Saturday, June 18, 2016

"self-incurred minority"

What, then, does the “intellectual elite” discover as it begins to take stock of its feelings? Those feelings themselves? They have long since been remaindered. What is left is the empty spaces, where, in dusty heart-shaped velvet trays, the feelings--nature and love, enthusiasm and humanity--once rested. Now the hollow forms are absentmindedly caressed. 
[Was findet “die geistige Elite,” die an die Bestandaufnahmne ihrer Gefühle herantritt, den vor? Diese selbst etwa? Sie sind längst verramscht worden. Was blieb, sind die leeren Stellen, wo in verstaubten Sammetherzen die Gefühle—Natur und Liebe, Enthusiasmus und Menschlichkeit—einmal gelegen haben. Nun liebkost man geistabwesend die Hohlform.]

--Walter Benjamin, "Left-wing Melancholy”

In "The University and the Undercommons," Fred Moten and Stefano Harney dwell on Kant's phrase, which opens "What Is Enlightenment?," of a "self-incurred minority" [selbstverschuldeten Unmündigkeit]. They are talking about a stage of "teaching for food," which is either surpassed if one is "successful" or consigned to the sociopathological labor of the university. Moten and Harney propose that those who refuse to move past this stage remain in the "beyond of teaching," continuing to take sustenance from others around them. Kant's notion of the selbstverschuldeten Unmündigkeit refers, as M & H also parse, to "having the 'determination and courage to use one’s intelligence without being guided by another.'” Schuld--here the root of selbstverschuldeten--both "debt," as its translation "self-incurred" seems to imply, and "guilt." And Unmündigkeit, which M & H take as "minorities," carries mündig, "to be of age," "mature," "responsible," within. I'm drawn to this double implication of "guilt" and "responsibility" as minor terms of this phrase. How is being not "of age" something that is brought about by one's own fault? How does being "one's own fault" relate to what on the other side is a "being guided by another"? At what point is it not a stage that persists, but the guilt/debt itself? And at what point (at that point?) is this "eines anderes" also not "another"? Where, when does this become a personification of something like a holding environment? Is there a determination here, about personhood, that arises from the indeterminacy of environment?

Moten and Harney write that "Certainly, the perfect subjects of communication, those successfully beyond teaching, will see them [the self-incurred minority] as waste." Being seen as "waste," as objects sold "at a loss," and thus remaindered in this way--is it from this perspective of feeling something quite irrecuperable about yourself, as your sense of yours and others' estimation of you, of a persistent guilt, that the fuzziness of personhood/environment can also be registered? Then, this describes not so much what there is to be gained from a stage that one persists in (as a kind of self-sacrificial model might have), but it can perhaps help to think about why one might want to remain in such a place, even when all the reasons, social, political, psychological, and otherwise, point to the advantages of not.

There are ample places here to link such a state of Unmündigkeit with Paula Heimann's idea of "children-no-longer," perhaps as the other side of it--for Heimann's "child-no-longer" is not someone who has surpassed such a stage, but someone whose being there "no longer" indexes a firm attachment to, rather than a leaving of, childhood.

It's all happening within my wondering about being able to "return" to a place where I am "no longer"--and so a place where I left my "heart," where my "heart" remains. There's feeling that, and then the badness of that feeling. And there's the not knowing what to do with any of it. There's a question that seems silly and completely besides the point about all of it, and also completely narcissistic, because it's not at all about me, but it's a question about why my return to Irvine, which I had not been able to undertake at any earlier point since I left six years ago, coincided with Joe's death. There's always that question, why?, about death, especially about the deaths of people like Joe, like Frank. It's so futile, it often can't be asked, is not bearable. I had told Imogen about Joe dying when I returned from California three weeks ago. I don't think I've talked about it since then. Today, just a long day of feeling all these things and feeling like there's no place to put them, and no place to return to here, in Minnesota. So it's evening, before bed, and I say, finally, after being beyond and at the edge of tears all day, I'm just feeling so sad. Several minutes later, Imogen says, "Mommy, are you sad because your friend died?" Three weeks, for a three-year-old, is a long time to hold a memory, to hold something in mind. "Yes, I am." "What was his name?" This, I've already told her, too. She's asking not to know, but to be reminded, or to remind me, or to let me know, and it gives me a small place to return to.

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