NEMANJA: SMIRENOUMLJE

četvrtak, 06.12.2007.

BORIS BUDEN, Strategic Universalism: Dead Concept Walking

NAPUŠENI TAMJANA

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Svetlana Lukić: Danas je tačno tri godine od početka suđenja za atentat na premijera Zorana Đinđića. Najavljuju nam da će presuda biti doneta, gle koincidencije, krajem januara, možda dvadesetog. Čudno je ili nije da svi jedva čekaju da se ovo suđenje završi i to svako iz svojih razloga. Sudeći po dosadašnjem iskustvu, igranka će se nastaviti dok svi ne zaborave ko je uopšte bio taj Zoran Đinđić. O tom atentatu, njegovoj političkoj pozadini tek ćemo govoriti, a o odnosu ove vlasti prema ovom suđenju, kao i prema suđenjima za ratne zločine, govori činjenica da je naša država pre neki dan od Amerikanaca uzela 50.000 dolara, valjda da plati komunalije i čistačice u specijalnom sudu. Ni za toliko nisu hteli da izdvoje iz budžeta, treba im valjda za Cecin koncert, a honorari nisu mali. U nastavku Peščanika ćete čuti Borisa Budena. Boris Buden je hrvatski filozof i pisac koji se pre nekoliko godina odrekao hrvatskog državljanstva i od tada živi širom Evrope. Trenutno je u Berlinu i s njim je tamo razgovarao Ivan Kuzminović.

Boris Buden: Bio sam nedavno u Prištini i razgovarali smo o situaciji na Kosovu. Tamo postoje dvije strane koje se međusobno isključuju i rješenja ne može biti dok god ostajemo u toj staroj perspektivi, koja je ujedno i evropska, a to je perspektiva narodne suverenosti. To je ideja po kojoj je politička zajednica bazirana na konceptu suverenosti naroda. To je nekih 300 godina star koncept, koji je danas u teškoj krizi, dakle ideja da je nacionalna država politička zajednica par excellence i da je cijeli koncept demokracije također modeliran prema konceptu narodne suverenosti. U vremenu globalizacije, upravo ta suverenosti više ne funkcionira, i to ne samo ekonomska baza suverenosti, nego ona ne funkcionira ni na klasičnoj demokratskoj razini, jer više ne postoji klasična nacionalna javnost. Taj sistem se raspada u svim sferama.
Dakle, osnovno pitanje koje sam postavio u Prištini bilo je - imaju li Srbi i Albanci danas u političkom smislu nešto zajedničko. Naravno, svi misle da imaju odgovor koji je negativan, to jest da oni nemaju ničeg zajedničkog. Rekao sam da su oni na potpuno kontradiktornim pozicijama samo ukoliko i dalje vjerujemo da je koncept suverenosti jedini koncept političke artikulacije. Moja je teza da ono što Srbi i Albanci imaju zajedničko jest da su obje nacije prešle prag preko kojega koncept suverenosti više ne vrijedi. Drugim riječima, i jedan i drugi narod su s onu stranu suverenosti. Konkretno, Srbi više nikada neće ostvariti punu suverenost na svom takozvanom teritoriju, to mogu zaboraviti, nastupio je kraj koncepta suverenosti za Srbe. Kosovski Albanci nikada neće postići punu suverenost na Kosovu u smislu nacionalne države. Dakle, i jedni i drugi trebaju početi nešto iznova što bi im bilo zajedničko, a morali bi početi od tih činjenica o kraju koncepta suverenosti. Samo suočavajući se sa nemogućnošću da se u tom starom sistemu izrazi politička volja, obje strane mogu pronaći nekakav izlaz, platformu zajedničkog razmišljanja, političkog djelovanja, kulturne komunikacije i tako dalje.
Naravno, meni je jasno da samo jedna manjina može shvatiti u čemu je zapravo problem. To je manjina koja zapravo shvaća da je stari svijet, svijet nacionalnih država, naroda, demokracija, svijet zamišljen kao klaster nacija, svjet šarenih političkih karti, gdje svaka državica ima svoju boju sa jasno razgraničenim granicama - da je taj stari svijet nestao, odnosno da on nestaje pred našim očima. Drugim rečima, šansa da se izađe iz tog zatvorenog kruga, iz tih proturječja, ona postoji, ali samo ako se ta transnacionalna perspektiva shvati kao nova perspektiva i to ozbiljno. Danas to politički uopće ne igra nikakvu ulogu niti kod jednih, niti kod drugih, time se ne može mobilizirati niti masa, niti nekakav skup politički mislećih i djelujućih pojedinaca, ali drugog izlaza nema.
Kad kažem da je koncept suverenosti došao do svog kraja, onda mislim to u kulturnom smislu, u smislu nacionalnog jezika, svega onoga što smo učili, što se reproducira u tim našim kulturnim, obrazovnim sistemima, kako u Hrvatskoj, tako i u Srbiji i u Njemačkoj i tako dalje. Taj stari sistem koji se reproducira više ne funkcionira i sad je samo pitanje koji ljudi, koji slojevi su već stigli do tog apsurda. To znači da i koncept demokracije više ne funkcionira, vidite da ljudi više ne pokazuju interes da sudjeluju u političkom životu. Razlike među partijama su minimalne ili zanemarive, a ono što je svima njima zajedničko je da one ne mogu odlučivati o sudbini svoga naroda, zato što su temeljni parametri tih odluka u drugim rukama, u transnacionalnim centrima moći. Suočenje s tim realitetom prvi je korak ka otvaranju nečeg novog. A ostajanje u starom konceptu je ono što se lijepo na engleskom kaže - dead lock ili sljepa ulica.
U Prištini je sve puno mladih ljudi, kafića, to je jedan intenzivni život, pri čemu niko ne zna gdje ti ljudi rade. Kosovski Albanci su najmlađa evropska populacija i najnezaposlenija, što znači da Prištinu ne treba gledati kao nekakvu perspektivu. Priština ima smisao mjesta sa kojeg se odlazi i takozvana evropska perspektiva Prištine i Kosova je u tome da omogući tim ljudima da nestanu sa Kosova. Kosovo je mjesto s kojeg se mora otići da bi se živjelo, a ne mjesto na koje treba doći. To nije samo sudbina Srba, to je sudbina i Albanaca. Nema nikakve šanse da tamo krene nekakva nova industrija koja će zaposliti te mase. Pitanje je šta to znači kulturno, da li za kosovske Albance ima smisla graditi klasičnu nacionalnu kulturu, zato što će kultura većine tih ljudi biti migracijska kultura koja će se mješati, hibridizirati sa kulturama zemalja, naroda i kultura gdje će oni raditi i boraviti. Jedni će govoriti njemački, drugi će govoriti francuski, treći engleski, tako da se Priština više ne treba posmatrati iz kosovsko-albanske, niti iz srpske, niti iz balkanske, niti iz bivše jugoslavenske perspektive. Taj grad je grad u čekanju da se isprazni od ljudi bez posla.
Mislim da to nije bitno različito od Beograda ili od Zagreba, i to su mjesta s kojih se odlazi. U njih još uvjek ljudi dolaze, međutim, elita će se školovati vani, djeca elite će se školovati vani, jezici na kojima će oni recipirati nove ideje biće strani, neće biti domaći. To vrijedi za Albance, vrijedi za Srbe, vrijedi za Hrvate. To je konac ideje nacionalnog projekta. Čak i u trenutku kada i Srbi i Albanci još uvijek ne vide ništa izvan tih nacionalnih projekata, to ne znači da je u tome bilo kakva budućnost.
