Monday, October 27, 2008

Simon Critchley may be right about so many things; his conclusions are all wrong

...Speaking from a position of perhaps glorified impotence (SPOGI), on Obama's loneliness (and ours) here (sub). I want to say: wrong in part because nobody with Critchley's ideological standards could ever get elected, needless to say. Less obviously wrong because Obama's kind of rational "faith" in community may be the only kind to have, may indeed be the kind that all cultural/ethno-geographic hybrid subjects–those subjects after all with any future–have. Far from suppressing or entirely ignoring agonism, Obama has merely found a way to render the most destructive, distracting and reactionary elements abeyant. Call it sublimation, if you must. But in doing so he clears a space for political action. In any case perhaps another word (or two) is cosmopolitan...homesickness.

Or not...


lmergner said...

Hi Matt,

I caught the excerpt in Harper's also. As an academically-trained political philosopher myself, I have to say that his comments are the worst kind of pseudo-psychological musing. That his comments were presented before my professional organization, APSA, is even more troubling, since its ostensible goal is political science. I suppose its not surprising. Critchley's Infinitely Demanding was pretty bad too.


Matt said...

Thanks Luke,

I have to think that what Critchley feels comfortable pathologizing may simply be a great strength–and not just for someone trying to sell himself as a candidate but also for anyone in power.

So Obama has experienced cultural hybridity. He hasn't always had a fundamentally clear place in the symbolic order, or felt like he belonged to one tribe. Imagine, a genuinely modern subject. He's had to negotiate the real world, far more profoundly than McCain, and like many people who endure and practice such negotiations, has emerged stronger with a more secure, resilient and knowledgeable core self.

Obama has developed the ability to feel real empathy for differences. Anthropologists understand that such people are far superior in negotiating conflict–simply because they are capable of holding contradictions in their head, without suspending empathy, but also without feeling a blinding, hysterical "existential threat" to their core selves.

The empathetically impoverished, Critchley perhaps included, don't seem to understand that someone may do this and not immediately sacrifice their core self or be wrenched apart or hopelessly compromised. Obama is clearly not paralyzed when it comes to The Act. His understanding of the consequences may just function at a deeper level than his own personal ego.

Who knows, maybe after 8 years Critchley has internalized the new Republican fortress-subject, or rather the Republican subject's likewise limited conception of politics. Maybe he's been reading too much Carl Schmitt...

Obama really does have "nerves of steel," but he's obviously capable of being genuinely, maturely angry. And he's pretty damn effective at getting things he wants done.

It's easy to see why Critchley or whoever may not naturally be inclined to "trust" him, for not wearing his ego/emotion on his sleeve, but I have to think Obama is actually something of an ideal modern type for a political leader. As he himself says, being underestimated because you are courteous and don't lose your temper isn't always a bad thing in politics.