An existential-relational ethics for the postmodern era

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An existential-relational ethics for the postmodern era
Amsler, Janice
Place of Publication:
Denver, CO
University of Colorado Denver
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54 leaves : ; 28 cm.


Subjects / Keywords:
1900 - 1999 ( fast )
Existential ethics -- United States ( lcsh )
Social sciences and ethics -- United States ( lcsh )
Postmodernism ( lcsh )
Ethics, Modern -- 20th century ( lcsh )
Ethics, Modern ( fast )
Existential ethics ( fast )
Postmodernism ( fast )
Social sciences and ethics ( fast )
United States ( fast )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


Thesis (M.S.)--University of Colorado at Denver, 1998. Social science
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 47-54).
General Note:
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
Statement of Responsibility:
by Janice Amsler.

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University of Colorado Denver
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|Auraria Library
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
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40326433 ( OCLC )


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AN EXISTENTIAL-RELATIONAL ETHICS FOR THE POSTMODERN ERA by Janice Amsler B. S. Rollins College 1974 A thesis submitted to the University of Colorado at Denver in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Social Science 1998


1998 by Janice Amsler All rights reserved.


This thesis tor the Master of Social Science degree by Janice Amsler has been approved by l)Jana Everett 3/::X 7!18 r Date


Amsler, Janice (Master of Social Science) An Existential-Relational Ethics for the Postmodem Era Thesis direcred by Associate Dean Jana Everett ABSTRACT Modem notions of reason, truth, and knowledge along with the modem construction of subjectivity and autonomous moral agency have served to produced a pathological sociality, in conflict with its own ideals and values, and devoid of a workable system of ethics. I suggest that a failure in subjectivity itself, precisely the notion of autonomous moral agency, lies at the core of modernity's ethical failure. As an alternative I argue for a postmodem ethical model developed from existentialist and poststructuralist concepts. This model is one of dialogic intersubjective relations anchored in the phenomenological nature of human existence as the social existence of free self-consciousness. The key ethical concept is an ideal of reciprocal non appropriation of the (O)other as the fundamental relational precondition for sociality. This ideal assumes the nature of human existence as a beingness-inimmanence which is both always-already and already-not-yet a Being-for. The modem model holds the subject to an intersubjective mode of autonomous reason as ethical being-in-itself and fosters an intersubjective relationality of disengagement. The postmodem model assumes an inherent freedom of self-consciousness as ethical being-for. The Other-in objectivity then becomes the other-in-contingency thus rendering modernity's objectified Other-as-means a contingent other-as-end in mutual nonappropriative relationality. Thus the traditional subject-object opposition of the Hegelian master slave dialectic is disrupted through engagement in an ethical relation of reciprocal free self-consciousness and the discursive lack of an intersubjective ethical moment in modem sociality is overcome. This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidare's thesis. I recommend its publication. ?JallREverett IV


DEDICATION I dedicate this thesis to my daughter who inspired it and to the spirit of Jacqueline Levy-Monot who lived its antithesis.


CONTENTS CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION .......................................................................... 1 2. THE MYTH OF AUTONOMOUS REASON .................................. 6 3. A POSTMODERN ETHICS ........................................................... 20 4. CONCLUSION .............................................................................. 32 NOTES ........................................................................................................... 41 BIBLIOGRAPHY ........................................................................................... 47 VI


CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION The modem era began to take shape in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries as the Renaissance, Reformation, scientific revolution, early capitalism, and the rising bourgeois class incorporated and altered the Greek, Roman, and Christian traditions of the medieval period. This set the stage for an Age of Reason and Enlightenment during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in which the dominant ideas, principles, and institutions of the medieval era were increasingly displaced by distinctly modem ones. The resultant social destabilization fostered a search for order and meaning in which Enlightenment philosophy, science, politics, and art produced a succession of new ideas about people, society, and the cosmos. The scientific method became the new paradigm for truth and progresiveness. An emphasis on reason rather then established dogma became the dominant leitmotif displacing the authority of God and Kings. The late-eighteenth century encyclopedist philosopher Paul-Henri d'Holbech captured the spirit and central ideas of the times in one paragraph: Let us then endeavor to disperse those clouds ofignorance, those mists of darkness, which impede Man on his journey, which block his progress, which prevent his marching through life with a firm and steady step. Let us try to inspire him ... with respect for his own reason with an indistinguishable love of truth ... so that he may learn to know himself ... and no longer be duped by an imagination that has been led astray by authority ... so that he may learn to base his morals on his own nature, on his own wants, on the real advantage of society ... so that he may learn to pursue his true happiness, by promoting that of others ... in short, so that he may become a virtuous and rational being, who cannot fail to become happy (Wallbank, Taylor, and Bailkey, 1962, 390). The Age of Reason and Enlightenment fostered a belief in a new future for humankind with reason its fountainhead. Subjectivity withdrew from it's fixity in God's great chain of being which had framed the medieval Christian world-view. Emphasis shifted from one's relation to God and an afterlife to an emphasis on individualism and a life of earthly fulfillment. With this life not solely spent in preparation for the next; with reason no longer in exclusive service to faith and established authority, a future 1


secure in freedom, happiness, and progressiveness was assumed. 1 With the reign of Louis XIV the late seventeenth century saw the apex of monarchal and religious absolutism as these new liberal ideas displaced old The writings ofMarie-Jean de Condorcet, another encyclopedist, are paradigmatic of the new idealism: Every thing tells us that we are approaching the era of one of the grand revolutions of the human race ... The present state ofknowledge assures us that it will be happy ... with the present state of mankind in the most enlightened countries ofEurope ... the picture of the progress and the advancement of the human mind becomes strictly historical. Philosophy has no longer any thing to guess, has no more suppositious combinations to form; all it has to do is to collect and arrange facts, and exhibit the useful truths which arise from them as a whole, and from the different bearings of their several parts ... our hopes, or the progress reserved for future generations, which the consistency of the laws of nature seems to secure to mankind. .. is gradually to be rendered possible, and even easy; ... truth ... must in the end obtain a durable triumph; ... nature has indissolubly united the advancement of knowledge with the progress of liberty, virtue, and respect for the natural rights of man; ... these blessings ... must necessarily amalgamate and become inseparable, the moment knowledge shall have arrived at a certain pitch in a great number of nations at once, the moment it shall have penetrated the whole mass of a great people, whose language shall have become universal, and whose commercial intercourse shall embrace the whole extent of the globe. This union having once taken place in the whole enlightened class of men, this class will be considered as the mends of human kind, exerting themselves in concert to advance the improvement and happiness of the species ... (Condorcet, 1795, 261-2). The new 'cult of reason', which reached its height in late-eighteenth century Paris, supplied political and economic philosophy for the future. The philosophes (Condorcet, D' Holbech, Rousseau, Voltaire, et al.) "crystallized the confidence of the eighteenth century bourgeois in the capacity of reason to dispel the shadows of ignorance and improve society" 1995, 226). They created a widespread atmosphere of grievance by criticizing the evils of the times. Vindicating reason over supernaturalism they stimulating dissent, especially among the bourgeoisie, by narrating 2


a logical image of a well-ordered future society (Wallbank, Taylor, and Bailkey, 1962, 448). The philosophes have also provided much of the ideological discourse, the themes, precedents, ideas, and ideals, which underpin the political and social changes of the modem era. By fostering the American and French revolutions they provided a political heritage soon adopted, at least in ideology, by the entire Western world: Neither the violence nor the corrupt arts of government, neither the intolerance of priests, nor even the prejudices of the people themselves, possessed any longer the fatal power of suppressing the voice of truth; and nothing remained to screen the enemies of reason, or the oppressors of liberty, from the sentence which was about to be pronounced upon them by the unanimous suffrage of Europe ... (Condorcet, 1795, 266). The late-seventeenth century English revolution was the preface to this new age and the last Latin American revolution, in the early nineteenth century, was its postscript. With the development oflate nineteenth century industrial capitalism the modem era became, more or less, fully formed as we know it today. Thus modernity is framed in Enlightenment thinking. Our beliefs about individual freedom, democracy and, above all else, our faith in the free, autonomous and rational individual are founded in this discourse. Modem law, politics, religion, public and private institutions of every sort, and our modem ways of thinking and being all reflect, in one way or another, the themes and ideals of the Enlightenment era. However, modernity has not unfolded quite as envisioned. Optimistic predictions of progressiveness in an era of peace and universal prosperity now ring somewhat hollow in light of modem history. Modernity's founding assumption about the efficacy of autonomous reason has now been found wanting as the "happiness of the species" (Condorcet) seems as distant a goal as ever. Life in the modem era is, to be sure, in may ways vastly improved over medieval life. However, a full measure of improvement is far from universally enjoyed as the beneficence implicit in modernity's idealism has been unequally distributed even while the ideals themselves are now taken for granted throughout much of the world. Many people in the West, the birthplace of those ideals, remain markedly less equal than others as Western society remains polarized along lines of wealth, race, sex, and ethnicity. Modem science and technology, held as the very paradigms of reason itself, 3


have wrought many benefits but not without much that is problematical as benefits seem often to come with intractable derivative problems while others seem of no benefit at all. Held only to a model of abstract rationality, and the imperatives of profit, science and technology are without social consciousness and accountability. Capitalism now runs unchecked. Its mindless amoral logic and greed commodifying all space and time. Its unprincipled rapacity now exploits the entire world with an arrogance not seen since the haughty days of nineteenth century robber-baron capitalism. The resultant social degradation and resource rape reach endemic levels, now showing signs of threatening the very conditions of life itself Twentieth century industrialized warfare has produced the bloodiest and most destructive century in all of world history history while ongoing and ever increasing levels of techno-genocide now render the religious wars of the Reformation, along with Catholicism's Inquisition, mere pretensions to modernity's crown of violent intolerance, cruelty, and oppression. Reminiscent oflate-eighteenth century aristocratic myopia, the late-modem bourgeois social consciousness is enraptured by, and smugly self-assured in, a "pornography of consumption" (Oz, 44, 1997). In denial of it's contemporary culpability in modernity's failures, a social consciousness lodged in materialistic mystification engages in a "fetishism of status symbols in which the already well-off earn more than they need so that they can purchase things they don't really want so as to impress strangers they don't care about" (Oz, 44, 1997). Reason, it would seem, is not much different from unreason when it is in conflict with materialistic desire. A discussion of modernity's positives and negatives could continue at length and be cast in many different ways. However, the main point is that the negatives were supposed to have been precluded, or at least greatly diminished, by that new progressive force, se servir de raisonnementjuste (the correct use of reason) which the Age of Reason and Enlightenment confidently assumed had been brought forth into an indeed needful world. Sadly such has not proven to be the case. Indeed, modernity the ideal can no longer be said to resemble itself and Condorcet, D' Holbech, et al. would recoil in shocked disbelief from its realities. One might well imagine their first question: que/ faute? I shall argue in the following that the fault is precisely an unfounded faith in the powers of abstract, autonomous, individual rationality as a progressive social and ethical force. In Chapter Two I consider the construction of the modem individual together with modem notions of reason, truth, knowledge production process. I shall argue that 4


our modem notions about these have served to produce a pathological sociality and that this pathology is directly attributable to the way in which the modem individual is constructed. The chapter closes with a discussion of late-modem social instability and an introduction to the concept of the postmodem. Chapter Three then outlines a post-modem theory of ethics drawn variously from existentialism, poststructuralism, semiotics, and psycho linguistics and founded on a principle of reciprocal nonappropriation of the other person. With this theory I attempt to outline a mode of being and sociality more in concert with the realities of human existence, modem or. otherwise. I suggest that such an ethics could provide a new direction leading away from modernity's failures in subjectivity and ethics. 5


