Noel GloverNext Piece
ABSTRACT: There is a visual field that codifies the appeals (and appearance) of resistance; there is also a spectatorship that promulgates resistant cries. In practice, any call to arms has in view the authority against which it flies its flag, and furthermore such a call must eventually be seen, visualized, recognized and granted status by the very powers it decries against. This paper wonders about the nature of the relationship between resistance and visibility. With an emphasis on the classroom as a site of resistance, I am interested in how intensive, unseen and interconnecting displays of plurality, that is, interdependence can resist the cultural, neoliberal ideal of the independent and productive citizen. It is my contention that there is a structural commonality between resistance and appearance that more than likens their praxis and more than similarly politicizes the imbalance of autonomy wielded at their opertational extremities, a commonality that, in the last analysis, unites them, even in their cause.
Our question then becomes: in what way is resistance to a cultural fiction possible? In answering this question, this paper endeavors at the same time to skew our intuitive image of resistance, to make myopic that part of the spectacular cry that is meant for change. What I want to suggest is that it is not so much observable and recognizable resistance that we should call for, but instead, the enactment of something much less visible, something astir yet imperceptible. What I will describe, in fact, is a refusal to appear, and a rejection of a prescribed cultural identity. And perhaps this is precisely what resistance already requires: that we seek identifications as against identity, constant re-assembly as against holism—perpetual transience. If independence is an ideological line of desire laid before us by our very senus communis, then resistance must afford us a line of flight and a runoff, the manifestation of an alternative to what counts, at least visually, as the lived experience of interdependent subjects. What this paper offers, then, is a new myth, cloaked in the invisibility of all myths, a politics of positioning that draws a diagonal line right through the segmentarity of a neoliberal ideal. This is a presentation of a resistant-self and witnessing-other that falls somewhere outside the imposed lines and planned publicity of our national and/or socio-cultural identities. This is a presentation of self as always either less than one or more than one, but never solely, never absolutely, only as one.
In this vein—and with one eye closed—this paper is a projection of a new vision of resistance, one that is at once both disrupting and unnoticed, transgressive and unmarked—the kind of vision that pervades dreams. Resistance can be a transformation of cultural substances that preserves a fundamental social motility, a phenomenon that startles us into action while still remaining uncategorized by the reality and roaming index of the spectatorial gaze. What I am proposing is that the exigencies of resistance are in a sense confined to the shadows, and to the indeterminate representations they inspire. Finally, I think we should expect that resistance will even refuse us, its actors, at times, and even precisely at the moment of its manifestation.
I would ask, however, how an actor can challenge a cultural norm, like that of independence, if she must first be fit to be seen, which is to say, in this case, if she must first take up the cultural discourse of self-sufficiency in order even to be heard in the first place? Hannah Arendt insists that “only the spectator occupies a position that enables [her] to see the whole; the actor, because [s]he is part of the play, must enact [her]…part—[s]he is partial by definition” (55). The saliency of a contravening act, therefore, seems to rest in the form its exhibition takes and according strictly to the reception such a performance procures from its public. Arendt is clear: “For the actor, the decisive question is thus how [s]he appears to others; the actor is dependent on the opinion of the spectator; [s]he is not autonomous” (55). One might find the contingency of this scene troubling. If the actor’s main concern is with her appearance before an impartial, that is to say, disinterested, public, and if she must rely so heavily upon the visibility of her actions and, moreover, if in acting thusly she is without autonomy, then in what way is her resistance even possible? Can she, with her cries, ever resist the population she must take as her witness?
In his book, Cultural Intimacy: Social Poetics in the Nation-State, Michael Herzfeld wonders at the outset about how certain acts of resistance, “so often in direct contravention of state authority—actually constitute the state as well as a huge range of national and other identities” (2). The appropriative gaze of the spectator can actually subvert the defiant act and restore the order of existing conditions. It is as though each rebellious provocation can simply be counterbalanced by an equal and opposite reinforcing attitude within its public receptors—a perpetual re-calibration of the status quo. Herzfeld follows by diagnosing a tension between two presentations of identity within our daily lives: the formal image or official view of the national or collective self, and the intimate and creative presentation—an informal image and unofficial view—of the individual self. Control of the formal image, according to Herzfeld, allows for significant play within the creative content of the self. “What matters socially,” he says, “is how these codes are actually used” (19). So, the social actor must master the codes of her formal image. She must with due calculation present a vision of herself—in our case a vision of independence and autonomous productivity—to the scrutiny of the public, a moral performance congruent with the sensus communis that yet contains a clandestine and informal articulation of self within it. She must work underneath the moralizing visibility of her official presentation of self. She must still appear according to certain institutions of citizenship (employment, education, consumerism etc.), but only partially, with one of her sides undetected by the regulating authority of the spectator. To resist, then, is to fool the witnessing public, to blindside the roaming spectator, or to perform a veritable slight of hand. Resistance, at bottom, may always be an act performed in the dark, an act “which may later emerge in resplendently militant and public form,” but not in its conception, not in the first analysis (Herzfeld 14).
How, then, does one go about obstructing the measuring gaze of the public, of the other, that seer who refuses to be seen in return? How does one veil the penetrating look of a spectatorship that must see all in order to inaugurate the very morality of the political act, spectacle, or occurrence? How can one refuse a fiction of independence without submitting to a public that only ever venerates, only ever recognizes the signifiers of self-sufficiency?
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari extend Herzfeld’s postulation, claiming that “there are two very different types of relations: intrinsic relations of couples involving well-determined aggregates…(social classes, men and women…), and less localizable relations that are always external to themselves and instead concern flows and particles eluding those classes, sexes, and persons” (216-217). These intimate relations, flows and particles, are ingredients in the political act, in any act, and they elude the all-too visible contours of class, sex and persons. To resist the “segmentarity along which everyone will be judged and rectified according to his or her contours, individual or collective,” that is, to exist outside the contingency of the stringently visible and the visibly stringent, is to take control of the extrinsic and imperceptible relations that flow between contours, between segments (Deleuze & Guattari 222). In other words, resistance is concerned with intensities, with the affective or emotional exchanges that flow between self and other. For example, in the classroom, as learners and as teachers, we do not resist our education with the exuberance of a dissenting plaint, which more directly calls for progress and development within existing conditions. Instead, we resist our education in unseen affective confrontations, in emotional storms. We turn from the other emotionally, intensely, frustrated by our encounter with the unknown. Resistance in the classroom pertains to relational evacuations, flows of desire. These exchanges hide from view and potentiate a devious performance of self, enacted decidedly between identities (subjectivities), in-between official (singular) and creative (plural) performances of selfhood (Deleuze & Guattari 223). In other words, we resist not just from the so-called seat of our pants, but from a seat that we share and exchange with others.
Furthermore, as Deborah Britzman notes, “thinking the thought of education…begins with the problem of resistance, or turning away” (18). Education is unique for its recommendation that otherness be faced. And what is more, pedagogy offers an important insight, drawing the link between resistance and perpetual becoming, which is to say, incompleteness. Britzman argues that “education itself will be interminable because it is always incomplete and because it animates our own incompleteness” (3). I would add, in animating our own incompleteness, education simultaneously discloses our interdependence. These matters, of course, are interrelated. As Deleuze and Guattari forecast: “One day…a far-seer will abandon his or her segment and start walking across a narrow over-pass above a dark abyss, will break his or her telescope and depart on a line of flight to meet a blind Double approaching from the other side” (223). We may want to ask: How are we to abandon the segment and break the telescope? What will the blind Double look like? Furthermore, without the telescopic distance of the spectator, what will the far-seer observe in the political act? We are nearing an answer to these questions. And with the classroom as our privileged space we can perhaps begin to see that the far-seer (educator perhaps?) and blind Double (perhaps student?) are emotionally connected. To abandon the segment is to recognize the desires of the other and instead of expecting completeness and singularity, it is to participate in a current of identifications.
To be clear, it is not the case that a social or political actor must at all costs hide from authoritative view in order ever to partake in actions of resistance. But rather, it is the case that resistance has everything to do with appearance and representation. To resist is to enter into a negotiation with an equivocal public sphere, one that is “constituted in part by what cannot be said and what cannot be shown” (Butler xvii). The far-seer (or educator, to use the more accessible figure) and the blind Double (or student) are disrupted/disrupting figures whose formal qualities can break down, can become transitive. In the classroom, they are at once both less and more than one, they are co-determined and yet determine nothing other than a loss of wholeness, of completeness, of self-subsistence. Appearing otherwise than circumscribed they challenge the tenuous line between the virtual and the actual: the virtual unity and sanctity of the independent citizen and the actual composition and irreverence of an interdependent citizenship. This line so precariously umpires what is fit to be seen and struggles so acutely with the unknown. Appearing together, co-appearing, the educator and student say what cannot be said and show what cannot be shown precisely by living (keeping with) the partiality, mutuality, that so troubles spectatorship.
As Judith Butler clarifies, dominant forms of representation imposed by the public sphere are disrupted if we are able to “narrate ourselves not from the first person alone, but from, say, the position of the third, or to receive an account delivered in the second” (8). These modes of self-narration, she continues, “can actually work to expand our understanding of the forms that global power has taken” (8). At bottom, then, resistance is a splitting apart of the socio-political subject, changing and multiplying her view from below. Resistance may always be a matter of re-animating our incompleteness, our interdependence. Educator and student at times perform one and the same subjectivity: the political subject with multiple partialities (views), two or more fundamental levels of interaction (seeing), a profound interdependence (exposure) that allows her to be in two places at once. Educator and student perform an interdependence, in fact, that always already requires perpetual and simultaneous translocation (transference).
Butler asks: “And does the insistence on the subject as a precondition of political agency not erase the more fundamental modes of dependency that do bind us and out of which emerge our thinking and affiliation, the basis of our vulnerability, affiliation, and collective resistance?” (49). The form of resistance I am proposing insists that agency is spread across subjectivities. It is a dilation of subjectivity and subsequently also of publicly anticipated representations of autonomy as well. Insistence on the dilation of the situated subject emphasizes the very modes of dependency that bind us and affiliate us beyond our localizable, public, relations. It is about choosing new ways of seeing, and enforcing new ways of being seen. And nowhere are these changes more nebulous and generative than in the classroom where daily we come up against limits—incomplete knowledges and unknowable others. If what we are up against, as Butler asserts, is a question of “how public space is itself defined by certain kinds of exclusions, certain emerging patterns of censoriousness and censorship,” then it is from within these excluded forms of participation (interdependent, plural, variegated) that resistance will find its most fecund offshoots, its most inclusive insights (Butler 126). It is our vulnerability that is the basis, pre-condition, for (political) agency. It is our sensitivity to the regard of others, to the gaze of the other, which conditions our power to see, our capacity to perceive difference, and to thereby re-animate the very boundaries of the public itself.
To extend the methodology a step further, I want to present a vision. As mentioned above, to supplant the neo-liberal myth of the autonomous citizen, we must provide a myth of our own. Our myth takes the form of the in-between par excellence: the cyborg. Donna Haraway’s cyborg is a “matter of fiction and lived experience that changes what counts as women’s experience in the late twentieth century” (149). The cyborg “skips the step of original unity,” and is “resolutely committed to partiality” (151). I should mention briefly that for Deleuze and Guattari becoming refers to becoming less than one, less than the figure of identity, always N-1. In contrast, for Haraway, becoming refers to becoming more than one, multiple identities, always N+1. I will conflate between these two somewhat polar modes of becoming because I am interested in what they share, namely, a movement away from one, from original and figural identity. So perhaps we can think of cyborgs themselves as modes of resistance. To be clear, in the context of this paper, I refer to cyborg, rather widely and approximately. What I mean by “cyborg” is the diffusion of the subject by technological means, the activities and social networks made possible by technical devices and telecommunication. Cyborg ontology, for Haraway, may be more radical than this, but it includes this notion and the becoming imperceptible that we have already discussed.
