Emergence of the Political Subject
Publication Year: 2010
This book is on the political subject, the conditions of its emergence, and the theoretical implications of this emergence, particularly the implications for our history. It seeks to change the way in which we understand our modern political history and the way in which it inquires into life, truth, and collective existence. The book not only marks by dense contentions different and varying histories of turbulent political moments in modern Indian history, but also presents a startling picture of the emergence of the political subject, which has been repeatedly sought to be brought under submission, but has repeatedly emerged as a mark of autonomy and agency in life.
- Front Matter
- Back Matter
- Subject Index
- Section One: Situations
- Chapter 1: Death and Dialogue
- Chapter 2: The Impossibility of Settled Rule
- Chapter 3: The Singular Subject
- Chapter 4: Terror, Politics, and the Subject
- Chapter 5: What is Resistance?
- Chapter 6: A Rebel's Vision
- Section Two: Positions
- Chapter 7: The Labour of Memory
- Chapter 8: Towards a Theory of the Constituent Power
- Chapter 9: Possibilities of our Trans-National Citizenship
- Chapter 10: Empire, Globalisation, and the Subject
Copyright © Ranabir Samaddar, 2010
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
First published in 2010 by
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Published by Vivek Mehra for SAGE Publications India Pvt Ltd, typeset in 10.5/12.5 pt Minion by Star Compugraphics Private Limited, Delhi and printed at Chaman Enterprises, New Delhi.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Emergence of the political subject/Ranabir Samaddar.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. Political science-Philosophy. 2. Subject (Philosophy) 3. Citizenship.
JA71.S265 320.01—dc22 2009 2009034895
ISBN: 978-81-321-0290-8 (HB)
The SAGE Team: Elina Majumdar, Meena Chakravorty, Mathew P.J. and Trinankur Banerjee
Jean Luc Racine and Josiane Racine[Page vi]
Professor Anisuzzaman of Dhaka University helped me access the material on the Wahabi Trials and Professor Mesbah Kamal of the same university helped me access the material on the 1969 unrest in the then East Pakistan. Krishna Banerjee, the editor of Khoj alerted me on the availability of some of the writings of the early terrorist-revolutionaries of Bengal. Subir Bhaumik lent me the transcript of the interview with T. Muivah. Sandro Mezzadra and Bret Nielson readily discussed with me their work on borders and labour flows. I acknowledge my debt to them. The chapters of this book were presented variously over the last few years before different audiences, and as texts of lectures, these were translated, commented upon, and published in different forms and forums. My debt is to all who listened to these, discussed their responses with enthusiasm, and published. I have learnt from them enormously.
The idea on which this book works was there with me for some time. As I studied the political histories of several interconnected issues of our time, I realised more than ever that we need accounts of the political subject, long pushed behind the institutional-legal veil of the citizen. A comprehensive history of the emergence of the political subject in India would not only connect the colonial and the post-colonial lives of our country and the broader world in a new and more helpful way, such a history would enable us also to see many events in a fresh light. From my early study of workers' response to new managerial techniques occasioned and reinforced by new technologies, to my study of village history in south-west Bengal in the colonial time, to the study of the students movement in the 1960s in the last century, to investigations in various other themes that I picked up subsequently, the idea of the political subject persisted in me, often however in the crude form of agency. The philosophical works were dissatisfying; the political works seemed inadequate; and the speculative-cultural writings on the theme of subject formation were in any case not the [Page ix]appropriate site for my inquiry. Also, the aporetic condition of what passes on as the Marxist view of politics (with its crudest variety prevailing in West Bengal) was agonising. In such condition, the current situation of globalisation and the discontent it has provoked and spread worldwide has opened fresh windows of inquiry and understanding—not only for me, I am quite sure, but for many others as well. Once again real life is opening our eyes. How lame it seems today the views of some of the European Marxist intellectuals, who had lamented once that Marx had not developed an adequate theory of politics. As if in the style of various speculative traditions including the liberal fantasies, Marx was expected to encourage such constructions. When would we realise that as world, its struggles, and the repertoire of actions develop, Marxist view of politics also develops, matures, and becomes appropriate for the changing life while retaining its fidelity to its fundamental goals. Once again life is teaching all including the famous Marxist intellectuals.
This work, growing out of that dissatisfaction and realisation, can be said to be carrying the sense of politics unbound. It is not constrained by the scary thoughts of whether its theoretical implications are in congruence with political philosophy or with the views of philosophers for whom probably real politics does not exist or what exists is not politics at all. In fact it is for philosophy to draw consequences it wishes to infer and learn from politics. The truth of contentious politics is being realised at this moment everywhere in every possible way. Any such unbound position can open up to an astonishing range of material determination of a political event, and thus politics becomes free to set its own limits.
I feel beholden to my colleagues and associates, who have encouraged me to think critically, which is necessary to carry on research in new areas and anticipate new themes. My debt is to these usual suspects—in India to Paula Banerjee, Sanjay Barbara, Sabyasachi Basu Ray Chaudhury, Pradip K. Bose, Subhas Chakrabarty, Sanjay Chaturvedi, Samir K. Das, Asha Hans, Kalpana Kannabiran, Ritu Menon, Bishnu Mohapatra, and Arun Patnaik; and abroad to Itty Abraham, Etienne Balibar, Manuela Bojadzijev, Sandro Mezzadra, Bret Nielson, Heikki Patomaki, Julian Read, Tim Scrase, Ruchira Ganguly-Scarse, William van Schendel, Stephen Wright, and Oren Yiftachel. [Page x]I must also declare my debt to SAGE Publications for once again agreeing to publish an experimental work, and my thanks go in particular to Sugata Ghosh, Elina Majumdar, and Meena Chakravorty.
I wish I had read Javed Majeed's Muhammad Iqbal—Islam, Aesthetics and Postcolonialism (Routledge, 2009) when I was writing this book, particularly Chapter 3. But it came in my hand only after I had handed over my revised manuscript to the publisher. But readers particularly interested in Chapter 3 are advised to read this wonderful book on Iqbal, in which the discussion on language and subjectivity surfaces again and again, and the book explains the point in a way better than what I do.
Finally, I feel enormously happy to dedicate this book to the continuing friendship with Jean Luc Racine and Josiane Racine. They have provided me warm companionship through the years and at difficult times. I want them to know that their encouragement has meant a lot to me.
This book is on the political subject, the conditions of its emergence, the theoretical implications of this emergence, particularly the implications for our history. Philosophy has till date speculated on self, reason, and existence. Does politics obey its rules and findings? Does the political subject display other features—features that remain beyond our speculative texts? These questions arise as politics throws up unexpected array of actions and repertoires of experiences, and the political subject repeatedly emerges as the constitutive force of our life.