Logika nacionalizma je perpetuum mobile, jer ona se uvijek bazira na obećanju nacionalnog boljeg sutra. Ta logika je mrtva, ali ti ljudi, nacionalna elita ne odustaje od tog koncepta zato što je to jedini koncept unutar kog ona je nekakva elita. To je kao kada bismo očekivali od akademika da sami kažu - koncept SANU je zapravo mrtav koncept u kulturnom smislu, taj sistem kanonizacije najboljih muškaraca svoga naroda na području fizike, umjetnosti i tako dalje. Kakve to ima veze sa modernim, globalnim medijima, sa globalnim znanjem, sa globalnim temama i tko su uopće ti ljudi na globalnoj razini, imaju li oni nekakva imena, nekakvu važnost, značenje, nekakve ideje koje su transnacionalno od odsudne važnosti za svijet. Naravno, sve to nije nikakvo pitanje, jer oni preživljavaju, jer nacija njih kao treba u biti, oni trebaju naciju i jedni druge trebaju. U tom smislu oni nikada neće odustati, a Srbi mogu gubiti dalje - ne znam šta mogu još izgubiti, gotovo su sve izgubili.
Ali ne treba tu imati iluzije da su Hrvati suvereni ili da su Slovenci suvereni u Evropi. Teritorijalnost, ta opsesija teritorijom, koja je opsesija i Hrvata i Srba, je danas nešto patološko. Drugim rečima, moje takozvano hrvatstvo, koje sam ja konkretno odbacio upravo iz tog razloga, moglo je imati smisla samo ukoliko mi u političkom smislu osigurava pravdu, život u nekakvoj manje-više pravičnoj zajednici, a što kod nas nije slučaj. Ja doista mislim radikalno - zašto biti Hrvat, budi nešto drugo, odaberi si nešto što ti bolje paše, možeš to unutar svoje zemlje napraviti, ili izvan nje. Firme za koje rade ljudi koji žive u Hrvatskoj i onako nisu hrvatske, banke u koje odlažu svoje novce i onako nisu hrvatske, provajderi komunikacija i onako nisu hrvatski, mediji koji ih informiraju i onako nisu hrvatski. Mislim, zašto bi onda insistirali na tome da budu Hrvati? Činjenica da i u Srbiji i u Hrvatskoj ljudi to čine, ne znači da oni imaju dobre razloge za to. Po mome sudu oni su u krivu, ljudi koji vjeruju da srpstvo ima još nekakvog smisla su u krivu, jednako kao ljudi koji vjeruju da hrvatstvo ima još nekog smisla, njemstvo, austrijanstvo - ja sam konkretno Austrijanac, i dakle, u krivu sam ako to austrijanstvo za mene znači nešto bitno u kulturnom, političkom smislu.
Drugim rečima, Glavaš je samo ta - kako se to kaže srpski - žvaka zalijepljena ispod stola i svaki put kad primiš stol imaš tu sažvakanu pljuvačku svoje nacionalne prošlosti i ne možeš je se riješiti, ne možeš je se oprati i tako dalje. Hrvatska će morati na neki način to razriješiti, ali ne zato što bi političari to htjeli, ne zato što bi narod to htio, nego zato što neko izvana postavlja parametre koji se moraju poštivati, e da bi se riješili neki problemi. Da bi se recimo rješio problem nezaposlenosti, koji će se riješiti tako da ljudi mogu slobodno ići po Evropi tražiti posao, što je vjerojatno i srpski slučaj. Mislim, ako naciji nije stalo do pravde, čemu nacija. Tako da u tom slučaju Glavaš nema ničeg zanimljivog, ničeg novog, osim što taj tragikomični dramolet, koji se odvija po medijima, pokazuje koliko je ta vlast još uvijek slaba, koliko nema kritičke javnosti koja bi prevagnula. Svi znaju i svi vjeruju da je u stvari Glavaš krivac, da je on nalogodavac i niko ne vjeruje da je nekakva 19 ili 20-ogodišnja cura okolo naređivala smaknuća. Dakle, manje-više je svima to jasno, riječ je samo o tome da neki ne misle da je to zločin, ubijati ljude pod određenim okolnostima. Tako da prevelika opsesija, fokusiranje na taj problem ne vodi nikamo. Ja ne mogu utjecati na hrvatsku javnost - pokušao sam početkom devedesetih - niti ta javnost je tako strukturirana da nekakav utjecaj igra bitnu ulogu. Danas javnost više ne funkcionira onako kako je to Habermas sebi zamislio - kao mjesto na kome se odlučuje demokracija. To isto vrijedi za Srbe. Činjenica da ljude ne smeta da je Mladić na slobodi znači da srpstvo više nema smisla.
Nije riječ o tome da je Berlin zanimljiviji od Zagreba, riječ je o tome da to što radim, to što mislim, to što pišem, to što diskutiram s ljudima mogu puno bolje raditi u Berlinu nego u Zagrebu. Tamo je čovjek zaposjednut gomilom činjenica, tema, opsesija koje su potpuno irelevantne po mom sudu. Primjer je Glavaš. Ima li smisla nakon 15 godina ponovo ponavljati sve ono što sam 1993, 1994. napisao u knjizi, potrošiti cijeli život ponavljajući jedno te isto: da je ubojica loš, a da je pravda dobra, mislim, do kad se ta banalnost treba ponavljati. Očito to ne funkcionira, nacija nije tijesto koje bih ja više mjesio. Da mi netko da apsolutnu vlast nad tom nacijom, ne bih znao šta da napravim s tom vlašću.
