Tuesday, August 2, 2011

does any of this (life) mean anything at all. Part_2: the genesis of George W Bush's America

I went for a run this morning just after publishing part one of this post. The stories of these Rwandan cyclists were fresh in my mind. I thought about the ways that accepting pain is transformative, about their unimaginable bravery to continue and succeed. I ran and ran and ran. I used to believe that there were some kinds of pain (in sports) that your consciousness could not transform. If you tear a muscle, I thought, no amount of thinking can alter the damaged physiology. I get injured a lot. I know what a tear feels, what a strain feels like right before the fibers tear and you can no longer move. This morning the pain in my strained calf was almost unbearable. And I kept running thinking of these young men. And it never got any worse. I was in tears for most of the run, but at no point did the muscle give out, the way it has so many times before. Right afterward I went swimming. I swam 3 and half kilometers doing intervals of all out exertion. I thought for sure that my body would just quit. It hurt, but it kept going. I have written in the past about movement, about thinking with your body, about trauma and transformation. I don't think I really felt the power of an idea, until I imagined these guys in Rwanda in the physiology of my body.

Theirs is a simply inspiring narrative in the most Oprah Winfrey Network kind of way. But I don't forget the part of the narrative that is often excluded in these sorts of uplifting, overcoming adversity stories. The roots of this genocide lay firmly upon the back of European colonial and post colonial rule. Our Western culpability is not lost on me. And finding ways to resist exploitative relationships is a significant part of why this story matters to me. I see us reflected in the machetes and clubs and rape gangs that so thoroughly colonized the consciousnesses of these young athletes. I want there to be a way to resist.

I doubt that any work of mine – of art, of writing, of living – will ever resonate the way this story resonates with me, but I have to believe that there is some purpose to this project of mine. Certainly there is a need to think about the world differently.

Much of what I write about, probably appears incredibly narcissistic. And I freely admit that I am looking at this mess from the point of view of my very limited reality. And I recognize an alienated and solipsistic nature in this. And perhaps I need to address it if I ever want someone to read this the way I intend, as a theoretical work. But maybe not. I have no idea. What is clear to me, though, is that if I have no access to the the world (if everything is merely a movie in my head), then none of us do and the critique is mute. On the other hand if there is some relationship between I and thou then some part of that relationship must be understood from the inner experience of its terms. And that is necessarily from a single inner experience. The epistemological uncertainty in these relationships could be an open place of resistance and affinity. For now it is the exact opposite. The uncertainly in the possibility for non-alienating, non-totalizing communication (knowledge) creates the cultural space that produced George W. Bush's America.

Bush's America (still our current America) was a reactionary affront to reason. His entire persona was centered on a kind of (fake, cynical) pragmatic, anti-intellectual, folk spirit of what-I-know-I-know-best. So that the Bush myth simultaneously rejected certainty in the form of reasoned and scientific knowledge, while positing certainty in an immutable knowledge of another sort. He had his cake and ate it too. He could act with recklessness and abandon, while also acting with conviction and rightness. This probably doesn't strike you as an entirely unusual circumstance. Ideology always works this way. But this America inhabits a particularly strange intellectual/ historical place in that there was basically no viable resistance to this cultural power grab. This unusual circumstance of Bush's America has its roots in the intellectual upheavals of the 1960s, which have their  roots in 19th and 20th century Continental Philosphy.

If we take from Nietzsche that all language is a metaphor concealing/ wielding the will to power, and that knowledge, discourse, and morality are situated in this will; and add an awareness of material conditions along with an alienated sense of our own motivations (Marx and Freud); and then, since god is already dead or at best an opiate, we kill the author (Barthes, Derrida-ish), or at least look at him functionally (Foucault); and dissolve the master-narratives (Lyotard); and become deeply suspicious of all totalizing and coercive discourses and even the possibility of communication (Gadamer, Foucault v. Frankfurt School); and we do all these things to the point where it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to talk about anything resembling good and bad, right and wrong, then those of us who oppose all authoritarian impulses, in our desire to oppose them in ourselves, have no place to stand.

Trying to resist domination while refusing the structures of domination is a complicated endeavor, practically. To my mind, (what we could call the project of) post modernity has created the conceptual space for the development of a reactionary, international right-wing movement by tying our hands behind our backs with theoretical knots. There is no clear non-totalizing, anti-authoritarian practice. And some of this is necessarily good; revolutionary movements have always re-stated, in other forms, the power structures they claim to oppose. And the current trajectory of postmodern thinking is (to my mind) far more revolutionary than any revolutionary ideology in that it identifies that the problem is indeed in the baby and not the bathwater. There is a sense, rightfully I think, that any praxis is akin to some kind of propagande par le fait, that it does nothing to oppose domination as such. Unfortunately, this creates the kind of cultural space that is easily occupied by those acting with certainty and conviction, offering simple solutions irrespective of whether or not they have any basis in fact. Ironically, we on the intellectual left don't trust facts as such. We see them as situated, or motivated. Not as just the truth of the matter. It's hard to act when there is no thing in itself, no epistemology, no certainty; when I is as indictable as thou.

A messy, fluid philosophical position doesn't lend itself to throwing Molotov cocktails, so much as sipping appletinis, and then thinking about it.


End Part 2

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