Saturday, February 20, 2016

Slippery subjects 

It must be symptomatic of something that the most searching questions that one can ask can often be met with a dismissive cynicism if not outright derision. Dan Fox, in a new book, nails this as the prevailing climate of anti-intellectualism or dumbing down (see here for a review), and he could well be right. So that makes me all the more determined. Determined to return to the identity topic, and turn to the picture next to this and ask 'is this me'? Not, I hope, to provoke the reaction that by opening the topic I'm engaged in some sort of pretentious navel-gazing - although perhaps that wouldn't be such a bad thing after all?  But to interrogate what all this activity of capturing images, taking selfies and textualizing these online is all about. Really. This is not me. It's as if layers of difference have been tightly pressed together, fusing them in a process you could call lamination. Whilst there is resemblance or representation, there are also bits, bytes, and pixels. There is framing not to mention posing, cropping, colour enhancement and so on. The result may be an image of me, but that's all. Here, it's recontextualized. It enters another space, another time, juxtaposed with writing, squeezed into a template, worked into a particular form and recruited in a particular way for a particular purpose. Showing the image here becomes part of a performance, a performance that may be read off by an audience. But this me business is slippery. The image holds all sorts of other resonances, an affective dimension, a motley collection of shifting memories, the sharpness of the air, the Himalayan rock beneath my boots, the paucity of oxygen and so on - all of which may or may not be me. In current social theory this could all be seen as an emerging entanglement of affective, socio-material and discursive practices - a mouthful I know, but a sort of flowing together of bodies, things and ideas. A state of affairs in which constructions of me-ness are always contingent. If we live in times of space-time compression, of context collapse or whatever, it seems to me that we have also become slippery subjects. But perhaps I should just speak for myself, because that's what it looks like from here. I'm also aware of power geometries at work, creating conditions that allow for or provoke this slipperiness (a certain age, class, gender configuration for example). And that leads me to wonder whether some subjects are more slippery than others?

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