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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

Print version ISSN 0041-4751

Abstract

OLIVIER, Bert. Poststructuralism and the significance of "Tahrir Square" for political subjectivity. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2012, vol.52, n.2, pp. 161-173. ISSN 0041-4751.

In what way should one comprehend the recent events at Tahrir Square in Egypt, where protesters succeeded in deposing the Egyptian dictator, Hosni Mubarak, in a largely peaceful manner, while militant groups hadfailed to do so before? And what are the political implications of this? Hardt and Negri's work on revolution in Commonwealth provides the first angle of incidence into the problematic raised by these questions, as there would have to be a provisional answer to the question concerning adequate theorization of revolution, to be able to vindicate scrutinizing the revolutionary historical events in question in an intellectually responsible and responsive manner. It is argued that these events, as reconstructed largely through journalistic accounts at the time of their unfolding, show a veritable exigency for the process-oriented thought encountered in Deleuze and Guattari's poststructuralist ontology of "desiring machines", "schizophrenic production", "flow", the "body-without-organs" and "process". This, therefore, affords one the second set of theoretical means for articulating the subject of authentically democratic political action. To this may be added Alain Badiou's conception of the subject as "multiply placed" or positioned in space, a poststructuralist approach which is compatible with that of Deleuze and Guattari, while simultaneously amplifying its scope. Badiou's theorization of the political subject along the lines of spatial coordinates has the advantage of allowing one to avoid the "abstract subject", while coming to grips with the spatially situated subject ofpolitical action, as articulated via the "both/and" logic of quasi-transcendental thinking. The latter manifests itself in Badiou's insistence, that it is not sufficient to conceive of the "pure" subject, A, which does not exist as such, but only ever as spatially located, Ap. The fact of the subject being spatially positioned in this relationally unique way is an indication of its concrete singularity, a subject-trait which is comparable with Deleuze and Guattari's notion of the ephemeral subject produced by an ever-changing concatenation of "desiring machines". In addition, Badiou allows one to conceive of "Tahrir Square" as an "event" in the sense of a fundamental modification of the very fabric of social relations, brought into being by a plurality of singular "subjects-in-relation" acting in concert. The true test of this approach to the political subject is the fact that the notion of the subject, which emerges from the theorizations of these poststructuralist thinkers, meshes with evidence that the recent Tahrir Square rebellion avoided the trap of hierarchical political thinking and practice through the promotion of political liberation and radical democratization along the avenue of complex, "rhizomatic", non-hierarchical communications and action. In this manner the paralyzing tendency was precluded, of understanding and practising a mode of thinking and action in terms of oppositional, hierarchical, mutually exclusive "us/them" strategies. Poststructuralist theories such as those employed here have the advantage of eschewing transcendentalist thinking (of the "conditions for the possibility of -type"), instead of which an immanentist, quasi-transcendental thinking strategy is followed, where the conditions of both the possibility and the impossibility of events, processes or entities (that is, of these events as well as of their ruin or dissolution) are articulated. Seen in this light, it is not difficult to construe the "leaderless", "radically democratic" events at Tahrir Square and in Tunisia as an instantiation ofproductive processes constituted by "multiple flows of democratic desire", concretized as a multi-directionally connected series of "desiringmachines". What animated protesters in these spaces were intermittently reconfiguring, interconnected "desiring-machines", themselves constituted by flows of desire, resistant to the perpetual possibility that an illusory, self-identical "body-without-organs" might obtrude itself in the name of leadership, thus jeopardizing the radical democratic potential of the political subject of becoming, as it emerges from the density of democratic protests, and as adumbrated in Deleuze and Guattari's process-ontology. Similarly, these uprisings are easily comprehended as instantiations of Badiou's singular, multiply positioned, plurality of subjects-in-relation who, through the convergence of their action, give rise to what he calls an "event", a happening which fundamentally alters the texture of the discursive constitution of extant society, in this way comprising a "gateway" to unheard-of future possibilities. The article is aimed at outlining the contours of political subjectivity suggested by the preceding considerations with the help of the above-mentioned philosophical perspectives

Keywords : Badiou; desire; Deleuze; democracy; "desiring machines"; Hardt; Guattari; Negri; politics; poststructuralism; process; subject; Tahrir Square.

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