I WANT TO CHAT ROULETTE UNTIL I DIE
(or, do you have anxiety?)
Index Assumptions: the shining emancipation of individuals the self
The obscene father Reflexivity and its discontents A new emotional order Identity: a semio-political battlefield
Assumptions: the shining emancipation of individuals
1 Foucault, 1978:32 2 Ibid., 33
The rhetoric surroundings the sexual liberation sounds quite convincing. Human beings in the western society are almost liberated - or in the process of being liberated - from the old suffocating chains - be it religious, cultural or political ones - that were imposed upon their lives. The story goes like this: our inner profound self, with its desire for self-affirmation, self- realization and self-expression, once free to wander following its pure desired and drives, has been repressed by various institutional subjects of power. Churches, kingdoms, political ideologies have been able, for centuries, to control and to regulate the society by means of producing (repressive) ideological machines; the institution of family, the concept of morality, some utopian assurances of eternal salvation (from a religious point of view, it was the after-live; from a political point of view, the historical revolution) have succeeded in undermining individual’s autonomy and individual’s freedom, curbing their own authentic individuality. Among these mechanisms of repression, control and command, especially important were the discourses surrounding the body. What Foucault has called the ‘normalizing apparatuses of disciplinarity’1 controlled the individuals not only through ideology and (false) consciousness but also ‘in the body and with the body’2. The body, on this view, is perceived as at the core of issue of domination and power, hegemonic groups constantly castrating the multiplicity and fluidity of our self and imposing upon our bodies and our desires a strict matrix of sexual identity - a heterosexual one. The ‘hetero-matrix’ pre-sumes and im-poses a rigid dichotomy with a strict consistency between two sexes, two genders and sexualities. However, this castration of sexual autonomy and expression has more and more lost its grip throughout the second part of the twentieth century when, as a culmination of deep processes of modernization3 – the rise of liberalism, the democratization of society, the secularization - a new - freer, more playful and liberating - conception of individuality and sexuality has been able to gain power in the social-sphere, thanks to the various counter-discourses inserted by feminist and queer groups. At last, people are unrepressed: absolutely free, unencumbered, on their own, ready to be – and show to be - themselves. According to the liberation rhetoric, we are witnessing therefore to a multiplication of liberties and a consequent multiplication of identities and subjectivities who are now finally able to exist and express
themselves; a liberating subverting process that escapes the categorizations and classifications of the ‘machinations of normative power’4. But is this what actually really happened? Is it correct the vision which read the contemporary emancipation of bodies and pleasures as the starting point for the counterattack against the bio-politic modern form of power and its regulatory deployment of normalizing notions and norms ? 3 See Giddens, 1991 4 Foucault, 1975:56
The individual is not the vis - à - vis of power; it is, I believe, one of its prime effects. Michael Foucault This assured confidence in sexual emancipation as a revolutionary and liberating force has been put into question by an expanding chorus of theorists, whose understanding of the self was deeply influenced by Foucault works. According to Foucault the ‘individualized’ self is a direct effect of power, a socially constructed subject which is brought into existence by means of various technologies of power, which measures, assesses and classifies. Hence, considering bodies and their pleasure as power-free zones where resistance is situated is problematic for this idea implies that there is a ‘pre-discursive sexuality’6, pre-discursive bodies and desires which in themselves are outside of any specific discourse of power. The concept of sexual liberation – the claim that by saying yes to sex we say not to power is tricky because it presupposes a return to an essentialist conception of body and sex – body and sex in this point of view are authentic ontological reality which precede normative power and which are tyrannized by it. On the contrary, as Butler reminds us, there is no natural body, which preexist discourse, no ontological status behind it. Bodies and sexualities are formed trough and within a normative discourse, they are ‘the effect rather than the cause of discourses, practices and institutions’7. Self and identity, it follows, are constructed ‘within, not outside discourse’8; as Stuart Hall stresses, there is no true
5 See, among other works, Foucault (1979,1980,1988); the individual, according to Foucault, rather than being amputated, repressed and altered by our social order, he is carefully fabricated in it. Power, as Foucault understands it, is not – at least is not only -‐ a negative repressive force; on the contrary, it is a productive one. 6 Butler, 1997:13 7 Ibid.,14 8 Hall, 1996 9 Foucault, 1994
self hiding ‘inside’; the process of subjectification is a consequence of specific matrix of power/knowledge, a matrix that creates the very individuality.
