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Monday, February 21, 2011

Community Is Not A Choice

The web reveals the exteriority of ourselves, the way we exist in and through others, not just in a game of shadows and mirrors but also materially for our subsistence. The way that such a seemingly abstracted and virtual assemblage can be so real exposes us to the finitude of the self and the irreducibility of the other. In a radical gesture of nay-saying to the suspicious scapegoating devices of demystification, Brown’s deconstructive approach to viral Texts opens up spaces of imagining otherwise.

The frustration of reading the article and what a ‘Post-Hermeneutic’ represents is intrinsic to the subject matter itself. The fact that it is difficult to conceive of what community looks like in Brown’s sense evinces the need to problematize the concept itself. Community is “something that happens to us,” not an ideology one chooses to accept or not, it exists as the condition rather than a coherent entity. Brown points to the way in which virtual encounters can be traumatic, uncanny and decentering. Viral texts often occur as a working on the limits, thresholds and aporias of our knowledge. We are unaware of the potential each packet of information sent contains, where are our virtual messages in a bottle will end up, and to whom our creations will impact. We are also forced to confront and come face-to-face, or stand side-by-side, with alterity. Browns writes; “The internet culture forces people to recognize the alien and other forms of culture which make up the planetary culture, the interconnectedness that informs their contemporary beings.”

Brown diagnoses two seemingly disparate yet interrelated symptoms of the hermeneutic impulse. In juxtaposing Poster’s limited tolerance with Asadullah’s fundamentalism Brown is able to show the naïveté of essentialist conceptions of community. The critique of Poster is more complex than at first glance. For Brown “it is not a matter of creating community without exclusion” for that would be the easy option. All one would have to do is tweak Poster’s position slightly to say it accepted fundamentalisms as well. Rather, “it is a matter of recognizing that no created community is universal.” Thus Brown is not making a specifically prescriptive claim about the need to tolerate the intolerant and always accept the other, rather it is a recognition of the traumatic kernel that is pricked in our fleeting moments of contact with the other.

Brown writes, “If we expand our definition of community beyond one of willing contributors and unified goals, we might be able to better formulate a road to peace.” The question is, who will build this road to peace? How will it be produced? What transforms its ideational formulation into a material entity? Perhaps I’m being rather reductive, but does ‘exposedness’ not become either some abstract property everyone possesses, almost akin to a universal human right, or just another floating-signifier without pragmatic import for programmatic politics? Arguably there may be an implicit assumption about the indefinite process of referentiality and the mediation of knowledge through texts; but is there not a danger in abandoning the idea of community founded on “unified goals?” Even if one grants the fact that a universalist conception of community is ultimately fictitious, is there not a very tangible way in which believing in the fantasy foments solidarity?

Brown problematizes the us/them dichotomy; demonstrating how Bert Laden represents the contradictions inherent to cyberculture. I think a point that should be pressed is whether that moment is always “instantaneously lost in the move to interpret the image and massage the trauma.” Why is creating a theoretical apparatus concerned with the idea of “being-in-community” any less totalizing than one centered around class conflict or sexuality? Does Brown not create a normative yardstick to measure his critique of normativity against? Does he not mirror his own critique of Poster by polemically positioning himself as in possession of a superior theoretical world view? Is Brown only open to concepts of community as long as they are the proper rethinking? Only open to hermeneutic approaches as long as they are Post-x, y, z form of instrumentality? To me this exposes what Davis says is the challenge to “compare without completely effacing the incomparableness of the ‘we’”(2005: 208). But what can this comparison entail? How do we know if we have transgressed the prohibition against effacement? Is this not what Mas’ud Zavarzadeh speaks to in his critique of postality when he writes “To be so totally opposed to totalizing is, of course, itself a totalization. But totalizing in opposing totalization does not seem to bother…anti-totalizing pedagogues because the issue, ultimately, is really not epistemological ("totalizing") but economic (class). In contemporary pedagogy "totalizing" is an epistemological cover for the class cleansing of pedagogy.”

On the one hand, Egyptian protesters don’t seem to be appealing to abstracted concepts such as alterity or differance in their resistance, but on the on the other the looming atmosphere of anxiety surrounding the future trajectory of the movement seems to stem from the inability to derive certainty about social or religious issues which constantly exceed ideological demystification. While one can always become more orthodox or materialist to the point of absolute determination, the more important question to be raised is why have the programmatic politics of the left failed in many respects? Is it simply a question of aligning oneself with necessity, or has our thought not yet become adequate to its object of inquiry?

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At February 22, 2011 at 12:20 AM , Blogger Chinchin said...

As usual, you give a really in-depth analysis of the reading. My hat's off to you. I really like your critique of Brown, pointing out that in some respects, he is guilty of the very thing he is criticizing.

I agree with your point that social and (especially) religious issues constantly evade certainty. Religion is extremely tricky because it's so controversial to begin with. Scholarly methods such as historical criticism have ultimately failed to demystify questions of meaning. I think a quick peak into the history of religion will show that outside of dogged determinism (liberal or conservative), nothing else so far has shown true staying power. I have a personal interest in inter-faith relations and from what I've studied and experienced so far, I feel like that we are still very far away from being able to wrap our heads around the whole thing.

btw, I don't know if you got my email on Sunday. I didn't get a reply so I wasn't sure if you still wanted feedback or not. I did give your paper a look-over however, and as a reader, it looked like you were in pretty good shape. Good analysis and effective use of evidence from the sites.

At February 22, 2011 at 12:34 AM , Blogger RVL said...

I like the way you started off this blog. The first paragraph is true in every way. We use our internet profiles to perfect our image.


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