Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Having, Property, Nationalism

I think Berlant's concept of cruel optimism as, "the condition of maintaining an attachment to a significantly problematic object"adds another layer or problematizes the notion of Nationalism as a community that we are a part of. Cruel optimism makes nationalism or the promise of nationalism its object, suddenly we the imagined community own our history, the nation is ours.

I think back to the Beijing Olympics where the entire history was acted out visually, from the printing press which at first seemed machine operated but, maritime achievements, the silk route, to raise the flag there were two children who stood as representatives of China's diverse ethnic population, the fireworks commissioned by an artist who makes gunpowder drawings, the "birds nest"stadium designed by another chinese artist. The performance was enacted with utmost precision, China moving through its history in unity, compressing time through making a spectacle of the blood and sweat of its history. 

After reading Berlant I feel that now in the performance there maybe have been to affective responses because the performance was a world performance, it was made to impress the myriad of nationalities and ideologies that converged in that stadium, China was on stage to simultaneously assert its identity and show its continuity with modernity. Watching re-runs of the footage the pride and joy on the faces of the performers and audience members was unmistakable, how could anyone not glow in the wake of fireworks and applause that literally shakes the ground. However, was that sense of pride that performers possessed solely attributed to being "a part of" China, or could it be a sense of pride that "this history is ours". 

What happens when history is objectified and commodified? I think, as Marx points out, the notion of private property incites a kind of myopia, one cannot and need not see the object for what it is, for the something possessing its own autonomy and history and human senses are subsumed by the ego, I, mine (I may have this wrong, I am still a little confused about "emancipation of the senses"). Likewise, neither can, in that specific moment of the performance, the audience and performers see beyond the spectacle, my movement, the applause to me, our history, our noise. It is only after, perhaps, that one realizes that what made the performance itself possible was an exact reflection of problems in China, a top down, cheep labor, exploitation, misrecognized or  "recognized" (comfortable misrecognition) as the dream of unity, pleasure derived from labor for the greater nation of China.

One last question I had, completely opposite, but where does compassion fall into this equation. How does cruel optimism propagate the rhetoric of "the other". Would an abolition of the notion of private property have any impact on the notion of cruel optimism, would it eradicate the concept because suddenly we would not have an object? Or does the object in cruel optimism have its own autonomy in a kind of way, the way it sustains and exhausts? Can an object be ours without "having it"? Would emancipating our senses from the sense of "having" lead to compassion? 

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