Fragments on Transgression

Transgression, in fact, is a private affair, but a private affair which moves one beyond oneself. It is communal, but not public. The word “secret” pairs well with transgression.


To engage in the political is to also realize that which is not political, and in so doing find how those categories that appear as oppositions relate to one another, inform one another, feed each other, but are not each other.


There has developed a tendency to believe that revolution is a conscious transformation of everyday life concurrently with political and economic revolution. The mistake has been to carry this forward into the belief that all cultural concerns necessitate a public transgression of contemporary values. This is not to say that transgression as-such is irrelevant, nor is it to say that contemporary values should go un-critiqued; but the act of transgression that is carried out in the name of identifiable persons is often the most useful (useless?) when it is not public in the sense of an act oriented towards the civil sphere. To put it this way: the act of transgression is that which erases, and which produces nothing and reveals nothing; transgression reveals where nothing is. Resistance, refusal, is related, but distinct.


We must refuse not only the worst but also a reasonable semblance, a solution that will be deemed happy and even unhoped for. (Blanchot, Political Writings, 7)


Refusal, resistance, occurs with a “must” (though a socially informed and enacted must) that transgression eschews. Resistance reveals not only what is there but what is, what could be, beyond what is. It is not only the is of generalized reality, of fact; it is the existing is, the revealed living in what is hidden. Transgression and resistance both require an erasure of the person, an entrance into something communal. But there is the communal through spectator/performance, and a communal through active resistance. There is the revolutionary communal. The transgressive requires a kind of privacy because its erasure comes from being seen, even when nobody is there. It is erasure through a sense of being looked upon, looking on others, looking as we act. Refusal and resistance act without comfort or titillation in the sensation of watching. Terror, then, comes close to transgression, but it is a transgression that is attempting to establish itself, not to break. The staleness of most performance art, public displays, spectacles that claim the title of revolutionary is they seek to produce the effect of Terror while performing transgression, so neither takes effect. Terror only has effect with those who have grasped what was hidden, what was revealed by resistance. Transgression prepares one to lose themselves, to act beyond themselves, that is why it should be examined and enacted.


If there is something political in transgression, there is not a politics of transgression.


This consciousness – or this communication – is ecstasy: which is to say that such a consciousness is never mine, but to the contrary, I only have it in and through the community. This resembles, almost to the point that one might confuse it with, what in other contexts one might call a ‘collective unconscious’ – a consciousness that perhaps more closely resembles what can be located throughout Freud as the ultimately collective essence of what he calls the unconscious. But it is not an unconscious – that is to say it is not the reverse side of a subject, nor its splitting. It has nothing to do with the subject’s structure as self: it is clear consciousness at the extremity of its clarity, where consciousness of self turns out to be outside the self of consciousness. Community, which is not a subject, and even less a subject (conscious or unconscious) greater than ‘myself,’ does not have or possess this consciousness: community is the ecstatic consciousness of the night of immanence, insofar as such a consciousness is the interruption of self-consciousness. (Nancy, The Inoperative Community, 19)


In the wake of the 60s the notion of “community” underwent scrutiny, or rather, the lacunae of a theorization of community within the framework of communism underwent scrutiny. Subsequently, with the loss of a coherent left in Euro-American culture and the failures of post-structuralist alternatives for left frameworks has lead to a decrying of community: community is mystical, the communal is the church, not the party. And yet, the formulations and rhetoric of the party often appears just as often to fail to distinguish itself from the communal, or from friendship.


What association ever formed carried on its work without private as well as public agencies… (Marx, “The Curtain Raised,” Political Writings, 1078)


The private and public, the party and the community, friendship and comradeship: we have seen that the demarcations of these things matters, but the demarcations means giving credence and theorization to all so that we can also find relation between them. A society where one’s individual life is fully capable of being grasped and enriched by public life is not to say a complete obliteration of privacy, that all should live in glass houses. To feel capable of taking up political action, of resisting, is not merely composed through the line of the party. In our contemporary conditions we cannot expect either transgression or party to be the total source of synthesis between social and political revolution, our task is just as much to navigate the new contradictions brought by the reemergence of political realizations in social life. 

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