Or, we can reframe our introductory inquiry in this way: Can philosophy be reconceived under colonial and post-colonial conditions? By philosophy, if we mean the philosophy of the subject, and specifically, philosophy of the political subject?The Hermeneutics of the Political Subject
There are two grounds for raising the question.
First, societies under colonial and post-colonial conditions had previously different speculative and inquiring traditions largely banished today to what can be called the popular sphere of thinking, or the ‘extra-colonial’ sphere of thinking.1 These traditions did not have the ‘normal’ connection that they could have been expected to have with the new political thinking under the colonial conditions, either because in the East speculative traditions had not much to offer on the materiality of the political life except by way of some advices (in India Kautilya's Arthashastra being one of the early prominent texts and Sier Mutaqherin being one of the last when power was slipping into the hands of the new colonial rulers), or under modern colonial and post-colonial conditions the issues of concern demanded different frameworks of thought, or [Page xii]more significantly different ways of responding to new realities where speculation was no more a preferred social activity. To recall Pierre Bourdieu of Pascalian Meditations,2 and to give the words there a twist, speculation as a social activity in this society was not popular among members of the wealthy or the political classes and the aristocracy, or was quickly dead, the sociology of meditating philosophy was nearly extinct, and as I demonstrate here in one of the reflections, what came in its place was a sociology of actions, and new theory of practice.
Second, the extremely contentious colonial and post-colonial politics skipped many centuries of transitions to arrive straightaway at the problematic of the political subject. The route was not through centuries long speculation on the self, but a dramatic arrival at the great question of the political subject, as ruthless colonial rule moved the colonised societies to a resistance culture where the normal question to be asked would be: Who are you to rule? What are our roles then? Who is the ruler and who is the subject? In short, the issue of political self emerged directly under specific colonial and post-colonial conditions cutting many philosophical knots of past centuries. Political necessities led to new thinking, political subject-hood became a practical question of society. What in the Western political history required centuries of thinking to emerge as a question, was asked on the streets in the East, namely, what does it mean to act in the name of freedom, what does it mean to act politically? This was a great transition in the East, whose significance unfortunately is still not fully understood by social theorists and political thinkers and philosophers whether in India or in the West where political philosophy has had a long tradition of being connected with inquiries of self and had a sort of renaissance in the later half of the 20th century. The consequent question has therefore remained un-addressed, namely what happens if the road to philosophy is not through metaphysics, but politics?
The present volume consisting of reflections on the different dimensions or conditions of the political subject is written in that background. These reflections are grouped in two ways: one set reflects on the conjunctions of the emergence of the subject; the other set is made of explanations and commentaries, which reflect on the repeated emergence of the political subject towards reconstituting the political society. The inquiry and the provisional results are all set in this perspective.
[Page xiii]Emergence of the Political Subject carries forward the argument in my recent writings to visualise politics in a new way that is to say visualising the conditions of politics in a new way so that the general lessons of such inquiry can be presented to all in a systematic manner. These reflections therefore are not to be taken as commentaries on exceptional situations; they represent a mass of material leading us towards a theory of the political subject under the rules of formation of politics. Based on reflections of a number of texts, the work tries to find out, can we reframe the notion of the political subject in a material manner—in other words, can we rid the notion of political subject-hood of metaphysical traces, which are so typical of any discussion particularly in the West on the question of subject and subjectivity? Can we discuss the theory of the political subject based on rigorous discussions on the conditions of its emergence, without an unnecessary digression into a theory of the self? In other words, I have presented here events, actions, and reflexive commentaries with the consideration that these will at least indicate a range of various contentious situations of colonial and post-colonial politics and cast an all round light on the emergence of the political subject. I must also make clear at the same time that the texts reflected, critiqued, and commented upon here to be sure never claimed that they were conceptual exercises towards bringing out in the open the nature of the political subject. I cannot burden them with the particular expectation of a reader who is preoccupied with another search. But these texts have one thing in common. They encourage us into thinking of the contentious process of politics, collective claim-making, and the conjunctions of certain specific circumstances out of which the political subject emerges in modern colonial and post-colonial history. They provide us with ‘situations'’.
The texts are for instance some intelligence records on a revolt of a bygone era, an interview transcript involving a rebel leader and a television broadcaster, a short tract on memories, writings of a revolutionary that can be understood only when read as testaments on transition to freedom, a forgotten journal of a group of anti-colonial political activists, a cluster of writings around four exceptional lives, a similar assortment of texts throwing light on the formation of subject under conditions of an empire, and finally a short paragraph from the writing of a great philosopher of our time that is intolerably dense and [Page xiv]is about to burst out in a range of meanings. All these texts throw light on the problematic of the subject-hood of politics. They are picked up from the colonial and post-colonial intellectual, political, and administrative history of the last 160 years. They present for the readers the significant sites of politics and political thinking, more significantly they also represent 10 ‘situations’, 10 ‘positions’. In order to understand the process of hundreds and thousands of people emerging as political subjects and as political subjects authoring politics, we need to glance around for those, perhaps daily and ordinary, contentious ‘situations’ and ‘positions’ from which the political subject emerges—a ‘subject’ who was ‘subjected’ to colonial politics, but who refused to be mere object of politics and rule, and wanted to become ‘subject’. Subjection and subjectivation, the words that indicate the practices of subject-formation, are thus two interlinked processes. It was necessary to mark out those variegated situations of contention, which were often unnoticed, producing what in mainstream social sciences would be treated as minor texts—minor situations—producing minor knowledges. These situations are thus in a sense marginal situations, characteristic, and therefore remind us of the marginality of the colonial and post-colonial situation itself in established political thought. These texts do not present theories, they present what Foucault said, ‘thinking’, not philosophy, but ‘thought’, not established ideologies but subjugated ideas. Emergence of the Political Subject is not a history of ideas, but a history of colonial and post-colonial situations, situations we must understand to grasp the conditions surrounding the emergence of the political subject.Politics as a Discourse of Actions
As ‘situation’ therefore each of these is a concatenation of circumstances, and we can consider the marginal positions sketched out in this volume as particular concatenations of circumstances. For instance, a guerrilla leader has to comment on a desirable and possible political future in course of an interview because he wants peace now; the political subject learns to dialogue and court death in order to cope with situations of deadlock, itinerant preachers try to grasp the phenomenon of colonialism and alien culture, and attempt to make [Page xv]sense of patriotism, which would take into account both religion and language, and would thus form a community of believers based on diversity of beliefs to create a political-spiritual nation free from colonial rule; or here is a position that the early militant political activists would need against colonial rule—a position that would require justification for killing of aliens, and therefore a position that is based on replies to definite questions of phenomenology, namely, What is action? What is death? What is good for the country? What is the ethics of the collective? What indeed is ethical existence under alien rule? What is obligation? The replies of the early militant nationalists to these questions, some of them classic political questions, are all clarifying exercises; they indicate the process of reflection by which the political subject emerges under specific conditions. Variegated in composition and concatenation, they do not show any pre-existing self in order to transform into political subject-hood; what they show in these compositions are certain common situations and common contentions leading to the emergence of the political subject. These texts in the process of reflecting on the emergence of the political subject help us also to reflect on the great question of political modernity, namely, ‘how to address the contradiction between a subject defined by the freedom of rational thought and a subject grounded in the determinations of material reality’.
