Saturday, November 12, 2011

Individual, State and the Semiotics of Anarchy

My dear friend and colleague Jan Broekman, recently back from Leuven, has challenged us to reconsider anarchy as we reconsider the state in the emerging global order.  

 (Rome protests, from  ‘Occupy Wall Street’ Goes Global (Video), Truth About Bills)

Professor Broekman writes:

 Jan Broekman

What happens after discovering that the State is no longer a State, as we knew him?  But we do not lose or forget the name: ’State’ is the Name I need in order to articulate my proper Self!  State is the name I live in, the one that makes me a citizen, an individual, a bearer of rights, the ruler of my representations.  Just a Name … no more— nobody knows any more? 

There is no language anymore to express the meaning of a State, yet all expressions that I use are embedded in that one meaning that expanded as if it were a language in its own right.  Together with the State, I lost reference, lost meanings.  I used to live in the space of occidental metaphysics, delineated between arche and telos—how can I ever understand myself beyond that master dimension?  How does one deny one’s own arche?  Does it suffice to be an anarchist?

The State tells me the myth of my identity, which should be the cradle of my social life.  Lacan reminds us how the word of the father is the voice of the law.  But without the State in which we unfold our selves, there would never be a word of that myth or of the father therein.  Anarchists reject those words; they are not against the State but against the tyranny of the word that makes us a citizen as its individual.  The slogan ‘Occupy Wall Street’ is semiotic by nature: it wants to indicate that the meaning making processes should take place elsewhere and have a different outcome.  Those who understood, practiced or even criticized ‘occupy’ in terms of possession, did not grasp the deep semiotic revolve at hand.  

This is part of a larger conversation. See, e.g., Larry Catá Backer, Scenes From the Streets of Barcelona: Direct Democracy, Disenchantment and the Globalization of Resistance, Law at the End of the Day, June 21, 2011.

We invite additional voices.


1 comment:

Paul Van Fleet said...

If we are looking for a definition of the "self" that requires a complete and thorough listing of its qualities, then the language of the state is essential. If the language of the state required to do so is absent, then defining my Self is impossible. I think it is important to discuss how the state defines the self, and to this end, a distinction between the passive state and the active state is important.

Passive domination by the state is different from active domination; both are present, but awareness is usually focused upon active domination, like "the hand of the officer on my shoulder," as Professor Broekman is fond of saying. When I wake in the morning, I do not wake apprehending the state; I'm more interested in a morning cup of coffee. But if I'm pulled over by a policeman on my way to work, then state domination becomes painfully clear. However, if the state decides to inject itself into my present experience of the morning cup of coffee, then the coffee and the ticket make me equally aware of the state.

The Self is influenced by the active and the passive state, but if we are only aware of that influence when the state is right in our face, then the Self remains oblivious. The value of anarchy is that it lays active AND passive domination bare, directing focus to that which ordinarily flies under the radar.

The State dominates the Self only if the Self allows that domination. This doesn't just apply to the State alone; the Self is subject to domination in many ways (cf. Lacan and the types of discourse). If the mind allows domination, such as that of the state or the father, or the ego, or what have you, then it is dominated and it is not "free." I know that this is a loaded term and is worthy of a semiotic analysis in itself, but for now, consider “freedom” as perception and analysis free of dominating influence as conceived in Lacan’s Master Discourses.

The State is a major cog in the "definition by quality" approach, but a minimalist one can reduce the importance of the state in this conception. If the mind is aware of domination, maintains that awareness in perception, and rises above that influence, then freedom is possible. Philosophers throughout the ages and across the world have emphasized the importance of awareness because they knew that it was essential to finding true meaning (cf. Thales of Miletus, Bodhidharma, etc.). If the self is an amalgam of dominating influences, then anarchy necessarily leads to the "death of the self" in it's rejection of state influence.

Perhaps this is why the emphasis of present awareness is so vital in Buddhism and Zen. Can we consider anarchy, insofar as it provides awareness, a vital tool of those who wish to free themselves of suffering?