Affective politics and nonsovereign identity

Yubraj Aryal, Purdue University


The aim of my dissertation, "Affective Politics and Non-Sovereign Identity," is to explore how individuals can affectively constitute their "political subjecthood" by themselves. My thesis is that one can constitute oneself as a new subject at the frontier of the conventional domains of ideology, discourse, and epistemic formations-which I broadly call "sovereign power." I argue that the constitution of our identity-that is, the formation of both our bodies and our thoughts-is not always determined by sovereign power, but can be self-constituted in the relation of the self to itself, which Michel Foucault calls "self-affectivity," or the "art of living," or the "care of the self." ^ In other words, while one's identity is indeed subject to complex processes of "subjectivization" (the domination of sovereign power), my research is oriented to the ways in which subjects are nonetheless able to constitute a new "political subjecthood" within or at the frontier of sovereign power through an "art of living," an auto-affective ethics that adds up to a "third dimension" of who we are. ^ In this new perspective, individuals constitute themselves as subjects by breaking from the symbolic representation of sovereign power and assuming the "government" of themselves, the "self-fashioning" of their own power relations, to use Foucault's language. This is what I call "non-sovereign power," which lies at the frontier of (and even beyond) the dominant power relations of sovereign power. ^ By revising the traditional understanding of the "political" as an edifice of sovereignty, and instead relating the "political" to the process of the self-fashioning of one's own body and thought through self-affectivity, I hope to show in my research that sovereign power should never be the index of our identity. ^ My first chapter, based on Spinoza and Merleau-Ponty , presents a new model for understanding the nature of affectivity-how we invest our affects, how the affects form our identity, and how the affects give birth to a new form of the "political." ^ The second chapter argues that we must recognize that all forms of representation are conditioned by an unactualized affective potential that determines our identity-far more than external concepts such as ethnicity, race or any other cultural belongings which have been internalized. ^ Utilizing this model, the third chapter shows that identity is not a belonging, but rather the result of a life that passes through the unhistorical affective relations of internal and external forces. In other words, it shows how affects are actualized at the level of the person. ^ The fourth chapter then argues that the conventional notion of the "political" (as an edifice of judicial sovereignty) must itself be "re-politicized" by this model of self-fashioning, in which auto-affectivity is itself the most basic political act. ^ In the final two chapters, I examine the collective status of an affective politics: How can this active but non-sovereign way of cultivating one's identity become part of a collective organization without being recuperated or co-opted by the dominant power relations-for instance, at the level of the state organization? To response to this question, I will examine two specific case studies-the lives of Sadhus (ascetic holy men in India) and the lives of the nomos-in order to show that, despite coming from extreme poles of their societies, each group has constituted within new practices of self-fashioning that go beyond the dominant power apparatus of the State. ^ The following table illustrates the contrasts I examine in the thesis: Traditional Approach to Identity: Sovereign Power; Ideology, Discourse, and Knowledge; Representation; State Formation; Politics (as edifice of judicial sovereignty). My Affective Approach to Identity : Nonsovereign Power; Affects/Bodily States; Becomings; Self-fashioning/Self-formation; The Political (the personal as the political).^




Daniel W. Smith, Purdue University, William L. McBride, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Literature|Philosophy|Political science

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