Kada srpske države na primjer uopće ne bi bilo, onda bi Mladić već bio uhapšen. To bi uradila neka druga vlast. Eto, to je razlog više da sam ja protiv srpske države, a uostalom, bio sam i protiv hrvatske države. Ja priznajem da ovo o čemu govorim je jedna veoma manjinska pozicija, ali riječ je o jednoj perspektivi koje je sve više ljudi svjesno, ljudi koji se na toj globalnoj razini suočavaju sa globalnim problemima i koji razmišljaju kako da artikuliraju političku volju u nekom transnacionalnom prostoru. Slučajno u Berlinu ima puno takvih ljudi, pa se ovdje osjećam kod kuće, to je definicija doma. Definicija doma nije to u smislu tradicije, jezika, kulturnog identiteta, budući se sve to može promijeniti u životu. Postoji kako u Srbiji, tako u Hrvatskoj jedan broj ljudi koji shvaća da tako dalje više ne ide. Taj broj ljudi je možda malen, sutra će sigurno biti veći, njihova perspektiva jest radikalna perspektiva. To znači ne prihvatiti cijeli koncept nacionalne autoritarnosti, kao što je vjera da nacionalne akademije znanosti i umjetnosti doista emaniraju nekakvu kvalitetu, pamet, logiku, simbolički autoritet.
Da Srbi nikada nisu imali srpsku Akademiju nauka i umjetnosti danas bi im bilo puno bolje, da nikada nisu vjerovali u to da sami trebaju vladati sobom, što je zasnovano na klasičnoj ideji suverenosti, također bi im bilo bolje. Možda bi za Srbe bilo zgodno da potraže po Zagorju kakvog bravara da se pozabavi problemom Kosova. Naravno, lako je zezati se izvan srpske političke scene, ali šta je ta srpska politička scena reproducirala u zadnjih 20 godina? Ništa osim jedne te iste iluzije, koja je neprestano zakazivala u realnosti. Tvrdnja da nacija ima bit i da postoje ljudi koji znaju šta je ta bit, ta ideja je ono što tim ljudima omogućava elitnu poziciju, da im neko plaća gluposti kojima se bave. Oni u konkretnom, dakle, materijalnom smislu reproduciraju tom ideologijom, tom znanstvenom laži svoj život.
Imam puno prijatelja u Berlinu koji ovdje samo žive, ali ne rade ovdje. Ja 90 odsto svog novca ne zarađujem ovdje gdje živim, čak ne u državi u kojoj živim. Mogu zamisliti da radim na nekom projektu u Zagrebu ili u Nišu, kao što sam radio u Rumunjskoj, u Jašiju, dakle na istoku Rumunjske. Nailazim na ljude koji dolaze sa različitih strana i s kojima se odlično razumijem, ali sam apsolutno siguran da se sa 99 odsto Hrvata uopće ne razumijem, da ne dijelim isto političko mišljenje, da ne dijelim isto uvjerenje o zajedničkoj kulturi i da potpuno različito upotrebljavamo takozvani maternji jezik. Cijelo to obrazovanje u socijalizmu nije bilo samo komunističko-ideološko, ono je bilo klasično, ono je bilo patriotsko, ono je bilo lokalpatriotsko. Ono je bilo zasnovano na uvjerenju da je Zagreb jako važno mjesto. To mi je danas smiješno, jer kad čovjek odraste, on shvati da je sve to manje-više neupotrebljivo. Biti u Hrvatskoj, raditi u Hrvatskoj ne znači za mene biti u političkom smislu Hrvat, biti u kulturnom smislu Hrvat. A ljudi koji su ostali tamo su u krivu ako vjeruju da su ostali na istom mjestu. To mjesto se također promijenilo. Ako ste u centru Zagreba, vi ćete kupovati robu, oblačiti se na isti način kao u Berlinu, kao u Štokholmu, kao u Londonu, a sve je to proizvedeno ili u Turskoj ili u Banladešu ili na Dalekom istoku, nema nikakve bitne razlike. Dakle, to su slični oblici života.
Ta mobilnost nije po sebi nešto ugodno, to je posao, to je oblik rada, oblik reprodukcije materijalnog života, to znači da ja živim izvan onoga što je bila klasična socijalna država, što znači da je moja budućnost potpuno nesigurna, da ja nemam radno mjesto i ne znam šta ću zarađivati u ljeto sljedeće godine, da li ću uopće išta zarađivati. To znači da sam ja u tom smislu potpuno iskorijenjen i vjerojatno imam jako puno zajedničkog sa nezaposlenim radnicima u Kragujevcu, u Zadru, u Bosni, sa nezaposlenom Albancima na Kosovu. To je iskustvo koje dijelimo, ta činjenica da smo svi ispali iz socijalne priče klasične za industrijski modernizam, klasične ne samo za Istok u smislu socijalističkih država, nego i za Zapad. I njemačka je država nekad bila socijalna država kao što danas više nije. Dakle, naši ljudi su devedesetih vjerovali u naciju u tom klasičnom, razmaženom, socijalnom smislu - a onda ćemo ostati sami na svjetu, nitko nas neće potkradati, sve ćemo dijeliti pravično među sobom kao nacija, bićemo slobodni na svom teritoriju. Sve to danas ne vrijedi pišljiva boba. Šta sada Srbima uopće znači teritorijalnost, to je samo opsesija starih akademika koji su doslovno ulupali, ne samo svoj vlastiti život, nego život milijuna drugih ljjudi u jednu praznu ideju, s kojom se ne može napraviti nikakav korak u budućnost. I to je tragični moment.
Hrvati su počeli sa tom opsesijom vjerom, katolicizmom, crkvom, puno ranije nego Srbi. Srbi se još nisu dovoljno izdivljali, još se nisu napušili tamjana dovoljno da im bude zlo. Hrvatima je već zlo, pa znaju da iza crkve stoji zapravo posao s nekretninama, pedofilija, amoralna opsesija materijalnim bogatstvima, a ne nikakva vjera u boga. Crkva je osim toga politički faktor, ona u Hrvatskoj igra onu istu ulogu koju je nekad igrala komunistička partija, koja nije bila dio sistema nego vansistemski opći regulator tog sistema, ne preuzimajući ni u jednom trenutku odgovornost. Naravno, hrvatske majke trebaju rađati po mogućnosti stotine sinova hrvatskih, jer to je dobro, ali crkva nema koncept kako će prehraniti te sinove, kako će te majke raditi i tako dalje. Crkva živi još samo od ideje identiteta, a ne od ideje boga, ona je potpuno amoralna. To je posebno žalosno u Srbiji, gdje ta pravoslavna crkva stvarno jest epohalno potpuno jadna. Najbolje je crkvi dati što je moguće veću slobodu utjecaja na sve pore društvenog života, tu će se ljudi suočiti stvarno sa tom bijedom, sa tim praznim mjestom duhovnosti.

