Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Return of the truly political: the idiotic wisdom of DK

 With a bit of distance and time, this piece now appears to me as an angry, off-the-cuff rant. Nonetheless, I still feel like it contains a kernel of truth. As has become customary over the last few posts, most of my general ideas and inspiration come from the work of Slavoj Zizek - in this case I have to mention his 2002 book "Welcome to the Desert of the Real", published by Verso.

How does one "be alive" in our post-political world?

We are all guaranteed life. The state apparatus' main function today is to keep its subjects as alive and healthy as possible, so that they can commit as much of themselves as possible to the production of goods and services. So that they may give themselves wholeheartedly to the capitalist mode of production, to the "market".

In this way, we, as formerly political subjects, have become objects of life-administration. The great political struggle of the 20th century is over: neo-liberal market economics won, and communism lost.

But what is the price of this victory?

Foucault explains it better in The History of Sexuality Vol 1 (Penguin Australia 2008:138):
"Now it is over life, through its unfolding, that power establishes its domination; death is power's limit, the moment that escapes it; death becomes the most secret aspect of existence, the most "private"."
On suicide (139):
"This determination to die, strange and yet so persistent and constant in its manifestations, and consequently so difficult to explain as being due to particular circumstances or individual accidents, was one of the first astonishments of a society in which political power had assigned itself the task of administering life."
Enter terrorism, high school massacres, and a whole host of other phenomena. The only way to truly rebel against this life-giving power seems to be through gruesome, spectacular death. It seems that the only way to truly be alive, in the sense of removing oneself from the objectifying structure and becoming re-subjectivised, is to kill and to die.

So what are the alternatives? If my four posts of Ultrarunning and Capitalist ideology have proven anything, I hope that it is that running long distances is not a true escape from power, but a method of admitting ourselves to it more willingly, of quelling our wishes to resist it. It is endemic transgression. The same goes for many other apparently rebellious past-times from rockclimbing, to drinking, listening to alternative music, dressing like a hipster and so on.

The peculiar and sad thing about ultra-running is that it offers itself as the only way to truly be alive today, in an existentialist sense, through struggle and suffering. But where does this struggle and suffering ultimately go? What end does it fulfill? Nowhere, nothing, none.. The participant expends a huge amount of energy and increases their fitness. And then goes back to work. It offers life but gives ultimate non-life.

So what is the alternative? The alternative?

A return of the truly political. Struggle and suffering NOT committed to the narcissistic pursuit of heath and individual self-fulfillment, but committed to the betterment of humanity. There is a fine line between pointless, endemic transgression (e.g. ultrarunning) and ultimate annihilation (e.g. terrorism). That line can only be the pursuit of a truly utopian and, let's not be afraid to say it, communist, vision of democracy.

The alternative is radical emancipatory politics.

In a twisted way, Dean Karnazes, the supreme ideologist of ultrarunning, is right when he says that:
 "Most people never get there. They're afraid or unwilling to demand enough of themselves and take the easy road, the path of least resistance. But struggling and suffering, as I now saw it, were the essence of a life worth living."
What he unfortunately misses is that we must choose the ultimate end of this "struggling and suffering" wisely.

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