In an intelligence report I show how the rulers view the emergence of the subject as a process of the appearance of the fanatic, unruly, violent, and unpredictable. Who is a fanatic? Who calls him a fanatic? What precisely is this fanaticism? Here is again a typical situation where those working in the area of political history would have to work more. To the extent I could, I have shown the general lessons to be learnt from these questions and the historical answers, which are important to this study of the emergence of the political subject. The political subject ‘exceeds’ the standards set by the regime for permissible violence in its determination in the pursuit of a goal, hence its unruliness, its ‘fanaticism’. Fanaticism is the readiness to go to war ‘discontinuing’ the prevailing mode of politics; it is the voice of the underground, it breaks the myth that politics is the product of E/enlightenment; it is unruly because it is still beyond the given formula of the time on the war/politics copula. Political subject exceeds rules of politics.3 In this way, the unruly colonial subject in India not only repeatedly exceeded [Page xvi]the overwhelming legal realities, against which and in the midst of which the colonial subject would have to work, but demonstrated by its life experience that the emergence of the political subject is fundamentally a matter of ‘non-correspondence’ with the dominant reality. Thus, a guerrilla leader 60 years after the promulgation of the Constitution finds no help from existing constitutional law of the country in order to reconcile or radically amend politics. The anarchist revolutionaries had earlier found that insubordination even under the most extreme degrading conditions may have had an ethical core, but sadly no legal core. Or, the political subject realises today that a continent may integrate on liberal-democratic agenda, still there would be no place for those who remain outside the law, therefore as in the case of the dream of equal national citizenship the nature of the trans-national citizenship also may remain non-inclusive. In short, if politics has to set its face at times against given legal rules and codes, and given political rules, how will it act?
With this great question, political philosophy under colonial and post-colonial conditions arrives at its most important gradient, namely, evolving a theory of action—action for mutiny, sedition, protest, revolt, revolution, challenging the monism of sovereignty with alternative ideas of shared sovereignty … Not that the political subject always succeeds, but s/he has set the agenda. As I try to show in one reflection, s/he faces the issue of history, memory, and action, and I have tried to argue following the way Walter Benjamin had put the matter, s/he is like the figure of a Paul Klee painting, whose face is set towards the past even though a storm propels him forward.4
In this sense political history as encapsulated in these chapters not only add new colour and form to philosophy, it proves to be fundamentally no different from political philosophy.5 This study tries to suggest a new method too—a method which is critical, genealogical, and has to uniquely combine practicality and ethicality. To think of ‘politics as a discourse of actions’ is now possible because the colonial past was never banal; each moment of the day was violently destructive for nearly 200 years, genealogy and history came together naturally, and philosophy was grounded in that shattering present. This was possible, for reason here showed itself from its first moment of appearance in split form (violence and liberal preaching combined from day one), which is its original form—it needed no Immanuel [Page xvii]Kant to demonstrate its practical and pure aspects. Finally this has been possible, for the ethics that this political subject has needed is of a practical kind or one might say of an applied kind, in the sense, that once again ethics was asked here not as a matter of ‘care of the self’ and ‘self-caring technologies’, but as a matter of achieving transformation of the conditions outside (though here we should remember that in Gandhi and in the advices of some other leaders, caring for the country had the essential gradient of caring for the self). But transformation was and still remains the great agenda of thinking, and this produces a particular kind of reflection on the political subject.
In this essentially hermeneutical task, I had two secret objectives in mind, which I admit here. First, I wanted to see if a new way of composing our political history is possible, whereby the actors of politics (whom I call in aggregate ‘the political subject’) would gain a place of more pride in our accounts than what they occupy in the present conventional ones. Second, because I knew that offering a straight definition of the ‘political subject’ will not help us much in understanding the complexities involved in the theme, this is an attempt to capture the conjuncture of events and forces—a force of circumstances—that produces the category of ‘political subject’, a category which is neither captured by the term ‘citizen’, nor by the evocation of the term ‘political society’. These two inquiries (the first requiring shorter explanation and the second requiring a somewhat longer one) have developed from my earlier work on migrants, illegal immigrant groups, refugees, informal labour, fleeing peasants, displaced population groups, and shop-floor workers of industries with sunset technologies, in short all who are most of the time in non-citizen circumstances, for whom citizenship as a legal category makes increasingly little sense, even though we know that the term ‘citizen’ will be invoked for a long time to come for the association with the words such as liberty, equality, and fraternity. I realised as I kept on pondering over these texts that they provide certain grounds enabling me to look through certain conditions at the emergence of the political subject. The condition can be legal, or it may be a dialogic situation, or a situation of nation-region-globe interface, or the inevitable use of terror as a condition or form of political activity, or conditions that may be disciplinary, such as one where the post-colonial subject is constrained with the burden of memory as it moves to claim political agency. [Page xviii]In short, the inquiry is about the autonomy of politics: What can be the enabling or debilitating conditions affecting the autonomy of politics, the subject that claims and gains political agency?
This is therefore not a work on ‘self-consciousness’ of the oppressed, though that may be a necessary and certainly hazardous task. In Western political philosophy, attempts to recover in historico-political terms such self-consciousness (for instance, the effort of Georg Lukacs in tracing the consciousness of the workers—History and Class Consciousness, English translation, MIT Press, 1972) are not rare. The hazards of such a task in extricating itself from traces of the master's hold (Lukacs in a tract on Hegel calls him the Master waiting at a distance for everyone for the final reckoning6) are simply enormous. I am not making here any effort to write a history of the consciousness of a group, or a people. This is an attempt to understand how politics creates its subject, the subject who is not the slave of a politics guided by others, but who authors politics. How does such agency arise is the crux of this inquiry. What are the contentious conditions of politics, which allow the emergence of the political subject? What are the conditions that generate the autonomy of politics or conversely destroy this autonomy? I hope that these narratives and reflections on events will help the reader to make sense of the contentious circumstances from which the political subject emerges.