10 See Hochschild (1997) or Sennett (1998). 11 In ‘No progress in pleasure’, 1982. 12 Bell,1974; Inglehart, 1990. 13 A s a matter of fact, the alleged post-‐materiality of late capitalistic form of production is criticized by many authors, who sees it as a tricky ideological notion.
More than dematerial-
ized, the new economic order has more and more exiled its
‘material’ process in non-‐Western countries. See Jameson (1984)
If we follow this line of thought, then, it is difficult to understand bodies, sexualities and pleasures as something outside power dialectics; on the contrary, they seem to be ‘carefully fabricated in it’9. Therefore it seems not improper to raise doubts about the alleged sexual emancipation of the last decades. Are we dealing with a massive subversion of hegemonic conservative sex-phobic norms that is liberating constrained individuals or what we are really experiencing is rather a massive shift in the mechanisms that governs and regulates our society ? In order to attempt to give an answer, it may be useful to relate the changing attitude toward issues of sex and sexuality in the western countries to the wider transformations in the understanding of the self and of its pulses and desires that are happening in the last decades. It is commonly claimed that a – more or less - deep modification in the understanding and experiencing of individual identity has occurred, as new forms of self-understandings and self-meanings are being constructed in response to powerful changes in the late-capitalist society10.
The obscene father Your moment of joy have t h e p re c i s i o n o f m i l i t a r y s t ra t e g y Ba r b a r a K r u g e r
14 Pasquinelli, 2007:8 15 Foucault, 1975:89 16 a17 Ibid.
18 He wrote: “Under the ad vertising sign, the kingdom of freedom from desire is estab lished. But the desire is never really released – this would mean the end of the social order
-‐ but is catalyzed and
defused by the very image of it: a mental orgy that is end -
Sex fulfilment is not an option, is an obligation L a u r a K i p n i s Firstly, focusing on the economic field, many authors pointed out that from the seventies the way capitalism works has deeply changed and we have entered a new phase of capitalist production, a phase defined as ‘post-industrial’12 and ‘post- material’13.Post industrial for, in order to create capital, the system is less and less counting on classical industries and material production and more and more on immaterial products such as information, finance and services. Its tendency to become increasingly immaterial implies that what is being progressively more produced (and hence what is being consumed) is culture and emotions rather than simple products. The result is an increased ubiquity of economic in all fields of the society. As Jameson puts it, ‘late capitalism’s endless craving for new market has let to its expansion to all phases of everyday existence (and to every corner of ourunconscious)’. This hyper-pervasiveness of capital implies the complete commodification of the social world, our needs and desires being transformed in mere products we can exchange as a commodified product. Thus, if our desires can be resold to us in a commodity form, it is clear how the more we desire, the more capitalism sell. In fact, late capitalism works by inciting and capitalizing desires. Desires that are attracted and crystallized and then ‘transformed and
less but orchestrated, directed regression where every perversity is resolved to the benefit system”
(1968-‐ 45) 19 Baudrillard, 1968. As he puts it: “ in this aspect, resides an essential regulatory function. L ike dreams, advertising influences and fixed the imaginative potential .
night dreams are meant to keep the sleep, the prestige of advertising and consumption is designed to enWcourage the spontaneous absorption of environmental values and the individual regression into social consensus”
20 Berardi, 2007-‐2. 21 And it become inevitable; as Baudrillard points out: “the modern endless decantation of narcissism, of affections and forced relationships becomes a kind of cold celebration, a formal but thrillling party, a sensual gratification with no actual ejaculation in which the process of transgressing and enjoying is carefully illustrated, illuminated, played” (1968-‐88) (my italics) 22 Kipnis, 1998
condensed in commodities’14.
