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Original Ar ticle FROM THE D E- CENT RED SUBJECT TO REL ATIONALITY A n d r e w M e t c a l fe a n d A n n Ga m e University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia Correspondence: Andrew Metcalfe, School of Social Sciences and International Studies, University of New South Wales, Sydney NSW 2052, Australia E-mail: A b s t ra c t The poststructuralist concept of the de-centred subject has been central to the deconstruction of the desire for mastery, self-sameness and i
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  Original Article FROM THE DE-CENTRED SUBJECTTO RELATIONALITY Andrew Metcalfe and Ann Game University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia Correspondence: Andrew Metcalfe, School of Social Sciences and International Studies, University of New South Wales, Sydney NSW 2052, AustraliaE-mail: Abstract The poststructuralist concept of the de-centred subject has been central to thedeconstruction of the desire for mastery, self-sameness and identity. Through adeconstruction of the desirous logic of binary oppositions such as subject–object, I–You, self–other, masculine–feminine, poststructuralists bring to light the subversive possibilities inthe negated term. This term is based on principles of meaning that displace the samenessand separation of oppositional logic: what is repressed is difference and relation. We arguethat difference and relationality cannot be deduced through a deconstruction of binary oppositions and the centred subject. Relations are based on an alternative ontology, timeand space, and on an inclusive rather than an exclusive or oppositional logic. The key to thisdifferent logic is a distinction between finitude and infinitude. Whereas oppositions presumethe existence of finite terms, relationality presumes the reality of infinitude. In an experienceof relationality, subjecthood is suspended; there are no finite terms, but, rather, theundefinable non-oppositional difference of wholeness. Keywords desire; difference; infinitude; relation; subject; whole Subjectivity (2008) 23, 188–205. doi:10.1057/sub.2008.12 Introduction O ver the last 40 years, the subject and subjectivity have been centralconcepts in social and cultural theory. In a diversity of traditions, afocus on the subject arose from a critique of the abstractions and Subjectivity , 2008, 23, (188–205)  c2008 Palgrave Macmillan Ltd 1755-6341/08 $30.00  determinism of structuralist thinking. Structuralism, it was argued, ignoredconcrete social practices, concentrating instead on the abstract rules andprinciples that governed systems of signification, kinship, economy, moralityand so on: in arguing that the social order was determined by underlying rules,structuralists gave insufficient attention to subjects and the possibility of socialchange. Thus, the subject introduced a dynamic element to social and culturaltheory: the socially constituted subject was not only capable of change butwas itself the source of resistance and social change (Henriques et al  ., 1984,pp. 219–225).While the subject has been significant in both mainstream social theory andpoststructuralism, in this article we will focus on the latter’s concept of thede-centred subject. Since poststructuralism has been a major influence on ourwork (Game, 1991; Game and Metcalfe, 1996), this is a sympathetic critiquethrough which we hope to develop the central concerns in this field, includingthe relation to the other, difference, presence, the gift and the divine. Ourintuition is that we are attempting to theorize the same phenomena, but thatcertain unquestioned assumptions in poststructuralism make it impossible forthis tradition to directly address the life of relation. Poststructuralism As Silverman suggests, poststructuralism has developed through the combina-tion of semiotics and the subject: ‘‘signification cannot be isolated from thehuman subject who uses it and is defined by means of it’’ (Silverman, 1984,p. 3). She quotes Benveniste: What then is the reality to which I  or you refers? It is solely a ‘‘reality of discourse’’, and this is a very strange thing. I  cannot be defined except interms of ‘‘locution’’, not in terms of objects as a nominal sign is. I  signifies‘‘the person who is uttering the present instance of the discourse containing I  ’’. Silverman (1984, p. 46); see also (Benveniste, 1966, p. 252) The linguistic system provides the conditions by which subjects are called intobeing: there is no extra-discursive reality for the subject. One of the importantimplications of this is that, in contrast to humanist presumptions, the subject of knowledge cannot make claims to the truth of such a reality.In their critique of the conscious, rational and knowing subject of humanism,poststructuralists highlight the psychoanalytic idea of a split betweenconsciousness and the unconscious. Consciousness and the unconscious arecreated simultaneously as the subject is produced. The repressions of theunconscious create a split world of meaning: ‘‘[t]he subject inhabits one psychicspace consciously but another unconsciously’’. In both form and content, thesespaces often operate ‘‘in startling opposition to each other’’ (Silverman, 1984,p. 51). Conscious knowledge is always shadowed and potentially undermined Subjectivity -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 189 From the De-centred Subject to Relationality  by the unconscious, which, by definition, is the unknown on which knowingrelies. The unconscious, then, is the mark of the impossibility of a conscious,complete self-knowledge. Thus, the idea of the split subject has been crucial toa project of deconstructing totalizing knowledge claims. It is importantto understand, though, that poststructuralists are not seeking to deny theimportance of the subject, but rather to displace the centred knowing subject.‘‘Neither consciousness nor the ego is any longer in the position of principle orsrcin’’ (Ricoeur, quoted in Krupnick, 1987, p. 6).Lacan brought together these two fields, the semiotic and a Hegelianreading of the psychoanalytic, arguing that both operate through binaryoppositions. In structuralist analyses of oppositions such as subject–object,I–you, self–other, the identity of the privileged term is produced by its negationof the second term. The negated term stabilizes the order. Lacan, for example,saw no political significance in the opposition between masculinity andfemininity that he regarded as basic to the symbolic order. For poststructuralistslike Irigaray, Kristeva and Cixous, however, the negated term of the feminineis the site of subversion of the phallic symbolic order and the undoing of the centred patriarchal subject. The unconscious of the symbolic order,the negated term contains the repressed possibilities of a subversion of thatorder.This concern with the repressed possibilities in hierarchical oppositions is aconcern with difference. Binary oppositions are based on the principle of sameness, identity and coherence. In reducing the feminine other to no morethan a not-masculine, and the you to a not-I, the oppositional order negatesdifference. The poststructuralist strategy is to bring to light the principles of meaning in the negated term that disrupt the sameness of oppositional logic. Incontrast to the stability of oppositional logic, the unconscious and the feminine,for example, are based on principles of movement, process and multiplicity. Theemphasis on these other principles of meaning is, therefore, not simply a reversalof an opposition: it involves a deconstructive shift  in logic. As Freud said, theunconscious is exempt from a logic of contradiction, it does not say ‘‘no’’(Freud, 1984, pp. 190, 442). There is an undefinable displacement that cannotbe recuperated within the logic of binary oppositions: After the deconstructive reversal, ‘‘which brings low what was high’’, there isthe displacement that brings about ‘‘the eruptive emergence of a new‘concept’’’ y . [T]his concept that is not a concept, is outside the previousbinary opposition and cannot be recuperated in a dialectic. (Krupnick, 1987,p. 12) In this displacement lies the political significance of poststructuralism.A poststructuralist politics is not utopian, heroic or revolutionary. Groundedin the tensions existing here and now, it is a politics which insists that tensionsare inescapable: the deconstruction of binary oppositions is not their Subjectivity -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 190 Andrew Metcalfe and Ann Game  destruction. Rather than being external to the order, the source of transforma-tion is the very condition of that order. In contrast to totalizing knowledges,then, where the analyst is positioned outside the order, and given anArchimedean point from which to overturn it, the poststructuralist analyst isimplicated in the order they deconstruct. It is out of a concern to emphasize thisimplication that poststructuralists insist that deconstructive displacement isnever arriving (see, e.g., Cixous, 1986, pp. 87–97; Krupnick, 1987, p. 16;Kearney, 2001, p. 73). For them, to settle would be to presume a certainty inknowledge.While we are sympathetic to the poststructuralist concerns with difference,implication and process, we think that these are undermined by a strategy thattakes oppositions and splits as its starting point. While poststructuralistsacknowledge that these oppositions rely on a relation between the terms thatclaim to be separate, they can only sense this relationality retrospectively. Theystart with separate terms and, then, through showing their impossibility, revealthat there must have already been a relation that cannot, however, ever beexperienced. To experience the presence of relation would, from theirperspective, amount to a recuperation of the same.Impossibility is a key term in deconstructive thought. Caputo and Scanlon,for example, define deconstruction as the experience of the impossible, ‘‘adream and a desire of something tout autre , of something that utterly shattersthe present horizons of possibility’’ (Caputo and Scanlon, 1999b, p. 3). Becausethey start with alienation and separation, deconstructionists assume that anyclaim to direct connection and relation is nostalgic, fantastic or metaphysical, apolitical attempt to reinstate oneness or sameness: without oppositions, there isno difference. Poststructuralists claim that implication can only be understoodvia oppositions, and that it is metaphysical to talk of direct relations; we willargue that a richer sense of implication reveals the alienation of opposition andthe reality of relation.The inability to imagine the direct experience of relation means thatpoststructuralists retain an ontology of subjects, albeit de-centred subjects.Relations, they say, can only be understood through subjects . In this article,we will argue the contrary case, that relations cannot be understood as thelogical outcome of oppositions. Relations are based on an alternative ontology,time and space, on an inclusive rather than on an exclusive or oppositionallogic.The key to this different logic is a distinction between finitude and infinitude.Whereas oppositions presume the existence of finite terms, relationalitypresumes the reality of infinitude. In a meeting, in the direct experience of relation there are no finite terms, and yet there is the undefinable non-oppositional difference of wholeness or potential. Connection is not unity oroneness but no-thing-ness. As an inclusive logic, this wholeness does not negateidentities, but nor does it fix upon them. Subjectivity -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 191 From the De-centred Subject to Relationality
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