Friday, October 14, 2005
15] Notes For Maxine: "Ambiguities of Freedom"
ON THE AMBIGUITY OF FREEDOM AND THE FREEDOM TO BE AMBIGUOUS: THOUGHTS IN HONOR OF MAXINE GREENE, Mentor and Philosopher of Hope By Azly Rahman Columbia University For Maxine: I'd like to explore this question as part of the requirement of the conference. free from, free to, free of ... and to be free from, to, of what? My writing will be a potpourri of thoughts I have gathered related to the question of freedom, personal history, and the fate of the self in an increasingly cybernated (technologized) society. And I begin with the quote from Benjamin Barber you provided us with: There is endless talk about education; but between the hysteria and the cynicism there seems to be little room for civic learning, hardly any for democracy. Yet the fundamental task of education in a democracy is the apprenticeship of liberty --- learning to be free" And in your own words, Maxine, you provide us with these: We might add how tied up we are in a society now marked up by some of the flaws, the deficiencies, the inequalities ... We might take into account as well as the impacts of the media, good and bad, the possible openings supplied by the arts, the relations between new technologies and our freedom, between all of these and the making of community. Can we for example, be free from the so-called prisonhouse of language, particularly from the English language of this Age of Virtual Capitalism which feeds our consciousness to consume and consume and consume. and to compete and to bring us further away from the existential questions which ought not to be left unexamined... so that life is then worth living? So that life is not a postmodern novel but an epic of heroic proportion with postmodern subplots in between? This question on the relationship between historical knowledge, language, and freedom takes us to the center of concern of people like (Frederic) Jameson (see for example his excellent essay "Postmodernism: The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism") who will argue that part of the new depthlessness means people giving up a sense of individual history related to the notion of an individual with a certain spiritual and cognitive integrity moving through time towards some goal premised on some conception of self-realization, from the Pythagorean transmigration of souls to Robert Kegan's (in The Evolving Self )model based in a developmental schema that builds on prior developmental work. At the level of inter-individual of one's pegging of his/her evolving state of beingness to a particular person/historical figure/events/moments of historical significance and grow with this notion of history as therapy-- at this level, history is needed. As in the notion of learning from the life and times of this or that figure of history as such paradigmed by the Annales School, history is useful as one's weltanschauung (worldview) of "official, State-produced" knowledge as in the case of how history is taught in public schools-- that there are these founding fathers and these events which progress linearly. What might be problematic in essence is the idea of "official knowledge" crafted and massaged by those who owns the means of social reproduction who would choose to allow certain kinds of interpretation and not others to be released into public space. In this case, in the era of modernity, official knowledge is controlled by a clear and institutionalized framework of knowledge and dissemination of information packaged into quantas of information and benchmarked into state standards of skills and content. There are interpretations of history which cannot account for such "official knowledge" as for example one documented by Howard Zinn in People's History of The United States, Michael Harrington's Socialism, George Counts' Dare The Schools Create a New Social Order?, or any others from the social and educational revisionist schools of thought.Perhaps historical writings which sanction and patron "official knowledge" cannot present too diverse and pluralistic and multicultural (in the Critical Theoretical sense of the word) because of the question of human agency and ideology. By this I mean the ideology of controlling interests which embed publishing houses controlled by lobby and interest groups which and in turn control the process and outcome of schooling at any point in time.Jameson in his essay on postmodernism, I think would argue that history is not only therapy but ought to highlight the triumph of individuals and institutions and progressive ideologies which subvert and overthrow forces anathema to the full realization of humanism. I would add that the social-cartographic nature of Jamesonian promotion of a particular historicity would be one which exalt heroes and heroic moments who and which not only chain and shackle multinational corporations but also highlight agendas for social change which begins with the dismantling of the military-industrial complex and the war system and allow for creative anarchism to reign for some time and engineer an internationalist movement social and culturalist in character---ones which perhaps set an agenda for an international barter system and the reconceptualization of the meaning of wants versus needs! This means that neither Republicans nor Democrats or Tony Blair or any government, which lives and breathes in their "national security straightjackets" can be allowed to prop