Posted 1275 days ago by Super Admin / Tags: Molly Rothenburg, The Excessive Subject, Polity / 0 Comments
On the Edge
Edged in: I decided to write this book when it became clear to me that a new theory of the social subject, with some powerful advantages for social change theory, had become sequestered within a small area in the academy simply because it was associated with psychoanalysis. It turns out that the theory of the excessive subject, as I term it, depends on developments in the fields of symbolic logic, topology, and set theory that can be applied to the question of how to model causality in the social field. Lacan was instrumental in bringing these developments into the discourse of the humanities, but they are not psychoanalytic per se. Lacan picks up these developments because they enabled him to articulate a causal logic necessary for his sense of the way the subject emerges. That logic, which I refer to as “extimate causality,” offers a significant alternative to the causal logics of Marxism and Foucaultianism, but the alternative became quarantined on account of attacks on psychoanalysis by prominent theorists in the latter quarter of the twentieth century. I want to make this alternative available to a wider audience, especially to students.
Backing away from the edge: The book tells the story of a number of theoretical attempts to find an alternative causal model of social effects in order to grapple with the fundamental problem of how subjects conditioned by ideology and cultural practices could become change agents. This problem is the common link among a number of theorists who otherwise don’t seem to have much in common. It is the central focus of Pierre Bourdieu’s efforts to split the difference between subjectivist and objectivist accounts of the subject, and it shapes Michel de Certeau’s response to Bourdieu. Judith Butler has her own way of intervening in that discussion, by trying to cobble together a model from Bourdieu, Derrida, and Lacan. Ernesto Laclau encounters this problem as he seeks to articulate a theory of the formation of politically effective groups from the concept of the split subject. Slavoj Žižek takes it up in his accounts of revolutionary violence. I follow this thread through these thinkers in some detail to develop a history of approaches to the problem and to highlight the ways that each thinker both relies on some version of extimate causality and then repudiates it when it compromises, or seems to compromise, some cherished political tenet.
Cutting edge: The story’s central figure is the subject in its social dimension as excessive to itself. I explain how the social subject comes to acquire this excess by giving my readers an accessible account of set theoretic principles and fundamental concepts from nonclassical logic that converge with Alain Badiou’s philosophical writings as well as Lacan’s theories. I discuss the Möbius topology of the social field in terms that link up with Felix Guattari’s early work and Giorgio Agamben’s current investigations. I explore the utility of the excessive subject for thinking politics and ethics that spotlights features of Jacques Rancière’s, Walter Benjamin’s, Theodor Adorno’s, and Emmanuel Levinas’s writings. The excessive subject turns out to provide a means for assessing the degree to which a given theorist has an adequate model of social interaction to ground political and ethical proscriptions. I argue that the model of the excessive subject is crucial for the most innovative work being done today in political and ethical philosophy.
The disappearing edge: The Möbius strip, with its paradoxical two-in-one-sidedness—its edge between two sides that mysteriously disappear as you trace a path along one side only to find yourself on the other—serves as a useful analogue to the excess of the social subject. The excess of the social subject both separates it from its fellow subject and links it to them: the excess of the subject, which is a function of the subject’s emergence by way of the addition of a negation to its initial state of being, is irremediable and essential. I argue that we must understand that this excess is not the impediment to the social field but rather the means of producing and sustaining the social field. As Jean-Luc Nancy points out, dreams of absolute comm-unity or comm-union fantasize that the excess of the social subject can be eradicated, a fantasy that predominates in the literature on political and ethical theory. Theories of ethical action, for example, that rely on the subsumption of one subject to the demands of a radical other, fantasy the erasure of the excess requisite for the social/ethical relation in the first place. But, in fact, attempts to eradicate excess risk the collapse of the social field itself and set in motion catastrophic pathological defenses to protect the social field, examples of which tragically abound in modern history. The book explains the generation of this excess, how the excessive subject functions in the social field, and how the circulation of affect in the social field promotes or impedes political and ethical activity.
