Categories
#9: What do we have in common?

Alexei Penzin /// From Commonplaces to Community

Why should we speak of “the community”? In its everyday usage, this word simultaneously carries a note of nostalgia and the aftertaste of an almost inadmissible pathos.

Why should we speak of “the community”? In its everyday usage, this word simultaneously carries a note of nostalgia and the aftertaste of an almost inadmissible pathos.

We constantly hear trivial words on the “international community”, the “scientific community” or the “expert community”. Can this word be endowed with any other kind of meaning, a meaning that would not simply point toward the attributes of some group of individuals or toward the fact of small “groups” and their coming-together in “societies” and “collectives” of a more complex configuration? Even in this usage, the word community does not correspond to “society”, nor to “group”, nor to “collective”. It still hides a shifting meaning in the shadows of its commonplaces, a shifting meaning capable of bringing us to the epicenter of the political and philosophical thinking of the last decades. For this thinking, the conventional opposition between collectivism and individualism already appears as all too naive. Today, collectivity is carefully modeled by the power of the state, while individuality is guided by the market’s “invisible hand”. Both collectivism and individualism would be incapable of becoming anything more than a failed attempt at escaping a certain kind of “biopolitics”, a strategy of controlling the masses, which does not only affect consciousness, but life itself, the body and its basic habits, its automatisms.

So what is left over when the “epoch of global oppositions” finally comes to a close and its biopolitical constructions finally come undone? Of course, people will still have something left in common, which they share with one another. This will hardly be what people call the “consensus” reached through democratic discussions. And can you really say “This is what we all need objectively, independently of any formal democratic process”? Is this common something that everyone can make use as the “common good”? Is it something that “touches” everyone affectively?  Or is it what answers to our rational interests? All one can say is that this common, much like the community in which it is shared, is no “law” or “rule”, but rather an exception that cannot be appropriated. It is impossible to control, no matter who lays claim to the steering wheel, be it the seemingly “lost” proximity and warmth of companionship, or global biopolitics, which soaks up the warmth of lives densely packed together by the fear of yet another threat. In this uncontrollable community, we might see the possibility for its coming, a practice of life, stubborn in its nonconformity.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *