In response to my last post, some folks asked me what it is about logics of exceptions, transcendence, or sovereignty that ineluctably generate violence and exclusion? One of my shortcomings as a writer and theorist is that I assume that people are readily familiar with a wide variety of theory, such as Hegel, Lacan, Deleuze and Guattari in Anti-Oedipus, Freud, Marx, critical theory, the post-structuralists (especially Derrida), etc. Mea culpa. I take it that these things are foundational and that no one would dare speak about, say, transcendence or debates in philosophy of religion without knowing something of the philosophical, ethnographic, and psychoanalytic work that’s been done on these issues. That’s not always the case. In my view, no one should be writing about these issues if they have not first acquainted themselves with the “hermeneutics of suspicion” and a good chunk of the last sixty years of social and political theory following the Holocaust and Gulags. But that’s me. Apparently others see nothing worthy of reflection there and see no necessity to reflect on what was in the nature of these movements that led to these things and what they might say about identity, transcendence, and movements in general.
On these issues, one would do well to real Paul Livingston’s brilliant Politics of Logic (the bastard wrote the book I wanted to write). This has also been an obsession of continental philosophy in the work of Agamben on sovereignty, Derrida on supplementarity, Badiou and Zizek on acts and events, Ranciere on the part of no part, Lacan on supplements, Schmitt on the sovereign exception, and on and on and on and on. It’s even there in Heidegger on ereignis, and Marion on the saturated phenomena. If one hasn’t explored at least some part of this literature, he has no business talking about transcendence at all. This is one of the singular advantages of the [French] continental tradition over the anglo-american tradition: they took the social sciences, linguistics, and ethnography seriously and explored these things.
First, what do I mean by transcendence? I refer to transcendence as any system that erects some term to a master-term that attempts to disavow the flux and immanence of the world. Ethnic identities try to do this by positing an ahistorical essence of their being. Nationalisms do something similar. Group movements do the same thing. Theistic concepts of God do this. Etc. It’s not an issue whether or not one believes in the supernatural, it’s an issue of identity and identification. Basically it’s the structure of Oedipus or patriarchy. My thesis is that the greater our push to form an identity and the greater our identification, the greater our tendency to form an enemy, an excluded other, an outsider, etc., that is seen as attacking the community, and preventing its harmony. These structures necessarily generate violence and this is well attested to by history, the social sciences, and psychology. This is because, as Lacan liked to say, identity or the ego is necessarily paranoid. It necessarily experiences itself as persecuted and tries to lash out at what it believes persecutes it. The tragedy is that this violence results not from a real other that persecutes it, but rather from the very nature of trying to form an identity.
Why is this? What is it about the nature of attempts to form an identity that generate paranoia and violence? Everything boils down to boundary logic. In order for something to identify itself as identical, itself, or the same, it must distinguish itself from something else. “We are this” or “I am this” and “they are that” or “you are that”. Us/Them. I/you. Inside/outside. A distinction implies boundary between inside and outside. The problem is that a boundary belongs to neither the inside nor the outside. Boundaries belong to both insides and outsides. This entails that boundaries are undecidable for any system. The real world consequence of this is that every system that attempts to form an identity (a self, a transcendence, an essence, etc) encounters an undecidable boundary between inside and outside that renders identity fraught from within. The inside experiences its identity as threatened and comes to blame this threat on an outside figure, when it is tragically a property of boundary logic itself. It attempts to overcome this threat from the outside by eradicating that outside challenge to identity or transcendence, when in fact this is a product of the very attempt to form an identity. Horror ensues.
The question I’m obsessed with is thus the question of how we can overcome this tragedy (if we can at all). I’ve been writing about this for some time. The paradox is as follows: In order for a collective to form itself it must name itself (give itself an identity). Yet identity necessarily generates paranoia, a sense of persecution, and therefore violence. Is it possible to form a community that doesn’t fall into this logic? Here I should confess that I’m a crypto-Christian. My thesis is that 1) Christianity is the greatest of conspiracies against Christ (we fetishized his death to obscure the trauma of the socio-political philosophy he proposed), 2) that attending to Jesus’s teachings means forming a community of strangers beyond the law where it doesn’t matter whether you’re atheist, Hindu, Buddhist, scientologist, etc., 3) that such a community is based on love not law and involves no sacrifice, and that 4) no true Christian ever names herself as a Christian because it instantiates this boundary logic of violence that follows from attempts to form identities. True Christianity is anarchism and above all a-theism in the sense that I’ve specified (a rejection of all transcendence). There’s no necessity of associating this alternative, queer, possibility of immanence with Jesus. It’s appeared in other traditions as well. The Gospels and the immanence they suggest when de-sutured from the horror of Christianity just happen to be what I’m most familiar with.
Is it possible to form a community of strangers without identity and to still really have a community? That’s my question. It’s a question I’ve been writing about for nearly a decade. I reproduce below a post I wrote in 2006 that outlines this boundary logic and why it generates violence. This post, one of the first on my blog in 2006, provides some historical documentation of this logic at work in the history of theology. Any discussion of these issues that doesn’t forthrightly come to terms with these issues surrounding discourses of transcendence, sovereignty, identity, and exception, are thoroughly worthless, in my view. At worst, they end up furthering this violence. At best, they’re just deluded (as I said, these things are exceptionally well documented in the social sciences and psychology). Anyway, here’s the early post. Also, note, these things aren’t restricted to religion. You see them in “secular” political and philosophical movements as well. The greater the push towards identity, the greater the antagonism.
<strong>Hegel and the Logic of the Imaginary</strong>
Perhaps the conception of community I’m trying to think about– without much success –can aptly be summed up in the idea of a community without One, where the One might be thought as the master-signifier unifying the identity of difference, or the logic of masculine sexuation.
Communities premised on the One, by contrast, would necessarily fall into the logic of the imaginary and be pervaded by an intrinsic real conflict that would be unresolvable. Hegel seems to sum this logic up well in the dialectic of being-there (Dasein) and being-for-itself. It might seem odd to evoke Hegel, given my attachments to Deleuze. However, we must bear in mind that when we’re speaking of group identities we’re also speaking at the level of representation. Deleuze does not deny that there is representation, but rather argues that it is premised on non-representational forms of difference that aren’t organized around contradiction and opposition. However, insofar as a group strives to represent itself to itself, it will contain these elements of representation and Hegel can assist us in thinking through the knots that emerge from this self-representation in the imaginary, even if we do not accept his totalizing logic. In paragraph 92 of the Lesser Logic, Hegel writes,
“The being that is kept firmly distinct from the determinancy, *being-in-itself*, would be only the empty abstraction of being. In being-there the determinancy is one with being and is at the same time posited as negation; this determinancy is *limit*, *restriction*. Thus, otherness is not something-indifferent outside it, but its own moment. In virtue of its quality, *something* is first *finite and secondly *alterable*, so that the finitude and alterability belong to its being” (Geraets trans., 148).
I am not interested in advocating Hegel’s system, or presenting the “true meaning” of Hegel. What interests me here is a logic he presents in very formal terms. When Hegel describes something as being an “empty abstraction” he can be understood as claiming that it lacks determinancy. To say that something lacks determinancy is to say that there is a lack or absence of distinction. For instance, Peirce’s category of firstness is without distinction, and thus without informative difference. Consequently, in striving to think being-in-itself, says Hegel, we are inevitably led to think distinction or limit or to think the limit in terms of its other. In defining a boundary or a limit, we define both sides of the boundary, such that the inside (the One) is dependent on its outside and the two must be thought together. This entails that Identity, the One, is dependent on its other. The more sharply we define the Identity, the more sharply the Other comes into relief and the more intrinsically it is tied to this other in defining its limit. This other might be thought as being akin to a bit of gum stuck to the heel of one’s shoe that you are unable to rid yourself of.
So far so good. We can clearly see that in order to define an inside we must construct a limit and that this limit defines an outside. The consequences of this aren’t encountered until a few paragraphs later, when Hegel develops the logic of being-for-itself, which could be thought as the One representing itself as One. In the locution of the imaginary, this would amount to striving to represent our identity or our imaginary ego or the moi. There Hegel writes,
“As relation to itself, being-for-itself is *immediacy*, and as relation of the negative to itself it is what-is-for-itself, the *One*– that which lacks inward distinction, thereby *excluding* the *Other* from itself” (ibid, para 96, 153).
