A Fragment on Social Relations
All social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which lead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice. Marx, Theses on Feuerbach
If Marx is right, and I believe he is, and all those who post-sructuralist gestures are right, and I believe they are, then the analysis of the subject has come to dead end. The idea of the subject is that s/he is, in one sense, a whole—situated, perhaps de-centered, but individual. Yet in concrete social relations, the subject can never be inert for social relations are never inert; they are constantly in a state of flux. And if so, then our epistemology and our ontology must reflect that unstable terrain. Deleuze’s assemblage came to mind. Connolly’s contingent identities\differences. Nietzsche’s abundance of life. Crenshaw’s intersectionality. And so on. We are made up of so many affective, linguistic, cultural webs of significance that no one nodal point is sufficient to explain away the I—which in its singular form, seems betrayed by the complexities that construct it. Foucault asked, in The Order of Things, whether the I in Life, Labour, and Language was ever fully possessed by the speaker—whether there was ever a connection between the ‘I think’ and the ‘I am.’ For him, there wasn’t–not until the finitude of history made it so. That is, or rather has to be, the fulcrum on which the analysis of the human-in-relations must turn. Our finite time to make any change. We must feel this analytical impetus–that is, to think through lived (that is finite) experiences and their interconnections as we see (black) lives brutalized by police, many others hidden behind the bars of a prison system built upon racist premises, and those trans and non-binary experiences monotonized by the language of equality.
I recall what Jess, the protagonist in Stone Butch Blues, said near the end of the novel to a demonstration in Sheridan Square. Jess yells “I need you—and you need me.” But why? Jess survived the incredible, the brutal: parental disownment, rape, police brutality, arrest after arrest. Why did ze need this group of gays and lesbians? Because ze found the contingency of community. Jess needed the human contact, the social medium through which ze’s experience could flourish into a political moment. Jess’s was a call to think through, across, and within the bounds of difference. Do we have the courage as scholars and people standing in social relations to do as Jess did? Do we have the courage to speak our truths and acknowledge their contingencies and to politicize those very truths?