The aff’s call to fix a world gone astray is part of debate’s fixation on the suffering of the Other – this perspective is one of prescriptive colonialism that leads to endless violence
Jayan Nayar 12, law prof at the University of Warwick, The Politics of Hope and the Other-in-the-World: Thinking Exteriority, December 15, http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10978-012-9115-8/fulltext.html
People suffer.17 This is a simple truth that takes little effort to state. Neither does the analysis of structures, of processes, of histories, of suffering require any accountable engagement on our part with suffering bodies (save perhaps in our field-work phase of enquiry as we seek data), nor with any of the vectors of violence whose complex intersections in historical time give material, embodied content to what we, in distance, name ‘suffering’. Put differently, the suffering condition when appropriated for the purposes of theory possesses no experiential meaning. Whilst lip service is paid to ‘voices of suffering’, voices as such are absented of experiential truth or ontological-political significance in any objectification of suffering as condition; voices are retained instead (perhaps, again, through the inclusion of some choice quotes of wretchedness, accumulated as data from the field) as theory’s justificatory launch-pads for intervention. At no point, for most of us theorists, is the suffering voice the voice of theory. Indeed, as Spivak (1988) so trenchantly affirmed, the ‘subaltern cannot speak’!18 The politics of discoursing suffering therefore is a politics of the theorist, suffering a problem to be solved by the theorist, where prescription is divorced from experience, theory from the relationality of violence and its local, day-to-day, normal and norm-alised infliction. At best, those that suffer, are invited to await the trickle-down of whatever benign ‘solution’ theory may purport to offer, post its lengthy journeys through intellectual and policy interrogations, as suffering is validated (or otherwise), its structural causation identified (or otherwise), its alleviation interrogated for many a disputed appropriateness of response (or otherwise).19 Having served the purpose of instigating theory, suffering itself becomes secondary to the politics of the ‘theorist/philosopher’—the ‘Self’ thinking for the suffering Other—of imperial recognition, response and intervention.20 Thus rationalised solutions are offered to the problem of the suffering condition, as if some ideal may indeed be redeemed and made ‘real’ from the incomplete actual of the present, laying as it were, immanent, latent, awaiting (re)discovery. The theorist becomes the technician, the expert wielder of knowledge and strategic wisdom, to overcome the problem of suffering that is perceived as one of inadequate social cognition, institutional organisation and planning. Thus, for example, suffering, as human rights violation becomes the result of inadequate understanding of rights-scope and obligations (Craven 2007; Alston and Quinn 1987), or of the conceptual essence of rights itself, or of the allocation of resources.21 Or, to refer to another example of theory-talk (where the legacy of Levinas is apparent), suffering as global injustice becomes a problem of reformulating political affinities within the new meta-game of globalisation as methodological cosmopolitanism (Beck 2005),22 towards ‘global citizenship’ to overcome the limits of anachronistic notions of political identities and responsibilities (Dower and Williams 2002), of ‘social connection models’ (Young 2006); or of the ‘ethics of assistance’ (Chatterjee 2004) or of cosmopolitan care, responsibility, and the politics of redistribution and institutional reform (Pogge 2008). In these examples of discoursing suffering, thinking suffering and its alleviation, true to the ‘problem of the passage’ in Levinasian thought (Wolcher 2003),23 becomes rational work, and the technocratic, even bureaucratic, measuring of suffering and its (appropriate) responses becomes the practical implication of theory; the constant fluctuations of betrayals and aspirations, always with some justification close at hand, only serving to entrench further the Levinasian injunction to responsibility—for further endeavours of thinking-hope, to serve further the cause of salvation for the lost souls of ‘strangers’, as Wheeler (2000) so poignantly put it. Suffering, as condition, as commodity to be exploited, as depoliticised category rather than experience, as a technical/bureaucratic/managerial problem to be solved, remains therefore the ever-present alibi for legitimate interventions amidst constant (and inevitable) disappointments. A corrupt, violent, imperial, global order(ing) of social relations becomes also the saviour, constantly revitalised and called unto renewed being, with every call for the alleviation of suffering (Douzinas 2007b).24 For all the repeated urgings for the expansion of its boundaries, to repair the various denials of exteriority, totality, it seems, is little affected.25 How, therefore, do we account for the constant supply of suffering (through the cruelties of the world) that continues to move the demand for suffering-based thinking (despite these cruelties)? How might the apparent inconsequentiality of so much humanisation in the pervasiveness of inhumanity demand our critical self-reflection as we engage in the politics of hope? We make a huge assumption—we, who theorise alleviatory possibilities out of the suffering condition—that our faith systems are true to the promises proclaimed. With this assumption, we attempt to think our way out of (continuing) betrayals to enable the realisation of promises in which we wish to believe. Good promises they seemingly are: the promise to eliminate poverty; to end starvation; to realise education for all; the list goes on. We ask the