their version of Truman-Show inspired philosopher-kings. I am beginning to feel that there is a danger to what history and memory can do.The case of Bosnia-Herzegovina is a case in point wherein there is first a deconstructing of the entire Communist state via the injecting of democratic principles and then there is the opening up of a can of worms/ a Pandora box of crimes against humanity when multiple versions of history gets disseminated into public sphere. (The movie American History X addressed this phenomenon.) Whose history is more valid then?Then there is the case of Indonesia after Soeharto. There was law and order for thirty years at the price of authoritarianism and a clear and definite Javanese-dominant ruling class and a great deal of crypto-crony-corporate capitalism characterized by an even clearer and charismatic form of conspicuous consumption and then--- lo and behold when Soeharto gets deposed through a good dose of lethal injection of democracy, the nation now is torn into pieces with Christians and Moslems slaughtering each other, each hanging on to their versions of history. Do we need history? Do we have an effective and ongoing relationship with our past? It is almost like asking what is important to us really? As it relates to the ambiguity of freedom, the above are indeed profound questions to me. If history and the oxymoronic notion of "historical facts" are meant to give us a sense of identity and community so that we may become freer in the post-colonial context of the word, then these too have their ambiguity. I recall several years ago the Kampuchea Government announcing "Year Zero" after its successful revolution which ceremoniously invite the colonials out of the nation's doors. And also the Cultural Revolution in China which attempt, though unsuccessfully, to rewrite history and administer national amnesia. And nations I think wanting to heal themselves from the wounds of colonialism engineer one way or another, versions of how to reincarnate.At the individual level the question if one needs history is even more fascinating. Many would say that yes indeed, if we are blessed with a past life worth cherishing. (And many also would pride themselves in having gone through a terrible childhood). But an individual with a Kampuchean syndrome or one undergoing a personal-cultural revolution would find it progressively evolutionary to eliminate the past and enjoy a life of an ever-changing present. And thus, for this type of Kampuchean individual, eliminating the past and starting life at year zero might be imperative indeed. As the essential question remains: What kind of history can we craft for our own personal consumption? What version ought we to compose? How do we become selective in our own personal historicizing? Will some memories be more liberating than other? I am now confused, Maxine: Henry Ford once said that history is bunk...A new age guru once told me that "there is no past, there is no future, all that exists is an ever-changing present"...A philosopher once said that Memory (hence history, and like statistics) is the greatest liar...The feminists insisted on "herstory" instead...And a friend of mine believes that the term "historical facts" is an oxymoronAnd E.L. Doctorow in Ragtime tampers with history and render it depthless? It'll be a great idea then to follow Doctorow's style in the way we teach history?(Or for that matter the personalization and restylization of religious texts?)Have students rewrite their favorite chapters of American history by deterresterializing the historical figures and bring them closer to their (the Middle School kids, especially) jugular veins. A good friend of mine once wrote to me in defense of history as memory so necessary: Memory leaves traces, perhaps like marbles that, according to the shifting incidence of light, shine an occasional pattern we can crave to see. History is the history we can tell ourselves and look our child in the eye. But I replied to him with my understanding of history:But if history is one we can tell ourselvesAnd look at the child in the eyeBy whose narrative are we possess'd by?----Of the Emperor's without clothes?Who called upon his sagesAnd tell them: Ah... write me this story So that generations a plenty can bereminded of this glory----Or is this, history of those cast off from this kingdom bountiful and plenty Those whose blood sweat and tears buried--and eternally at one with the Pyramids of Power of Your MajestyAh .. what is history? But a syntactic phlegmatic and ironic linguistic trajectory Thrus'd into the noetics of this child we look in the eyeThis child--- dazed and confused of what it means to be historied by the collectionof memories whose truth and falsehood are perhaps in disarray. Like the history told by Dante, Marat, and RobespierreOr one told in whispers by the once exiled KhomeiniOr narrated in splendor pomp and pageantry and archived in Mein Kampf and sung toWagnerian symphony. What historied us thus?And whence do we point to the Emperor withoutclothesAnd burn his garment and him and all ceremoniouslySo that the child we look in the eyesWill cast of his garment and write his own symphony.Amen! ***And in relation to the idea of freeing oneself, I can't help thinking of the question"Who am I" And the lack of neither folly nor wisdom our existence must find a cause to be and become. "WHO AM I?"Where did I come from?What brought me here?What is this physical space I am occupying?Where am I going?What is the end to all these?How might the end of this journey feel?And perhaps too... "WHAT IS WORTH LIVING AND DYING FOR IN ORDER FOR US TO BE FREE ENTIRELY?" *** And in our quest for the idea of being free, I see the essential link between being free and being at PEACE too. We are and continue to see the symptoms of social decay in the form of violence in many forms-- structural and physical. At the structural level, there is the continued advancement of alienation. When society becomes advanced and its people are sped up and fed with false consciousness of wants more than needs, and the media continue to profitably play the tunes from the Horatio Alger myth, and the ethos of business and corporate thinking play the harmonious symphony of competition, cut-throat competition, schools as agents of social reproduction dance to the music of new standards so that our nations will not be at risk, so that we launch many more Sputniks, we set Goals 2000, and we impose higher and higher exclusionary standards, so that we can compete with other nations, etc.... when all these are happening, we become cogs in the wheel of Capital; our lives become sped up at the level of individuals and family and community... we go to work and from nine to five or ten to then become cubicled and sit in from of the computer all that time and our consciousness gets structured by the Panoptical nature of the Control mechanisms we create in the name of progress... we get hierarchied in our day to day experience of work and cannot find alternative meaning of the term "work".... we come home and switch on the television and watch some guys winning a million in a game show and our heart jump in joy to celebrate the "aliveness" of democracy. We stand at the check-out counter and glance at headlines of celebrities making it big by his/her good looks--- image dictated by the media on what constitute beauty and what the ingredient of success is invented to mean,we read of the man/woman on the street winning the State lottery and think that democracy is still alive and that if we continue to work hard and serve the interest of the less than 2% of those who owns the nation's wealth, we will be fine and can be proud of telling others internationally what a great place this nation is --- you are free to choose, and decide, and to walk away from the homeless,The story of those who murdered their classmates at Columbine is a poignant and horrifying one--- a manifestation of the latent effect of mass alienation as documented perhaps in Kevin Munch's painting "The Scream". There is the scream of wanting more and going beyond the threshold of needs and wants, beyond conspicuous consumption, beyond the thresholds of allowable display of Desire, to a point of vulgarity in the meaning of existence itself. There is the competition in the society of who has more and the manufacturing-industrial complex and the media industry which supports it craft ways to massage the Desire within so that people can continue to consume more by speeding up their lives, drugging/opiating the post-industrial tribal masses with false consciousness with what they don't need., And when, from at an early age the mind is structured to consume and to conjure the image of success and happiness by the pursuit of material and everything digital, and the school system as a mandatory state system of mass-babysitting becomes an arena of contestation and conflict of these images (of Columbine--the jock and the nerd clashing, the beauty and the beast parading, the corporations and the non-profit lobbying)-- there is then disjuncture manifested in the form of at times, PHYSICAL violence. From structural to physical violence then the manifest and the latent illustrate themselves.These---rooted in the realities have been invented, in the way our language is spoken, in the way we attempt to continuously fine-tune the system.These---manifested in the growing number of Americans behind bars (2 million, a high percentage of these African-American, from plantations to the prison-industrial complexes) and the ratio of 1.5 guns to every American. Manifested in the continued proliferation of legal and psychiatric institutions to protect individual rights and to pacify the soul respectively. There are no answers, I think. Only more questions. For the answer lies within the self; in what we mean by peace within which will emanate into the family, community, and nation. How do we re-structure our perception and language (if indeed these might be an avenue)and gather our bruised intuitive powers to harness what might be called a peaceable self, whilst at the same time cubicled? How does the individual become free in a society like this? *** To the question of the impact of new technologies on society, I compose these lines, inspired by Neil Postman's (in Technopoly) quote of Plato's story of the ancient King Tamus's conversation with the inventor Theuth. P H A E D R U S II The Last Judgement of ThamusCirca A.D. 2020 Lines composed pass'd midnight in a cave by Hudson River By Azly Rahman Columbia University, New York And it was in the year 2020 In a not-too-distant cybercity As Socrates' narratives on cybertechnology Laments King Thamus's concern for the fate of academies And Theuth my inventor par excellence What say you concerning educational excellence? Of the methods and principles of teaching Brought about by new technologies of communicating? O' Thamus, Wise King of Cyberjaya Indeed our children will undergo Karma Of one imbued with Dharma Which will bring us all to Moksha Karma is Rebirth Dharma is Devotion and Duty And Moksha is art of being one with Earth Of which educational practice will assume a new reality This invention called CMC Of which for many ages we have waited so patiently Will transform the meaning of Reality More than what print media has guaranteed O' wise King Thamus We are witnessing the death of Papyrus And the birth of PERSONACRACY In the brilliance of anarchy To be cultivated with the media called CMC By PERSONACRACY, O' KingOur children, the true song of democracy they will sing Of which the teacher will die a slow death Like the first teacher Socrates whose fate was a choice he once had Our children will be Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu The Creator, Destroyer, and the One who Renews Our children will make history and create Knowledge Destroy paradigms and like Vishnu, preserve what is old and what is new They will be Renaissance men and women In their mind neural connections will be made, synapses will be woven And the boundaries of the Real and the Imagined we can no longer ascertain In this onward march towards Virtual Learning Classrooms will cease to exist nor will also the concept of teaching The sage Illich will be singing In honor of this day when education means deschooling O' Thamus wise ruler of Cyberjaya The days wherein authorities rule capital cities Will be gone with the advent of my invention CMC Pedagogy will be replaced with METAPHYSICAL TRANSITION THEORIES And Plato's academy will be history Buried underneath the magnificence of CMC Gone will be the idea of faculties In their place will emerge knowledge patterned by fractal geometries And Chaos will be the order of the day And Complexity will be king of pedagogies For the sage Mandelbrott did once spoke Of the patterns inherent in knowledge and wisdom O' Theuth my kingdom's most honored inventor, What say you of CMC's impact on the teacher? One who holds the key to any civilization's treasure And who guards the principles of a moral character? Wise King Thamus, this is my conjecture: My invention is Frankensteinish in nature Aren't we already at the end of history? Wherein the Knower and the Known has no longer a boundary? This technology will destroy authorities Including values we guard with jealousy Slayed like the dragon in Beowulf's story Buried with Socrates and Dante Aligherri A further elaboration concerning the death of authority: O' King, I call this an Age of Subalternity In which we will witness the dawn of PERSONACRACY Of which with the help of CMC, the child constructs its customized version of democracy O' Theuth Master Inventor Yours is a song of conjectures For, can you as a creator Be the judge of what good and bad CMC will bring into our future? My greatest apologies Wisest of all Kings Do you not remember that we are in the year 2020? In which kingdoms have been crushed under the weight of technologies of CMC? And you my dear king---- are you not already ancient history? ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The idea of freedom is also linked to the idea of the prisonhouse of language; between the ambiguity of communicating and reflecting, between being free without language and being shackled by it. My thoughts on this are as follow: Language, when used in the public sphere becomes a game and a problematic one... the only true communication resides in "private language" where thoughts reign more supreme than utterances. Precise communication is impossible as thoughts themselves are ephemeral, transient, and consists of data whose fate is entropy.The creation of the alphabet was a historical mistake, just like the emergence of the modern state and the emergence of the first hamburger stand (McDonalds) in Ohio.Miscommunication throughout the history of human existence has brought about endless conflicts, wars, competition, etc. The advent and primacy and then supremacy of computer language are the capstone to these forms of miscommunications.Human beings were meant to be beings communicating via telephatic means in a languageless environment.The idea than language makes us more intelligent than other species could have been the most misguided philosophy of being and becomingness. There could be other forms of beings more intelligent than us we are attempting to communicate with throughout the centuries but we fail to make such a connection because our communication system (i.e. alphabet, speech) is still too primitive to be understood by these more intelligent beings. What do you think, Maxine? And the Messiah's Second Coming is not on a white horse wielding sword to establish this Kingdom of God but more sophisticated than this... on a spacecraft more advanced than Spaceship Enterprise establishing a World Government by disciplining NATO and scolding NAFTA, and chairing WTO (World Trade Organization). Can we be free if we conceive living as merely about building consensus alone? In the process of communicating as human beings and arriving at consensus-building, who gets dispossessed and who gets to win in this game of power using language and speech as means to gatekeep?Language and speech is infiltrated with discourse of power to the extent that this process has matured to such a stage of sophistication that it is no longer easy to discern truth and propaganda.Noam Chomsky in works such as The Real Terror Network, Manufacturing Consent, and dozens others, tried to address this sophistication in the latter part of his struggle to help identify the gatekeeping aspects of language and the propagandizing nature of communication. Edward Said in Orientalism helped define what perception means and how, in the case of the Western mind's (the colonial's essentially) conception of the Orient, much of what is involved is the idea of power and powerlessness. The Orient is conceived, analyzed, and the knowledge of it propagated from a Eurocentric point of view and hence, the production of knowledge and understanding of it as well as the construction of the sociology of knowledge out of this enterprise --all these are essentially rooted in the retrogressive dimensions of language and communication. The process of "Othering" is skillfully crafted over the centuries of knowledge-building.Essentially then, language and speech is the dualism of oppression though the common belief is that it is liberating. How can one deny that it is liberating when we use language to release constructs/people/institutions from the shackles of domination. But think again: the release is from the frying pan into the fire---from one conception of freedom to another. And this conception of freedom means the freedom to be released into this "Material world"--a world of things and a world in which one is "to be a to become in a being-in-this-world (Sartre) context. So how can language and speech not be shackling---whatever language and speech system one is in? The word system itself, employed to describe this strange transformation of the sound and the alphabet--- is shackling. Imagine this: We are systematically systemized into this systems of systemic change in such as systematic way that we become systemized into this whole construct called systems!And this is the language system--the prisonhouse. Imagine a world without language and the meaning of redemption which may arise out of it. Where do we go from here if we are to make sense of what a first step is in understanding our role as makers of history? In brief this means to be and become a member of society whom possesses the sense of critical sensibility to analyze society both through the inner dialogue and outer speech, so that society becomes text to be textually analyzed. This is an early stage of become a postmodern flaneur.This stage involves one's critical evaluation and judgement of the forces which are dehumanizing; the structural violence which are operating at the various levels of consciousness. By this we mean the signs and symbols around us, the sight, the sound the taste, the smell, the individuals, the community, the institution, the ideology, the myth and ritual, the opiate of the masses, the prosaic of the post-industrial tribes, etc. etc.By postmodern I mean the condition of unresolved modernity as what Frederic Jameson might urge us to create a social cartography out of it, sort of. By postmodern I mean the condition of reflexivity, the waning of affect, the loss of critical sensibility, the withering of creative faculties within us, the death of the inner subjectivity within us, the relativizing of the absolute, the rationalizing of structural and physical violence, and the Pokemani-zation of this land of the free.By flaneur I mean the sense of being an "outsider" a "tourist" an "ugly-American-of-the-60s-Peace Corps-type-in-Thailand" attitude (an honorable term here..) who are in the society yet outside, who are part of it but is a point of departure in him/her/it/self, who is part of the cognitive and physical aspect of the institution he/she/it is in but emotionally detached and observant, who is not easily sucked into the metaphysics of materialism and masochism of ideologies, and who essentially looks at society like a crystal ball. The postmodern flaneur is like Franz Kafka's hunger artist; those who are happily consuming and being consumed by the consumerist society will see him/her/it suffering, yet his logic is devastatingly profound. The posmo-flan (the postmodern flaneur) is a creature who cannot enjoy television shows, commercial movies like Mulan and Fantasia, cannot be at fashion shows, gets dizzy when watching Wheel of Fortune or The 64,000-Dollar-Question, hates Republicans and Democrats, counsels the Arawak Indians, laments the loss of Vietnam Era and is still angry at Senator McCarthy, believed that Elvis Presley should have joined the Black Panthers (like Younger Brother in Ragtime who joined Coleman Walkers) so that he can help gyrate us through the much needed revolution, and the posmo-flana writes to his/her/its local phone company telling then that a percentage of this month's payment is withheld because he/she/it is doesn't want the pennies to go into financing the war in some Banana Republic the U.S. Army is currently helping to install democracy. So, this creature call posmo-flan is an outcast who will be found in academia essentially and even if it is found in the corporate sector, will eventually will be the one who will start a new Internet start-up company and retire after five years to devote his/her/its time in some ashram in California.But on a more serious note, the posmo-flan creature is one who is never in conflict with himself/herself/itself because the critical sensibility within has provided the means to happiness. Then comes the next stage in the life of the postmodern flaneur... the beauty of praxis.As a child, the postmodern flaneur has already exhibited some characteristics which are both constructive and destructive...somewhere in-between the continuum of an idiot savant and a rocket scientist. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of three root causes of violence: racism, materialism, and militarism. They are all in our consciousness in one form or another at different levels of consciousness. They are now present in the most subtle forms rendering the oppressor and the oppressed shackled and objectified as well as making us, as John pointed out, as "puppets" rather than "actors" as the makers of our own history. But what are our agenda and the nature of social cartography we are to manifest in our consciousness first and foremost. To be a human person is to be able to name things; to name the forms of oppression we are blessed with as inroad to creativity. We have been all along historied and socialized into forms of institutional racism, militarism, and materialism we couch and cloak with language of objectivism and through the institutions we believe "value free"---schooling, education, official knowledge, citizenship, nationhood (We must investigate what Robin Hood was struggling against)Is race and ethnicity and one's clinging on to these relevant any longer or is it still an explosive issue which is in fact a NON-ISSUE? Is it communitarianism or cosmopolitanism? Is it fatherland or third and fourth internationalism?And that illegitimate child called nationalism and patriotism! So, is it education or liberation as agenda? And to be educated to do what and to be liberated from what? *** I wrote these verses in memory of Amadou Diallo and in my anger upon the meaning of justice and freedom we have created as a "free society". The trial is concluded. The cops acquitted. It was a mistake Their lives were at stake Diallo should not have scared the cops off With his wallet he tried to blow their brains off It was a mistake Any cop like you and I could make Don't you understand the justice system? Without it there won't be law enforcement To protect you and I Against immigrants and the poor or anyone in desperation? So that you and I can sleep peacefully And feel this thing call democracy? Some say...A wallet in the hands of a white man lookslike a wallet In the hands of the black man it must looksomething which'll spit out bullets Damn these people! Nonsensical racists Who don't understand this system call justice. Some say... There are two systems of justice One to protect the poor One to protect the rich Damn these people Reds and pinkos and socialist pigs Who can't tell what's emotion and what's logic. Justice must lie in the hands of the State In the lawmakers and in the protection of estates It must lie in the courts And in the facts and evidence brought Must there be another system of justice? If that for the rich has its peculiar practices Must there one for the poor? If that for the poor must have its brand of justice? An eye for an eye, so to speak... In the streets so loud it will speak... To scream at the system of justice for the rich And to howl for the next wave of teeming masses at times so weak? Could thou and I with Fate conspire To change the scheme of things entire So that we can mould It To our heart's desire? Or ignite this fire And let it spread like wildfire Into our consciousness entire That there is a system of justice Beyond the courts and deliberations asunder This justice--knows no rich nor poor Plain in character Deus ex machina inspired This system of justice Knows no bounds Nor can it tell if you are hungry And I have a gun Or I am hungry because you have a gun Or I have a gun because you are hungry And so ended the Diallo story With teary eyes cops With mistakes made And all's well that ends well Measure for measure So that justice will not be at stake As we draw up plans to contain the parade of the masses and arrest even the bystanders So that there will be two systems of justice To each its own logic Because you and I are hungry And I have a gun And because you have a gun, I am hungry May you rest in peace, Amadou *** A quote from E. L. Doctorow's Ragtime: "President! President! Her arm was extended and her black hand reached toward him. He shrank from the contact. Perhaps in the dark windy evening of impending storm it seemed to Sherman's guards that Sarah's black hand was a weapon" (p. 159). *** My thoughts on freedom and the culture industry as it relates for example to the way we honor heroes in society:I'd like to relate the notion of depthfulness of the issue with the industry of fashion and image making particularly as we illustrate it with the night at the Oscars or the Grammys or any night honoring the like of nostalgia-movies such as Titanic or the remake of this or that. Many will, I believe find the meaningfulness of these events.Indeed the Oscars and Hollywood in general are meaningful and contain in them horizons of significance and languages of personal resonance. And so do the shoes people wear on Oscar or Grammy night. And what is even more meaningful is that whatever these people wear becomes fashion and become the trend and are in vogue. And they become another phase of the industry-- culture industry that is. The "in thing" to oust others who do not belong in the fashion rate which has been fashionable all along. Or, to speak musically of it: rhythm of the moment. Anything else becomes out-of-fashion.And in a world where we