Parrhesia

Exordium to Revolution

Why does it whisper to us to follow a ghost? Where? Whither? What does it mean to follow a ghost? And what if this came down to being followed by, always, persecuted by the very chase we are leading?

—Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx

Historically, the concept of cleansing has always been associated with death or at the very least, bloodletting. It brings images of violence, sacrilege and social impotence (impotenza) in paradoxical contrast with what would be expected of a purified state of being. But perhaps we’ve made the mistake of focusing on a messianic outcome, which is necessarily hidden from sight. It is in the avoidance of totalizing narratives that we are able to remain firmly rooted in nation-specific historicity. The idea of cleansing presupposes that there’s at least something that deserves to be excised from the equation. We decide by proxy, what stays and goes. However, there can be no satisfaction, no real purification. What has been corrupted cannot be cleansed by any divine power. Only through the continuous cleansing of society can we have any claim to historical progress, for we have faith in both the promise of redemption and the crystallized truths of empiricism. Positivistic notions lend a hand in maintaining appearances of stability, even when the last legs of the old nation-form have fallen off. We remember the “good old days” from the level of the horizon, for we’ve forgotten we’ve been cut down to our knees.

Who performed the amputation? The fathers of old, of course. Because unlike the trope of the young lion using the old lion as a yardstick, we’re in a different parable. In our parable, the young lion is in chains but refuses to rend its abuser. The young lion is preoccupied with the pain of its physical existence and the poverty of its condition. And thus, it fails to see the potentialities of the bygone moments and the promise of the future.

The future…remains a question. An open question posed to all. At varying intervals, the open question is answered, often in/by protest. With the voice of protest comes the unmistakable metallic grind. The voice of protest is not faint, it cannot be faint. For it is in protest that man finds himself in the realm of the political, which heightens that unbearable feeling of alienation. Biopolitics exists through increasingly unstable patterns of continuity and disruption. There are multiple beginnings, but they do not refer to beginnings of the mass man’s liberation. They point to channels of control and corruption. The police state, which has always been the Janus-face of all neoliberal states (and we are one), is historically inseparable from national imaginings. The Italian philosopher, Giorgio Agamben explains the role of policing in the encounter between the state and the sovereign:

“The point is that the police – contrary to public opinion – are not merely an administrative function of law enforcement; rather, the police are perhaps the place where the proximity and the almost constitutive exchange between violence and right that characterizes the figure of the sovereign is shown more nakedly and clearly than anywhere else. According to the ancient Roman custom, nobody could for any reason come between the consul, who was endowed with imperium, and the lictor closest to him, who carried the sacrificial ax (which was used to perform capital punishment.)” (103)

There can be no respectable semblance of freedom when one is in the shadow of a police state. So to accept the condition of a sovereign, ever-watchful of the gleaming blade of the state lictor is acceptance of one’s slavery, a furthering of one’s subjugation to an extant system of political convenience devoted to the elite classes of society. It is only in the rejection of the banal logic of the police state can we begin to organize social power for purpose of social justice and liberation. We are in no risk of being wrong, but we are at risk of being wronged, nonetheless.

The police state has nothing to do with social justice, anyway. And certainly, we cannot possibly accept the logic that dictators and demagogues have our best interests in mind. Neoliberal states, which violently reorient institutions and restrict labour forces in preparation for the onslaught of the free market, foreign capital and the “stability” of the dollar-gold exchange, cannot be transformed by any single leader or group of elected officials. They do not, nor will they ever be, representative of the masses that complete the formula for the means of production. Recent economic history tells us that embedding welfarism in the neoliberal state isn’t even a {viable} solution, for it only serves to preserve labour for the express purpose of rearticulating surplus value up to the point of hyper-inflation. The endpoint is an economic crisis as artificial as the stock market, which we view as a natural index of the free market economy.  There is nothing natural with capital and all that follows it – everything is transfigured for the purpose of self-perpetuation.

One necessarily questions the schizoid formation of our national identity. The Philippine flag may offer clues as to why we exist with a perpetual hallucination of civil freedom. The blue band remains on top of the red, while the eight rays and three stars shine bright in a backdrop of pure white. The flag serves as a reminder of what needs to remain – peace. Peace from what, specifically? There lies the hidden historicity of the flag’s seemingly innocuous choice of colors. The flag carries with it a plea – a plea against further colonialism, war, violence – interrelated themes that are necessary to preserve the sanity of neocolonial subjects.

