Business as Usual

Following-up with yesterday’s post about re-conceptualizing addiction, I want to thank Sławek Królak for sharing this article from the Huffington Post by Tricia Fox, “Amy Winehouse’s Untimely Death Is a Wake Up Call for Small Business Owners.”

I’ll trust that the commentariat will do a bang-up job stating how callow, unkind, and in what poor taste Fox’s treatment of someone’s death this is.

Rather, I’d like to suggest that Fox’s treatment illustrates Jacques Rancière’s point about the aesthetic order. If Foucault(+Deleuze) is correct that we are in the society of control and no longer the society of discipline then we should expect to see modes of self-policing. Rancière points out, using his old punching bag Althusser, that the police are not the agents of the law interpellating the subject of political action by stating, “Hey! You!” This is the society of discipline’s way of doing things, but it’s untenable to maintain for the simplest reason being that there’d need to be one cop for every person to ensure compliance. So inefficient. “[U]nless one confuses it with religious subjectification,” (“Ten Theses on Politics,” Theory & Event, 22) Rancière qualifies his critique of Althusser in this way and so we understand, perhaps, some of Agamben’s pursuit of the means by which we could profane apparatuses.

In “What Is an Apparatus?” Agamben states that law and religion have always been closely connected and that in the Ancient Roman law we might find a means of emancipating that which is captured by apparatuses (which I claim are in any medium which communicates strategic response). From the Ancient Roman laws Agamben finds utility in the process of profanation. Agamben quotes Trebatius in defining profanation as, “that which was sacred or religious, but was then restored to use and property of human beings.” (18) Agamben then defines religion in light of Trebatius as, “that which removes from common use.” (18)

But Rancière’s police, perhaps unlike Agamben’s actors in uficium, aren’t office holders executing their liturgia. Rancière instead offers a means by which we each are complicit in our own policing and shows a mechanism whereby members of any community will maintain the status quo.

The police says that there is nothing to see on a road, that there is nothing to do but move along. It asserts that the space of circulating is nothing other than the space of circulation. Politics, in contrast, consists in transforming this space of ‘moving-along’ into a space for the appearance of a subject [….] It is the established litigation of the perceptible, on the nemeïn [distribution] that founds any communal nomos [customary laws]. (22)

A side note here to point out that there is an interesting chain of significations in nomos: νέμω (nemō) “I distribute,” name (νόμε nóme), sing out (νόμος  nómos a type of song), good at naming (ὀνομαστικός onomastikos), and ὄνομα (ónoma) means “fame” and is cognate with “making a name for oneself” .

Rancière points out that Aristotle differentiated human animals from all other animals because humans could communicate logos (something he’s indebted to Heraclitus about). Unlike humans whose capacity for aisthesis enables them to know whether their community is just or unjust, all other animals simply expressed a state of being through phone: they are hungry, they are scared, etc. Aristotle, again, following Heraclitus in B107 and read, “κακοὶ μάρτυρες ἀνθρώποισιν ὀφθαλμοὶ καὶ ὦτα βαρβάρους ψυχὰς ἐχόντων | worthless witnesses to men are eyes and ears if they have barbarous souls (barbarous psychas).” Whereas Heraclitus is here invoking the Persian Magoi that bore witness to the Greek temple activities, Aristotle here is establishing the naturalness of slavery. To quote Rancière again,

If there is someone you do not wish to recognize as a political being, you begin by not seeing them as the bearers of politicalness, by not understanding what they say, by not hearing that it is an utterance coming out of their mouths. And the same goes for the opposition so readily invoked between the obscurity of domestic and private life, and the radiant luminosity of the public life of equals. In order to refuse the title of political subjects to a category—workers, women, etc…—it has traditionally been sufficient to assert that they belong to a ‘domestic’ space, to a space separated from public life; one from which only groans or cries expressing suffering, hunger, or anger could emerge, but not actual speeches demonstrating a shared aisthesis. (23)

With Tricia Fox’s article discussing the object lesson of Amy Winehouse’s death aren’t we seeing this policing action at work? A tacit statement that pop stars dying from addictions is actually business as usual? Rather than an opportunity for us to revisit the networks that are involved in maintaining someone’s addictions, by refusing to hear the widely-distributed groans of a society choaked by false choices.

Here Agamben gives me hope,

The apparatus that activates and regulates separation is sacrifice. Through a series of minute rituals that vary from culture to culture (which Henri Hubert and Marcel Mauss have patiently inventoried), sacrifice always sanctions the passage of something from the profane to the sacred, from the human sphere to the divine. But what has been ritually separated can also be restored to the pro­fane sphere. Profanation is the counter-apparatus that restores to common use what sacrifice had separated and divided. (18-9)

Where Tricia Fox offers Winehouse as a sacrifice and thereby works to remove the lessons of young deaths, we have the opportunity to counter this business as usual attitude that would insist there is nothing to see here. We can insist that death be recognized for what it is. All of us will die, that’s fine and important. Living is not ignoring that we will die—too many of us leave before the rest of us are ready to see you go. Living is a mode of wit(h)ness.


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