question: what prevents the realisation of these promises? What might enable the realisation of these promises? How many more resources? What kind of political institutions? Perhaps to assuage our faith in the consequentiality of our thoughts, so many questions are followed by so many ‘should’-assertions that crowd our repeated redesigns for Humanity—that the world community should respond to suffering; should expend the necessary (miniscule) resources that would alleviate chronic deprivation; should redress prevailing inequalities and injustices within the global economic order; should prioritise human rights in world trade and economic relations; should enforce legal regimes to hold transnational corporations responsible; should reform and democratise international institutions. The list, again, goes on, as do, notwithstanding all of these manifold ‘shoulds’, the ways of the world in which betrayals remain the normalities of business-as-usual (Robinson and Tormey 2009). Andrew Linklater’s contemplations on the prospects for ‘cosmopolitan obligations’ for ‘distant suffering’ is characteristic of the intellectual idealism of much theorisings of Humanity’s hopeful futures: the gulf between human societies may not be so difficult to bridge. … The obstacles to substantial progress have been well documented, and they will continue to shape the tracks along which globalization travels. But it is not beyond the ingenuity of the human race to rise above increasingly problematical particularistic moralities, and to create global arrangements that have the primary task of implementing cosmopolitan obligations to reduce distant suffering. (Linklater 2007, p. 33) As if the failures thus far have been simply due to a lack of ingenuity of the ‘human race’! What if, instead, the world order of inflicted suffering (and ‘the gulf between human societies’), the order of global impoverishment and insecurities, persists not merely as the outcome of a failure of (humane) consciousness to be corrected by suffering-based ethical theorisations of human rights and global justice, but as the result of created, planned and effected imperialist design as it continuously seeks to reshape world orders for profit? To what extent do the many ethical urgings for global transformations actually encounter the geo-and bio-politics of global coloniality that is defined by the material desires, motivations and actions of globalising elites, for whom, as Bauman (2003, p. 20) tells us, visions of the good life are defined not by attachments (to the suffering Other) but by a ‘disengaged imagination’ that seeks no utopian mission.26 In the face of such actualities, what do we make of the useful suffering of the ethical Self who purports to think for the Other? Inconsequentiality is the least of the criticisms that may be made. Nandy’s observation is pertinent: ‘domination today is rarely justified through oracles, ritual superiority, or claims to birthrights; domination is now more frequently justified in terms of better acquaintance with universal knowledge and better access to universal modes of acquiring knowledge’ (Nandy 2007, p. 227). Theorisations of hope that gaze upon suffering and that purport to contemplate, manage and solve suffering, therefore, as knowing (and modes of knowing) the Other, help create masks of hegemony for the brutal faces of domination.27
Reject their hopeful politics in favor of a focus on the failure that produced suffering – the aff is a caricature of the obsession with success imageries – only the right to fail can rupture the cycle
O’Gorman and Werry ’12 (Roisin O'Gorman, Ph.d., Theater and Drama Studies @ University of Cork, Margaret Werry, Department of Theater, University of Minnesota, “On Failure (On Pedagogy): Editorial Introduction,” Performance Research: A Journal of the Performing Arts Volume 17, Issue 1, 2012)
What has upped the stakes in this absurd drama is the cultural dominance of hope and success in a neoliberal age, now the mandate, measure and mantra of the corporatizing university. We live in the depressive ruins of the university, an entity dedicated to the rabid pursuit of illusory success when any substantive mission that might give that success substance has long since been mortgaged to market values (see Readings 1996 and Werry and O'Gorman 2009). The fetishization of excellence and outcomes, the prevalence of ‘audit culture’ (Strathern 2000) and prevailing instrumentalism and vocationalism, all institutionalize, codify and restigmatize failure. Now the encompassing regime of the test eclipses all other ways of understanding and valuing schooling: through standardized testing, student evaluations and bureaucratic measures of school ‘performance’, the threat of failure is the defining condition under which we (not just students but also teachers and institutions) operate. In these contexts, accidental failure is perilous, and the strategic, emancipatory or experimental use of failure – however much it is still necessary – is freighted with risk, danger and difficulty. The right to fail (with all its promise of inclusiveness, generosity, freedom) can only be claimed at an ever-mounting cost. The pedagogy of public art – as recent literature on relational aesthetics and established Freirian and Boalian work on theatre for social change attests – also carries an ameliorative and developmental charge, yoking artistic ventures to teleological narratives of hope, aspiration and social transformation. And it is likewise entwined with legitimating institutions (such as the academy) wedded to success. In public art projects, failure is often disavowed and internalized, mired in blame and shame, and papered over in the next hopeful grant proposal. Yet clearly, most such projects fail most of the time; fail to democratize, raise visibility, transform understandings or experiences or even gain the understanding and support