want to be one with the trends of the day, we consume these connotations which are packaged in the products of this industry; we want to look like Madonna, like Michael Jackson, like Naomi Campbell, like Donald Trump, like The Backstreet Boys, (or The Backside Kids), like The Spice Girls--- we want to look like them and not like us and our own self! (What an iron cage this might be---the consciousness first mesmerized and then caged to the brink of mania). Whatever Madonna wears that night will be in the fashion boutiques the next day. Whatever Tupac Shakur (the late rap star) wears became fashion on the streets in Harlem.Whatever Michael Jordan endorses, will be worn by kids aspiring to be like that hero who endorses child labor in this global theatre of production. Little human cogs in the wheel of Capital. The depthfulness of these commodities lie in the extent they will bring meaning to the progressive development of the culture industry. Gucci, Donna Karan, Tommy Hilfiger, Bill Blass, Giorgio Armani, and any French or Italian sounding names of fashion designers become the standard bearer of the depthfulness of this domain of the culture industry. [And if and if ever his Reform Party wins, Donald Trump will also set another trend for the ethics and morality of the Presidency, with Howard Stern setting the trend for Presidential broadcasting!]And the products get assembled in sweatshops of Third World countries so that the meaningfulness of this whole enterprise of cultural meaning making takes on aninternational dimension. The depthfulness of the industry gets extended to the realm of global collaboration in the conveyor belt of culture industry. Is this the meaning of meaningfulness, as for example the postmodern artist Andy Warhol would also invite us to think about?Perhaps?---as Warhol is a product he turned himself into through doing art which has become enshrined in the idea of art for art's sake---to uphold the ethics of the Age of Mechanical Production. The more innovative, the crazier they are, the more barriers these artworks break, the more it becomes like Houdini who finds satisfaction in feats which border between religiosity and madness and becomes enshrined in the ideas of individualism and commitment (though not sure what it is committed to yet). So where should art reside and for who/whom should it serve? Or, should visual artists the like of Warhol-- like the poets in the republic of Aristotle-- be "banished"?And what about the realism of Van Gogh or the religious sculptures (the reliefs) at the ancient Valley of Ajanta in Ancient India? Are we free to choose the kind of image we would live by in this age of Free Markets? *** And there is a great novel on the condition of the self as it is being hegemonized by the base and superstructure of things and its attendant ideology of false consciousness. DeLillo's White Noise is a great novel. I think Gramsci wrote about organic versus inorganic intellectual in the struggle of the middle class to expose the contradictions within the society. The growth and expansion of the middle class sector has its dangers of co-optation and the hijacking of the progressive/socialistic forces able to restructure society and to have others "dare to create a new social order" (as educator George Counts wrote). Delillo made Jack Gladney in White Noise a college professor and head of the department of Hitler Studies. Gladney doesn't even know German. I think this is a wonderful parody of the pretentiousness and superficiality of academia. In White Noise, Jack is an embodiment of everything about the middle class that has gone haywire, hijacked, and molested by the forces of transnational capital and the culture industry. It is ironic that Hitler Studies is chosen as a parody of the excesses of movements which has no social and moral basis of struggle. Herbert Marcuse in The One-dimensional Man wrote about the middle class being the vanguard of one-dimensionality and being Warhol-ed by the ideology of the ruling cultural-political-economic-(digital too) elite. The whiteness of the noise is a metaphor, I believe, of drowning--- drowning in data and smogged in information haze.However satirical and ridiculous the novel is, it is indeed powerful-- extremely potent a ginseng-- which extracted the excesses of hegemony. *** I conclude these fragmented thoughts on my search for the meaning of freedom, by this personal reflection on the meaning of the self I consider "free": ON BEING AND BECOMING A PERSONACRAT How limiting can the term “individualist” mean if it hovers merely within the realm of one’s beingness in relation to this world wherein information is mistaken for knowledge and propaganda for truth within the assumption that what we know can merely be grasped by the senses five? If one’s entire beingness and becomingness is shackled by it being shaped by the apparatuses of the modern state, as Gramsci once said, and if one’s understanding of the world is merely a mimic of what politics, culture and scientism has dictated, then the world “individualism” is but a term coined so that the personhood in each and every one of us becomes an object to be studied through the process of Othering. Within this delimiting and shackling context then, I must name myself less as an individual and more as a “personacrat.” My personacratic self primarily aims at understanding first and foremost my Inner World with its attendant beauty and self-government, evolving