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Julian Reid “The Neoliberal Subject”

October 12, 2013 Leave a comment

Reid, Julian 2012. The Neoliberal Subject: Resilience and the Art of Living Dangerously. Révista Pleyade 10: 143-165.

Security is dangerous, paradoxically, because it defies the necessity of danger, preventing the necessary exposure to danger, without which the life of the neoliberal subject cannot grow and prosper. Since life, it is said, cannot be secured without destroying it, so the framing of the human in terms of its capacities for resilience functions to disqualify its capacities to claim or pursue security. (145)

Resilient subjects are precisely these. Subjects that have learnt the lesson of the dangers of security, in order to live out a life of permanent exposure to dangers that are not only beyond their abilities to overcome but necessary for the prosperity of their life and wellbeing. In this sense resilience represents a significant extension of the biopolitical drivers of neoliberal modernity […] (145)

Autonomy,  it  is  said,  equals  a  diminished  capacity  to  connect  with  and adapt  to  others,  and  so  to  be  autonomous  has  become  conceived  less  as a  condition  to  strive  for,  and  more  as  a  source  of  danger  to  oneself  and the life of others. Exposed to the dangers on which its life is said to thrive, the neoliberal subject is nevertheless called upon to fend off the formation of  anything  like  an  autonomously  determined  way  of  life,  on  account  of the risks said to be posed by autonomy to the sanctity of life. (146)

Building neoliberal subjects involves the deliberate disabling of the  aspirations  to  security  that  peoples  otherwise  nurture  and  replacing them with a belief in the need to become resilient. (149)

‘Resilient’ peoples do not  look  to  the  regimes  that  govern  them  to  provide  them  with  security because they have been disciplined into believing in the undesirability of such an apparatus. Indeed so convinced are they are of that undesirability that they proclaim resilience to be a fundamental ‘freedom’. (149)

It is no longer a question of how to secure freedoms for the subject in the condition of their potential to become dangerous, either to the individual or the collective, but  how the subject might  practice  freedom  so  that  it  achieves  exposure  to  danger  on  behalf of itself and that population to which it belongs. Because danger, it is now said, is productive of life, individually and collectively. (150)

The  incitement  of  the subject to ‘engage in risk taking and entrepeneurialism’ is only explicable in context of the biologization of the subject that liberalism is founded on, and subsequently, the shift in thinking concerning how biological life profits in the world through a continual process of exposure to danger. (151)

It is life, not economy abstractly  understood,  that  mediates  the  horizons  of  liberal  thought  and practice, for Foucault. The concept of economy is merely one powerful and important discourse within which liberal understandings of the nature of life, as such, operates. (151)

Indeed the fundamental distinction drawn, by Foucault, between the biological lifeof the subject and its psychic capacity to determine its way of life is as crucial today as ever. The problem isn’t how to render contingent the  relation  between  biological  life  and  security,  through  what  Sergei Prozorov simplistically calls a ‘refusal of care’ (2007: 59-67), but how to forge a politics via which subjects can demand that their regimes provide them with security for their biological life, without, in the process, enabling those  regimes  to  encroach  upon  the  psychic  life  of  the  subject  wherein autonomy is exercised and through which ways of life are determined. The relationship between autonomy and security is poorly conceived, in other words, as either/or. (154)

Not only, then, is the problem not security as such, nor is the problem that simply of life as such. Life, like security, is not an ontological category, but an expression of changing regimes of practices that are historical and political  in  formation. (155)

It requires making us believe, in other words, in the impossibility of being anything more than biohuman subjects. For liberalism  to  legitimate  itself  the  horizons  which  determine  our  ways  of living must be successfully biologized; which is why the political discourses of global politics are so replete today with values deriving from biological sources.  The  contemporary  valorization  of  capacities  for  resilience and  adaptive  capacity,  nationally  and  internationally,  are  symptomatic expressions of this strategy. (156)

For once the subject is conceived in biohuman terms – the account of the freedom of which it is capable so thoroughly determined by what can be known of its biology – so the very aspiration to free oneself from danger, becomes deemed as dangerous. Not because to be provided freedom from danger would risk diminishing the autonomy of the subject, but because exposure to danger is now conceived as fundamental to the potentiality of its biological life to grow and prosper. (157)

Freedom, under conditions of belief in the biohuman, is construed not as autonomy from othersbut capacity to connect to others. Far from preaching the value of autonomy from others, liberalism has come to espouse an account of the subject predicated on its radical interconnectivity with others. (158)

The problematic is how to conceive freedom from danger as a political aspiration, capacity, and potential practice in the face of the fact that we are governed by regimes which declare that our growth and prosperity in the world consists in our necessary and continuous exposure to danger. (158)

A politics of resistance  to  liberalism,  today,  requires  more  than  ever  a  psychopolitical subject  capable  of  transcending  the  biopolitical  horizons  of  liberal modernity; one that will free us from its biologisms, and enable us to dream and imagine in ways that are proper to the human psyche. But in order for an imaginary to continue with enough persistence such that it produces a revolutionary manifesto with a new literary constitution, for it to be more than the vacuous pastime of poets, the imaginary must find its matter, its reality. A material element must give the imaginary its own substance. Note it is not the question of which material precedes the imaginary, but how the imaginary finds its material, such that it is able to realize itself. The political theorization of resistance to liberalism, if it is to advance, has to proceed onto these terrains and in doing so lose its idle fascination with biological properties and capacities. (161-162)

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