural justice and civic peace at the turn of the twenty-first century? A mere generation ago, tolerance was widely recognized in the United States as a code word for mannered racialism. Early in the civil rights era, many white northerners staked their superiority to their southern brethren on a contrast between northern tolerance and southern bigotry. But racial tolerance was soon exposed as a subtle form of Jim Crow, one that did not resort to routine violence, formal segregation, or other overt tactics of superordination but reproduced white supremacy all the same.” (p.1)

I can’t help it; I immediately begin to wonder about the way that radical individualism which seems to characterise so much of (particularly US) politicised discourse (see the Eugenics or choice? post) permitted the forgetting of this kind of awareness of racism as not merely government controlled. That is, I would tend to think that it is as individualism became more thoroughly entrenched that this awareness of collective, ‘mannered’ racism was lost. Individualism permits incredible levels of conservatism, really, and of course the concealment of such.

Anyway, so Brown suggests that it was as a result of this awareness of the perpetuation of white supremacy that

“[f]reedom and equality, rather than tolerance, became the watchwords of justice projects on behalf of the excluded, subordinated, or marginalised.” (p. 1-2)

Although at this point it would seem she suggests that these ‘justice projects’ premised on freedom and equality countered the concealed racism of ‘tolerance,’ she’s not naively assuming that freedom and equality remained pure of the problems of tolerance…

“Since the mid-1980s, however, there has been something of a global renaissance in tolerance talk. Tolerance surged back into use in the late twentieth century as multiculturalism became a central problematic of liberal democractic citizenship; as Third World immigration threatened the ethnicized identities of Europe, North America, and Australia; [woot! Check it out, we made the ‘West’ list. Am I alone in thinking that this is pretty rare in US books?] as indigenous peoples pursued claims of preparation, belonging and entitlement; as ethnically coded civil conflict became a critical site of international disorder; and as Islamic religious identity intensified and expanded into a transnational political force. Tolerance talk also became prominent as domestic norms of integration and assimilation gave way to concerns with identity and difference on the lefta nd as the rights claims of various minorities were spurned as ‘special’ rather than universal on the right.” (p. 2)

She then goes on to demonstrate the breadth of application of the word ‘tolerance,’ from the UN (practically everywhere) to European attempts to negotiate immigration, to US attempts to tackle racialised segregation and community violence, the premise of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ solution to homophobia in the military, and even the “rubric under which George W Bush, upon taking office in his first term, declared that appointees in his administration would not have their sexual orientations scrutinized… or revealed.” (p. 2) It’s also a defining feature of education, and religious and secular discourse. I find this interesting, that tolerance is the feature of education in the US. Friends of mine who did bachelors in Early Childhood Education (that’s from preschool/childcare all the way through to year 3 or 4 at school, I think) which, granted, is a fairly innovative degree, didn’t learn how to teach tolerance, but rather had a unit called ‘anti-bias,’ a configuration which wasn’t merely about non-discriminatory practice within educational institutions, but enabled considerations of teaching things like ‘critical literacy.’ (See, I always knew critical strategies weren’t dependent on second-year uni readings!) These friends make me hopeful for education!!

Ah, and here we come to the role tolerance plays in the crossover between conservatives and liberals:

“Moreover, even as certain contemporary conservatives identify tolerance as a codeword for endorsing homosexuality, tolerance knows no political party: it is what liberals and leftists reproach a religious, xenophobic, and homophobic right for lacking, but also what evangelical Christians claim that secular liberals refuse them and what conservative foreign policy ideologues claim America cherishes and ‘radical Islamicists’ abhor. Combined with this bewildering array of sites and calls for tolerance is an impressive range of potential objects of tolerance, including cultures, races, ethnicities, sexualities, ideologies, lifestyle and fashion choices, political positions, religions, and even regimes.” (p. 2-3)

I’d just like to point out that many of these objects of tolerance gain their weight through a claim to individualism. Interestingly, though, as she goes on to point out, each of these objects do not demand the same kinds of tolerance, but a whole range of ‘modalities’ of tolerance. Her examples here are intriguing:

“That is, modalities of tolerance talk that have issued from postcolonial encounters with indigenous peoples in settler colonies do not follow the same logics as those that have issued from European encounters with immigrants from its former colonies or those that are centred on patriarchal religious anxieties about insubordinate gender and sexual practices. Similarly, an Islamic state seeking to develop codes of tolerance inflects the term differently than does a Euro-Atlantic political imaginary within which the nation-states of the West are presumed always already tolerant.” (p. 3)

These distinctions are important to make, I do not doubt. Nonetheless, I do have a sneaking suspicion that part of the homogenisation of difference that seems to characterise the West is enabled through the refusal to accept that these modes of tolerance are different. That is, the usual traps associated with deploying ‘equality’ (that of the reduction to sameness) have come to shape tolerance practice as well, such that it becomes possible to talk about the claims of ‘minority groups’ (as they’re usually characterised, at least in Australia) to tolerance as equivalent claims, even where they are really very different (especially in practical terms). In the midst of the dominant logic of scarce resources, this means that each claim to tolerance is subject to the same kinds of distrust and suspicion, the same kinds of intolerance. Mmm. A kind of intolerance to tolerance. This reminds me of the issues of generosity raised here. And Brown seems to agree:

