- The Human and his Spectacular Autumn, or, Informatics after Philosophy
This essay revisits a few core postulates of an idealistic modernity of the west that was based on the voluntarism of the human subject, the rational workings of the secular state, and a scientific episteme of power/knowledge that was to absolve a godless, historical universe of dogma and miracle. But perhaps, as it has been increasingly apparent, a new form of sovereign power is making itself immanent in our times. Instead of a historical agency of the conscientious human, or an isomorphic relationship between disciplinary knowledge and power, the global application of this form of sovereignty is based more on the temporal and spatial inseparability among moments of militarization, informatization, and financialization. As a result, categories and definitions of a classic liberal political imagination—like fascism for instance—can no longer be simply attached to human profiles or human tasks. This new, dogmatic, faith-based sovereignty of informatics and technology-in-and-of-itself is diffuse and micro-punctual in its presence, unlike the world-historical spectacle of the mad Führer. In the wake of specific molar technologies for producing social life itself, one has to be attentive to a transformed situation in which meritorious conversations between humans are increasingly overwritten by a great dictatorial monologue of power, by which money alone, along with its complex corporatist-statist interests, speaks to itself.
How does one re-think politics and resistance in such a scenario, where inhuman assemblages and flows of finance and interests—mega-forces of funding and facilitation—override communicative presumptions about scientific truths and pieties of democratic representation? How do we start thinking in this moment of danger in a manner that is neither driven by paranoia nor enclosed in an ivory tower of angelic ironies? —ab
Toward the beginning of Gabriel García Márquez’s novel El Otono del Patriarca, the protagonist, who is the dictator of an imaginary Latin American republic, is seen to witness his own funeral. That is, he sees himself being buried de facto, in terms of an ordering of words (“the king is dead”) and visibilities (the public rituals of the royal funeral) that creates sovereign publicity and power. However, by a profound trick of fate, it so happens that the physical body of the king that graces this occasion does not belong to the protagonist himself—it is of his double Patricio Aragonés, who has recently been killed by a poisoned dart. The corpse of the official imposter is interred with full state honors. When the dictator peeks out of his half-ajar bedroom door to watch the ceremony taking place in the audience hall of the presidential palace, he is offered a glimpse of what may be called the televisual in its most sublime form. By virtue of this unusual situation, he temporarily assumes a godly, panoptic perspective that he will never achieve again in his career.
I am using the concept of the televisual in its basic sense, that of projection and reception of visibilities across distances—in other words, as a primary cognitive task of the human who wants to read the world. But we face a profound question in trying to see matters from the dictator’s “televisual” point of view: what exactly must be the nature of “distance” in this case, when the “self” is paradoxically made to see the “self” being buried afar? It is the mysterious and extraordinary body of the sovereign himself that needs to be unraveled before one can even begin entering that ontological conundrum. We can say that “distance” here is manifested first of all by a death-induced split between the phenomenal and the epistemo-constitutive poles of the king’s body; the mortal carcass of the sovereign is thereby detached from the abstract stately form endowed with the iron deathmask of power. The patriarch (we will call him by this name to distinguish him as the not-named son of Bendición Alvarado who was, till now, holding the post of the dictator) feels alarmed and powerless because he, for the time being, is the bearer of none of the aforementioned...