Post-Subjectivity

Demanding total transparency, post-subjectivity reigns. The development of the modern subject, with its reflective interior, its personality and comportment has its roots in 16th Century Europe. Reflected in art, poetry and literature this subjectivity had an inner dialogue with itself, aware of its awareness, creating at least a sketch of a signifying chain holding its past and present and pressing into liminal futurity. Subjects ensconced within this European humanist social organism oscillated between Rousseau’s Pure Man As Found In Nature and Hobbes’ Wolf Man. Both myths intermingled to create a chimera, humanity. Ergo the subject increasingly found itself a part of an ever widening array of social relations, via trade, expulsions from common lands (enclosures) and other voluntary and forced migrations. These psychophysical migrations created great flights from ‘the soil’ and, at the same time, congealed around the subject a ‘common tongue,’ giving birth to an awareness of being a citizen of a nation, or at the very least, its inhabitant.

Digesting all the mechanisms in which homo sapien became a subjective human is not the intention of this article. For more on this particular topic see Michel Foucault’s The Order of Things, Umberto Eco’s On Beauty, and Trish Ferguson’s Hardy’s Wessex and the Birth of Subjectivity. Wrenching the subject from its ground, through forced migrations (expulsions, slavery, etc.), creating new formations of time, industrial time-consciousness regulated by major urban zones, train schedules and factory shift-work arrangements, Capitalism generated an conflicted outward and inward looking being, a co-operative and highly competitive being-toward-survival, a hopeful and terrorized being. Being separate from cyclical time, subjectivity simultaneously forms with linearity. Linear time-consciousness, regulated by and on an industrial scale, drove a normative, narrating subject further into ‘having’ a past and ‘having’ a future. Ownership of time itself comes to those who live on a line of time, not an ever repeating circle of interrelated cycles.

Ever increasing intrasubjective intimacy, insularity and alienation are all hallmarks of the early modern to late modern subject (approximately 1500 AD – 1945 AD). Folding back into itself, the subject of the broad ‘modern’ period, via literature, art, trade, commodification, colonialism and genocide became a kind of universal figure. Ubiquitously narrating novels, plays, poems and later films became central to both the lived and mythical subject. A sort of solidity formed around an alienated subject; isolated and connected via language and commerce (‘it’s just business’), reflective, internalizing and temporal subjectivity has been efficacious. In other words, it was being with a beign that worked.

No longer. Digital, nebulous circuit-boards, all interrelating complexly outside of a singular or unified narrative have disrupted the very foundations of this reflective subjectivity, industrial time-consciousness, and internally reflexive, semi-coherent being. Given that subjectivity itself requires a remainder, or something left over enigmatically for-itself, new intersubjective demands for total transparency, constant engagement and improvement erode interiority itself. Intimacy with Self has no value unless uploaded via Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. This is not then intimacy with Self, but a mythical Big Other.

trump hugs a u.s. flag as he comes onstage to another rally with supporters in tampa, florida on october 24.
Donald Trump Courtesy of Business Insider

Demanding total transparency, authoritarian ideologies abound. Panoptic, all-seeing systems of control, via surveillance and dataveillance, demand information. Monitoring every aspect of its being to death, subjectivity, birthed under capitalism, is now dying under capitalism. Capitalism subsumes everything, further and further down, into a commodity, and in order to com-modify something it must be visible, known. Enchanting the subject to desire its own oppression, as with advertising in the past, the new exhibitionist post-subject, hollow and vacuous as ever, its inside a great mass of ever denser nothingness, circles images around itself, the only way to ‘have’ an illusion of personality and privacy. Ever circulating images, texts and identities swirl around gaping holes in being, holes leading nowhere from nowhere. Intersubjectivity has been so permeated with transparency, a transparency that is only set to grow, that the opaque subject of the past is now fully realized air. Breathing endlessly hot air out of server mainframes, cooled by whizzing fans, post-subjectivity is the sound of the motherboard.

Wishing to give itself fully over to the totalitarian technocrats of transparency, yet conflicted by its sublated subjectivity’s desires for signifying chains, post-subjectivity is in crisis. Biometrics, psychometrics, ‘background checks,’ surveys, individually catered digital advertising, algorithms monitoring algorithms, Capitalism’s rubric is still that of policing, prosecuting and imprisoning. En masse incarceration, racially coded rules of intersubjective engagement, autocratic social and economic apartheid all operate alongside and in tandem with an ever growing population of beings-without-being. Erdogan live streams, Trump tweets, Duterte uploads to Instagram – they all kill. Post-subjects have no subjectivity, or merely vestiges of it, and therefore cannot operate against mediums of control, as they are the medium itself. Corporeal and psychical features have unified, mind and body have united, and the resultant consequence is a De Costa’s syndrome without a heart. David Cronenberg’s 1983 film Videodrome announced a “new flesh,” one plugged into an ever expanding interplay of sadistic exhibition, and the Western subject turned post-subject epitomizes this post-modern apotheosis of cyborg transmogrification.

Answering, or countering, post-subjectivity is fruitless, for it has no center or periphery. Unlike the decaying corpse of subjectivity it has grown on, post-subjectivity, exists everywhere and nowhere at the same time. It is FoMo unleashed. For more, it finds more. And everywhere is more, except inside itself, where nothing exists. Consummating the height of consumerism, nebulous circuit-boards, digitally enabled, electronically powered and now entering quantum interstices, powered by fleshthoughts are the post-subject. Fusing forever with their iPhone, post-subjects walk the earth. Somewhere in liminal spaces between affluence and poverty exists a point where post-subjectivity cannot survive, and being is forced to return by its ‘lower’ formations, that of mythical subject. Needing a narrative, the prisoner, the Palestinian, the policed and beaten, share a commonality, contextualization. Situating subjectivity, oppression, in various degrees, gives being back to being; it sharpens the ‘I’ against the ‘eye’ of the Corporate State Apparatuses, structures all too hidden in the murky nebula of post-structuralism. Sharing common struggles, the corpse can rise; like Lazarus, subjectivity can bring interiority, enigma and mystery back to a world full of authoritarian certainty. Post-subjectivity cannot be challenged, it just is(n’t?) there. What is required is a thinking otherwise than nothing inside the nebulous folds from which it came.

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