Helmut Stallaerts: 1 + 1= 3
20 July – 24 November 2007
Our society’s set of ideas and values (its ideology) is by its very nature self-evident and thus “invisible”. This becomes clear when we look at the unsuspected institutions where it is among others reproduced: the family, education and work. A notion quite crucial to its subsistence -and to which it constantly appeals- is so-called “freedom”, “authenticity” and “individuality”. It is therefore of great interest to us all how exactly human individuality can be conceived of within a general theory of ideology? An answer to this question just might give us an insight in how power and power-relations function at a time where -more than ever- everything solid seems to melt into air.
Just like religion isn’t merely a set of ideas and values but a practice: “Kneel down, move your lips and you will believe” (Blaise Pascal), ideology is a series of social practices, indistinguishable from everything that surrounds us and constitutes us as human beings. It is always who and what we are and what is either affirmed or disapproved but at all times “recognized”. One could say that in either way, individuals are subjected to ideology; they are subjects (Louis Althusser). Social practices however are linked to social spaces, entrenched with a certain notion of time. If we want to question “power” and “individuality”, we may have to look at subjects as the products and producers of their own subjectivity, who are constituted throughout a series of social practices, to which they are subjected while executing them as well. Power is not necessarily executed by someone over somebody else, but rather a logic inherent to the way we are constituted as subjects.
Do social practices take place in institutions with their very own written and unwritten rules, such as factories, universities and families? Well-defined spaces indeed, where we watch and are being watched while we indulge in the ecstasy of mutual recognition. But what if they are at a crisis right now? (Gilles Deleuze) Aren’t they somehow disintegrating? Some might even claim that we have finally shaken off their repressive constraints. Working and learning for instance are no longer confined to singular institutions anymore but have spread out over numerous others up to the point where we should ask ourselves what still defines them? By their nature closed institutions define a strict border between what could be considered to be either “in” or “out”. They are both inclusive and exclusive while integrating various forms of resistance by organically consuming them as an ever-necessary way of adapting to various situations. Institutions arouse resistance since they are at all times physically present and the only way they can survive is integration and normalization.
Limits and borders thus become blurred leading to what we would call an “open society”. The “open society” however will have no borders, will not know distinctions between factories, schools or prisons as the walls will be breached and they will all be intrinsically connected within a series of interdependent relations.
Are these symptoms of the dawn of a new age, where social practices function in more complex ways? Maybe, but this need not imply the emergence of “autonomous forms of construction of the self” as we might be lead to believe. The institutions may still evaporate further but ideology will still be present as well. Since ideology is no longer confined to institutions it might even become more invisible and thus arouse far less resistance. The “open society” will make everything visible, nothing will be hidden from the eye, and because of this absence of borders and limits power itself and everything else will be invisible. When there are no heavens to storm ideology just might claim its final victory.
But what will be left of its subject? “Individuality”, “authenticity” and “freedom” could become synonymous with a constantly morphing subjectivity well adapted to societal needs while praising its own “flexibility”? Power is completely absent under such circumstances just like victims and executioners.
As odd as it may seem, but institutions do satisfy us as subjects, since they recognize us as such. We are actually someone, either as a father, a worker or an artist. The very runny notion of the subject that awaits us thus might seem highly disturbing to some of us. This “autonomy” could even result in a longing for an allegedly “fixed” family, factory or prison where everything is defined and nothing is entirely transparent or indistinguishable. The “open society” will thus have its “enemies” whose resistance will be nonetheless futile.
Before we went from one institution to another; from school to the corporate floor, maybe even experiencing this shift in terms of self-liberation, but soon there might be no walls to breach, no borders to cross. The breaking out of one context inevitably lead to the recruitment by another context, but this fixed path leading from the cradle to the grave seems to be slowly fading away. What transition will then be left to celebrate? One of the constituting principles of the “open society” could become the long term “care for life”. The subject would consequently become an object of celebration and care and rightly so, because it is a machine producing a continuous flow of desires that function, within, past and throughout boundary less contexts and thus without ever breaking out of them.
Giovanni De Ridder