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From "The Non-Cartesian Subjects, East and West"*

Darko Suvin and Karatani Kojin
Department of English
McGill University, CIADEST

*DISCOURS SOCIAL / SOCIAL DISCOURSE, Vol. 6: 1-2, Winter-Spring 1994

If the supra-personal group, consanguineous or territorial, is not the locus of agency and responsibility, and indeed of intention and value, why stop the disintegration at a person? Because it has an "individual" body in Huxley's sense? But that body may well be seen, e.g., as subject to "outside" possession - by a demon, a slave-owner or a pater familias - and thus split between different and changing responsibilities, say after exorcism or emancipation. Physical agency is in possessed persons (in both senses of the adjective) divorced from legal personhood.

To strengthen the infra-personal hypothesis, I could further jump from democratic possession and slavery to quite contemporary processes, such as Artificial Intelligence or even the division of economic firms into competing sub-units (cf. a survey in Elster ed.). AI authorities have found it necessary to postulate the mind as a "society" of quite circumscribed sub-"agents" organized into larger "agencies" and those in turn into higher-level systems, where the levels can rapidly shift for a needed action (cf. Minsky, also Minsky and Papert). Yet finally I could not dispute the gentle reader short of an essay the size of this one ("Cognitive," to appear elsewhere). Still, I think we have sufficient evidence, from Freud and Sartre to present-day cognitivism, that there are mental processes about which we are still deeply in the dark but which cannot be even limned except by postulating a shifting congerie of sub-personal units in the cognizing subject, i.e. by fragmenting the unsplittable Self. Nonetheless, such shifting, changing, even contradictory Subjects would in given cases (depending on the presuppositions and interpellations) be quite ready for agency. And to any y given type of agency there would correspond a sufficiently unitary Subject - thereby explaining the experience most of us have that we possess some unity, that the loving or painful impingements of reality are happening to a Subject with a unique body and memories that may at its best attain to what Nietzsche has in his meditation on Schopenhauer wondrously called a "productive uniqueness," which cannot be simply dismissed as individualist ideology.

What has less often been foregrounded is whether there is (as I think) a necessary linkage, within this understanding of understanding - or this meta-epistemic stance -, between the two "narcotizings," that of the body and that of the epistemic or primary collectivity. (Of course, nobody but the crassest solipsist denies the secondary social collectivity of the knowers' communicating the results of inquiry, certainly not Descartes.) Yet it seems probable that the loss of the body as validation for inscribing the Subject's time, space, and name into the socially recognized chronotype and identification (e.g., gender, class, race...), necessarily devalues what Marx called "the ensemble of social relationships" constituting the embodied personality. The body's sensual perceptions unified by a personal brain and participation in a network of interpersonal relationships are simply the two faces of the same very permeable interface.

 

[After Post-Modernism Conference. Copyright 1997.]

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