From: John Ransom <ransom@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 14 Apr 1997 14:46:27 -0400 (EDT)
On Mon, 14 Apr 1997, Doug Henwood wrote:
> John Ransom wrote:
> >No, the obscuring abstract universal is "revolution" or "civil
> >disobedience." These terms don't describe what's going on, they evaluate
> >what's going on. They color the phenomena.
> How are they any different in this regard, except for being more specific
> and historically rooted, than "limit" and "transgression"?
> And sure, people talk about "revolution" and "civil disobedience" as
> abstract concepts, but I'll bet most of the ink spilled on the topics has
> been spilled over specific events - the French revo, the Russian revo, the
> U.S. civil rights movement, Ghandian resistance, etc. - and not on the
> concepts in general. Unlike, dare I say, most of what I've read about
> "limit" and "transgression."
They're not more specific or historically rooted. They are distorting. For
instance, take the example of the Russian workers taking over a factory
when the capitalists left town in St. Petersburg in 1917. You suggest that
we refer to this as an element of "revolution." But the workers in Russia
weren't trying to have a revolution! They were taking over the factory!
The capitalists split. What to do? But this transgressive act is then
turned into something it wasn't to begin with by [begin joke]
pointy-headed, arm-chair intellectuals who wouldn't know a factory floor
if they tripped over it [end joke].
>From the vantage point of the "Transgression" essay, what does it mean to
treat the actions of the workers this way? Instead of
"limit-transgression" we can think of "transgression-transcendence."
transgression: workers take over and start running factories abandoned by
transcendent reading of transgressive act: we are engaged in a Revolution
that will end the exploitation of man by man.
That is, the transgressive act is justified by, and is itself merely a
vehicle for, the production of a new world.
According to Foucault, that's the way sexuality was handled by the Church.
(See beginning paragraph or two of "Transgression" essay.) St. Teresa
walks around the village with an expression of ineffable ecstasy on her
face; she seems to walk on air; she is surrounded by a kind of light; she
is filled, by her own account, with an inexpressibly deep, even bodily
*pleasure*. That "transgressive" (in the sense of "abnormal") act or
collection of acts is then read transcendentally:
transgression: St. Teresa's body is wracked with orgasmic pleasure
transcendent reading: she is experiencing the unequaled bliss that comes
only from being filled with the Holy Spirit.
The whole purpose of F's essay, it seems to me, is to begin a discussion
of what is going on with transgressions in the context of a world where
transcendent readings of them are no longer possible, or a lot less
possible than they once were. If it doesn't make (so much) sense to think
of transgressions in terms of transcendence (where the latter can mean
being filled up with God's Holy Spirit or producing a society no longer
characterized by the exploitation of man by man), then apparently what
we're left with is transgressions and limits. Sade certainly "addressed"
this problem, or introduced it, but that doesn't mean we have to stop with
him or be satisfied with him.