CHAPTER2 THE MYTH OF AUTONONOMOUS REASON Western thought has long been under the spell of an abstract, dualistic, and disembodied metaphysics of knowledge which claims the ability to determine absolute truth through abstract reason alone. 2 In early modernity truth and knowledge became self-grounded as the new rational individual was narrated in a "transcendental movement of reason" synthesized in a "theme of individual autonomy" (Solomon, 1974, ix). Truth was assumed to be exhausted in language, in the form of a transcendental signified, and held in one-to-one correspondence with reality and therefore understood as an external, independent, and universal entity existing 'out there' completely separated from the knower, the knowing process, or the knower's symbolic system. This is the modem science-model of knowledge in which facts are held rational and true and since true therefore absolute, unequivocal, and universal. This metaphysics is the product of a knowledge hierarchy which endlessly searches for unity and point of origin to provide stability and substance for its facts by assuming the existence of a transcendental singularity (a single truth or essence) which is held to exist in and of itself as a unique giver of meaning. This knowledge production process functions by relentlessly attempting to arrest textuality by removing concepts to a higher ontological status through metaphor and metonymy. The 'concept' (spirit) is then in a position to regulate the 'letter' (materiality) and the words themselves (meaning) are then taken for the original concepts while everything which exceeds and escapes the assumed singularity is ignored, denied, or suppressed. In light of this concept of reason and knowledge, modernity's atomistic individual was assumed to be unencumbered by dogma or immanence and held to be free save only the terms of a social contract among peers. The subject was assumed, by virtue of rational self-questioning alone, to unproblematically adopt an ethical stance uninscribed by its own particularity or by external influences. Comporting oneself in accordance with this model was held virtuous while any lack was said to result from shortcomings in reason made manifest as ignorance or self-deception. Moral behavior is then evaluated against a set of negative and presumed destructive, yet somehow 'natural', human tendencies and characteristics which otherwise work counter to the progressive goals of a rational and therefore self-regulating society. 3 Ethical behavior is merely a matter of whether or not one has assumed responsibility for one's actions in 6


light of reason. Although not everyone is thought able to achieve this ideal, all are nonetheless judged in its light. Traditionally only males (but not all males) have been held to this account and consequently only they have been awarded full personhood status while all others: women, non-whites, non-Western, non-Christian, non-heterosexual, the poor, 'primitives' and 'savages' of all sorts, come to signify, not mere difference, but abjectified deviance from this narrative. 4 This notion of ethical subjectivity, with responsibility vested solely in autonomous reason, is very different from that of the medieval era when such matters were the province of theocratic authority. The modern model reflects Enlightenment secularity corresponding to the late medievaVearly-modem decline in Church dominance together with the bourgeois usurpation of monarchal authority and the rise of capitalism, all of which reflected an increasing influence ofbourgeois interests and ideology (Foucault 1970, 1972). However, with no God of infinite and perfect wisdom there is no longer any a priori way of distinguishing absolute good from bad. The modem narrative had, in its uncritical enthusiasm for abstract reason, overlooked the one factor which can prevent hyperindividuated reason from assuming other than an instrumental stance: namely, an ethics based on something beyond the the interiority of soliloquy. As discussed in the introduction, modem history serves as ample witness to the ethical failure and inefficacy of this notion of ethical subjectivity. Jacques Derrida criticizes these assumptions about truth and knowledge calling it 'white mythology' (Derrida, 1982a, 207-272)-meaning transparent or blank-in which a metaphysics of presence denies textuality (linguistic spatia-temporality and referentiality) by seeking to collapse all meaning in a series of'nows' with meaning given all at once and in total. Derrida stresses the irreducible spatia-temporality of signification by extending Saussure's insight that the linguistic sign (the word) is arbitrary and refers to meaning only in virtue of its place within an endless chain of other arbitrary signs and differences between signs (Saussure, 1986, 65-98). Meaning, rather than being there all at once in the presence and plentitude of the sign, is instead deferred in a 'play' of meaning between signs. Meaning is disseminated, scatter:ed, and spread out in a system of signs (Derrida 1982b) in which the sign itself is only the sign of what it is not; instead, it refers to what it excludes and to previous meanings which remain always lurking beneath and behind current meaning. Derrida's notion of dijferance (Derrida, 1978, 1-28) points to both deferral and difference in language whereby meaning is produced yet at once haunted by the trace 7


(Derrida, 1982a, 12ft) of excluded meaning: "The sign represents the present in its absence ... due to an original and lost presence from which the sign thus derives" (Derrida, 1982a, 9). Differance refers to a gap between perceptions and the meanings assigned to the objects of those perceptions. In this gap, by virtue of linguistic indeterminancy, alternative interpretations always exist threatening any assumed purity of the sign or stability in meaning. Thus meaning in the sign is never fully in the presence of itself and the resulting play of difference between signs expresses the lack of final fixity or ultimate meaning inherent in any signification. Instead, meaning constantly 'unfolds' and never stops unfolding in an inexhaustible continuum of possible and arbitrary meaning. Consequently, Derrida rejects the traditional search for ultimate meaning as pointless because "in language there are only differences" (Derrida, 1982a, 11) 5 Thus final fixity of meaning is impossible. The modem metaphysics of knowledge is also predicated on an assumed purity of reason; that is, reason is thought of as an abstraction of cognition which is capable of positing absolute and self-evident truth. Thus reason is in effect its own reason and subjectum. Before Descartes the subjectum was that which underlay knowledge (e.g., God's chain of being; Platonic forms and substances) as the basis for knowing rather than as its fountain. But with the cogito thought came to take itself as its own subjectum and thus the thinker became self-grounding.6 Consequently modem knowledge is connected with a representational mode of thinking which is intertwined with subjectivism and ontology. Thought itself then becomes that to be thought about with the subjectum posited as the 'I' of the cogito (the cogito and cogitatum are conflated). It is a position which first posits that about which it then makes an assertion and cogito's 'I' "comes to be defined as that which is already present for representation ... (Heidegger, 1992, 303) and the subject, presenting itselfto itself, thus becomes axiomatic (Heidegger refers to what is called the 'objective' in current usage). Consequently with the modem cogito knowing "becomes self-grounding because it can provide its own axiom in the form of a subject presenting its_elfto itself' (Colebrook, 1997, 84). Subjectivity is then intertwined with knowledge as representation and the subjectivity of the cogito, in being present to itself, becomes its own axiom. Axiomatic knowing is then a solipsistic representation which takes place solely within the arena of the self-present subject. This metaphysics is not only representational thinking because it focuses on that which can be adequately presented to a self-present subject. It is also, in keeping with the science model for knowledge, mathematical because all knowing is grounded on the 8


single axiom ofthe self-knowing subject (Heidegger, 1992, ff 296). Thus, with the advent of the modem cogito, the thingness of all things and the being of all beings became "res extensa" (Colebrook, 1997, 84) as something knowable by an axiomatically grounded 'I' in an act of representing itself to itself (Heidegger, 1992, 304-5). In consequence the modem knowledge production process is not the pure abstraction in reason it is held to be, but rather it is entirely subjective. This form of knowing is very different from that of the medieval era when all beings and things were all deemed to have their own unique character and any general law ofbeingness or thingness was considered knowable only to God. But, armed with the cogito, modernity usurped God's ultimate authority by vesting an all-knowing power in the rational subject and thus medieval Christian arbitrariness was displaced by the equally arbitrary subjective cogito of a denied subjective immanence. Modernity's self-grounded reason locates an abstract entity the autonomous Cartesian thinker at the center of meaning as the master of signification. Consequently only this specific subject appears to originate meaning and signify culture. But, as Judith Butler's (1990, 1993) analysis indicates, the assumed autonomy of this entity actually serves to conceal a foundational repression which perpetually threatens its own undoing as it is only through a fantasy of self-recognition that an adequate distinction can be presupposed between the 'I' that confronts its objective world and the 'I' that perceives itself to be an object in that world. This dichotomy then makes problematic the very identity it seeks to resolve as the rational center in this foundational dualism is established only by virtue of the oppositional exclusion of its Other(s). This exclusion then prefigures an epistemological confrontation that subsequently decides how all questions ofselother knowledge are determined. The result is a distanciation and appropriation which inevitably pits the 'I' of autonomous reason against all Other(s) which it is not. Once this separation is effected it then creates an urgently necessary but artificial set of constructed questions about the existential knowability of the Other(s) which results from the inherent uncertainties involved in any univocal'!' assertion. This is because such assertions are always already the assertions of a decentered self in which the attempted appropriation of meaning is always out of that self's control. Consequently self's specificity can only be demarcated by exclusions which are always already incomplete and indeterminate and which constantly threaten a return which would disrupt its assumptions of coherence and autonomy; assumptions which are themselves dependent upon a set of artificially constructed and equally unstable social requirements. 9


This fundamental instability in and lack of univocal control over the meaningful content of modernity's master of signification is why Western metaphysics relentless attempts to determine the 'whatness' of all things. It is an attempt to close meaning by imposing transcendental signification in order that this subject know its own 'whatness' in binary terms of what it is not. For example, in order to know 'male' and 'masculinity' oppositional terms the otherness of 'female' and 'femininity' must first be constructed in order to clearly demarcate the first pair of significations; or, in the same way in order to know 'whiteness' the the otherness of 'blackness' must first be constructed. This mode of knowing and signification works in the same at every cultural level. Thus in order for Western culture to know itself as 'civilized' and 'rational' it must first construct oppositional terms by locating their form ofbeing (their otherness) in more.'primitive' and less 'rational' cultural formations. But, all such attempts at totalization, the dream of establishing absolute 'whatness' once and for all, constantly escapes the signifying economy because the 'play' in meaning from outside, the 'unfolding of the text, the dissemination which never stops unfolding' (Martin, 1992, 26), constantly disrupts the economy of truth which governs its own text. In this inability to achieve closure the 'thing' in its thingness remains neither this nor that or it can seem both at the same time, which confounds all the rules of a dualistic logic. This ambiguity thus functions as an aporia: an insoluble logical difficulty. However, undaunted by constant frustration, modernity relentlessly attempts to determine the absolute 'whatness' of all things even as it is confounded by the very existence of always already untotalizable things and beings within its midst. Consequently, absolute whatness remains a perennial issues of cultural concern. Thus, modernity's master of signification, rather than the autonomous being of reason he is held to be, is actually the discursive residue of his excluded periphery marked by those Other to his mode of being which is that of the rational autonomous individual of Enlightenment discoursethe hyperindividuated bourgeois male. All others are Other because they are assumed to be in some way mired in their 'natural' immanence. Consequently that are held to be lacking in full autonomy and thereby lacking in the abstract and disembodied form of reason held necessary for full participation in Enlightened society. This is because the discursive process of constructing the subjective term of the Cartesian subject necessarily requires that its Other(s) continually reflect and reify that term by appearing to give reality to its claims of autonomy, rationality, and power. This requirement then becomes manifest in a dependency relationship as a demand that the Other(s) constantly reflect and reify the 10


privilaged term. This dependency, repressed and denied, then forms an unstable foundation for the modem illusion of monadic subjectivity (Butler 1990, 1993; Chodorow 1989, 1994; Lacan 1977; Mitchell and Rose 1983). Thus, the consciousness of modernity's rational subject is actually held hostage by its 'irrational' Other's ultimate power of reification and this dependency is a perpetual crisis inherent in its illusion of autonomy. Consequently, the incessant demand for reification, critical to the maintenance of that illusion, permeates modem culture underlying and structuring modernity's many forms of othering behavior. Modernity's notion of atomistic individuality actually describes an indeterminate and decentered linguistic entity given meaning only in a discursive realm which always already precedes it. It is a myth in which the assumed extrasocietal transcendence of the subject is a metaphoric illusion in which: "the individual as such does not correspond to its concept" (Horkeimer, 1974, 9). For Derrida metaphor is" ... everything in language except to verb to be ... (Derrida, 1978, 7) and all naming (nouning) is, in one way or another, metaphor. But metaphor, like everything else in language, is a figural product of the imagination and consequently there is no absolute origin for metaphor because ... origin is possible and conceivable only in disguise" (Derrida, 1978, 8) as presence. Thus, the space (separation) implied by metaphor is a nonspace because, as space, it would then be irreducible (the named would not be unitary) and metaphor then would name only itself in an act ofverbing to-be( ... )noun which is at once not to-be. Thus, there are actually no nouns but only the imagination of them and all naming is merely a myth of presence in which the 'proper object', the name that is named, is determined only by its disappearance. Consequently, there is not nor can there be an ultimate, final, and true version of the sel( its knowledges, or its world because ifthere were that self would not be the one to know it as the very act of absolute knowing (loss of subject/object distinction) would cause it be lost once again in the Dionynesian of diffirance and supplementair. Thus, the basic qualification for conferral of modem selfhood: that one must first be a fully autonomous Cartesian rational subject (Hekman, 1990, 79), is a myth which corresponds to no one. Individuality is actually an inherently unstable form of consciousness; a perpetual state ofbecoming never arriving at totalization in final fixity and stability. Hyperindividuality strives for unity only to be constantly frustrated by linguistic indeterminancy and by the very nature of the selfs constituating process in which boundedness, coherency, and unity are conceivable only in the symbolic 11


indetenninancy of what it is not (Butler 1990; Derrida 1976; Lacan 1977; Mitchell and Rose 1983 ). Each of selfs 'I' invocations implies only a provisional totalization as self attempts to signify what it is by the exclusion of what it is not but both are ultimately indeterminate as the exclusion always remains lurking beneath, but constitutive of, the originary determination. The exclusion then becomes a dependency which produces that very excess of meaning in indeterminancy which the invocative act sought to exhaust from the semantic field of the 'I' in the first place (Butler, 1990). Dependent uncertainty then induces a compulsion for (re)invocation precisely because each invocative act never fully accomplishes the desired univocality of assertion. Thus, it can be seen that the 'I' of autonomous atomistic self-assertion and the that of its reflection are never unitary. Instead, autonomy's self-identity is never self-identical because for all 'I am ... assertions the cupola is always already an equivoque and the assertion must therefore be endlessly (re)invoked. From the preceding it is evident that the modem notion of a sovereign and autonomous individual, a selfwho somehow 'pre-exists' society by virtue of its 'essence' (thinking or reason), is not only oxymoronic but actually reverses the sequence of causality. Such a self could have no meaning at all because the very notion of self (a bounded entity) would not develop in the first place. In reality, the nascent subject enters culture into an already existing social order which then narrates its subjectivity. 7 Self-consciousness and its sense ofboundedness only develop through relations with others because self-identity is made meaningful only through the recognition of others (McGowan, 1993, 206). The self takes its meaning, not by virtue of its autonomous '1', "but rather through the affirmation of that assertion by other selves who exist in the same discursive realm as the self' (Butler, 1990, 17). Consequently, one can have neither identity nor social purpose apart from sociality because it is only by the affirmation of others that a meaningful and purposeful social entity can be established to begin with. Moreover, that selfs asserted content must be culturally intelligible because "the 'coherence' and 'continuity' of'the person' are not logical and analytic features of personhood but, rather, socially instituted and maintained norms of intelligibility" (Butler, 1990, 17). In order to be culturally intelligible, the 'person' of one's personhood must be asserted in a 'normative' mode of being (e.g., as that person regulated by Freud's superego). In modernity, the parameters ofthis normativity are determined by a regime of 'biopower' (Foucault 1977)8 which 'structures' (in the original Levi-Straussian sense of structure, see Derrida 1978, 26ft) the meaningful content of intelligible and normative subjectivity. Therefore, 'I' assertions which are not 12


closely aligned with hegemonic norms are by definition abjectified. Consequently, the subject is culturally encouraged to assume an exclusively normative mode of being. Thus, instead of the atomistic autonomous hyperindividuality of modernist fantasy, the modem self, by virtue of its inherent and always already sociality, is 'encouraged' to Being in a Das Manian (see note 14) mode of 'being-in-average-everydayness'. This forced adoption of at least a minimally normative mode of being is a form of social coercion which cannot be evaded, even by hyperindividuality, because the self that would think itself self-made is inextricably immersed in the very society which confers its selfuess; not the sense of self-consciousness, but the meaningful and socially intelligible content of that self-consciousness. Thus, the selfs subjectivity, its personhood, and its myth of autonomy, are the products of an iterative process of self-becoming in which society narrates both positive and negative models of subjectivity and the becoming-self eclectically selects and adopts from among them. We then come to inhabit our social roles as figural performances (as actors) in accordance of our socially mediated interpretations of those roles. Our 'script' narrates a loci of subjectivity (a spatia-temporal modality) which we have interpreted as available for our (habit)ation. We then attempt to become our scripted self as our mode of being-in-sociality. But this mode is always already mediated by precultural particularity and by the accumulated selfs affectuality. Consequently we never occupy our subjectivity alone, our modes of being is not isomorphic, rather we inhabit our subjective roles in the 'space-time' of a perceptable intersubjectivity 'lived' in the social space between the self and the other (Merleau-Ponty 1995)-an other who is also the Other and must reflect our performances in order that we know ourself. But the presence of the other's reflection guarantees that we always already do not coincide with ourselves as our performative, sensed inadequate; confounds desire as trace of the phantasmatic the Real, the impossible of the possible, the always already not yet marks ego as always already not ego-ideal (Lacan 1977, Mitchell and Rose 1983, Brennan 1993, Butler 1990, Grosz 1994). Thus, we inhabit our roles as modes ofbeing by becoming an "object-self' in cathexis. A self both determined by our sociality and yet self-determining by our agency (Aboulafia 1986); but it is an agency always mediated by 'trace' in a perception always already 'traced' by the Otherness within. Consequently, we continually redefine ourselves and our world through acts of intersubjective experience as a conscious subject. How we define ourselves is inextricably linked to how we see our world and how we see the world is inextricably 13


linked to how we define ourselves in an ongoing process of(re)experiencing and (re)defining. Our views of ourself and our world are actually the subjective interpretations of a situated social being and the knowledges posited by this being are not absolute, universal, or even rational, truths. Through a doubling process in perception and cognition, in a process of creating, we narrate descriptions of both self and selfs objects and thus the meaning of selfs experiences and these narrative interpretations are the necessary fictions which we impose upon the otherwise Dionysian processes of life. Thus modernity's master of signification is instead "the creation of an activity that constitutes both self and world simultaneously" (Lorraine; 1990, 12). But its fictivity is denied in its myth of autonomy; a denial rendered invisible because the fictivity is unconscious and because of a preference for thinking of self and world in terms of essential truths and because of a preference for thinking the self a unitary wholeness that is somehow 'all-there' and fully equipped with reason to begin with. Western culture attempts to find transcendental solace in the "high-altitude thinking" (Finn, 1992, 172) of its metaphysical tradition. Modem assumptions about autonomous reason are built on a series of myths, illusions, fantasies, and denials in an overall metaphysics of value predicated on an assumed transcendence of mind with knowledge held rational, true, removed from all particularity, and therefore universal. But there is no transcendent mind. What counts as transcendent reason is merely the effect of a particular discursive formation. Modem notions of reason's transcendence only occur in and through a variety oflinguistically and socially determinate practices. The products of 'rational knowing' are instead merely the effects of a particular set of discursive practices in which perceptions, ideas, and intentions are always already prefigured within a dominant symbolic regime. This regime has its own distinctive set of rules and procedures which serve to govern the social production of what counts as meaningful and truthful in the first place and it requires the suppression of any discourse that differs with or threatens its dominance. Consequently, 'knowledge' is allowed to take only certain forms and that which is held to be the structure of reality gains its 'truth' only from the falsely universalizing perspective of the dominant narrative controlling the production of that knowledge. The 'reality' which emerges reflects the degree of control realized by the dominant social force over the 'truth' of its own narrative. When the degree of control is high, the shape of reality appears to be governed by one set of rules, constituted by one set of social relations, and told in one coherent story. But these truths and realities are merely the discursive products of a 14


particular set of cultural practices within a dominant discursive regime in which a privileged metanarrative is preserved. Language, being a human artifice rather than a transcendent entity, is neither transparent, neutral, absolute, determinant, nor fixed. Instead meaning is deferred along a chain of signifiers in such a way that closure, or totalization of meaning, is unachievable because the meaningful content of the signifiers themselves are not fixed and final but are instead further deferred among other signifiers. Consequently, knowledges are always already unstable and in continual flux with ultimate meaning indeterminate and absolute truth unknowable. The modem metaphysics of knowledge creates a false appearance of unity only by reducing the flux lurking beneath its truth claims to binary oppositions in which dominant meaning is held to be the only 'rational' account. Claims of a transcendent perspective merely serve to conceal and obscure discursive entanglements with counter narratives in which oppositional discourse is declared irrational and, by virtue of its very divergence from the 'rational', is thereby denied its validity. Within this totalitarian realm of knowledge, modernity's rational ethical agent posits its self-assured perceptions of its world while denying that of its others. Since Descartes, although not exclusively due to him, Western knowing has determined being in terms of representation by presenting thought in a self representation assumed rational and transparent. But this construction forgets the means by which it represents itself to itself because the act of thinking can only coincide with itself providing it takes a detour through representation while simultaneously failing to represent the medium of that detour (Colebrook, 1997, 87): For Derrida, this is a repression (denial) of signification ('writing' in Derrida's terms) which is "the medium of ideality that itself can never be fully idealized" (Derrida, 1978, 11 ). The metaphysics of presence is thus an autorepresentation determined by thought as a self-presentation which neglects to think its own immanence. This form of knowing, and the assumptions of truth and reality it supports, is a fantasy of illusion and denial. By showing that ego's linguistic cogito cannot provide absolute meaning for its notions of truth and reality, Derrida's displaces the assumed purity of modernity's rational agent together with its regulatory role as the foundation of ethical discourse. Rather, it is ego's linguisticality itselfwhich creates the meanings of its truths and realities and these created meanings are the only ones to which it can possibly refer. Thus, modernity's essentialist concept of the autonomous individual is thus a fictive discourse which has acquired a naturalistic guise through repeated use within 15


hegemonic social practices. 9 This abstract entity is merely a social, historical, and linguistic artifice rather than a noumenal being. Consequently, the liberal discourse of modernity's rational monad, together with its philosophy, politics, legal, and social theory, are also the fictive products of a particular discursive activity situated in a particular social and historical milieu and having no fixed relation to the metaphysical assumptions of its totalitarian posits. The discourse of modernity's monad is merely that of the bourgeois ego and, in order to enforce its dominance, it is necessarily nonrepresentational of its suppressed Others. Modernity's master of signification is forgetful of its contingent roots in particular persons, places and times. Modernity's ethical failures are precisely those of its model of subjectivity. In contrast to its progressive idealism, modernity has served to increase, rather than decrease, social conflict and cultural dysphoria. Now, in late modernity, the distance between the ideals and the reality of modem life fosters a growing feeling that "a 'shape of life' is growing old" (Flax, 1990, 5). A creeping disquietude in cultural consciousness, made all the more emphatic by the often violent oppressiveness and hidden costs of materialistic notions of 'progress', points to an increased awareness of the inefficacy of modernist rationalism. The Enlightened discourse of progressiveness "appear to have been falsified by that which it was supposed to predict yet cannot account for ... the subsequent course ofWestem history" (Flax, 1990, 7). Western culture is now in the midst of many unsettling changes. Its modes and relations of social ( re )production are in transition from those which have structured modernity thus far to new and unknown configurations more in harmony with a newly globalizing economy. This fundamental economic shift then fosters a concomitant decline in national authority and autonomy. Consequently, because human life is social life, and because "It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness" (Marx, 1994, 211 ), the late-modem social-consciousness is disoriented and confused.10 We have lost a sense of unifying teleology and central organizing principles by which to govern both ourselves and our society. In consequence there is a Widespread lack of coherence and purpose: The world ... seems less solid than it used to be. It has lost its apparent unity and continuity . . on the whole, time is cut into episodes each with a 16


beginning and end but with neither pre-history nor future; that is, there is little or no logical connection between the episodes, even their succession looking suspiciously as though purely coincidental, contingent and random; and that, much as they come from nowhere, episodes go by and away without leaving lasting consequences. In other words, the world we live in ... appears to be marked by fragmentarity, discontinuity and inconsequentiality (Bauman, 1995, 266). Although modernity has been troubled by earlier voices of disquiet Marx, Nietzsche, Freud,11 and others-sustained probing of modernity's foundational assumptions, particularly the efficacy of its rationalistic notions, began in Europe only after the cultural shock of first World War and began in the United States after the even more shocking Second World War. According to progressivism, either should have happened to an 'enlightened' and 'rational' society. Modem progressiveness seems to have become regressive. Our ongoing racism, sexism, imperialism, genocide, and human alienation now serve as ample witness to the distance between idealism and reality. Consequently, a paradigm shift is underway in Western epistemology marking the transition to a new postmodem era. It is a new cultural terrain where the very meaning of knowledge is changing, where "claims to universal knowledge lack credibility, as know ledges are viewed as interlaced with rhetoric and power ... knowledge becomes knowledges . identities are understood as fractured, plural, and porous, and society and politics is without a fixed center" (Seidman, 1994, 8). Moving from a modernist subject-centered conception of truth to a postmodem discursively constructed concept in which knowledge is seen as situated, perspectival, and particular rather than universal. Postmodem subjectivity is seen as the product of social relational factors rather than naturalistic pregivens (Hekman, 1997, 356-7). Jean-Francois Loytard has characterized postmodernism as, "incredulity toward metanarratives" (Loytard, 1991, 27).12 It questions modem foundationalism, essentialism, realism, and metaphysics. It rejects all grand narratives of final vocabularies, connonical principles, distinctions, and totalizing categories by which modernity has claimed truth as universal and unconditional, binding for all times, persons, places, and things (Audi 1995; Best and Kellner 1991; Loytard 1991; Seidman 1994). It rejects the transcendent 'God's eye' by which knowledge has been held absolute and universal. The decline in legitimacy of modernist narratives reflect doubt about the 17


credibility of modernity's decontextualized, God's eye, perspective together with the oppressive notions of universality which it supports. The postmodem relativist perspective holds that such knowledge provides at best only a partial knowledge arguing "that all cognitive representations of the world are historically and linguistically mediated" (Best & Kellner, 1991, 4). Thus modernity's totalizing and transcendent account is rejected in favor of a perspective situated close to the experiential subject. Rather than assumptions of universality, coherence, and linear causality, postmodernism instead favors multiplicity, plurality, fragmentation, and indeterminancy rejecting altogether the notion of a rational and unified (i.e., Cartesian) subject in favor of one who is socially and linguistically decentered and fragmented (Best & Kellner, 1991, 4-5). Consequently, modem notions of monadic subjectivity as well as the associated assumptions of, and interconnections between, this subject's rationality, autonomy, and ethical agency are also rendered problematic. In place of the universal mind of the Cartesian subject, postmodernism assumes the multiple minds, multiple subjects, and multiple knowledges reflecting differing social locations and histories. Postmodernism sees modernist narratives as those of a particular class and historical setting and arguing that there is no reason to privilege any one story over any other story nor is there reason to privilege unity, homogeneity, and closure over difference, heterogeneity, and alterity. It is only when knowledge is cast in the teleological framework of some privileged narrative that 'reality' can be seen as ordered in support of that narrative. That is, the framework only supports the 'discovery' o:f those 'realities' which are in harmony with its assumptions while all counter narratives are dismissed or said to, in some back-door way, actually support the preferred narrative. 13 Butler has suggested that postmodem" may be simply a continuation of modernity but without notion's of foundationalism. If so, she suggests "then it will be one in which the key terms of its operation are not fully secured in advance, one that assumes a futural form for politics that cannot be fully anticipated: and this will be a politics of both hope and anxiety, what Foulcault termed "a politics of discomfort" (Butler, 1997a, 161). It would be a world much like that seen by the existentialist. Existentialism is "the explicit conceptual manifestation of an existential attitude -a 'spirit of the present age"' (Solomon, 1974, ix); the philosophy of self-consciousness in a 'broken' world for Marcel, an 'ambiguous' world for Beauvoir, a 'dislocated' world for Merleau-Ponty, a world into which we are 'thrown, condemned, abandoned and yet free' for Heidegger and Sartre, a world which appears to be indifferent, meaningless, 18


and 'absurd' for Camus (Solomon, 1974, ix). The existentialist world seems much like the postmodern world. The principle difference, however, is that existentialism posits a unified subject in a disunified world while postmodernism posits both as disunified. Existentialism attempts to illuminate and free self-consciousness by recognizing and accepting the unresolvable confusion and ambiguity of the human world. Like postmodernism, existentialism recognizes the conflicts, confusions, contradictions, fracturings, and alienations oflate-modern life and also like postmodernism it resists the self-delusional appeal to be found traditional authority and metaphysical fantasy. However there is an important distinction to be made between existentialism and postmodernism. Existentialism claims knowledge as phenomenological in terms of human perception and experience, that is its knowledge is 'subjective' and contingent. Postmodernism (and there is not 'a' postmodernism but rather, like feminism, there are many postmodern perspectives) is 'objective' in the sense that, although postmodernism rejects modernity's transcendental perspective, it must in effect adopt one of its own in order to 'see' the one of modernity. In addition, both existentialism and postmodernism constitute a sort of 'quasi-metaphysics' in their own right in which the theorizing knower must, at once, be beyond itself and yet also be in relationship with itself Indeed, it would seem that knowledge of any sort is at least quasi-metaphysical as knowing of any sort necessarily presumes a 'thinking thing' of some sort that is somehow 1ust there' and also somehow also 'enabled' in its apprehensionality (for example, to see the world as fractured, broken, or both, as existentialism does necessarily presupposes a unified viewer, otherwise the world could be neither fragmented nor unifiedit could not even be said to exist). It is unclear how any perspective can be other than both quasi-metaphysical and quasi-teleological and consequently to comprise a metanarrative of some sort. This seems an inherent limitation of human thought, one built into both the the thinking process and the symbolic regime within which that thinking thinks. Of course, were it not for this inevitable paradox of cognition, 'knowing' could be rendered once and for all time unproblematical. 19


CHAPTER3 A POSTMODERN ETHICS Essentialism, objectivism, and rationalism provide three frameworks for the interpretation of human phenomena which, in one guise or another, have dominated modem social theory. Each view attempts to bring orderly meaning to the Dionysian of human particularity and contingency and each is offered as an approach to ethics. Essentialism sees human phenomena as meaningful in light of 'natural' human traits or characteristics. Objectivism assumes the existence of universal values, obligations, rights, and so on. Rationalism, rather than positing universal traits or values, attempts to discover universal principles of reason. What they hold in common is belief in the existence of a realm of pregiven and transcendent meaning which requires only interpretation in light of ethical considerations. All three approaches adopt the detached perspective of modernity but, in standing back from the parochial, they can apprehend only transcendental abstractions. They cannot recognize subjective uniqueness, seeing instead only subjective units of interchangeable universality. Because they assume a likeness of all subjects, they are blind to the particularity of moral agency and see meaning only in transcendental terms; consequently, "the only way (they) could provide solutions would be by force, that is, by requiring a person to suppress all knowledge about a situation and in blind faith apply the principle" (Gadow, 1996, 38). Essentialism, objectivism, and rationalism are oppressive metanarratives not simply because they are biased, but because they speak in a general voice, universalizing the world no matter the particularity of the speaker or of that spoken about: "the voice would be general, and the narrative ideology" (Gadow, 1994, 302). However, because any metanarrative has a discursive inside (the universal) and an outside (the marginalized), any new metanarrative, with a new version of the 'universal', would simply marginalize a new outside by universalizing a new inside. Consequently, emancipation cannot be realized under any master narrative, new ot old, because "one ideology is not preferable to another; any ideology subordinates the particular to the general" (Gadow, 1994, 301). The same citicism holds for the various ethical concepts posited by communitarian theorists such as Seyla Benhabib (1992), Jiirgen Habermas (1984), Alasdair Macintyre (1981), Michael Sandel (1982), Charles Taylor (1991), and Michael Walzer 1983). Habermas and Benhabib, for 20


example, theorize discursive communities of shared linguistic practice. Their ideas are related to those of other communitarians in that they also emphasize a sociality founded on ideals of community. However Habermas and Benhabib base their models on rational discursive communities rather than, for example, communities of virtue such as that posited by Macintyre or on contracturalism with its principles of rights and abstract concepts of the good. But like the modem liberal state, communitarianism assumes the rational individual whose consciousness is self-centered and solid and this is the major shortcoming of such theories. They rely on the notion of a transparent subjectivity which have been thoroughly undennined by psychoanalysis and recent philosophy. Habermas ignores the apparent, and unavoidable, gap between linguistically mediated subjectivity and one's sense of self; that is, the difference between what I interpret myself to be and my social interpretation. Ethical decisions are made and actions performed in the context of a particular life history and current situation but Habermas's idea of universal agreement supposes that if my decisions and actions are correct then everyone would be in agreement. But this would require that all others know and understand in the same way everything about my particularity and life history. In other words, it requires a complete and reciprocal transparency on the part of everyone. Habermas holds that the increasing reflexivity of communicative action goes hand in hand with the increasing autonomy and individuation of personal identities (Habermas, 1982, 117ft). However, autonomy for Habermas means moral autonomy and it is directly linked to one's participation in the processes of practical discourse. But his concept of autonomy is based on both the notion of a transparent and solid subjectivity, that is an unfractured subjectivity, a subjectivity harmoniously at one with itself This is an impossibility in light of the way in which both language and consciousness work (Cooke, 1997, 47-8). Habermas's conception of moral autonomy is the idea that each individual is author of their own validity claims and that each accepts responsibility for them. But he relies on the discredited model of transparent subjectivity by implying that full knowledge of the self is both desirable and possible and he appears to see consciousness as both rationally and liguistically knowable. He allows for no gap between the self and interpretations of of the self (between what I am and what I and others see me to be). Cooke suggests that although Habermas "linguistifies human experience and action [he nonetheless] fails to take sufficient account of the nonlinguistic and prelinguistic dimensions" (Cooke, 1997, 165). Thus Habermas 21


makes a necessary linguistic tum but he fails to tum sharply enough. He attempts to kept alive the modernist notion of a self-regulating, rationally deliberative public realm as central to the project of critical social theory. Toby Miller suggests that Habermas's theory of the narrative rationality to be found in the discursive forms of modem society is merely a revival in modem secular form of an old Augustinian imparitive; namely, the requirement to uncover what Foucault (1974, 146) has described as "a mind in profundity ... a mind folded back in the intimacy of itself which is touched by a sort of unconsciousness and which can develop its potentialities by the deepening of the self' (Miller, 1993, 93). Benhabib's theory moves away from Habermas's two dimensional model of moral action as communicative interaction in speech and deed to a three dimensional model consisting in the assessment of relevant situations, the identification of correct actions, and the interpretation of intentions and maxims. Thus, she also departs from the Kohlbergian (Kohlberg 1984) concept of the autonomous moral reasoner adopted by Habermas replacing it instead with a the situated moral subject of real life. However, although she makes a sharper linguistic tum than Habermas, she nonetheless does not accept the full implications of a linguistically constituted subjectivity of the sort theorized by Lacan (1977), Derrida (1976), Butler (1990), Brennan (1993). Her subject in all of its concreteness, like Habermas's in all of its generalness, is assumed to be of solid and unfractured self-consciousness. The strength ofBenhabib's theory over Habermas's is precisely that she argues for a concept of communicative needs interpretation which can provide a diologic framework within which moral agents can define their concreteness on the basis of recognizing each other's moral dignity as generalized others (see also Gilligan 1983 and Myers 1987). Thus she collapses the traditional polarity between the concrete and generalized other anf there is no closure of reflexivity by requiring the acceptance of certain rules before the negotiations about rules begins as there is with Kant, Rawls, Kohlberg, and Habermas; rather, the terms of right and duties are redefined in light of concrete needs. Benhabib's theory of discourse serves to produce both "universalistically prescribable norms" while at the same time maintaining "intimations of otherness in the present that can lead to the future" (Benhabib, 1987, 169). Thus, rather than suppressing otherness now and in the future as liberalism, as well as Habermas's version of communitarianism, effectively does, Benhabib preserves the difference of otherness required for the moral to also be the ethical. A Habermasian society, in virtue of its discredited model of subjectivity and its 22