Once more therefore this is a genealogical inquiry. The precondition of conducting such an inquiry is of course taking a distinct attitude to politics, which I have described in my recent work as the ‘materiality of politics, its physicality’, which I submit is the other name of ‘contentious politics’. The contention is extremely physical. Not ‘bare life’, not even ‘naked life’, but ‘bare bodies’ inhabit this politics; and ‘bare body’ expresses only one aspect of this physicality of the political process. This process is so violent and contentious, that either the sovereign power suffers the spectre of bare bodies everywhere, and therefore takes exceptional measures to cleanse politics of bare bodies, or it requires and creates a juridical structure to clothe politics effectively so that politics has little marks of bare bodies. In these reflections I try to make sense of this materiality or the physicality of the political contentions and the process, which allows through its own contentions the emergence of the political subject. The political subject emerges not through discourses, or the ideological thought of a great [Page xix]philosopher, or even by some sacred text called the Constitution, but as a result of certain conjuncture of conflicting circumstances. ‘Situations’ create ‘positions’. In discussing the political subject we are discussing both situations and positions.Not the Identity of Self, but the Identity of Actions
Who is this political subject? I have already indicated several marks of this figure. At one level the political subject is the citizen-militant fighting at the barricades,7 raising manifestos, assembling crowds, organising parties, writing and speaking on behalf of collectives, joining all these, voting with fervour or with feet, marching on to parliaments with petitions, organising peasant demonstrations, refusing to pay rent and other taxes, leading attacks on landlords or hunger marches, and declaring millenarian rule … However, this is more a 19th and an early 20th-century figure in the genealogy of the political subject, which lasted till the 1960s of the last century. At another level, the political subject is less of a citizen because s/he has either opted out, or s/he has not been taken in as a legitimate member of the political society. Refugees, dismissed workers, fleeing peasants, persecuted minorities, or groups or collectives demanding self-determination, or women claiming autonomy and agency in politics to frame politics show how citizenship is an inadequate expression of the figure. At the third level, we can see how the political subject is ‘subject’ to given politics, but aware of the subjection wants to subject politics to its own visions, that is authoring politics. At yet another, the fourth level, this figure does not indicate an individual militant but indicates a collective phenomenon in politics. Some say, this is the phenomenon of ‘multitude’. Finally and here is the fifth level, the political subject is the product of democracy—democracy not in the sense of formal institutions, but in the sense of mass politics. Clearly we witness situations where people start contrasting representative democracy with avenues of directly controlling the rulers, situations of ‘democratic entropy and the degradation of democratic energy’, where people refuse to play the game of representation. Political subject emerges at that conjuncture, marked by a ‘counter-democratic universe, that is [Page xx]to say, a universe composed of various manifestations of the citizens’ distrust of the authorities … leading to a new cycle of questions',8 and a reappearance of the structural tensions in issues of citizenship, representation, and sovereignty. We cannot of course arrogantly say that in the Middle Ages when power and politics were mainly a courtly affair, it was not possible for the political subject to emerge. There are countless instances when urban groups with distinct rural followings tried to take politics in their own hand, proposing new kings, new kingdoms, new republics, and new worlds. However, with modern democratic politics, the right to do politics becomes the basic human right, and the political subject emerges upsetting at times the fine calculations of democratic politics.
In all these manifestations the figure of the political subject conveys three senses: a collective sense, a sense of resistance to power, particularly to the legal resolution of issues of power, and the sense of being a supplement, in other words the figure is ‘not absorbed or exhausted by, while being marked by, political regimes, control systems, power structures, legal codification, and present political establishments’. As I explain in one of the reflections, the figure symbolises desire, new flight paths of escape, resistance, and towards new existence. For instance, keeping in mind the long history of sovereigns, kings, and monarchs, terrified at the prospect of moving bands of peasant outlaws and heretics, proclaiming legal and administrative restriction upon restriction on the right to associate and movement, so that country remains under control, I show how ‘group’ becomes the persona non grata, the entity to be decimated, killed. Similarly, I show how even while through the act of constitution-making the subjects get legal rights, become citizens, and thus now legal subjects of law, the political subject refuses to buy this legal resolution of the fundamental problem of democracy. Now, these three characteristics to be sure have to do with the specific relation of the political subject with the sovereign power. It is a material relation that goes beyond the theory of bio-politics that Georgio Agamben for instance propounds in Home Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life.9 The argument of the physicality of the political life, on which this work is based, also stands on the bio-political thesis as readers will find out in the following pages; but it speaks of contentions and actions that cannot be imagined in a bio-politically closed world.
[Page xxi]In Homo Sacer, Agamben taking his cue from Foucault's fragmentary analysis of bio-politics probes with great breadth, intensity, and acuteness the covert or implicit presence of an idea of bio-politics in the history of traditional political theory. He argues that from the earliest treatises of political theory, notably in Aristotle's notion of man as a political animal, and throughout the history of Western thinking about sovereignty (whether of the king or the state), a notion of sovereignty as power over ‘life’ is implicit. This is so because of the way the sacred becomes integral to the idea of sovereignty. Carl Schmitt had already said that the sovereign's status depended on the power to make exception to the rules he safeguarded. Besides we have the anthropological theory of the close interlink of the sacred and the taboo. Agamben makes use of both these insights, and defines the sacred person as one who can be killed and yet not sacrificed. He finds this paradoxical in the status of the modern individual living in a system, which controls the collective's ‘naked life’ of all individuals. The homo sacer as an individual who exists in the law as an exile is a paradox, because while law enables the society to recognise the individual as homo sacer, law also mandates the exclusion, which thus gives the individual an identity. Agamben holds that life exists in two capacities. One is natural biological life, and the other is political life. Agamben likens the natural life to Hannah Arendt's description of the refugee's ‘naked life’ (The Origins of Totalitarianism, 1951). The effect of homo sacer is a cleavage between one's biological and political lives. As ‘bare life’, the homo sacer finds himself submitted to the sovereign's state of exception, and though he has biological life, it has no political significance. Agamben says that the states of the political refugees, those persecuted in the Holocaust, and others in similar outlawed conditions, are the states of the homo sacer. Thus, the so-called sacred and inalienable rights of man prove to be completely unprotected from the power of the sovereign at the very moment it is no longer possible to characterise them as rights of the citizens of a state. This is because the basic right to claim other rights is gone. Although human rights were conceived of as the ground for civil rights, the deprivation of those civil rights (as, for example, in the case of stateless people or refugees) made them comparable to ‘savages’, many of whom are periodically exterminated, as in the camps. In this way, the regime becomes the camp. Camp as the exceptional, yet the only possible form [Page xxii]of political life under existing conditions, becomes the question mark for democracy. Homo sacer becomes the question mark for the liberal natural rights philosophers.
