N.Pepperell over at Rough Theory has written a very nice response to my recent post on recoding the social. N.P. writes:

What I want to do here is draw attention to something about the subject – the critical subject – that seems often overlooked in social theoretic discussions, but that seems to me to bear a strong importance for another question you have asked here – a question I also think is vitally important:

what renders an individual susceptible to an event in the first place?

I think you are quite right to ask whether, given the hypothesis that social relations can be defined in ordinary time, so to speak, by what you have called the encyclopaedia (by what I might tend to call a particular network of concrete social relations), we are then in a very difficult position when it comes to explaining how individuals might possess the potential to become subjects – or, as you have expressed the point:

if the regime of the encyclopaedia is as total as Badiou and Ranciere suggest, if the encyclopaedia is organized precisely around disavowing the possibility of anything that isn’t counted, then what are the conditions of possibility under which a subject might be produced at all.

You then move on to discuss the notion that our situatedness in any context is never complete – I’ll come back to this point. What I wanted to point out first, not because I think it’s something that you have missed (I take your points as, in a sense, assuming my own – I just want to take the opportunity to spell something out very explicitly here), but because it seems to be something both glaringly visible, and yet often missed in formulations such as those you quote from Badiou and Ranciere: if the encyclopaedia were complete, surely we would not be able to name it as such. Surely the fact that we are engaged in critical discourse already gives the lie to claims – even if these claims understanding themselves to be critical…

This is exactly the sort of question I’m getting at. Either critique is already itself a product of what I’m here calling the encyclopaedia (I’m more inclined to adopt N.Pepperell’s language of “concrete social networks”), or the subject is never completely interpellated by the system of social relations in which its enmeshed. If the latter, it then becomes possible to both explain the subject of critique, but also to explain how one and the same subject seeks to proper up the inconsistencies and symptoms of the encyclopaedia so as to maintain its own tenuous identity… Or something like that. I need to develop what I’m getting at in far more detail, and I realize that a few of my comments towards the end of the previous post were hastey, psychologistic reductions… More placemarkers for future development, than final statements.