The progressive possibilities of the cyborg can be demonstrated further in reference to a contemporary example of cyborg agency: Iraq’s first female-fronted black-metal band, Janaza. In an interview for strangemoss.com, the interviewer asked Anahita, the band’s sole member, “Do you ever fear for your safety making blatantly anti-Islamic music and being a woman?” The bandleader responded: “Sure I am afraid, but the Internet gives us the chance to work underground so nobody can know my identity” (2012). The interviewee, in a becoming-cyborg with both musical and cyber-spatial parts, can hide aspects of her identity from view. She can resist moderating governmental pressures by eluding their visibility requirements and by camouflaging in-between official and creative presentations of individual and collective identity. Cyborg resistance animates vulnerability, sensitivity to the regard of the other, and finally, the band, Janaza, seems to reject independence in favour of an appeal to others, or rather, to otherness. “To hide, to camouflage oneself,” remark Deleuze and Guattari, “is a warrior function, and the line of flight attracts the enemy, traverses something and puts what it traverses to flight; the warrior arises in the infinity of a line of flight” (306). Janaza puts to flight that which it traverses, that which it resists. The band, as itself a warrior function, is a recoupling, the recombination of partial perspectives, perspectives that would otherwise be excluded. Janaza contests established public frames, which look to autonomous singular subjects. Finally, Janaza demands a re-thinking of appearance and invisibility, erasure and manifestation, by partaking in more than one identification, or if you prefer, less than one.
The cyborg is constantly moving, constantly between embodied productions of humanity (animality), and technicity, between one and two or more identities, between one and two or more currents of intensity. Another concretized example of this potentiality can be found in gaming communities. Admittedly, though, these communities have far to go in the way of inclusion and feminist politicality. But a potential is there. Avatar identities with fluid performances of race, class, and gender permit the kind of fluctuation, plurality and relationality that Haraway’s cyborg ontology envisions. This kind of displacement—wave-like oscillations between forms—is what makes the cyborg so hard to see. Movement is what keeps the warrior function active. As Deleuze and Guattari assess: “Movement has an essential relation to the imperceptible; it is by nature imperceptible. Perception can grasp movement only as the displacement of a moving body or the development of a form. Movements, in other words, pure relations of speed and slowness, pure affects, are below and above the threshold of perception” (309). There is certainly significant displacement between Janaza’s cyber performance, live performance, and intra-band individualities. This kind of movement makes perception difficult, partial. And moreover, it skews the morality of a lagging public vision.
Perhaps what is most significant about cyborg ontology is that in some ways it is about reaching others, and one’s own otherness, in new and unforeseen modes. Additionally, when we reach out to others, and come together, and learn to live together, we become much more mobile, much more astir, than when we are satisfied with the stagnation of isolation. The cyborg animates what Roland Barthes calls idiorrythmics: “small, flexible groups of several individuals who are attempting to live together…while each preserving his or her rhuthmos [rhythm]” (44). What effectively comes into view for the cyborg, is also what is inessential to its program. Or rather, that the cyborg itself be visible is what is inessential; instead, the partiality of its perspectives, the rhythm of its embodied gazes, its flexible subjectivities, are integral. Haraway acknowledges that “vision can be good for avoiding binary oppositions,” and she insists on the “embodied nature of all vision,” including, and perhaps especially, the vision of the spectator (188). “The moral is simple,” she urges, as “only partial perspective promises objective vision” (190). Perhaps, then, resistance is always a demand for more images, for an increase in what we are able to see when we come together socially, politically, or otherwise. Or, better yet, perhaps resistance is a challenge, always, to what is eventually counted, especially if it be counted according to strictures of independence and productivity. Perhaps, ultimately, resistance is a perpetual challenge to what comes into view whenever we come together.