Yet, one may ask, does this naked person simply die? We know he must die. He is fated to die. He does not die for us, but dies as the ‘first person in the row’ to die. But does he die before our knowing, before we know the pain, the shock, the fear, the terror, the vengeance, the pity, the resignation, and the defiance—all that we know are combined with relief that the waiting is over, that s/he is finally dead? Who dies? Not you. Who is dying? Not I? The naked person; and then you, after you I.
This position of the ‘bare life’ brings forth one more question pertinent to what I am discussing in this book. Bare life facing death is free from identities. The possibility of naked life assuming the barest of identities—that is, the only identity possible and this is the fundamental political identity of being counter-posed to sovereign power, meeting at times the sovereign power in a state of near death—suggests the nature of political freedom, which is if we remember the state of ‘naked life’ the condition of being in a state that makes this oppositional to the sovereign, in this case meaning fundamentally beyond law. We can see that in terms of identity, ‘bare life’ is in a perfectly ‘sayable’ or ‘describable’ condition, yet we know it is ‘unsayable’, as much of this existence as a near-death condition is un-describable. Thus, politics rearranges in a fundamental way some of the fundamental questions of philosophy, such as the meaning of Being, Truth, and so on. ‘Bare life’ therefore has a political viability, because it not only brings up the possibility of counter-posing life to sovereign power, it also extracts politics from the bareness of language, the language that ‘naked life’ allows and then the language that it suggests as a future agenda. By making death a moment to be collectively shared ‘naked life’ makes the paradox of the simultaneous existence of ‘sayability’ and ‘unsayability’ the political condition of being. We can push the point a little more. If because of the compulsions of the sovereign, bare life becomes the subject of politics, then one may ask, and as Agamben himself seems to suggest in his book, how can bare life remain the subject of politics, when the legal resolution of democracy by putting rights of ‘man’ and ‘citizens’ together closes any chance of dissidence in politics—indeed which is what Aristotle wanted? Who would have reckoned with the [Page xxiii]possibility of bare life refusing such resolution, in other words, political actions, revolts, in short politics, exceeding the legal power of the sovereign, and the bare life never becoming good life in politics? To understand this process we need to study not so much the discourses of power, but or at least equally, the underground discourses of refusal, love, resistance, and alternative ideas of physical existence, that negotiate the problematic of public/private, polity/daily life, power/ desire in a refreshingly new way. In that fissure of bio-politics the modern political subject stands.
In other words, the possibility of the political subject to emerge is due, first, to the presence of bio-political conditions in our history, and second, due to the fact that as yet these bio-political conditions never exhaust the possibility of autonomy in politics, precisely because these bio-political conditions finally bring ‘bare life’ in opposition to sovereign power. Because ‘bare life’ is never bare, but always socially constituted, it occasions exceptionality, also it occasions resistance. The political subject in one sense is the indestructible remaining of the bio-political conditions—the remaining that has claimed agency, autonomy. This is the moment I have tried to illustrate from our political, juridical, and intellectual past when the issue of claiming autonomy became an important one amidst our bio-political conditions of life. I have also tried to show in these pages that ‘bare life’ is never bare but always socially constituted, therefore the presence of ‘bare life’ before sovereign power has occasioned resistance, and political subject emerges from that confrontation. One can think in this context the emergence of women as political subject through a contentious process under which women repeatedly subjected their own selves to law in search for justice only to find repeatedly that not only justice had eluded them, but that law also has repeatedly required women to become victims of all kinds of patriarchal needs of the state. Similarly the anti-colonial Indian in order to emerge as the political subject had to pass through the colonial legal and intellectual processes and yet maintain the autonomy, at times even by thinking of resorting to bombs and courting death.
Thus, the situations I present here involve studying the figure of the political subject not only in its theoretical foundations, but analysing this figure in relation to a set of practices (agitating, organising, voting, defying, negotiating, appealing to law, moving, claiming [Page xxiv]rights and identity, mobilising, deliberating, associating, speaking, demonstrating, dialoguing, refusing to pay taxes, bringing out publications and selling them, writing petitions and memoranda and submitting them, articulating a vision of the future, redesigning the nature of polity, legislating, establishing congruence between political vision and other spheres of life, practising friendship and deciding ‘who is a friend and who is an enemy’, and of course preparing to fight to realise the vision, dying, etc.) that have become significant in the age of mass democracy. To conceive of the political subject is to conceive politics in the background of such practices. The theme of knowledge of politics becomes crucial in understanding how agency in politics is claimed, that is to say how self-knowledge of politics becomes the first step towards political activity, and the emergence of the political subject. It no longer remains the ‘bare body’; endowment of political knowledge becomes a form of activity. Political knowledge becomes the precursor to a theory of practice appropriate to the age. I think we can now summarise the issue of the emergence of the political subject and acquiring political knowledge in this way:
- First of all there is a critical function involved in getting ready to do politics—to ‘unlearn’ the present state of knowledge (academic, sentimental, theological, spiritual, economic, etc.) and preparing to do politics by learning new things about society and its power relations.
- Knowledge therefore has a function of struggle. The practice of politics is thus conceived as an ongoing war. The individuals must have the required political instruments or weapons, which will enable them to fight all through the life. Thus, training and learning to do politics become important as human activity. Political pedagogy therefore becomes crucial.
- Political subject does not emerge from the existence of the techniques of exercise of power, particularly legal techniques, but from resistance against those techniques. The Prince is not therefore a political subject. He is a ruler.
- Thus, in this new education, the ethics of resistance becomes somewhat akin to what morality does in building up a religious soul, or to the role that desire plays in building up aesthetics.
- Like in any subject-formation, a set of practices becomes significant in the formation of the political subject. Innovation of [Page xxv]a new set of practices indicates the emergence of a new subject in politics who is the new author. These practices are both discursive and institutional.
- These practices are essentially collective, that is to say relational (contentious on one hand, dialogic on the other), and because of this, the emergence of the political subject is possible only in a collective form.
- Finally, the materiality of all these, the physicality of the process, its contentious nature, and the transformation of the ‘bare body’ into the political subject—a contentious and dialogic subject.
