Nomad Citizenship revisited, Part Three of Three

This is the conclusion of my nomadology of institutions; its first paragraph is a slightly rewritten version of the last paragraph of Part Two.

In a purely nomadic, purely self-organizing group (were such a thing possible), the mantle of authority would fall on whoever happened to express the becoming best suited to the event or situation at hand (even if what is “best suited” to a given situation is subject to experimentation).  Although in a sense all groups are self-organizing, groups become institutions by fixing a certain organizational form in an explicit and more or less permanent structure (by means of a charter, for instance), and as often as not by assigning specific individuals to more or less permanent positions of authority – regardless of the situation and of their expressive capacity or incapacity in relation to it.  Relative to a nomadic group, an institution run the twin risks of subordinating the pursuit of the aims for which it was founded to the preservation of the institution itself, and of sacrificing its flexibility in responding to novel events and changing circumstances to the maintenance of the established power-structure and the power-status of its current appointees.  The unusual organizational charter of the Orpheus Symphony Orchestra, let me say in passing, is instructive in this regard: rather than appoint their conductor, artistic director, business manager, and so on, on a permanent basis, the group selects whoever seems best suited to each position according to what piece they are preparing to perform, so that authority repeatedly devolves to different members of the group in line with their differing expressive capacities in relation to the group’s changing repertoire.  The contrast with Orpheus is instructive precisely because institutions as a rule tend to lose such flexibility and responsiveness, and end up forfeiting their real reason for existing in order to perpetuate their existence for its own sake.  This perverse “institutional self-preservation” is one expression of capital’s repression of death in its legitimate forms, which then returns as an “instinct” in the worst forms: vainly battled against with every medical technology imaginable, for “us”; cruelly visited on “them,” on all those we consider “other” than us – for reasons of nation, religion, class, ethnicity, race, sexuality, and so on –with every military and surveillance technology available.

Legitimate authority, then, according to both Mary Parker Follett and Deleuze & Guattari, rests with those individuals and groups within an institution – its nomad citizens – those who detect or register its becomings and thus strive to continually adjust its real aims (besides or beneath self-preservation) to changing circumstances.  What transforms mere institutional citizens into nomad citizens is their refusal to take the chartered norms of its language-game as their reference, and their insistence – like Badiou’s militant – on connecting even their institutional activities creatively with world-historical circumstances and events, instead.  This very different and crucially broader horizon of reference involves making moves in the institution’s language-games that go beyond mere disobedience (as per Althusser), that go beyond mere transgression (as per Butler) – by experimenting with moves that change the rules of the language-games themselves, and thereby actually break institutional bad habits and create new ones, as Roberto Unger recommends in his program to “realize democracy”.  One major impediment to the realization of democracy is precisely the transcendent structure of organization for the sake of self-preservation as adopted by most institutions, wihch serves to fix its aims and activities and reduces flexibility and experimentation to almost zero, making the practices perversely serve the organization rather than the other way around.  Nomad citizens, by contrast, strive to keep institutional organization and norms subordinate to aims and practices, and can do so by diminishing the ordinary moves by which we reproduce institutions in favor of extraordinary moves by which to transform them in light of ever-changing circumstances.  Whether you take those circumstances to center on the Anthropocene, neo-liberalism, patriarchy, racism, or some combination of those or others, there are always many reasons for and ways of enacting nomad citizenship even in the institutions to which we are subjected every day, in the very heart of the beast.

In turning this conference paper into an essay, I intend to add more on Badiou (his mobilization of Lacan’s Real/Imaginary/Symbolic triad for fidelity to the Event) and a section on Judith Butler’s discussion of Althusser in terms of the Law.  Other than Butler, de Lauretis, and Zizek, are there additional reflections on Althusser’s concept of ideology I should take into consideration?

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