Saturday, August 29, 2009


If as Judith Butler says in her Psychic Life of Power, the coming into being of a subject is predicated on loss of a desired object and the process of internalization of the object through identification, then the psychic landscape of the subject is populated with images of things, fictional entities, that serve to demarcate boundaries of self and other through ritual and repetition. “…a subject only remains a subject through a reiteration or re-articulation of itself as a subject, and this dependency of the subject on repetition for coherence may constitute that subject’s incoherence, its incomplete character.” Referencing Althusser’s idea of how the law hails the subject and how, the subject, in responding to the interpellation, not only buttresses the power of the law, but also, limits his own freedom, in so far as naming, and language itself, does. How then to escape the law? Butler says, “such a turn demands a willingness not to be—a critical desubjectivation—in order to expose the law as less powerful than it seems.” In other words, “ 'being’ (is) precisely the potentiality that remains unexhausted by any particular interpellation. Such a failure of interpellation may well undermine the capacity of the subject to ‘be’ in a self-identical sense, but it may also mark the path toward a more open, even more ethical kind of being, one of or for the future.”

Why ethical? Perhaps because the loosening of attachments and the loosening of the boundaries of self allows one to see and experience the fact that the self and other are dependent upon each other for their definitions. If self can be reinforced through repetition and ritual, perhaps it is possible to use repetition and ritual to iterate an(other), more expansive self. Or, as Foucault puts it, “The conclusion would be that the political, ethical, social, philosophical problem of our days is not to try to liberate us both from the state and from the state’s institutions, but to liberate us from the state and the type of individualization which is linked to the state. We have to promote new forms of subjectivity through the refusal of the kind of individuality that has been imposed on us for several centuries.” The idea is perverse. It upsets one’s idea of natural law. This brings us back to the body, especially a body in pain—that which cannot be shared and so can be used to justify cultural, social and political institutions that would limit the self to a singular guilty subject.

The law and the subject co-emerge because the power of the law depends upon the illusion that the law is other than the subject, resistance to the law (experience of law as law) occurs only when law and subject are perceived as self and other. Thus, resistance empowers not only the self, but the law as well. But, what happens if the subject’s submission is so complete, without any resistance that would serve to reify self and other? The self as such becomes a vessel for the law, is not separate from the law. Again, the stomach turns, the skin bristles, the self resists, “no, it can not be, I will not allow it.” In Tibetan Buddhism, the reliance on the teacher is paramount for progress along the path. Optimally, the guru’s will becomes inseparable from one’s own. The word guru brings to mind cults, brainwashing. But, the difference lies in the self-consciousness of the disciple’s act. The self is given not as blood-sacrifice to a higher power but as an offering for the sake of all sentient beings. What remains of self is something that exists and does not exist. It is a will, a entity of the future, that exists only in the future, the proof of which lies only in the past—in memory and the world—in objects and in habits, in ritual and repetitions that we are barely conscious of. The law is everywhere. Why accept the cup, but resist the blow? A man sits contemplating a tree. He says, “I know that is a tree, I know that is a tree.” He isn’t crazy, he’s just doing philosophy. The first noble truth is the truth of suffering. To recognize that there is no suffering is to understand this. The only response is compassion. It is a mathematical law, like adding two plus two. Knowing this, there is no other answer.

Sebastian is in that in-between place. He begins with a blind obedience. He spends his life between resistance and submission. At the end, death forces a complete submission. What it is that Sebastian submits to is open to interpretation. Should we perceive his death as punishment meted out by the law (divine or natural?), an act of nihilism, or the occasion for his liberation? Can the conception of a self be so radically altered that death of the self is experienced as freedom instead of annihilation? In writing him as me and a male counterpart, I am playing with this expansion of self. It is a game, of course, but it feels real. The leakiness of self is the leakiness of bodies. Blood, semen, urine, shit. It shames. I try to embrace it, but it is hard. I hide. Guarding the image of myself, I am closed up, wordless, unable to write. When I started this project, I wanted so badly to change Sebastian’s name. I hated signing it. If I were a man, I’d be a real one, I vouched. A real man called by a real man name. When the law hails me/him, we will turn, in rectitude or shame. If I lived virtually, could I be a thousand selves, a million? By what name would I be called, what would my/our turning be?