I do not claim that in this book I have been able to offer full explanation of these seven characteristics necessary for a study in understanding the emergence of the political subject. But the readers I hope will agree that at least I have conveyed the argument, namely, that the production of the political subject is not so much associated with a theory of the self, or human nature, or a set of cultural practices, but with a conjunction of circumstances associated with contentions, events, political practices, and new desires. As against power, it is resistance; against domination it is desire; against rule it is friendship; against sovereign authority it is bare body; against the ‘culture of self’ it is subject-hood—one can find in the story of the emergence of the political subject the overturning of the established world of knowledge. This is possible only by means of a radical ‘anti-Platonism’, a repudiation of the Kantian problematic itself, that is to say the problematic of placing the self as the central object of inquiry. ‘Not the identity of the self, but the identity of the practice’—that is the watchword for a materialist view of politics. We did not inquire the self; we inquired the political subject here—not a brand name but a generic name.Political Subject as the Constitutive Force
Of course the point that the hermeneutics of the political subject does not originate in the identity of the self, but the identity of the practice goes against the heritage of a model of politics, which is state-centric. In that sense it indicates an alternative way of political understanding that is transactional, contentious, continuously predicated, and the [Page xxvi]worst of all sins in the eyes of all philosophies; it is experiential, and in that sense, pragmatic. This too is a model with a lineage, a lineage of continuous dissolution through new practices and transformation. One great instance of such politics is the practice of friendship where contingency rules overriding centuries long morals and mores giving rise to new notions of citizenship, solidarity, hospitality, conditions of democracy, and new notions of unity and multiplicity,10 or the practice of advice by non-rulers (mendicants, ascetics, holy men, fable readers, courtiers, Brahmins, etc.) to rulers on the appropriateness of certain conducts and the inappropriateness of certain others, as in the Mahabharata when Bhisma the elder on his deathbed of arrows counsels the pious Yudhisthira on how to manage economy (material affairs of the village and the country) and keep the subjects happy. In such politics, though strategy is a word still retaining value, what is of importance is the factor of the ‘moment’, that is tactic, the conditional relation to totality, and therefore a historicised adoption of notions of responsibility, ethics, law, justice, indeed to put the record straight, the concept of the political itself.
How can we explain the phenomenon of the political subject that is not state-centric, which is to say, not politics-centric, if we go by the teaching of classic political philosophy, which says that the state is the crux of politics and the political society? I think that this transformation came in political thinking when politics came to be associated not so much with state or rule, but with war. Not that this displacement was without problem as Etienne Balibar shows in a long tract on various Marxist understandings of Clausewitz.11 But we can say at least this that from now on the identity of the practice became as important in politics as the identity of the self … a point that anti-colonial thinking quickly grasped. Several features emerged as a result of this displacement.
First, politics became in a contentious framework a defensive enterprise against aggrandising rulers (added to it the factor that therefore such struggle had better chance of success, because defensive war would win finally over a tiring offensive campaign with the homeland advantage of the unity of people, army, and political organisation—a point stressed by both Clausewitz and Mao).
Second, by framing politics in terms of war (but we must not forget ‘by other means’), this model of politics not only drew from the insight that war was politics by other means, it expanded the possibilities of [Page xxvii]means (that is at times violent means); by that token it also expanded the possibilities of politics. By making the series of inter-changeability of power, politics, and war interminable, it made politics action oriented, complementary, and always moving away from the state, making new ‘flight paths’ possible.
Third, such displacement opened up the unity of theory and history—the two masters of politics—as a problematic to the advantage of politics. Hitherto, politics was a matter of theory in the sense of totality, typical of a Platonic enterprise, which must accompany a theory of life, good life, just life, and become a part of it. Then it became a matter of history, whereby it must fall into a pattern, must look to precedents, and must fulfil a historical mission only to be explained by philosophy. But anti-colonial politics, and various politics of liberation, while mentioning its adherence to these masters, resisted their pressures, and conceptualised situations as singular ones. Therefore, each act was singular in possibility, each practice was to be carefully meditated before acting upon, and each possibility was to be new in history, whose antecedent may not be found in the scriptures. Therefore ancient philosophy never sat heavily on the shoulders of anti-colonial thinkers or the political subjects of the East, as they and they alone were faced with the possibility of a permanent rupture with the wise, ancient past. Fourth, and this is my final point, since anti-colonial politics began as actions against a state, and had to develop its theory of action, it looked at itself as a protracted feature (therefore the continuity of anti-colonial politics for more than one century almost everywhere), as extremely wide in scope (must cover the entire country), as a step that would isolate the enemy from the society (colonial state from the people), and build parallel power centres (in India the Indian National Congress, in China the Communist Party, or several power centres as alternative to state, etc.). The last point is important, for while political historians have a tendency to see this development with state-centric lens, that is from the point of formation of post-colonial state, this was a tremendous political advance from the point of democracy, in terms of historical orientation of popular politics against leaders, kings, governments, states, or a monopolist political leadership.12 Unless we are to say that politics no longer needs a subject (as all American neo-conservatives would say following Fukuyama), it is difficult to reject the reality of this displacement and its consequences for a theory of the political subject. [Page xxviii]The point to be made from all these brief observations is that the hermeneutics of the political subject not only cannot be state-centric, it cannot be self-centric also. Any standard history of Western philosophy will tell how the connection between the self and the state got established and has become inseparable today, so much so that it is inconceivable to even think of their disconnection. Here in the colonies and excolonies how the self, state, and politics claimed their autonomous spheres is of course another history, which has to be worked out in a complete manner, but whose fragments hopefully can be found in the following pages.
Finally, a few words on the necessity at this juncture of writing this book, close upon the heels of the second volume of my Materiality of Politics, titled as Subject Positions in Politics—where I tried to show how subject positions arise in politics, how a poet shifts his poetic gaze to a political gaze as literature, or literary reflections alone prove desperately short of the requirements of an anti-colonial position in the pressing time under colonialism, or how modern democracy produces the justice-seeking subject, or the subject that seeks autonomy of politics. But I realise that more work remains to be done on an urgent basis in the study of political subjectivity, particularly now, when scholars are abandoning all theories of social subjects, and recognising subjectivities in purely individual terms. On one hand, we witness the real subsumption of society under capital and the realisation of a generalised rule of capital, destroying subjectivities indiscriminatingly, on the other hand, the resultant encounters are providing opportunities for the subjectivities to reconstitute themselves. The reconstituted subjectivities are undergoing the process of transformation within the crises and the encounters. In this critical and reflective space, always new as this space emerges, the subjective reconstitution takes place.
