restricted access Forgetting
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4 Forgetting Isolation and Reparation The trope of death most represented in modern governance reorients the notion of sacrifice away from its association with tragedy. It further downplays heroism, which frequently competes unfavorably with the technocratic element of governance . Some recent scholarship suggests that the decline of non-governancecentered heroic genres, such as the epic since the seventeenth century, correlates with the loss of aristocratic autonomy vis-à-vis the state. According to David Quint, that kind of autonomy had been prefigured in the transhistorical preference of the epic for individual, fallible, and tragic heroes like Achilles over kings like Agamemnon.1 For Michel Foucault, the decline of knightly values of valor and individual skill can be traced to the inventions of such aids to governmentality as the rifle, which highlighted discipline and obedience to general plans over and above any other personal qualities of combatants.2 The technocratic today, in its absolute sense, represents a forgetfulness of death as an engine of governmental behavior. This is active forgetfulness in the sense that it is both the driving energy of a thoroughly administered society and the product of the ethics of modern capitalism, which, in its orientation toward production and consumption rather than prudence and saving, highlights life and forgets death. It is of course not the same capitalism of Max Weber’s gloomy puritans, who were obsessed with death and salvation but who end up unwittingly creating in the world a socioeconomy which, as Daniel Bell and others protest, progressively rejects every notion of delayed gratification. In such an age, the heroic impulse would be expected to wane in its dual struggle with the mundane notion of life-as-instant-gratification, which capitalism highlights, and the mechanized requisites of technocratic administration. Today, however, the victory of technocracy and capitalism over the heroic is never complete . Apparently docile souls of mass society commence now and then in new ways the ancient project at immortality, which, because of the sheer scale of mass society , cannot refer to projects originating and ending within individuated, so manifestly insignificant selves—atomized, lonely, and powerless. Especially in situations 76 where civil society has been crushed or made servile and attentive to the state, the members of the herd begin to look for leaders who stand in for them and who, in an atomized society, embody their only link to one another. One begins to see in office thus not historical heroes with a vision beyond their times but demagogues who, like Louis Napoléon, represent the genesis of this move. For Karl Marx, this is exactly how the success of one of the most opportunistic leaders of his times could be understood, namely, under conditions in which ancient centers of power, having been weakened, abandon the political scene to new social bases of power. In the case of Louis Napoléon, such new bases include the atomized and uncooperative lifestyle of the relatively rich peasants in the countryside.3 Their isolation from one another itself calls forth the leader figure that would represent for them their only connection to one another. Here we enter the age of isolation and reparation. In the traditional theory of psychoanalysis, isolation is detected in primary life experiences rather than in specific sociohistorical contexts. For Sigmund Freud, the child’s ultimate and most suppressed trauma is that of its birth, its separation from the mother, that is, its memory of life itself. Life, in other words, indicates a primary experience of separation and, as such, provides the basis for the work of the death instinct. Unlike the life instinct, which manifests and fulfills itself only intermittently in experiences of pleasure, the death instinct does its work unobtrusively and continuously. Even pleasure is placed at its service, since it collaborates with the death instinct in protecting the organism against excess stimuli from the outside,4 thereby keeping the organism from dying according to designs exterior to it. The self, thus, comes to value its separateness, but paradoxically only because it secretly refuses to accept it. If the world outside of it is guilty of bringing it to life, then such a world is a coconspirator in imposing isolation upon it and thus cannot be trusted to undo it. Thus, the social atom can join this concrete world only at the cost of suppressing its sense of distance from it, that is, its secret belief that it belongs in a better and more organically harmonious place, elsewhere. In the here and now, it...