On the bus into to downtown this morning I was reading from the Chaloupka book and I came across what I consider to be the kernel of the book: a description of his prescribed politics and a brief theorization of why it works.
The interpretation – the “spin,” to use the Reagan-era term – I want to consider goes like this. Not presuming to enter into the realm of force-counterforce (and all the other economies of force surrounding military and nuclear matters), the “lifestyle” argument simply intervenes. this intervention produces consequences that are more ironic than representational, more disruptive than analytic. The lifestyle position works by rubbing against a nuclearist discourse that has tried hard to exclude challenges to its logic. In its partial, deconstructive mode, that opposition has worked, putting its own “dumbness,” its forced inarticulateness, against the forced coherence of foreign policy discourse. Arrayed against a thoroughly coded way of speaking, the opposition stripped its own utterances down to a naked minimum – not escaping code (how could anyone presume that?), but forcing the dominant discourse to handle the weight of the codes and substitutions all by itself.
My reading works, then, on language-and-politics turf captured by Foucault. I am postulating a specific kind of intervention – one that politicizes by noting how language works, wihtout forfeiting the next political response. Foucault claims this odd and important double move with a distinctive two-part challenge to power. Starting with the crisis of representation and character of language that sets that crisis off – shifting and turning away from either the self who uses it or the phenomenon it tries to capture – Foucault moved on to a description of rules and the ways those rules constitute a generally unrecognized realm of power in contemporary society. The two moves resonate, one exacerbating the other until legitimacy is drawn into the whirl of contested territory. Foucault’s conception of language is what funds the possibility of political response, making it possible that such response is neither an arbitrary imposition, as has been charged, nor a promise of meaning and representation that cannot be fulfilled. Instead, the political response finds its form exactly at the point where old models of language break down. (94).
The reduction of this intevention Chalouka advocates is to move from persuasion into a realm of Affect. Leaving aside the debate about who first theorizes affect, Foucault, Spinoza, etc…, I will simply say that I find Affect compelling. Sometimes. How Affect works to mobilize mass audiences seems lacking, not only in theory but also in historical examples. I may learn to value recycling because my mother or friends do it, and those learnings replicate outwards until they collide with someone whose mother or friends did not recycle. The better example is something I lived through this morning. I rode the bus. I never rode a bus until I moved to the east coast a few years ago and now I am a fan. Even though I am now a convert I know that if I were to return to Texas I would not ride the bus. Economics would prevail. Affect is thus limited as a tool for change. Why then did I learn to ride the bus. Economics had some role in it, but so too did seeing people, many people, especially people I looked up to, riding the bus.
I do not feel up to the task of measuring Chaloupka’s claim that Affect removes the communication from the same grid that houses the crisis of representation (that task can wait and will require some long nights of academic sleep-deprivation, see this guy.) That seems to be the critical portion of Affect’s value. However, this argument does seem, on first glance, to be cheating: “if the crisis of representation did not exist then we would not communicate in ways that replicate that crisis. All we need to do is wish it away.” Sure. I’ll get right on that.
At the moment I am in the downtown Panera trying to drink some tea, my preferred caffeine delivery vehicle, that is way too hot. The man next to me has long wiry gray hair pulled into a ponytail. He has a backpack and a camouflage jacket on. He strikes me as either homeless or someone practicing the lifestyle politics Chaloupka discusses. Except this man has a laptop and is looking at what seems to be Russian mail-order brides. He then switched over to Google Finance and looked at a particular chart, manipulating the graphs and then made a phone call where I heard him order someone to buy. How does this man intersect with Chaloupka? He is clearly living a less-than-ordinary life. My ability to categorize that life, however, is the crisis of representation at work no matter how ‘cool’ I may find him for being less-than-ordinary. And he is cool: stock broker answering a call at 6:50 AM, looking at Russian mail-order brides and looking like Ian, Tom Robbins’ character, in High Fidelity. He may seem resistant to his friends or people on the street, but his computer work betrays his actual greasing of the system.
Chaloupka, William. (1992). Knowing Nukes.