Quotes from “Can We Share a World Beyond Representation?” (February 2020) by Irmgard Emmelhainz, who argues for doing away with “representation, recognition, and difference and replace them with frames for relationality and reciprocity”:
Rootlessness, violence, the shattering and loss of all traditions, loneliness, mental decay, and illness—this is the inheritance from modernity in the West and in Westernized territories throughout the globe.
Modernity also means the replacement of “society” and “community” by “mass society.”
I think of these quotes from The Darker Side of Western Modernity by Walter Mignolo:
The subject of theological knowledge depended on the dictates of God, while the subject of secular philosophy/science depended on Reason, on the Cartesian ego/mind and Kant’s transcendental reason. Thus, Western imperial knowledge, cast in Western imperial languages, was theo-politically and ego-politically founded.
geo- and body-politics of knowledge, decolonial thinking and the decolonial option, place human lives and life in general first, rather than advocating for the “transformation of the disciplines.”
How the absence of body- and geo-politics in Western thinking — removal of body and place — is wholly colonial, the very definition of it.
Back to Emmelhainz article:
- In their rebellion, avant-garde artists made a tactical, temporary, local, contrived, problematic, and idealistic alliance with the working class and the marginalized… This attempted alliance was based on representativity: an invisible social contract in which artists imagined themselves to be mandated by humanity to address humanity in the name of universal values, grounded in a conflict between the individual (artist) and societal structures
Could representation (potential homogenization, nonconsensual agency) be as deceitful as inclusion and diversity (i.e. assimilation and tokenism) which was preceded by desegregation (i.e. assimilation)?
This has been by moral struggle with understanding the marginalized groups that I am part of, but not feeling like I represent anyone other than myself. And I think again of being in the middle space: of being marginalized but then afforded privileged opportunities because I am part of marginalized groups. Can I only profit from my own oppression? I think of the artists, etc. who were given voice, attention, finally, but because someone in the group they represent died unjustly or was belittled by the very industry that now has felt pressured to give voice to ___ artist. How can I trust that I do represent, without knowing how much I have actually assimilated by accepting opportunities? But how else?
I also cannot say I am represented by a group or a person, but groups and persons, and even then parts of groups and persons, which really means parts of everyone and peoples. I bring up a question I’ve asked before: am I a synthesis of everyone or a refinement of myself? The fallacy in this question is the “or” dichotomy. We may be individuals, but we are pluralistic.
- For each user/citizen/consumer, the digital neoliberal capitalist order offers an individualized, tailor-made reality. This process occurs and repeats to the point that our “normal” now consists of living in a world in which we all have the right to retreat to our own private worlds of meaning, tailored by the algorithms of digital interfaces that constantly adapt to each user’s individual needs. The possibility of a world in common has been replaced by myriad niches for the private consumption of digitalized content. Clearly, representation—the dispositif that, via speech and action, enables appearance in the world in common, and also the human capacity for the creation and dissemination of shared meaning and traditions—has been hijacked by capitalism, authoritarianism, democracy, the internet, and spectacle. (Emmelhainz)
What do we share more often than the architectures that contain us?
Artists replaced the invisible social contract from early modernity that had enabled them to speak on behalf of all of humanity with a new one, in which they spoke from the point of view of their own gender, ethnic origin, political struggle, or sexual orientation, as colonized peoples, minorities, workers, etc. … A new, invisible social contract was drawn up in which individuals would now only speak on behalf of themselves as representatives of their own personal experiences of ethnic, political, or gendered specificities, with the mandate to address “everyone” and to secure recognition of “my” ordeal. Equality came to mean equal access to visibility through self-representation.
Under globalization, art is disseminated to a globalized mass society through an internationalized culture industry. Governments and corporations monopolize this culture industry for the purpose of managing the dissent and antagonism produced by the neoliberal order. In other words, states and corporations instrumentalize art as a showcase for global democracy; they point to art that expresses dissent as proof of how “democratic” and “tolerant” the neoliberal order is. (Emmelhainz)
Representatives (individuals) part of marginalized groups are seen as a success for the advancement of those groups. But a representative is not the group itself. But we must start and inspire somewhere. But is the start to that answer through an individual breakthrough, or as Emmelhainz concludes, through mutual aid and reciprocity? Breaking through together, not individually through the helping hand of the privileged. But how can you under such grand systems that constantly erode the sustainability of any alternative? One of the greatest struggles is having enough money and resources. And guess who holds the money and resources? AH.
And how do you respond without violence, the requirement in past revolutions?
communities of morally concerned spectators
- The codependent politics of appearance demands a form of despotic empathy generated by situating oneself, or others on whose behalf one speaks, in the place of the martyr or scapegoat seeking recognition and visibility. Furthermore, the modern practice of “looking at the pain of others” has created a form of “reified subjectivity” that enables a spectacularized, uncommitted, and “post-political” position vis-à-vis the world. This means that from the perspective of reified subjectivity, as Anita Chari argues, the economy exists as a domain that is separate from human activity, blinding the subject to the extent of her involvement in the capitalist processes in which we are all complicit. As a pathology, reified subjectivity leaves room only for despotic empathy, which in turn forecloses the possibility of seeing actual power relations that divide the world between “the wretched of the screen” and spectators living in privileged enclaves with access to cultural commodities. (Emmelhainz)
Emmelhainz ends with an appropriately nebulous proposal of relationality and reciprocity. Relationality makes sense to me more so than representation. It implies a horizontality that is missing in representation, which connotes a singular face speaking for a faceless mass.
Just go read the entire article which I have basically quoted half of here. It’s not that long yet says so much. I understand it, but am still trying to understand it. The context of decolonial readings like Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and introduction to Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth helps informs and contextualizes.