But what use is a flag if it fails to reflect the sentiments of the sovereign? The flag remained static as free trade agreements were broached to several nations in the Pacific, effectively spreading the doctrine of the free market and neoliberalism and thereby increasing the reach of the IMF, World Bank and global police states (US, France, Germany, etc.). It remained unchanged when the Lumad communities were under attack in the South. The blue band remained on top as journalists were summarily executed in Maguindanao. In the midst of all these modern day horrors, whether at full height or half-staff, the flag remained the same – much like the seemingly impregnable visor that prevents the alienated masses from overcoming their political stasis and atomization. We feel, but we cannot move. We move, but only within the small space allowed by our chains. We recognize our chains, spit and polish it daily, for the chains represent freedom to exist in a dying republic.

It is in these dire circumstances that we are forced to contend with our own shortcomings in civil and political life. Because however one paints the scene, the lingering presence of murder remains. This lingering presence is oppressive, unacceptable. It causes the hallucination of freedom to stop momentarily and therefore, it results in personal-collective misery and uncontrollable mourning. It is in this unbelievable moment that one experiences the chasm of ideological compartmentalization, of being a subject in reverse-becoming, tenuously walking the high wire that satisfies the requirements of labour-production and the need play the role of the Filipino, whatever that may lead to. The fuzziness is only temporary. When the scene shifts, as a mechanical lens would in bright light, the grief magnifies, naturally, as a plant forcing itself to grow toward sunlight. It is through grief that we find our footing as a nation engaged in unrelenting violence against its own. We stare with unseeing eyes, the entrails of those who have passed and we are unsettled by the reality of having some kind of future.

Not just any future. It is an open-ended future, embracing everyone, even those who are long gone. Not even physical migration will let you get away from it. It chases you through your identity, through the very skin you claim to be when foreign hosts question the veracity of your “I.” We now have little time to dally and pretend with unseeing eyes. We have done that for far too long, after our questionable ritual of independence from a foreign power. We must not continue our collective misreading of Philippine history. This misreading lies in the nature of our understanding of historicity. At this point, we must move forward to the operative spaces of history-as-becoming and history-as-responsibility.

Transcendence of a previous state of being, be it capitalist slavery or neocoloniality indicates a death in the Judaic-Christian sense. Franco-Algerian philosopher, Jacques Derrida writes:

“The moment the problem were to be resolved that the same totalizing closure would determine the end of history; it would bring in the verdict of nonhistoricity itself. History can be neither a decidable object nor a totality capable of being mastered, precisely because it is tied to responsibility, to faith and to the gift… to the gift and to gift of death that puts me into relation with the transcendence of the other, with God as selfless goodness, and that gives me what it gives me through a new experience of death.” (5-6)

The crux of the gift of death is a promise of return, burdened by the unavoidable consequences of unimpeachable historicity. Historicity will remain an object of study until such time that the philosopher, writer or artist becomes obsolete. {And when is that?} I would like to position this frightening moment of over-becoming at the center of chaos:

““The time is out of joint”: the time is disarticulated, dislocated, dislodged, time is run down, on the run and run down [traqùe et détraqué], deranged, both out of order and mad. Time is off its hinges, time is off course, beside itself, disadjusted.” (Derrida 20)

But why chaos? Why not peace?

A bitter pill: there is no peace. There never has been any peacetime, only moments of disquiet as we are ground carefully into a deepening national grave. As we masterfully convince ourselves to continue breathing despite the suffocating heat, we must now convince ourselves that have the right to live rather than to merely exist, without hope or feelings of being truly human. What it means to be human is the opposite of what we are presently struggling against, or quietly experiencing with an ever-fading memory.

Works Cited

Agamben, Giorgio. Means Without End. Univ. Of Minnesota Press, 2008, p. 103.

Derrida, Jacques. Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International. New York: Routledge, 1994, p. 20

__________. The Gift Of Death. University Of Chicago Press, 1995, pp. 5-6.


Marius Carlos, Jr. is a storyteller, essayist, and journalist. He is the current editor-in-chief of Revolt Magazine. He is also the English editor of Rebo Press Book Publishing. He is an independent researcher focused on transnational capitalism, neocolonialism, empire, and pop culture. You can reach him via social media at Minds and MeWe.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: