I'm in the midst of finals so not much to post right now. Instead I'll be posting my response papers for some of my classes. They are kind of interesting and bring out alot of scattered, yet important points. The first one that I'll post here is my sleepy and somewhat nonsensical response paper to "The Experience of Freedom" by Jean-Luc Nancy.
The Experience of Freedom by Jean Luc Picard…I mean Nancy.
I’ll begin this by using a quote that Zizek used from Rosa Luxemberg (that I actually used in a response paper earlier this quarter), “freedom is for those who think different.” Zizek uses this quote to articulate his own ideas of freedom, and early in both his and Nancy’s analysis, I think the share some important similarities. For Zizek, in today’s postpolitical dubiously permissive society, that quote from Luxemberg needs a little fine tuning, namely that “freedom is for those who think.” Nancy I think would agree, and maybe even add on just a little more, saying that freedom is for those who think freedom.
Earlier today I attended a forum on academic freedom organized by some UCSD students. And it was listening to the question and answer period afterward and some of the points raised that reminded me of this point. Traci, from our program made a statement about freedom, which is both easily fetishized yet undeniably important, in that thinking freedom is a form of freedom. This of course is easily co-opted into becoming a “free speech” or “free thought” issue, where sooner or later someone will chime in that there are men and women standing on the walls connecting watchtowers, or flushing copies of the Qu’ran down the toilet, or asking you to remove your shoes before you pass through security, to defend that very freedom! But this very productively and purposely misses the point. Even dating back to Kant and his reaction to the French Revolution we can see freedom articulated, not just as any random thinking, but as particular ways of thinking. For Kant the French Revolution illustrated freedom, not in the sense of the revolution itself, but more so in the way people reacted to it. Namely the enthusiasm that people met hearing of it with. That for Kant was where the real “revolution” was.
(Warning, only terrifyingly bad and sleepy misreadings of poor Jean Luc lie beyond this point)
For Zizek freedom is not elsewhere, but is something which is to be seized every moment (which is why he adores Lenin, and partially bases both his conceptions of freedom and his articulations of the authentic political act on Lenin’s decision to break with the Mensheviks). This of course relates to Nancy’s ideas of freedom. For Zizek it is assuming the potential exceptionality of every moment that leads to freedom, which Nancy also discusses in relation to Kant, where freedom exists outside of empirical causality. (What I can’t seem to articulate here (I’ve tried and just erased what I’ve typed) has to do with Nancy and exactly what his relationship would be to transcendentals. Most of me wants to say that by setting up his investigation into freedom by emphasizing existence, he is attempting to evade predetermined principles or universals, and instead see freedom as something “ungrounded.” Like a gift which we never know who its from (like the “machine” from Total Recall). But is he doing that? More importantly than, is he doing it, is, can anyone do that?) (But I guess what I’ve missed with these comments is that fact that Nancy is speaking of recognizing a finite freedom for a finite subject as opposed to a finite freedom for an infinite subject (cogito) or an infinite freedom for an infinite subject. (and that this is his “grounding”))
Although I am not sure that this is what Nancy means to say, this is where my mind is headed in reading him. What we get from Kant is freedom, is a choice of a sort of atemporal character.
This is most obvious in the way he discusses evil, and assigns the evil choice as one outside of the subject’s experience. It is because of Kant’s intervention that we find it easy sometimes to identify with the most evil or reprehensible characters in films or literature. When we deal with “evil” figures we constantly contextualize their evil, providing historical moments which can help to explain their acts, yet at the same time, none of these histories provide a fullness of interpretation, there is always something about that person which resists explanation in this way, a kernel of evil which is particular only to that person. The thing to see here is not so much that we negotiate between these two points (duh), but that there exists something outside of this, beyond the subject which we can’t exactly pinpoint, but constantly react to. We all know this figure well, because it is through him that we can discern the properly ethical quality of evil that Kant brings out. (examples of this can be found everywhere, whether with Zizek’s favorite examples from Mozart (such as Don Giovanni) or to Hindi movies and the archetypal beyond reforms types (such as Amitab Bachan in Deewar) or my most recent favorite Anakin Skywalker and his fidelity to the dark side in Revenge of the Sith (Anakind Skywalker is actually a really interesting example, in that the choice of evil was made well outside of the horizon of the three latest movies and therefore (for those who have seen the previous three first) we can admire and appreciate his fidelity to that choice (it would be interesting to read together and against each other the ethics of evil for Anakin Skywalker and Agent Smith from the Matrix trilogy (different articulations of acceptance of ethical inevitability)))
Freedom and free choice in a sense also lie outside of the subject. If we think about this in relation to Heidegger’s ideas about community and a subject as thrown into a body/culture/community, that freedom which we discuss daily and hold onto and seem to enshrine is never really present. First of all, existence within a community means that freedom exists, but only as long as it is a certain type of freedom. Such as, we are free to chose, so long as we chose the right choice. The wrong choice means the loss of freedom itself. (As Zizek notes, we see this very often in the signing of documents. When I was applying for a job at the University of Guam, there was a line which required me to swear and sign that I “would not seek to overthrow the government of the United States.” I asked if I was required to sign this line and was told that I didn’t have to if I didn’t want to. After filling out the rest of the form and turning it in, I was told that I couldn’t work at the University unless I signed that line.) (This paradox of “freedom” being one of the reasons no doubt that some of Nancy’s work deals with rethinking community).
It was interesting seeing Nancy’s use of Derrida, because it gets at another part about freedom, that being how the experience of freedom is always in a sense deferred. That the freedom never arrives in the present but is always on its way, or is always already present. What Nancy attempts is to use Heidegger and his language, such as daisen to incorporate freedom into it, making it just as “essential” as being is. Thus attempting to show how the search for being, is in itself not a search for freedom, freedom itself.
If I haven’t butchered Nancy enough, let me take a few more stabs at him. Although it may not be obvious from this text, Nancy is very interested (like Derrida) in forming possibly new and possibly different ways of organizing human communities. His position on the ethical treatment of the other seems similar to Levinas. As Nancy says, my freedom does not end where the other begins, instead in recognizing a responsibility to the other, one’s real freedom begins. Much of what Nancy has to say echoes Levinas, in emphasizing the horizontal and the proximity as the start for an ethics outside of sameness. Thus, in a way we are all radically responsible for existence and this world, but what freedom in this world means is accepting the fact that our lives can no longer be effectively governed by towering metaphysical frameworks. But Nancy would probably be quick to point out that this isn’t a moral problem, although many people would frame it that way (such as like every movie about humans and robots, such as I-Robot or even films about cloning and genetic engineering such as Godsend or Gattaca). For Nancy this problems are not moral, but ontological, which require more investigating into existence. (This is of course where Japanese anime is light years ahead of Western science fiction, in seeing current trends in science not as moral dilemmas, but as ontological ones. (the latest and more interesting example I’ve seen is Appleseed. Where the traumatic ontological kernel that must be repressed is actually called Appleseed, a technological seed which has the ability to bridge and go well beyond the gap between humans and bioroids (their creations)).