25 Toqueville, Democracy in America, Chicago:University of Chicago Press, 2000
Sexual impulses, in this framework, can be viewed as other desires appropriated by the industry and transformed in commercial articles. In contemporary world, capitalistic dynamics seem to have been able to absorb sexual drives and practices and, rather than ‘coercively neutralizing differences’15 by repressing them, have been able to transform them in unthreatening and lucrative products. Sexual liberation, consequently, would correspond to the full domination of the commodity, a multiple range of desires finally unrepressed and free to be turned into goods and money. Žižek has suggested that permanent transgression is the ‘principle far from being revolutionary, following our desires and pursuing our lust is exactly what neo-liberal economic order wants from us in order to keep producing capital. According to him, if our subconscious was once the place where our unmentionable desires were confined, now it is the place where our shame is repressed: feature of late capitalism’16;
psychoanalysis must realize that the old situation where the society is the carrier of prohibitions and the unconscious of profligate drive is now reversed: it is the society to be
hedonistic and undisciplined, while the unconsciousregulates.
Similarly, Baudrillard claims that the puritan morality has been replaced by a hedonistic morality of pure satisfaction. This new kind of imperative - be free! Do it! Enjoy it! - may seem not repressive at all but it entails the same normative strength. In fact, Baudrillard pointed out, the freedom we have in this new post modern society is completely restricted to the commodity system: ‘Free to be oneself in fact means: free to project one’s desires onto produced goods’18. Free to enjoy life means: free to regress and be irrational, and thus adapt a certain social organization of production’19. Years of psychoanalysis trying to pull out from our subconscious our sublimated sexual desire are no longer necessary, for ‘rather than neuroses produced by a repression of libido, the dominant pathologies of our times are schizoid and result from an eruption of expression: ‘JUST DO IT’20. We are obliged to plunge into the sexual frenzy at the same time in which we realize it is anything but transgressive: hedonistic pleasure is something that society expects from us, something that society pressures us to seek. Žižek explains that we do not feel guilty when we give in to illicit pleasures, but when we are not able to take advantage of them, when we are not able to enjoy21. As Kipnis puts it, “sex fulfilment is not an option, is an obligation”22. We are not dealing anymore with an authoritarian father who prohibits enjoyment, but with an obscene father who enjoins it. Subjects more and more experience the need to ‘have a good time’23, to enjoy themselves, as a kind of duty, and, subsequently, feel culpable for failing to do so. As Pasolini states in a interview, talking about his movie Salò, once transgressing social conventions become a norm codified and imposed as law, it cease being what it was and become instead ‘the norms of a new
sinister conformity that assimilates and wipes out any variation’24.
It is difficult not to associate the reflections of Pasolini and Baudrilland with one sentence of “Democracy in A merica” of Toqueville, another French thinkers that, as early as in 1940, imagined a brand new type of despotism: I see an innumerable multitude of men,
alike and equal, constantly circling around in pursuit of the petty and banal pleasures with which they glut their souls.
Each of them,
withdrawn into himself, is almost unaware of the fate of the rest.
Mankind, for him, consists As for the rest of his fellow citizens, they are near enough, but he does not notice them. He touches them but feels nothing. He exists in and for himself. [...] Over this kind of man stands an immense, protective power which is in his children and his personal friends.
alone responsible for securing their enjoyment and watching over their fate. It would resemble parental authority if, father-like, it tried to
prepare its charges for a man’s life, but on the
contrary, it only tries to keep them in perpetual childhood.
It likes to see the citi-
zens enjoy themselves, provided that they think
of nothing but enjoyment.