“Given this proliferation of and variation in agents, objects, and political cadences of tolerance, it may be tempting to conclude that it is too polymorphous and unstable to analyze as a political or moral discourse. I pursue another hypothesis here: that the semiotically polyvalent, politically promiscuous, and sometimes incoherent use of tolerance in contemporary American life, closely considered and critically theorized, can be made to reveal important features of our political time and condition. The central question of this study is… What kind of political discourse, with what social and political effects, is contemporary tolerance talk in the United States? What readings of the discourses of liberalism, colonialism, and imperialism circulating through Western democracies can analytical scrutiny of this talk provide? The following chapters aim to track the social and political work of tolerance discourse by comprehending how this discourse constructions and positions liberal and nonliberal subjects, cultures, and regimes; how it figures conflict, stratification, and difference; how it operate normatively; and how its normativity is rendered oblique almost to the point of invisibility.” (pp. 3-4)

This last bit, as you can imagine, kinda makes me cheer. A consideration of the normative configuration of difference through tolerance by Brown might let me get away without having to argue this at huge lengths in the thesis. It also is useful because all too often tolerance is deployed as responding to an ahistorical truth, and the political efficacy of it remains unconsidered: that is, tolerance itself does things to the political realm, affecting the operation and responses to difference. Because tolerance is treated as an ahistorical good, we miss this too often. (I use ‘we’ pretty loosely here, so don’t feel too interpellated!

At this point, she explicitly refuses to understand tolerance as ahistorical and universal, and introduces governmentality as key (and here I kinda wish I’d read this before my very first article (about to be released… or… are articles released? published? whatever) was due) aspect of the function of tolerance, saying:

“As a consortium of para-legal and para-statist practices in modern constitutional liberalism-practices that are associated with the liberal state and liberal legalism but are not precisely codified by it-tolerance is exemplary of Foucault’s account of governmentality as that which organizes ‘the conduct of conduct’ at a variety of sites and through rationalities not limited to those formally countenanced as political. Absent the precise dictates, articulations, and prohibitions associated with the force of law, tolerance nevertheless produces and positions subjects, orchestrates meanings and practices of identity, marks bodies, and conditions political subjectivities. This production, positioning, orchestration, and conditioning is achieved not through a rule or a concentration of power, but rather through the dissemination of tolerance discourse across state institutions; civic venues such as schools, churches, and neighborhood associations; ad hoc social groups and political events; and international institutions or forums.” (p. 4)

I can’t help feeling like Brown is conscious of needing to address political theorists here, ones who might be less than open to her arguments about say the historicity of notions of tolerance. It is around this point that I want (her!) to evoke Alcoff and Merleau-Ponty, to demonstrate that tolerance also conditions bodies phenomenologically to reflect a particular set of inclusions and exclusions. In the end, I would suggest, the ‘rationalities not limited to those formally countenanced as political’ is really important to pay attention to, because I think that the characterisation of particular ways of being in the world (and attendant tolerances, of course) as rational is part of the function of the discursive construction of tolerance (this is a fairly obvious Foucauldian point, but one that I think is forgotten, sometimes!) What I mean is that I don’t really think that rationality exists ahistorically, aculturally; rather, rationality demonstrates which forms of being are to be considered as cultured (rather than (brute-ishly) natural), as cognitive (rather than bodily/emotional) and justifiable (rather than incoherent and nutty). This is a bit of a complex point, I guess, but the point I’m trying to make is that I tend towards a thoroughly anti-Cartesian conception of subjectivity, but with an awareness that the attributions of particular experiences to the ‘mind’ and the ‘body’ has important political weight. This is a feminist observation as well, because as Genevieve Lloyd has observed, rationality has tended to the codification of the ways that men have tended to think. In relation to tolerance, what I think this allows us to understand is that some forms of intolerance are marked as irrational, and others as rational; yet such distinctions lie not in how ‘cognitive’ some intolerance is, as if the irrationally intolerant were just permitting their emotional/bodily reactions to ‘rule’ them. Rather, the rationality of an in/tolerance is actually about how much that in/tolerance falls in with existing truth-discourses. Bleah. I’m not sure how significant that point was, now that I’ve worked so hard to make it articulate! Sorry about that!