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Strategic Universalism: Dead Concept Walking
On the Subalternity of Critique Today

Boris Buden

Universalism has been declared dead as a concept. Not only the exact time of its death but even the cause have long since been announced: in the West it has been dead since 1968, and it died in Eastern Europe a bit later, specifically in 1989. At least, this is what is maintained by Agnes Heller and Ferenc Fehér, both of them post-Marxist philosophers and famous followers of Lukacs, in their book “The Grandeur and Twilight of Radical Universalism”, published in 1991.[1] In fact, the book takes leave of this concept that, according to the authors, has been one of the most important and influential visions of high modernism since the late 19th century. They explicitly emphasize that they take leave of this concept retrospectively, looking back at the past of radical universalism, and not in terms of a vision of its new practice.[2] The methodological concept of the book also reveals the true cause of the death of radical universalism: it has not died of internal theoretical weaknesses and deficits, but rather of the attempt to practically apply it.
What Heller and Fehér understand as radical universalism is actually Marxism, or, as they call it, the philosophy of praxis.[3] For them, radical universalism is nothing other than a philosophy of praxis, for which reason they represent Marx as a kind of Super-Hegel. Instead of deconstructing the Hegelian system and with it metaphysics and the grand narrative, which first Feuerbach and then Kierkegaard had attempted, they maintain that Marx restored and radicalized it. The same applies to Hegelian universalism, to the idea that there is a universal history, whereas all other histories are particular and only significant to the extent that they are able to contribute to this universal history. Hegel understood this universal history as a progress towards freedom. For him, there was also a universal model of society, a universal science, etc. According to Heller and Fehér, Marx radicalized Hegel’s all-encompassing universalism yet again, projecting it into the future and functionalistically reinterpreting it. He sought to reestablish Hegel and transform universalism from an “interpretive device” into a “predictive and action-orienting device”. And it is precisely this practical application of universalism, its transformation into a philosophy of praxis that, according to Heller and Fehér, is what sealed its fate.
Consequently, all the iniquity of Marxism, meaning most of all the horror of communist totalitarianism, all the civil wars, mock trials, the gulag, etc., is said to come not from Marx’ critical philosophy, but rather from the will to change the world through its practical application. Thus an interpretation of the world became a manual for action. In the language of philosophical tradition: the devil of radical universalism qua philosophy of praxis is found in the convergence of theoretical and practical reason, in other words in the idea of a realization of philosophy.[4]
Hence we can say that the fate of radical universalism was sealed in a single statement from Marx – in the famous eleventh thesis on Feuerbach: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.”[5] This was, so to speak, its death sentence.
Many intellectuals – including Agnes Heller and Ferenc Fehér by their own admission – have since then toyed with the idea of giving the project of radical universalism a third chance, following the failed attempts of social democracy and Bolshevism. However, this hope has been abandoned once and for all in the West since 1968 and in the East since 1989.[6] Thus the whole project of radical universalism has been scrapped forever.
So this is the death of universalism. What came after that cannot really be described, according to Heller and Fehér, as post-universalist or post-Marxist, because these descriptions would only make sense in an autobiographical context, as they say. “Therefore, we prefer to be postmodern,” they write, which does not mean merely “after history”, but rather “after the era of radical universalism”. It is allegedly this radical universalism that became the past in postmodernism, along with all the universalist movements, ideologies, parties, and the philosophy and social theory based on radical universalism. Neither a new universalist vision nor a reanimation of the old vision is possible in postmodernism. Instead, there are endeavors again to understand the world, explore certain new possibilities, and supply arguments for everything that appears to be better, more beautiful or more equitable.[7]