26 Deleuze;Guattari, 1976. 27 DeGenevieve, The Pornographic Sublime, 2002 28 Kipnis, 1998 29 See, among others, Hochschild 2003; Kipnis 2003; Illouz 1997;
Parental authority that ‘tries to keep them in perpetual childhood’, the ‘obscene father’ of Zizek, the ‘free to regress and to be irrational’ of Baudrillard; it seems that a deep change in the way power works and in the symbolic structure that give meanings and orders to society have taken place, completely changing the way we deal to our sexuality and our very identity. The (neo) liberal society that Thatcher described, in her self-fulfilling prophecy “there is no such a thing as society, only individual and his families”, was already foreseen by Toqueville in his envisage of a society in which individual would ‘withdrawn into himself [...] almost unaware of the fate of the rest. [...] who exists in and for himself’. ￼Sexual liberation can end up to symbolize, rather than an emancipatory force, the extreme phase of the Western hyper-individualism, totally compatible, if not a product of, the neo-liberal turn of last decades. In contemporary consumerist, fundamentally individualist and spectacular societies sexuality is THE ideal commodity, consumed by individuals like ‘fast food’ in solipsistic relationship with the self – a type of self-interaction free of risk, mess and inconvenience. Sex, which was supposed to entails the irrational, the forbidden, the dangerous encounter with the ‘Other’, a impulse flowing ‘in different directions, producing new possibilities and potentials’26 has been converted in yet another smooth space deprived of any incentive to change and liberation. No more ‘experience of the sublime’27 that allow us to go beyond the capacity of the discourses to describe and thus control
30 Beck, 2002, 23
and dominate the reality but rather an un-menacing encoding of exactly the same forms of power that have subjected all our experiences to the market speculative praxis. As Laura Kipnis pointed out28, there is no perversion or fetishism that is not already under the administration and control of marketing agency that has successfully integrated their difference into the hegemonic regime of truth – using Foucault terminology - in this manner domesticating the political threat that difference may have posed. As intimacy come to be increasingly structured by its encounters with late capitalism, it seems that our libidinal forces are more and more turned easily into money, spectacle, material and immaterial goods by a pervasive insatiable economic system29. It is this analysis of the situation – that focus on process of commodification of intimacy and sexuality – that conduct many theorists to reconsider pre-capitalist forms of dealing with bodies and desires; for them, despite their patriarchal limitations and their religious bigotries, have the charms of staying outside the capitalist commodification process. Nevertheless, strictly economic forces are not alone behind the new way we deal with sexual differences and sexual identities; far from it, the changes in our way to relate with sexuality are connected to deep variation in the cultural and symbolic realm that surrounds and structures the contemporary ‘self’ and that provides the instruments for its ‘construction’; secularization, democratization and rationalization are where we shall turn toward, in order to grasp other important aspects of contemporary sexuality.
Reflexivity and its discontents To d o s h oy esta n a dieta Anthony Giddens As the world takes on a more and more menacing appearance, life becomes a never- ending search for health and well-being trough exercise, dieting, drugs, spiritual regimes, psychic self- help, and psychiatry. For those who have withdrawn interest from the outside world except in so far as it remains a source of gratification
36 Borrowing Raymond Williams terminology. 37 Rousseau called it “le sentiment de l’existence”. 38 Sennett,1977:72 39 As a matter of example, Foucault brilliantly shows how before modernity there were no such a thing as homosexuality but only sodomy acts; it is only in the course of the last three century that medical and institutional discourse has created the ‘homosexual identity’. See Foucault (1978) 40 In order to see the importance that sexuality happens to have in the understanding of identity, just considers how
31 Bauman, 2000:7 32 Ibid.,8 33 Beck, 2002:28 34 Callero, 2003:123 35 Swidler, 1986 41 Giddens, 1991 42 Bauman, 1997:22 (Italics mine) 43 Bourdieu, 1998 in 2002:11 44 See, for example, Gidden’s insightful analysis of addiction in Gidden (1995), pp.67-‐80
45 It seems that modern world is very similar to pre-‐modern society in the way it deals with its most deep fear and risk. See the description of the scapegoat made by Girard: ‘Medieval communities were so afraid of the plague that the word alone was enough to frighten them. They avoided mentioning it as long as possible. [...] the entire population shared in this type of blindness. Their desperate desire to deny the evidence contributed to their search for
48 Ibid, 569 49 Bourdieu, 1998 in 2002:10
and frustration, the state of their own health becomes a n a l l- a b s o r b i n g c oncer n.
Modernity has liberated people from the old socially and historically marked roles. Whereas in old hierarchical, religious and traditional society what we now call identity was mainly fixed by one social position, with the advent of modernity the collective notion of identity is dramatically put under pressure by the increasing individualization (Beck, 2002), the profusion of cultural roles and media experiences (Bauman, 2000) and the process of ‘reflexivization’ (Giddens, 1991), that is, the fact that personal meanings become ( or at least become perceived as ) a matter of conscious ‘choice’ and effort. The ‘Modern’ subject must convert in the active agent of her/his identity and develop her/his own unique biography. It is a age of ‘do it yourself biography’30, when the loosening of traditional constraints –‘regulative traditions’- and a dramatic growth in the level of autonomy and reflexivity of
￼ individuals, has left the individual without fixed landscapes on which structuring his self identity. As Bauman reminds us, former cultural patterns and configurations, once able to provide a stable sense of identity, are ‘no longer given, let alone self- evident’31 and individual actors find themselves ‘less and less able to rely on takenfor-granted cultural schemas and scripts’32. The social resources on which they can construct their identity cannot be traditional familiar ties or religious symbologies. In an period of liberal post-fordist globalized capitalism, ‘people are disembedded from stable, local social networks’33. The disruption of traditional practices and perspectives results in a consequent loss of meaning; new ‘resources for self- construction’34 were to be found; old traditional symbols and communication strategies that used to be employed in the construction of individual self-meanings – a sort of ‘cultural tool kit’35 - had to be replaced with new ones. Older collective social forms of identity formation loose their legitimacy. More and more, it is the ‘personal identity’ that become the foundation of a person’s identity. The birth of a democratic society and the increasing powerful ideal of personal identity – a process named by Beck as ‘individualization’ - did away, or reduced immensely, the strength of whatever ‘socially-derived identity’. My own individual identity cannot, by definition, be socially derived; its core, its meaning, its ‘essence’, are to be found inside the very person, in the body and in its sexuality. As Beck highlights, it is this the reason behind the restless obsessive quest for authenticity typical of contemporary individuals and the obsession with ‘living one own life’, being faithful to one own desires and aspirations. The emergence of what Taylor defines as an individualized identity and the ideal of
“authenticity” - the ideal of being true to oneself and one own particular way of being – arise in the eighteenth-century when a new, more personal notion of what is right and wrong started to circulate. No more based on divine doctrines or the sovereignty rules, the understanding of right and wrong came to be understood as anchored in our feelings, in a moral sense with which we are all endowed. Authenticity, then, develops out of this new moral accent: the inner voice ￼ became very important because it allows us to tell the right from the wrong. On this view, being in touch with our inner self and feelings takes on crucial moral significance, something we have to attain if we are to be true and full human beings. No more were we to be in touch with some external source - God, for example, or some political Aim - in order to knowing what was good to do; now the source is deep within us. This massive subjective turn of modern culture was firstly grasped by Rousseau, who was the first to articulate this fundamental change in the modern ‘structure of feeling’36; as he puts it, our moral salvation comes from recovering authentic moral contact with ourselves37.
The idea of authenticity is strictly connected. Not only each of us has an original way of being human; this very difference among us has a deep moral significance. A new powerful moral idea developed: we are called upon to live our life as our own, according to our own inner nature; in order to do so, of course, a contact and continuous contact with myself, with my inner self, is needed. This is the background of the modern ideal of authenticity, and the obsession with self-fulfillment and self-realization. The fact that we need to base our sense of identity in inner personal characteristics transforms our body, our sexuality and our emotion in the core of our self, that is, they become the foundations of the meaning of our life. The typically modern concern with social status, self-realization and self-fulfillment can, thus, be read as a consequence of the new individualized identity, that transforms personal health, hedonist pleasure and individual emotions the basis of our very identity. Individual emotions and sentiments are more and more the main filters through which we frame reality; as Sennett puts it, ‘modern individual approach the public real through the mirror of the self, reducing the diversity of social events to the common denominator of personal feeling’38. This variation in the understanding of what counts as identity explains also why sexuality and sexual acts started to being considered not mere activity39 but fundamental part of one’s identity40. Secularization, democratization, rationalization, industrialization, globalization: phenomenon of modernity that has completely revolutionize the way we come to terms with our sense of ‘self’ and ‘identity’; no more based on collective, fixed, given and stable narratives, our individual identity become an everyday individual mission. De-‐tradizionalization, democratization and the modern emphasis on autonomy and equality has implied countless positive consequence in term of individual rights – in terms of the freedom of the individual
0 Ibid., 12 51 A type of ‘framing’ that, as it has been noticed, is very functional in the foreclosing and pre-‐empting of any form of social empathy and solidarity, blocking easily any attempts at emancipatory and redistributive politics. See Offman (2000), among others. 52 Bourdieu, 1998 in 2002:14
53 Daniel Bell, “Election 2000 and Future Prospects” Society (May/June 2001): 78-‐79. 54 Marcuse (1964) 55 Slater (1970 56 Lasch (1979), Sennett (1977) 57 Gergen (1991) 58 Bauman, 1997 59 Foucault 60 Hochschild,1979 61 See Giddens,(1990), Harvey, (1989) Beck(1992),
62 Marx,k. Engels,‘The communist Manifesto’ (1948) 63 Gergen, 1999-‐22 64 Giddens, 1994 65 Bourdieu, 1998 in 2002:15
to choose by himself what his life should be. The privilege to answer Mill’s fundamental question of ‘what counts as a good life’ is less and less delegate to religious or political authority and increasingly assign to the individual; the positive effects are obvious. Nevertheless, the so-‐called ‘democratization of society’ has the inevitable side effect of increasing anxiety. The emphasis on the autonomy of the individual and the equality of the society means that there is no one to blame apart yourself if your life project fails; it means that the myriad of ‘identity projects’41 are all equally legitimate and therefore no one is really legitimate; on the contrary, it has to prove itself everyday to be so. Bauman highlights how in our ‘liquid’ society, individual actors are more and more called upon to ‘exercise creative intelligence in the service of forging unique life course paths’42. The self is to be ‘creative’ and ‘unique’ in a late-‐capitalist society in which all the emphasis lies on concepts such as flexibility, negotiation, and contingency; a society on which the ‘absolute realm of flexibility’43 is imposed. It is quite obvious how this situation implies a dramatic increase in the responsibility – and therefore in the anxiety – that lies on the shoulder of the modern individual. The consequence of this increase in collective anxiety can be seen, as Giddens shows44, in the widespread phenomenon of addictive and compulsive behaviors, in the rise of expertise in intimacy, in the pervasive use of delusional scapegoat45 – the bad immigrant, the terrorist, the sexual other – in political debate.
