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Todor Hristov “Making Difference Work”

November 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Hristov, Todor 2010. Making Difference Work: Post-Socialist Biopolitics through the Lens of Rey Chow. – Social Semiotics 20:4: 425-439

The objects of biopower were always defined as populations, rather than (as was the case with disciplinary or juridico-political power) as individuals, enemies or other governments. And its object was not only what we are used to calling ‘‘the population’’, but also multitudes like the poor, the aged, the peasants, and so forth. (426)

The invention of this [post-socialist] narrative of captivity, which shaped the dominant political language of the media in the 1990s, confronted the public with the choice either to speak it or to display itself as unable to speak the political language, and therefore unable to speak politically. Yet if the public chose to speak the language of captivity, then protests became unproductive  because the post-socialist narrative of captivity justified the curtailment of social rights as being the price the Bulgarian population had to pay for its emancipation. (429)

If […] one decides to protest not against his or her past captivity, but against the reforms, then one takes the side of the past against the present, and once again ends up in the position of self-inflicted captivity. (430)

Indeed, many of the so-called universal values operate in a similar way. They are embedded in arguments to which one cannot say ‘‘no’’ if one means what one says, and therefore even if one nevertheless chooses to say ‘‘no’’ one cannot mean what one says; take, for example, the irresistibility of the arguments advocating military intervention in the name of universal humanity. (430)

The narrative of captivity comes to be self-referential, because the discriminated populations are described as captive in the very process of their emancipation from captivity. (431)

[…] being intolerant is perhaps the most effective way to forfeit one’s rights, to put oneself in the situation of a person unable to exercise his or her freedom without infringing on the freedom of the others, a person who therefore does not deserve tolerance and should be subjected to competent guardians like the government (Chow 2002a, 11). (433)

The constellation of the post-socialist narrative of captivity, semiotics of abnormality and intolerance articulates a situation comparable with ethnicity, in which one is refused an equal treatment – for example, by being exposed to poverty, exploitation, and disease – and at the same time is unable to protest without displaying oneself as intolerant and therefore undeserving of equal treatment. (434)

The weak interpretation claims that a sign is self-referential if it does not stand for a referent. Of course, this does not mean that self-referential signs refer to nothing, but rather that their reference cannot be reduced to a referent; that is, to an entity, to one (in the sense of Alain Badiou). […]The political language developed by the post-socialist biopolitical agents is self-referential in that weaker sense because the reference to the excluded from the governmental concern with life is supplemented with captivity, emancipation, abnormality, and ethnicity. […] Self-referentiality in the weak sense examined by Rey Chow is founded on a comparable discursive mechanism that suspends the law of the excluded middle; that is, makes one unable to say whether it does or does not refer to something. (435)

The crucial political advantage of the self-referential language of discrimination developed by the post-socialist biopolitical agents comes precisely from the fact that one is unable to say what it does not refer to, and therefore one is unable to say ‘‘no’’ to it without putting oneself in the position of a loser. Therefore it allows the biopolitical agents to treat any population as ethnic, to expose its life to poverty or disease while channeling its protests into more government, or in a word to do to majorities what the modern governments used to do to minorities. (436)