Resistance, then, may be the dissenting cry of the precarious life of the other, radically ungraspable, necessarily partial and inherently shared, inherently multiple. This portrayal of resistance is something of a moving picture, a mosaic in motion. Resistance is a preponderance of images within a partial and unstable perceptual field. Resistance employs a fragmented optics, it “shatter[s] any idea of passive vision” (Haraway 190). Acts of resistance are momentary; they are flashes in the dark. In the context of public seeing, within the arena of appearance and occurrence, inter-autonomous and interdependent actors glimpse resistance in instances of situated and embodied becoming that oppose and contest standardized views. All the spectator observes of the cyborg is her displacement, the trace of her resistance, a resplendently public tail for which the comet is imperceptibly miles ahead and out of sight. It is not before a spectatorial gaze that resistance is performed, but rather just below and just above, or more precisely, alongside, along-with.
“The task at hand,” remarks Butler, “is to establish modes of public seeing…that might well respond to the cry of the human within the sphere of appearance, a sphere in which the trace of the cry has become hyperbolically inflated” (147). The cyborg by definition establishes new modes of public seeing, new realizations of collective and mutual appearing. In the classroom, for instance, cyborg ontology may give rise to more network-centric forms of citizenship, prone to practices of mutuality and inclusion, simply by asking us to face our own incompleteness. As Haraway asserts: “Vision is always a question of the power to see—and perhaps the violence implicit in our visualizing practices,” and therefore resistance, posed too frequently over and against the publicity and command of visionary legislation, must as well confront (subvert) this question of the power to see and the power to include (192). And it must interrogate as well the violence implicit in the visualizing practices that set the stage for all social, cultural or political contravention (Haraway 192).
Haraway asks: “How should one be positioned in order to see in this situation of tension, resonances, transformations, resistances, and complicities?” (196). One should be positioned partially out of focus in order to see in a situation of resistance, locatable, therefore, only in and through one’s displacement—a flow of itinerant and furtive subjectivity. One should be positioned in a field of others, each accountable and indiscernible, technological and biological. “Location is about vulnerability,” Haraway affirms, “location resists the politics of closure, finality, or,…feminist objectivity resists simplification in the last instance…because feminist embodiment resists fixation” (196). To resist fixation is to be vulnerable to the flux of becoming, and wary of the imperialism of the spectator, along with the moralism of the public. The political actor-as-cyborg disassembles and reassembles various times before its unwitting spectators, themselves blind to the flow of content swirling underneath a rigid cultural form and from behind an official political contour. “History is made only by those who oppose history,” proclaim Deleuze and Guattari, but “this is not done for provocation,” which too eagerly insists on being seen, but happens if we “produce an imperceptible diagonal”: a cyborg perhaps (326).
Arendt, Hannah. Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1992.
Barthes, Roland. How To Live Together: Novelistic Simulations of Some Everyday Spaces. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013.
Britzman, Deborah. The Very Thought of Education: Psychoanalysis and the Impossible Professions. New York: SUNY Press, 2009.
Butler, Judith. Precarious Life. New York: Verso, 2004.
Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2012.
Haraway, Donna J. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991.
Herzfeld, Michael. Cultural Intimacy: Social Poetics in the Nation-State. New York: Routledge, 2005.
Noel Glover is a PhD candidate in Education—Language, Culture, and Teaching at York University. His research interests lie in continental phenomenology and affect theory, and, more specifically, in and through questions of subjectivity and embodiment. Noel’s current research project investigates the multiple realities of shame and disability in American culture.