A new emotional order La emocion se convierte en un asunto politico. Anthony Giddens Basing one’s identity on personal emotions, feelings and desires lead to a perpetual anxiety of adequacy; emotion and desire are constantly self-analyzed and self-evaluate in order to test theirs acceptability. As Giddens puts it, ‘sexuality and emotion have been found themselves imprisoned in a search for identity that sexual activity and emotional experiences themselves can provide only momentarily’46; this lead to a permanent feeling of un-satisfaction. The centrality of emotions and feelings in the building of one own sense of self is better understood if we use the interactionalist model of Hochschild. Following Geertz(1964) and Goffman (1974), the author suggested we can understand the cultural tool kit employed in the construction of individual self-meanings as an ‘ideological interpretative framework’ composed by a set of ‘framing rules’ and a set of ‘feeling rules’47. The former are rules according to which we ascribe definitions or meanings to situations; the latter are guidelines for feeling, implicating which feeling are legitimate and which are not, according to the situation and to the ‘identity’ of the subject; that is, guidelines imposing what one ‘ought to’ or ‘has the right to’ feel in a situation. The social unrest of late modernity, then, can be read, with Hochschild, as a change ‘in the relation of feeling rule and framing rule and a lack of clarity about what the rule actually is, owing to conflicts and contradictions between contending sets of rule’48. If we can celebrate the fact that old normative rules are loosing their grasp on the individuals, it may be opportune to interrogate with what kind of new ‘framing’ and ‘emotional’ rules the older one are being replaced, if they are replaced at all. It seems to me that, despite the rhetoric of emancipation and democratization of lifes, identities and intimacies, a brand new, normative and repressive sense of guilty and shame is imposed upon contemporary individuals. This new set of ‘feeling rules’ and ‘framing rules’ can be best understood, in my opinion, in the lights of an analysis of the pervasive neo-liberal economics and of its ‘immense political effort’49.
Apocalypse looms – and it does not occur; and still it looms. Apocalypse is a long running serial S u s a n S o n t a g Indeed, it seems that the very foundation of all this economic order, conveniently placed under the shining sign of freedom, is the structural violence of unemployment, of insecurity and of the threat of personal redundancy P i er r e B o u r d i eu Contemporary stress on “freedom”, “choice” and “flexibility”, in fact, can be seen as the core ideologies of neo-liberal political programme. The new ‘framing rules’ and ‘feeling rules’ imposed by neo-liberal discourse, with its emphases on individual “choice” and “autonomy” implies, in fact, the construction of particular identity categories and specific subjectivities. For who are the people that are allow to autonomous, emancipated and democratic judgments in neo-liberal rhet-
oric? They are the capitalists making investment decisions; they are the consumers buying their products in the capitalist market. Any different identity category, any different form of subjectivity, such as one based on collectivity solidarity, for example, are increasingly marginalized in mainstream political discourse. We can agree with Bourdieu when he describes neo-liberal politics as ‘the practical institution of a Darwinist world of struggle of all against all’50. If old pre-modern typologies of shame and guilty are no more imposed upon the individuals – and this is increasingly the case - a new more pervasive and seemingly light forms of shame and guilty are nevertheless imposed on modern subjects. In the narrative of an alleged equalitarian and democratic society, in fact, those who are less successful, who are poor or unemployed, are constructed as deserving shame: they are personally guilty of their failures. Social inequality come to be perceived not as an structural and endemic problem of capitalist economies but as a result of the personal failings of the individual, who fails to choose the adequate options in the ‘creative’ construction of his ‘unique’ life biography. An individualized conception of identity become, then, a powerful weapon in political discourse for conservative and neo-liberal forces which can easily managed to build upon it a ‘framing rule’ and ‘feeling rule’ that transform ‘poorness’ in a matter of personal choice and –consequently -personal responsibility51. The flexible, autonomous and democratic identities of contemporary society appear then, suspiciously appropriate in the pervasive influence of neo-liberal economics which are more and more busy engaged in ‘the destruction of all collective bodies capable of counterbalancing the effects of the infernal machine’52
Identity: a semio-political battlefield
Identity is historically contigent – but seemingly inevitable; potentially limiting – but political essential. J EFFR E Y W EEKS Personal identity, as opposed to collective one, is more and more important in the quest for existential meaning of the contemporary individuals. Daniel Bell has highlighted the fact that in the last decades class-collective politics has been increasingly replaced by ‘identity politics’53 concerning what Giddens named as ‘politics of life’. Never as in contemporary times humanity has appeared so diffusely conscious and worried with matters of identity. Identity is experienced as ‘one dimensional’54, ‘lonely’55, ‘narcissistic’56, ‘saturated’57, ‘liquid’58, ‘alienated’59, ‘delusional’60, ‘commodified’61. To explain why the self has become so determinant and salient a feature, focusing – as the authors we have been dealing with have being doing- on neo-liberal economics and late-capitalism features – its ideology of freemarket, consumerism, individual autonomy and entrepreneur individuals – is, in my opinion, a valid and proficient frame of lecture. Nevertheless, this is only half of the story. The Weberian conception of a universal drive towards meaning and inner consistency – that is, identity - cannot be reduced to an ideological constructs of neo-liberal times. To answer to the questions ‘who am I?’ ‘what is my purpose’ can be rightly see as a general need of human beings. What has deeply changed in late-modernity is that the answers of these questions are no more taken for granted, given as a natural fact. The traditional mythologies and symbolisms that used to legitimate and ground human thought and action have been eroded by the process of rationalization, secularization and modernization (to say it with Marx, a process in which “all that is solid, melt into air”62); the individual has started to consciously and anxiously reflect on his identity. The modern individual, “left ‘alienated’ and beset with the threats of meaninglessness63 suddenly starts to put everything upon which is identity
was based under question. All of a sudden, identity is not anymore a given fact but a troubled and conscious reality. In last decades, in an age that has been defined as hyper- modernity – the modern features of identity-related ‘ontological insecurity’ and existential anxiety has done nothing but dramatically increased. As globalization and industrialization considerably amplified in terms of scale, speed and cognition (Kendall, 2002), so do theirs destabilizing effects on individuals and the feeling of rootlessness and instability they produce on his sense of ‘identity’. The search for new grounds and foundations for human existence, that is, identity, become even more so essential a task. As Giddens explains64, individuals in late-modernity are subjected to different and contradictory but nevertheless related frameworks of experience: a tension between feeling of displacement and needs of re-embedding; pervasiveness of expertise and struggle for re-appropriation; a tendency toward ‘privatism’ and consumerism and a predisposition for political engagement. It is in the context of these conflicting and clashing trends that the issue of identity need to be read. The self, with its desired, its emotions and its sexualities cannot of course be reduced to matter of biological ‘essence’; however, neither is it a mere product of economic ideologies. On the contrary, selfhood can be seen as a fundamentally political battle ground. As an intrinsically social phenomenon, it is the site where political struggle over relations of power and semiotic meanings are played; where emotional and situational framing can be produced, reproduced and altered. In other words, it is only through identity that late-capitalist individuals can protect themselves from ‘his fall into anomie’65; and if it is crucial of course to acknowledge the risk that identity become potentially limiting, when they are articulated by reactionary forces – who are interested in erasing and silencing gender, race and sexual differences- it is at the same time, as we interrogate the exclusionary operations identity may assist, an imperative to assert and articulate conceptions of identity and selfhood as the basic site of essential cultural and political struggle; indeed, the most important site where such struggles can be played in late-capitalist society. As a matter of fact, it is only ‘the schemas and narratives of selfhood’66 that can provide the cultural and linguistic traditions that allow to the social agent some space of maneuvering. It is selfhood that powerfully organize one’s self-understanding, one’s goal, one’s relationships with others; it is selfhood that serve as sources of ‘meaning in an anomic and fragmented world’67; it is trough a redefinition of individuality – a more collective, more emphatic one that new –more emancipatory and more ethical -political and social order may – hopefully - be constructed; an order that may be able to offer something more than the endless individual quest for the maximum individual profit.
Books Bibliography Barbalet,J. “IntroEmotions are Crucial” in Barbalet,‘Emotions and Sociology’
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