We have to learn again from Marx here. In his works on political economy and history, he highlighted the specific process of the constitution of the subjectivity in the age of capital, and therefore the specific technologies or practices shaping this process of constitution. But this was not all. Not content with introducing the theme of the constitution of subjectivity, he went on to explore the theme of the liberation of subjectivity, in other words the theme of revolutionary subjectivity. This was at the heart of historical materialism, which has [Page xxix]always seen subjectivity as something to be grasped in terms of the social processes of the production of subjectivities. The subject is thus both a product and productive, constituted and constitutive, participant as well as critical. This is the theory of the unruly subject that can never be expropriated by capital, as the accounts of the colonial and postcolonial encounters included in this book show. Its un-containable character upsets any equilibrium, its hatred against domination, coercion, violence, and exploitation remains perennial. Yet it is also true that state structures, legal structures in particular, are reforming. There is a desperate desire to contain the illegalities within law. The state wants to appear as a rights regime, where the social characteristics of the state are covered by its formal, legal characteristics. The unification of the juridical ordering eliminates or subordinates every other norm or form or procedure. The theme of the political subject is thus related from the beginning with law, legality, and legal subjectivity, and is thus at perennial relation with the citizen, the figure in which the resolution between the social and the legal had taken place.
Many bourgeois theories of subjectivity have understood in recent time the acuteness of the problem. Thus, John Rawls in A Theory of Justice (Oxford University Press, 1971) tries to lend a social determination to being through appeals to equality and common good. The proposition of the difference principle to him is a mechanism for the development of social equality. It is the principle of justice that has the power to constitute the social being with real determinations, with preference for the least advantaged members of the society constituting the social. There must be fair equality of opportunity through institutional management of the task of attaching the difference principle with the equality principle. Yet, the constitution of the social being stops at that point. The difference principle was subsequently subordinated to the principles of liberty and of the priority of right or fair opportunity. This shows how the bourgeois society today has lost the capacity of minimum social reform. Hence its intellectual problem: Does it go back to the idea of transcendence and the idea of a transcendental subject, or attempt once more to find out a theory of the socially constructed subject, where of course it would have to negotiate the problems of idealism, particularly the idealism inherent in Kantian moral framework? Given this dilemma, militant intellectuals [Page xxx]must grasp the central ‘contradiction between a subject defined by the freedom of rational thought and a subject grounded in determinations by material reality’.13 Therefore, it is the thesis of the collective political subject emerging from contentious circumstances and owing nothing necessarily to historical inevitabilities, as Louis Althusser would say ‘wrenching history from the void’? But this would mean taking ‘politics as real thought’. And we can say to our readers, this book is a plea to allow us to think of ‘void’ as political condition, which is neither an object nor a self-constituting production in thought, but only a contemporaneity that can open up to any kind of material determination. The void may have philosophical effects, but politics is not principally concerned with that. This book comes up repeatedly with such situations of void—1857 and the years around that year, the year(s) of the first Bengal Partition and the terrorist-revolutionary campaigns (that is the first two decades of the last century), 1947, and why not the first years of this century when a rebel leader decides to talk with the Indian state?14
In speaking of the subject therefore this book does not speak of inter-subjectivity, or inter-subjective situation, as the game of cultural studies would like us to frame the question of subject and subjectivity. Inter-subjectivity, at least the way it is perceived, removes the issue of choice, option, challenge, encounter, contradiction, and conflict. In such an understanding it is all a matter of interface. From this sociological revisionism this book clearly takes its step apart. Texts and instances of encounters chosen here for study are not documents of inter-subjectivity. They are commentaries of ‘deep voids’, of situations where the political subject appears as the constituent force destroying the claims of dominant norms. All the situations described in this book address or at least raise the question: How will the subject cope with the void, and take on a constitutive programme? How can the political subject constitute itself as if in a double bind—determined yet inventing? How can the productive capacity of the subject, its constitutive capacity, be reaffirmed again and again, acts that by themselves are declaratory of a promise? Politics in this way appears as the constituent power of the subject.[Page xxxi]Notes
1. For an understanding of the discontinuity we can read G.N. Devy's insightful work, After Amnesia, first published in 1992, now available as part of The G.N. Devy Reader (Hyderabad: Orient Blackswan, 2009).
2. Trans. Richard Nice, Polity Press, 2000.
3. I am indebted for this particular aspect to Alberto Toscani of the Goldsmiths, London, who while responding to my account of the Wahabis presented to an audience there, drew my attention to this. On this, however, we have to see how radical politics has been always discovered as against virtues of the Enlightenment, as if a legacy of the underground or the secret sects. We have to study rigorously the narrative of what is known as ‘counter-Enlightenment’ in this respect. See for instance an account of the debate on counter-Enlightenment, Robert E. Norton, ‘The Myth of Counter-Enlightenment’, Journal of the History of Ideas 68, no. 4 (October 2007): 635–58; historians have also recorded the collective violence, oaths of solidarity, swears, use of harsh language, ardent appeals, forceful interventions, and the display of an energy produced out of the ‘combustible mix of indignation, ritual humiliation, and the threat to shed blood’—phenomena noted for instance by William Beik, ‘The Violence of the French Crowd from Charivari to Revolution’, Past and Present 197 (November 2007): 75–110. Beik notes the moral indignation of the people, ‘their desire to punish the authorities for the latter's abuse of power’, ‘the emergence of factional politics’ out of this hyper energy, and a clear decision among the people, ‘excluded from decision making (now) shifting their loyalty to the rioters’. Beik notes what we may call the ‘moral contagion’.
4. Walter Benjamin, ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’, in Illuminations (London: Pimlico, 1999), 249.
5. One of the well-known historians of our time Pierre Rosanvallon has expressed the same sentiment while remarking on the close relation between the two with these words, ‘I do not think there is a necessary gap between political history and political philosophy’—Javier Fernandez Sebastian, ‘Intellectual History and Democracy—An Interview with Pierre Rosanvallon’, Journal of the History of Ideas 68, no. 4 (October 2007): 712.
6. Georg Lukacs, Hegel's False and His Genuine Ontology (New York: Merlin Press, 1978).
7. Etienne Balibar notes the significant figure of the militant in the history of the political subject; see, Etienne Balibar, We the People of Europe? Reflections on Transnational Citizenship, trans. Bruce Robbins (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005), 176.
8. Javier Fernandez Sebastian, ‘Intellectual History and Democracy—An Interview with Pierre Rosanvallon’, Journal of the History of Ideas 68, no. 4 (October 2007): 709.
9. Trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998).
[Page xxxii]10. On this I have explained at length in ‘Friends, Foes, and Understanding’, in The Politics of Dialogue—Living Under the Geopolitical Histories of War and Peace (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004), Chapter 6.
