The Politics of Possession

Possession is often treated as an exceptional event. Anthropologists carefully limit the application of the term to the most evident cases.  But tonight we shall move in the opposite direction – to generalize possession into a nebusous plague that always effects everyone, and yet no one can register its effects because everyone is possessed. We are unable to recognize possession because we are ourselves already possessed. So this phenomenology begins negatively, in the mode of dispossession, while leaving open the uncertain chance for future self-possession. This way we remain within the broader tradition of Cartesian skepticism, and maintain the Kantian ethics of self-reflection. This begins in a condition of negative self-awareness called dispossession.

So then, what possesses us? Allow me to suggest a model where two life-values or virtues compete for possession of ourselves. These two contenders are the commodity and thought – two foreign spiritual automata which possess us from without. We are displaced between them, as they struggle for control of our body. One is ancient and good (wisdom), and one is modern and evil (commodity), but both neutralize our self-possession. They are distantly related to each other. And the chance for our future self-possession depends on our capacity to neutralize them both by playing them off against each other.

We are inauthentic because we are alternately possessed by either ancient wisdom or modern commodities. And the automatons which possess us even simulate self-possession, so we falsely experience self-possession in our very dispossession. Such mistaken self-possession is a great danger, and generates the anxiety of existential crises and the fear of not-being. Sometimes the two adversaries can be similar, and they tend to mimic each other. The commodity is a hedonistic virtue and spiritual automation linked with technological capitalism. This is the value of life-form or life-world. This is not the value of any actual commodity, but rather the uncertain value of the assembly and mobilization of spiritual automations which depends on the integrated participation of numerous commodities.

This practical model aims at a happy marriage of wisdom and technology, a marriage which may require occasional renegotiation. This proposed marriage may imply wisdom attaining some control over automation, but probably never a definitive upper hand. Thought is never unified enough for mastery – it departs from itself and thinks along multiple divergent vectors, and this abysmal disunity ensures that thought never takes the upper hand. There was never any chance for a master intellect. Thought is a divergent multiplicity and a spiritual automation – it may effect changes in direction, speed, or the gearing of consumer technology.  In it’s infinite departures, thought may discover all manner of intervention in its struggle against modern hedonism.  Thought’s greatest powers are selection and expression, but these succumb to commodification, for instance, as rhetoric. The moment thought aims to convince, then it has lost its automony as thought, and is possessed by the automatism of the commodity.

Thought carries with it the ancient codes of its Hellenistic geneology, and specifically the ancient religion of the goddess, the cult of Sophia, who had so many other names. Thought is the spirituality of wisdom paradoxes, cosmological contemplation, and maternal relations. Wisdom is the condition of possession by the goddess.  This possession is the maternal relation with the cosmic non-all, the univocal sensibility where whatever bumps into whatever. This is the zero space where electrons and pastry chefs, viruses and court cases miss each other. The maternal relation is the flat co-existence free of all conceptual segregation. This is only tangentially material, because matter remains a conceptual segregation, whereas the maternal relation accommodates the coexistence of the material and the immaterial. Wisdom, or sapiential possession, is the contemplation of pure coexistence.

My strategy in the battle is one of non-alignment – to side neither with wisdom or the commodity because they are both spiritual automatons which nullify our self-possession. We may entertain some sympathies with the goodness of ancient asceticism, and some sympathies with the evil of modern consumerism.  But the key to self-possession is what I call the documentary cut, and the trick is to somehow get the two adversaries cooperating on that enterprise. Memory traces that model natural history are effective tools of self-possession. The patterning of traces is what opens the differential space of self-possession – the self possesses itself though natural history which integrates and subdues both wisdom and commodification. Both commodity and wisdom must be brought to heal before the inscription of natural history.

Orientation within natural history is a condition for the thriving of life. That is the condition of life’s self-regulation and cellular regeneration. Life sickens when it fails to register it’s position in natural history, or the cycles of growth and decay. The struggles between wisdom and commodities sicken life because they disorient it. Life does not know how to live if it lacks the traces of natural history. Documentary is the inscription of traces to facilitate natural historical orientation. So documentary is a tool of self-possession against the two demons of wisdom and commodity. This way the self possess itself through the traces of natural history. But eventually we must consider what our self-possession is a tool of…

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