Tuesday, November 12, 2013

On Having Been Had

I recently contributed a "Big Ideas" video over at Itineration. Here it is if you want to give it a watch. Skip it if you like.

In brief, I attempted to articulate what is sometimes called the post-critical moment. For me, the way into this moment (or movement) is the work Bruno Latour, in particular his widely read and debated "Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam." In short, post-criticism, if we can or should call it that, is interested in modes of intellectual engagement other than a kind of ideological unmasking, where every act or action or thing is simply the manifestation of some deeper, realer underlying cause (e.g., ideology, neoliberalism). Here is Latour on the danger of this critical project to which post-criticism responds:

In which case the danger would no longer be coming from an excessive confidence in ideological arguments posturing as matters of fact—as we have learned to combat so efficiently in the past—but from an excessive distrust of good matters of fact disguised as bad ideological biases! (227)
Now, there is lots to unpack there, but hopefully it suffices for now.

At one point in the above video, during a litany of synonyms for the critical project (or the project of critical thinking), I mentioned the time I once heard a colleague describe critical thinking as "how not to be a sucker." This, for me, has never sat easy: it has always been the kind of attitude that makes critical thinking troubling. It is not that I am interesting in seeing people mislead or duped; it's that as someone in rhetoric I am much more invested in the operation, the work, of assent. And so I am necessarily interested in engagement, exposure, and vulnerability. Trying not to be a sucker is a terrible way to live.

Okay, back to why I am here. I have been slowly making my way through Latour's most recent work, An Inquiry into Modes of Existence (AIME for short). It is a tome that moves quickly and slowly in several directions at once. He has so far written quite a bit on BEING-AS-OTHER.

To obtain being, otherness is required. Sameness is purchased, as it were, at the price of ALTERITY. (110)
He later asks if there is
A single moment when we don't benefit from the formidable energy of what seems to transit in us? (192)
While the itinerary of this transit moves through "the flux of fears and terrors" (192),
it goes toward what allows it to be, to come, and to reproduce. (193)
This is a state, for Latour,
designated by a happy conjunction of the verbs "to be" and "to have": "We've been 'had'"—that's it: "We've been possessed; carried away; taken over; inhabited." (193)
To be is also to be had. And this, of course, is its own happy conjunction for me as the idiom "to be had" is rather synonymous with the designation of "sucker": one who is easily had.

Again, I am not opposed to the skepticism, doing your homework, or any other work associated with avoiding the primrose path. No one wants to be taken for a ride. Except, of course, that our lives are lived with, through, and because of others; we are because others have us. Making a chief intellectual virtue out of avoiding being a sucker too quickly forecloses on the value of seeking out different, unique ways of being had. There are worse things to be than a sucker; not being at all is one of them.

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