ISSN: 1705-6411
Volume 8, Number 2 (July 2011)

Thesis in Contemporary Theory

Mad Conventions: Political Will, (Re)inventing Agency, and the Question of Therapeutic Self-Empowerment or The Conventions of (In)Sanity When (In)Sanity Convenes

Dr. Bradley Kaye
(Philosophy, Interpretation, and Culture Program. State University of New York at Binghamton, USA)

Preface [for endnotes, scroll down]

            My project is an inquiry into the pragmatic aspects of efficacious and sustainable political agency in the realm of what I see as an already existing discourse that I will call “Mad Studies,” or “Critical Madness Theory.”  My working hypothesis in this dissertation is that activism works best when it is an ongoing process rather than stagnating within a series of rules and dogmas. While evoking the Logos, in Aristotle’s sense of the term (the Word, reason, the plan) can be useful at times, activism works best when it is a supple machine reinvented, reworked, and reprogrammed as needed, while being predominantly concerned with the immediate and long-lasting effects of the group.   Intentions are the starting point of actions and need not be differentiated in the hope of discussing “the good.”  What matters, in my opinion, are the effects that occur in an existing material world, and how a particular course of action, or a particular decision to initiate intentions, may create a specialized way of relating to the world.
            My purpose in naming this dissertation “Mad Conventions” is to show how “madness” becomes conventional when the “mad” [1] convene. However, I would like to note that the original title of this piece was supposed to be “When the (In)Sane Convene”. The reason I changed this subtle distinction to “(In)Sanity” was because I wanted to ‘de/territorialize’ the ontology of madness to refer to (In)Sanity as conceptual and irreducible to a single physical body.  The concept of (In)Sanity is actually implacable, and cannot be contained or represented in a reductive sense by one particular type of group. (In)Sanity is not referring to a particular group of people but rather a social phenomenon that happens within the context of the conventional itself. Conventions are meant to evoke a sense of linguistic, literary, or social ‘conventions’ ala norms and normative behaviors, but also a sense of conventionality that allows for certain types of irrational, neurotic, dare I say even abnormal, or deviant behavior pass-as-if normal, yet could be conceptualized as utterly (In)sane. In this way, “Mad Conventions” is meant to refer to political organizations such as the state, whose arbiters sanction all sorts of destructive, ‘mad’ policies that are ‘normalized’ and accepted as if ‘sane,’ simply in lieu of being organized by the convening of the mechanisms that constitute the state-bureaucracy, and all of its pseudo-normalizing ideological apparatuses through the deputies of the dominant discourse. Yet, when ideological slippage occurs, wherein this ‘madness’ does not ‘feel right’, because in actuality ‘madness’ is utterly unconventional, and spawns unexpected insurgencies and political outliers, when this happens a resistance may emerge. 
            In my chapter on Communist Ontology, my hope is to re/territorialize the concept of (In)Sanity back into a physical body of the (In)Sane-Communist that inherently resists the projects of capitalism.  The overarching question in the chapter on Communist Ontology is simple, since I view Marxism as one of the great hopes of humanity to build a better world once and for all, I am deeply disturbed by certain questions. For instance, why is communist ontology viewed as ‘mad’, when in my opinion communism is about ending alienation, greed, exploitation, and organization on the basis of satisfying ‘needs’, which could constitute communism as the greatest political theory the world has ever known - when the ‘mad conventions’ of capital persist unabated? What troubles me most is that the transition from a society based on distributing wealth on the basis of ‘ability’ to a society on the basis of ‘need’ would most certainly become a society with favorable conditions for (Dis)able and/or (In)Sane people who would not necessarily fit the mold of being a ‘productive worker’ within the context of the capitalist mode of production. If someone is physically or mentally unable to sell his or her labor then ‘they’ or rather ‘we’ are typically marginalized. In communism our lives would not be cast aside like trash.

One example of this is how, in my opinion, the insularity of certain academic discourses can guard against outside interferences that may jeopardize the alleged “Sanity” of the discourse itself. I believe that sometimes a discursively-closed-socially-vicious circle can govern institutions of higher learning, and that this social dynamic can also hinder the micro-political potential for a therapeutic subject group to emerge in several contexts. Has the realm of academia become a pseudo-theocracy in the sense that there are certain discursive dogmas that need not be transgressed to get ahead –Marxism, post-structuralist philosophy, and feminism, among others.  Are there various figures such as Foucault and Deleuze in this piece that have been elevated to almost God-Like status?  Must aspiring graduate students such as myself, make use of these almost supernatural philosophical discourses so that some level of legitimacy is inferred into my ‘work’?  Indeed, it is a fact.  I am making use of Foucault and Deleuze much like they are priests baptizing me as a young child and then proceeding to indoctrinate that child in the ways of the Catholic Church like so many theocratic appropriations that I attempt here. This thesis is not just about bi-polar support groups, but also about a closed-minded mentality that can be detrimental to many types of revolutionary praxis. 
            I am not pathologizing anyone.  I hope to show the carnivalesque aspects of inter-subjective modes of therapeutic agency that can occur in “subject groups.” This project is a prolegomena toward building a discourse that would seek to empower people to feel the insurgent possibilities inherent in the “abnormal” existential-phenomenological intentions associated with being “marginally conscious,” or what perhaps might best be called living as “consciously marginal.” To elaborate this subtle distinction I would say that there is an empowering aspect in doing what Sartre advocated ‘the mad’ indeed do, and that is to ‘turn our illness into a weapon’ [2]  On the one hand illness can be a productive power. On the other hand we should also be working towards an end to the identity of production and destruction of illness as a panoptic concept.  In fact, the illusion of freedom has probably served to the detriment of the liberation of ‘the mad’ because in a sense we believe that in Neo-Classical Liberal Democratic Capitalism we are ‘free’ when the lunatics (bourgeois elites) run the asylum (the state, capitalism, our modes of social production, how far can we go with this delimitation of subject-formation?), but in actuality what we should be striving towards is the obliteration of the asylum itself. When our collective delusions of freedom actually turn into the nightmarish lines of flight of free-floating desires, the deterritorializing wherein ‘all that is solid melts into air’, a schizophrenia that capitalism allows us to experience in a partial way, if we become satisfied with this sense of ‘freedom’ which is actually a sarchaphogus, then we are nothing more than bought off supple laborers, laboring under the illusion that we are free, when indeed we could push the schizo-subject-machinations of capital even further and jam up the entire base and ideological superstructure. We must risk our stable sense of consciousness to go to this place, we must transgress the ‘safety’ of our sane-itized, docility, and threaten to become ‘mad’ (as in a Dylan Thomas “do not go quietly into that good night, but rage, rage, against the dying of the light”). By mad I mean literally angry, hostile, and insurgent in a way that the soporific discourse of the state is completely unprepared for – or what Heidegger called the biggest threat to Roman Imperialism, the ‘deceptive outflanking’ by the no-things of the Onto-Theo-Logical Tradition – the ‘us’ who are consciously mad and who will not take our place at the ‘table’ anymore. Our ‘table’ of empirical, post-enlightenment humanist domestication that looks to turn us into humdrum docile bodies, or domestic servants of the ruling class, and who resist being reduced into productive cogs in a fascist machine.  To think about being the mad/Bartleby Scrivener [3] who says, “I’d prefer not” become just another little Eichmann [4] who succumbs to the fascism of daily life, and the ennui of life subsumed in ‘the matrix’ of capital. More importantly, being a ‘whatever being’ that indeed no metaphysical principle of presence could take into account, or ‘count’ towards the cash-nexus of greedy self-indulgent brokers of war.  A mechanized, repetitious echo-chamber that passes as news, dominating our political parties and heads of state who serve as ‘socially sanctioned madmen’ willing to do the dirty deeds necessary to protect the Republic, yet still having the courtesy not to tell us all the graphic details. To nip their visions of crafting the perfect war machine validated by those passing as sane at the helm of our post-enlightenment labyrinthine ideological state apparatuses.  Consciously Marginal means ending the Slavishly-Masterful yet completely impossible dream-wish of hegemony carried out via the barrel of a gun by liberating the mind and thinking the unthinkable.
            I make this distinction between “marginally conscious” and “Consciously marginal” in the sense that the “psy” disciplines (Psychology, Psychiatry, and Psychoanalysis) can become vicious-circles that place excessive emphasis on socially normative aspects of “the cure.” In my opinion, and I am not alone, one could argue that Deleuze and Guattari make this claim in A Thousand Plateaus toward the end of their section entitled “One and Several Wolves,” this process of discovering a normative “cure” that allows the Wolfman to become, “well behaved, polite, and resigned again, [5] can undermine the revolutionary potential for new subjectivities to emerge that are “Consciously Marginal,” in their ways of constructing a therapeutic sense of creative agency and self-empowerment. We should never be afraid of being different, but should find ways to turn this difference into creative self-discovery and radical poiesis. At the behest of my professional mentor, Diane Wiener, who has been a great inspiration to me, I am aware that there may be some difficulties in romanticizing resistance. I do not mean to romanticize resistance, as it may be socially or politically dangerous for people to live marginally for political reasons.  My point is to bring attention to the playful aspects of being “consciously marginal” in the hopes of opening spaces, and at the very least, recognizing spaces, that allow for the free play of differences to emerge in a potentially therapeutic, creative, mode of self-expression, self-discovery, and poiesis.
            My hope is that more people have the opportunity to live life as if it were an artistic expression. This is not in any romantic-sense of freedom either, but with the complete recognition that political dangers can prevent marginal populations from fully flourishing. Hopefully, this project will provide some theoretical tactics that will allow for the strategic maneuvering within the context of an oppressive “war of position,” [6] as Gramsci called the constant struggle for hegemony within capitalism. 

Notes for Preface

[1][ From here on out I will not put “mad” in quotations, but I will be working under the presumption that certain diagnostic labels ought to be deconstructed, especially when they are used to evoke a pathological disorder of some sort. I am working under the presumption that the label, “Mad” is an arbitrary signifier used to make sense of a social phenomenon, but I am not employing this term in an absolute sense. I do not mean to indicate any universal or transcendent aspects of this term when I use it. It is merely a contingency thrust upon my thesis by the conventions of the particular historical epoch in which I am currently writing, and even in that regard “madness” is becoming a bit passé. 

[2] Jean-Paul Sartre, Socialist Patients Collective, Turn Your Illness Into a Weapon (Trikont, 4rth edition, 1987).

[3] Herman Melville. Bartleby Scrivener.

[4] Ward Churchill. (2001). Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens.

[5] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. (1984). A Thousand Plateaus. “One or Several Wolves.” Minnesota Press. P.38

[6] Antonio Gramsci. (1999). The Antonio Gramsci Reader: Selected Writings 1916-1939. Edited by David Forgacs. New York University Press.

© International Journal of Baudrillard Studies (2011)

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