Of late, I keep coming back to Althusser’s conception of interpellation. The basic idea is simple enough—namely, that your subjectivity becomes constituted on the receiving end of an ideological system that expresses itself through and in the apparatus of political power. When you are called a criminal, you are made a criminal, subjected to practices that compel you to accept that assignment, not just performatively, but in your own self-conception.
It gets a fair amount of play in cultural studies, in no small part because it provides us with a sense of how we can internalize ideological convictions that harm us into our own self-conception. I am not always the biggest fan of it, though. Like so much of Pierre Bourdieu’s work, it seems to explain how things stay the same more than how they change, how we are doomed to submit to alien conceptions of ourselves. It is one of those concepts that ought to help illuminate the prisons of depression, but more often than not secures them more tightly by giving us no recourse beyond the ideological, beyond the political field it sets out.
This is one of those places where the model I am unpacking alongside Whitehead’s work comes in handy, While it can acknowledge the creation of secondary social demands, of demands bound up in the fabric of our practices and the way in which they are realized in external transformations of the environment (providing us with a vector toward revisiting Foucault’s technologies of self against a wider background), it posits a still more fundamental dimension of demand. This demand operates within the nexus of feeling, the immediate movement of awareness as it becomes aware of a capacity for things to manifest otherwise.
Resistance to the status quo doesn’t start with the intellectual, it starts with the individual in the heart of their life, coming to terms with their feelings, making determinations within, according to, and against them. It has a political scope, but it’s immediate trajectory is communal rather than governmental. It is too easy to substitute an intellectual category for a felt consciousness, too easy to talk about an ethnic identification than to follow the trajectory of a community coming to be.
Some of this, of course, has something to do with my experience of being a transwoman. It is one of the most visceral places in which I have confronted a political demand to be one thing (“a man”) and felt a refusal to that demand arise from beyond that sphere, from the realm of God and World, a realm that encompasses the social rather than is reducible to it. But while the specific nature of that refusal is key to me, it isn’t the only place where it happens, and it isn’t the only place where it can occur.
It is also why I think that a politics that remains only political is not enough right now. We need a movement that rises from beyond that, from within the movement of God in the World (kalunga and makula for those tracking the dikenga). And we absolutely cannot risk mistaking that movement for religion, which is so often politics under another name.