Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Terror: The Space of a Savage Extreriority

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Terror: The Space of a Savage Extreriority

Article excerpt

Michel Foucault brought our attention to the "limit-experience" with his early work on Bataille. He did not give that name to it then and only alluded to it once afterward. But in his "Preface to Transgression," he already approached something of the experience James Miller would elaborate dramatically in his celebrated biography.' Miller takes his tack from the French text of "The Discourse on Language" and a discussion of the rules (procedures internes) governing the classification, ordering, and distribution of discourse against the destabilizing effects of chance events.2 There Foucault speculates about a territory (l'espace d'une exteriorite) not yet colonized, and so "untamed" (une exteriorite sauvage), by the disciplinary regimes of the "will to truth" (L'ordre, 37). He suggests this space is "both more, and less, populated than one might think" (L'ordre, 35). Less populated, because we do not find there the "errors" that repulse science: after all, error, strictly speaking, can only be identified within the kind of well-defined process these constituents, precisely, do not fit. More populated, because what we do find there are immediate experience, imaginary themes, and monsters, miscreants that, by their exclusion, significantly alter the history of knowledge, shifting the boundary of what might be described as, to borrow Canguilhem's expression, dans le vrai, "within the true" (L'Ordre, 35-36).

At the extreme of this "savage exteriority," as we might expect, immediate experience approaches a limit. For Miller, the idea of a "limit-experience" linked Foucault's experiences with madness, drugs, suicide, sexuality, and AIDS to the failure of discourse to classify, order, and distribute experimental forms of life at the limit of the will to know. By contrast, I want to connect the early essay on Bataille with a passage from The Use of Pleasure where Foucault describes experience as the "correlation between fields of knowledge, types of normativity, and forms of subjectivity in a particular culture."3 I want to engage the "limit-experience" as an active transgression of the particular, dominant form of power/knowledge a subject confronts in the active formation (assujetissement) of her or his decidedly political life.

Others have explored the transgressions of the dominant forms of power/knowledge that occupy the personal and phenomenal spheres, invoking Bataille to interpret the personal confrontation with danger and death against the normalizing practices of communities and cultural traditions or the experience of time in the cataclysmic depths of the earth, expanse of outer space, and excesses of thought, that makes experience possible. In this essay, I recall Hegel and his Terror, freedom's confrontation with morality, to redraw the limits of modern, liberal, personal and public formations of political assujetissement. More specifically, and speculatively, I want to ask whether we can begin to speak about a limit experience of collective subjects, subjects that are literally multiple, entirely heterogeneous, thoroughly differential, but also collectively-as a consequence of the inequality that characterizes the relations between the individual subjects who constitute it-political. As with its constituents-who are themselves multiple, heterogeneous, differential, and political-if there are such collective, political subjects, they must be understood and analyzed in relation to other collective subjects. For the purposes of a discussion of terror, one is naturally inclined to define these collectivities in terms of nationality. But we may also want to consider terror in the limits and formations of more local collectivities, those defined by community identity, institutional association, ethnicity, class, gender, infirmity, sexual preference, and so on. My immediate aim, here, is to push the limit-experience into territories Foucault himself did not explore for purposes he would have appreciated.

Terror

"Terror" is relatively under-theorized in philosophy. …

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