Let us treat the domain of the imaginary as the domain of reflexivity where we strive to reflect or represent ourselves or to say what we are. In doing so, we strive for unity or to be One (the vector of Lacan’s graph of desire running from A –> i(a) —> m —> S(A)). Hegel’s point here seems to be that there is an inverse ratio between “what-is-for-itself” (all those predicates we use to pin ourselves down: handsome, witty, temperamental, continental, etc), and the exclusion of the Other. The greater the degree of self-unification or “being-for-itself”, the greater the degree of desparate attempts to exclude the Other (which was a defining feature of the boundary or limit) as a threat to this unity of identity or the boundary. Here we would have a basic schema for comprehending the highly antagonistic and rivalrous nature of highly identified and self-representing groups and individuals such as fundamentalist religious sects, certain political movements, nationalisms, party affiliations, etc.
The paradox is expressed a few paragraphs later. Hegel notes that the many Ones exist in a negative relation to one another in the form of repulsion and exclusion. To maintain the boundary or limit, there must be repulsion. Yet, insofar as these Ones are interdependent, they exist in a relation of attraction as well:
“But the *many* are each one what the other is, each of them is one or also one of the many; they are therefore one and the same. Or, when the repulsion is considered in itself then, as the negative behaviour of the many ones against each other, is just as essentially their *relation* to each other; and since those to which the One relates itself in its repelling are ones, in relating to them it relates to itself. Thus, repulsion is just as essentially *attraction*; and the excluding One or being-for-itself sublates itself. Qualitative determinancy, which in the One has reached its determinateness-in-and-for-itself, has thus passed over into determinacy *as sublated*, i.e., into being as *quantity*” (ibid., para 98, 155).
Attraction and repulsion are perhaps poorly chosen words, and should be understood not as forces, but as logical moments or dialectical structures. Insofar as the One can only define its identity or being-for-itself through distinction or the drawing of a boundary or limit, its repulsion of the Other is necessarily an attraction of the Other insofar as it is dependent on this Other to establish its identity. This would account for why Lacan claims that murder of the other premised on the imaginary is also murder of the moi, as the moi is dependent on this inverted and reflected other to constitute itself. This would also account for why there is often an uncanny resemblance between the One and the other to which the One stands in an antagonistic resemblance, like a mirror in which one does not recognize one’s own reflection. Thus, for example, in a disturbing discussion I had with a conservative today about the Enlightenment and religion, I was informed that there would be no morality until the one true religion was established throughout the world. This discussion, of course, revolved around affairs in the Middle East. What is uncanny about this remark is that this is the very thing his antagonist, the terrorist, says as well. Apart from the disturbing prospect that such an aim could only be accomplished through the annihilation of one’s opposition, I wonder whether he would cease to exist or experience a collapse of identity should he be successful in his endeavor. Would his imaginary “being-for-self” become unstable in the collapse of the boundary or the limit defining the distinction between self and other?
Here also I think we can discern why highly identified groups and individuals so often experience themselves as persecuted or as victims, even when holding a good deal of power relative to other groups. If the formation of being-for-self is intrinsically tied to repulsion, and if this repulsion always maintains a negative relation of attraction, the more those boundaries strive to define themselves the more they encounter the other against which they’re defined as rendering these boundaries precarious and unstable, as the task of becoming pure, abstract, being-for-self ties us ever tighter to this other against which we define ourselves. Hence Zizek’s observation that the closer the Nazis came to succeeding in eradicating the Jews, the more paranoid they became that there were Jews lurking behind every tree and the more they saw themselves as victims of a Jewish conspiracy. Similarly, haven’t we seen a similar logic in the Unitied States, where the more mainstream fundamentalist variants of Christianity have become, the more these groups experience themselves as persecuted and under assault? This paranoia of the ego or the imaginary could thus be seen as a desparate attempt to *maintain* the existence of the other, so as to maintain being-for-self.
If, then, this logic is to be avoided, it becomes necessary to conceive a form of community that is without One or where the One is not. Yet how do you form a community without a name? The Jews seemed to be on to something in prohibiting the naming of G-d, as this seems to absent or void the place of the One. Yet a plurality didn’t emerge from such a gesture.