File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0111, message 126

Subject: RE: [Fwd: re:  Ethics as a figure of nihalism]
Date: Wed, 21 Nov 2001 19:28:16 -0600

A few years ago I was on the search committee in my dept, and we brought
in a candidate who used the term "community" in every other sentence.
When I got my one-on-one meeting with him, I asked him what he meant by
this term. He waffled, smiled, blushed, and said something like:
"um....well, you know, it's really hard to define...but it's one of the
few concepts that doesn't have any negative connotations--no one can say
anything bad about community." I was thinking: wow, those were the
days--before psychoanalysis, feminist theory, poco theory,
post-structuralism, deconstruction, etc. He didn't get the job. 

But steve, though I don't really disagree with what you're saying, I do
think I would add a little texture to it or something. I think that it's
possible to experience community, to suddenly experience it through all
the oppressive crap (not just consumerism's crap, either). Today I
noticed out my kitchen window this giant SUV proudly displaying the
typical post-911 kitsch: an American flag and a big passenger side
window sticker saying, in bolded caps, UNITED WE STAND! And it hit me
that in the first moments/hours/days after the 911 tragedy, that phrase
seemed descriptive, a genuine attempt somehow to express the
inexpressible, to indicate the overwhelming feeling of concern and care
and support for one another that "we" were suddenly experiencing, the
urge or imperative to pull together locally and nationally. This had
nothing to do with consumerism and at that early point very little to do
with nationalism (though, I do think nationalism may have imposed some
limits to the experience). And the news media was as dumb-struck as the
rest of us; it was their dream story, but they were caught totally off
guard and were scrambling around, stuttering, stammering, giving
unprepped, unpolished accounts of what they saw or heard. The spectacle
machine that's usually so smoooooth and sleek, bumbled and fumbled.
Nobody knew what they were doing. And/but still this experience of
community, of being-in-common, as nancy puts it, was palpable. We had
very suddenly and very violently been reintroduced to something that
most of "us" have a tendency to forget: that we are indeed fragile, that
we are finite after all. And the experience of finitude *is* the
experience of community, the experience of sharing a mortal and singular
(unsharable) existence. 

That lasted for about 48 hours in most of the country, I'd guess. Longer
in NYC. And then...then "we" forgot again precisely what we'd just
relearned. The radically passive and depropriating experience of
finitude, of community, gave way to the reassertion of identity and
sovereignty, in all its nasty forms. You're with us or against us. The
damn flag became a big money-maker. And this morning that phrase--UNITED
WE STAND!--exclamation-pointed as it was, struck me not as a descriptive
but as a prescriptive, as a command. Especially after lynn cheney's
goons at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni put out that
McCarthy-ish report citing academics as the "weak link," etc. A kind of
tyranny of consensus now runs rampant in the so-called land of the free
to an extent that I haven't experienced in my lifetime--evidencing yet
again the incredibly shitty side of "community," the fact that the
experience of being-in-common is obliterated in the very instant a
project is established by which that community might define and express
itself (in this case revenge is the major project: war). By which it
might include and exclude. Meanwhile, consumerism came rushing back with
unbelievable force, backed as it was this time by nationalism--or,
excuse me, (ahem) patriotism: Buy a gas-guzzling SUV and support your
country's economy!!! No interest for a whole year! Etc. 

The question for me, though, is not so much how to "win" against
consumerism b/c I think we just saw that the latter in fact does fall
off the register when "we" are exposed to our irreparable finitude. I
don't think it's primarily a problem of the loss of common myths,
either--myths tend always to be associated with the establishment of
some kind of Volk. The question for me, rather, is how to hold onto the
intensity equal to the level of death, as bataille put it, which the
experience of sharing-existence demands, without resorting to violence
and sacrifice to do it. 

Best, ddd

  D. Diane Davis
  Rhetoric and Composition (UT Mail Code B5500)
  University of Texas at Austin 
  Austin, TX 78712-1122 

  Office: 512.471.8765  FAX: 512.471.4353

> -----Original Message-----
> From: [mailto:owner-
>] On Behalf Of steve.devos
> Sent: Wednesday, November 21, 2001 5:06 AM
> To:
> Subject: Re: [Fwd: re: Ethics as a figure of nihalism]
> Mal
> the issue started because of Hugh's belief in communuties having some
> value and worth
> "... a continuity of personal relationships and institutional support
> for those relationships  they affect significant others, parents and
> children, extended families, tribes, communities."
> Given that the structure of the communities in question, and perhaps
> I used the equally specular but different communities of this side of
> the atlantic it would have been clearer, is predominantly one that
> oppresses and excludes rather than includes and liberates. In this
> specific society community is used to place the human subject into a
> place where they belong. In previous, equally unpleasent societies, a
> common language placed the subject into its community,  but now the
> commodity spectacle constructs an artificial reconstruction of
> community.  Our societies have lost the community that the common
> language, the myths had been able to maintain. In place of the
> unpleasent communities founded on death and sacrifice, our communities
> are founded on commodification, spectacle and division. The divided
>  nature of our communities constitutes them as inactive because the
> common language of community is derived from its commodification.
> False communities and neighbourhoods are generated everywhere - for
> example - at work 'teams' and 'communities' are built to enable the
> business to maximise its use of human resources through the false
> community it constructs. The currently suspended (because of 911)
> refugee and economic migrant issue in europe, is founded on the myth
> refugees and migrants being welcomed and this being a society which
> tolerates difference. The reality is of course different for the
> spectacle uses the former myth to hide the oppression of difference.
> use and glorification of redundent and oppressive cultural norms based
> on cultural, racial, sexual and local stereotypes is normal.
> If 'community' is being used to oppress and control - which is the
> result of the excessive commodification - then on a day to day basis
> need to be careful before we accept the idea that it is in itself a
> positive value...
> regards
> steve


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