Notes: The Impersonal Is Political x Hasana Sharp

“Politics of Recognition” vs. “Politics of Imperceptibility”

Feminist, anti-racist and post-colonial theory has invested a lot of thought into “a humanistic politics of identity” (84) that aims to affirm the visibility of marginalized subjects via intersubjective and cross-cultural exchanges. The main idea here is that equality and justice for minority groups cannot be realized without the recognition of who they really are… “establishing relationships of respect, equality, and sympathy among people with distinct languages, cultures, histories, and perspectives.” (85)

“Grosz rejects the politics of recognition on the grounds that the desire to be known, seen, and valued by the other is an inevitably submissive acquiescence to a humanism that can never fail to be masculine.” (85) The main concern here is, recognition…by who? The “satisfaction of a desire for recognition is an awkward yardstick for justice.” (86) How is recognition ‘completed’, or realized, if identity-building, or becoming is an open-ended and ongoing process? What qualifies recognition? Legislation? The capacity to be commodified and reduced to a talking point, marketing strategy, or brand? Participation in the marketplace and visibility go hand-in-hand. Is there a difference between commodification and recognition?

Recognition, according to Cornell and Murphy emphasizes “the freedom to recreate oneself through the assertion and recognition of one another’s humanity…which entails attention to each person’s potential and need to develop and transform her self-representation and cultural meaning.” (87) To be clear, recognition here does not imply ‘authenticity’; what is recognized is not some static notion of identity; rather, that individuals are their own source of meaning that continually undergo processes of transformation– “continually being revised and reinterpreted.” (87) Basically, ‘granting’ people the freedom to control how they are seen in public.

“The politics of recognition takes account of how systematic social invisibility, misrepresentation, or distortion constitute a genuine harm– indeed, in extreme cases, psychic mutilation– to the autonomy of individuals and groups…formal equality, greater access to jobs, housing, and social services alone” (86) are not enough to heal the damage produced by the various histories of violence and injustice. Redistribution of capital merely slaps a bandage on the wound and is predicated on a fundamental misrecognition of what the victims feel or desire. And yet, recognition itself is a “negative exigenc[y] of redress, reparation and restitution”. (91) Ultimately, it is reactive, and passively accepts the influence of a greater power in shaping one’s sense of self-worth and desire for reciprocity.

“I am misrecognized” presupposes a unitary vision of the self that can be recognizable…and visualized into a fixed image. This is the kind of self-policing identity politics that Foucault and Ranciere resist precisely because a politics of recognition empowers regimes of surveillance to police all life that much more effectively. The felt need to be recognized already places the subject within a power dynamic that renders it servile to a pre-existing dominant symbolic power. “Any vision of justice predicated upon the validation of social subjects by other subjects belongs to ‘a politics that is fundamentally servile.’…governed, in advance, by the image and value of the other.” (88) This desire for a transcendent Eye (regardless of it being within or without) to shine it’s revealing light upon oneself is symptomatic of phallocentric logic, and keeps subjects fixed within the totality of a binary/hierarchical system.

Recognition also assumes that subjectivity can only be considered in terms of violence and antagonism, on a pre-existing trauma, or idea of otherness-as-hostile. This potentially “elides the real differences between coming to be a social subject under conditions of radical oppression and coming to be a subject in a context of privilege.”(88) – While ‘seeing others better’ is typically advocated as an ethos of responsibility, the call for mutual transparency between subjects can be problematic.

“Acts don’t have an ‘other’. Only Subjects have an ‘other’.”(89)

For Grosz, violence and conflict are both necessary and irresolvable but not because human subjects cannot help but relate through binary logic and structures; rather, violence and conflict are products of impersonal and a-subjective forces. Forces don’t have an ‘other’, only humans do. By privileging activity, forces, energies and bodies, Grosz devaluates and de-centers the self-other binary from ethics.

Becoming is a process “that cannot be represented by concepts or explained through developmental narratives”. Not “predicated on identification, imitation, resemblance or analogy…[nor] reflection of an unconscious urge to work out a psychic identification with a lost other.”(89)

Critics of Grosz may argue that the language of force is patriarchal. But Grosz replies that “this maneuver of identifying force with the masculine is already to humanize force (which in effect is to masculinize it…), to anthropomorphize it and to refuse to see its role not as the effect but as the condition of subjectivity and subjective will.”(90) Humanization = masculinization; this equation reflects the reduction of value and life to the self-reflected Sameness of the Self, to One symbolic order, that of the human– the notion man as the measure of all things. Why does ‘the human’ mark a limit to what we can do, how we act? Because it is a social construction that reduces life to anthropocentric terms; and life– intensive energy– is endlessly generative and expresses itself through material bodies regardless of whether or not such bodies are human.

As opposed to ‘human’, “subjects can be conceived as modes of action and passion, a surface of catalytic events…”(91) Subjects understood as modes of power, modifications of life, as bodies determined by movement and rest…by their capacity to act rather than identify.

Sharp relates the desire for recognition with what Spinoza laments as ambitio, “the desire to please and be esteemed by fellow human  beings.”(92)…”drive for that special kind of respect owed to one’s humanity.”(93) This desire ultimately always depends on others, upon being seen as an absolute requisite for being. “The remedy for the affect of ambitio…involves the indissociability of humanity from the rest of nature.”(93) “Getting over oneself, or relinquishing a cherished image of humanity and personhood.” (94) But understanding this ‘adequately’ is no easy task, let alone being able to transition out of being mired in negative passions and transforming this negativity into actions that affect joy and affirmation.

Contra Butler. Sharp notes that Butler “has probably undertaken one of the most profound radicalizations of social construction, thoroughly denaturalizing any notion of sex or gender.”(94) However, Grosz instead is interested in a “sort of renaturalization that has been taken away, redynamizing a certain kind of nature.”(94) Human experience may be socially constructed but this is perhaps to give human institutions too much credit in a mirrored-sameness, or self-reflective way. To argue that a representation of the body can only be socially constructed is tantamount to saying rather simply that one does not even know what a body can do. Since, via Spinoza, all representations are inadequate ideas.

Sharp is not very clear about what ‘becoming-imperceptible’ expresses. It seems to affirm a non-unitary inhuman conception of the ‘self’, a ‘self’ that resists, challenges, or ceases to conform and identify relative to any given socio-symbolic order because it is too connected to and affected by things in a way that does not relate it to the world instrumentally or economically; that is, it’s mode of becoming is not moral but ethical.

A politics of imperceptibility involves encounters with other ideas and bodies based not on identity but on desire. Not in terms of instrumentality but in terms of what empowers and affirms one’s power of action.

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