personhood, destroying of paradigms and perpetual awareness of the supraconsciousness of what lies within. I am a personacrat derived from a conceptual meadow I coin as “personacracy”; a government (kratos) of the self, by the self, for the self. I reject all forms of democracy; the illusionary system of government which has lost its meaning since it was first conceptualized. Personacracy allows me to be in this world of illusion, of MAYA, but not be and become part of it. I am thus in this world but not of this world. The government I have created in my wakefulness entails me to mediate between the I and the Thou-ness of the scheme of things. I conjure Existence as the highest ideal, going beyond merely thinking therefore I exist, rather believing that I exist within a universe of Existence. I persist to exist within this encapsulated notion called mind and body and persist to believe that when this body rots, Death becomes the beginning of perpetual existence. I am eternal within this form and shape of beingness, until Eternity calls upon me to be me with Nature and to be a witness to the Truth I have longed to meet. I am truth within a Truth of greater magnitude. I am one and indivisible within a greater design of Oneness and Indivisibility. I utilize my senses five with guidance from my Inner Self in turn guided by a counter-balancing self within. And within these faculties and the political organs within, my entire personhood is a government in itself to be ethnically mastered and maneuvered through the Oceans of Mercy I call the World outside. I am thus as such, closer to my Self that my jugular vein! In what ways then, am I not individualistic? Here are a few: I once wept when I had no shoes, until I saw a man with no feet; I once believed that man can rise to become Superman, until I sank deeper within myself to become a vicegerent of the Supreme Spirit; I once believed that life is to be lived until I heard one said the life unexamined is not worth living; I once believed that we live once and then die, until I discovered that Death to me comes by every nightfall and I live a new life by every break of day; I once heard of a distant heaven and hell, until I name them so as I can be in them; I once let time pass, until I became it and gave what it asked for; I once thought loneliness is bliss until I began to desire of its unspeakable beauty; I once asked who should govern and why must I be governed until I found the ways to govern those within me who longed to be governed; I once marveled at creation, destruction and sustenance until I found that I am all in one Creator, Destroyer and Sustainer. I am thus a world within and the world without but not with it. Because if I am part of it, I will be apart from the Thou I longed to be part of! I am a traveler passing through Time. In my journey I have met mice and men, savages and savants, politicians and philosophers, economists and ecofeminists. In my journey I have met Marx, Nietzsche, Sartre, Foucoult and philosophers beyond the individualism I have been told to mimic. I am taking to the road not taken, for it should make a difference and as I pass through, I kept looking at open windows lest I be oblivious of what this world may teach. And as I pass through I become more subdued in my anger of what has wrought this world and made men wretched of the earth as I know that this journey is an arduous one; one which begins with a web of guess but will end at a point of certainty. And at the moment of Death, the end of the road, I am meeting a self of whom I am familiar with, who I once met before this journey begins. I create the rock I choose to roll so that one should imagine me happy. I can soar among eagles and dwell among sparrows. Life, to me is not an end game but a journey towards Light, which has neither a beginning nor an end. And hence, why am I not an individual? Because the world is too much for me. If all the world’s a stage, I insist not being a mere player but to create one for myself so that I can, in the end hold it like a crystal ball – the world and the stage and its players in all. Is there not beauty in personacracy, than in democracy? I believe, therefore I am a personacrat! Peace be upon you, Maxine!
Posted by Dr. AZLY RAHMAN at 10/14/2005 10:58:00 AM
- 23] Colonial Education: French and American
- 22] Analysis of First Political Memory
- 21] The Mind of Mahathir Mohamad: A Deconstruction
- Azly Rahman
- 20] Review of Reardon's "Sexism and the War System"
- 19] On Ecological Security
- 18] Notes on Our Rights on Planet Earth
- 17] Notes on the Precondition of a Peaceful World ...
- 16] Can A United Nations Think?
- 15] Notes For Maxine: "Ambiguities of Freedom"
- 14] Essay on Personal Cartography
- 13] Review of Charles Taylor's "Ethics of Authenti...
- 12] Review of Bellah et.al's "Habits of the Heart"
- 11] On becoming Personacrat
- 10] A Critical Look at the Freirian-Ellsworth Dial...
- 9] Analysis of Franny and Zooey
- 8] My Dinner with Andre'
- 7] "Clashing Worldviews"
- 6] Analyis of Joy Luck Club
- ▼ October (19)
- Dr. AZLY RAHMAN
- AZLY RAHMAN is an educator, academic, international columnist, and author of nine books on Malaysia and Global Affairs. He grew up in Johor Bahru, Malaysia and holds a Columbia University doctorate in international education development and Master’s degrees in six areas: education, international affairs, peace studies communication, fiction and non-fiction writing. Twitter @azlyrahman.