Gaining an edge: I wrote this book for students and for others who wish to understand why social change theory has taken certain paths and ignored others. I want them to know that many of the most significant thinkers of our day have been using the model of the excessive subject without making it explicit. I want to see what happens when that model becomes more widely available. I want students to acquire an advantage by learning a new set of tools with which to think. My hope is that this book provides the means for a new appraisal of the possibilities for social change. I look forward to the work that will be done with these new tools.
Posted 1275 days ago by Polity Blogger / Tags: Ellis Cashmore, Martin Scorsese, America, Polity / 1 Comments
“In this country, it doesn’t add inches to your dick to get a life sentence” Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) in The Departed
America is a country where success is measured by how long you have to wait in line to get served. The shorter the wait, the more successful you are. This is one of the lessons Martin Scorsese teaches us.
In his new book Martin Scorsese’s America, Ellis Cashmore has anatomized Scorsese’s film, not just his dramas, like GoodFellas and Raging Bull, but his documentaries like No Direction Home (about Bob Dylan) and his television program “Mirror, Mirror,” which he directed for Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories. This is the first comprehensive examination of Scorsese’s entire oeuvre and the first attempt to explain the clasp Scorsese has had on the hearts and minds of filmgoers.
“This city doesn’t discriminate: it gets everybody ”
Frank Pierce (Nicolas Cage) in Bringing Out the Dead
Cashmore, author of Tyson: Nurture of the Beast and Beckham (now in its second edition), begins from the understanding that films have no power to entertain us unless they educate us too. In his own fashion Scorsese has taught us more about America than any living filmmaker. Indisputably one of the greatest living directors, Scorsese has, over four decades, provided us with a body of work that reveals the story of America.
“We paid off cops. We paid off lawyers. We paid off judges … we were treated like movie stars — with muscle … we had it all ”
Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) in GoodFellas
“What give Scorsese’s film reverb is their sense of engagement with American issues. His themes are big and resonant. The manic pursuit of the American Dream of success, the moral and cultural decline of the cities, the hopelessness of romantic love, what it means to be a man – these are the kinds of issues that pulse through Scorsese’s films.
And, yet Cashmore asks whether, for all his daring and ingenuity as a director, if Scorsese is a conservative filmmaker: there are traditional values and attitudes that go unchallenged, and cautiousness about radical change, especially in relation to gender, politics and religion. Women are frequently compliant doormats who give men license to philander just as long as their credit card bills are settled every month.
“All the animals come out at night: whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies”
Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) Taxi Driver
Martin Scorsese’s America is a place where everyone obsesses over something, where lives collapse and are rebuilt, where women willingly submit to being doormats and license their man to philander.
“American culture, for Scorsese, is a proving ground for manhood: in every movie, he makes his audience familiar with the brutality of manhood, not always in a physical sense either. Scorsese’s anti-heroes can be smooth-talking charmers one second, blood-curdling fiends the next.”
“Should I fuck him, or fight him?”
Jake La Motta (Robert De Niro) in Raging Bull
Yet for all his daring and imagination, Scorsese is, on Cashmore’s account, a conservative filmmaker. “He respects the nuclear family, never challenges the preeminence of men and seems to admire the maneuvers of career criminals, who exploit the weak for their own gain.”
In Scorsese’s America, there are no moral signposts signaling the roads to redemption or damnation. The police are criminals in uniforms and criminals seldom taste the costs of their behavior. Yet, somehow, Scorsese has held his finger to the pulse of the nation in a way that arguably no other director has managed.
“How could he write ‘how many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man’? This is what my father went through: he was the one who wasn’t called a man.” Mavis Staples [on Bob Dylan], in No Direction Home
Cashmore argues that Scorsese has produced a comprehensive portrait of America. “No living filmmaker can boast such a range of subjects and such historical depth,” says the author. “Scorsese’s America starts in the 1860s and brings us right up to date, examining what Scorsese sees as a society that continually rips itself apart then repairs itself.”
For Cashmore, Scorsese’s epic tales warrant comparison with Tolstoy, his explorations of the city are worthy successors to those of Dickens and his sympathetic yet authentic portrayals of disillusionment rank with those of Steinbeck. And yet, the nagging doubt remains: is Scorsese a reliable chronicler of America, or merely a visionary filmmaker?