Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

OOO and Racism 2

A commenter writes:

“And so here is where I go ‘what about the signifier’ and seem like some kind of linguist. How do you explain the appearance of racism as a concept internal to racist discourse?”

Well, we're gonna have to talk about the concept of “in” (as in internal) and “discourse” and “the” (as in “the signifier”) if we're really going to do this. Discourse isn't really just about words and language isn't really just about words either. And neither are signifiers. (I done studied too much Foucault and Derrida!) So “in” is a bit suspect. And equating discourse and signifier, etc. And I'm too into deconstruction to be that keen on “the” signifier, as if we all knew what signifiers were in advance...

And it seems a bit circular. Racism is intrinsically “internal to racist discourse.” Unless the commenter is in fact saying that even mentioning racism is racist, in which case there's no hope! There might be a cynical reason version of this statement as well as an obvious right-wing reactionary version, the latter of which is just trying to shut people up. 

Sure, the concept of race itself is indeed racist, that's the whole point you can make with the tools I showed you in the previous post. That's why Darwin wrote The Descent of Man, as it happens. Agassiz had done this incredibly insidious and persistent (to this day) categorization of humans into the dreaded Causasian, Mongoloid etc. Sexual selection, which is why I'm white with slightly reddish facial hair, is never teleological. Positing some telos after the fact just is exactly racism. And speciesism. 

And: it seems to me the question might be coming from a performatted division between language and things that I just can't accept--we need to do an awful lot of work to get near talking about distinctions that way. 

But, I'm in a talkative mood! So here's the very very quick answer: 

It's not a problem at all. Racist language is language that performs what I argued in the previous post: it closes the gap between ontic and ontological in such a way as to privilege a certain appearance. 

Think about default Enlightenment period sexism. There is a marked and an unmarked gender, such that everyone is a Man, some of whom are women. The unmarked gender is a mythical substance underlying appearances altogether--aka the transcendental signifier, aka the logos as in logocentrism. 

Or when someone goes “I don't have an accent.” That's like saying a trumpet note doesn't have a timbre. It's strictly impossible not to have one. But if you think your way of sounding is the “real” or “official” way you may say such a thing. 

Or the “one drop” racism that used to buttress the “Three fifths of a person” statement in the Constitution. Like if just one of your ancestors had non-white skin, you are not white. 

Or “All lives matter” as the racist response to Black Lives Matter. In this sense, saying it's racist to bring up race and racism is, of precisely the OOO sense, that some kind of gap between appearing and being is being sealed over. 

Pretty much everything you learned from deconstruction, but slightly pulled in the direction of ontology, not that Derrida doesn't start that himself--that's OOO compatible.

Fred Moten is doing some incredible things in this domain. 

1 comment:

nickguetti said...

This is really fascinating from a political view, because you can really apply it to everything reactionary that agrilogistics have coughed up. Think about how it's so fun for money-rich folks to say, "Why is the left always talking about these money issues? Why are you guys talking like it's all about money? Aren't we really all in the same boat?" Like money is some kind of accident, and focusing on it detracts from the value of the real substance which is our shared humanity: something we all have, "all the way through", no matter how much money we may trivially happen to have. But you also can't say, "It IS all about money, and everything else is just accidental decorations on the surface of the real economic substance," 'cause that's just doing the same thing for a different football team. In no way does it come close to changing the game.

The upshot here is that it really no longer matters which side you're on where this ecological realism is concerned, if both sides are just carving out territory within the world of Naturalistic ontology (which Descola defines as "similar exteriority vs. different interiority" or "matter" vs. "mind") derived from agrilogistics. The idea that you can't be certain what a thing is at all, because the gap between appearance and being is irreducible, requires an enormous upgrade in how one thinks to apply it to politics sensibly. I'm currently working on applying it to ecological design, which is mainly a pursuit that attracts very utilitarian organicist folks who are convinced that all scholastic intellectual pursuits are basically unnecessary and expensive candy sprinkles on the surface of the real, concrete pattern-structure of Nature, such that gardeners help the world and philosophers just use up precious resources that should rightly belong to gardeners. This effectively heads off any critique of statements like "you must know the difference between an observation and a concept!" as if there's some referee standing there to blow the whistle when you fail to do exactly what no being on earth can do, in true Puritan God form. I think there's also a business angle in claiming that seeing what's REALLY there as opposed to just what you think is there is a skill that can be taught by the correctly certified individuals. Anyway, if doing stuff carries more validity than thinking or talking about how, whether or why you do stuff, then no real critique of the stuff we do is possible and we get to slap ourselves on the back for reiterating the same algorithm with a different brand name for the twelve millionth time.