of those they claim to aid. And no wonder: performance is a weapon of the weak aimed at mighty fortresses. We balance impossibly titanic political hopes – conflict-resolution, community-building, antiracism – on the precarious foundation of an art premised on failure. Such marginal efforts are often lodged in defensive postures, continually having to justify their existence with missionary zeal: they become good at talking about goals and strategies, less good at dwelling on their often disappointing outcomes and what they reveal about the process by which people and things change, learn, revert, resist, stall and change again, or about the catastrophes and collapses that attend any attempt at true dialogue across social difference. What would it mean to legitimate the continued practice of public art not in spite of but because of its inevitable failure? Dwelling on and in failure, it follows, offers not only a tool of critique or a diagnostic of neo-liberal enterprise, but also a way to remodel the theoretical premises of activist work in our discipline, querying the trajectories and temporalities of change enacted in performance. Performance practice teaches us how to live with and as failures, finding possibility in predicament and embracing the vulnerability of moments of failure that may also be moments of profound discovery in which we remain open to what transpires, rather than measure it against our intentions. Failure focuses progressive hopes not on future transcendence but in the interstices of present quotidian struggle and in the alternatives and possibilities for ethical action – for thinking and feeling otherwise – which that struggle makes available to us. It stands against the imperialism of hope, generates a reflexive understanding of the inherently agonistic space of learning and change – a space in which aspirations, resistances, prejudices and passions constantly clash, feelings run high and stumbling and flailing are a productive inevitability.3 Performance attunes us to this. Such a recalibration of the political posture of the discipline demands new tools. To look squarely at failure, we need methods designed not to capture the fixities of representation or identity but to help us navigate the slippery, fugitive terrain of process and affect. We might look, for example, to the immanent materialists – such as Bergson and Whitehead, Deleuze or Connolly – ‘philosophers of becoming’ who challenge us to set our analytic sights on moments of openness and uncertainty (where time is not purposive or linear, events not causal). These moments of ‘fecund duration’, in which emergence of the unthought can occur, are often occasions of failure of the known, stable or systemically enduring, requiring a response to which old habits, ideas or rules are not adequate, and for which we as subjects are not adequately prepared. They are acute experiences of the limits of human mastery, exceeding conscious awareness. Failure, we suggest, inaugurates such moments. It is a kind of freedom for which performance is a kind of practice, in which you ‘dwell creatively in uncertain situations’ (Connolly 2008). Uncertainty, of course, is a painful state to inhabit. Failure hurts. Failure haunts. It comes laced with shame, anger, despair, abjection, guilt, frustration – affects we usually wish away or hide. Thinking with failure means making affect an object of our curiosity rather than knowledge's irrelevant remainder. We need to slow failure's ‘ugly feelings’ down (Ngai 2005), ask them: ‘What are you doing here?’ Performance-sensitive work by theorists such as Berlant (2011, 2008), Tincineto Clough (2007), Ahmed (2004), Sedgwick (2003), Halberstam (2011) or Probyn (2005) has exposed the normative or coercive role that positive affect has often played in socio-political processes and worked to recuperate negative feelings as the site of emergence of alternative communities and alternative political imaginaries. (The role of shame in the solidarity of queer communities is a significant example.) Turning too swiftly away from the abyssal affect of failure risks capitulating to its isolating, freezing effects; dwelling on it, by contrast, allows us to imagine that failure's misery can be, perversely, what unites us. It allows us to imagine ourselves as members of response-able communities: individuals in a state of openness to moving and being moved by others. As Judith Halberstam has succinctly phrased it: ‘Failure loves company’ (2007: 89). Failure's timely challenge inspired our contributors to address a range of questions. How and why can performance be understood to have failed? What is the analytic power of failure to reveal the limits of the (currently) possible? How does it map what is thinkable, acceptable, appropriate, normal, desirable? What is the quality of failure as an aesthetic and as an affective experience? To what extent might that experience also be a political one? What are the pedagogical benefits of theorizing and practising failure? Can failure help us to shift the entrenched equation of power, knowledge and authority that structures schooling? What is the relationship between failure and change? How does failure prompt us to rethink the progressive transformation imagined by performance? What are the risks of valorizing failure in the way these questions imply? What does such a project stand to learn from those who are set up to fail, doomed to fail or dismissed as failures? We yoke movements for change, or the desire for a more just society, to heroic narratives of future success, but how sustainable is a politics based in hope, transcendence and self-assertion? How can energy, hope, curiosity and momentum withstand the inevitability of failure, as they confront intractable conflicts, historical or structurally entrenched injustices? How do we keep going? How do we remember that keeping going is worth doing?