11. ‘Politics as War, War as Politics—Post-Clausewitzian Variations’. Public Lecture, Alice Berline Kaplan Center for the Humanities, Northwestern University, Evanston, 8 May 2006. Available online at http://www.ciepfe.fr/spip.php?article37. Accessed on 1 January 2009.
12. Once again I draw this from Etienne Balibar, ‘The Vacillation of Ideology’, in Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (eds), trans. Andrew Ross and Constance Penley Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture (Urbana, Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 159–209.
13. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Labor of Dionysus—A Critique of the State Form (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994), 248.
14. On this thought of void producing the subject, or correctly speaking, subject-position, see the essays of Alain Badiou, Metapolitics, trans. Jason Barker (London: Verso, 2005a), particularly chapters 1–2.
This book has worked on the interstices of history and philosophy. The practices of the formation of the political subject form the main theme of this work, and it was the only sensible way I felt I could do some justice to this theme. The significance of this theme cannot be exaggerated; we all are witness to how this theme has appeared in modern time, even though frequently in metaphysical form, claiming a great stake in our life. However, having gone through the book it may appear to the reader that I have tried to posit here an elemental difference between Western thinking and Eastern thinking. I do not deny that some pages of this book convey this impression; since in course of emphasising the practices of the political subject I may have suggested at times as the opposite of my account various ‘contemplative meditations’ (to use Pierre Bourdieu's phrase) whose countless instances can be found in the European history of thought. Yet I am aware that there is no singular ‘Eastern’ inasmuch as there is no single ‘European heritage’. In fact I believe that the European radical thinkers of our time would have to take the lead given by critical postcolonial thinking on the question of a historical understanding of the emergence of the political subject and rewrite Europe's own history of politics. Mainstream European political thought taught us to think of the state, or at times nation, or the free autonomous individual, at times even law as the political subject. This is here where we can gain from the anti-colonial and post-colonial history of politics.
I also did not aim to present a new theory of post-colonialism or post-colonial politics. It is simply my own existential position that propels me towards finding out all the relevant stories and arguments from colonial and post-colonial experiences. However, one thing is true: I have said this in course of writing this book, namely, what I have termed elsewhere as ‘the post-colonial predicament’ is a global predicament today. Europe and the Euro-American world in general will find more and more its colonial past and along with that the post-colonial predicament within its own belly, and never before the destinies of the [Page 293]ex-colonies and the countries, which were once colonial powers, so linked to each other. It is in this sense, and here I can only repeat, that the task is not to provincialise Europe's history but to globalise the colonial and post-colonial history. Some American and European thinkers seem to be aware of this task. But in general thinkers of the Euro-American world are far behind their governments and rulers who understand much better the need to link up with Asia and other excolonial regions in order to escape the wrath of economics—the fall and the crash of 2008.
There is of course one more reason why this account of the political subject can be seen as reconstructing the post-colonial. This is because of its unambiguous emphasis on practices, activities, and actions. But this is no reason to think that I have done away with ideologies and ideas. Obviously this book discusses ideas, ideologies, but not as sovereign entities, but as ‘ideas and actions, ideas in actions’.1 Therefore, I did not follow the conventional path of studying ideas as a unity (the other name of this is ideology), but tried to discuss them as part of the activity and actions of the subject. This is of course the Althusserian way that seeks to view the materiality of politics in the mirror of a conjuncture of circumstances, of real life elements.
Finally, there is one more explanation that I require to submit here. I have deliberately eschewed any frontal engagements with other theories or arguments on the political subject, not because they are not necessary, but because in the scheme of the book more important is the task of laying down the distinction between two approaches: On one hand, there is the philosophical construct of the subject (one of the best examples of this would be Charles Taylor's Sources of the Self—The Making of Modern Identity, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1989), on the other hand, the notion of the political subject proposed here is of one produced by historical-political circumstance and conflict (especially that between the colonial powers and their subjects) and conceived through what I term as an anti-colonial idea of a philosophy of practice and action. In this second approach, politics appears as the practice of autonomy of the subject—the subject who emerges to exercise freedom from the shackles of society and rules of the contemporary regime of power. This exercise of freedom is related in turn with the ontological condition of politics. Therefore the engagements this book makes (in the second section) with other [Page 294]theories, books, and discourses are limited in their scope; they were necessary only to the extent to which such engagements made clear the contingent character of the story of the subject (illustrated in the first section).
If that is the way a book on subjectivity has to be written, we cannot help. Our time is an extremely securitised time, militarised time, when contingency, tactics, and mutations in politics have become significant. Earlier theories do not make much sense now; they are worth only for archivists of thought and doctoral students. Therefore for the political subject the imagery of engagement is of a busy war room and not probably of a porcelain workshop ….2 Contingency is foundational for the survival of subject groups today. One reason behind this fact is the breakdown of the liberal way to rule. Liberal way to rule is possible today only through encouraging and engaging in an all out social war, which in turn makes liberal way to rule very difficult. But more important here is the fact that it makes the liberal way to war also a difficult, at times, an impossible exercise. This of course is a matter of discussion at length, which will go much beyond the confines of this book. We shall have to discuss the problems that arise in the wake of the conquest of power by the political subject through contingent circumstances. It will involve a much deeper discussion on the phenomenon of transfer of power than what has been hitherto done in the history of modern political thinking. At this point we must stop, while at least we can acknowledge the fact before closing the book that in that task too the lessons of the actions of the political subject as the constituent power will remain crucial when power has been constituted and the process of subjectivation has renewed.
In order to have a better understanding of how the anti-colonial heritage works in our time, we shall have to read other accounts of subject formation in various colonies in the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century. We shall realise how imperial conditions could not deter the political subject from making its mark; on the other hand, we shall see that the last two centuries are the perfect illustrations of how political subjectivity ‘exceeded’ the given institutional forms of state, law, and the nation. Recovery of that history will throw new light on the philosophical profile of the subject. This is a challenge to political [Page 295]historians to start working anew. But the reward will be great. They will be able to say that empiricist history is not always bad philosophy or to put it differently, good philosophy can be empiricist history as well.Notes
1. Louis Althusser, ‘On Brecht and Marx’, republished essay as Appendix to Warren Montag, Louis Althusser (Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 146.
2. The name of Antonio Negri's recent work, The Porcelain Workshop—For a New Grammar of Politics, trans. Noura Wedell (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2008), some of its insights I appreciate and concur with, while I take note of the fact that the general setting of the book seeking to outline a new grammar of politics leaves out the political experiences of the bulk of humanity.
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About the Author[Page 315]
Ranabir Samaddar is the Director of the Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group. Acclaimed as a critical political thinker, he is the author of The Materiality of Politics. The four volume set on Social Justice in India, of which he is the series editor has been published recently by SAGE in July 2009.