Postsecular* plurality : Beyond the aesthetics of lost causes
To dissimulate is to pretend not to have what one has. To simulate is to feign to have what one doesn't have.
–Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation
Knowledge (connaissance) becomes a productive force immediately, and no longer through any mediation, as soon as the capitalist mode of production takes over.
–Henry Lefevre quoting Marx in The Production of Space, trans. Donald Nickolson-Smith
As the logic of 'militarized technoscience in the epoch of infowar' (Virillio's definition of technologized communication) inflects the politico-cultural matrices of our time, one which is clearly manifested in the urgency of gaining ever-greater pace and space, the virtual conflict flowing from such sites of hypercommunication now spills over to the actual spaces of the urban life thereby causing to harden the already polarized political praxis in Bangladesh. The outcome is the disappearance of the nuanced discourses that which are being held in suspicion/suspension by the warring cartels; the 'othered' voices with the potential to defuse the politics of mass communication complicit with the global (neo)Capital order and its logic of ensuring profit/prosperity through aggression.
The voices which we refer to as othered are often, especially in times of urgency, need to be modulated and heightened to neutralize the voices of unreason when confrontational politics prevails over the aesthetics of communication and dialogue. If the relatively informed voices are regarded with suspicion by people belonging to the quarters at loggerheads, the polarized, vulgarized tongues seem to enjoy a free reign in sites of both new and traditional media to continuously taint the collective consciousness.
In the circuit of political communication on the web both senders and receivers often behave like props – as cogs in the wheel – putting out the most partisan/parochial of posts in order to tease one another. Here the senders are reduced to 'automated subjects' with their voices often degenerating into dehumanized rants while each vehemently take to defending the respective faith. Oppositional, aggressive and at times oppressive, zealous words proliferate to equip the like-minded with the weapons of mass distribution.
These abrasive voices appear from within a vacuum of a tenement where the ideologues have long been displaced from their ideologies as the political platforms they belong to are only engaged in empty rhetoric and skullduggery. In the absence of any true ideological strain of thinking the only craft that has survived is that of an effort of keeping up apearences.
In the absence of any dialogic intent, communication in this age of hyperactivity degenerates into an empty behavior – a ritual, driven by what one may term the 'will to nothingness'. What transpires is a far cry from the ritual acknowledgment of the 'second' or even 'othered' nature of the human. What Richard Schechner calls 'restored behavior' attained through repetition in traditional religious ritual collapses into simulation in modern life. The seemingly ritualistic behaviour of continued communication – as is demonstrated by the participants in networking and presencing themselves on the social media web, where there are frenzied activities of posting/reposting without the knowledge of how, when and where one is able to impact the reality. These perhaps are the performative acts that redefine the human subject in this era leading to a peculiar catharsis.
As adherents of empty ideologies/value systems of both secular and non-secular hues, each body, or the human subject, thus, continues to issue forth noises that work as plain 'white noise' – one that tends to shroud the nuanced communication that might spur the indeterminate readers/receivers to rethink their positions. Paul Virillio contends that space-time has been replaced by space-speed in this time of info economy. And it is through space-speed that one enters the logic of today's sites of hypercommunication where the mundane, the middling and even the macabre thrive as participants take to 'communication' as if it is the cult of our age. Performers irreversibly suffer from likoholism – 'likes' extorted by a post has psycho-social implication while one is on Facebook, though what is being finally put forth for consumption or communication seems to be of little import.
Ideologies or knowledge bases are such that they are bound to face circumstances that propel them into unknown directions, especially when they are faced with certain new pragmatic questions. However, in Bangladesh the inevitability of such extensions – which, according to Micheal Ryan, is 'the undecidable elements', is also being denied as stagnation inflicts all spheres of knowledge. Perhaps, this has led to the unremitting relay and cross-relay of mostly empty words – which read as saying a lot to mean only one thing – I am aligned with this or that kind of people or ideas.
In this age of global financial circulation politics saturates the entire social space(s); yet what is political also often veers into the metaphysical, though clearly in the irrational sense of the word. Modernity has apparently displaced the metaphysical proper to prioritize the political, though, in our everyday performances of politics there remains a strain of irrationality which often verges on the paranoia, if not completely psychotic.
If the human body performs according to the bio-chemical inflections, it also overlaps its natural behavioural patterns which arise out of natural existential needs with other acts (political and otherwise) to become a socially engaged body, or 'social man', to use a hackneyed phrase drawn from Marx. But as the social being performs its politics of existence in the spaces where the body's presence can be done away with and then come to occupy the real spaces as part of a flashcrowd, the said body either behaves like an automata or in the ultimate 'nonsense' mode. A resisting corpus that is a human being out to make a change, thus, is changed into an agent of 'monoculture', resisting, mostly, the nuanced voices.
The lost site of the body – one that may resist the dominant social force that is the bourgeois social/legal structure – can only be restored by reverting back to the particular – by returning to the person who is not an atomized and automated individual. This meritorious return must be scripted through his/her body and the attendant social/spiritual moments of awakening.
The aesthetic understanding of reality is such that it helps define the human subject in relation to the ability to re-imagine a country/society alongside re-inventing the site of artistic and non-artistic production of object/text. An individual body realizes this through the moment of awakening that is usually apocalyptic in proportion – and has a beginning that seeks a teleological endpoint. It is often through art, or art-like situations or acts that the body/being experiences the apocalyptic and keeps rediscovering the originary/imaginary site where it is closest to its self and where it is ready to ensure transmission of visions. And this very process is never the result of an individual's solitary effort or journey, but an outcome of a social-psychological-natural nomadism through which the matrix of social relations as well as power is constantly being examined, questioned, negated and finally de-axiomatized. The denatured body is thus normalized to invest its biopower in administering social-natural life.
Before one embarks on such a project, one must be aware that reality is multifaceted, multilayered and it appears to us in fragments only. Thus the horoscope through which both the narrative of reality and that of the self/body emerges to us always seems an inadequate conduit, yet it is a reflection of the 'imaginary' – a creative mode of conduct of the inhabitants of a given community where faiths, value systems and ideologies occupy a greater portion of the stage. In the postsecular condition, following revisions of secularist ethos and the authority of established religion(s), one must rescan this horizon to home in on the zones of heterogeneity.
Jürgen Habermas, who obstinately sticks to the idea of the continuation of modernity, describes how people in the postsecular stage might negotiate one another's belief: '“Tolerance” is of course not only a question of enacting and applying laws; it must be practiced in everyday life. Tolerance means that believers of one faith, of a different faith and non-believers must mutually concede one another the right to those convictions, practices and ways of living they themselves reject.'
Nikolai Chuzhak, a Russian ideologue once termed art as a life-building process; if we are allowed to use it in a broader sense than his pro-proletarianist narrative, one may add that art is also a life-knowing process through which to arrive at truths. Truth seeking is a process bound to the 'here and now' and also a way of transcending that. As it involves removal of all kinds of camouflage – those veneers which block our vision. They are undoubtedly linked to our sympathy for certain established truths which must be reexamined in order to discover the ‘terra actual’ – which entails reality revisited through truth-realizing and truth-telling. In the structure of any creative or even political process and in the final staging of the art object or act/text, through which the dominant trend is challenged, artists emerge as the agents of change as they keep searching for this terra incognita. Such a relentless process of 'search and tell' works in line with one's decolonized body and mind which can never thrive without new strategies which lead to the aspiration towards truths. The cognitive-emotional-imaginal patterns of the mind spur the individual to be mimetic, and this is where the sentient or sensitized body starts to attempt its transcendental act which is the creation of the Othered and/or Other.
Such distancing from 'that which is' may or may not result from a strong sense of awareness of the 'self', but is arrived at either by negating the 'symbolic order' or by navigating the collective unconscious into which one weaves one's own sense of 'being in the world' as part of the process of self-projection and self-reformation. Perhaps, both integration and divagation begins from this converging point.
'Whether ritualized or not, art contains the rationality of negation. In its advanced positions, it is the Great Refusal – the protest against that which is,' says Herbert Marcuse, in his famous tract, One Dimensional Man. Thus the revolution in art as well as society lies in the 'act of divagation'. A plethora of actors thus are responsible for new ways of truth construction as well as new ways of retelling. Consider the tale and the teller as codependent, as the actor and the act becomes one in a moment of awakening. Therefore the acting body transmutes into the primary site for all kinds of fruitions – political, religious, artistic and even philosophical. Without the actor being the proclaimer of heterogeneity – an idea serving as the bedrock of a healthy sociaty – there is little chance of forward movement.
Every nation is a geography made up of multiple spatialities, the idea is to bring into play the spaces that had long been ignored in the nationalist discourses and the dominant value system. Radical new language of art thus operates as a space for the agents of change, those who are set to infiltrate the regimes that have been allowed to develop as dominant forces. Through the performative acts that give rise to the aesthetic moments, artists send out a call to others to up their antes in the expectation of change in the ‘gaze’, and change in how we a look at the world, which can only mean a revision of the established value system – be that the political or aesthetic one. Thus, art is the locus where the first few sparks of social change become visible.
* The trope postsecular connotes rethinking of secularism as a political tool and category of social transformation in Bangladesh context.
Though the country had not gone through any rigorous secularization as of today, the narrative of secularism inflects its politics. Hence,
the word postsecular is imported as a critical category to replace the erstwhile homogenous concept with heterogeneity.