A Universalism That is Not Really Dead

There is, however, a general problem with all the postmodern pronouncements of death. They do not really mean what they think they mean. The human being declared dead in postmodernism somehow lives on. Althusser or Foucault, for instance, even made this death the starting point for contemporary thinking. Also the death of art does not yet mean that it no longer exists. Danto, for instance, expressly defines contemporary art as art made after its postmodern death.[8]
Benjamin called this life after death the “afterlife” and used it to explain his concept of translation. According to Benjamin, a translation is nothing other than an afterlife of the original. However, this also includes the death of the original. No path leads from a translation back to the original. This is the context, within which we are confronted with the concept of “strategic universalism” today. It is to be understood as a form of afterlife – a life after death – of the old, radical universalism, which means as its translation, which has liberated itself from the original once and for all. What is irretrievably lost in the translation, what died with the original and can therefore no longer be grasped in the translation, is the revolutionary meaning of the old concept of universalism, its practical aspiration to change the world. This is consequently the paradox of the globalized world, in which everything can be changed except this world as world. The global is specifically not the universal, but “only” its translation. One can recognize the echo of the original in it, but not the original itself. The world in its universalist sense is dead. The global world is the form of its afterlife.
It is in this historical context that the concept of strategic universalism can first be understood. It belongs unequivocally to the global and not (no longer) the universal world. For this reason, its real meaning first becomes clear in the language of this global world. It results more from the relationship between the concept and other phenomena of the global world than from the relationship to its original, to the meaning it had in the language of the universal world.
What does that mean specifically? First of all, it means that even without being an expert in postcolonial theory, one can immediately recognize in the concept of strategic universalism a reaction formation: it was coined in a direct analogy to the concept of strategic essentialism. If we understand Spivak’s “strategic essentialism” as an anti-anti-essentialism, than Paul Gilroy’s concept of strategic universalism can thus be understood as a kind of anti-anti-anti-essentialism.[9]
At the same time, we must not forget that essentialism and universalism are not opposites per se. Essentialism – actually an old-fashioned or old-modernist position – stands for the conviction that identities necessarily have a positively tangible substance, something like a set of timeless and immutable properties that definitively determine the essence and are clearly and unequivocally distinct from other identities. In this way, it is possible to define gender, for example, or political communities or political subjects such as nation, class or even – as is most frequently the case nowadays – a certain “culture”. Yet one of these properties can also be universality. Hence the West’s concept (of culture) that has become so politically important today, for instance, is identified by certain values – “our values”, such as individuality, freedom, democracy, secularity, etc. – that are understood as being universal. In Marxism the working class was also defined in an essentialist way, for example by Lukács, with its specific, unique class consciousness. Yet particularly this class consciousness is the consciousness of the universality of the working class as class, or of its role in world history respectively: by suspending itself through the revolution, it abolishes the class relationship as such and thus all classes.
In short: that which was understood in modernism as universal, has become in postmodernism a specific property of a particularity. More precisely, in postmodernism every universal position was confronted with its outside, with which it is in a power relationship, whether it is one of open antagonism, a battle for hegemony or for recognition. It was thus, for example, that the universality of the West was challenged by the colonized. The Black person proved to be the outside of the now particular, Western universality; in other words this universality proved to be white and racist. The proclaimed universality of the working class underwent something similar. It also proved to be mainly male and patriarchal by excluding women.
The position that is theoretically directly opposite of essentialism, which we may call constructivism, also forms no parallel politically, no counterweight to political essentialism. Although one can theoretically deconstruct the identity of a nation and show that it is nothing other than the effect of a discursive construction, that it is void of content and only consists of relationships to other identities, the political use value of this kind of knowledge is minimal. Deconstruction does not produce politically effective subjects. It is not capable of politically challenging an essentialistically founded community – such as a nation with all its political and cultural institutions and reproductive mechanisms, especially with its political expression, the nation-state.
This division between knowledge and action – in this concrete case between theoretical deconstruction and political essentialism – is constitutive of the concept of strategic essentialism. Indeed, this concept is nothing other than a bridging maneuver, an attempt to close this division again, to reconnect thinking and acting, theory and practice, but this time under the aforementioned postmodern preconditions, which means, most of all, after the death of universalism.

Yet Another Strategic Concept: Essentialism

As is well known, with Can the Subaltern Speak Gayatri Spivak excluded and theoretically deconstructed the possibility of a subaltern subjectivation and thus also of political articulation. She showed that subalternity can only be grasped through elite thinking, which is why it does not even exist outside the elite presentation, and that it is always only a purely discursive phenomenon. This is the background of the thesis that a subaltern woman cannot speak and that some father or the rebel of the nation takes her place and speaks in her name. In other words, subalternity as such precludes a subjectivation that is transparent to itself, can never be the subject of its own history and hence the subject of its own emancipation. Yet this is something that we only know, something that only applies at the ontological level, where the concept of subalternity is void.
At the strategic level – for Spivak this means at the level of political articulation – this void can be filled with an essentialist projection. Although a subaltern woman cannot speak per se, the Subaltern Studies Project can do so in her name, as long as it has a clear political interest in sight, namely as long as this interest means subverting official Indian history. This means the history, from which the subaltern woman is already excluded. It is only in the name of this interest that it makes sense to essentialize subalternity, thus making it politically effective.
With the concept of “strategic essentialism”, Spivak attempts to provide a theoretical legitimization for a subversive political practice based on essentialism and to have it approved by deconstruction, despite its theoretical incompatibility with deconstruction. The point here is to attempt to salvage the political dignity of deconstruction and of postmodern thinking.
The ideal political role of strategic essentialism that Spivak projects is to enable oppressed people of all kinds – nations, ethnic, sexual and other minorities – to present themselves and pose political demands, but without extinguishing internal differences and internal debates. It is to be used only temporarily and only for a specific political purpose, because otherwise there is a danger of abuse, nationalisms, totalitarianisms, etc.
The concept of strategic essentialism actually became necessary, because the historical situation that we live in is articulated in two different languages: on the one hand in the language of postmodern, anti-essentialist reflection and on the other in the language of old essentialistic politics. Strategic essentialism is proof that there is no way to relate these two languages back to one another or to suspend them in another, universal language. Therefore, they can only be translated into one another. Since Humboldt, however, we know that no word in one language ever finds a perfectly corresponding word in another language. Translation is by definition imperfect, or it is only possible as a compromise that necessarily leaves a blind gap behind that constantly seeks its ultimate closure. Every translation – and in this it differs essentially from the original – urgently requires a further translation. For this reason, it is an endless task. In addition to a further meaning of the original, it also produces the need for yet another meaning and so forth. It can only close the gap by reopening it. This is specifically why the term strategic universalism was coined. It is not at all merely a reaction to the concept of strategic essentialism, which articulates a contrary and now allegedly neglected political motivation, such as the universalistic side of the binary relationship between the universal and the particular, but rather a kind of Derridian supplement: the concept of strategic universalism was developed to close the non-reducible gap between two languages of our historical experience, between the language of reflexive critique and the language of political practice.

Can the Critique Speak?