generalized standpoint, seems doomed to repeat the very patheologies of modernity which he attempts to overcome. A Benhabibian society is the more promising in that it is at least capable of accommodating the concrete other even though she retains, albeit a concrete version, of the same modernist self But there is a larger problem with the communitarian approach; namely, a communitarian polity cannot be an ethical polity for the same reasons that liberal modernity is not: ethics is construed as rule following behavior of one sort or another. But to the extent that ethics is the theory and morality the behavior, then communitarianism morality is compliance with discursively agreed upon rules and liberal morality is compliance with contractual obligations. In both concepts self-other relations are thrice objectified: the other is objectified; the relation itself between self and other is objectified; and the otherness of the other is objectified. This is because both liberalism and communitarianism see subjective relations as one self-centered entity in relation with another self-centered entity; that is, two 'beings-with'. In liberalism, the spectre of otherness, the difference which represents dijfarence, is putatively subsumed under an ideal ofpluarlism; in communitarianism it is implicitly excluded by the definitional parameters which make the group the group (one is either 'in' or 'out'; not-difference is in, difference is out). But dijfarence, because it is irreducible, unknowable, and therefore unsignifable, always already remains; its spectre haunts both the ideal of plurality and the 'inness' of communality; in both case, otherness is obscured politically but in reality it remains. The paradox is that any narrative of the particular must remain marginal under the sign of the universal and it cannot displace the universal without itself becoming the new universal. Thus, no master narrative can establish access to the particular of its marginalized outside. Because "the only alternative to narratives in the general voice is a relational voice" (Gadow, 1994, 305), in order to value the particular we must oppose matanarratives by seeking not mere freedom from their objectifications, but rather an ethical freedom which recognizes that all meaning is human meaning, contingent and fluid, with no predetermined, fixed, final, or correct content. The acceptance of this ambiguity then makes a relational discourse of contingency possible: "ambiguity is the space where moral agency exists, where imagination operates, and where relational narratives ... can be created" (Gadow, 1994, 306). While subjectivities in traditional ethics vanish into universal principles, a relational ethics retrieves the parochial from metaphysical abstraction. Gadow theorizes a concept which "moves ethics from modem objectivism to a postmodem emphasis on contingency" (Gadow, 1996, 39) through a relationship of engagement in which 23


subjectivities are present as contingent moral agents rather than absent in the abstractions of some metanarrative. Gadow's relational framework "involves the mutuality of both persons speaking their own grounding, their particularity, as the means of reaching toward the other" (Gadow, 1994, 305). It is a dialogical model involving concrete and contextualized reasoning among narrators with each regarded as an equal moral agent. Ethical meaning is dialogically constructed in terms of intersubjective relations through a process in which each subject confirms or declines meaning until a mutual narrative of that intersubjectivity is agreed upon. The narrative is then an ethical one precisely because it accounts for the common good by interpreting a liveable relationship (Gadow, 1996, 39). The mutual narrative has access to the particularity of intersubjectivity by recognizing that ethical meaning is contingent. Because the meanings so constructed are not generalizable beyond mutual agreement, "transcendence is (then) the ability to imagine and experience different perspectives, not to assume a noncontextual view" (Gadow, 1996, 38). Thus in effect the narrative transcends subjectivity itself because the social objectivity of each narrator remains in the context of a particular mutuality rather deferring to a transcendent universality. Freedom in modernity is seen in terms of law and politics. Modem freedom is that of an abstract and disembodied cogito among other abstract and disembodied cogitos with each held equal under law even as each aspires to self-maximization. The reasonableness of cogito's reason is held constitutive of a self-regulating, therefore just, and therefore moral sociality. A relational ethics is a postmodem ethics precisely because it accounts for the contingencies of human existence. While conventional ethics fosters disengagement, a relational ethics fosters personal responsibility and engagement with the other: "it is a relation between individuals that is grounded in the ambiguity of their being at once encumbered and free, situated and transcendent" (Gadow, 1996, 39). Relational ethics recognizes that, in a world of ambiguity and lack of final closure in meaning, each person has a particular, embodied, and situated perspective. Of course a perfect relational consensus cannot be achieved, its imperfections are always precisely "the excess of what we live over what has already been said" (Merleau-Ponty, 1964, 83); however, the narration is a living one, never final or closed, and new consensus can be narrated. Gadow's concept was specifically formulated in the context of clinical ethics in a realm of one on one relationality between patient and practitioner. But what of the larger realm of multiple relationalities beyond this framework; the realm of groups, nations, tribes and tribalisms? What of the realm where the Spirit (and ghost) of 1807 24


(Hegel) lives on constantly (re)instituting its many dialectics of domination and .. oppression? It is not too large a statement to say that a postmodem world of relational ethics would not much resemble modernity. What then can provide a link between Gadows one on one relationality and postmodem multiplicity and between individual .oppressions and multiple objectifications and domination? The failures of modem ethics has already been discussed. I have suggested that modernitys failures are due to its atomistic model of subjectivity, a subjectivity set free among its peers, its desires held in check only by contract among peers. Therefore it seems to me that a recasting ofboth freedom and subjectivity are requisite for any new ethics ofrelationality if that ethics is to that ethics is to reach beyond the scope of one on one relationality. But upon what can we base a new concept of freedom and ethics which can accommodate both the and the general and do so without imposing principles which are blind to wither particularity or generality? What is needed, it would seem, is a nonmetaphysical but still universal ideal. Something which, like essentialism, is in the nature of human existence but unlike essentialism is not held determinate over contingency. Something which, like objectivism, is of universal value but not an abstract universal held fixed over contingency. Something which, like rationalism, can be held reasonable but that is not prone to reasons instrumentality. In short, what is needed is an ideal which supports fluidity, contingency, and ambiguity, at both the subjective and the general levels, but an ideal that is inherent in, rather than held transcendent over, those levels. What is needed is a true universal of human Beingness rather than one of metaphysical abstraction. Simone de Beauvoir (1991) outlines a concept which may provide such an ideal. She defines the individual in terms of a relationality to others in which one exists in a mode of free self-consciousness which is achieveable only in virtue of the self-conscious freedom of the other; a freedom attained only in a reciprocality of freedom. It is a relationality in which equal moral agents projece their existential freedom toward the other in a mode of Being in reciprocal nonappropriation of the other. Beauvoir recognizes that human existence begins not with the cogito, but with its sum. Her ethics takes human existence as a Beingness-in-immanence that is inherently a being-for. She assumes that ethics lies in ones responsibility for that ethics and, since ethics can only be ethical in a reciprocality of self-conscious freedom, one is therefore inherently responsible for the freedom of the other. The key difference between Beauvoirs concept and modem ethics lies in how one actually uses ethical 25


agency in acting upon that which consciousness thinks about. That is, one either thinks in light of freedom's self-consciousness as ethical being-for, or one thinks in a mode of autonomy as ethical being-in-itself Thus while modem ethics points away, Beauvoir's ethics points toward the other. Her concept accommodates one to one relationality and it also accommodates the larger sociality because the basic ideal of freedom, mutual self-conscious freedom in a mode of reciprocal nonappropriation, is not, by its nature, restricted in context. It applies as well when the other is a group, a nation, or a world because its core ideal is nonappropriation of the other. Consequently, the other is never transformed into Other under the sign of some transcendental universal; instead, the others objectivity remains within the relationality. In this ethics 'the good of an individual or a group of individuals requires that it be taken as an absolute end of our actions; but we are not authorized to decide upon this end a priori, the precept will be to treat the other as a freedom so that her end may be freedom' (Beauvoir, 1991, 142). It is a freedom in terms ofintersubjective interdependence in which: "your freedom cannot be willed ... without willing freedom for all" (Merleau-Ponty, 1995, 456). A mutual freedom in coexistence which: ... must in all cases be experienced on both sides ... Once the other is posited, once the other's gaze fixed upon me has, by inserting me into his field, stripped me of part of my being, it will readily be understood that I can recover it only by establishing relations with him, by bringing about his clear recognition of me, and that my freedom requires the same freedom for others (Merleau-Ponty, 1995, 357). Our sense of coherent self-consciousness becomes manifest in the course of choosing our modes of being and our beliefs and values and then acting upon them; that is, we must have a sense of agency in being-in-the-world. But to be ethical one must pass from mere existence to a mode of Being-in-self-conscious-freedom. Consequently, self-consciousness in the new ethics is conceived as lying somewhere between the self and the cultural, 'out-there', but not very far away. But this is very different from a Das Manian14 mode of self-consciousness; the 'one like many' which resides completely in the social. It is also very different from the Freudian superego which is an internalization of the social. Both are modes of mere existence and are therefor not ethical. Instead, the new self-consciousness is that of a perceptual-self a 26


self-consciousness in subjective perception in which my existence for myself, and the other's existence for herself, must stand out against a general background of for-others, I for the other and the other for me (Merleau-Ponty 1962). As a perceptual-self, in order for my self-identity to have meaning, I must first have a sense that around my individuality there exists a halo of generality in an atmosphere of sociality within which I apprehend myself as centered; but centered in a way that is at once also outside myself That is my existence must, in a sense, diffuse around itself and around my absolute individuality as existence in modes of sociality. For the perceptual-self the other is never quite an object (that is, the other is not Other) as the other as object is a sort of generalization just as absolute subjectivity is an abstract notion of self Consequently, my selfuess, my Beingness in the world, is the bearer of a "double anonymity" in which my life must have a significance that I do not constitute alone: "I for the other and the other for me ... each one of us must be both anonymous in the sense of absolutely individual and anonymous in the sense of absolutely general" (Merleau-Ponty, 1995, 448). Therefore, there is and must be a duality in my intersubjectivity in which I am anonymous in individuality and at once anonymous in generality. Thus, a perceptual-self is at once diffuse and yet whole; a self of soft ego boundaries in an intersubjective space of ambiguity. Thus, a perceptual-self is a postmodem self Intersubjective meaning is the only meaning to which any self can aspire and because the perceptual-self has meaning only in terms of its intersubjectivity, the locus of the new ethics lies solely in that intersubjectivity and because the content of that meaning is found in an open mode ofinter(. .. )tivity whose locus is indeterminancy's gap. Ethical Beingness is then a measure of inter(. .. )jective coincidence (in)differance. Thus, when subjectivity in praxis is in harmony with objectivity in project, as being's mode of intersubjective reciprocality, an ethical mode ofbeing exist in the intersubjective space of that reciprocality. Thus, the new ethics is insistent upon ethical concordance in inter(. .. )jective duality for selfs modes of Being-in-the-world. Beauvoir rejects metaphysical thinking and ... all the previous justifications which might be drawn from the civilization, the age, and the culture ... (Beauvoir, 1991, 142) seeing in them only a "spirit of seriousness (which) confers meaning upon (the word useful) by raising the Thing or the Cause to the dignity of an unconditional end" (Beauvoir, 1991, 111). By 'spirit of seriousness' Beauvoir refers to the tradition of holding the worth of a metaphysical notion above the worth of mere humanness: ... the character of the spirit of seriousness is to consider values as ready made things" 27


(Beauvoir, 1991, 35). For example, when a priori notions ofthe 'good' are held in extraction from the contingency of the subjectivity which posits that 'good' or the contingency of the subjectivity who is held to that good. Modernity's monad exists in just such a mode of seriousness. But, while modernist freedom is posited in the purity of a disembodied cogito as an absolute freedom transcending immanence, the new ethics recognizes that individuals are profoundly unique in their contingent modes ofBeing and that the meaning of that contingency is ambiguous. Thus freedom in the new ethics is in a self-consciousness in contingency made manifest in a facti city differently meaningful for each one of us. A facticity which always already inscribes freedom's agency in an existence in immanence which "both directs the kinds of actions which are appropriate and limits the actions which can be successful" (Solomon, 1974, 195).15 Consequently, in the new ethics we are existentially in possession of ourselves just as we are, not just in terms of our own uniqueness, but also in terms of the uniqueness of all others. Thus self-conscious freedom in the new ethics is realized as a disclosure of its existence through its very failure to realize itself as a movement of absolute freedom or as an atomistic unity of the self Thus, the new self is not its mere contingency, trapped in its immanence, rather the new self is a self-becoming in open inter(...)tivity. Self-conscious freedom is held in the context of a process of contingent becoming-self which is inscribed by, but not trapped in, immanent particularity. Thus one transcends oneself through one's mode ofinter(. .. )tivity and ethics is then the triumph of freedom's self-consciousness within its mode of uniqueness in mutuality, it is the triumph ofinter(. .. )jective coincidence (in)differance. Consequently, ethical existence must reflect freedom of conscious intention cast in the facticity of its existence in an ongoing project of self-creation. The new self becomes Being in selfs project. At the core of selfs project lies a sort ofLacanian (1977) hole at the center of meaning-in-being, but a hole without borders, unfilled in phallic etant-propre (Derrida, 1982a, 6n5), a lack, a null, a void in being's plentitude, expressed in need's desirous-toward ... ; "One is but the other different and deferred, one differing and deferring the other" (Derrida, 1982a, 18). Selfs project, in effect, stands in for the other within who, lost in differance, is always already in trace: "One is the other in differance, one is the differance of the other" (Derrida, 1982a, 18). Selfs project is indeterminancy's plentitude always already between facticity's thisness and ambiguity's thatness. Selfs project does not and cannot know itself in abstraction from its immanence; thus it is never a metaphysical Thingness. Rather, it is in those modes 28


of intentionality reaching to a being-within that is at once without rather than in projection toward an outer unity which would require that it think itself known under Sign in unity of trace. One and the other are in the allusion of'a' {in)differance. Thus the self of selfs project is always unsignifyable because to signify is to indicate 'thingness' in ambiguity's lack. Rather, selfs project is freedom's ambiguity in the play of differance: the unSigned unity of chance and necessity for ethics in Being. To be ethical we must choose the self of our being-for-others as that self which is best for all. In my self-conscious freedom in ethical agency, in the contingency of my praxis, in virtue of selfs project, I 'will' myself into the world. But that agency, that self-conscious choosing of a mode ofbeing-in-the-world for the Being of myself, also wills that selfs existence into a world of others in which that self becomes manifest. Because when I create an image of myself I also create an image of all others as I would have them be: to choose between this or that is at the same time to affirm the value of that which is chosen; for we are unable to choose the worse. What we choose is always the better; and nothing can be better for us unless it is better for all ... I am creating a certain image of man as I would have him be. In fashioning myself I fashion man ... a legislator deciding for the whole of mankind (Sartre, 1974, 198-9). Thus in fashioning myself I also fashion the other and we cannot escape from the complete and profound responsibility inherent in self-willing. But in a society in which modes ofBeing are cast under the sign of the same and held knowable in a myth of presence, Beauvoir's Esprit de Serieux becomes manifest in Das Manian modes of the self and selfbecomes ethically lost in the 'one-like-many'. Then, by virtue of its lostness, the self of modernity's monad abrogates freedom's responsibility for ethics. The monad's attempts to escape the contingency of freedom's responsibility by embracing dogmatic values, ideology, and convention, finding in them excuse for his ethical abrogation. In his always already futile attempt to deny and escape freedom's responsibility, out of fear, he thus substitutes the metaphysical for freedom's responsibility by switching the poles of his mode of consciousness from that of immanence to that of a myth of transcendence beyond that immanence. Trembling at the specter of freedom's ambiguity, he attempts to avoid ethics by denying freedom's self-conscious responsibility. In this Das Manian mode, modernity's monad sets up 29


both the unconditional value of the end (the Thing) and the insignificance of those who are to be its instruments (his objectified Others) and, as raisonnement instroument'l, ego's modes of rampancy become domination and oppression. 16 Thus modernity's monad preordains the very social conditions implicit in, and characteristic of, modernity's ethical failures. Yet the consciousness of modernity's monad, held in tradition to modes of Esprit de Serieux, inevitably fails in its denial and obfuscation of freedom's ambiguity because its self-consciousness cannot, in the end, escape itself In stark the new ethics gives free self-consciousness an "absolute value and recognizes in (it) alone the power oflaying the foundations of(its) own existence", "the supreme end ... freedom, which alone is capable of establishing the value of ever end" (Beauvoir, 1991, 156, 113). However, Beauvoir's free self-consciousness is very different from modernity's notion of absolute autonomy as Beauvoir's self is defined in its relation to its world of others while modernity monad is defined in abstraction from that world. Thus, Beauvoir reverses the solipisim of the modernist account which posits its rational monad as the center of his own world and his autonomous reason as the source of knowing that world. The new ethical individual exists in a self-transcendence by virtue of the freedom projected toward the freedom of another in a movement of intersubjective freedom leading outside of modernity's monad. To accept one's self-consciousness freedom is to release self-consciousness from false modes of being-in-seriousness and, instead, accept one's immanence. Thus: "To will freedom and to will to disclose being are one and the same choice; hence, freedom takes a positive and constructive step which causes being to pass to existence in a movement which is constantly surpassed" (Beauvoir, 1991, 78-9). But this does not inevitably lead to the anarchy of ego's unimpeded rampancy, as it does in modernity, because the new self also find its law in that very freedom. Consequently, the ethical Beingness of such a self resides in the inter( .. )jectivity of two contingencies in a mode offreedom(')(s) (in)differance. Instead of fleeing freedom, Beingness in the new ethics comes face to face with itself in the unavoidable face of the other and we are lead away from modernity's abstractions in subjectivity, moving instead, toward an ethical intersubjectivity in the heterogeneity of our thrownness into the ambiguousness of others. Instead of the modern imperative of instrumentality, the new self accepts responsibility-in-Being by "reconquering freedom on the contingent facticity of existence" (Beauvoir, 1991, 156) in a mode of self-consciousness (in)diffirance within that facticity. It a self-transcendence but not 30


one of a metaphysical sort, rather it is a transcendence that is in the ethical becoming of freedom's contingency (in)dif.ferance. The new ethics starts from the nature of human existence and the fact that Being-in-humanness is its always already that of being-in-sociality. In virtue of this, by engaging our always already being-for, the new ethics is premised on the simple idea of reciprocal nonappropriation of the other as the necessary precondition of our our always already being-for. The Other-in-objectivity is then the other-in-contingency and the objectified subject of modernity's ethics is rendered contingent in relationality. The Being of its contingency is then "capable of hearing and responding to the call of the other. This I take to be the basis of responsibility, first of all social responsibility" (Derrida in Martin, 1992, 14). Hearing the call of the other is an idea which recognizes that one's responsibility for Being is ethical only in a freedom granted by the other, otherwise it is not ethics but predetermination. The call of the other is a call to ethical Being because to hear the call of the other is to hear the call to the other within, the other's call calls to its trace, itself in our self, Being calls trace to trace. In the call we are formed in the unfolding of language as the unfolding of difference with no ultimate context save a horizon that recedes as we approach it the infinite beyond of the infinite other; a beyond that is our outside but also an inside the trace of the other within. This is the paradox. The other calls us to language by confronting our emergence within impossible possibilities yet the impossibility oflanguage as fixity is also its possibility in a freedom of becoming that is not an absolute freedom but a freedom born of freedom's condemnation to self-consciousness of freedom's responsibility. Thus, freedom is free only when in ethical responsibility to its sociality, only when in a world of others in which we are existentially responsible for our agency, responsible in the nakedness of our immanence, unshielded and without appeal to mataphysique de grandiose. Freedom in ethical self-consciousness, a freedom not ours until granted by the other, freedom in a mode of Being-in-reciprocality is the foundation of the new ethics. 31


CHAPTER4 CONCLUSION The absoluteness of modernity's monad is an impossible abstraction. A monadic being whose consciousness is at once a 'nothingness' (because it is its own consciousness-of), held free and autonomous, its reason uninscribed even by its own facticity (Sartre, 1956). But, as a nothingness (which for Sartre and for modernism is freedom), such a consciousness in itself is not an 'it' at all but rather an unliveable notion of subjectivity that "sits like a stone at the heart ofbeing" (Gadow, 1986, 240). Consequently, and precisely because of, its all or nothing condition modernity's abstract concept of being, together with its notion of autonomous ethics, are inherently unstable because the consciousness of its agency tends always toward palliation, metaphysical solace, and self-justification in modes of raisonnement instroument'l. Modernity's claim of monadic subjective status in denial of mutuality is oxymoronic: "even if such an escape were possible it would hardly be desirable because it would obliterate the very agent who was to gain freedom" (McGowan, 1993, 206). In other words, a self in abstraction from its sociality can have no meaning. Modernity's notion of ethics in autonomous reason is oxymoronic in the same way. A monadic agent, cast as a rational unified being, would be 'solid' and thus have no need for ethics in the first place due to its having no consciousness of others with whom to be ethical. It is an ethical problem which can be solved by one person alone, standing in for God; therefore, it is not an ethical problem. Consequently, the modem mode of subjectivity cannot not recognize freedom (in)differance because it is the freedom of an abstracted cogito which can imagine freedom only in terms of a disembodied universality which refuses its own and other's particularity. In contrast, the new ethics provides for the fact that each subjectivity is unique and that subjective freedom lies within contingency not without. While modernity's freedom is that of a monadic cogito, freedom in the new ethics lies in the self-consciousness of an embodied existence cast into a world of contingent others. In reality, the denied embodiment and facticity within which modernity's consciousness resides is most often inscribed by one form of 'inauthenticity' or another with its modes of average-everydayness those of Das Manian Esprit de Serieux; and, by inhabiting inauthenticity, raisonnement instroument'l then attempts escape from ethical responsibility through denied self-deception. This is what Sartre (1956) 32


characterized as the bad-faith that occurs when one shifts from the pole offacticity to the pole of transcendency, or vice versa, and then affirms the one as being the other in order to escape the implications of the pole actually occupied. Such claims are unethical because ethical action, in light of self-conscious freedom, is without excuse because ethics lies not in our capacity to overcome the social but rather in our capacity to assume it. In contrast, the new ethics precludes any claim of either freedom or facticity in isolation of the other as the self of the new ethics is, by definition, the unity of its freedom and facticity in modes of being of Being-(in)differance. The contradictions and psychological conflicts built into the modem version of subjectivity constitutes an unrealistic and unstable foundation for ethical action. The agents assigned the task of carrying to fruition modernity's ideals are incapable of doing so and the nature of their construction accounts for many of modernity's shortcomings. Thus modernity1s failure in idealism can be characterized as systemic ethical failure resultant from the Enlightenmentis reiocation of the center of ethical gravity from a transcendent realm (Christian proscription) to the contingent realm of autonomous reason while simultaneously, on the one hand, denying contingency's sway, and on the other failing to provide something more than a contract to restrain ego's rampancy. Ethical responsibility was thus shifted from the objective to the subjective, from a mode of being-in-relation-to-God, to a mode of being-in-relation-to-self But, in claiming autonomous reason as the ground for ethics, the instrumental ego, which the medieval social order and Christian proscription had, more or less, served to keep in check, was unleashed; a being now guided only by a monadic version of reason; a Cartesian being who attempts to distance himself from his sociality, his ethical compass pointing to a beyond-Being with the helm of his ethical agency manipulated by ego's rampancy. Thus modernity's failures in idealism are simply those implicit in the Cartesian separation in which reason impossibly purports to abstract itself from itself by transcending its demonic Other within itself: the emotional, the irrational, the immanent. Founded upon this illusion, modernity has falsely assumed the existence of a fully rational, stable, reliable, and coherent social agent held to have unproblematically knowable access to its inner state and outer reality. But this hyperindividuated cogito presumes 'a world of mirrors' which perfectly reflect ego's self-image. What ego actually encounters is a world which has independent meaning apart from its own. Then, due to ego's insistence on reflection, the mere other becomes absolute Other because the mere other's objectified Otherness serves 33


precisety as the measure of differance, which, at once, the monad's metaphysics of presence denies all reality. The being ofthe hyperindividuated cogito, in virtue of its insecurity in reflection, is then impelled toward ever more insistent (re)invocation of ego's image and, consequently, attempts to dominate and control the other's Otherness in order to give ego the appearance of centrality, coherence, and totality. In this pathological mode of the self; men dominate women, whites dominate blacks, the rich dominate the poor, and so on until all of soeiety eomes to resemble a eomplete Hegelian chain of objectified Otherness in being. Indeed, modernity has been accurately characterized as "ego's era" (Brennan, 1993, 26-78). Modernity is precisely the historical epoch of dechainement de egofsme dans modalite des raisonnement instroument'l and this is a product of modernist res cogitans. Instead of the stable, reliable, coherent and rational subject assumed by Enlightenment idealism, modernity has instead constructed a psychosocial conflict and cultural pathology located at the very center of its discourse on subjectivity. A mode of subjectivity which not the product of the abstract reasoning which it assumes, but one of raisonnement instroument'l in a corruption of reason. Positing consciousness as pure Apollonian rationality located at an Archimedian vantage, and clearly separated from Dionysian immanence, a separation then enframed in the cathartic dialectic which underlies all ofWestem culture, history, philosophy and politics in the Christian era (the rational subject is assumed to subordinate desire to system, to acetic exercises of self;..mastery, and to stoic withdrawal), the modem monad can become being only in denial. With mind separated from lived body, this being-in-denial fosters oppression of those perceived as Other to its mode of being as the separation of being from Being becomes manifest in an obsessive focus on control of mind over body, its material extensions, and its Others. It is a form of subjectivity in which "the step from a cathartic concept of the self to the politics of purgation is not far" and it results in a psychic rigidity which effectively defines a culture of dominance and oppression which then "contribute to the antisocial pathologies of racism and sexism" (Willett, 1995, 7-8)17 and which are defining characteristic of modem culture. This dualistic split, this "alienation of the self ... defines not an ethics but a cultural pathology ... It is a culture of solipsism" (Willett, 1995, 8). And it is a solophistic culture which holds bourgeois autonomy, Calvinistic productivity, the cathartic dialectic, and an ethos of raisonnement instroument'l, to be central values. Thus 'in light of rationality it is only logical that those who are seen as Other would be excluded and marginalized. Those who seem to serve no useful purpose toward 34


advancing bourgeois society along its assumed path of inexorable progressiveness, those declared to have no utility relative to its central discourse of materialism and productivity, or to divert resources by way of dependency, are denigerated and cast to the margins of society' (Gadow, 1996, 36). And those declared to be the embodiment of the emotional, the irrational, the immanent: women, blacks, the poor, all other Others, are abjectified in their very deviance from the impossible ideal inherent in the monadic illusion; an illusion which can be sustained only in modes of denial. Beauvoir said that "a myth always implies a subject who projects his hopes and his fears toward a sky of transcendence" (Beauvoir, 1989, 142). In a dualistic and metaphysical episteme it is thus inevitable that a consistent theme of transcendence would show itself interwoven throughout the symbolic in myth and metaphor as the presence of a silence not silent in cultural assumptions. Its paradigm is Christian afterlife but its late-modem realization, following the death of God, is its pursuit in relentless materialism in an ideology of: 'if not after, then good life in the here and now'. It is a transcendence over mere life by projecting the self in its artifacts. Such a self is then defined, at least in part, in terms of its cumulative materiality while all others are bathed in the light of Othernss and illuminated all the more clearly by their very lack in material goodpersonhood; social relations are then reduced to having and not having. It is simply Lordship and Bondage updated in the profligate pornography of the late-Fordist-late-modern, the social-relational result is the same: it exemplifies a cultural pathology of endemic othering behavior in which a myth of transcendence, wrapped in a myth of presence, provides telling measure for the being of goodpersonhood's ethical void. In contrast, a postmodem ethical theory must contemplate a sociality brought down to earth from the metaphysical beyond of modernist phantasy. Down to the life-realm of Being-in-humanness because, despite goodpersonhood's desperate allegiance to the false God of TransMyth, he can 'attain an authentically moral attitude only when he assumes his position as an existent' (Beauvoir, 1989, 140) by abandoning his myths and accepting his always already immanence. The argument for, and virtue ot: the new ethical self is precisely an attempt to do just that. The challenge for a postmodem ethical theory is not simply to overcome the contradictions and myths of modernism which have served only "to suture all contingencies (differences, divergences, disagreements, conflicts, confusions, possibilities, peoples and pains) into the seamless linear narrative of historical necessity, of some 'grand recite111 (Finn, 1992, 174), but to do so in a way which does 35


not replace one set universals with another. The idea of equality, for example, does not go far enough insofar as it fails to account for the differences it must equalize. An equality which attempts to eradicate difference by assimilating it under the sign of the same does not understand difference because if difference is appropriated to the same, the same is no longer the same; thus, true equality can only be equality (in)differance. Instead, however, modem juridical/political discourse actually fosters a cultural blindness in which existential difference is located behind a mere facade of sameness and thus effectively denies the differance of difference. This is a symptomatic, rather than problematic, approach to equality which, purporting to offer equal access, opportunity, and protection to all, instead actually obscures difference by covering over the gravitational pull that the discourse of equality always already exercises over the term 'all'. Thus "all appears to be plural but in fact it approximates to the same" (Chanter, 1995, 45); namely, the mode of being of modernity's monad. This is what "Levinas calls the 'concept' or the 'network of a priori ideas,' [which] function to 'neutralize' the other, to make the other the 'same"' (Yeo, 1992, 43). This applies as well to the ideas offreedom and democracy as they "cannot be separated from the need to rethink the model of domination that is implicit in the processes of production and exchange that is characteristic of our age" (Chanter, 1995, 143). Consequently, the ideas of :freedom and equality must necessarily refer to a state of being which is truly free and equal only when subjects are admitted. to their regimes as existential Beings (in)di.fferance. We are born into a tradition which has already determined the sorts of things that are to be thought, the sorts of things to be seen, what can be said and what cannot, and what is considered important and what is not. Thus the discourse of a culture inscribes thinking precisely because it is formative of its own subjects who then find it extremely difficult to think outside of its terms. Our consciousness is always already dulled in Ia pensee unique in a tradition solidified through a collective sedimentation of consciousness as a mode of thinking in which ... rational thought is interpretation according to a scheme which we cannot escape" (Nietzsche, 1976, 455). We are always already "on the inside oflanguage, and language keeps us on the-inside of the process of tradition" by placing "constraints on any attempt at critical reflection" (Gallagher, 1992, 77). Thus the discourse of modernity, in effect, corrupts any thinking which would attempt to think itself out of its problems. In fact, in regard to contemporary political discourse, "it is possible to say that its basic terms are all tainted, and that to use such terms is to reinvoke the contexts of oppression in which 36


they were previously used" (Butler, 1997a, 160). Consequently, to think a new ethics which holds difference as (in)differance is to think the outside of traditional discourse and is at once to repudiated the framework of intelligibility within which such rethinking must take place. The very possibility of (re)thinking, which is language, is already circumscribed by its own possibility. To rethink the "Being ofbeings ... pure and simple Being", as Heidegger (1962) tried to do, and to do so in extraction from fixed referent, amounts "to no more than positing quasi-Platonic idealities, free-floating forms" and is, as Heidegger knew, impossible under the Sign of modernity simply because its modes of being "can only be thought in relation to particular beings or objects, and never simply as pure Being" (Chanter, 1995, 45). Consequently, unlike mere political enslavement, where thought still remains free, the late-modem cultural imaginary is enslaved in the dogma of its own mythology. Thus always already standing in direct opposition to any new ethical discourse is the Sign of modernity: Macht!Wissen iibur alles; 'Progress' is its grand narrative, TechnoScience its metaphysics, 'Reason' its God. Beneath it all, it is simply the ghost of 1807, ego's apparition: Spirit's Lord and His Other. Nonetheless, "the freedom of the imagination consists precisely in the fact that it schematizes without a concept" (Kant, 1952, 43) and new ideas can be thought, albeit with considerable difficulty, as well as old ones rethought. Although the tradition context oflanguage constrains by keeping us to its inside, "this does not mean that critical reflection is impossible" or that we are "imprisoned within the forces of specific interests or power relations ... condemned to reproduce ideologies or traditional social evils" (Gallagher, 1992, 77). Despite the fact that knowledge is hoarded by hierarchy, ideas are not property and through discursive (re)appropriation terms like freedom, justice, and equality can begin to signify new meaning in new ways. Although appropriation is possible only from "within the 'walls' of the language-tradition framework" (Gallagher, 1992, 78), the ideals of modernity, despite their historical baggage: are not to be seen as merely tainted goods, too bound up with the history of oppression, but neither are they to be regarded as having a pure meaning that might be distilled from their various usages in political contexts. The task, it seems, is to compel the terms of modernity to embrace those they have traditionally excluded (Butler, 1997a, 161). 37


As we have seen, the modern subject is never that of its existential emmanence but rather is that of its metaphysical narrative in which the subject is always already not itself and does not resemble itself in its becoming, it is a phantasm never destined for Being. In other words, if the subject is not the same as the psyche (Lacan 1977) or the body (Foucault 1979, 1980, 1982) from which it emerges in the narrative of subjectivity (Butler, 1997b, 83ft) then the difference between the subject and Being is (in)differance in supplementaire in archia (Derrida 1976, 1978, 1982a) and this trace provides the possibility for a postmodern ethics; an ethics that is ethical, an ethics of Being. Otherwise ethics is not ethical but mere conformativity in an always already return of the same (Land 1995; Nietzsche 1968, 1969; Sedgwick 1995). Despite white mythology all social relations are mediated in a language which is actually fluid and unfixed and, precisely for that reason, social relations can be modified through language (Gallagher, 1992, 77). Therefore, the first task of a new ethics is not ethics but a discursive (re)appropriation in which the new ethics must first establish the discourse ofits form ofbeing, that ofthe new ethical selfasBeing-{in)differance. The modern cultural imaginary, held captive by the Sign du Temps Modemes, perpetually in deference to raisonnement instroument'l, with its mind du Rene falsely thinking itself somewhere beyond the late-modern smoldering of its Hypatian flesh, remains trapped in a structure which structures thinking itself thus rendering attempts to liberate itself merely a circularity of institutionalized assumptions about reason's ethical efficacy (e.g., the politico/juridical system). Consequently, the thinking of a new ethics first requires a change in the structure of thinking, a change in the idea of thinking, in order to break from traditional thought, in order to displace res cogitans and rethink "how the thingness of things is determined" (Heidegger, 1992, 301). We must escape the metaphysics of presence, the white mythology that structures thinking and which constitute an enclosure within which "we do not know of any other concepts and cannot produce any others, and indeed shall not produce so long as this closure limits our discourse" (Derrida, 1976, 99). Only by transcending our epistemic limitations can ethics' futurity be liberated. Only with change in the modes of knowing, only with change in habits of the mind and a dissolving of the 'sedimentation of consciousness' can ethics and social relations ... be reoriented from a vertical axes of mind over body to a horizontal sphere of social exchange" (Willett, 1995, 8). In short, we must, like Kant, awaken from our dogmatic slumbers; otherwise any 'new' is always already the mere recasting of the old in a chimerical return of the same because the hermeneutic circle is relentlessly self-circularizing as the myths of the 38


West are lodged deeply in the psychosymbolic. Nonetheless, Zygmunt Bauman argues that now, at the end of modernity, "it is possible ... to face the moral issues point blank, in all their naked truth, as they emerge from the life experience of men and women, and as they confront moral selves in all their irreparable and irredeemable ambivalence" (Bauman, 1995, 43). We must, therefor, take up a new moral stance in the anxiety of openness toward futurity's freedom, in the uncertainty of being-for, we must assume, rather than deny, our always already ethical responsibility and accept the existential fact the being-in-humanness means, unavoidable and without escape, that the "well being of the other is a precious thing" requiring my conscious and unfailing effort to preserve it .... morality means being-for ... And this being-for is unconditional ... "(Bauman, 1995, 267-8). To do otherwise is simply to resign the future to a continued reign of ego's rampancy together with ever spiraling outrages of the unreason which, in reality, is the actual form of reason of modernity's 'rational' monad. Modernity, the 'Being' of Enlightenment idealism, has thus far been an apparition of 1807 socially 'applied' in an attempt at metaphysical closure whereby 'Man' and Spirit would become one in the 'State' of enlightened society. But the Enlightenment's moment has been suspended, its idealism has floundered on the shoals of Ego's rampancy before Spirit's unity had been realized as the trace of its Others, which always lurked unacknowleged beneath its findesiec/e trompe-l'oel, has now exploded thus imploding modernity. Nonetheless, the apparitional myths live on today as phantasmagoria in a postmodern/post-Hegelian continuation of history beyond the end of history, beyond the death ofMan, beyond the death of philosophy, in the insidious Sign: peine-economie. Spirit is now relegated solely to the hyperreal-unreal of third-order simulacra (Baudrillard 1994, 1-43) in late-modem 'media-culture' (Kellner 1995) in which 'the real' is now mere hallucination and where meaning itself is withdrawn into a flatening-out of spacio-temporality in sign-void. Where being is not Being but mere existence dulled in Ia pensee unique du materialiser(sme)(ste). Where late-modem-late-paranoia cultural denial is thus itself a sort of neometaphysic by which we cling to our myths. Where the Enlightenment lives beyond its death as the impossible possibility of modernist phantasies of Being. Of course the apparition would claim that all of this is merely a continuation, only another Kantian critique-synthetic, surely dilectical 'progress' leading inexorably toward Truth's true becoming in futurity's True-Real. Indeed, the apparition of 1807 may yet be proven right. But not in virtue of Aujhebung, not a lifting-up in conservation and negation, but rather by way ofNietzsche in two eternal 39


namely, Lordship and bondage together with its deja la..encore, in modes most diverse and yet not, which, when taken together, each guarantees the other: "Eternal recurrence is our extermination, and we cling to it ... (Land, 1995, 167). Or, as Condorcet's optimism put it when modernity was new: "Everything tells us that we are approaching the era of one of the grand revolutions of the human race. What can better enlighten us as to what we may expect, what can be a surer guide to us, amidst its commotions, than the picture of the revolutions that have preceded and prepared the way for it?" That Condorcet died of 'unknown' causes after having been imprisoned by his fellow revolutionaries in an irrational silencing of one of their own greatest writers is perhaps the more telling Sign of the yet to come in always already late-modernity. 40


NOTES 1. Greek subjectivity was that of a communal individual within the state; in the medieval era it was both the individual and the state within an overall Christian synthesis; the modem relationship holds the individual, at least theoretically, prior to the state. 2. The term 'metaphysics' as used in this paper properly refers to 'metaphysical realism'. In general, metaphysics is the philosophical investigation of the nature and structure of reality while metaphysical realism is the view that there are real objects which exist independently of the human knower and that reality exists in some absolute and independent way which transcends the knower (Audi, 1995, 488). This is a cornerstone assumption of modernity which assumes that the rational knower can, through reason alone, apprehend the 'real' and that the reality so apprehended is absolute, unmediated by the knower or the knowing process and therefore true for all peoples, places, and times. This notion is most apparent in the 'science-model' of knowledge assumed by bureaucracy, politics, the media, as well as in the everyday 'common sense' assumptions people make of their own experience. This metaphysics is so pervasively built into Western epistemology as to render it below the level of consciousness so that everyone tends to unproblematically assume the reality of'reality', especially their own. 3. Naturalistic narratives abound in this discourse which serves to obscure arguments about social causality. For example it is assumed that these 'natural' characteristics are latient in everyone and that only individual reason keeps them in check. The difference then between merely having these destructive characteristics in latency and actually incorporating them in behavior is seen as rather like the difference between the destructive force of electricity in the form of lightning versus the progressive force of electricity under the command civilized intent (Jopling, 1992, 104). 4. If all did achieve the ideal it would no longer be an ideal because in hierarchal systems it is necessary to maintain a collective group of Others, held to be in some way deficient, who serve as the negative reference anchoring the privileged narrative. 5. Derrida's terms cannot be defined in the usual sense and any attempt to do so is at 41


once a logical contradiction as his whole point is the lack of fixity in meaning; thus he does not fix his own meaning by allowing it come firmly and finally to rest in any one text. For example his notion of of di.fferance (1982a, 1-28), which is neither a word nor a concept as both would imply fixed meaning, alludes to both the usual sense of 'differ' in space and also to the sense of 'defer' in time; the idea of di.fferance refers to the play of meaning in textuality and refers to the always already deferral of meaning in a chain of signifiers and in the linear temporality of linguistic spacing. Meaning is disseminated in deferral postponing presence so that meaning is never present in itself but is always already not 'there'. Di.fferance, like other Derrida terms: pharmakon, hymen, and supplement are intentionally ambiguous hinge mechanisms which play on at least two meanings at once; others terms: supplement, dissemination, trace, ousia, parousa, aporia, archia, white mythology, and metaphysics of presence are used less in differing ways in different contexts. In short, there is no stable meaning that can ground meaning as presence; instead, meaning always emerges from the trace of past meanings and is always already being dissolved into future meanings, there is never anything present only the trace of traces . 6. Descartes, as many critics have pointed out, went too far: the most he should have said was 'I think, therefore there is thought'. He was sure of his existence because he could perceive the fact clearly and distinctly; consequently: "whatever can be conceived clearly and distinctly in the mind is thereby true" (Descartes, 1960, 21) and this 'truth' is the confident starting point for modernist Cartesian knowing. However, contrary to what is usually thought Descartes meant simply to indicate that consciousness is both the intentional and necessary starting point for all knowledge; thus ironically prefiguring both phenomenology and existentialism. The cogito for him was not the affirmation of the self and its consciousness taken separately, rather it is the cogito of a "thinking self taken as a whole", a being whose "whole nature or essence consists in thinking" (Descartes, 1960, 21), the essence ofbeing is thinking and thus the mind and body are separate in essence: thinking is of one essence while the embodiment of that thinking is of some other and separable essence (this is the mind/body dualism inherent in modernist thinking). But at this point he had only proven his own existence not that of anything else because, though he could not be deceived about his own existence he could not be sure about anything else as he had not shown how one could know the truth of external things. This is because all knowledge of external things comes to reside in thought by way of sensory phenomena and interpretation, but such knowledge 42


is not therefore guaranteed in virtue of the senses themselves (other than the sense of self as a selfperceived 'something') so in order to prove that his thoughts were true, and that he was not being deceived by his senses or some demonic presence, he attempted to prove the existence of God with the idea that only God, being perfect, could guarantee knowledge. However, to do so he used a circular argument holding that the very idea of a perfect God could not have originated within the human mind since the human mind is imperfect and cannot conceive perfection; therefore God must be the source of our notion of His perfection. Thus God exists. Consequently, 'knowing' the 'truth' of His world, which is also perfection if only we can discern its truths, is simply a matter of properly conducted reason: voila, the myth of modernist knowing. Unfortunately, modernity has made more of the cogito than Descartes himself made of it. 7. One enters society tabula rasa in social terms but the psycholinguistic construction of subjectivity is always already mediated by biology as sex, race, traits, and characteristics serve to 'frame' social construction. Consequently, how one interprets and performs sociality is never completely determined by that sociality as both biology and the indeterminancy oflanguage produce uniqueness. 8. See Haraway 1997 for how Foucault's basic framework of modem 'biopower' has become 'technobiopower' in late-modernity as bioscience (re)casts existence in new modes of subjective-objectivity. 9. The discourse is 'fictive' precisely because it pretends not to be (that is, it claims to be noncontingent) not because there are other 'true', as opposed to 'fictive', narratives. 10. Marx's historical materialism is another 'grand narratives'. However, just as Newton's theory of universal gravity was displaced by Einstein's relativity and yet Newton's theory continues to describe the everyday world of physical experience so to Marx's account illuminates, but does not exhaust, the experiences of everyday life. 11. Freud initiated a Copernican revolution in the cultural imaginary. His discoveries (and those of psychoanalysis in general) served to problematize cultural assumptions about the nature and efficacy of the Cartesian mind. Freud's work, among other results, have subverted the nineteenth century notions of self-mastery which had 43


allowed the bourgeois class to project their fears, denials, and dependences onto their Others through an ideal of self-mastery which was linked to social control through a logic of domination by which those held fully capable of self-mastery (bourgeois white males) justified their superior hierarchal ranking and domination over their Others who were held held incapable of self-mastery: the poor, the working class, immigrants, blacks, and in a particular and primary way, all women. The capability for self-mastery was considered to be a 'natural' trait ofbourgeois masculinity and, 'logicly', its lacking Other was first the generalized 'feminine' and then all of those who were Other to bourgeoisness. As Eli Zaretsky has put it: The logic of the distinction between those in control and those in need of control began to breakdown. In a sense, Freud can be described as 'outing' the white, male professional's dependency. In so doing, however, he questioned the underpinnings of a whole system by which identity and social place were being maintained (Zaretsky, 1997, 80). None of this was Freud's intention, which was only to explain neurosis; he was of the bourgeois class himself. Society has yet to come to grips with the implications of psychoanalysis as the bourgeois class, ever inventive in new modes of denial and, one hundred years after Freud, continue to project their fears, denials, and dependences onto their Others and men continue to project their's onto women. Modernity, much like individuals, tends only to adopt that which reinforces pre-existing notion while steadfastly denying all that runs contrary; for example, long before Freud, Hegel had pointed out the 'self-bewildering and self-perverting' nature of the 'unhappy consciousness' which contains within itself two modes of itself ( 1977, 119ft). 12. A metanarrative is any totalizing concept which posits an all knowing comprehensiveness, usually under the sign of some transcendental singularity (e.g.: monotheistic religions which explain everything in terms of some supernatural universal; essentialist a cause de nature/ narratives of sex, gender, race, class). It is not that such narratives are necessarily false in some absolute and indisputable way, which would constitute another metanarrative, but that they claim much more than human knowing can actually know. Master narratives are oppressive not simple because they are biased but because they speak in the general voice and thus they universalized the world: no matter the particularity of the speaker or of that spoken about, "the voice 44


would be general, and the narrative ideology" (Gadow, 1994, 302). 13. This is the mode of knowledge production in which late-modernity attempts to 'discover' genetic causality for social behavior. For example, a teleology is constructed in which black male 'violence' is held distinct from mere white male 'aggressiveness'. In the latter case, due to a grand-narrative of'whiteness', the 'natural' aggression of white males is held to be a positive social force productive of human (Western) progress; while in the former case, due of a second narrative of 'blackness', black male 'violence' is held to be a negative social force destructive of the 'progressive' society narrated in the story of whiteness. Consequently, in light of modernity's science model, late modernity believes that if genetic causality for negative social behavior can be 'discovered then an 'engineering' solution can be devised. All of this then accords with modernity's underlying assumption of its own progressiveness. In reality however this sort of knowing is the result of grand-narratives circulating in a hermeneutic circle that governs what is and is not taken as truth and knowledge in the first place (A hermeneutic circle is the circularity of interpretation involved in any discourse where "each part is dependent on the interpretation of the whole" and because "every interpretation is itself based on interpretation" the circle cannot be escaped" (Audi, 1995, 324). See also Gadamer 1975 and Heidegger 1992. 14. The term Das Man is from Heidegger's (1962) concept of the 'they'. It refers to a mode of existence in which one denies or ignores one's freedom of self-consciousness by becoming 'lost' in the one-like-many of convention, tradition, and dominant opinion; it is thinking in accordance with 'herd-mentality'. It is the human tendency to fall into a mode of group-think as the they-think form of consciousness in which one thinks what one thinks because one thinks everyone else already thinks the same. 15. For an example ofhow immanent facticity 'both directs and limits' ethical thinking see the 'Heinz dilemma' in the Gilligan-Kohlberg polemic (Gilligan, 1983). 16. It is also possible for the Esprit de Serieux, the elevation of the 'thing' or 'cause' to the ultimate 'end' of raisonnement instroument'l, to take on a hyperindividuated, rather than a Das Manian mode of one-like-many. In this case ego's cogito itself becomes the metaphysical-universal in a 'voice of God' stance speaking to all and in effect proclaiming: 'I am right and everyone else is wrong' precisely because everyone else is 45


wrong. For example; the lone terrorist adopts a hyperindividuated 'voice of God' mode of Esprit de Serieux while the group-terrorist adopts a Das Manian mode in accordance with some form of'group-think'. 17. In addition to Willett, Susan Bordo's (1993) study of the social pathology visited upon of the modem female body (i.e., anorexia, bulimia) points to some of the ways in which a 'politics of purgation' is literally made manifest in modem women. 46


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