Brown then observes that tolerance has shifted from a means of protection from persecution to a way of conceiving of a good society. This I think is interesting, given her earlier point about ‘freedom and equality’ being the response to the mannered racialism of tolerance in the 70s. In this respect, it’s been increasingly taken up across the political spectrum, to defend extremely different positions. The logic of ‘white liberal decline,’ (eep! whose concept is this again? I’ll try to find it!) or the ‘we are victims too, even though we’re white etc’ position both suppose that white values are under attack and at risk of being completely undermined by various, usually racialised groups, regularly deploys the need to make these others ‘tolerate’ white ‘values’ (what others would call ‘intolerance’). As Brown describes,

“the enemy of tolerance is now the weaponized radical Islamicist state or terror cell rather than the neighborhood bigot… While some of these changes [in the deployment of ‘tolerance’ talk] have simply brought to the surface long-present subterranean norms in liberal tolerance discourse, others have articulated tolerance for genuinely new purposes. These include the legitimation of a new form of imperial state action in the twenty-first century, a legitimation tethered to a constructed opposition between a cosmopolitan West and its putatively fundamentalist Other. Tolerance thus emerges as part of a civilizational discourse that identifies both tolerance and the tolerable with the West, marking nonliberal societies and practices as candidates for a intolerable barbarism that is itself signalled by the putative intolerance ruling these societies. In the mid-nineteenth through mid-twentieth centuries, the West imagines itself as standing for civilization against primitivism, an din the cold war years for freedom against tyranny; now these two recent histories are merged in the warring figures of the free, the tolerant and the civilised on one said, and the fundamentalist, the intolerant, and the barbaric on the other… ” (p. 6)

She then turns to acknowledging the racial specificity of this question:

“If tolerance is a political principle used to mark an opposition between liberal and fundamentalist order, how might liberal tolerance discourse function not only to anoint Western superiority but also to legitimate a Western cultural and political imperialism? That is, how might this discourse actually promote Western supremacy and aggression even as it veils them in the modest dress of tolerance? How might tolerance, the very virtue that Samuel Huntington advocates for pre-empting a worldwide clash of civilizations, operate as a key element in a civilizational discourse that codifies the superiority and legimitates the superordination of the West? What is the work of tolerance idscourse in a contemporary imperial liberal governmentality? What kind of subject is thought to be capable of tolerance? What sort of rationality and sociality is tolerance imagined to require and what sorts are thought to inhibit it-in order words, what anthropological presuppositions does liberal tolerance entail and circulate?” (pp. 6-7)

“The conceit of secularism undergirding the promulgation of tolerance within multicultural liberal democracies not only legitimates their intolerance of and aggression toward non-liberal states or transnational formations but also glosses the ways in which certain cultures and religious are marked in advance as ineligible for tolerance while others are so hegemonic as to not even register as cultures or religious; they are instead labelled ‘mainstream’ or simply ‘American… [Tolerance[ operates from a conceit of neutrality that is actually thick with bourgeois Protestant norms.'” (p. 7)

If these hegemonic ‘cultures’ labelled at all; in fact, I think probably the most hegemonic position is that which doesn’t even need to be modified by an adjective like this. And as Brown points out, the distinction between the public and private spheres is key here in delineating the tolerable and the intolerable, and in enabling a kind of moralism to attend both individual behaviour and the reflection of it in the global political sphere.

“…[T]olerance as a mode of late modern governmentality that iterates the normalcy of the powerful and the deviance of the marginal responds to, links, and tames both unruly domestic identities or affinities and nonliberal transnational forces that tacitly or explicitly challenge the universal standing of liberal precepts. Tolerance regulates the presence of the Other both inside and outside the liberal democratic nation-state, and often it forms a circuit between them that legitimates the most illiberal actions of the state by means of a term consummately associated with liberalism.” (p. 8 )

One of the clearest domains in which this ‘circuiting’ of domestic and global politics occurs is that of immigration. The suspicion towards asylum seekers is both produced by and productive of a particular, imperialist mode of engaging in global politics. In Australia, this ‘circuiting’ lies even in the ways that certain groups are described: somehow particular groups of kids are labelled ‘Lebanese gangs,’ and the ‘of Middle-Eastern appearance’ epithet so regularly a part of designating suspects in the media. It ensures that all the weight of suspicion that already is cast over the Middle East comes to enforce particular ways of negotiating domestic politics; and, I think, it also shapes the social. The locking-together of these ‘levels’ via the concept of tolerance means that each is extraordinarily powerful. The ‘Children Overboard’ incident, for example, in which John Howard lied and claimed that asylum seekers were throwing their children overboard, enabled him to claim that his domestic ‘border security’ policy was clearly what was required, because ‘those people’ had values ‘obviously’ had values so different from ours that ‘we’ wouldn’t want them here anyway. This evocation of differing cultural values drew upon the racism and xenophobia that already characterised the post-911 Western international politics, in order to reinforce domestic policy. The fact that Howard was re-elected pretty much off the back of this travesty demonstrates that individual Australians were solidly invested in this particular construction of selves, domestic and international politics. (Again, this post tracks some of this kind of logic.) Let’s not forget, in amongst all this, that the universal doctrine of human rights focused fairly squarely on enabling and producing tolerance, so it’s a term with strong history and investment (Brown goes further in this respect, but I’ll get to that later…)

More to follow soon!