Yet which should one ultimately choose under these circumstances: critical deconstruction or essentialist politics? Which translation of these two languages is preferable, the essentialist or the universalist? Is it not time now, after all the attempts to articulate a leftist political engagement in the sense of strategic essentialism, to try out the other, universalist strategy?
The best that one can do in this dilemma is probably to make a decision for the dilemma itself. That means lingering in the gap that neither of the concepts can close. It would not mean evading all the extorted decisions and foul compromises once and for all, but rather recognizing them as such. There is something worse than yielding to extortion and opportunistic calculations, namely praising them as an emancipatory strategy.
As an example, let us take the famous case of the Mohammed caricatures. Which choice should one have made in this case? Racism disseminated in the name of freedom of speech and press? Or fundamentalism appealing to the democratic rights of minorities? Should a decision have been made following the logic of strategic essentialism or the logic of strategic universalism? The right answer in both cases is: neither nor!
Naturally the reproach is heard that keeping silent in the face of the burning problems of our world is not a strategy of resistance, but rather the ultimate capitulation of critical thinking and of political engagement!
Our response to this is another question: Can the critique speak? In analogy to Spivak’s question about the speechlessness of the subaltern, the answer is already given: it is the critique itself that has become the subaltern today. What is meant by this is a critique that is articulated through the integration of critical thinking and a changing practice. This critique is speechless today, which means that it is now only expressed through elite thinking. Academic knowledge, for instance, appears in its place and in its name, specifically the professors of deconstruction and the scholars of all the forms of critical studies: post-colonial, cultural, subaltern, etc. Yet critique itself can neither represent nor subjectivate itself. In other words, at the ontological level the concept of critique is completely void in the same way as Spivak’s concept of subalternity. At the strategic level, however, at the level of political articulation, critique dives into an interplay of universalism and essentialism: sometimes in a fight for the recognition of an oppressed (essentialistically subjectivating) identity (nation, gender, culture or various minorities); sometimes in the universalist transgression of the boundaries of identity and the identitary logic of political subjectivation as a whole. Or as the driving force of multiculturalism: as its parasitic correction, a kind of plastic surgery on it. The aim of a universalist critique of multiculturalism essentially resembles the task of a plastic surgeon, which does not consist, as we know, in operating an anomaly of nature away from the body, but rather in tailoring this body to the dominant ideal of beauty.
To summarize: in the two forms of the strategic appearance of critique – the essentialist and the universalist – it is not their fundamental contradiction that is manifested, but rather their mutually complementary character. Universalization is conventionally understood as a proto-democratic and thus also a proto-political event. An inherently particular position suddenly raises a universalist claim, thus evoking a new antagonism, which divides and newly articulates the given political field. One of the most famous examples for this kind of event was the slogan articulated in 1989 by the dissidents and rebelling masses of the former German Democratic Republic: “We are the people!” The portion of the people excluded from power and declared a counter-revolutionary mob suddenly declared themselves the people – representative of society as a whole – and thus induced the fall of the ancien régime. This is often cheered as the birth of the political per se and thus as a model of a radical critique of our post-political era. As it is well known, however, a short time later these same masses changed their slogan somewhat: “we are one people”, is the slogan now. The original event of “the democratic revolution of 1989” was now only present in its translation “German reunification”, which is generally interpreted as a kind of regression: as a new closure of the only just opened space of the politically possible and as a return from the actually political to that which Rancičre calls the police[10], in other words to the existing order, in which every part is in its corresponding place. In this way, political universalizing – or the appearance of strategic universalism in a concrete political situation – appears as a kind of intermezzo of the political in the normal course of essentialist post-politics. An essentialistically generated political action, on the other hand, appears as an unpolitical phenomenon. This imbalance is implausible. It is actually an effect of the same post-politics, through the critique of which it is articulated. This also explains why the concept of strategic essentialism became necessary – namely to reestablish the balance between universalism and particularism, which had been disturbed by the universalist and deconstructivist critique of multiculturalism. Yet just like its counterpart strategic universalism, strategic essentialism always remains bound to the hegemonic liberal-democratic order – and not its critique. What the two have in common is the vision of a gradual progress of emancipation that takes place as a clever balancing between the two poles of the existing political world order, the particular essentialist and the universal constructivist world order.
Yet the position of critique is a different one. The first step of its subjectivation is the certainty of its own subalternity, which is also a step that it has in common with the artistic avant-garde today[11]. This immediately changes its task: instead of seeking a balance of impossibilities, it prefers to face the radical impossibility of balance.
What is it that the probably most famous maxim of the global world, “Think global, act local!” wants to tell us? That one can outwit the limitations that globalization imposes on our thinking and acting and even manipulate them for one’s own advantage, if one is clever enough? From the perspective of a critique that is conscious of its own subalternity, this formula for success of globalization proves to be pure extortion: “think global, act local”, because there is nothing else you can do. Today it is actually impossible to offer resistance against global power that is politically effective at the same level. In the same way, it is impossible to articulate a reflexively effective critique at the local level. Local, political essentialism makes all critical thinking mute, just as reflexively universalist critique leaves every locally effective political act untouched. Seeking to overcome this division can be a noble task, but it is not the task of critique. It is not there to balance a world again that has lost its balance, but rather to probe the depth of the crisis in which this world finds itself. For this reason, it must dare to gaze into the abyss, even if it loses its tongue at the same time. This is part of its historical experience. Those who do not believe it should recall the words of Karl Krauss, which he wrote – completely isolated in his critique – on the horror of World War I in 1914: “Those who have nothing to say, because the deed is speaking now, continue to talk. He/she who has something to say should step forward and be silent!”[12]
The sense of a genuine critique does not consist merely in intervening in current antagonisms and speaking up in the name of one side. It can often better fulfill its purpose by being silent in the name of an emerging antagonism.
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[1]Agnes Heller and Ferenc Fehér, The Grandeur and Twilight of Radical Universalism, New Brunswick, London: Transaction Publishers 1991.
[2]Ibid., p. 5.
[3]Their concept of a philosophy of praxis should not be confused with the philosophy of praxis from the so-called Yugoslavian “Praxis school”.
[4]Ibid., p. 3-4.
[5]Cf. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Werke, Vol. 3, Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1969, p. 5-7; http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/theses/theses.htm.
[6]For Heller and Fehér, the year 1989 is “Eastern Europe’s 1968”.
[7]Ibid., p. 4.
[8]Cf. Arthur C. Danto, After the End of Art: Contemporary Art and the Pale of History, New Jersey: Princeton University Press 1997.
[9]Cf. Paul Gilroy, Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line, Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Mass. 2001.
[10]Cf. Jaques Rancičre, Das Unvernehmen. Politik und Philosophie, Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp 2002, p. 40ff. (Engl.: Disagreement. Politics and Philosophy, University of Minnesota Press, 1998).
[11]“The task of an artistic avant-garde in this context is defined less by achieving global recognition within the proliferating artworlds, than by positioning itself below the radar as a subaltern, globally connected underground that serves, not the warring factions, but those civilian multitudes who are caught in the crossfire.” In: Susan Buck-Morss, Thinking Past Terror, London, New York: Verso 2003, S. X.
[12]Karl Kraus, “In dieser großen Zeit”, in: Die Fackel, issue 404, Vienna December 1

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