Saturday, March 24, 2007

Self and Other

To reject something, to ignore it, to elide it, to set it aside for more important matters is, at the same time, to include it, to be shaped by it, to be one with it. In the history of "philosophy" thus to be a rationalist is not to be an empiricist; to reject Kantianism, Hegelianism, Nietzsche, "postmodernism", analytic philosophy, continental philosophy, etc. is to dialogue with it. To reject is to affirm. And thus, rejecting is to give power, and to ignore is to still retain an attitude towards something that makes it a reality to be ignored. It is thus the same to be American. To be democrat is to affirm replublican, to reject both is to libertarian, to reject all of these is to green. To reject "politics" (known so constraintly), to be outside the din of the political scene, is to assert its power to influence oneself.

This insight founds my recent thinking about identity politics. However useful identity politics is for creating coalitions, resisting hegemonic forces, asserting a sense of self it remains terribly problematic in that no identification can encompass the complexity of what it means to live human. Identity, for all its liberative pretenses, shackles us. And yet, by this very same logic, to transcend identity (or identity politics) is to reaffirm it. We are simultaneously shackled and liberated by our own understanding. Even to deny this logic is to affirm the power of irrationality as an other that is always on the edge to be shielded against.

There are many dialectics that attempt to respond to this. Hegel attempts to rework this into a teleology of historical progress, the dialectic of oppositional forces--and this structure is still exceptionally effective at describing the workings of discourse. Nietzsche and Foucault, Wittgenstein and others have all attempted to work out how to transcend the oppositional forces of history. Buddhist logic of two truths works quite well at delineating a methodology for occilating between two binaries--the conventional and ultimate. "Beyond Good and Evil" as Nietzsche says.

But, my concern is to understand not just how we come to accept oppositional discourses, but how we can transcend them into something new, something untainted by the need to assert identity in opposition to an other. Indeed, this seems to be a regular theme in thought since Hegel (at least).

But, this pedantic meandering of thought seems to me to be of great import. How do we transcend identity--both that which we take up to understand ourselves and work in the world, and that which is given to us to prop us up or dominate us. How do we move beyond ourselves and all those ways we have come to know ourselves. Foucault seems to have been the closest at coming to some answer--it is only through understanding how we have produced ourselves that we can then see clearly that there are vast vistas of possibility, untouched frontiers that only need our imagination limits us from reaching. How do we go beyond ourselves?

How can Americans extract themselves from Republican/Democrat, Feminist/Anti-feminist, Gay/Anti-gay and all the other ways of knowing that limit them (and similarly everyone else)?

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